1. How Arizona Tried to Cover-up Security Breach by Chinese Intelligence at Its Counterterrorist Center

    August 31, 2014

    Intelligence gap: Arizona kept possible security breach secret

    Ryan Gabrielson and Andrew Becker ProPublica and Center for Investigative Reporting

    Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)

    August 31, 2014

    Lizhong Fan’s desk was among a crowd of cubicles at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center in Phoenix. For five months in 2007, the Chinese national and computer programmer opened his laptop and enjoyed access to a wide range of sensitive information, including the Arizona driver’s license database, other law enforcement databases, and potentially a roster of intelligence analysts and investigators.

    The facility had been set up by state and local authorities in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, and so, out of concerns about security, Fan had been assigned a team of minders to watch him nearly every moment inside the center. Fan, hired as a contract employee specializing in facial recognition technology, was even accompanied to the bathroom.

    However, no one stood in Fan’s way when he packed his equipment one day in early June 2007, then returned home to Beijing.

    There’s a lot that remains mysterious about Fan’s brief tenure as a computer programmer at the Arizona counterterrorism center. No one has explained why Arizona law enforcement officials gave a Chinese national access to such protected information. Nor has anyone said whether Fan copied any of the potentially sensitive materials he had access to.

    But the people responsible for hiring Fan say one thing is clear: The privacy of as many as 5 million Arizona residents and other citizens has been exposed. Fan, they said, was authorized to use the state’s driver’s license database as part of his work on a facial recognition technology. He often took that material home, and they fear he took it back to China.

    Under Arizona law, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose agencies admitted Fan into the intelligence center, were required to disclose to the public any “unauthorized acquisition and access to unencrypted or unredacted computerized data” that includes names and other personal information.

    To this day, they have not.

    Terry Goddard, attorney general of Arizona in 2007, said Fan’s access and disappearance should have been reported to his office, but it was not. Arizona law puts the attorney general in charge of enforcing disclosure.

    The state was supposed to have scrubbed drivers’ names and addresses from the license data. State officials denied requests to discuss the extent of the data breach, including what personal information was in the files.

    In fact, a review of records shows that David Hendershott, who was second-in-command at the sheriff’s office, moved aggressively to maintain silence, a silence that has now lasted some seven years. Two weeks after Fan departed, Hendershott directed others in writing not to discuss Fan and the possible breach. In an email to the outside contractor that had hired Fan, Hendershott wrote: “Keep this between us and only us.”

    Even among administrators at the Phoenix center, very few learned that the Chinese programmer had left the country or that their own personal information might have traveled with him. Mikel Longman, the former criminal investigations chief at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said he received no warning about the incident.

    “That really is outrageous,” Longman said. “Every Arizona resident who had a driver’s license or state-issued ID card and all that identifying stuff is potentially compromised. That’s a huge breach.”

    Napolitano, who went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, did not reply to multiple interview requests.

    Hendershott, Arpaio’s longtime chief deputy, hung up on a reporter when reached by telephone. The sheriff’s office fired Hendershott in 2011 over an array of alleged misconduct. And he in turn filed suit in 2012, saying his legitimate law enforcement work had been mischaracterized as abuses of power. His suit was dismissed earlier this year.Today, he sells real estate in west Phoenix.

    Col. Robert Halliday, the director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety who formally oversaw the operations of the intelligence center at the time Fan worked there, also did not respond to repeated interview requests.

    Current officials with a handful of agencies involved with the intelligence center offered a variety of reasons for declining to answer questions about Fan and the possible breach.

    The public safety agency initially denied that any potential breach had happened, then said the matter was the subject of a confidential FBI investigation. Later still, the department argued the case was a personnel matter, and thus the agency would not comment as a matter of policy. The sheriff’s office said that during the time that Hendershott was still working for the agency, he never reported anything about Fan – his hiring, his work or his flight.

    Seven years after the potential breach, then, it is still unclear how closely law enforcement looked into the incident or what steps, if any, it took as a result. The FBI opened a probe shortly after Fan’s disappearance, according to records and a former federal investigator, but the bureau has never made its findings public.

    Perryn Collier, spokesman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, said the bureau won’t comment on investigations involving Fan.

    Chinese espionage has made news in recent months as federal investigators have revealed successful assaults by hackers against businesses and government. Last March, homeland security officials in Washington discovered that cyber attackers later traced to China had accessed data on federal workers who’ve applied for top-secret clearance. These electronic break-ins were conducted remotely, continents away from the servers holding the data.

    How the Phoenix intelligence center found itself vulnerable to a serious security breach, however, was neither much of a technological feat nor, it seems, the result of masterful espionage. Indeed, an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica – built on more than 50 interviews and the examination of thousands of pages of federal investigative reports, criminal and civil court filings, internal correspondence and immigration records – shows the episode at the intelligence center came off rather easily.

    John Lewis arrived as the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Phoenix division in the spring of 2006. Lewis, now director of security for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a vague recollection of a contractor or subcontractor working at the center. But he said he did not specifically recall that the person was a foreign national, nor did he have any “immediate recollection” of a security breach.

    “No one ever sat in my office and asked about having a foreign national inside the fusion center. That’s nuts,” Lewis said, adding that if he had been asked, his response would have been, “Can we do a little bit better guys?”

    The chance that Fan made off with a raft of sensitive material was made possible by a set of cozy relationships – among a tainted sheriff’s official, a dubious technology startup company and a woman who U.S. government officials think is a Chinese spy.

    Intelligence center employees are supposed to hold a “secret,” or midlevel, security clearance, based on a background investigation completed most often by the federal Office of Personnel Management. Aside from cursory background checks as part of his visa application, it’s unclear if Fan underwent deeper probing. The company that hired him also received little to no extra scrutiny.

    Paul Haney, a former special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement who was based at the Phoenix center, said discussion of the possible breach was kept to whispers. That reticence came as much from humiliation as security concerns.

    “The whole thing was very embarrassing, what he had access to,” Haney said. “I’m embarrassed for everyone left with their asses hanging out.”

    A NEW IDEA TO PREVENT TERRORISM

    After the 9/11 hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, law enforcement officials decided that local police and federal intelligence agencies should improve how they shared information. The hope was that greater coordination among various levels of law enforcement would increase the chance that future attacks could be avoided.

    In Arizona, Norman Beasley, a top executive at the Department of Public Safety, and his friend, Ray Churay, an FBI agent working anti-terror cases, came up with the concept of a physical space where all manner of law enforcement agencies could work side by side. The U.S. intelligence community was initially skeptical that local police had much to offer.

    “We did not get a lot of support from the beltway, because we were some old country boys from out here in Arizona,” Beasley said.

    But Napolitano, as governor, personally lobbied for federal dollars and FBI involvement, and in October 2004, the state opened its intelligence facility, one of the first “fusion centers” in the country.

    The center won early praise for how smoothly it distributed raw intelligence across agencies. The Washington Post described Phoenix’s operation in 2006 as “one of the best-run and most effective” intelligence facilities in the U.S.

    Arizona’s public safety department runs the center, but more than 20 police agencies statewide deploy some 200 personnel there. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has been involved from the center’s inception, and Arpaio, the legendary anti-immigrant crusader, eventually sought a major role in its operations.

    It was Hummingbird Defense Systems, a small Phoenix firm striving to break into the security technology market, that offered the opportunity. Hendershott, Arpaio’s chief deputy, had years before become friends with Steve Greschner, Hummingbird’s chief executive.

    In fact, Hendershott first hired Hummingbird in 2003 to use its facial recognition software to watch for sex offenders at a Phoenix elementary school. The sheriff’s office installed it soon after at its outdoor jail, famously known as Tent City. The fact that the technology flopped – one report by jail officials said a day’s growth of a beard defeated its ability to accurately identify prisoners – didn’t deter Arpaio’s office, in the person of Hendershott, from encouraging Napolitano to put Hummingbird’s technology to work at the intelligence center.

    A Novel Foray into National Security, With Help from China

    Greschner, now 60,acknowledgeshe was an unlikely candidate to get involved in sensitive law enforcement workbefore he started Hummingbird. He had worked for Cisco Systems selling servers and other networking equipment to government agencies in and around Phoenix, including the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

    He was a talented salesman and became a millionaire when Cisco’s share value soared dramatically in the late 1990s, earning $1.4 million the year before he left the company. For the first six months after he quit Cisco, he tried his hand learning to be a cattle-roping cowboy, he said.

    After retiring from Cisco in 2000, Greschner poured his money into new ventures. He spent more than $300,000 on a license for software developed by a government scientist for the Sandia National Laboratories and other sensitive sites. The “command-and-control” program makes disparate technologies operate in sync. And when Greschner established Hummingbird Communicationsin 2001,government records show, his ambitions were limited to selling telecommunications networks.

    Greschner said it was the 9/11 terror attacks that stirred his patriotism, and with it a desire to enter the national security business. Technologies capable of identifying people faster and more reliably than the human brain were in great demand but in short supply.

    And so he formed a second company called Hummingbird Defense Systems, though internal business records, interviewsand correspondence make clear thatthe firm’s technical capabilitieswere lacking.

    The company didn’t employ a single engineer; Hummingbird relied instead on outside contractors to make its productsfunction.

    Greschner himself was not a programmer. Before entering the field, Greschner said he “had no idea what a biometric was.”

    “He had the razzle-dazzle and used everyone else’s technology,” said Rob Schorr, a former sales executive for another security firm who briefly partnered with Hummingbird on airport checkpoint systems.

    Greschner struck deals with other technology companies that had written algorithms to recognize facial features in still images. The software that Hummingbird ultimately used came from a Canadian firm, Acsys Biometrics. Tests by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technologyobtained by CIR and ProPublica found that Acsys’ program ranked far behind several competitors.

    Hummingbird thus struggled to get government work. One project it later won, to install security equipment at a tiny Nevada airport, ended in litigation when the system didn’t work.

    The company had few prospects until late 2002, when Greschner partnered with a man named Gang Chen.

    Chen had emigrated from China almost a decade earlier and had a green card. He’d owned an interior design company in Beijing and, in an interview last year, said he had financial backing from Jilin Province Trust, a state-owned investment firm in northern China, to get into the U.S. technology market.

    To Greschner, Chen introduced himself as a Chinese businessman looking to sell U.S. security software in China. Chen said he was authorized to distribute technology developed at the China Institute of Atomic Energy internationally.

    He proposed a partnership between his company, Detaq Science, and Hummingbird. The deal was sealed when Chen sent his business partner, a tall and strikingly beautiful woman named Xunmei Li, better known as Grace, to meet Greschner.

    “Some people call that love at first sight,” Greschner said in an interview. “I’m not going to say it’s that.”

    He and Li began dating immediately.

    Working with Li and Chen, Hummingbird’s outlook brightened. Li, a now 44-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen raised in Shanghai, turned out to possess impressive ties to Chinese law enforcement.

    Li and Chen soon secured Greschner a meeting with Chinese officials in London, and in time, according to Greschner and others with knowledge of the deal, he sold his fledgling facial recognition program to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, which installed it in Tiananmen Square.

    “Suddenly the doors were opening” for Hummingbird, said David Edger, former associate deputy director for the National Clandestine Service, an arm of the CIA, and a past business partner of Greschner’s.

    Greschner connected Hendershott, his benefactor at the sheriff’s office, with his newfound associates in China. In fall 2006, Hendershott took the first of several trips to Beijing with Greschner, Li and Chen.

    At the time of that trip, Napolitano had just agreed to have the sheriff’s office facial recognition system deployed at the Phoenix intelligence center. Greschner said he offered to donate his technology, and the sheriff’s office – with no solicitation of other bids – agreed, offering to pay Hummingbird for maintaining the software program over the years. County finance records, obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and shared with reporters, show the sheriff’s office paid Hummingbird roughly $16,000 for fiscal year 2009.

    Sheriff’s officials said Hendershott struck the terms of the deal on his own, without the involvement or approval of the office’s procurement officials.

    It turned out, though, that Greschner had already ceded significant control over Hummingbird’s inner workings to Detaq, his business partner and liaison to China. In a February 2003 letter to Greschner, Chen stipulated that, going forward, he and Li would get a say in which engineers Hummingbird could hire.

    Detaq was responsible for “necessary technology people,” Chen wrote. “You and Detaq will determine who the good candidates are for the installation and tuning of the system.”

    Bringing the facial recognition system online at the intelligence center was the most daunting project Hummingbird had undertaken. It would require an expert programmer. Li told Greschner she knew the ideal engineer: Lizhong “Larry” Fan.

    A MEMBER OF THE CLUB

    In his Chinese passport photo, Fan appears young enough to be a teenager, with a thin frame and black hair cropped short. He arrived in Phoenix in January 2007, a 32-year-old from Zhengzhou, a metropolis of more than 4 million people in central China.

    Fan, who had a diploma showing he’d earned degrees in computer engineering from the elite Tsinghua University in Beijing, had done some work for Chen and Li in China, and Greschner said he accepted his lover’s idea that Fan would be a good man for getting the facial recognition program up and running at the intelligence center.

    As a result, Hummingbird, without vetting Fan further,soughthiswork visa, Greschner said, adding that he assumed law enforcement or other government officials took a closer look at the Chinese national.Greschner said he was asked by an official with the sheriff’s department in 2006 to provide a numeric code for Fan’s name, often used in investigations to pinpoint Chinese identity, which he did.In the application, Greschnersaidthat Fan possessed skills not readily available in the U.S.

    The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office endorsed Fan as well. In a September 2006 letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a senior sheriff’s official wrote that Fan already “demonstrated an extensive knowledge of the esoteric science” that converts human faces into data points. Such knowledge “appears to be” scarce.

    Officials at the intelligence center discussed the wisdom of hiring a Chinese national for such sensitive work, according to Beasley, the counterterrorism director for the state’s public safety department. Beasley said he opposed it without success.

    “Was there a concern? Absolutely,” Beasley said, “because China is not our friend.”

    Cindy Bonomolo was the sheriff’s deputy most often assigned to monitor Fan inside the intelligence center.

    “I was told he did the facial recognition for Tiananmen Square,” Bonomolo said in a June interview. “They said he was the best of the best. I have to say, this man was a genius.”

    Greschner said Fan looked quite at home in the center.

    “It was like ‘I was a member of the club’ – you know what I mean?” Greschner said of Fan.

    Bonomolo’s ability to judge Fan’s talent or oversee the integrity of his daily work in the intelligence center was not great. She’d chiefly served as a patrol or corrections officer within the sheriff’s office. In an interview, she said she has no knowledge of computer science. Bonomolo said she had no reason to distrust Fan, and the two became close over discussions about her Christian faith. Fan became a Christian while in the U.S., she said.

    Much of Fan’s job involved moving terabytes of data to servers. There were driver’s license records from the state, arrest files from county jails and criminal history data that had to be uploaded. Next, Hummingbird needed Fan to edit the facial recognition software so that it could reliably search all those different databases.

    Fan had access to the center’s main network, according to three sources with first-hand knowledge of Fan’s work arrangements. From there, he would have been able to see the directory of federal agents and state police working at the Arizona counterterrorism center, said Haney, the retired immigration agent.

    Thus, day after day, Fan enjoyed the rarest of access to confidential personal and investigative files.

    Then, on the first Tuesday of June 2007, according to a former law enforcement official, Fan paid cash for airfare to Beijing at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport ticket counter. Fan’s luggage, Greschner and Li said, carried two laptops and additional hard drives.

    Greschner said he and Li were out of town and unaware of what happened until days later. Greschner made his way to Fan’s rental home and powered on the Hummingbird computers that Fan had left behind. The drives were so thoroughly erased Greschner said he had to reinstall their operating systems.

    Li attempted to contact Fan, to no avail.

    However, Bonomolo exchanged occasional emails with Fan until losing touch in 2010. Fan’s first email to her from China alleged that Hummingbird regularly failed to pay his salary, so he felt justified taking the firm’s source code.

    “The whole event has had great impact on my family and my career, and we have been under gross pressure,” Fan wrote in a December 2007 email. The messages contain few other specifics about his work at the intelligence center. He told Bonomolo that his wife gave birth to a son and that he considered returning to the U.S.

    “I do think about go (sic) back to the U.S. in a few years,” he wrote in his last message in November 2010, “and I’d like you to teach me how to shoot.”

    No one has reported hearing from Fan in more than three years.

    A LACK OF DISCLOSURE AND CONSEQUENCES

    What exactly happened after Fan’s departure remains the least clear aspect of the entire episode. Some officials within the intelligence center became aware of his absence, and at least one expressed worry about its potential implications. Halliday, who ran the center at the time, called one of the center’s initial founders, Beasley.

    “I’d say he was concerned and rightfully so,” Beasley said of Halliday.

    For his part, Hendershott, the No. 2 man at the sheriff’s office, was concerned about keeping the potential embarrassment from becoming public, according to documents. One email exchange shows that Hendershott contemplated reaching Fan in China and paying him to stay quiet.

    “Make sure that he knows that I just want your stuff and no trouble,” Hendershott wrote to Greschner, the Hummingbird executive who had hired Fan. “Just want him to go away. Can he and his wife keep their mouth shut?”

    Over the years, there has been an array of breaches involving government agencies and people’s personal information. Typically, they have resulted in substantive investigations and notification of the public. Recently, for instance, The Washington Post reported that a “major U.S. contractor that conducts background checks for the Department of Homeland Security has suffered a computer breach that probably resulted in the theft of employees’ personal information.” The company, U.S. Investigations Services, said in a statement that the intrusion “has all the markings of a state-sponsored attack.”

    The company did an internal examination to confirm the breach. The company notified the Department of Homeland Security, and the agency initiated its own investigation. As well, Homeland Security and the company alerted the affected people and disclosed the breach to the public.

    In Arizona, no one will say if anything like that kind of effort was undertaken after Fan returned to China.

    CIR and ProPublica, however, have learned that both the FBI and federal immigration authorities began to investigate Fan’s two Chinese associates – Li and Chen.

    Paul Haney, the former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, said the FBI strongly suspects Li is a spy. The suspicions, according to Haney and others interviewed during the investigation, grow out of Li’s contacts with powerful people and institutions in China, and her efforts to help bring American security technology to her native country. As well, a delegation of Chinese airport officials organized by Li, which came to the U.S. to tour security facilities, included at least two people who were, in fact, not airport officials.

    “If she is who we think she is,” Haney said, “she’s a professional.”

    Paul Moore, a former top FBI Chinese counterintelligence analyst, said cultural differences between the West and East pose challenges for investigators trying to determine if Chinese are involved in intelligence operations.

    “Was this a Chinese intelligence operation, or just something that came in over the transom?” he said. “It sounds like Chinese people acting like Chinese people. It looks foreign to us — and suspect.”

    The authorities have never charged either Li or Chen with espionage, and in interviews both have denied the assertion. The authorities, however, did successfully detain and then deport Chen on immigration fraud charges, claiming he had set up a fake business in the U.S. as a way of obtaining a green card. And they are using an unusual charge in seeking to strip Li of her American citizenship and send her back to China: bigamy. The government has claimed in court documents that Li was married to more than one man at the same time during her time in the U.S. Li is contesting the charge, and she insists one of the marriages amounted to a mock ceremony meant to appease her partner’s parents.

    “I’m not a spy, so I can’t tell you why they suspect me,” Li said.

    Li, in fact, offers her own theory for why the government is eager to deport her: She has knowledge of the possible security breach in Arizona.

    “It could be a very big embarrassment to the governor (Napolitano) and to the sheriff’s office as well,” she said.

    Greschner and Li no longer live together but remain a couple.

    Napolitano is now president of the University of California system. Arpaio remains an outsize and divisive figure in Arizona. As for Hummingbird, it appears to have lost several contracts with Homeland Security after Fan’s departure. But it did, for two years after the episode, continue its dealings with the sheriff’s office.

    That finally ended in 2009, when the company folded.

    Michelle Van Cleave, a U.S. national counterintelligence executive under President George W. Bush, said under no circumstances should a foreign national from any country, let alone from China, be allowed inside an intelligence facility. The risks of information being compromised are too great, she said.

    Of the saga of Fan and the Arizona intelligence center, she said: “It’s just stunning.”

    21 hours ago  /  1 note

  2. Iranian Air Defense Commander Describes Shootdown of Israeli Drone Deep Inside Iran

    August 31, 2014

    Air Defense Commander Describes Hunting Israeli Spy Drone as Easy Job

    Fars News Agency

    August 31, 2014

    Air Defense Commander Describes Hunting Israeli Spy Drone as Easy Job
    TEHRAN (FNA)- Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli said shooting down the Israeli spy drone that sought to fly over Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility was no way difficult, although the aircraft was small in size and radar-evading.

    "This drone was equipped with a complicated and radar-evading technology, but its hunting wasn’t so difficult for us," Esmayeeli told FNA on Sunday.

    "The Hermes drone was destroyed in less than two minutes and before entering the nuclear zone," he said, adding that his forces allowed the drone to cross the Iranian border since they first intended to bring it down undamaged, similar to the RQ-170.

    "Of course, targeting and destroying (a hostile flying object) also has its own process as it shouldn’t trouble the other planes flying in nearby regions," Esmayeeli said.

    He said enemy threats against Iran will never decrease either in terms of quality or quantity, and thus, Iran should always have a very strong air defense system.

    He said the country’s defense system is linked to an integrated system of data and information which has created harmony between the air defense units of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Army.

    Last Sunday, the IRGC announced in a statement that it had shot down an Israeli drone near the highly sensitive nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz in Central Iran.

    The IRGC Public Relations Department said in the statement that the Israeli pilotless aircraft was a radar-evading, stealth drone with the mission to spy on Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment plant.

    The IRGC also pointed out in its statement that the Israeli hostile aircraft had been targeted by a surface-to-air missile.

    The IRGC then warned that it “reserves the right of response and retaliation for itself”.

    A few hours later last Sunday, Director of the IRGC’s Public Relations Department General Ramezan Sharif told FNA that some of the parts of the downed aircraft are working, “and our experts are studying the information and intelligence of these parts”.

    "We are now analyzing the information of this plane," he added.

    Then, Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh announced on Monday that “the downed spy drone is Hermes and made in Israel”.

    He said the operational range of Hermes drones is 800 kilometers, adding that the aircraft can fly 1,600 kilometers by refueling once.

    The General said parts of the aircraft have burnt out after it was targeted by the ground-to-air missiles of the IRGC Aerospace Force and after its fuel tank blast, yet “some parts of this drone are intact and we are now analyzing the information and intel of these parts”.

    Elaborating on the details of the down Israeli aircraft, the commander further stated that the drone, which is 5.5 meters wide in wings, is equipped with two cameras which can take high-quality photos.

    "There was no prior information available about the aircraft and the only one of this type had been downed in Syria, but this one is more advanced," General Hajizadeh said.

    On Friday, Esmayeeli announced that the country’s home-made Shahab radar system played a major role in tracing the Israeli spy drone, adding that the aircraft was intercepted at an altitude of 3,700 meters (over 11,000ft).

    "The Israeli spy drone, which enjoyed one of their most advanced technologies, was destroyed at the altitude of 3,700m," Gen. Esmayeeli said.

    He further underlined full operational harmony between the army and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in hunting the Israeli pilotless plane, and said, “This drone was targeted by firing only one missile, (and it is much precious because) otherwise it could have been dangerous to the Iranian aircraft flying through this or nearby corridors.”

    "We allowed the drone to reach our desired zone because if it had been targeted at the borders, we could have lost its debris and the information of its cameras," the Gen. added.

    Also on Saturday, Chief of Staff of Armed Forces General Hassan Firouzabadi said Iran will target and destroy any enemy aircraft flying over its airspace.

    "We will destroy any enemy aircraft which violates our country’s airspace," Firouzabadi told FNA.

    "The Israelis pursue spying policies and they have repeatedly shown that they are after spying on our country" in a bid to display that Iran’s nuclear program has a non-peaceful drive, while Iran has always been committed to international laws and pursues peaceful purposes in its nuclear activities.

    "Hence, they move in line with this goal and use drones and other spying devices" to this end, Firouzabadi added.

    21 hours ago  /  2 notes

  3. Indonesia Says It Wants to Reform Its Ponderous Military-Run Intelligence Service

    August 31, 2014

    New government seeks to reform spy agency

    Ina Parlina

    Jakarta Post

    August 30, 2014

    In a bid to reform the country’s military-style intelligence system, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the leader of a coalition of political parties that support president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has been discussing a plan to reform the National Intelligence Agency (BIN).

    PDI-P lawmaker Helmi Faisal, who is also a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission I overseeing defense, confirmed that there was a plan to make the intelligence agency more pro-civilian in its approach.

    He said that one possible step would be to place a civilian in BIN’s top post.

    “What is important is how to improve BIN’s intelligence roles in the future, particularly in anticipating non-traditional threats, for example economic crisis and diseases. BIN must also able to respect democracy values and should not use violence. Hence, both a civilian or a reformed military person can fit the profile,” he said.

    Speculation is also rife that the PDI-P has its own candidate for the BIN top post.

    Al Araf, the program director of Imparsial, a human rights watchdog, told reporters on Friday that more competent civilians were needed to fill important posts in the agency to improve its professionalism.

    • Placing competent civilians in BIN will improve its professionalism, says watchdog
    • Criticism that BIN is dominated by military figures and is ‘one step behind’ in fight against terror

    He said that currently, important posts in the agency, such as its head and deputies, were dominated by active military personnel who were not always competent in the field.

    “It makes our intelligence too militaristic and often considers citizens who are vocal against the government as a threat,” said Al Araf.

    The country’s intelligence agency was under the authority of the Army from its inception in 1946.

    In 2001, it was reformed as an agency directly under the president, when it adopted its current name, BIN, during the time of former president and prominent Muslim cleric Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.

    Since the structural reform, BIN has been led by a non-military figure only once — from 2009 to 2011 — when police general Gen. (ret.) Sutanto took the helm.

    The current BIN head is an Army general, Lt. Gen. Marciano Norman.

    Imparsial executive director Poengky Indarti said that in many countries, intelligence agencies employed highly competent civilians.

    She cited as an example the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as it was filled with civilians who were experts in their posts.

    As BIN was dominated by military personnel, it lacked expertise in the field of economic intelligence and national strategy, she said.

    “BIN is supposed to seek and process accurate data and make recommendations to the president so that he can easily make a decision, but to date it hasn’t been able to perform its duties well,” she said, adding that BIN was always one step behind in terrorism cases.

    Poengky added that the 2011 Intelligence Law said BIN was under the coordination of the government, not the military commander, which meant the agency was a civilian agency and its head must be a civilian.

    Imparsial proposed several names for the BIN head position, including Ikrar Nusa Bakti, a professor in political science, and Tubagus Hasanuddin, another PDI-P lawmaker of House Commission I, who is also a retired Army general.

    Eva Kusuma Sundari, a PDI-P politician familiar with human rights and legal issues, said placing civilians in the agency’s strategic posts would unlikely materialize, as they lacked the required competencies.

    “It’s down to technical matters and skills. Does a civilian have the skills to sit in a top BIN post? I don’t think there’s any civilians that have adequate competencies,” she said.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  4. Daily CENTCOM Report on Airstrikes in Northern Iraq

    August 31, 2014

    Military Conducts Airstrikes Against ISIL Near Mosul Dam

    U.S. Central Command

    TAMPA, Fla., Aug. 30, 2014 - U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in support of Iraqi security force operations, using fighter and remotely-piloted aircraft to conduct five airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam.

    The strikes destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle, an ISIL fighting position, ISIL weapons, and significantly damaged an ISIL building. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.

    The strikes were conducted under the authority to support Iraqi security force and Kurdish defense force operations, as well as to protect critical infrastructure, U.S. personnel and facilities, and support humanitarian efforts.

    U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 115 airstrikes across Iraq.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  5. Ukrainian Troops Waiting for Expected Rebel Attack on Port City of Mariupol

    August 31, 2014

    Ukraine’s soldiers defend city of Mariupol amid fears of pro-Russian rebels

    Annie Gowen

    Washington Post

    August 31, 2014

    — Soldiers fortified trenches and protesters formed a human chain Saturday to try to defend this strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine as fear spread that Russia would expand its incursion into its neighbor.

    Military analysts think Mariupol could be a next target because it has access to the sea and also would provide a valuable land bridge to Crimea, the former autonomous Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in March. Rebels supported by Russian soldiers, tanks and armored personnel vehicles seized control of the town of Novoazovsk — just 30 miles east of here — Thursday, according to Ukrainian military officials.

    On Sunday morning, residents said the town had quieted, although it remains under insurgent control.

    The West has grown increasingly alarmed by what it considers Russia’s brazen push into Ukraine. On Saturday, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the crisis in eastern Ukraine could soon near “a point of no return” and that Europe might impose new sanctions on Russia. Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, warned that the conflict could spread further into Europe. Russia denies it is sending military forces into Ukraine.

    On Capitol Hill, Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) urged the administration to immediately supply weapons to Ukraine and to increase economic sanctions on Russia.

    The capture of Novoazovsk could open a new front in the five-month-long Ukraine conflict, which until now has centered on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, farther to the north. The small border town appears to be firmly in the hands of Russian-backed separatists, who flew flags of a new territory they are calling Novorussia. A spokesman for the rebels told the Associated Press on Friday that their plan was to push onward to Mariupol.

    Fighting continued Saturday in other parts of eastern Ukraine. In Ilovaysk, a southeastern town that has been besieged by pro-Russian separatists, 28 of more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the town managed to escape.

    Although Mariupol was quiet Saturday, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Kiev showed reporters leaflets he said were being handed out in Novoazovsk offering money for information on Ukrainian troop movements and instructing locals on how to prepare for the arrival of “peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation.” There was no confirmation of who had printed up the leaflets.

    Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that the army was ready to defend Mariupol, having organized round-the-clock patrols and reinforced entrances to the city. Hundreds of Ukrainian army troops were at posts around the city, according to Mariupol’s mayor, Yuriy Khotlubey.

    Mariupol’s residents were preparing in their own way. Many had stocked up on bread and other provisions. There were long lines of cars exiting the city through checkpoints. Supplies of some medicines ran low. More than 800 basements and shelters had been designated for use in case of shelling, the mayor said.

    The city gave free train tickets to refugees from other parts of the war-torn country so they could flee yet again — to safer areas.

    On Saturday, protesters held hands and chanted “Putin’s head!” at a checkpoint on the eastern edge of Mariupol.

    Other citizens chose to preserve their routines. Residents strolled in parks with their dogs and children on a cool end-of-summer day. Outdoor concerts, picnics and two weddings – the mayor noted – went on as scheduled. Occasional convoys of cars careened down the streets, their occupants honking and waving blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags.

    But the threat just up the road loomed large.

    “We are living in this town as peaceful citizens, but we know the tanks are coming,” said Vladimir Marchenko, a sailor. “We don’t want to become part of another country.”

    The residents, a mix of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Greeks, have endured considerable turmoil this year. After the country descended into civil conflict following mass protests against the country’s president earlier this year, pro-Russian separatists established a strong presence in the city from April 13 to May 9. Their tenure was capped by a firefight that killed nine at the police headquarters.

    NATO officials and Ukraine’s government say that Russia has been sending military equipment and hundreds of soldiers into Ukraine to help the separatists. Russian officials have denied the charge — saying some Russians volunteered to assist the rebels, and some wandered into Ukraine by mistake.

    Some residents of Mariupol say they would welcome Russian soldiers if their tanks rolled into Mariupol.

    “If the Russians would come here there would be no war. No one would be killed. It would be like Crimea,” said Natalia Obolonskaya, a nurse. “I would feel better with the Russian army than the Ukrainians.”

    Others who remembered life before Ukraine became independent in 1991, in the waning days of the Soviet Union, feel differently.

    Ludmila Elagina, a retired engineer, volunteered to help dig trenches in the city this past week because she fears the return of a repressive regime.

    “When we lived under the U.S.S.R., we felt we were being controlled,” she said. “We were told what to wear. We were told what to say. Independence was like a second life, the birth of something new. My wings spread and I started to remember poems I recited to my mother as a child. Now, I have poems of terror.”

    The pressures of living in a politically divided city have taken their toll, and the anxiety has worsened in the last week, according to Ulyana Tokareva, the director of the city’s social services center.

    “Their two main questions are, ‘What is happening, and what do I do next?’ People are panicking right now,” she said. “The panic is happening because people don’t know who to trust.”

    At a modest brick building Saturday, groups of families who had fled the fighting in the rebel-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk arrived, toting their possessions, to pick up free train tickets out of the city.

    Ludmila Kosych, 55, who ran a small food store, fled with her family from the Donetsk region Aug. 20 after they witnessed continued horror: missile fire, dead children, an average of 10 funerals a day.

    They thought they had reached a safe place in Mariupol. But now she said she was wrong.

    “Imagine if a bomb is flying over there,” she said, gesturing to a nearby column of trees. “It explodes and by any piece of it you could be killed. You don’t know where it’s coming from, the Ukrainians or the rebels. It’s human, animal fear.”

    Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report from Moscow. Natalie Gryvnyak contributed from Mariupol.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  6. US Conducting Airstrikes On ISIS Targets Near Besieged Shi’ite Town of Amerli in Iraq

    August 31, 2014

    U.S. Conducts Air Strikes on Militants Near Besieged Iraqi Town

    Reuters

    August 30, 2014

    WASHINGTON — The United States carried out air strikes on Saturday against Islamic State fighters near the besieged Shi’ite town of Amerli in northern Iraq and dropped humanitarian supplies to civilians in the area, the Pentagon said.

    President Barack Obama authorized the operation to prevent an Islamic State attack on residents of Amerli. The aid was delivered by U.S. aircraft, along with planes from Britain, France and Australia, Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said in a statement.

    Amerli has been surrounded by Islamic State forces for more than two months. Iraqi army and Kurdish forces closed in on Islamic State fighters on Saturday in a push to break the Sunni militants’ siege of the town.

    Armed residents of Amerli have managed to fend off attacks by Islamic State fighters, who regard its majority Shi’ite Turkman population as apostates. More than 15,000 people remain trapped inside.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  7. Ukrainian Forces Abandon City of Ilovaisk Under Rebel Fire

    August 31, 2014

    Pro-Russia Rebels Confident After Making Gains

    Associated Press

    August 30, 2014

    STAROBESHEVE, Ukraine — As the survivor of a tank attack on a Ukrainian army truck was being carried into an ambulance, he was showered with verbal abuse by a rebel fighter.

    "Why didn’t you say before that you were alive? Why so quiet?" the rebel taunted. Minutes later, the Ukrainian soldier drew his last breath.

    Under the gaze of rebels, Ukrainian soldiers loaded the bodies of six other dead comrades onto trucks outside the village of Starobesheve. A couple of kilometers away, in the village itself, other rebels made wisecracks and boasted about dealing another punishing blow to Ukrainian forces.

    After weeks of yielding ground, the Russian-backed separatists are brimming with confidence following a string of seemingly effortless victories.

    On Saturday, Ukraine announced it was abandoning Ilovaisk, a city 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Starobesheve. Surrounded on all sides over several days, they sustained fire so intense that the government was compelled to plead for a corridor out.

    "We are surrendering this city," said Ukrainian Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council. "Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup."

    Lysenko said that regular units of the military had also been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

    Adding to that, Ukrainian government forces are now facing the prospect of an onslaught from yet another front along the coast of the southeastern Azov Sea.

    Ukraine and numerous Western governments have said they believe rebels have been amply supplied with powerful Russian weaponry and that regular Russian troops are engaged in combat. NATO estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even though Russia heatedly denies any involvement in fighting that has so far claimed at least 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures.

    Preparations for the evacuation from Ilovaisk were spotted by AP reporters Saturday morning in the village of Mykolaivka, 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, where 20 flatbed trucks were parked in line primed to go and collect stranded Ukrainian troops. Anxious Mykolaivka residents reported hearing blasts of artillery Friday and the convoy made painstaking progress throughout the day to avoid rebel ambushes.

    After more than an hour’s travel through tortuous country roads, the convoy reached the countryside outside Starobesheve and joined up with about 15 government ambulances readied to collect the wounded.

    As drivers awaited the order to move, a green army truck drove in from the opposite direction packed with weary and evidently traumatized soldiers. Speaking over one another, they said rebels reneged on promises to provide a safe corridor out of Ilovaisk and opened fire on departing Ukrainians troops.

    Although palpably frustrated with what they see as fatally indecisive leadership from the authorities, rank-and-file troops are reluctant to go on the record with their complaints for fear of reprisals.

    But their rage Saturday was mainly reserved for their opponents.

    "We came from Ilovaisk bearing white flags," said one soldier, who declined to give his name and had his face covered with a mask. "They shot us from all sides. We were not engaged in military actions. We were just on the move."

    While none could offer a specific estimate of how many had died, they said the deaths may have numbered in the dozens.

    Ukrainian National Guard Lt. Col. Nikolai Gordienko, who was accompanying the evacuation operation, said the attack on departing soldiers constituted a violation of international conventions.

    The surrounding area has been scene of skirmishes and shelling attacks over the past week.

    In Starobesheve, the dozens of rebels milling around the otherwise deserted rural settlement were jubilant Saturday over having trapped a column of Ukrainian tanks and armored personnel carriers after a brief battle that morning. Standing in groups, some fighters shared jokes and battle stories, while one showed off pictures taken on his phone of insignia from troops in the trapped Ukrainian battalions.

    At one stage in the afternoon, three rebel tanks raced up to the local police station, which now operates at the local rebel headquarters, only to be angrily ordered back down the hill by the local commander.

    One separatist fighter, who provided only his first name Sergei and the nom de guerre Frantsuz (Frenchman), said the Ukrainian armored column was intercepted while it was traveling to Ilovaisk to assist in evacuating government troops.

    "They wanted to take Starobesheve, but this operation failed," he said. "Starobesheve remains under our control and their equipment is under our control."

    After hours of negotiations, dozens of Ukrainian troops were allowed to leave the village riding on six APCs, but without ammunition.

    Frantsuz said rebel commanders agreed to allow ambulances and trucks to travel to Ilovaisk to take away the injured and the dead.

    Near a bridge on the road out of the village, six bodies lay in disarray around a medical truck that was torn apart by a rebel tank shell. Ukrainian army personnel dragged away the bodies with cables — a precaution adopted to avoid impact from possible unexploded ordnance. A man in the recovery group wretched after one especially mangled body was loaded into a truck.

    Although the bodies showed signs of having lain in the open overnight, one severely injured man in the crew was found to still be alive and was carried away for treatment.

    About half an hour later, he too died and was tipped face down into the back of the truck along with the other men.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  8. ISIS Using Various Social Media Tools to Get Its Propaganda/Recruiting Messages Out

    August 31, 2014

    ISIS Displaying a Deft Command of Varied Media

    Scott Shane and Ben Hubbard

    New York Times

    August 31, 2014

    The extremists who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq have riveted the world’s attention with their military prowess and unrestrained brutality. But Western intelligence services are also worried about their extraordinary command of seemingly less lethal weapons: state-of-the-art videos, ground images shot from drones and multilingual Twitter messages.

    ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is using every contemporary mode of messaging to recruit fighters, intimidate enemies and promote its claim to have established a caliphate, a unified Muslim state run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. If its bigotry and beheadings seem to come from a distant century, its use of media is up to the moment.

    A review of its prodigious output in print and online reveals a number of surprises. ISIS propaganda, for instance, has strikingly few calls for attacks on the West, even though its most notorious video, among Americans, released 12 days ago, showed the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, threatened another American hostage, and said that American attacks on ISIS “would result in the bloodshed” of Americans. This diverged from nearly all of ISIS’s varied output, which promotes its paramount goal: to secure and expand the Islamic state. Experts say that could change overnight, but for now it sharply distinguishes ISIS from Al Qaeda, which has long made attacks on the West its top priority.

    Photo

    An image posted Friday by ISIS on its Twitter account shows a suicide bomb attack.

    And while ISIS may be built on bloodshed, it seems intent on demonstrating the bureaucratic acumen of the state that it claims to be building. Its two annual reports so far are replete with a sort of jihadist-style bookkeeping, tracking statistics on everything from “cities taken over” and “knife murders” committed by ISIS forces to “checkpoints set up” and even “apostates repented.”

    ISIS media frames its campaign in epochal terms, mounting a frontal assault on the national divisions and boundaries in the Middle East drawn by Western powers after World War I. These “Crusader partitions” and their modern Arab leaders, ISIS argues in its English-language magazine, were a divide-and-conquer strategy intended to prevent Muslims from unifying “under one imam carrying the banner of truth.”

    That sense of historical grievance is an old theme for Al Qaeda and more moderate Islamist groups. The difference is that by capturing expansive territory and heavy weaponry, and flush with wealth from kidnappings, oil piracy, bank robbery and extortion, ISIS claims to have taken a major first step toward righting what it sees as this ancient wrong, creating a unified Muslim state that will subsume existing nations.

    ISIS carefully tailors its recruiting pitch, sending starkly different messages to Muslims in the West and to those closer to home. But the image of unstoppable, implacable power animates all of its messaging.

    The pitch is effective. The militant rebellion in Syria and Iraq has drawn as many as 2,000 Westerners, including perhaps 100 Americans, and many thousands more from the Middle East and elsewhere, though some have returned home. Experts believe most of those remaining today are fighting with ISIS.

    “The overriding point is that success breeds success,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former C.I.A. analyst. “The perception of quick victories and territory and weapons and bases means they don’t need to try hard to recruit.”

    Photo

    A still image from an ISIS video attempting to recruit Canadians. The video features a young Canadian recruit who was killed last year.

    For two decades, Mr. Nakhleh said, Osama bin Laden talked about re-establishing the caliphate, but he never claimed to have done it. “Young people look at ISIS and say, ‘By gosh, they’re doing it!’ They see the videos with fighters riding on big tanks. They see that ISIS has money,” he said.

    Before ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul in June, other factions fighting in Syria were attracting European recruits, said Thomas Schmidinger, a political scientist from Vienna University. “But since the fall of Mosul, nearly everyone is going to” ISIS, he said.

    In the evolution of modern jihadist propaganda, Bin Laden, addressing a single static camera with long-winded rhetoric in highly formal Arabic, represented the first generation. (His videos had to be smuggled to Al Jazeera or another television network to be aired.) The most prominent figure of the second generation was the YouTube star Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011, who addressed Westerners in colloquial English, had a blog and Facebook page and helped produce a full-color, English-language magazine called Inspire.

    ISIS is online jihad 3.0. Dozens of Twitter accounts spread its message, and it has posted some major speeches in seven languages. Its videos borrow from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, from combat video games and cable television dramas, and its sensational dispatches are echoed and amplified on social media. When its accounts are blocked, new ones appear immediately. It also uses services like JustPaste to publish battle summaries, SoundCloud to release audio reports, Instagram to share images and WhatsApp to spread graphics and videos.

    “They are very adept at targeting a young audience,” said John G. Horgan, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who has long studied terrorism. “There’s an urgency: ‘Be part of something that’s bigger than yourself and be part of it now.’ ” Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global,” said ISIS had so far consistently focused on what militants call “the near enemy” — leaders of Muslim countries like Bashar al-Assad of Syria — and not “the far enemy” of the United States and Europe.

    “The struggle against the Americans and the Israelis is distant, not a priority,” he said. “It has to await liberation at home.”

    Photo

    The video features a young Canadian recruit who was killed last year.

    Al Qaeda has often stressed the advantage to the terrorist network of supporters who hold Western passports and can attack in their countries. But a common public rite of passage for new recruits to ISIS is tearing up or burning their passports, signifying a no-going-back commitment to the Islamic state.

    One polished ISIS video features a Canadian recruit named Andre Poulin urging North American Muslims to follow him — and even to bring their families. “You’d be very well taken care of here,” he said in the video. “Your families would live here in safety, just like how it is back home. You know we have expanses of territory here in Syria.”

    In another English-language video pitch, a British fighter identified as Brother Abu Bara al-Hindi poses the call to jihad as a test for comfortable Westerners. “Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got, the big car, the family?” he asks. Despite such luxuries, he says, “Living in the West, I know how you feel — in the heart you feel depressed.” The Prophet Muhammad, he declares, said, “The cure for depression is jihad.”

    Such appeals provoke curiosity, and British fighters have answered hundreds of questions about joining ISIS on Ask.fm, a website, including what type of shoes to bring and whether toothbrushes are available. When asked what to do upon arriving in Turkey or Syria, the fighters often casually reply, “Kik me,” referring to the instant messenger for smartphones, and continue the discussion in private.

    The English-language videos do not soft-pedal the dangers of the fight; the video of Mr. Poulin, for instance, shows and celebrates his death in battle. But the message to English speakers is nonetheless far softer than the Arabic-language videos, which linger on enemy corpses and show handcuffed prisoners casually machine-gunned.

    The message, said Mr. Gerges, is blunt: “Get out of the way or you will be crushed; join our caravan and make history.”

    Photo

    The most recent cover of an ISIS magazine, which includes coverage of James Foley, the murdered American journalist.

    Instead of emphasizing jihad as a means of personal fulfillment, the Arabic media production portrays it as duty for all Muslims. It flaunts violence toward its foes, especially Shiites and the Iraqi and Syrian security services, while portraying the killing as just vengeance.

    A recent hourlong ISIS documentary opens with video shot from a drone over Falluja in Iraq and then over a convoy of ISIS gun trucks heading off to battle. A voice-over says that the Islamic state is expanding and that Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque is “only a stone’s throw away.”

    In a later scene, a fighter holding a rifle and his passport mocks his home country, Bahrain, for threatening to withdraw citizenship from those who fight jihad abroad.

    “Don’t you know that you, your citizenship, your laws, your constitutions and your threats are under our feet?” the fighter says. “Don’t you know that we are the soldiers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and that our state will expand until it removes the thrones that you sold your religion for?”

    Nowhere in the hourlong production — full of threats, drive-by shootings, explosions and gunfights — does an ISIS fighter mention the United States or directly mention or threaten Israel, apart from the allusion to the Aqsa mosque.

    Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst with the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi, said that ISIS portrays itself as restoring idealized eras of earlier Islamic history in a way that resonates with many of the region’s Muslims.

    Photo

    A graphic from an ISIS annual report that details its military attacks by type, part of the group’s varied media strategy.

    “ISIS tries to reflect an image of being the continuation of the system of the caliphate,” he said. “In people’s minds, the caliphate is about victory and dignity of Muslims. A caliph is a defender of Muslims against the enemies from within and without.”

    ISIS’ emphasis on strict implementation of Islamic law also draws support, he said, as does its portrayal of its battle in staunchly sectarian terms.

    Many of the region’s Sunnis have deep sympathy for any force that can challenge the Iraqi or Syrian governments, which they feel have oppressed Sunnis.

    ISIS “is the group that is capable of hitting these governments’ security forces and loyalists,” and that has “massive appeal,” Mr. Hassan said.

    The State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has stepped up its efforts to counter ISIS propaganda, publishing a steady stream of ISIS horror tales on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #ThinkAgainTurnAway.

    For now, it seems an uphill climb. Last week, an ISIS fighter calling himself Abu Turaab wrote on Twitter, “For those who want to come but are facing obstacles, be patient and keep the desire for Jihad alive within you always.”

    The State Department account replied, “ISIS recruits’ 2 choices: commit atrocities & die as criminals, get nabbed and waste lives in prison.” As of Friday, Abu Turaab’s comment had been named as a “favorite” 32 times. The count for the State Department’s response: Zero.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  9. ISIS Inspiring Extremists Groups Throughout Africa

    August 31, 2014

    African extremists: Islamic State offers grim inspiration

    Agence France-Presse

    August 31, 2014

    A screen-grab from a video released by Boko Haram shows alleged members of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group at an undisclosed location on August 24, 2014

    Amid fears Islamic State fighters are inspiring jihadists outside the Middle East, analysts warn it has emboldened extremists in Africa operating in voids left by weak governments and rampant corruption.

    The United States has described the IS group in Iraq and Syria as the strongest-ever Islamist threat with its “apocalyptic end of days” ideology.

    Their advance has sparked concern in Africa, with leaders from across the continent meeting Tuesday in Kenya to discuss the threat, the first such conference organised by the African Union.

    Islamist groups who belong to the Al-Qaeda franchise have already firmly implanted themselves across swathes of territory: from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, extremists in the Sahel to Shebab fighters in the Horn of Africa.

    "The scale and sophistication of recent attacks, along with the increased regionalisation of terrorism by Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Shebab, demand a more robust collective response, both at the regional and continental level," warned the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in a recent paper.

    African spy chiefs, who met in Nairobi this week ahead of the conference, voiced concern that jihadists on the continent may be inspired by IS.

    - ‘Sophisticated’ funding, porous borders -

    "It is important for countries of Africa to come together, pool resources, share intelligence and information in order to be able to confront this challenge," Kenya’s Director of External Intelligence Chris Mburu told reporters.

    Boko Haram in Nigeria

    Kenya, whose army invaded southern Somalia in 2011 before joining an African Union force battling Shebab Islamists, has suffered a string of attacks blamed on the extremists, including the four-day bloodbath in the upmarket Westgate mall in September 2013.

    Spy chiefs, who gathered for the AU’s Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), said in a final communique that key threats and challenges included “alliances being built by terror groups worldwide, sophisticated sources of funding” as well as Africa’s “porous borders”.

    African jihadists are apparently watching and learning from IS, although there is little evidence of direct links between the groups.

    Nigeria’s Boko Haram, a modestly funded local uprising made up of poor youths with little tactical training, has, like IS, also declared an “Islamic caliphate”.

    But by evoking a Nigerian caliphate, experts suggest leader Abubakar Shekau was trying to raise his own profile rather than submit to like-minded extremists in the Middle East.

    "I think right now Shekau’s moves are coming from a desire to emulate IS," said David Cook, a religious studies professor at Rice University in Houston who studies Boko Haram.

    Africa’s multiple groups, all with differing domestic agendas, may view IS with “ideological sympathy”, said Peter J. Pham, from the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

    Somali soldiers walk past the wreckage of a car at the main gate of the presidential palace in Mogadishu on July 9, 2014, destroyed during an attack by Islamist Shebab rebels

    But while “there may be declarations of support” he was doubtful of “actual linkages”.

    However, individuals may be encouraged to join the fight.

    "Many fighters move across the Sahel, move into Libya — where they do their initial training — and from there go on to Syria and Iraq," Pham told AFP.

    - Tackle ‘root causes’ -

    As leaders prepare to meet, solutions are far from simple.

    US President Barack Obama in early August promised to step up support for African armies battling Islamic extremists or conducting dangerous peacekeeping missions, after meeting with leaders and officials across the continent.

    "Countries need to tackle the threat through intelligence and information-sharing," said Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at Kenya’s United States International University.

    File photo released by SITE Monitoring Service in 2013 taken from jihadist forums online reportedly shows al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters preparing for war in northern Mali

    But rampant corruption, poor governance and disorganised, inadequate security forces are hampering the fight.

    "The policy response to extremism and terrorism in Africa needs to focus more on addressing the root causes of the problem, rather than military support for Africa’s strong men," said David Shinn, former US ambassador in Africa and now an adjunct professor at The George Washington University, in a recent article.

    Simply boosting military spending alone is not the cure.

    "Exclusively security-focused responses" have proved "inadequate" in the past, ISS warned.

    For some, violent ideology and joining the battle offers employment, cash and an “opportunity to do something other than to sit around,” Pham said.

    "You also have to deal with the basic causes, the driving factors of jihadi extremism: under-development, political, social and economic marginalization."

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes

  10. 40 Filipino Troops Escape Capture by Islamist Militants on the Golan Heights

    August 31, 2014

    Filipino troops pull ‘greatest escape’ from Syria

    Associated Press

    August 31, 2014

    (AP) — Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and under fire for seven hours by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said Sunday, leaving 44 Fijian troops still in the hands of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

    "We may call it the greatest escape," Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

    The peacekeepers became trapped after Syrian rebels entered the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone between Syria and Israel this week, seizing 44 Fijian soldiers and demanding that their Filipino colleagues surrender with their weapons. The Filipinos in two U.N. encampments refused and clashed with the rebels on Saturday. The first group of 35 peacekeepers was then successfully escorted out of a U.N. encampment in Breiqa by Irish and Filipino forces on board armored vehicles.

    The remaining 40 peacekeepers were besieged at the second encampment called Rwihana by more than 100 gunmen who rammed the camp’s gates with their trucks and fired mortar rounds. The Filipinos returned fire in self-defense, Philippine military officials said.

    At one point, Syrian government forces fired artillery rounds from a distance to prevent the Filipino peacekeepers from being overwhelmed, said Col. Roberto Ancan, a Philippine military official who helped monitor the tense standoff from the Philippine capital, Manila, and mobilize support for the besieged troops.

    "Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours," Catapang said in a news conference in Manila, adding there were no Filipino casualties. "We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire."

    As night fell and a cease-fire took hold, the 40 Filipinos fled with their weapons, traveling across the chilly hills for nearly two hours, before meeting up with other U.N. forces, which escorted them to safety early Sunday, Philippine officials said.

    During the siege, the Philippine secretaries of defense and foreign affairs, along with the country’s top military brass, gathered in a crisis room at the military headquarters in the capital to communicate with the Filipino forces and help guide them out of danger. The Syrian and Israeli governments, along with the United States and Qatar, provided support, the Philippine military said without elaborating.

    "If they held their ground, they could have been massacred because they were already running low on ammunition," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told The Associated Press. "So we discussed with them the option of escape and evasion."

    In New York, The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, whose mission is to monitor a 1974 disengagement in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria, reported that shortly after midnight local time, during a cease-fire agreed with the armed elements, all the 40 Filipino peacekeepers left their position and “arrived in a safe location one hour later.”

    The Filipinos escaped during the cease-fire because they refused to agree to surrender as the insurgents demanded, Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

    The clashes erupted after Syrian rebel groups — including al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front — overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijians.

    The SITE Intelligence Group reported that the Nusra Front had posted a statement on its Twitter account Saturday taking responsibility for detaining the Fijian peacekeepers. The Nusra Front stated that the Fijian detainees “are in a safe place, and they are in good health, and that we have given them what they need of food and treatment.”

    The Nusra Front also posted a photo showing what it said were the captured Fijians in their military uniforms along with 45 identification cards, SITE said.

    SITE added that the Nusra Front claimed the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the U.N.’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood” in Syria” and even colluding with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights. The SITE report could not be independently confirmed.

    The U.N. mission has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. A number of countries has withdrawn their peacekeepers due to the escalating violence.

    Philippine officials said Filipino forces would remain in Golan until their mission ends in October and not withdraw prematurely following the rebel attacks and the capture of the Fijian peacekeepers.

    Both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council strongly condemned Saturday’s attack on peacekeepers’ positions and the ongoing detention of the Fijian peacekeepers.

    The Nusra Front has recently seized hostages to exchange for prisoners detained in Syria and Lebanon.

    21 hours ago  /  0 notes