INTELLIGENCE BRIEFS: by John MillerNews Weekly
Three important issues and what they portend
, September 3, 2011
What will follow the Arab Spring?
Fast-changing events on the world stage make it extremely difficult to monitor situations as they occur, let alone anticipate the unexpected. For example, the rebellion in Libya which, until August 19, appeared to have run out of steam, suddenly burst into life again and, within a few days, brought an apparent end to the tyrannical rule of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi.
However, caution not euphoria is a more appropriate response on such occasions. While we should welcome the overthrow of tyrants, dictators and other tinpot rulers, we should nevertheless be extremely wary about what comes next.
Certainly, in amassing wealth and arms, many of the now displaced rulers of the Middle East impoverished and alienated their subjects. Uprisings of some form, usually small-scale, have been taking place in the region over the years; but for some reason, in this year 2011, they have become more united and successful. Why this is so is likely to be the subject of many learned dissertations because one cannot conduct a revolt without arms and support.
However, there is much to commend the old saying, “Beware of what you wish for, lest it come true.” As for the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and ongoing actions in Bahrain and Syria, it is premature to crow with the New York Times and Associated Press that this “Arab Spring” is somehow a spontaneous uprising for democracy assisted by technology.
We read endless accounts of the power of Facebook and Twitter in enhancing communication, but neither of them counts for much against an AK-47 rifle or a tank.
From what I have seen of the uprisings, the main motive of the rioters has been a desire for a better life. In Egypt especially, people wanted jobs, better pay, affordable food and more freedom; but we should be extremely careful about presuming calls for “freedom” necessarily mean calls for Western-style democracy and culture. That remains the case across the Middle East.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has kept a low profile until quite recently. Only after the first election will we be able to assess properly who will hold the reins of power and the nature of their objectives and strategy.
One thing is certain: the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, namely Israel, has the most to lose, especially if fundamentalist Islamic extremists gain power in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.
Second attack on Fort Hood thwarted
It was recently announced that the trial will take place next year of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Jordanian-born U.S. Army psychiatrist who ran riot on November 5, 2009, at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 12 people, one of whom was a pregnant female soldier, before he was himself shot and injured.
At present he remains in military confinement, and continues to draw his pay and hold his rank of major on the assumption of his innocence unless proven guilty.
This is as it should be, for this is how the legal system of a civilised country like America works. There is no place for lynch mobs or summary justice.
However, I have remarked in previous articles on the quite conclusive evidence that Major Hasan, prior to his shooting spree, had ritually cleansed himself and embarked on his mission in the name of Allah.
Major Hasan today is by all accounts at least paraplegic, with two bullets lodged close to his spine, and he will never walk again. His trial has been set for March 2012 and the death sentence is a distinct possibility. As far as we can tell, he has shown no remorse for his actions.
In an apparently related case, Pfc. (Private First Class) Naser Jason Abdo, a 21-year-old member of the first U.S. brigade combat team, 101st Airborne Division, was arrested by federal authorities for being absent without leave (AWOL) and allegedly planning to attack a restaurant in close proximity to Fort Hood.
Like Major Hasan, Abdo is of Jordanian origin and joined the U.S. armed forces in March 2009.
A year later, he applied for the status of conscientious objector, claiming that deployment to Afghanistan or the Middle East was a violation of Sharia law.
Somewhat incredibly, the U.S. Army granted him that status without apparently giving any thought for setting such a precedent.
Needless to say, this latest Fort Hood affair has caused a fairly intense debate in the U.S. media.
However, despite his status as a conscientious objector, the U.S. Army was prepared to discharge Abdo when child pornography was discovered on his government-issued computer. On June 15 it was recommended that he face a court-martial. On July 4 he went AWOL.
When subsequently arrested, he was found to be in possession of an illegal firearm.
Publicly available material suggests that he had been acquiring smokeless gunpowder shotgun ammunition and the magazine for a pistol. These were purchased at the same store used by Major Hasan, Guns Galore in Killeen, Texas.
What has not been given sufficient publicity is the fact that the authorities also found in Abdo’s possession an article from the al Qaeda magazine Inspire with the charming title, “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom”.
This magazine is a glossy production which extols jihad, venerates the late Osama bin Laden and is banned in many parts of the world.
I have seen electronic copies and believe the ban to be entirely justified.
2012 – the other election
Anybody familiar with U.S. politics and especially the recent confrontation between President Obama and Congress will be only too aware of the power struggle in the United States and the number of presidential prospects from the Republican Party hoping to defeat Barack Obama next year.
Meanwhile, in Russia, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Vladimir Vladimorivich Putin will once again stand for the position of president of Russia.
After his first two terms in power, the Russian constitution required him to step down, and, to give him credit, he did so. However, at the same time he installed as his replacement Dmitry Medvedev, democratically-elected but with Putin’s backing and also a member of the St Petersburg group which wields so much power in Russia.
There are signs that during Medvedev’s term as president the two men have not always agreed, but Putin as prime minister has wielded considerable power and the constitution permits him to challenge for the presidency next year.
The leopard does not change its spots, and Putin remains fundamentally hostile to the U.S. and to democracy. Since the fall of communism, the modernisation of Russia has largely been restricted to Moscow, St Petersburg and several of the largest cities.
It is true that Russia’s ritual of elections creates a useful illusion for all those willing to believe in the inherent goodness of the rulers of the Kremlin. Little is said, however, of the massive increase in the size of the Russian security apparatus.
While some expansion is justified because of the number of terrorist attacks on Russian soil, usually directly by the Caucasian emirate, based in Chechnya, a disturbing number of investigative journalists and former intelligence officers have been found dead and somehow, the trail appears to lead back to the FSB, the contemporary name for the old second chief directorate of the KGB and responsible for internal security and the persecution of dissidents.
Despite the breaking up of a huge Russian intelligence network in the U.S. earlier this year, the Obama administration appears to have been blindsided by Moscow. Many references are made to a “reset” button in U.S.-Russian relations, but the dismal fact remains that Russian foreign espionage currently surpasses even that of the Cold War during the mid-1990s.
Today, there is something of a debate in academic circles in the U.S. about Russian intentions. It would be quite logical to ask why Russia finds it necessary to conduct intensive intelligence operations overseas, including in Australia, if it is allegedly becoming more democratic and Westernised.
Russia will never be a superpower in the same manner as the old Soviet Union, but it still manufactures arms which are then sold to enemies of the U.S. and its allies.
During the recent financial imbroglio in the U.S., Vladimir Putin made a number of crude and offensive statements about the West and Western economics. Under some circumstances, these criticisms might be valid.
Meanwhile, Putin’s government has been slowly but surely re-nationalising Russia’s industries and developing into a corporate state.
With a strong secret police and the likelihood of ex-KGB officer Putin winning the presidency again, Russia could once again crack down on human rights and turn its back on freedom.
So while we turn to watch U.S. presidential race in 2012, we must not forget the elections in Russia.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.