4 August 2014


August 3, 2014

Carrying The Next Digital Epidemic: Why The Security Of A USB Device Is Fundamentally Broken — Next Big Digital Infection Vector?

Andy Greenberg had an online article (July 31, 2014) on the website Wired.com, “Why The Security Of A USB Device Is Fundamentally Broken,”. He writes that “computer users pass around USB sticks like silicon business cards. Although we know they often carry malware infections,” writes Mr. Greenberg, “we depend on antivirus scans and the occasional reformatting to keep our thumb-drives from becoming the carrier of the next digital epidemic. But, the security problems with USB devices run deeper than you think,” he says: “Their risk isn’t just what they carry, it’s built into the core of how they work.”

“That’s why the takeaway from the findings [cyber] security researchers Karsten Kohl and Jakob Lell plan to present next week,” [at the annual Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas] Mr. Greenberg notes, “demonstrating a proof-of-concept malicious software that highlights how the security of USB devices — has long been fundamentally broken.” “The malware the two created,” notes Mr. Greenberg, “called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, — invisibly alter files [already] installed from the memory stick; or, even redirect the user’s Internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides — not in the flash memory storage of USB devices; but, in firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the content’s of the device’s memory would appear to the average user — to have been deleted. And, the two researchers say there’s no easy fix: the kind of compromise they’re demonstrating is nearly impossible to counter — without banning the sharing of USB devices; or, filling your port with superglue.”

“These problems can’t be patched. We’re exploiting the very way the USB is designed,” said Nohl.

“In this new way of thinking, you have to consider a USB infected; and, throw it away — as soon as it touches a non-trusted computer.”

Nohl and Lell, “researchers [cyber security] for the security consultancy firm, SR Labs, are hardly the first to point out USB devices can store and spread malware. But, the two hackers didn’t merely copy their own custom-coded infections into USB devices’ memory.” The two researchers “spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs in basic communications functions of USB devices,” Mr. Greenberg writes, “the controller chips that allow the devices to communicate with a PC; and, let users move files on, and off them.” “Their central finding is that USB firmware, which exists in varying forms for all USB devices, can be reprogrammed to hide attack code.” “You can give it to your IT security people, they can scan it, delete some files, and give it back to you — telling you that it’s clean,” said Nohl. “But, unless the IT guy has the reverse engineering skills to find, and analyze the firmware,” [highly doubtful in most cases] “the cleaning process doesn’t even touch the files we’re talking about.”

Break EU-Russia Deadlock

By Anuradha M Chenoy
04th August 2014 

The European Union has agreed to the US proposals of imposing broader and unilateral sanctions against Russian oil companies, banks and defence firms. The earlier sanctions were against individuals and select firms seen to be supporting the conflict. The new sanctions are being levied because of the Russian support to ethnic Russians who are Ukrainian citizens and residents of mainly the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. This community of ethnic Russians have rebelled against the current Ukrainian regime, and a civil war-like situation prevails in southeastern Ukraine. The shooting down of the Malaysian Airline plane over this territory has revealed the lethality of the war where the rebels and the Ukrainian forces that are ruthless and extraordinarily well-armed and ready for collateral damage.

There are, of course, as in any conflict, many reasons, arguments, myths, rumours, verifiable and unverifiable facts that are being put out by both sides. Most people, including analysts and the media, cherry-pick these to suit their convenience and blame game. For example, the Western media and international community argue that the sole reason for this civil war is Russian emotional and material support to the “rebels”.

Putin has countered this by saying that 1) For the last 25 years since Ukraine became independent there was relative peace and no rebels. This was because Russia supported all of Ukraine by giving them gas and other subsidies. Ukraine owes them billions of dollars in debt. Now that the EU, NATO and IMF want Ukraine to join this troika alliance, Ukraine opposes Russian alliances and repayment of debt. 2) There was harmony between the ethnic Russians, ethnic Ukrainians and other minorities until recently. This harmony could have been enhanced if Ukraine gradually turned more federal, gave autonomy within the Ukrainian political and socioeconomic structure to the regions, like Crimea, Donetsk, etc. But the Ukrainian political elite were just fighting each other and no gains went to the people, while critical institutions like the judiciary and governance suffered. Politics was dominated by pro-Russia or anti-Russia instead of pro-all Ukrainian people. 3) A right-wing party and pro-West government replaced the corrupt pro-Russian government and their informal militia started targeting minorities, especially ethnic Russians, and the Ukrainian government did not stop the attacks. The fear felt by the Ukrainian-ethnic Russians led to a movement linked with Russia, since many areas have been historically part of Russia.

Putin argued that Ukraine possesses Russian arms like all the former Soviet republics, and that the Russian rebels had nothing to gain from shooting down a Malaysian plane. The main beneficiary is the Ukraine regime that now has the “international community” on its side. Putin has questioned the term “international community” as only a Western club that does not consider the history, politics and opinions outside the West.

Meanwhile, the US and the EU solely blame Russia in this horrendous geopolitics. They say Putin is authoritarian and wants to recreate Russian hegemonic control over former Soviet countries. This is far from true, because when the Soviet Union voluntarily disintegrated no blood was shed and no forced exchange of populations took place.

The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is demanding a United Nations (UN) inquiry into the plane shooting. He said that a big country like Russia will not indulge in cross sanctions and eye-for-an-eye type of politics, but appeal to the UN. So clearly, there is a stalemate and many analysts are indicating there could be a new Cold War. Is this a possibility? And what should India do? The truth is a new Cold War will be disastrous for people world over and only benefit the military-industrial- global power elite. For the Third World, even the old Cold War was actually many types of hot wars, regional conflicts, local civil fuelled by the extractions of minerals, hydrocarbons, diamonds, etc., interventions and proxy wars by favoured superpowers. Do we want a repeat of this with new avatars?

The way forward then is for India to join those who want a world order based on negotiated settlement, international law, a democratised international system where all countries concerned with an incident have an equal say. This is not some idealistic position but very possible, as the recent BRICS resolutions have shown. Further, the UN General Assembly has also shown ways forward on this.

India has made the right statements on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and has been much appreciated by Russia on this count. India must continue to argue that there should be an immediate ceasefire between the rebels and the Ukraine government. That the Ukraine government and the Western Bloc should not deny the history and multi-ethnic nature of Ukraine and that these should be factored into a negotiated peace settlement. The interests of the Ukrainian people as a whole should be seen without the geopolitical interests of Russian, the US, EU or others. This can be possible if all sides are on the negotiating table in continuous and uninterrupted talks.

India needs to press such inclusive and wholesome talks where history, society, region, etc. should be on the agenda. The attempt to separate these issues and only consider geopolitical interests of the great powers cannot resolve such crises. India is part of important forums like BRICS and G20 which could be leveraged. To be a great power that India has the potential to be, India has to intervene on the basis of principles on which it was founded. These were insuring the pluralities of identities, religions and peoples. Many countries around India like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and former USSR broke up when they structured themselves on the basis of majoritarian and lopsided principles and did not give their significant minorities rights. This is being repeated in Ukraine. India can show through its own example that autonomous federalism can work. And link this to its foreign policy.

The writer is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Black economy now amounts to 75% of GDP


The HinduIndia’s black economy could now be nearly three-quarters the size of its reported GDP.

Driven substantially by the higher education sector, real estate deals and mining income, India’s black economy could now be nearly three-quarters the size of its reported Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These are among the findings of a confidential report commissioned by the government and accessed exclusively by The Hindu.

Since there were no “reliable” estimates of black money generated in India and held within and outside the country, the UPA government commissioned the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) to estimate the black money in India and held overseas by Indians.

The Special Investigation Team on black money, constituted by the Narendra Modi government on May 27 in compliance with a Supreme Court directive, is studying the report.

Though the report was submitted to the Finance Ministry in December 2013, the UPA’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram did not place it in Parliament. Nor has his successor Arun Jaitley done so.

The capitation fees collected by private colleges, on management quota seats in professional courses, last year was around Rs 5,953 crore, the report estimates.

"The United States, India, and the Rise of Geoeconomics"

Author: Robert D. Blackwill, International Council Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Presentation for The Ananta Aspen Center
June 10, 2014

Robert D. Blackwill presented for The Ananta Aspen Center a speech entitled "The United States, India, and the Rise of Geoeconomics," on June 10, 2014 in New Delhi.

To see the full text of his speech, please find a link to the PDF below:

In Tunnel War, Israeli Playbook Offers Few Ideas

1 Aug, 2014

JERUSALEM — Israel entered its latest conflict with Hamas armed with a high-tech arsenal, real-time battlefield intelligence and strong domestic support for dealing a heavy blow to Hamas.

But again on Friday, Israeli forces were taken by surprise, this time with two soldiers killed and one taken prisoner when militants once again attacked from a tunnel in Gaza.

As frustration grows in Israel over the military’s limited success so far in trying to neutralize Hamas, the militant Islamic group that governs Gaza, some military experts say it is increasingly evident that the Israel Defense Forces have been operating from an old playbook and are not fully prepared for a more sophisticated, battle-ready adversary. The issue is not specifically the tunnels — which Israel knew about — but the way Hamas fighters trained to use them to create what experts in Israel are calling a “360-degree front.”

Israeli soldiers near the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza on Friday. A retired Israeli general said Hamas had “changed its doctrine” in attacking from tunnels. Credit Amir Cohen/Reuters 

“Hamas has changed its doctrine and is using the tunnels as a main method of operation,” said Israel Ziv, a retired general who headed the military’s Gaza division and its operations directorate. “This is something we learned amid the fighting.”
An underground look at Hamas’s tunnels into Israel.

What’s going wrong with rebuilding Afghanistan? Inspector general has a list.

By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer 
JULY 31, 2014 

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in its latest report on the $104 billion project, takes the Pentagon and Afghanistan government to task for a broad range of questionable policies. 
WASHINGTON — The most expensive foreign reconstruction effort ever underwritten by the US taxpayer – more than the wildly successful Marshall Plan to remake Europe after World War II – has been the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

But this $104 billion effort has been plagued by head-scratching decisions on the part of the Pentagon.

Among the most perplexing of these has been its failure to bar American and Afghan contractors who are embezzling millions from US taxpayer coffers, warns the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an office created by Congress in 2008 and filled by John Sopko since 2012.

In his latest report on the reconstruction efforts, released this week, Mr. Sopko, a lawyer and former prosecutor with extensive experience in government oversight, notes that while Afghan National Security Forces have received billions from the US for training, the Afghan government routinely fails to come through with basics for their soldiers, such as pay, which serves to “severely undermine” US efforts.

This spring, for example, an Afghan local police unit cut the power lines from Kabul to two eastern provinces in retaliation for not being paid for three months.

Then, Sopko notes, there is the “misguided policy” of the Pentagon. This most notably involves the decision of senior US defense officials to release fewer and fewer statistics about progress in Afghanistan. As a result, he warns, “One of my concerns is that US agencies often lack metrics for determining whether their projects and programs are contributing to the achievement of overall US strategic objectives.”

Indeed, the US government has “increasingly reduced the amount of data we make public on the course of the fighting and the state of the Afghan economy,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

At the same time, the US has “spun the data we do provide to support our present political goals,” Dr. Cordesman added in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee this week. “We focus on Afghan forces and the military dimension at the tactical level, and understate or ignore massive uncertainties as to Afghanistan’s political unity and capacity to govern.”

What’s more, “We talk about aid levels that are not based on concrete plans and costs, and we are moving forward at a time when the war lacks the support of the American people.”

It lacks the support of the citizens of US-allied countries as well, Sopko points out in his SIGAR report. Foreign aid to Afghanistan has been falling since 2010, “and history suggests it will fall even more sharply after US and coalition troops are withdrawn. Government budget shortfalls could severely undermine the central government and overall political stability.”

In his congressionally mandated report, Sopko says that although SIGAR works to provide guidance through its inspections throughout Afghanistan, “large areas of the country – larger even than SIGAR anticipated last year – will soon be off limits to personnel due to base closures and troop withdrawals.” 

At the same time, Sopko expresses his frustration with the US Army’s “refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency from receiving government contracts because the information supporting these recommendations is classified.” 

This decision “is not only legally wrong,” but “contrary to sound policy and national security goals. It is troubling that our government can and does use classified information to arrest, detain, and even kill individuals linked to the insurgency in Afghanistan,” he adds, “but apparently the same classified information cannot be used to deny these same individuals their rights to contract work with the US government.”

Downsizing the War: Layoffs and Yard Sales in Afghanistan

The signs of a dying war are everywhere in Afghanistan. An officer serving there reports on the layoffs and yard sales that mark the strange last days of America’s longest war. 

On July 8, a suicide bomber killed four Czech soldiers, two Afghan security forces, and at least 12 civilians a few miles outside Bagram Airfield. The bombing left another Czech soldier and eight others wounded. The U.N. reported that at least 10 of those killed, and six of the wounded, were children. The base called for blood donors, and the line of volunteers wrapped around the building within minutes. 

The wounded Czech soldier succumbed to his injuries at hospital in Prague on July 14. 

The attack highlighted that the war in Afghanistan isn’t over, but as each blistering day of Ramadan fades into the next, the signs of a dying conflict are getting easier to spot. The massive drawdown of coalition forces is picking up, and the process carries many names: retrograde, transition, downsize, de-scope, withdrawal. 

Military planners labor away at endless meetings, teleconferences, and presentations to form the best ways ahead for Operation Resolute Support, the post-2014 mission in Afghanistan. Uncertainty rides the air as decision makers await the results of the Afghan presidential runoff election and ink on a bilateral security agreement. For the troops, the message remains clear: ignore the ambiguity, continue doing your jobs and don’t worry about the unknowns. 

As small outposts across the country continue to close, more troops move onto the larger remaining bases. More people means tighter living conditions and maxed-out base services. More often now, troops wait in line for nearly everything. 

In the Heart of Mysterious Oman

On March 12, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, together with his foreign minister, his oil minister, the head of Iran’s central bank, and other senior Iranian officials, took a short flight across the Gulf of Oman to Muscat, the capital of Oman. Occupying the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Persian Gulf meets the Arabian Sea, Oman belongs to a part of the Arab world known for its hostility to Iran’s Islamic Republic. Several of Oman’s closest neighbors, including Qatar, Kuwait, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have been fighting an increasingly brutal proxy war with Iran in Syria; Iran has at various times threatened to block tankers carrying Arabian oil from passing through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which separates it from Oman. 

But the purpose of this extraordinary visit—the first by President Rouhani to Arabia—was to discuss economic ties with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, who has been ruling Oman for more than four decades. Within twenty-four hours, the two countries had concluded an agreement to build a $1 billion gas pipeline across the Gulf of Oman and provide Iranian gas to Oman for twenty-five years. 

The deal showed just how quickly Iran’s position in the world has evolved. When Rouhani was elected, in June 2013, Iran was suffering from years of economic sanctions and isolation by the United States, which had deep alliances with Iran’s enemies—the mostly Sunni monarchies on the other side of the Persian Gulf. Since then, Iran has reached an interim agreement with the US to negotiate a new nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has lost considerable influence in Washington, and the Saudi-led alliance—the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Oman is a charter member—is increasingly divided. In June, when Sunni extremists swept across the northern half of Iraq, there was even talk of Washington’s and Tehran’s growing shared interests in saving the country. Though little noted in the press, the leader largely responsible for this dramatic shift was Sultan Qaboos, a staunch US ally and, measured by years in office, the most senior of the Arabian monarchs. 

Unlike his flamboyant peers in Qatar and the Emirates, Sultan Qaboos has long had an aversion to publicity. But over the past year, the seventy-three-year-old sultan has asserted his country’s interests in regional affairs with unusual vigor. In August 2013, he was the first foreign head of state to visit Rouhani in Tehran, where he also met the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei; this was followed by revelations that Oman had secretly been the host for bilateral talks between Iranian and US officials that produced the breakthrough interim agreement last fall. 

Then, in December, Oman publicly denounced a plan by Saudi Arabia to turn the alliance of Gulf states into a political union—a plan that was widely viewed as an attempt by Sunni hereditary rulers to counter both Shiite Iran and the popular movements that have been spreading through the Arab world. By late spring of this year, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia itself were instead making overtures to Tehran. On June 20, Oman’s top diplomat was invited to the White House for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted that the sultanate “has helped us to be able to do things that might otherwise have been difficult,” adding that the US was especially seeking Oman’s advice about Iraq. 
Omani Ministry of Transport and Communications/Mike King

Myanmar: Divide And Keep Conquered

July 30, 2014

Growing popular opposition to the remaining military control of the government is not making much progress. The military still controls (via corruption or coercion) the government bureaucracy, especially the courts, police and, of course, the military. This enables the generals to hit back hard at opponents. Journalists are being sent to jail and popular demonstrations are suppressed by police. The courts regularly rule against tribes that bring lawsuits against illegal land grabs and similar misbehavior (by military owned or backed companies) in the north. Meanwhile the anti-Moslem paranoia of the Buddhist clergy is largely left alone. The generals know that the continuing attention Islamic terrorist atrocities get in the international media makes it difficult for sufficient international pressure to build against Burma for bad treatment of the Moslem minority in Burma. 

The military continue to work out peace deals with tribal rebels while also continuing attacks on troublesome (to military economic interests) tribal rebels along the borders. The army believes it has to maintain an aggressive stance or else the tribal rebels will unite and become a serious problem. As far as the tribal minority in the north is concerned the government is continuing to break promises like they have been doing since 1948 when modern Burma was created by the departing British colonial officials. The British gave Burma control of remote tribal areas that the pre-colonial Burmese kingdoms had generally left alone and, at best, considered buffers with China and Thailand. After 1948 the ethnic Burmese saw the tribal territories as an economic opportunity and moved in like never before. This created friction and the tribes and the ethnic Burmese down south have been fighting ever since. 

The government effort to negotiate peace with the tribes is hampered by distrust and the refusal of the tribes to disband the governmental institutions the tribes have built. The government is particularly hostile to the tribes taking over police and taxation in the areas the tribal militias control. The taxation often includes road checkpoints by the tribal “police” that collect fees from any vehicles that wish to get through the area. The tribes don’t trust police or taxpayers from the south because the ethnic Burmese who work those jobs are seen as hopelessly corrupt and not very efficient either. 

International banks and other lenders (like the IMF) are telling Burma some fundamental changes are necessary before Burma will see a lot of foreign investment. In particular something must be done about the extensive corruption. This makes it difficult for all businesses to operate. Then there is the lingering power of the army. The foreign investors and most Burmese are pressuring the Burmese military must allow the 2008 constitution (created when the military government was still in control) to be modified to eliminate the excessive power of the military in the new democratic government. For example, the 2008 constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in parliament and requires 75 percent of the votes in parliament to get the constitution changed. The generals are reluctant to allow these changes because so many Burmese are still angry at the decades of bad behavior by the military government. Without some control over the government the generals who ran the military dictatorship (and many of their subordinates) could be prosecuted for their crimes. The generals are under a lot of pressure over the constitutional reform issue. Burmese businessmen and foreign investors also back a reduction of military control, mainly because the military is the main source of the widespread corruption that cripples the economy. 

Bhutan and the Great Power Tussle

By Brian Benedictus
August 02, 2014

Both China and India recognize Bhutan’s strategic value, but their approaches are very different. 
At first glance, the Kingdom of Bhutan would not seem to be a country that would factor heavily in the calculus of regional powers. With a land mass smaller than that of the Dominican Republic and with fewer people than Fiji, this landlocked Himalayan country has nonetheless become increasingly important strategically to both New Delhi and Beijing. The reason for this interest is not untapped mineral riches or a large consumer class, but Bhutan’s geographical location. As the Kingdom has only in recent years begun to open itself up to the outside world (only legalizing television and the internet in 1999 ), it finds itself caught up in a discreet but high stakes diplomatic battle being waged between India and China.

The centerpiece of this issue is territory. Between China and Bhutan there are three territorial areas of dispute: The Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys on the Bhutan-Chinese north-central border, and the Doklam plateau in Eastern Bhutan. While the two territories to the north are of interest to China due to their proximity to Tibet, as well as what it perceives as its “historic claims” to the areas, the Doklam Plateau is what it covets most. That claim is of grave concern to New Delhi. India’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) aptly describes the strategic value of the region:

“The Doklam Plateau lies immediately east of Indian defences in Sikkim. Chinese occupation of Doklam would turn the flank of Indian defences completely. This piece of dominating ground not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi Valley but also overlooks the Silguri Corridor further to the east.”

The Silguri Corridor (described by some analysts as a “Chicken’s Neck”) is a narrow stretch of land that connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India. If the Chinese were to gain possession of the Doklam plateau, in the event of hostilities it would have the ability to essentially “cut-off” India’s land access to 40 million citizens in its northeast territories. In 1996, China was believed to have come close to acquiring the plateau; as it was willing to renounce 495 square kilometers of territorial claims in the northern valleys in exchange for the 269 square kilometers that constitute much of the Doklam plateau. The likelihood of such an agreement being finalized in the near future is slim, as the area is the constituency of Bhutan’s current Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, An East-West Showdown in the Heart of Africa?

Posted by Nick Turse 
July 31, 2014.

For the last two years, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse has been following the Pentagon and the latest U.S. global command, AFRICOM, as they oversaw the expanding operations of the American military across that continent: drones, a special ops surge, interventions, training missions, bases (even if not called bases), proxy wars. Short of a major conflict, you name it and it's probably happening. Washington’s move into Africa seems connected as well to the destabilization of parts of that continent and the rise of various terror groups across it, another subject Nick has been following. With rare exceptions, only recently have aspects of the Obama administration’s largely below-the-radar-screen “pivot” to Africa made it into the mainstream media. Even more recently, global chaos from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to Ukraine has driven it out again. As a result, most Americans have no sense of how their future and Africa’s are being entwined in possibly explosive ways. 

With this in mind, and with the support of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund (as well as the generosity of Adelaide Gomer), Nick has gone to Tanzania and South Sudan to explore the situation further himself. Today, as the first fruits of that trip, TomDispatch has a major story on a development that has, until now, remained distinctly below the radar screen: the Africa-wide contest between the globe’s “sole superpower,” the U.S., and its preeminent rising economic power, China, over which will benefit most from the exploitation of that continent. 

Over the next several months, there will be more pieces from Nick on America’s growing stake in and effect on Africa. The next will address a looming crisis in the world's youngest nation. He offers a preview: “My aid agency contacts say that, in September, the United Nations will officially declare a famine in large swaths of South Sudan. As one humanitarian worker here put it to me, add famine to war and you have a powder keg. ‘It’s going to get worse,’ says another, ‘before it gets better.’” Tom

China, America, and a New Cold War in Africa?

Is the Conflict in South Sudan the Opening Salvo in the Battle for a Continent? 

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

Juba, South Sudan -- Is this country the first hot battlefield in a new cold war? Is the conflict tearing this new nation apart actually a proxy fight between the world’s two top economic and military powers? That’s the way South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth tells it. After "midwifing" South Sudan into existence with billions of dollars in assistance, aid, infrastructure projects, and military support, the U.S. has watched China emerge as the major beneficiary of South Sudan’s oil reserves. As a result, Makuei claims, the U.S. and otherWestern powers have backed former vice president Riek Machar and his rebel forces in an effort to overthrow the country’s president, Salva Kiir. China, for its part, has played a conspicuous double game. Beijing has lined up behind Kiir, even as it publicly pushes both sides to find a diplomatic solution to a simmering civil war. It is sending peacekeepers as part of the U.N. mission even as it alsoarms Kiir’s forces with tens of millions of dollars worth of new weapons.

Japan Names Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

In a move that will almost certainly anger China, Japan announced Friday that it is naming five of the disputed islands. 

August 01, 2014day that it will name five of the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Early Friday the Associated Press reported, citing Japan’s maritime agency, that Japan will name 158 uninhabited islands in an effort to better assert its sovereignty over them. Among these will be five islands in the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

“The names will be used for new maps. The islets are within Japan’s established exclusive economic zone and will not change maritime boundaries,” the Associated Press said in the report.

The report went on to say that Japan’s maritime agency intends to publish the names of all 158 inhabited islands on its website later today.

Japan’s naming of the disputed islands is almost certain to anger China and, to a lesser extent, Taiwan. Japan does not officially recognize that a dispute over ownership of the islands exists, and thus will reject all criticism from Beijing.

Ties between China and Japan have deteriorated sharply since Tokyo nationalized some of the islands in the fall of 2012. Since that time, China has significantly stepped up its maritime patrols around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in an effort to weaken Japan’s claims of sovereignty over them. Tokyo’s decision to name some of the disputed islands is likely aimed at countering these efforts.

In many ways, Japan’s naming of the islands is similar to China’s printing of maps asserting its expansion claims of sovereignty over the East and South China Seas, as well as its land borders with India.

Counter-Terrorism: Turkey And The Fraying Kurdish Ceasefire

July 31, 2014

Turkey is trying desperately to hold on to a March 2013 ceasefire with the PKK (Kurdish separatist rebels), at least until the presidential election on August 10th. The current president (Tayyip Erdogan) believes he needs the ceasefire to hold so he can get desperately needed Kurdish votes for his reelection. This effort has not been going well. There have been a growing number of violent incidents involving PKK fighters since last March. 

The first year of the ceasefire passed without incident. But in the last four months there have been more and more violent incidents. PKK leaders point out that the ceasefire does not mean peace. That is interpreted by intelligence analysts as a reminded that the PKK (and their Syrian counterparts of the PYD) are caught up in the Syrian civil war. Most of the violent incidents in the last four months have occurred as PKK or PYD men crossed the border to or from Turkey and Syria. The PKK is aiding the beleaguered Kurds of northeast Syria who are under heavy attack by Islamic terrorist Syrian rebel groups. 

The 2013 ceasefire deal involved PKK moving all its armed members to northern Iraq (an area Iraqi Kurds have controlled since the early 1990s) and Turkey passing laws to give the 15 million Turkism Kurds (most of them in southeast Turkey) more autonomy and freedom from laws restricting the open use of the Kurdish language and customs. The PKK believes the Turks are reluctant to the pass the laws. 

The recent violence is believed to be the result of factionalism within PKK. This has long been a problem with the Kurds and, despite constant efforts to impose discipline, in PKK as well. Many PKK members want to continue fighting until southeastern Turkey is an independent state. This is something most Turks refuse to consider and even getting most Turks to agree to more Kurdish autonomy is a major achievement. Even more PKK men want to fight in Syria and it is easier to get there via Turkey. The Turks are sympathetic with the plight of the Syrian Kurds but are reluctant to openly aid the PKK there. Moreover some Turkish intel analysts believe that many of these border incidents are mainly about smuggling for cash, not for protecting Syrian Kurds. 

There is also a lot of friction between the Iraqi Kurds and the PKK. Part of that was revealed earlier in 2014 when the leader of the autonomous Kurds of northern Iraq admitted that in 2006 he resisted pressure from the United States and Iraq to join in an attack on PKK bases in northern Iraq and refused to cooperate. The Iraqi Kurds now see this gesture as unappreciated by the PKK. Armed Kurdish resistance has been going on, and off, for centuries. When the Turks first entered what is now eastern Turkey some of the first people they encountered and fought were Kurds. The unrest among Turkish Kurds turns comes from genuine Kurdish nationalism and an ancient Kurdish dreams of an independent Kurdistan. This Kurdish state was supposed to be established after World War I but got aborted by a Greek invasion of western Turkey and a massive Turkish military response to that, and any other separatist movements. During the Cold War (1947-91) Russia supported and encouraged Kurdish radicals as a way to destabilize Turkey, an important member of NATO. That led to Kurdish separatist activity in Iran, Iraq, and Syria as well. During the Cold War Turkey gave refuge to Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi oppression. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89) both sides made use of Kurdish nationalists to weaken the other side. That was followed by a brutal Iraqi offensive against their own Kurds in 1988, including dousing Kurdish villages with poison gas. This led to even more Kurdish refugees inside Turkey. 

The PKK got organized in the 1970s and declared war on Turkey in 1984. Since then over 40,000 people have died (73 percent PKK members, 14 percent security forces and 13 percent civilians, most of them Kurds). Not only are most Kurds eager to see an end to the violence, but also to the PKK custom of kidnapping teenage boys and taking them to remote camps where they are persuaded to become full time PKK fighters. Most of the kidnapped kids decide to stay and fight and a quarter or more of them get killed or die from something else while with the PKK. Many teenage Kurds will join PKK voluntarily, so the kidnapping program causes a lot of anger among the Kurds of southeast Turkey and they want more action by Turkey to stop the practice and find their lost children. For the PKK, such kidnappings are the only way to maintain their combat strength, which is currently about 5,000 full time fighters and over 10,000 part timers. 

Kurds everywhere are encouraged by Turkish tolerance, and trade relations with, the autonomous Kurds in northern Iraq. Yet the Turks have made it known that there are limits to this tolerance. Moreover, Kurds remember that Kurdish northern Iraq was once part of the Turkish homeland, not a conquered province like the rest of Iraq. The victorious Allies took northern Iraq away from Turkey in 1918 to deprive Turkey of the oil known to exist in that area. The Allies feared the Turks would use the oil wealth to rebuild their armed forces. The Turks rebuilt their armed forces without the oil and after World War II because a staunch member of the NATO alliance (meant to defend Europe from Soviet aggression). Kurds are aware that many Turks would like their lost province back. The Kurds also appreciate that the Turks are shrewd and know how to play a long game and many Kurds see the Turks maneuvering to get their lost province back eventually, no matter how long it takes. 

China: 96 Killed Last Week in Xinjiang

Associated Press

August 3, 2014

BEIJING — Chinese state media released a detailed casualty count Sunday for last week’s violence in the western province of Xinjiang, with 37 people and 59 attackers killed in the deadliest unrest in months that authorities blame on ethnic separatists.

The official Xinhua News Agency, which had previously said only dozens were killed, reported that attackers armed with knives and axes stormed a police station and government offices in Elixku township last Monday and then moved onto nearby Huangdi township. The agency said 13 people were injured and 215 attackers arrested, and that the dead civilians included 35 Han ethnic majority members and two Uighurs.

The earlier official account was immediately disputed by the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association, which represents the prevalent ethnic group in Xinjiang. It quoted local sources as saying police opened fire on people protesting Chinese security forces’ crackdown on Muslims during Ramadan, killing more than 20.

Neither version could be independently verified.

Xinhua’s Sunday report said the attackers had set up roadblocks, slashed at some passengers and forced others to join the attack. Xinhua named the mastermind behind the violence as Nuramat Sawut, whom the agency said is connected to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. China designates the group as a terrorist organization.

Violence has erupted repeatedly over the past year in Xinjiang as Uighurs bristle under what they say is heavy-handed Chinese policies.

On Friday, police shot dead nine suspects and captured another in Hotan prefecture, two days after Jume Tahir, the imam of China’s largest mosque, was killed in Xinjiang, Xinhua reported. In May, attackers in SUVs plowed through a crowd while hurling explosives in the provincial capital of Urumqi, killing 45 people.

Rioting involving both Uighurs and Han Chinese in 2009 left nearly 200 people dead in the region.

A whole history of betrayal in one hour in Beit Hanoun

July 31, 2014 
A Palestinian girl carries belongings as she and her family leave the Abu Hussein U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, hit by an Israeli strike. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

There is a YouTube clip that condenses one hour in the life of the Beit Hanoun district of the Gaza Strip into a time-lapse video of 72 seconds. In that time an entire residential area is demolished by Israeli high explosives. This is the fate of the buffer zone that Israel is clearing – 44 per cent of the territory of the strip: a wasteland created in one brief hour. The residents forced to flee Beit Hanoun may well have been among those who sought shelter in the United Nations schools that were shelled by the Israeli army.

Firepower used on an unprecedented scale is not a trick of the camera. In 2002, the Israeli air force dropped a one-tonne bomb on the home of Salah Shehadeh, head of the military wing of Hamas, killing him and 14 members of his family. At the time, this was seen by many in Israel as excessive, even verging on the criminal.

According to Yuli Novak, of Breaking the Silence, which encourages veterans to speak about their army experience in the occupied territories, Israel has dropped more than 100 one-tonne bombs on Gaza in the current conflict. What was the exception in 2002 is now routine. So routine, in fact, that the United States is rushing supplies of ammunition to Israel, just as it did in the 1973 war when it was defending itself against the armies of Egypt and Syria, not the ragtag forces of Hamas.

I have not been to Gaza for a decade but I do get messages from there. One is from a health worker who wrote: “I cannot understand how the world is closing its eyes to all the obvious crimes against civilians in Gaza.” She concludes: “Our people in Gaza know that the world has chosen to leave them alone to face Israel’s massive power and I’m afraid they will never be able to forgive.”

Shortly after I got this message, I heard the new British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, venture into the minefield of Middle East politics. In 2010, David Cameron, the British prime minister, had referred to Gaza as a “prison camp” and said Israel should ease its blockade, so perhaps Mr Hammond might have some strong words. No chance. He kept to the safe ground of how the conflict looks, rather than the substance, saying western public opinion was turning against Israel because of the scale of the action in Gaza. He refused to call the action “disproportionate”.

So my Gaza correspondent is right. They are alone. But how did that come about?

Facts are no consolation when you are under attack, but the history is clear. Israel has succeeded beyond its dreams in keeping every­one except Washington away from the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. In the past, the United Nations was a powerful influence and there used to be distinct European and Russian views on the Middle East. That died when the European Union, the UN and Russia folded their efforts into the US-led Quartet.

All these centres of power and influence have given way to Washington. In the minds of the diplomats who count, Israel-Palestine is separate from the rest of the ferment in the Arab world.

But even Washington’s relentless Israel-first approach is not enough for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, spent a year trying to forge a peace agreement but his efforts collapsed over Israel’s insistence on building more settlements on occupied land. Mr Kerry’s assistant, the lifetime pro-Israeli advocate Martin Indyk, blamed Mr Netanyahu for the failure of the talks, saying he kept “humiliating” the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, with repeated announcements of new settlement plans.

Diplomatically, the stage is as lifeless as the ruins of Beit Hanoun. Mr Netanyahu has ruled out a Palestinian state. As for Hamas, at the start of the year it was friendless and broke, having lost the support of Egypt after last year’s military takeover. Under these constraints, it agreed with Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement for a unity government to be based in the West Bank – a move that could perhaps have transformed the diplomatic landscape.

Since the war broke out, the conciliatory tone of the Hamas leadership has been replaced by steely demands that any ceasefire agreement must ease the blockade that Israel and Egypt are imposing on the Gaza Strip. With few friends in the region’s governments, Hamas is now writing a heroic myth of lonely resistance. While Hamas’s success in attacking Israel or defending its own people is minimal, resistance is a powerful message for the disaffected youth of the Arab world.

As for the Israelis, the mood has also changed. Assaults in Gaza are so common that Israelis use the term “mowing the lawn” to describe them – a regular chore. But the discovery of an unexpectedly large network of tunnels has given the military a green light to go much further.

There is something unsettling about tunnels in any war zone, but in Gaza’s case they are far more serious. Israel controls the sea, the sky and most of Gaza borders. It registers every birth. It knows who lives in each house, and what their phone numbers are, and can call them up and tell them by name that they have three minutes to leave. Imagine what confidence that gives the Israeli security establishment when the enemy is defenceless before them. But actually all the while there was a subterranean world into which Israeli drones could not peer.

According to the Israeli press, the cabinet is divided over whether to try to “eradicate” Hamas from Gaza, or declare victory and withdraw. The framing of the issue is absurd. If Hamas is crushed, another movement even more radical will take its place. With most of the population of Gaza being refugees, they need the world to take an interest in their future, not let them rot for another generation.

The real issue the Israelis should be focusing on is how much longer they can keep the issue of Gaza separate from the revolutionary ferment in Syria and Iraq? Not forever.

Alan Philps is a commentator on global affairs

Fear and trembling: Western media and Hamas

On 1 August 2014 09:16

We are all aware of the wilful blindness of Western media when reporting on Hamas in Gaza. Though it's no excuse, what may not be so clear is that many of the journalists are also terrified of telling the truth
The camera never lies, right?

Every few years, Israel is seemingly overcome with an insatiable lust for blood that can apparently only be satisfied with otherwise inexplicable attacks on Gaza -- or so innocent consumers of Western media are likely led to conclude from the coverage of the conflict.

With depressing regularity, each military confrontation between Israel and Hamas triggers the same old, tired cycle of misinformation among much of the international media. Instead of providing much-needed context, Israel’s defensive war against Islamist terrorists hiding among their own civilians is turned into a simplistic morality play where, like in a sports match, the side with the higher score, i.e. casualty figures, wins.

No decent human being could not feel compassion and sorrow over the scores of dead Palestinian civilians. But the almost pornographic close-ups of injured and killed Palestinians without explaining the central role Hamas plays in their deaths and injuries do more to confuse then enlighten the public.

Chinese Bribe Their Way Into Uniform

July 31, 2014

Chinese efforts to improve the quality of their troops are running into a lot of problems. This despite the fact that the military is particularly keen to obtain more highly educated recruits. The growing amount of technology used by the military requires troops with more education. The basic problem is that there are not enough young Chinese with the required education and physical fitness to provide all the recruits the military needs. In response the military has relented on some of the physical requirements. Even with that some 60 percent of otherwise qualified college educated candidates cannot pass the physical. 

Many Chinese parents see all this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. That’s because the culture of corruption still exists in the Chinese military, as it has for thousands of years. For centuries the military was considered a reasonable career choice for anyone with the right physical, mental and psychological qualifications. There were always paying jobs for competent and dependable killers. When there were too many qualified candidates families would use influence, cash or a combination of both to get their kids in. That has not changed but today and it costs $5,000-$15,000 to get someone in who is not among the most qualified. That’s a lot of money in China, where the average annual income is about $8,000. But getting a young man into the military is seen as a good investment as there is little risk of layoffs and there are lots of promotion opportunities. War (at least a major one) is unlikely and a job is a job. 

The problem is that the bribe does not get a completely unqualified candidate in. The kid can come up a bit short in all categories then a bribe will get him in, with the understanding that officials will try to cover for the kid, up to a point. The military is still reducing its manpower (in order to buy more high-tech equipment and afford to pay more for better qualified troops) and an underqualified recruit who made it in because of a big bribe will have to hustle to avoid being removed in the next round of reductions. Of course a bribe can also take care of that but after a while you are paying more in bribes than you are making and the Chinese know how to keep track of that sort of thing. 

Imam's killing in China may be aimed at making Muslim Uighurs choose sides

By Michael Martina
BEIJING Fri Aug 1, 2014 

China says Islamist militants kill pro-Beijing imam in Xinjiang 

(Reuters) - The murder of a state-backed imam in China's Xinjiang region underscores an escalation in 18 months of violence and could be part of a bid by extremists to persuade moderate Muslim Uighurs to turn against Beijing's controlled current of Islam.
The targeting of Uighur officials or religious leaders has been an undercurrent of unrest for some 20 years in Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur minority are unhappy at official restrictions on their culture and religion.
Jume Tahir, the imam at China's largest mosque, Id Kah, in the Silk Road city of Kashgar, was killed on Wednesday by three suspected Islamist militants armed with knives. His predecessor narrowly survived a knife attack in the same spot in 1996.
But the attack contrasted with most recent violence aimed at the majority Han ethnic group and may be calculated to persuade Uighurs to fall in behind what China says are separatists seeking an independent state called East Turkestan.
"Part of the motivation is not simply to remove and put pressure on the state-backed officials, but also to make an impact on those who attend these mosques, the stability minded Uighurs," said Michael Clarke of Australia's Griffith University.
"In a sense, it is attempting to signal that this is a conflict that is now society wide. You have to now choose sides."
Tahir, 74, whose name is also spelled Juma Tayir, was a well-known supporter of Beijing authorities and had backed the government after security forces crushed 2009 riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital. About 200 people died.
A figure who divided Uighur public opinion, he was killed days after police shot dead dozens of attackers brandishing knives in a district about 200 km (125 miles) away, according to the official Xinhua news agency. China has yet to give a full account of that incident. [ID:nL4N0Q64V5] 
State media reported the murder about 36 hours after witnesses described to Reuters the chaotic scene outside the mosque after morning prayers. Two attackers were later shot dead by police and the third was arrested.
All the attackers had Uighur names.
Tensions are running high in Xinjiang, after officials told Muslims to eschew religious customs during the fasting month of Ramadan, which rights groups saw as an bid to repress Uighurs.
China punishes the study of Islam outside the confines of tightly controlled state mosques.
As part of a crackdown on extremism, Xinjiang has offered rewards for tips on anyone offering independent study of the Koran. Students, officials and members of the officially atheist Communist Party are barred from mosques. [ID:nL4N0PF0XO]
Henryk Szadziewski of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, says imams studying in Chinese state-approved Islamic institutes must adhere to a strict system.
Only a fraction of their time is devoted to the study of Islam, with most directed at political study sessions. Sermons are subject to approval and are monitored.
Szadziewski said tight state control on religion make it difficult to gauge how most Uighurs view pro-Beijing imams, but he said most wanted nothing to do with violence.
"The vast majority of Uighurs do not perceive assassination as any kind of positive action for their community, whatever their view," he said in emailed responses to questions.
Government leaders say they are aware of a sustained effort needed to address violence in Xinjiang. 
Zhang Chunxian, the region's Communist Party boss, said poverty-stricken southern Xinjiang, the epicentre of this week's unrest, was the key to the "chessboard". 
"We must put southern Xinjiang as the highest priority in anti-terrorism and stability maintenance duties," Zhang said in an article in party journal Qiushi released on Friday.
But so far, experts say, there is no indication that Beijing is addressing the issues of religious freedom, that, coupled with economic marginalization of Uighurs and the influx of Han laborers, has contributed to the region's volatility.
The response to Tahir's murder, Szadziewski said, probably would be even greater scrutiny of religious practices.
"Misunderstandings and insensitive behavior on the part of state security can easily develop into incidents that perpetuate the cycle of violence."

China's 'People's War' Against Terrorism

August 02, 2014

China is trying to enlist civilian help in its war on terror, but there are dangers to this approach. 
The violence in western Xinjiang continues, withXinhua reporting that Chinese police forces have killed nine suspected terrorists. In a separate incident, Chinese media said that police had shot dead two men suspected of killing Jume Tahir, the imam of China’s largest mosque. In both cases, the suspects were reported to be violently resisting arrest.

Xinhua provided a brief but fascinating story of the death of the nine suspects (and the capture of a tenth) in Hotan Prefecture, in southern Xinjiang. The article says that over 30,000 civilians turned out to assist the police in surrounding the suspects, who were chased from a corn field to an abandoned home. It was not immediately clear why the suspects were being pursued, or what crime they were suspected of committing. After the group was cornered, Xinhua said, they attempted to throw explosives into the crowd before being shot by police. No civilians or police were injured.

The tale of 30,000 civilians who mobilized to help the police meshes with China’s plan to launch “a people’s war” against terrorism, as Xinjiang Party chief Zhang Chunxian called it. This strategy recognizes that civilian support is crucial to the fight against terrorism, and has attempted to educate China’s civilians both on how to defend themselves against terrorists and how to recognize and report terrorist or religious extremist activities. China’s local security forces have offered rewards of up to 500,000 renminbi ($80,000) for reports of terrorist activity. Large cities like Beijing are also offering educational materials, including a “citizens’ anti-terrorism manual” and outdoor self-defense demonstrations.

In its official media reports, China stresses the need for “ethnic unity” and denounces terrorist violence as against the spirit of Islam—clear signs that Beijing wants to enlist Uyghurs in its anti-terrorism campaign. “All ethnic groups nationwide should cherish ethnic unity and work together to thwart the political intentions of the three forces of separatism, extremism and terrorism,” a recent Xinhua commentary said.

However, according to Reuters’ analysis, religious extremists in Xinjiang are also attempting to sway Uyghurs to their side. Using the murder of Imam Tahir as an example, Reuters argues that extremists are increasingly trying to force Uyghurs to turn against Beijing and its representatives — even those who serve as Muslim leaders. As Michael Clarke, a research fellow at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia, told Reuters, the extremists wanted to make it clear “that this is a conflict that is now society wide. You have to now choose sides.” The murder of Tahir, who backed strict security measures in the region, sends a message to other Uyghurs that those who side with Beijing are also targets.

Average Uyghurs are caught in the middle of this tug of war. They do not support the violence and extremism of the terrorist faction. On the other hand, Beijing’s tight restrictions—and its fostering of a culture of citizen surveillance—are troubling. According to Reuters, Beijing’s definition of terrorism and extremism also involves generally mundane religious activities, including the private study of the Quran. Information on such groups can gain the informant a reward in Xinjiang. The use of rewards to promote citizen surveillance (and punishments for those who do not report suspicious behavior) hearkens back to the Cultural Revolution.

Worse, China’s fostering of civilian surveillance could easily create the sort of ethnic tensions Beijing is trying hard to prevent. Tensions in Xinjiang between the native Uyghurs and the growing Han population are already high—only five years ago, deadly riots between Uyghurs and Han in Urumqi left close to 200 people dead. Creating a system where civilians are encouraged to watch and report on each other could devolve into further suspicion and distrust between Han and Uyghurs, especially when so many of the “suspicious actions” are tied to religious activity.