Category Archives: international

Oil and Water: The Spoils of the Libyan War

The real battle over Libya’s future has less to do with opposing political factions than with which foreign players will gain control of the country’s natural resources–oil, natural gas, and water. Europe’s leading oil firms are busy jockeying for position in the impending division of the spoils, while insiders watch for China to make its move.Overlooking it all is a growing US  network of drones which could well be the forerunner of a new,aggressive American military presence on the African continent.

A decision on Friday by the UN Security Council frees  the Libyan national oil company of restraints on its financial operations, which  opens up Libya’s ability to pay for reconstruction. That process ought to get a  further lift from Obama’s meeting on Tuesday with the interim government leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil and his decision to reopen the US embassy in Tripoli

Libya currently produces 2 percent of the world’s oil, but two  things make it a more formidable player in the world market than the numbers  would indicate. One is its location, a short trip across the Mediterranean from  Italy, France, and Spain, with ready access to European energy markets. The  other is the fact that Libya has substantial known reserves–the largest in  Africa, and ninth largest in the world–yet most of the country remains “underexplored” and unmapped, offering the possibility of  even greater supplies in the future.

To date, Italy has been the largest beneficiary of Libyan oil  supplies, for a number of reasons. The Italians invaded and colonized Libya in 1911, left it in tatters following the big tank battles of World War II, and in recent years has emerged as a major force in its oil economy and foreign policy. Before the revolt, Berlusconi enjoyed warm relations with Qadaffi. Italy and Libya worked hand in hand in an effort to slow the flow of immigrants from the Red Sea and northern Africa into Europe with the Italian coast guard intercepting boatloads crossing the Mediterranean through the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies off the Libyan coast below Sicily. Italy also drew one third of its entire oil supply from this former colony.  ENI, the Italian oil giant, is the largest foreign oil company in Libya. Recently Russia’s Gazprom joined ENI in a joint venture to drill for oil under the desert.

The giant international oil companies are socked into Libya and they all have been vying for oil and gas throughout the fighting. According to a report in the Guardian, the London oil trading firm Vitol was in close touch with the rebels, arranging fuel supplies. The new interim government has said France, Britain, and Italy will get favorable treatment compared to China and Russia. Liberation, the French newspaper, reported that Sarkozy cut a deal with the rebels in which France would get 35 percent of the country’s oil in return for military assistance—on the face of it, a pretty wild claim.

ENI’s chief executive officer, Paolo Scaroni, told the Wall Street Journal  earlier this month that the new Libyan government insists it will honor existing contracts. The AP reported executives from Repsol, the Spanish oil firm, were in Benghazi discussing restoring existing operations. Total, the French firm, is preparing to re-enter as well.

Actually the key factor in this game could turn out to be not so much oil, but natural gas. Right now Russia has a near monopoly on gas going into Europe and at an exorbitant price, but its reliability in winter months is questioned. Libyan exports of gas through the Greenstream pipeline to Sicily, also run by ENI, have been increasing. Some industry commentators suggest that natural gas exports might dramatically expand so that Libya acts as a counterweight to the Russians. That, at least, seems to be how the Russians, who stayed well clear of the NATO air attacks, see the situation. According to the AP:

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, described its former Cold War rival’s intervention in Libya as legitimate because it was aimed at protecting civilians, but he said Russia believes the underlying reason was access to Libyan oil.

“For Russia, NATO’s operation in Libya indicated that the major interests of the alliance now lay not in Europe’s East — where its adversaries the Warsaw Treaty Pact and the Soviet Union used to be — but in oil-rich lands of Northern Africa and the Middle East,” Rogozin said in an email.

It seems hard to believe existing oil arrangements—some 50 companies have been engaged in the Libyan oil business–will be seriously affected by Quadaffi’s exit, but the sleeper here is China, which already is ensconced in the Libyan economy, and according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, offered Quadaffi armaments during the war. These included shoulder-held rockets similar to the U.S. Stinger. They were to be shipped through Algeria or South Africa.

Libya now is China’s eleventh largest source of imports. And before the revolt, 36,000 Chinese were working on 50 different projects within the country. China played both sides during the revolt. While it was peddling arms to Quadaffi, Ma Zhaouxu, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying, “The Chinese side respects the choice of the Libyan people.
The Chinese side is willing to work with the international community to play a
positive role in the reconstruction process of Libya in the future.’’

Water presents an equally controversial subject in Libya. Quadaffi’s ambitious Great Man Made River, a 2,333 mile network of irrigation pipes drawing water from acquifers beneath the southern desert and turning the arid wastes into lush farmlands. It sounds like a project imported straight from the Colorado river whose diversion has transformed much of the US desert west into into green farmlands and pleasing suburban front lawns. And, in fact, it was Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum that seems to have introduced earlier and smaller versions of this irrigation scheme.

There is one big hitch to this water project. The desert aquifers, as Sandra Postel of Worldwatch, points out in her book Last Oasis, were filled with water 30,000 years ago when there was considerably more rainfall than there is today. In examining this project, engineers now predict the desert aquifers will be sucked dry within 40-60 years. The water will all have been pumped up to the Mediterranean coast for agriculture.The original coastal water sources have been exhausted. So, by then the food and water purchased with oil money will be gone and the whole thing will go down in history as folly.

To defend against such an eventuality Quadaffi looked further afield to line up more water. He hit on Mali a poor country, which up to the present time, was made self sustainable by prudent use of shallow ground water wells. Fred Pearce in Environment 360, a Yale publication, describes the sorry story of what happened when Quadaffi fixed his gaze on Mali:

Libya’s wholesale move into Malian irrigation and agriculture is the result of a secret deal between Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure, and Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi. Paid for by Gadaffi’s sovereign investment fund, the Libya Africa Portfolio Fund for Investment, the deal hands the land to a Libyan-controlled organization called Malibya for 50 years and gives the Libyans undisclosed rights to the region’s water. Why would the Mali president sign up to this?

Local campaigners say their government is in thrall — and hock — to Libya because it has become dependent on Libya for aid and investment. Many of its civil servants work in offices built by Libya, and international visitors stay at Libyan-built hotels. And, says Lamine Coulibaly, head of communications for the Mali small farmers’ union, CNOP, the government is so obsessed with getting investment for its agriculture that it cannot see when that investment will do more harm than good to its people.

The infrastructure for agribusiness is in place, and if Libya manages to siphon off water from sub-Saharan Africa into growing crops for Europe and likely the United States, it will be a major player in food as well as fossil fuel supplies. All this will provide the money for the new government, which may or may not provide some form of limited democratic rule.ilitary

There is another aspect to the future of Libya and that has to do with US military ambitions in Africa. These are driven by determination  to root out terrorrists;\ over the long term,they may well be intended to check China which sees Africa as a fuels bin and already has built up an  expansive economic network on the continent.The Washington Post’s report Wednesday morning of growing US drone operations in Africa suggests an expanded US military presence on the continent where heretofore it has been minimal.

Stieg Larsson’s “Expo” Reports on Oslo Suspect’s Far Right Connections

The politicazl ideas of Anders Behring Breivik, the man accused of carrying out the Oslo attacks, remain a bit of a muddle. In his manifesto and on the website where he regularly posted, he portrays himself as a conservative Christian—going so far to say that he is a modern example of the Knights Templar. (The Templars went on crusades to protect Christian shrines against Muslims.)

At the same time, he is reported to support the racist English Defense League and wants to see something like it take shape in Norway. The EDL favors flash events—sending hooligans in swarms into  muslim neighborhoods. He also appears sympathetic to the established racist line of ther  British National Party and National Front. And he has been a member of the anti-immigration Progress Party, the second largest political party in Norway. It is likened to Le Pen’s far right anti-immigrant following in France.

Much of the new information about the alleged shooters is coming from Searchlight, the British anti-fascist magazine, and its sister publication in Sweden, Expo. The latter is best known to U.S. readers because its chief editor was Stieg Larsson, author of the Milennium Trilogy. Larsson died of a heart condition in 2004 before his novels achieved their extraordinary popularity. The bulk of his working life was devoted to exposing the racist far right in Sweden and beyond.

It is Expo that is reporting Breivik’s connections to the Swedish nationalist group
called Nordisk. The following is from Expo (in imperfect Google translation):

The man who is arrested on suspicion of on Friday, killing more than 90 people in a bomb attack on government building and in connection with the shootings of students at a political camp on Utøya have online have expressed anti-Muslim values. On his Facebook page, he under vg.no made ​​nearly 75 posts that were racist as well as Islamophobic. According aftenposten.se was Anders Breivik member Fremskrittsspartiet [Progress Party]. He became a member in 1999 and paid the membership fee up to and including 2004. He was also involved in Fremskrittsspartiets youth (FPU) from 1997 to 2007. He should have been President of the FPU Oslo Vest 2002 to 2004.

But his political engagement online has been much more radical. 2009 registered himself as a member of the nazististiska nätforumet Nordisk. A forum with more than 22,000 members, primarily from the north. The forum discusses everything from vitmaktmusik to political strategies to crush democracy. On the forum there are also calls for violence. For example, wrote an anonymous user: “I mean obviously not isolated actions. Cars parked next to the towers with fertilization powder + diesel gives a nice effect. Skyscrapers go down like the World Trade Center towers. Do not forget that I have said something about taking human life . When the actions set in motion so to be hoped that there are people in the houses.”

• Nordisk launched in 2007 and quickly became a hit among so-called “nationalists” in Sweden. The forum currently has over 22,000 members — and one of them was Anders Breivik. Among the forum members will find everything from Sweden’s Democratic MPs to senior Nazis. What unites the members is a critical attitude to the current refugee policy and immigration.

• The topics under discussion are often a racist nature. On the forum you can also find topics on such book Turner Diaries. Turner Diaries is a novel that served as a manual for terrorism and has been called “terrorist Bible” by the FBI. It was partly the basis of the Oklahoma City massacre 1995.

• The Forum is described as a portal “with the Nordic identity, culture and tradition as the theme. “Behind the Forum is the organization Nordic Association which was founded in 2004 by people with backgrounds in the National Democrats and the Nazi organization Swedish Resistance.

Share

Japan Sacrificing Its Elders to Nuclear Fallout

Having utterly failed to anticipate the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster following the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government and its parasite nuclear industry plod along amidst a worsening situation. They’ve dumped coolants from helicopters, brought in huge cranes, dug holes– all to no avail. They’ve tried humans in the form of nuclear plant workers, but they have begun to die by the ones and twos. In the meantime, there has been no serious consideration of criminal indictments against the government and industry officials responsible for this incredible industrial failure.

Finally they’ve been handed a genius solution: mass suicide by old people in the spirit of national pride. These volunteers will willingly march forward into the valley of death.  If they get cancer, the thinking goes, it won’t hit them until they are dead anyhow. And they will provide a valuable service to society: saving the young men and women  so they can procreate and provide labor for years to come. And it’s all being done amidst a wonderful flowering of national patriotism.

The death march of the old is described in the New York Times.

Seemingly against logic, Yasuteru Yamada, 72, is eager for the chance to take part. After seeing hundreds of younger men on television struggle to control the damage at the Daiichi power plant, Mr. Yamada struck on an idea: Recruit other older engineers and other specialists to help tame the rogue reactors.

Not only do they have some of the skills needed, but because of their advanced age, they are at less risk of getting cancer and other diseases that develop slowly as a result of exposure to high levels of radiation. Their volunteering would spare younger Japanese from dangers that could leave them childless, or worse.

“We have to contain this accident, and for that, someone should do the work,” said Mr. Yamada, a retired plant engineer who had worked for Sumitomo Metal Industries. “It would benefit society if the older generation took the job because we will get less damage from working there.”

Bin Laden: Destroying the Monster We Created (Part 2)

Yesterday I ran an excerpt from my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11 about how the CIA, aided by the Pakistani Secret Service (ISI), helped to create Al Qaeda and launch Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist career during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Here the story continues into the 1990s, through the rise of the Taliban and up to the eve of the 9/11 attacks.

How The ISI Sustained the Taliban and Protected Bin Laden

Like thousands of others, Osama Bin Laden had cut his jihad teeth in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. Those who knew him when he first arrived, in 1980, depict him as a gentle, modest Saudi whose only desire was to put a shoulder to the wheel in ousting the Soviets. He was not considered a fighter, or much of a leader. He was considered wealthy, and over time his wealth took on mythic proportions. Although nowhere near as rich as the rumor had it, Bin Laden drew on other members of the Saudi elite, and helped finance hospitals, camps, and other construction projects.

Bin Laden was never viewed as a military commander until the Russians attacked his camp in eastern Afghanistan in 1987. Bin Laden appears to have been wounded in the foot (although there also have been reports of kidney problems and the need for dialysis at the time). Thanks to his own public relations campaign he was from then on celebrated as a jihad fighter, often filmed on horseback. His experiences were told and retold in his own propaganda.

As the Soviets began their pullout, Bin Laden and his closest associates “agreed that the organization successfully created for Afghanistan should not be allowed to dissolve. They established what they called a base or foundation (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future jihad,” as Ahmed Rashid describes it. But without a local jihad to fight, Bin Laden moved back to Saudi Arabia in 1989. Then, disgusted by the Saudi alliance with the United States in the Gulf War, he moved on to Sudan, where he continued to build his operation to finance and support terrorist enterprises. He and dozens of his supporters returned to Afghanistan in 1996, just months before Kandahar finally fell to the Taliban.

Here, again, Pakistan played a decisive role. As the 9/11 Commission report acknowledged, “Though his destination was Afghanistan, Pakistan was the nation that held the key to his ability to use Afghanistan as a base from which to revive his ambitious enterprise for war against the United States.” Pakistan would continue to be the source of madrassah-bred militants, and clearly hoped that the Taliban and its like “perhaps could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally.”

“It is unlikely,” the Commission continues, “that Bin Laden could have returned to Afghanistan had Pakistan disapproved. The Pakistani military and intelligence services probably had advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used by diverse organizations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insurgencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Pakistani intelligence officers reportedly introduced Bin Laden to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and make them available for training Kashmiri militants” for Pakistan’s ongoing standoff with India.

Bin Laden himself acknowledged his debt to the ISI, which he surely must have had in mind when he told Time magazine, in a 1999 interview, “As for Pakistan, there are some governmental departments which, by the grace of God, respond to Islamic sentiments of the masses in Pakistan. This is reflected in sympathy and cooperation. However, some other governmental departments fell into the trap of the infidels. We pray to God to return them to the right path.”

Cementing his relationship with the new Taliban regime (to which he brought considerable monetary support), Bin Laden helped expand the jihadist training camps in the safe sanctuary of Afghanistan; these camps would, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, train from 10,000 to 20,000 fighters between his 1996 return and September 11, 2001.

In February 28, 1998, Bin Laden issued his famous fatwa. Less than six months later, on August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda carried out its most devastating terrorist attacks up to that time, on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 224 and injuring more than 5,000. In the days following the embassy bombings, the CIA learned military and extremist groups would be gathering on August 20 at a camp near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The reports said Bin Laden was expected. This might seem to be the moment to respond with force to the embassy attacks and kill Bin Laden. Weak as it was, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Clinton Administration readied a response to the African embassy bombings by planning a surprise cruise missile attack on the camp, hoping they might find Bin Laden there and kill him.

But the attack was anything but a surprise. Seventy-five Tomahawk cruise missiles landed on the camp that evening–just as everyone knew they would. Twenty odd Pakistani jihad fighters died. Numerous others were wounded. Bin Laden was not there.

On August 19, the day before the planned attack, Pakistani cabinet minister Mushahid Hussain was in Saudi Arabia, and on an open phone line called the head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau. Hussain later recounted his conversation to Steve Coll: “So I said, ‘what’s happening?’ [He said] ‘Bin Laden is having a meeting tomorrow. He’s called it a summit.’ I said, ‘do the Americans know?’ He said, ‘of course.’” Hussain concluded that “the attacks will come this evening,” and commented that if he could anticipate the strikes, “Surely Bin Laden with all of his resources would have known what was coming.” In other words, between the Saudis and the ISI, it is likely that someone warned Bin Laden that the United States knew of the meeting and was planning an attack. Apparently, Bin Laden’s “resources” included high-ranking individuals within the leadership of America’s two most important regional allies.

One of these “resources” was Hamid Gul, then head of the ISI. By all appearances, Gul was dedicated to protecting the Taliban, which in turn maintained close ties with Al Qaeda. In Against All Enemies, former terrorism “czar” Richard Clarke writes, “I believed that if Pakistan’s ISID [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISID saw al Qaeda as helpful to the Taliban. They also saw al Qaeda and its affiliates as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir. Some, like General Hamid Gul, . . . also appeared to share bin Laden’s anti-Western ideology.”

But when the United States repeatedly asked the ISI to provide Bin Laden’s location for a U.S. attack, Pakistani intelligence officers told the CIA that Al Qaeda no longer trusted them, so they could not pinpoint his whereabouts. According to Coll, “The Americans doubted this. . . . Pakistan’s army and political class had calculated that the benefits they reaped from supporting Afghan-based jihadist guerrillas—including those trained and funded by Bin Laden—outstripped the costs, some of Clinton’s aides concluded. As one White House official put it bluntly, ‘Since just telling us to fuck off seemed to do the trick,’ why should the Pakistanis change their strategy?”

The CIA, in tracking Bin Laden, had desperately—and foolishly–turned to its old ally the ISI, which had been so useful during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But the situation a decade later was quite different. The ISI had hated the Russian invaders, but many of them were more than sympathetic to the Taliban, and even to Bin Laden. Now, the United States wanted the Pakistanis to help them quell the rise of Islamic extremism, rather than encourage it. Some lip service was given to cooperation on both sides. The Pakistani government wanted to preserve a decent relationship with the United States, especially in 1998, when it was conducting tests of nuclear weapons. But it never took any real action to limit the ISI’s support of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. And the ISI, always an entity unto itself, did worse than nothing. There can be little doubt that many ISI operatives were functioning, in effect, as double agents, getting information from the CIA, and passing it on either directly to Bin Laden, or to the Taliban, which in turn informed Bin Laden.

ISI operatives were clearly involved in destroying enemies that threatened the Taliban. In early 1999, after Abdul Haq, the respected anti-Soviet fighter and Pashtun warlord, became an independent voice and stood up against the Taliban, the ISI called on him and told him to shut up. Haq paid them no heed. On returning later, he found his children and wife murdered. Several sources trace the attack to the ISI. The ISI would subsequently be implicated in Haq’s murder, as well as the murder of legendary Northern Alliance mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

When General Pervez Musharaff took power in a 1999 coup, he appointed as his new ISI chief Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmed. Always a strong supporter of the Taliban, Mahmoud himself soon found new meaning in religion and started calling himself a “born against Muslim.” By the summer of 2000, the longstanding relationship between the ISI and the CIA had “turned icy.”

The Agency also began to realize it could not count on the jihadists within Pakistani intelligence, and began recruiting and training its own team of Afghan assets. Whether due to divided loyalties or limited competence, these recruits seem to have provided little useful intelligence on Al Qaeda.

What the ISI May Have Known About the Coming Attacks

The Taliban was largely the creation of the ISI. The Pakistani intelligence agency shepherded its rise, participated in its councils, kept away the CIA in order to protect it, and together with the Saudis appear to have warned the Taliban and Al Qaeda when an American attack was coming. It seems impossible that a major strategy debate could take place within the Taliban leadership, without ISI having some knowledge of it.

According to the 9/11 Commission report, based on testimony from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other captured operatives, just such a debate took place in the spring and summer of the 2001. The Taliban’s debating partner was Al Qaeda, and subject was the wisdom of launching the planned direct attacks on the United States.

According to this account, a general warning had been issued in Al Qaeda camps in July or early August—a warning similar to the one issued before the bombing of the Cole. Bin Laden disappeared, Al Qaeda members and their families were dispersed, and security was increased. The alert was cancelled after thirty days.  The Commission states, “While details of the operation were strictly compartmented, by the time of the alert, word had begun to spread that an attack against the United States was coming.”

As the Taliban leadership became aware of the attack plans, they initially opposed them. Their first priority was defeating the Northern Alliance, which continued to control portions of Afghanistan and launch attacks on the Taliban. They were depending on military equipment and support from Al Qaeda. An attack on the United States might be counterproductive in that it would draw the U.S. into an Afghan conflict on the side of the Northern Alliance.

Mullah Omar also opposed Bin Laden’s plans on ideological grounds, preferring to attack Jews and not necessarily the United States. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also subsequently claimed that Omar was under pressure from Pakistan to keep Al Qaeda operations inside Afghanistan. Matters came to a head at an Al Qaeda shura council meeting. While several top Al Qaeda leaders sided with the Taliban, Bin Laden overrode his opponents, asserting that Omar had no authority to stop jihads outside of Afghanistan’s borders.

Given the Taliban’s intimate knowledge of the plan for the 9/11 attacks—the debate within the top ranks of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a shura council meeting, and the suggestion Pakistan was pressuring Omar to keep Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan—it seems evident that the ISI must have known what was about to happen. In a so-called ally, this is treachery of the highest order. It is also another sad indictment of both an intelligence service that could not detect such treachery, and a White House that chose to turn its face away.

Bin Laden: Destroying the Monster We Created (Part 1)

Back in the 1980s, before the Cold War gave way to the War on Terror, American money and supplies helped Osama Bin Laden create Al Qaeda and build it into one of the world’s most successful terrorist organizations. And without the close alliances between Al Qaeda and our “allies” Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the attack on the World Trade Towers could not have been carried out. What follows are the bare bones of what we know of this world as it existed in the days before September 11, 2001, as pieced together in my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11.

In August 1998, shortly after the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, Osama Bin Laden was interviewed by Agence France Press.  In grandiose but concise terms, he described his own rise to power in the early 1980s, during the years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan,” he said. “I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region. There I received volunteers who came from the Saudi kingdom and from all over the Arab and Muslim countries. I set up my first camp where these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis. I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts, communist or western oppression.”

In spite of its self-serving message and self-aggrandizing tone, the basic facts of Bin Laden’s account are not inaccurate. The terrorist organization that would one day launch the most devastating attacks ever to take place on American soil owes its existence, in large part, to U.S. covert operations and U.S. allies. At its inception, Al Qaeda was trained and supported by Pakistani agents, funded by Saudi sympathizers, and supplied by the CIA.

Later, when Bin Laden turned his sights on the United States, the CIA’s former friend in Afghanistan became its enemy. But the strategic and financial support provided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia continued, right up to the moment of the 9/11 attacks. Without these two countries—and especially their powerful intelligence services—the attacks could not have taken place. Attacks of this magnitude required money, and they required a friendly regime in Afghanistan to provide a training base; these were supplied courtesy of our “allies” in the region. Their support for Al Qaeda continued over nearly two decades, with little intervention from the United States beforehand, and few consequences after the fact.

How the CIA and the Pakistani Secret Service Launched Al Qaeda

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the trail of the terrorists quickly led back to Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda maintained its camps under the protection of the Taliban regime. But in reality, the trail leads further back into Afghan history, to the final decade of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union perceived a threat on its southern border and made the disastrous decision to invade and occupy Afghanistan.

The launch of U.S. covert actions in Afghanistan did not merely respond to the Soviet invasion—it helped to provoke the invasion. In January 1998, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, told Nouvel Observateur, “According to the official history, CIA aid to the [anti-Soviet] Mujahaddin began during 1980, that’s to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan.  But the reality, kept secret until now, is completely different: On 3 July 1979 Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And on the same day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained that in my opinion this aid would lead to a Soviet military intervention.”

Brzesinski continued, “On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.’ Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

 Asked whether he regretted having supported an operation that would foment Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, giving aid to future terrorists, Brzesninski said, “What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

The “agitated Muslims” indeed became a key part of the CIA’s strategy in Afghanistan, where a full-scale covert war was carried out during the Reagan Administration, with hundreds of millions in funding eventually provided by Congress. The covert operation took place under the zealous leadership of CIA Director William J. Casey, from 1982 until he became incapacitated in the autumn of 1986. Afghanistan seems to have held a special place in Casey’s heart, representing an opportunity to fight the Soviets right on their own border. In his book Ghost Wars, Steve Coll describes Casey in his famed black C 141 Starlifter transport, streaking through the night sky from CIA headquarters in Langley to Islamabad and back, sometimes stopping off in Riyadh to drum up funding. Casey promoted the idea that would eventually blaze a trail directly from the Cold War to the attacks of 9/11. He wanted to see the formation of an “All Arab” volunteer force that could recruit Muslims from around the world to come to Afghanistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union.

Pakistan quickly became the U.S.’s number one ally in the Afghan campaign. Although it was long viewed as a strategic ally in the Cold War, relations between Pakistan and the United States at that time had been strained by Pakistani human rights abuses and nuclear weapons development, and most U.S. aid had been cut off. According to Soviet journalist Artyom Borovik, Pakistani leader General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq “saw in the Afghan conflict a unique opportunity to obtain a sharp increase in U.S. military and financial aid to Pakistan. The Pakistani generals regarded the entrance of Soviet troops into Afghanistan as ‘Brezhnev’s gift.’” And indeed, soon after the Soviet invasion, Jimmy Carter described Pakistan as a “frontline state” in the Cold War, and offered Zia $400 million in military and economic aid. In 1981, Reagan increased the aid package to $3.2 billion over six years, renewed in 1986 at the level of $4 billion. This aid required waivers to Congressional measures forbidding aid to countries developing nuclear capabilities—the first of many instances where the United States would look the other way when it came to Pakistan.

 Zia was more than willing to support Casey’s strategy of building an international Islamic force to fight in Afghanistan. According to Ahmed Rashid in his book Taliban, Pakistan issued standing orders to all its embassies to grant visas to anyone who wanted to come and fight with the mujahaddin against the Soviets. As a result, a growing force of Muslims from around the world gathered in camps in easternmost Afghanistan, just across the Pakistani border. These camps, Rashid notes, became “virtual universities for future Islamic radicalism.”

The CIA in Afghanistan worked closely with its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. According to Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI operations chief for the Afghanistan campaign, most of the U.S. money and supplies were channeled right to the ISI, which then made the decisions as to which commanders in Afghanistan got what weapons. The ISI maintained four base commands within Afghanistan, and they in turn reached out to smaller units, organized around clans and villages.              

As reported in the Financial Times, in the early 1980s, the ISI even “started a special cell for the use of heroin for covert actions”– initiated, according to the article, “at the insistence of the Central Intelligence Agency.” This cell “promoted the cultivation of opium and the extraction of heroin in Pakistani territory as well as in the Afghan territory under mujahideen control for being smuggled into the Soviet controlled areas in order to make the Soviet troops heroin addicts. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the ISI’s heroin cell started using its network of refineries and smugglers for smuggling heroin to the Western countries and using the money as a supplement to its legitimate economy. But for these heroin dollars, Pakistan’s legitimate economy must have collapsed many years ago. . . . Not only the legitimate State economy, but also many senior officers of the Army and the ISI benefited from the heroin dollars.”

Mikail Gorbachev made the decision to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and pullout took place in early 1989. By that time, reports and complaints about the growing force of militant Islamic volunteers began to come back to the CIA. But with the advent of the Soviet wind-down and withdrawal, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and demise of the Cold War, the West lost all interest in Afghanistan. The United States never made any real attempt to deal with the realities it had helped create on the ground in Afghanistan. The war left behind a country where 1.5 million citizens—10 percent of the total population–had been killed, and 6 million had fled as refugees; where a third of the towns and villages had been destroyed outright or rendered unlivable, three-quarters of the paved roads were gone, and half of the agricultural production and livestock had been lost. It also left behind a heavily armed and heavily mined country in a state of virtual anarchy.

As the leaders of former mujaheddin factions fought one another for control, Afghan and Pakistani students were building a new political movement. This movement grew up around the thousands of madrassahs, or religious schools, that had taken root within Pakistan along the northwestern Afghan border. The founders of the new Taliban had no trouble finding recruits in the madrassahs, and in the crowded refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border, and they soon became a force to reckon with within the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Among those keeping their eye on the growing Taliban movement was the ISI, long a major instrument of Pakistani foreign policy. The jihadists within the Pakistani government, and especially within the intelligence service, were unstinting in their support of the Taliban, and the ISI as a whole looked upon the Taliban with increasing favor. The ISI would be instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power, and would continue to provide them aid and advice in managing the country once they had assumed control. At times, Afghanistan almost seemed to be an administrative appendage of Pakistan.

At the same time, the cadre of militant Islamic guerrilla fighters who had converged from across the Islamic world were determined to maintain Afghanistan as a headquarters for future jihads. The time was ripe for the completion of what would prove a deadly troika joining the Pakistani secret service, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda.

Tomorrow: How The ISI Sustained the Taliban and Protected Bin Laden

Radioactive Fish and Birds: Dangers from Japan?

Over the weekend the Japanese Science Ministry released data from midweek showing large amounts of radioactive iodine had been discovered in seawater off the coast. According to NHK, “The detected level of iodine-131 was 79.4 becquerels per liter, twice the legal standard for water discharged from nuclear plants.’’

This information follows other news that has been coming out in dribs and drabs, reporting there is a crack in the plant, and radioactive seawater in the plant and in the ground beneath the plant. While the danger of radioactivity in Japan and elsewhere has generally been played down, these discoveries raise several potentially significant questions both for the Japan itself , for the central and northern Pacific, and in the United States, primarily for Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

The first involves fish.  The Pacific currents running along the  Japanese coast go north up the Asian coast before turning towards the Bering Sea, and on down through the Gulf of Alaska to the U.S. northwest coast. These currents mainly move from West to East. Fish are influenced by these currents, and in particular the great stocks of tuna along the warmer waters on, above, and below the equator and in the central Pacific.

In describing the migratory patterns in its Fish Watch report, NOAA writes:

Pacific albacore (sometimes referred to as `white tuna’)… typically begin an expansive migration in the spring and early summer in waters off Japan that continues through the late summer into inshore waters off the U.S. Pacific coast, and ends in late fall and winter in the western Pacific Ocean…

Almost all of the albacore harvested in U.S. commercial fisheries comes from the Pacific, mainly from waters off Washington and Oregon. Much of this catch is exported to foreign markets including Spain, Japan, and Canada. The rest is sold in U.S. markets, along with imported albacore, primarily from Thailand and Indonesia.

This raises the possibility that radioactive fish might begin turning up in canned and frozen fish products imported into the US from Asian markets, as well as from  from Alaska and thePacific Northwest.

Birds are another issue. Consider this, from the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau – Japan Committee (IWRBJ):

At least 404 species of waterbird are recorded in the Asia-Pacific region. Of these, 243 species, by virtue of their nature, undertake annual migrations between their breeding areas and nonbreeding grounds, along several different flyways. They visit at least 57 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. A few of these species undertake some of the greatest non-stop flights in the world, covering at least 6,000 km in one step…

Waterbirds play an important role in several spheres of human interest: culturally, socially, scientifically and as a food resource. Several species, such as cranes, swans, geese and ducks, are revered. Waterbirds are an important component of most wetland ecosystems, as they occupy several trophic levels in the food web of wetland nutrient cycles. Birds harvest and regulate the abundance and diversity of several species of wetland flora and fauna. Many species also play a role in the control of agricultural pests, whilst some species are themselves considered pests of certain crops…

Experts and scientists in the United States, appearing on television and in the general press, have assured everyone the radiation hazards are insignificant or minimal at best. But fish and birds can be harbingers of possible problems ahead.

Share

Japanese Release of Tritium

What do we know for sure about the Japanese nuclear disaster? Not much. This informative article reprinted on Counterpunch.com this morning from the original in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Barbara Rose  Johnston discusses how industry and government have long worked together to hide the dangers of the nuclear era. It is an excellent piece well worth reading. Here is a brief excerpt dealing with tritium:

This regulation of information has been the case since the nuclear age began, and understanding this helps to illuminate why there is no clear consensus on what Japan’s nuclear disaster means in terms of local and global human health.

Nuclear secrecy in context. In the initial hours after the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electrical Power Company issued statements reporting minor damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In the days that followed, government and industry officials reported the “venting of hydrogen gas”, but that there was “no threat to health.” This reassurance of health safety was echoed when hydrogen gas explosions occurred at the power plant.

In fact, the hydrogen released is tritium water vapor, a low-level emitter that can be absorbed in a human body through simply breathing, or by drinking contaminated water. Tritium decays by beta emission and has a radioactive half-life of about 12.3 years. As it undergoes radioactive decay, this isotope emits a very low-energy beta particle and transforms to stable, nonradioactive helium. Once tritium enters the body, it disperses quickly, is uniformly distributed, and is excreted through urine within a month or so after ingestion. It produces a low-level exposure and may result in toxic effects to the kidney. As with all ionizing radiation, exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer.

So, then, why no mention of tritium in the government or industry statements? Relatively speaking, the health effects of a low-level emitter like tritium are minor when compared to the other radiogenic and toxic hazards in this nuclear catastrophe. Such omission is a standard industry practice, designed to reassure the public that the normal operating procedures of a nuclear power plant represent no significant threat to human health.

The assertion that low-level exposure to radiation represents no human threat is an artifact of Cold War-era science that was shaped to meet government and industry needs.

During the Cold War, scientific findings on health effects to nuclear fallout that contradicted the official narrative were typically censored. Scientists were not only punished for their work, they were also blacklisted — one example of this was American anthropologist Earle Reynolds whose work for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was censored in 1953 by the US government. His research showed that Japanese children who were exposed to fallout were not only smaller than their counterparts, but had less resistance to disease in general and were more susceptible to cancer, especially leukemia. The consequences of this censored history was examined in 1994 by the US Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experimentation, which concluded that the radiation health literature of the Cold War years was a heavily sanitized and scripted version meant to reassure and pacify public protests while achieving military and economic agendas.