Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Russian Espionage Piggybacks on a Cybercriminal’s Hacking
on: March 12, 2017, 12:23:19 PM
To the F.B.I., Evgeniy M. Bogachev is the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. The bureau has announced a $3 million bounty for his capture, the most ever for computer crimes, and has been attempting to track his movements in hopes of grabbing him if he strays outside his home turf in Russia.
He has been indicted in the United States, accused of creating a sprawling network of virus-infected computers to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world, targeting anyone with enough money worth stealing — from a pest control company in North Carolina to a police department in Massachusetts to a Native American tribe in Washington.
In December, the Obama administration announced sanctions against Mr. Bogachev and five others in response to intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia had meddled in the presidential election. Publicly, law enforcement officials said it was his criminal exploits that landed Mr. Bogachev on the sanctions list, not any specific role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
But it is clear that for Russia, he is more than just a criminal. At one point, Mr. Bogachev had control over as many as a million computers in multiple countries, with possible access to everything from family vacation photographs and term papers to business proposals and highly confidential personal information. It is almost certain that computers belonging to government officials and contractors in a number of countries were among the infected devices. For Russia’s surveillance-obsessed intelligence community, Mr. Bogachev’s exploits may have created an irresistible opportunity for espionage.
While Mr. Bogachev was draining bank accounts, it appears that the Russian authorities were looking over his shoulder, searching the same computers for files and emails. In effect, they were grafting an intelligence operation onto a far-reaching cybercriminal scheme, sparing themselves the hard work of hacking into the computers themselves, officials said.
The Russians were particularly interested, it seems, in information from military and intelligence services regarding fighting in eastern Ukraine and the war in Syria, according to law enforcement officials and the cybersecurity firm Fox-IT. But there also appear to have been attempts to gain access to sensitive military and intelligence information on infected computers in the United States, often consisting of searching for documents containing the words “top secret” or “Department of Defense.”
The Russian government has plenty of its own cyberspace tools for gathering intelligence. But the piggybacking on Mr. Bogachev’s activities offers some clues to the breadth and creativity of Russia’s espionage efforts at a time when the United States and Europe are scrambling to counter increasingly sophisticated attacks capable of destroying critical infrastructure, disrupting bank operations, stealing government secrets and undermining democratic elections.
This relationship is illustrated by the improbable mix of characters targeted with the sanctions announced by the Obama administration. Four were senior officers with Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency, the G.R.U. Two were suspected cyberthieves on the F.B.I.’s most wanted list: an ethnic Russian from Latvia named Alexsey Belan with a red-tinted Justin Bieber haircut, and Mr. Bogachev, whose F.B.I. file includes a photograph of him holding his spotted Bengal cat while wearing a matching set of leopard-print pajamas.
His involvement with Russian intelligence may help explain why Mr. Bogachev, 33, is hardly a man on the run. F.B.I. officials say he lives openly in Anapa, a run-down resort town on the Black Sea in southern Russia. He has a large apartment near the shore and possibly another in Moscow, officials say, as well as a collection of luxury cars, though he seems to favor driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee. American investigators say he enjoys sailing and owns a yacht.
Running the criminal scheme was hard work. Mr. Bogachev often complained of being exhausted and “of having too little time for his family,” said Aleksandr Panin, a Russian hacker, now in a federal prison in Kentucky for bank fraud, who used to communicate with Mr. Bogachev online. “He mentioned a wife and two kids as far as I remember,” Mr. Panin wrote in an email.
Beyond that, little is known about Mr. Bogachev, who preferred to operate anonymously behind various screen names: slavik, lucky12345, pollingsoon. Even close business associates never met him in person or knew his real name. “He was very, very paranoid,” said J. Keith Mularski, an F.B.I. supervisor in Pittsburgh whose investigation of Mr. Bogachev led to an indictment in 2014. “He didn’t trust anybody.”
Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, and Russian officials say that so long as Mr. Bogachev has not committed a crime on Russian territory, there are no grounds to arrest him.
Attempts to reach Mr. Bogachev for this article were unsuccessful. In response to questions, his lawyer in Anapa, Aleksei Stotskii, said, “The fact that he is wanted by the F.B.I. prevents me morally from saying anything.”
A line in Mr. Bogachev’s file with the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, which has helped the F.B.I. track his movements, describes him as “working under the supervision of a special unit of the F.S.B.,” referring to the Federal Security Service, Russia’s main intelligence agency. The F.S.B. did not respond to request for comment.
That Mr. Bogachev remains at large “is the most powerful argument” that he is an asset of the Russian government, said Austin Berglas, who was an assistant special agent in charge of cyberinvestigations out of the F.B.I.’s New York field office until 2015. Hackers like Mr. Bogachev are “moonlighters,” Mr. Berglas said, “doing the bidding of Russian intelligence services, whether economic espionage or straight-up espionage.”
Such an arrangement offers the Kremlin a convenient cover story and an easy opportunity to take a peek into the extensive networks of computers infected by Russian hackers, security experts say. Russian intelligence agencies also appear to occasionally employ malware tools developed for criminal purposes, including the popular BlackEnergy, to attack the computers of enemy governments. The recent revelations by WikiLeaks about C.I.A. spying tools suggest that the agency also kept a large reference library of hacking kits, some of which appear to have been produced by Russia.
It also hints at a struggle to recruit top talent. A job with the Russian intelligence agencies does not command the prestige it did in the Soviet era. The Russian state has to compete against the dream of six-figure salaries and stock options in Silicon Valley. A recruiting pitch from a few years ago for the Defense Ministry’s cyberwarfare brigade offered college graduates the rank of lieutenant and a bed in a room with four other people.
And so the Kremlin at times turns to the “dark web” or Russian-language forums devoted to cyberfraud and spam. Mr. Bogachev, according to court papers from his criminal case, used to sell malicious software on a site called Carding World, where thieves buy and sell stolen credit card numbers and hacking kits, according to the F.B.I. One recent posting offered to sell American credit card information with CVV security numbers for $5. A user named MrRaiX was selling a malware supposedly designed to pilfer passwords from programs like Google Chrome and Outlook Express.
Rather than shut down such sites, as the F.B.I. typically tries to do, Russian intelligence agents appear to have infiltrated them, security experts say.
Some of the forums state specifically that almost any type of criminality is allowed — bank fraud, counterfeiting documents, weapons sales. One of the few rules: no work in Russia or the former Soviet Union. In Carding World, and in many other forums, a violation results in a lifetime ban.
The F.B.I. has long been stymied in its efforts to get Russian cybercriminals. For a time, the bureau had high hopes that its agents and Russian investigators with the F.S.B. would work together to target Russian thieves who had made a specialty of stealing Americans’ credit card information and breaking into their bank accounts. “Here’s to great investigations,” F.B.I. and F.S.B. agents would toast each other at Manhattan steakhouses during periodic trust-building visits, Mr. Berglas said.
But help rarely seemed to materialize. After awhile, agents began to worry that the Russian authorities were recruiting the very suspects that the F.B.I. was pursuing. The joke among Justice Department officials was the Russians were more likely to pin a medal on a suspected criminal hacker than help the F.B.I. nab him.
“Almost all the hackers who have been announced by the U.S. government through indictments are immediately tracked by the Russian government,” said Arkady Bukh, a New York-based lawyer who often represents Russian hackers arrested in the United States. “All the time they’re asked to provide logistical and technical support.”
While it was a widely held suspicion, it is tough to prove the connection between cyberthieves and Russian intelligence. But in one case, Mr. Berglas said, F.B.I. agents monitoring an infected computer were surprised to see a hacker who was the target of their investigation share a copy of his passport with a person the F.B.I. believed to be a Russian intelligence agent — a likely signal that the suspect was being recruited or protected. “That was the closest we ever came,” he said.
Fishing for Top Secrets
Mr. Bogachev’s hacking career began well over a decade ago, leading to the creation of a malicious software program called GameOver ZeuS that he managed with the help of about a half-dozen close associates who called themselves the Business Club, according to the F.B.I. and security researchers. Working around the clock, his criminal gang infected an ever growing network of computers. They were able to bypass the most advanced banking security measures to quickly empty accounts and transfer the money abroad through a web of intermediaries called money mules. F.B.I. officials said it was the most sophisticated online larceny scheme they had encountered — and for years, it was impenetrable.
Mr. Bogachev became extremely wealthy. At one point, he owned two villas in France and kept a fleet of cars parked around Europe so he would never have to rent a vehicle while on vacation, according to a Ukrainian law enforcement official with knowledge of the Bogachev case, who requested anonymity to discuss the continuing investigation. Officials say he had three Russian passports with different aliases allowing him to travel undercover.
At the height of his operations, Mr. Bogachev had between 500,000 and a million computers under his control, American officials said. And there is evidence that the Russian government took an interest in knowing what was on them.
Beginning around 2011, according to an analysis by Fox-IT, computers under Mr. Bogachev’s control started receiving requests for information — not about banking transactions, but for files relating to various geopolitical developments pulled from the headlines.
Around the time that former President Barack Obama publicly agreed to start sending small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebels, in 2013, Turkish computers infected by Mr. Bogachev’s network were hit with keyword searches that included the terms “weapon delivery” and “arms delivery.” There were also searches for “Russian mercenary” and “Caucasian mercenary,” suggesting concerns about Russian citizens fighting in the war.
Ahead of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, infected computers were searched for information about top-secret files from the country’s main intelligence directorate, the S.B.U. Some of the queries involved searches for personal information about government security officials, including emails from Georgia’s foreign intelligence service, the Turkish Foreign Ministry and others, said Michael Sandee, one of the researchers from Fox-IT.
And at some point between March 2013 and February 2014, there were searches for English-language documents, which seemed to be fishing for American military and intelligence documents. The queries were for terms including “top secret” and “Department of Defense,” said Brett Stone-Gross, a cybersecurity analyst involved in analyzing GameOver ZeuS. “These were in English,” he said. “That was different.”
Cybersecurity experts who studied the case say there is no way to know who ordered the queries. But they were so disconnected from the larceny and fraud that drove Mr. Bogachev’s operation that analysts say there can be no other motive but espionage.
Whether the searches turned up any classified document or sensitive government material is unknown, although the odds are likely that there were a number of federal government employees or defense contractors with infected personal computers. “They had such a large number of infections, I would say it’s highly likely they had computers belonging to U.S. government and foreign government employees,” Mr. Stone-Gross said.
In the summer of 2014, the F.B.I., together with law enforcement agencies in over half a dozen countries, carried out Operation Tovar, a coordinated attack on Mr. Bogachev’s criminal infrastructure that successfully shut down his network and liberated computers infected with GameOver ZeuS.
Prosecutors said they were in talks with the Russian government, trying to secure cooperation for the capture of Mr. Bogachev. But the only apparent legal trouble Mr. Bogachev has faced in Russia was a lawsuit filed against him by a real estate company in 2011 over payment of about $75,000 on his apartment in Anapa, according to court papers there. And even that he managed to beat.
These days, officials believe Mr. Bogachev is living under his own name in Anapa and occasionally takes boat trips to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied in 2014. Mr. Mularski, the F.B.I. supervisor, said his agents were “still pursuing leads.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Big Start Up Opportunity? 2.0
on: March 11, 2017, 11:20:12 AM
Intriguing, but IMHO with loaded with the dangers of mob rule.
How Trump and Bannon Could Restructure US Politics Overnight
Posted: 10 Mar 2017 03:57 PM PST
We live in a world where we can get nearly everything instantly.
Instant information. Instant entertainment. Instant communications. Instant transactions.
Simply and rightly, we have come to expect our decisions to yield instant results from the systems that serve us.
Well, that's true for every system except our political system.
We're only allowed to interact with our political system, in a meaningful way, only once every two years and only then by filling out a multiple choice quiz in an election booth.
That's akin to an Internet that only available for a couple of hours every two years at 1,200 baud.
It's crazy in this day and age. Worse, there's increasing evidence it is driving us crazy. We are filling the time in between these electoral events with around the clock political warfare. A ceaseless drumbeat of outrage and conspiracy, amplified by the online echo chambers we spend our time in.
Fortunately, I don't believe this disconnect will last long. A form of direct democracy is coming. One that lets people directly influence the decisions of the people they send to Washington.
A form of interactive democracy that doesn't require any changes to the constitution since it works at the party level and not the national.
When it does, it's going to hit us fast, taking off like wildfire since it fulfills a fundamental need that the current system does not provide.
Here's a quick example from the perspective of the Trump insurgency. Other political parties would need different approaches, but they could if done in the right way (simple approach, scaled quickly by using disruptive marketing, grow from there), grow as quickly as this.
Launching the populist app:
Trump or Bannon picks an issue: the narrower and more inflammatory (disruptive marketing) the better. Make the vote a yes or no.
Trump asks his supporters to tell him what they want (he doesn't ask those opposing him).
His supporters download the app to their smart phones and vote.
A little programming and marketing magic radically improves the number of Trump supporters using the app and reduces spammers/non-supporters attempting to skew the vote down to a trickle.
Millions of Trump supporters download the app and vote.
Once the decision is in, the app makes it easy to call or spam message to the user's Congressional representatives. Millions of calls roll in.
A bill that codifies that issue is fast tracked in Congress. Massive pressure via the app and the White House gets it passed quickly.
Connecting action and results quickly generates buzz. Repeat. This time with 10 m downloads.
The app evolves. The pressure from the network increases. It consumes the Republican party.
Notice how the system, in a barebones fashion, could become a staple of governance nearly overnight.
Notice too how this doesn't in any way change the system of governance that is already in place. It's a plug and play upgrade (for many and something deeply scary downgrade to many).
Regardless, networked politics is coming. It won't matter if you like it or not. It's inevitable.
How networked politics evolves from this humble beginning is the tricky part.
Get it wrong and we're making the same mistakes we did with the governance of the nation-state prior to WW2 or in replacing feudal with representative governments -- it could end in horrific violence.
Get it right and we could zoom forward economically, socially, and culturally.
PS: This example is barebones. I've left out most of the nuance. If you want that, you will need to hire me to help you design and build it. I'm an idealist, but I'm also a mercenary capitalist.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palestinian Gun Makers
on: March 10, 2017, 04:57:28 PM
Israel Targets Palestinian Gun Makers
by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
March 10, 2017http://www.investigativeproject.org/5847/israel-targets-palestinian-gun-makers
At first glance, the bridal gown shop in the Palestinian city of Nablus appeared innocuous. But behind the scenes, Israeli intelligence says, the store served as a front for a major West Bank gun parts distribution center.
"Components for weapons were continuously being sold out of there," a senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) source told The Investigative Project on Terrorism. The store turned out to be part of a wide network of weapons dealers who had imported their lethal goods by ordering them on the internet, the IDF stated this week. Nine suspects, including the store owner, are in custody, and additional members of the weapons trafficking ring remain at large. "They came from all walks of life and from varied layers of Palestinian society," the source stated.
Since mid-2016, the IDF has been engaged in an intensive, large-scale campaign to seize as many firearms circulating in the West Bank as possible to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists. A growing number of such firearms have been used in deadly attacks, such as the Sarona Market shooting in Tel Aviv last June in which two Palestinian gunmen murdered four people in a restaurant. The gunmen used locally produced automatic rifles, dubbed 'Carlos' due to their resemblance to the Carl Gustav Swedish sub-machine gun.
While the latest wave of arrests focused on traders who used the internet to import gun parts, most of those on the IDF's target list manufacture and assemble guns in local workshops. Seven such workshops have been shut down since the start of 2017, and 84 guns have been seized by Israeli security forces, according to figures made available by the IDF.
"The terrorist threat picture has changed. In the past, the main threat was posed by organized, institutional organizations," the senior security source said. "For the most part, these were hierarchical terror cells, with a clear division of labor. There was someone responsible for financing, someone else had the designated job of transporting the suicide bomber or gunman, etc. This threat still exists. Hamas is trying to organize such cells all of the time. But the main challenge these days comes from terrorists that we do not have prior knowledge about."
Lone attackers, or small, localized cells with no organizational affiliation or background of security offenses, are far harder for intelligence services to detect, and these are just the type of terrorists who are likely to use firearms available in their surroundings. These types of attackers, some of whom have suicidal tendencies or personal crises, according to the source, often will attempt simple attacks, using whatever is at their disposal. This can take the form of knife or vehicle attacks, or picking up locally available weapons.
Guns in the West Bank can be purchased by Palestinians for many reasons; whether for personal protection, to defend families and clans, to fire at wedding celebrations, or to reinforce one's sense of ego. As long as the guns are cheap and affordable, the source warned, "anyone can get [them]. Many of the shootings cells we captured in the West Bank were armed with these types of weapons."
A year ago, a locally produced Carlo rifle cost around 2,300 shekels in the West Bank, meaning that Palestinians could purchase it with a single month's salary, or take the money from family members, before moving ahead with an attack.
"The Sarona Market gunmen had no outside financial support, but still managed to get their hands on their firearms. The suits they wore [to disguise their identities] cost more than their guns," the source said.
"This is why we are in the midst of an intensive campaign targeting the manufacturing and trade of weapons and gun parts. Even if I can't get rid of the illegal weapons phenomenon, I can make them less accessible, and much harder to traffic in them."
The increased Israeli pressure makes it more difficult to obtain guns, and increases the odds of catching people before they can attack. They have to leave
their village or neighborhood and move around with the firearms where they can be caught and intercepted by the IDF. "People will fear more getting caught and moving around with these firearms," the source said.
The Palestinian Authority would also like to see these guns taken off the streets, the source said, since it encourages lawlessness and anarchy in some areas that pose challenges to its rule.
Nablus, Balata Camp (next to Nablus), and Hebron are gun manufacturing focal points, according to IDF assessments. In addition, areas like Ramallah, Kalandia, and Palestinian neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem have workshops that take air or toy guns and convert them into real firearms using stolen components.
Thefts from IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians, as well as trade with Israeli weapons traffickers who do not care where the guns end up provide other sources of terrorist arms.
Efforts by security forces to stem the tide were beginning to pay dividends, the source said. Today, a Carlo gun costs more than 6,000 shekels, as numbers dwindle.
"With time, we are seeing improvements," he said. "We are seizing more than we did in the past, and our intelligence techniques have improved, so that we can capture guns not only in homes, but also in the manufacturing locations, and when they are moved around. This is a campaign. No single incident will stamp out the problem. So long as the profit from this trade is big enough compared to the fear of arrest or facing raids, many Palestinians will continue to be active in it. "
Ultimately, he said, "over time, we will seek to decrease the number of guns and keep raising the price. This will result in less terrorists getting their hands on them, and resorting to less lethal attack forms, such as knife attacks. Our soldiers' alertness [to knife attacks] means such attacks produce less casualties - meaning that our effort will boost security."
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Big Start Up Opportunity?
on: March 10, 2017, 10:46:16 AM
A BIG Start-up Opportunity in Politics?
Posted: 09 Mar 2017 12:09 PM PST
The New York Times pointed out yesterday that Trump ran his candidacy like an Internet start-up. His goal was to use Internet technology to disintermediate the established system (parties, media, etc.) of getting a President elected. Bannon even brought into the team start-up culture mantras:
"move fast and break things"
“figure out what needs doing, and then just do it. Don’t wait for permission.”
I agree and I've been saying something similar for a year. However, I have one important caveat. Unlike wildly successful Internet start-ups, Trump didn't build a technological platform. Instead, he ran an open source political insurgency using social networking. While open source insurgencies are extremely powerful (they have toppled governments and fought wars), they are very difficult to govern with. For example, open source insurgencies dissolve into infighting without an active enemy to fight. Trump's work around for this has been labelling the media as the opposition party and generating controversy.
Because Trump's start-up didn't build any technology, he doesn't have a cohesive social network to synergistically unite his political supporters. A synergy that could turn it into a dominant political force. It's still operating in open source insurgency mode (something Steve Bannon understands in his bones).
This means there is still a massive opportunity available.
An opportunity to build the first political social network that replaces a traditional party apparatus.
One that operates completely different than any political party we've had in this country.
A political platform that provides direct participation (think apps) in the political process on a daily or hourly basis rather than once every two years.
A platform that could grow to 60 m active participants in less than two years.
A platform that establishes norms of conduct and expectations of the future rather than rips them down.
A political network that allows us, as a country, to aspire to greatness again.
PS: This window of opportunity will close fast. Anyone could launch the moonshot to get this done and before it even comes out of stealth alpha, the competition could be over.
PPS: This is likely to be a phase transition in our political system. This means that any errors at the start are amplified manyfold downstream (think in terms of assumptions built into the US Constitution haunted us later in our history).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Assange & Wikileaks will help tech firms defend against CIA
on: March 09, 2017, 03:31:19 PM
Assange: WikiLeaks Will Help Tech Firms Defend Against CIA Hacking
CIA lashes out against WikiLeaks, saying founder Julian Assange is ‘not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity’
0:00 / 0:00
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday pledged to share with technology companies the technical details of the purported CIA hacking tools his organization described earlier this week. Photo: Zuma Press
By Robert McMillan
Updated March 9, 2017 1:56 p.m. ET
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pledged Thursday to provide technology companies with the technical details needed to fix product flaws that were exposed when his organization published documents that apparently show how the Central Intelligence Agency hacks into phones and other devices.
The 8,761 documents that WikiLeaks posted on its website Tuesday described malware and other tools used to exploit a wide range of commercial products including smartphones, software and equipment from Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Samsung Electronics Co., and Microsoft Corp.
The documents sent companies scrambling to uncover what specific security flaws the attacks might be exploiting. And Mr. Assange’s offer on Thursday created a fresh set of complications for the companies dealing with the leak.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned companies on Thursday that accepting classified material from WikiLeaks could be violating the law. They should check with the Justice Department in advance, he said.
When WikiLeaks released the information the antisecrecy organization said it obtained from the CIA files, the organization had put tech companies in the position of knowing they might have security vulnerabilities but not knowing how to address the flaws and protect their customers.
FBI Probing How WikiLeaks Obtained CIA Spy Tools
Tech Firms Rush to Assess Damage
0:00 / 0:00
In light of WikiLeaks' release said to detail CIA hacking methods, WSJ's Nathan Olivarez-Giles outlines ways consumers can reinforce the protection of their devices and TVs against intrusion on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: Zuma Press
“After considering what we think is the best way to proceed and hearing the calls from some of the manufacturers, we have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so that fixes can be developed and pushed out,” Mr. Assange said during a news conference broadcast online.
The CIA lashed out Thursday at Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks for disclosures that the group has said represents an overreach by U.S. intelligence officials. Neither the CIA nor the White House has commented on the authenticity of the documents.
“Julian Assange is not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said. “Despite the efforts of Assange and his ilk, [the] CIA continues to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries.”
The tech companies must now decide whether they’re willing to accept WikiLeaks’ offer. Having in hand the actual code used in the purported CIA hacking tools would enable the companies to understand the exact holes in their products. But the prospect of working with an organization that publishes stolen government secrets also raises delicate ethical, legal and public-relations issues.
Although it would be “unheard of” for the federal government to prosecute a company for using leaked classified information to improve its products, there “are some issues with the fact that the information is classified,” said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
Given uncertainty about the views of the Justice Department, “I can see why legal counsel at big companies might hesitate to reach out to Julian Assange to negotiate access to classified information,” she said.
Apple and Samsung didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. Google declined to comment on whether it would work with WikiLeaks.
“We’ve seen Julian Assange’s statement and have not yet been contacted,” a Microsoft spokesman said Thursday.
The spokesman said that Microsoft’s initial review of the WikiLeaks documents showed that most of the issues are dated and likely have been addressed in its latest software.
Several other companies named in the documents, including Apple and Google, said Wednesday that their initial reviews indicated that existing software updates had already addressed many of the vulnerabilities described in the WikiLeaks document. Still, they said, the reviews were continuing.
In a blog post Wednesday, Cisco Systems Inc. said that its ability to address issues the documents raised was limited without more detail, but once the code was released the company would be able to analyze it and produce updates if necessary. Most of the companies whose products are mentioned in the WikiLeaks documents face the same situation, security experts said.
Cisco declined to comment Thursday on whether it is willing to work with WikiLeaks. The company said it has a protocol for investigating and fixing bugs if it receives a report of a vulnerability.
WikiLeaks plans to release more of the documents and files that the organization obtained.
“Once this material is effectively disarmed by us by removing critical components, we will publish additional details of what has been occurring,” Mr. Assange said.
Mr. Assange said that the need to fix these flaws is pressing, given that others might be in possession of the tools.
“It is impossible to keep effective control of cyberweapons,” he said. “If you build them, you will lose them.”
In a statement Wednesday, the CIA gave what appeared to be a justification for amassing an arsenal of high-tech hacking tools.
“It is the CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defense in protecting this country form enemies abroad,” the agency said. “America deserves nothing less.”
The agency also said it is legally prohibited from conducting electronic surveillance targeting Americans at home in the U.S. and doesn’t do so. The CIA said Americans should be troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to protect America from adversaries.
“Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm,” the CIA said.
WikiLeaks said it had disclosed the information to inspire a debate about what limits should be placed on the CIA’s ability to hack computers and electronic devices.
Rachael King, Paul Sonne, Jay Greene and Jack Nicas contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Trump, Wiretapping, and the NYT
on: March 09, 2017, 03:28:05 PM
Trump, Wiretapping and the New York Times
‘Distinguishing between Trump’s assertions and The Times’s reporting is essential.’
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 7: A doorman stands in front of an entrance to Trump Tower, March 7, 2017 in New York City.
Updated March 9, 2017 2:33 p.m. ET
“President Trump has a predisposition toward self-inflicted wounds,” writes New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd . “He proved so once again last Saturday when he claimed he had been wiretapped by President Barack Obama, and called him a ‘sick guy’ who had conducted a Watergate-style operation.”
Mr. Trump actually called Mr. Obama a “bad (or sick) guy.” But Ms. Spayd, who serves as a sort of ombudsman for the paper, is accurately reflecting conventional media wisdom that the President once again blundered with a misguided tweet that cannot possibly be true and is bound to hurt him politically.
It’s difficult to evaluate Mr. Trump’s claim without public evidence, just as it’s difficult to evaluate the claims by Mr. Trump’s adversaries that his campaign colluded with the Russian government in the absence of public evidence. But Mr. Trump’s latest alleged Twitter disaster seems to have put the Times on the defensive.
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“Several readers have written in this week saying they’re having a hard time squaring The Times’s own past reports of wiretapping with the paper’s assertions that there is no firm evidence that any warrants for wiretaps have been issued,” writes Ms. Spayd. “Readers also expressed confusion with The Times’s assertion that it would be illegal for a White House to receive information about such investigations, when its own wiretapping story in January said the Trump White House was given some information from intercepted communications,” she adds.
The Times is a newspaper that has spent years explaining the intelligence tools used by our government, for example publishing a 2006 story despite pleas from our government not to let terrorists know how the United States tracks their finances. The Times has explored the myriad ways Washington’s powerful intelligence-collection capabilities could be abused and now finds itself in the odd position of reassuring the public that the man who led our government was surely not involved in any investigation related to his political adversaries.
“Distinguishing between Trump’s assertions and The Times’s reporting is essential. Yet readers at this juncture may be understandably confused on what is true and not in one of the most important ongoing news stories in the country,” writes Ms. Spayd. “On the surface, there are similarities. Both The Times and Trump have referred to wiretaps. Both have referenced White House knowledge of the investigations. And both have described efforts by officials from the Obama administration to involve itself in the continuing investigations of Trump and Russia,” she adds.
This would normally suggest that reporters at the Times would be looking up the chain of command to see where exactly the buck stopped in the Obama Administration. But Ms. Spayd notes that the Times position is that “Obama himself was not involved.”
One would also expect a vigorous effort to explore whether there was any abuse of federal data-gathering powers if the feds were examining Mr. Trump’s associates or former associates. Ms. Spayd reports that she checked in with the paper’s Washington bureau to figure out how wiretaps could have been conducted when according to the paper’s reporting no warrants had been issued. “Elisabeth Bumiller, the bureau chief, said the January story was referring to information picked up from wiretaps and other intelligence collected overseas, a process that requires no warrants,” writes Ms. Spayd.
Does this mean the Times is now comfortable with at least some forms of warrantless wiretapping that yield information on American citizens? Judging by Ms. Spayd’s report, many Times readers are not comfortable with this story and would like to know what exactly our government did to the party out of power and who authorized it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Khodorkovsky: The ultimate Trump-Putin deal
on: March 09, 2017, 10:58:06 AM
By Mikhail Khodorkovsky
March 8, 2017 6:43 p.m. ET
Russia went glaringly absent from President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress last week. Although Russians expect relations with Washington to change, they are anxiously asking how. Will Mr. Trump confront Moscow with the brash rhetoric he has directed at others? Will he be President Vladimir Putin’s lap dog, as many American critics and Kremlin propagandists predict?
Or will Mr. Trump surprise the world by forging a relationship with Mr. Putin and striking a deal that could help pull my country out of its decline?
Russians wait with both hope and apprehension as they grapple with the uncertainty of Mr. Trump’s message and Mr. Putin’s future. Many expect some kind of deal. In any negotiation, each side must understand the needs and desires of the other. What kind of bargain can Mr. Trump offer, and what can Mr. Putin do in exchange?
Let us break with conventional wisdom for a moment and set aside the expected American preconditions for normalized relations—the difficult matters of Syria, Ukraine, Iran, nuclear weapons and more. These are urgent issues. But no real progress is possible if Americans fail to understand the real, and very different, problems that face Mr. Putin, those around him, and Russia itself.
For today’s regime in Moscow, the overriding goal is to defer the inevitable question of leaving power. Military adventurism, like the police state itself, is a means to that end.
Mr. Putin has been in power for nearly 18 years—like Leonid Brezhnev, whose rule (1964-82) became reviled as the “age of stagnation.” Today, as in the late Brezhnev years, Russia’s economy is languishing and the standard of living is falling. Education, science and health care are decrepit. Russians tell pollsters, whom they assume to be agents of the FSB secret police, that they support the regime. Then they don’t go to vote.
As Brezhnev did in Afghanistan, Mr. Putin has boosted his popularity by creating his own unprovoked war in Ukraine, to make Russians feel that he is defending them from an external threat. The Kremlin insists Mr. Putin’s next presidential term will be his last, and that he would like to retire by 2024. But he cannot do so without taking a huge personal risk.
No Russian leader leaves power willingly. Since the Middle Ages, those who did not die a natural death in office were either assassinated, executed, forced to resign, overthrown or some combination thereof. One slight exception is Boris Yeltsin. In 1999 he transferred power to Mr. Putin, who promptly destroyed any positive legacy Mr. Yeltsin might have had. There were also two pretend departures, in 1560 when Czar Ivan the Terrible left the throne temporarily and put another man in his place before returning, and in 2008 when Mr. Putin installed Dmitry Medvedev as a token president for one term.
Russians today understand that a change of regime is inevitable, and that postponement, especially through Mr. Putin’s methods, only worsens the eventual outcome. He enjoys support not because the people love him or are satisfied with his policies. The people support him because they can’t imagine an alternative.
The regime maintains fear about what comes next by eliminating opponents. Most are simply destroyed politically, but some are physically liquidated. Electoral fraud, repressive laws and constant, paralyzing propaganda reinforce the expectation that the current regime will survive
The situation is an ever-deepening spiral. Russian society is losing its reserves of trust. Nobody can guarantee when today’s leaders will leave, and whether that transition will be peaceful and orderly or violent and bloody. Mr. Putin can’t step aside without such guarantees. He is destroying society to postpone his departure. But a damaged and fearful society is incapable of assuring an orderly departure.
Mr. Trump has an opportunity to begin a businesslike dialogue with Mr. Putin—not about the vital issues in the headlines, but about a far more important problem: how to avoid unnecessary conflicts inside and outside Russia by ensuring a smooth transition of power.
It raises important questions that must be considered now: What does the Kremlin have to do at home and abroad to make this soft landing possible? What reciprocal steps and guarantees can the West offer? It’s time for the world to start contemplating a post-Putin world.
Such guarantees are not merely personal. The dialogue must confront some unpleasant realities. Mr. Putin would like to use international agreements to preserve and formalize the “gains” he has achieved in Europe: his conquest of Crimea and neutral status for Ukraine and other states Mr. Putin considers to be inside Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence.
The desire for such concessions may motivate Mr. Putin to discuss the matter of his stepping down while Mr. Trump is in office. That, in turn, could create an opportunity to remove other problems from the table. But it could also tempt the West to appease and buckle under, or to throw up barriers.
In any other scenario, if Mr. Putin is going to be thinking about how to remain in power, he needs the U.S. for only one thing—to play the role of a “safe enemy.” That allows him to rally the Russian people around him, while knowing America presents no actual danger. To expect any other approach from Mr. Putin is a self-delusion that will carry a high cost in the end.
If concessions offered by Mr. Putin are not to America’s benefit, Washington will need to acknowledge that the only workable policy toward the Kremlin is a Cold War-style containment, with clearly defined parameters.
The window for handling Mr. Putin is very narrow. Mr. Trump’s brashness has stopped at attacking Mr. Putin personally. That atypical restraint horrified many Russia hawks in the West. But it may turn out that Mr. Trump took a better approach. Whether accidentally or by design, he has left the door open for Mr. Putin to make a graceful exit. That would be good for everyone.
Mr. Khodorkovsky is founder of the Open Russia movement and a former CEO of Yukos Oil.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Feminism AWOL on Islam
on: March 08, 2017, 05:16:47 PM
Why Feminism Is AWOL on Islam
Kay S. Hymowitz
U.S. feminists should be protesting the brutal oppression of Middle Eastern women. But doing so would reveal how little they have to complain about at home.
Argue all you want with many feminist policies, but few quarrel with feminism?s core moral insight, which changed the lives (and minds) of women forever: that women are due the same rights and dignity as men. So, as news of the appalling miseries of women in the Islamic world has piled up, where are the feminists? Where?s the outrage? For a brief moment after September 11, when pictures of those blue alien-creaturely shapes in Afghanistan filled the papers, it seemed as if feminists were going to have their moment. And in fact the Feminist Majority, to its credit, had been publicizing since the mid-90s how Afghan girls were barred from school, how women were stoned for adultery or beaten for showing an ankle or wearing high-heeled shoes, how they were prohibited from leaving the house unless accompanied by a male relative, how they were denied medical help because the only doctors around were male.
But the rest is feminist silence. You haven?t heard a peep from feminists as it has grown clear that the Taliban were exceptional not in their extreme views about women but in their success at embodying those views in law and practice. In the United Arab Emirates, husbands have the right to beat their wives in order to discipline them??provided that the beating is not so severe as to damage her bones or deform her body,? in the words of the Gulf News. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot vote, drive, or show their faces or talk with male non-relatives in public. (Evidently they can?t talk to men over the airwaves either; when Prince Abdullah went to President Bush?s ranch in Crawford last April, he insisted that no female air-traffic controllers handle his flight.) Yes, Saudi girls can go to school, and many even attend the university; but at the university, women must sit in segregated rooms and watch their professors on closed-circuit televisions. If they have a question, they push a button on their desk, which turns on a light at the professor?s lectern, from which he can answer the female without being in her dangerous presence. And in Saudi Arabia, education can be harmful to female health. Last spring in Mecca, members of the mutaween, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue, pushed fleeing students back into their burning school because they were not properly covered in abaya. Fifteen girls died.
You didn?t hear much from feminists when in the northern Nigerian province of Katsina a Muslim court sentenced a woman to death by stoning for having a child outside of marriage. The case might not have earned much attention?stonings are common in parts of the Muslim world?except that the young woman, who had been married off at 14 to a husband who ultimately divorced her when she lost her virginal allure, was still nursing a baby at the time of sentencing. During her trial she had no lawyer, although the court did see fit to delay her execution until she weans her infant.
You didn?t hear much from feminists as it emerged that honor killings by relatives, often either ignored or only lightly punished by authorities, are also commonplace in the Muslim world. In September, Reuters reported the story of an Iranian man, ?defending my honor, family, and dignity,? who cut off his seven-year-old daughter?s head after suspecting she had been raped by her uncle. The postmortem showed the girl to be a virgin. In another family mix-up, a Yemeni man shot his daughter to death on her wedding night when her husband claimed she was not a virgin. After a medical exam revealed that the husband was mistaken, officials concluded he was simply trying to protect himself from embarrassment about his own impotence. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, every day two women are slain by male relatives seeking to avenge the family honor.
The savagery of some of these murders is worth a moment?s pause. In 2000, two Punjabi sisters, 20 and 21 years old, had their throats slit by their brother and cousin because the girls were seen talking to two boys to whom they were not related. In one especially notorious case, an Egyptian woman named Nora Marzouk Ahmed fell in love and eloped. When she went to make amends with her father, he cut off her head and paraded it down the street. Several years back, according to the Washington Post, the husband of Zahida Perveen, a 32-year-old pregnant Pakistani, gouged out her eyes and sliced off her earlobe and nose because he suspected her of having an affair.
In a related example widely covered last summer, a teenage girl in the Punjab was sentenced by a tribal council to rape by a gang that included one of the councilmen. After the hour-and-a-half ordeal, the girl was forced to walk home naked in front of scores of onlookers. She had been punished because her 11-year-old brother had compromised another girl by being been seen alone with her. But that charge turned out to be a ruse: it seems that three men of a neighboring tribe had sodomized the boy and accused him of illicit relations?an accusation leading to his sister?s barbaric punishment?as a way of covering up their crime.
Nor is such brutality limited to backward, out-of-the-way villages. Muddassir Rizvi, a Pakistani journalist, says that, though always common in rural areas, in recent years honor killings have become more prevalent in cities ?among educated and liberal families.? In relatively modern Jordan, honor killings were all but exempt from punishment until the penal code was modified last year; unfortunately, a young Palestinian living in Jordan, who had recently stabbed his 19-year-old sister 40 times ?to cleanse the family honor,? and another man from near Amman, who ran over his 23-year-old sister with his truck because of her ?immoral behavior,? had not yet changed their ways. British psychiatrist Anthony Daniels reports that British Muslim men frequently spirit their young daughters back to their native Pakistan and force the girls to marry. Such fathers have been known to kill daughters who resist. In Sweden, in one highly publicized case, Fadima Sahindal, an assimilated 26-year-old of Kurdish origin, was murdered by her father after she began living with her Swedish boyfriend. ?The whore is dead,? the family announced.
As you look at this inventory of brutality, the question bears repeating: Where are the demonstrations, the articles, the petitions, the resolutions, the vindications of the rights of Islamic women by American feminists? The weird fact is that, even after the excesses of the Taliban did more to forge an American consensus about women?s rights than 30 years of speeches by Gloria Steinem, feminists refused to touch this subject. They have averted their eyes from the harsh, blatant oppression of millions of women, even while they have continued to stare into the Western patriarchal abyss, indignant over female executives who cannot join an exclusive golf club and college women who do not have their own lacrosse teams.
But look more deeply into the matter, and you realize that the sound of feminist silence about the savage fundamentalist Muslim oppression of women has its own perverse logic. The silence is a direct outgrowth of the way feminist theory has developed in recent years. Now mired in self-righteous sentimentalism, multicultural nonjudgmentalism, and internationalist utopianism, feminism has lost the language to make the universalist moral claims of equal dignity and individual freedom that once rendered it so compelling. No wonder that most Americans, trying to deal with the realities of a post-9/11 world, are paying feminists no mind.
To understand the current sisterly silence about the sort of tyranny that the women?s movement came into existence to attack, it is helpful to think of feminisms plural rather than singular. Though not entirely discrete philosophies, each of three different feminisms has its own distinct reasons for causing activists to ?lose their voice? in the face of women?s oppression.
The first variety?radical feminism (or gender feminism, in Christina Hoff Sommers?s term)?starts with the insight that men are, not to put too fine a point upon it, brutes. Radical feminists do not simply subscribe to the reasonable-enough notion that men are naturally more prone to aggression than women. They believe that maleness is a kind of original sin. Masculinity explains child abuse, marital strife, high defense spending, every war from Troy to Afghanistan, as well as Hitler, Franco, and Pinochet. As Gloria Steinem informed the audience at a Florida fundraiser last March: ?The cult of masculinity is the basis for every violent, fascist regime.?
Gender feminists are little interested in fine distinctions between radical Muslim men who slam commercial airliners into office buildings and soldiers who want to stop radical Muslim men from slamming commercial airliners into office buildings. They are both examples of generic male violence?and specifically, male violence against women. ?Terrorism is on a continuum that starts with violence within the family, battery against women, violence against women in the society, all the way up to organized militaries that are supported by taxpayer money,? according to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who teaches ?The Sexuality of Terrorism? at California State University in Hayward. Violence is so intertwined with male sexuality that, she tells us, military pilots watch porn movies before they go out on sorties. The war in Afghanistan could not possibly offer a chance to liberate women from their oppressors, since it would simply expose women to yet another set of oppressors, in the gender feminists? view. As Sharon Lerner asserted bizarrely in the Village Voice, feminists? ?discomfort? with the Afghanistan bombing was ?deepened by the knowledge that more women than men die as a result of most wars.?
If guys are brutes, girls are their opposite: peace-loving, tolerant, conciliatory, and reasonable??Antiwar and Pro-Feminist,? as the popular peace-rally sign goes. Feminists long ago banished tough-as-nails women like Margaret Thatcher and Jeanne Kirkpatrick (and these days, one would guess, even the fetching Condoleezza Rice) to the ranks of the imperfectly female. Real women, they believe, would never justify war. ?Most women, Western and Muslim, are opposed to war regardless of its reasons and objectives,? wrote the Jordanian feminist Fadia Faqir on OpenDemocracy.net. ?They are concerned with emancipation, freedom (personal and civic), human rights, power sharing, integrity, dignity, equality, autonomy, power-sharing [sic], liberation, and pluralism.?
Sara Ruddick, author of Maternal Thinking, is perhaps one of the most influential spokeswomen for the position that women are instinctually peaceful. According to Ruddick (who clearly didn?t have Joan Crawford in mind), that?s because a good deal of mothering is naturally governed by the Gandhian principles of nonviolence such as ?renunciation,? ?resistance to injustice,? and ?reconciliation.? The novelist Barbara Kingsolver was one of the first to demonstrate the subtleties of such universal maternal thinking after the United States invaded Afghanistan. ?I feel like I?m standing on a playground where the little boys are all screaming ?He started it!? and throwing rocks,? she wrote in the Los Angeles Times. ?I keep looking for somebody?s mother to come on the scene saying, ?Boys! Boys!? ?
Gender feminism?s tendency to reduce foreign affairs to a Lifetime Channel movie may make it seem too silly to bear mentioning, but its kitschy naivet? hasn?t stopped it from being widespread among elites. You see it in widely read writers like Kingsolver, Maureen Dowd, and Alice Walker. It turns up in our most elite institutions. Swanee Hunt, head of the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard?s Kennedy School of Government wrote, with Cristina Posa in Foreign Policy: ?The key reason behind women?s marginalization may be that everyone recognizes just how good women are at forging peace.? Even female elected officials are on board. ?The women of all these countries should go on strike, they should all sit down and refuse to do anything until their men agree to talk peace,? urged Ohio representative Marcy Kaptur to the Arab News last spring, echoing an idea that Aristophanes, a dead white male, proposed as a joke 2,400 years ago. And President Clinton is an advocate of maternal thinking, too. ?If we?d had women at Camp David,? he said in July 2000, ?we?d have an agreement.?
Major foundations too seem to take gender feminism seriously enough to promote it as an answer to world problems. Last December, the Ford Foundation and the Soros Open Society Foundation helped fund the Afghan Women?s Summit in Brussels to develop ideas for a new government in Afghanistan. As Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler described it on her website, the summit was made up of ?meetings and meals, canvassing, workshops, tears, and dancing.? ?Defense was mentioned nowhere in the document,? Ensler wrote proudly of the summit?s concluding proclamation?despite the continuing threat in Afghanistan of warlords, bandits, and lingering al-Qaida operatives. ?uilding weapons or instruments of retaliation was not called for in any category,? Ensler cooed. ?Instead [the women] wanted education, health care, and the protection of refugees, culture, and human rights.?
Too busy celebrating their own virtue and contemplating their own victimhood, gender feminists cannot address the suffering of their Muslim sisters realistically, as light years worse than their own petulant grievances. They are too intent on hating war to ask if unleashing its horrors might be worth it to overturn a brutal tyranny that, among its manifold inhumanities, treats women like animals. After all, hating war and machismo is evidence of the moral superiority that comes with being born female.
Yet the gender feminist idea of superior feminine virtue is becoming an increasingly tough sell for anyone actually keeping up with world events. Kipling once wrote of the fierceness of Afghan women: ?When you?re wounded and left on the Afghan plains/And the women come out to cut up your remains/Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.? Now it?s clearer than ever that the dream of worldwide sisterhood is no more realistic than worldwide brotherhood; culture trumps gender any day. Mothers all over the Muslim world are naming their babies Usama or praising Allah for their sons? efforts to kill crusading infidels. Last February, 28-year-old Wafa Idris became the first female Palestinian suicide bomber to strike in Israel, killing an elderly man and wounding scores of women and children. And in April, Israeli soldiers discovered under the maternity clothes of 26-year-old Shifa Adnan Kodsi a bomb rather than a baby. Maternal thinking, indeed.
The second variety of feminism, seemingly more sophisticated and especially prevalent on college campuses, is multiculturalism and its twin, postcolonialism. The postcolonial feminist has even more reason to shy away from the predicament of women under radical Islam than her maternally thinking sister. She believes that the Western world is so sullied by its legacy of imperialism that no Westerner, man or woman, can utter a word of judgment against former colonial peoples. Worse, she is not so sure that radical Islam isn?t an authentic, indigenous?and therefore appropriate?expression of Arab and Middle Eastern identity.
The postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault, one of the intellectual godfathers of multiculturalism and postcolonialism, first set the tone in 1978 when an Italian newspaper sent him to Teheran to cover the Iranian revolution. As his biographer James Miller tells it, Foucault looked in the face of Islamic fundamentalism and saw . . . an awe-inspiring revolt against ?global hegemony.? He was mesmerized by this new form of ?political spirituality? that, in a phrase whose dark prescience he could not have grasped, portended the ?transfiguration of the world.? Even after the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power and reintroduced polygamy and divorce on the husband?s demand with automatic custody to fathers, reduced the official female age of marriage from 18 to 13, fired all female judges, and ordered compulsory veiling, whose transgression was to be punished by public flogging, Foucault saw no reason to temper his enthusiasm. What was a small matter like women?s basic rights, when a struggle against ?the planetary system? was at hand?
Postcolonialists, then, have their own binary system, somewhat at odds with gender feminism?not to mention with women?s rights. It is not men who are the sinners; it is the West. It is not women who are victimized innocents; it is the people who suffered under Western colonialism, or the descendants of those people, to be more exact. Caught between the rock of patriarchy and the hard place of imperialism, the postcolonial feminist scholar gingerly tiptoes her way around the subject of Islamic fundamentalism and does the only thing she can do: she focuses her ire on Western men.
To this end, the postcolonialist eagerly dips into the inkwell of gender feminism. She ties colonialist exploitation and domination to maleness; she might refer to Israel?s ?masculinist military culture??Israel being white and Western?though she would never dream of pointing out the ?masculinist military culture? of the jihadi. And she expends a good deal of energy condemning Western men for wanting to improve the lives of Eastern women. At the turn of the twentieth century Lord Cromer, the British vice consul of Egypt and a pet target of postcolonial feminists, argued that the ?degradation? of women under Islam had a harmful effect on society. Rubbish, according to the postcolonialist feminist. His words are simply part of ?the Western narrative of the quintessential otherness and inferiority of Islam,? as Harvard professor Leila Ahmed puts it in Women and Gender in Islam. The same goes for American concern about Afghan women; it is merely a ?device for ranking the ?other? men as inferior or as ?uncivilized,? ? according to Nira Yuval-Davis, professor of gender and ethnic studies at the University of Greenwich, England. These are all examples of what renowned Columbia professor Gayatri Spivak called ?white men saving brown women from brown men.?
Spivak?s phrase, a great favorite on campus, points to the postcolonial notion that brown men, having been victimized by the West, can never be oppressors in their own right. If they give the appearance of treating women badly, the oppression they have suffered at the hands of Western colonial masters is to blame. In fact, the worse they treat women, the more they are expressing their own justifiable outrage. ?When men are traumatized [by colonial rule], they tend to traumatize their own women,? Miriam Cooke, a Duke professor and head of the Association for Middle East Women?s Studies, told me. And today, Cooke asserts, brown men are subjected to a new form of imperialism. ?Now there is a return of colonialism that we saw in the nineteenth century in the context of globalization,? she says. ?What is driving Islamist men is globalization.?
It would be difficult to exaggerate the through-the-looking-glass quality of postcolonialist theory when it comes to the subject of women. Female suicide bombers are a good thing, because they are strong women demonstrating ?agency? against colonial powers. Polygamy too must be shown due consideration. ?Polygamy can be liberating and empowering,? Cooke answered sunnily when I asked her about it. ?Our norm is the Western, heterosexual, single couple. If we can imagine different forms that would allow us to be something other than a heterosexual couple, we might imagine polygamy working,? she explained murkily. Some women, she continued, are relieved when their husbands take a new wife: they won?t have to service him so often. Or they might find they now have the freedom to take a lover. But, I ask, wouldn?t that be dangerous in places where adulteresses can be stoned to death? At any rate, how common is that? ?I don?t know,? Cooke answers, ?I?m interested in discourse.? The irony couldn?t be darker: the very people protesting the imperialist exploitation of the ?Other? endorse that Other?s repressive customs as a means of promoting their own uniquely Western agenda?subverting the heterosexual patriarchy.
The final category in the feminist taxonomy, which might be called the world-government utopian strain, is in many respects closest to classical liberal feminism. Dedicated to full female dignity and equality, it generally eschews both the biological determinism of the gender feminist and the cultural relativism of the multiculti postcolonialist. Stanford political science professor Susan Moller Okin, an influential, subtle, and intelligent spokeswoman for this approach, created a stir among feminists in 1997 when she forthrightly attacked multiculturalists for valuing ?group rights for minority cultures? over the well-being of individual women. Okin admirably minced no words attacking arranged marriage, female circumcision, and polygamy, which she believed women experienced as a ?barely tolerable institution.? Some women, she went so far as to declare, ?might be better off if the culture into which they were born were either to become extinct . . . or preferably, to be encouraged to alter itself so as to reinforce the equality of women.?
But though Okin is less shy than other feminists about discussing the plight of women under Islamic fundamentalism, the typical U.N. utopian has her own reasons for keeping quiet as that plight fills Western headlines. For one thing, the utopian is also a bean-counting absolutist, seeking a pure, numerical equality between men and women in all departments of life. She greets Western, and particularly American, claims to have achieved freedom for women with skepticism. The motto of the 2002 International Women?s Day??Afghanistan Is Everywhere??was in part a reproach to the West about its superior airs. Women in Afghanistan might have to wear burqas, but don?t women in the West parade around in bikinis? ?It?s equally disrespectful and abusive to have women prancing around a stage in bathing suits for cash or walking the streets shrouded in burqas in order to survive,? columnist Jill Nelson wrote on the MSNBC website about the murderously fanatical riots that attended the Miss World pageant in Nigeria.
As Nelson?s statement hints, the utopian is less interested in freeing women to make their own choices than in engineering and imposing her own elite vision of a perfect society. Indeed, she is under no illusions that, left to their own democratic devices, women would freely choose the utopia she has in mind. She would not be surprised by recent Pakistani elections, where a number of the women who won parliamentary seats were Islamist. But it doesn?t really matter what women want. The universalist has a comprehensive vision of ?women?s human rights,? meaning not simply women?s civil and political rights but ?economic rights? and ?socioeconomic justice.? Cynical about free markets and globalization, the U.N. utopian is also unimpressed by the liberal democratic nation-state ?as an emancipatory institution,? in the dismissive words of J. Ann Tickner, director for international studies at the University of Southern California. Such nation-states are ?unresponsive to the needs of [their] most vulnerable members? and seeped in ?nationalist ideologies? as well as in patriarchal assumptions about autonomy. In fact, like the (usually) unacknowledged socialist that she is, the U.N. utopian eagerly awaits the withering of the nation-state, a political arrangement that she sees as tied to imperialism, war, and masculinity. During war, in particular, nations ?depend on ideas about masculinized dignity and feminized sacrifice to sustain the sense of autonomous nationhood,? writes Cynthia Enloe, professor of government at Clark University.
Having rejected the patriarchal liberal nation-state, with all the democratic machinery of self-government that goes along with it, the utopian concludes that there is only one way to achieve her goals: to impose them through international government. Utopian feminists fill the halls of the United Nations, where they examine everything through the lens of the ?gender perspective? in study after unreadable study. (My personal favorites: ?Gender Perspectives on Landmines? and ?Gender Perspectives on Weapons of Mass Destruction,? whose conclusion is that landmines and WMDs are bad for women.)
The 1979 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), perhaps the first and most important document of feminist utopianism, gives the best sense of the sweeping nature of the movement?s ambitions. CEDAW demands many measures that anyone committed to democratic liberal values would applaud, including women?s right to vote and protection against honor killings and forced marriage. Would that the document stopped there. Instead it sets out to impose a utopian order that would erase all distinctions between men and women, a kind of revolution of the sexes from above, requiring nations to ?take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women? and to eliminate ?stereotyped roles? to accomplish this legislative abolition of biology. The document calls for paid maternity leave, nonsexist school curricula, and government-supported child care. The treaty?s 23-member enforcement committee hectors nations that do not adequately grasp that, as Enloe puts it, ?the personal is international.? The committee has cited Belarus for celebrating Mother?s Day, China for failing to legalize prostitution, and Libya for not interpreting the Qur?an in accordance with ?committee guidelines.?
Confusing ?women?s participation? with self-determination, and numerical equivalence with equality, CEDAW utopians try to orchestrate their perfect society through quotas and affirmative-action plans. Their bean-counting mentality cares about whether women participate equally, without asking what it is that they are participating in or whether their participation is anything more than ceremonial. Thus at the recent Women?s Summit in Jordan, Rima Khalaf suggested that governments be required to use quotas in elections ?to leapfrog women to power.? Khalaf, like so many illiberal feminist utopians, has no hesitation in forcing society to be free. As is often the case when elites decide they have discovered the route to human perfection, the utopian urge is not simply antidemocratic but verges on the totalitarian.
That this combination of sentimental victimhood, postcolonial relativism, and utopian overreaching has caused feminism to suffer so profound a loss of moral and political imagination that it cannot speak against the brutalization of Islamic women is an incalculable loss to women and to men. The great contribution of Western feminism was to expand the definition of human dignity and freedom. It insisted that all human beings were worthy of liberty. Feminists now have the opportunity to make that claim on behalf of women who in their oppression have not so much as imagined that its promise could include them, too. At its best, feminism has stood for a rich idea of personal choice in shaping a meaningful life, one that respects not only the woman who wants to crash through glass ceilings but also the one who wants to stay home with her children and bake cookies or to wear a veil and fast on Ramadan. Why shouldn?t feminists want to shout out their own profound discovery for the world to hear?
Perhaps, finally, because to do so would be to acknowledge the freedom they themselves enjoy, thanks to Western ideals and institutions. Not only would such an admission force them to give up their own simmering resentments; it would be bad for business.
The truth is that the free institutions?an independent judiciary, a free press, open elections?that protect the rights of women are the same ones that protect the rights of men. The separation of church and state that would allow women to escape the burqa would also free men from having their hands amputated for theft. The education system that would teach girls to read would also empower millions of illiterate boys. The capitalist economies that bring clean water, cheap clothes, and washing machines that change the lives of women are the same ones that lead to healthier, freer men. In other words, to address the problems of Muslim women honestly, feminists would have to recognize that free men and women need the same things?and that those are things that they themselves already have. And recognizing that would mean an end to feminism as we know it.
There are signs that, outside the academy, middlebrow literary circles, and the United Nations, feminism has indeed met its Waterloo. Most Americans seem to realize that September 11 turned self-indulgent sentimental illusions, including those about the sexes, into an unaffordable luxury. Consider, for instance, women?s attitudes toward war, a topic on which politicians have learned to take for granted a gender gap. But according to the Pew Research Center, in January 2002, 57 percent of women versus 46 percent of men cited national security as the country?s top priority. There has been a ?seismic gender shift on matters of war,? according to pollster Kellyanne Conway. In 1991, 45 percent of U.S. women supported the use of ground troops in the Gulf War, a substantially smaller number than the 67 percent of men. But as of November, a CNN survey found women were more likely than men to support the use of ground troops against Iraq, 58 percent to 56 percent. The numbers for younger women were especially dramatic. Sixty-five percent of women between 18 and 49 support ground troops, as opposed to 48 percent of women 50 and over. Women are also changing their attitudes toward military spending: before September 11, only 24 percent of women supported increased funds; after the attacks, that number climbed to 47 percent. An evolutionary psychologist might speculate that, if females tend to be less aggressively territorial than males, there?s little to compare to the ferocity of the lioness when she believes her young are threatened.
Even among some who consider themselves feminists, there is some grudging recognition that Western, and specifically American, men are sometimes a force for the good. The Feminist Majority is sending around urgent messages asking for President Bush to increase American security forces in Afghanistan. The influential left-wing British columnist Polly Toynbee, who just 18 months ago coined the phrase ?America the Horrible,? went to Afghanistan to figure out whether the war ?was worth it.? Her answer was not what she might have expected. Though she found nine out of ten women still wearing burqas, partly out of fear of lingering fundamentalist hostility, she was convinced their lives had greatly improved. Women say they can go out alone now.
As we sink more deeply into what is likely to be a protracted struggle with radical Islam, American feminists have a moral responsibility to give up their resentments and speak up for women who actually need their support. Feminists have the moral authority to say that their call for the rights of women is a universal demand?that the rights of women are the Rights of Man.
Feminism Behind the Veil
Feminists in the West may fiddle while Muslim women are burning, but in the Muslim world itself there is a burgeoning movement to address the miserable predicament of the second sex?without simply adopting a philosophy whose higher cultural products include Sex and the City, Rosie O?Donnell, and the power-suited female executive.
The most impressive signs of an indigenous female revolt against the fundamentalist order are in Iran. Over the past ten years or so, Iran has seen the publication of a slew of serious journals dedicated to the social and political predicament of Islamic women, the most well known being the Teheran-based Zonan and Zan, published by Faezah Hashemi, a well-known member of parliament and the daughter of former president Rafsanjani. Believing that Western feminism has promoted hostility between the sexes, confused sex roles, and the sexual objectification of women, a number of writers have proposed an Islamic-style feminism that would stress ?gender complementarity? rather than equality and that would pay full respect to housewifery and motherhood while also giving women access to education and jobs.
Attacking from the religious front, a number of ?Islamic feminists? are challenging the reigning fundamentalist reading of the Qur?an. These scholars insist that the founding principles of Islam, which they believe were long ago corrupted by pre-Islamic Arab, Persian, and North African customs, are if anything more egalitarian than those of Western religions; the Qur?an explicitly describes women as the moral and spiritual equals of men and allows them to inherit and pass down property. The power of misogynistic mullahs has grown in recent decades, feminists continue, because Muslim men have felt threatened by modernity?s challenge to traditional arrangements between the sexes.
What makes Islamic feminism really worth watching is that it has the potential to play a profoundly important role in the future of the Islamic world?and not just because it could improve the lot of women. By insisting that it is true to Islam?in fact, truer than the creed espoused by the entrenched religious elite?Islamic feminism can affirm the dignity of Islam while at the same time bringing it more in line with modernity. In doing this, feminists can help lay the philosophical groundwork for democracy. In the West, feminism lagged behind religious reformation and political democratization by centuries; in the East, feminism could help lead the charge.
At the same time, though, the issue of women?s rights highlights two reasons for caution about the Islamic future. For one thing, no matter how much feminists might wish otherwise, polygamy and male domination of the family are not merely a fact of local traditions; they are written into the Qur?an itself. This in and of itself would not prove to be such an impediment?the Old Testament is filled with laws antithetical to women?s equality?except for the second problem: more than other religions, Islam is unfriendly to the notion of the separation of church and state. If history is any guide, there?s the rub. The ultimate guarantor of the rights of all citizens, whether Islamic or not, can only be a fully secular state.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ/Bolton: Trump, Trade, and Sovereignty
on: March 08, 2017, 12:00:55 PM
By John Bolton
March 7, 2017 6:59 p.m. ET
President Trump’s trade rhetoric until now has been simple and effective: America is getting ripped off, he says, and things need to change. Simplicity works on the campaign trail, but how does it translate into actual governance?
Earlier this month the administration submitted the annual National Trade Policy Agenda to Congress. The submission takes particular aim at the World Trade Organization’s “Dispute Settlement Understanding,” which provides a quasi-judicial process for resolving international trade disagreements. Although technical, even arcane, the DSU is dear to the hearts of global-governance advocates. The Trump administration is right to criticize its performance.
Agreed to during the Uruguay Round of world trade talks in 1994, the DSU has had some successes. But it is often criticized for failing to deter violations of the WTO’s substantive trade provisions and for too often exceeding its mandate by imposing new obligations on one or more parties, particularly against American interests.
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This alarming trend extends beyond trade. A rising number of international agreements create “judicial” or “legislative” bodies that interpret and expand obligations well beyond what is laid out in underlying treaties, placing them beyond the effective control of domestic democratic institutions. This trend raises legitimate fears among states that they will lose sovereign authority. This fear is particularly acute in America, where the Constitution unmistakably fixes sovereignty in “We the People.”
The U.S. has in the past rejected or renounced international agreements that were not conducive to its interests. In 1986 the Reagan administration withdrew from the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. In 2002 the Bush administration unsigned the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court. The U.S., thankfully, still has not ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty, thereby avoiding the jurisdiction of the tribunal it creates.
Washington has also blocked declarations by periodic “treaty-review conferences,” which have a similar tendency to expand member-state obligations beyond those contained in the original agreements. Likewise, the Trump administration is considering withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose creation the Bush administration voted against in 2006, and which the U.S. did not join until President Obama took office in 2009. The American people are often the last to learn of their new and purportedly legally binding commitments.
That isn’t to say that these international decision-making bodies are established exclusively to evade the burdens of America’s Constitution, only that evasion is their clear consequence. The unspoken objective is to constrain the U.S., and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies.
The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities. Nothing in the Constitution contemplates such submission to international treaties or bodies. While many European Union governments seem predisposed to relinquish sovereignty, there is scant hint of similar enthusiasm in America. Moreover, the United Kingdom just dealt a stunning blow to the notion of Europe’s “ever closer union.” By reasserting their sovereignty, the British are in the process of escaping, among other things, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.
That brings us back to trade. The DSU is not, as some say, analogous to U.S. courts, which preserve the Constitution’s nationwide free-trade area through the “dormant Commerce Clause” doctrine. America is a real civil society where real courts have real enforcement capabilities—a far cry from the “global community” fantasyland. If Americans feel increasingly unable to restrain the exercise of judicial and legislative power at home, why should anyone be surprised to learn that international bodies are even worse?
Limiting an aggrieved country’s ability to resort to the DSU is not a rejection of free trade. To the contrary, it is a rejection of the unaccountable, legalistic morass into which free trade can all but disappear. In reality, ignoring DSU outcomes has always been an option for those prepared to face the consequences.
What is the World Trade Organization’s central objective? Is it to promote actual free trade, or is it merely to reify the DSU? If, in fact, this faltering dispute-resolution mechanism is the WTO’s central pillar, without which global free trade is doomed to collapse, we can legitimately conclude there is something gravely wrong with the direction of the basic enterprise.
Some countries cause more global trade problems than others. China is doing tangible harm to the regime of liberal international trade by striking first, and sometimes repeatedly, in violation of substantive WTO obligations in fields like intellectual property protection. Such countries—not those that retaliate rather than submit to the DSU—deserve the world’s ire.
If the DSU fails to deter repeated acts of trade aggression because of its cumbersome nature and faulty decisions, then the problem is likely the DSU, not its critics. Ironically, many global-governance advocates play down the DSU’s significance since it involves only trade, not existential political questions. Such modesty might seem becoming, but precedents established in one aspect of international affairs inevitably bleed into others.
The burden properly lies with the White House to specify how it will confront the DSU’s failings, many of which seem embedded in its design. Whatever steps President Trump recommends should be understood and measured against the larger dangers of global governance. The shadows cast by other flawed multilateral “authorities” make clear that U.S. sovereignty is at stake.
Mr. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: North Korea-China alliance
on: March 08, 2017, 11:58:20 AM
March 7, 2017 7:00 p.m. ET
With the arrival of a C-17 transport plane at Osan Air Base outside Seoul on Monday, the U.S. and South Korea began deploying the advanced Thaad antimissile system after years of uncertainty and months sooner than expected. With North Korea’s behavior becoming more dangerous, the sooner this system becomes operational the better.
Thaad—Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense—is far more capable than the Patriot and Aegis systems currently deployed around Korea. It can scan across 1,000 kilometers, intercept missiles 200 kilometers away and coordinate with U.S. and Japanese assets elsewhere in the region.
South Koreans were reminded of the need for defenses Monday when Pyongyang fired four missiles into the Sea of Japan. The North also barred Malaysian nationals from leaving the country unless Malaysia drops its inquiry into last month’s chilling assassination of Kim Jong Un’s brother in Kuala Lumpur.
North Korea is able to terrorize the region because of China, which poses as a responsible power but still protects Pyongyang economically and diplomatically. Beijing has raged against Thaad with bogus claims that it threatens China. But Chinese leaders’ real fear is that Thaad will deepen the U.S.-South Korea alliance, an outcome they apparently consider worse than North Korea’s continued nuclearization and military threats.
“South Korea will sacrifice its fast-developing relations with China if it should be seduced into the [Thaad] defense network,” Chinese state media warned in 2014. After Seoul decided last summer to proceed anyway, Beijing responded with unofficial sanctions against South Korean pop stars, cosmetics exports and tourism. Especially hard hit was Lotte, the company that agreed to provide land for the Thaad battery and has since faced arbitrary inspections, fines, store closures, licensing holdups, public protests, cyberattacks and other difficulties.
U.S. and South Korean leaders deserve credit for sticking to last year’s decision to deploy Thaad despite this pressure. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis made Seoul his first overseas visit last month, and President Trump has spoken with South Korean leaders several times, including a phone call Monday.
The broader lesson is that China’s support for the Kim regime is increasingly harming its own interests. Chinese leaders have long feared that turning on Pyongyang could cause a chaotic collapse, but their abdication of responsibility has now brought Thaad to the Korean Peninsula and otherwise strengthened defense cooperation among the U.S., Japan and South Korea. As the North’s nuclear threat grows, South Korea and Japan will inevitably consider going nuclear themselves.
South Korean officials say Thaad could be operational by April. We hope so, especially as China will continue its economic pressure campaign to block it. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that China will respond to the Thaad deployment and “the consequences will be shouldered by the United States and South Korea.” The wiser course would be for Beijing to reconsider its dangerous patronage of Kim Jong Un.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Wikileaks New Damage
on: March 08, 2017, 11:56:06 AM
Updated March 7, 2017 7:49 p.m. ET
Tuesday’s WikiLeaks dump of a major chunk of what it claims is the CIA’s “hacking arsenal” ought to be an eye-opener for anyone still laboring under the delusion that WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange or former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden are not out to weaken the United States. This leak of CIA documents appears to disclose for America’s enemies a key advantage against the asymmetric threats of this new century: better technology that provides better intelligence.
WikiLeaks says the 8,761 documents and files were ripped off “from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence” in Virginia. It further says these documents were “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors”—and that one of them shared the info with WikiLeaks. So far former government officials quoted in news reports say the leaked information looks genuine, and the WikiLeaks press release promised more to come.
Much of this WikiLeaks dump deals with ways the CIA has found to get into electronic devices such as iPhones and Android phones. These methods include—as Edward Snowden clarified in a tweet—end runs around the encryption of such popular apps as Signal or WhatsApp without having to crack the apps themselves.
The leaks also expose other areas of CIA interest such as an agency effort to hack into the control panels of cars and trucks. Another tool exposed by the leaks turned Samsung Smart TVs into microphones that could then relay conversations back to the CIA even when the owner believed the set was off.
The losses from this exposure are incalculable. These tools represent millions of dollars of investment and man-hours. Many will now be rendered moot as terrorists or foreign agents abandon traceable habits. Merely because America’s enemies are barbaric—think al Qaeda or Islamic State—does not mean they are stupid. One reason it took so long to hunt down Osama bin Laden is because he took pains to establish a sophisticated communications system to evade U.S. intelligence tracking.
The costs will also include the time and effort U.S. intelligence agencies will now have to expend investigating how the information was lost. This includes retracing any missed computer hacks and trying to find out who stole and released the secrets.
Some on the political left and right want to treat Messrs. Snowden and Assange as heroes of transparency and privacy. But there is no evidence that U.S. spooks are engaging in illegal spying on Americans. The CIA’s spying tools are for targeting suspected terrorists and foreign agents. As for WikiLeaks, note how it never seems to disclose Chinese or Russian secrets. The country they loathe and want to bring low is America.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: North Korea's Peculiar Brand of Rationality
on: March 08, 2017, 11:15:55 AM
by Rodger Baker
"Irrational" North Korea has done it again. Even with U.S. and South Korean forces gathered on the peninsula for their largest annual joint military exercises, Pyongyang launched four ballistic missiles early on March 6. Three landed in the sea west of Japan, within Tokyo's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. As expected, the "irrational" Pyongyang's actions elicited the usual cries of condemnation, triggered a brief dip in the South Korean stock market and led South Korea's acting president, Hwang Kyo Ahn, to reiterate the need for South Korea to rapidly deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system — something that will undoubtedly further perturb North Korea’s closest friend, China.
I use "irrational" in quotation marks for a reason. I have already discussed the use of "provocation" as a lazy term for describing North Korea's actions. But Pyongyang's latest moves, as well as the current U.S. review of North Korean policy, offer an opportunity to talk about the idea of the rationality of nations, governments and leaders. North Korea provides what could be a textbook case of the mixed perceptions of rationality and irrationality — a tool with utility beyond today’s feisty standoff between the hermit state and its geopolitical rivals.
More Than Just Emotion
At Stratfor, we are often asked why we default to attributing rationality to the behavior of governments. Many argue that the behavior of other governments (or our own at times) appears irrational. Think of the economically devastating land reform instituted by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 2000, or former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on the Brexit, or the U.S. plan in Iraq that assumed the country's disparate ethnic and sectarian divides would simply be overcome by the downfall of a dictator. We all know individuals who act in an irrational manner, whether because of emotional stress or stimuli, fatigue, mental conditions or any number of other reasons. Few of us can honestly say that we have never acted on impulse, out of emotion (be it anger or love), or out of a failure to think things through before engaging in some ill-advised endeavor that we hope will end in minor embarrassment and a funny story rather than in tragedy.
If individuals are susceptible to such irrational behavior, why not governments? Deploying secret agents to assassinate someone who was apparently such a low-level threat that he traveled without a security team seems irrational, or at least purely emotional. All the more so when the attack was done with a banned chemical weapon in an airport of one of the few countries with relatively good diplomatic relations with North Korea, and a key hub for the nation’s sanctions-skirting economic activity. Launching four ballistic missiles a few days after positive meetings with China (which eased tensions after Beijing had recently hit the North Korean economy by cutting off coal imports), and thus further justifying Seoul’s pursuit of the THAAD system to the detriment of China’s interests, just seems irrational. Why hurt the one country that continues to give North Korea international support and appeared intent on strengthening its relationship with Pyongyang rather than isolating it even more?
Our assertion of rationality as the default analysis does not claim that all decisions are perfect, or that errors cannot be made. Irrational or responsive decisions are possible, and even "rational" decisions can lead to catastrophes. But we do assert that choices made by governments are generally based on more than emotion or randomness. Rationality differs based on one's point of view, place and time. If I assume irrationality on the subjects of my inquiry, if I find their behavior illogical or unwise, my first job is to reassess my understanding of their perspective of rationality. This is the obligation of the analyst: to challenge the impulse to impose one's own sense of rationality upon others. What is it that has shaped those subjects' worldview, their perception of risk and reward, of threat and opportunity?
Back to the Geopolitical Basics
Even a cursory glance at North Korea reveals a worldview molded by geography and history. North Korea is a tiny country with insufficient arable land that is squeezed between China and South Korea, the latter of which hosts tens of thousands of U.S. forces. Historically, the unified Korea was caught between China and Japan, the proverbial minnow between whales. Today North Korea remains squeezed between whales, though this time the United States and China, and its basic question is whether it wants to subsume its national authority and identity to one of its neighbors or remain independent in policy and ideology. If Pyongyang prefers the latter, it can neither draw too close to China nor allow its economy and culture to open up fully to the West. Historically, North Korea has followed a path of isolation, of nominal fealty to China while maintaining domestic control — an approach that has been called the "poison-shrimp" strategy of being more dangerous to invade than to ignore.
This leads to a perspective of rationality that is very different than that of most analysts in the United States. Even if South Korea can partially understand the North’s sense of rationality, it does not match the national interests of Seoul, which in many ways is in the same position as Pyongyang but has allowed itself, much like Japan, to cede its national independence to the United States for years. The attribution of rationality to North Korea’s leadership is not a justification for its actions, nor does it argue that the North has only one path to pursue. Rather, it seeks to understand the behavior of the country's rulers — a vital step toward predicting both action and reaction.
The second component is to assess the structure of power within the nation's leadership. No leader, no matter how dictatorial, operates alone. There are bureaucracies, formal and informal systems of relationships, and power, money, finances and resources that shape how a government or ruling group works. For a leader to lead, there must be those willing to carry out orders, and shy of a very small organization, that requires several layers of power and control. So, policy goes beyond the actions of a single individual. The system itself, then, provides in some ways a check on irrationality. Any decision, any command, must pass through this often complex system of power. By their very nature, governments slow down action, providing the equivalent of counting to 10 before responding to an emotionally charged situation.
A Careful Balance
In North Korea's case, elections are certainly a bit of a sham, but Kim Jong Un doesn't stay in power simply because of his family name. He is the third generation of Kim leadership in North Korea, and the least prepared or qualified of any for the task of leading the country, since his father delayed training or anointing a successor for fear that power would begin to form around the son, rather than himself. But the Kims are not divine leaders, holding power because none dare to challenge their right to lead. Instead, they must constantly manipulate, balance and counterbalance the various interest groups and power centers in North Korea.
The primary task of a Kim leader is to ensure that no single faction or small group of factions becomes too powerful. This involves a combination of reward (access to foreign funds and opportunities), punishment (death, at the extreme) and distribution of power among different groups as well as inducements to spy on one another. A perception of unpredictability by Kim may be beneficial to a point, but complete unpredictability would undermine the balance quickly, since there would be no way to ensure long-term power or influence, and the system would quickly turn against the leader. In many ways this is similar to the story that Thae Yong Ho, the recently defected deputy ambassador to the North Korean Embassy in London, has been telling in media interviews in South Korea and beyond.
One of the most striking things about North Korea is that its apparent irrationality has nonetheless allowed it to continue down a fairly independent path under three different paramount leaders, even as the world around them changed (at times, dramatically). This alone should suggest that there is rationality hidden in North Korea's behavior. Pyongyang has shown continuity of action, continuity of policy and, most important, continuity of leadership but for a few executions. North Korea has pursued variations of this policy since the end of the Cold War, seeking cooperation with the South to create a stronger single Korean confederation, playing various regional players off of one another, and pursuing in earnest a nuclear deterrent to reduce the perceived threat of U.S. military and political action to destabilize the government and force its collapse.
Assuming irrationality in the actions of North Korea, or of any other government, is often based on the cognitive error of mirror imaging — believing that others hold the same cultural, political, economic or moral norms as you, your culture or your government. Even among Western countries, there are many different ways that nations perceive rationality and their national interests. How much more misleading is it to apply Western or U.S. norms to North Korea's perception and decision-making? Assuming irrationality, then, is simply a poor analytic practice. Again, seeking to understand another's basis for rationality does not imply that all decisions are the "right" ones, or the most effective. Governments rarely have the luxury of a complete set of options, of time, or of full information when making choices or planning strategy. And in many cases, objective desire plays a role. Rationality does not exclude bad decisions, or more commonly, limited options.
One of the most important values to presuming rationality in others, particularly "foes," is that irrationality, by its very nature, is unpredictable. But rationality provides context within which to predict behavior, or at least to understand general patterns of behavior. That said, rationality must then be matched with reality. Governments are large entities. Decisions are being made at many levels, within many time frames. Contradictory actions are entirely possible, even frequent. Mistakes are made. Insufficient information, time or resources constrain decision-making and action. Internecine struggles for power or influence can lead to all sorts of chaos. But assuming irrationality is just lazy analysis.
North Korea is not irrational. But understanding its unique rationality is no small task.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Trump-Russia Accusations and the possible Silent Coup
on: March 08, 2017, 10:20:23 AM
Democrats Are Descending
Into a Kind of Madness
Amid Frenzy Over Trump
By CONRAD BLACK, Special to the Sun | March 7, 2017
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The frenzy of the Never Trump movement becomes more demented every week. This last weekend, former national-intelligence director James Clapper (no friend of Donald Trump) said that there had been no evidence of any collusion between Trump people and any Russians when, after months of investigating, he left office with the old administration 45 days ago.
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When asked by Chuck Todd of NBC at what point the absence of fire would establish that there was no fire and only smoke, he acknowledged that that was a “good question.” Republican members of the congressional intelligence committees repeatedly confirm that there is “no evidence” that has been brought forward of any such collusion.
Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware, may have signaled the next retreat for the Democratic elected and press character-assassination squads by telling Chris Wallace on the weekend that, while nothing has turned up so far, he thought it would in Mr. Trump’s tax returns. This is what the Democrats are reduced to: a confident assertion that conclusive evidence of pre-election collusion between Messrs. Trump and Putin will be clear in the president’s tax returns.
They are mad. This is the madness that caused Elizabeth Warren to promise personal vengeance on every one of her 52 colleagues who confirmed Jeff Sessions as attorney general; that caused Chuck Schumer to burst into tears and claim that the Statue of Liberty was weeping, too, over the migrant order.
And it was this same lunacy, of which the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is the only known cause, that made Mr. Schumer demand that Mr. Sessions resign (even though Mr. Sessions’s explanation of his answer about meeting the Russian ambassador is perfectly plausible) and that caused Nancy Pelosi to go the distance and demand that TMr. rump resign.
I have a better idea: Why don’t they resign? They are malignant, shopworn, hyper-partisan blowhards, embarrassments to their surroundings and instrumental in dragging respect for the Congress into single figures in the polls. (It has risen a bit under Republican leadership.)
There is absolutely nothing to the Russian story. It began with Wolf Blitzer’s indulgence in the Golden Shower affair, in which he had Carl Bernstein and CNN higher-ups confirm what a diligently enterprising bit of journalism it was to pick up what no other press outlet would — the fatuous story from BuzzFeed that Mr. Trump had arranged for a group of prostitutes to urinate in a hotel bed in Moscow because the Obamas once slept there.
A couple of Trump aides had had some dealings in Russia years ago, when U.S.–Russian commercial contacts were officially encouraged under the Great Obama-Biden Reset. Onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had worked with Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, before he became the Putin entry in Ukraine politics and before Mr. Manafort knew Mr. Trump.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Trump Transition/Administration
on: March 07, 2017, 10:04:14 PM
IIRC her brothers and she could not vote for him in the NY primary because they were still registered Dems , , ,
Anyway, for further discussion of this subject please take it to a policy based thread, -- Entitlements or something like that.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Uighurs change tactics
on: March 07, 2017, 07:29:38 AM
A railway station attack in Kunming, China, on March 1 suggests that ethnic Uighur militants, whose attacks in the past mostly targeted police and public officials in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, have shifted to a strategy of seeking to inflict mass civilian casualties anywhere in the country. While these militants may be part of small, disparate cells with a relative lack of central control and training, they have now proved capable of striking in China's far southwest borderlands only months after another Uighur group attacked China's capital, Beijing. This suggests that China's counterterrorism efforts will have to expand nationwide.
A group of around 10 knife-wielding men attacked people in the Kunming railway station in Yunnan, China, stabbing victims indiscriminately, according to eyewitnesses. They ultimately killed 29 and wounded 130, according to the latest reports. Police shot and killed four attackers, arrested one female attacker and are pursuing the other five.
The incident, which Beijing called an "organized, premeditated, violent terror attack" carried out by ethnic Uighur militants linked to the Xinjiang separatist movement, drew a swift and strong political response. Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the capture of the remaining attackers and for the country to maintain a high level of awareness about the dangers of terrorism and the importance of supporting national counterterrorism efforts. Xi also sent two top security officials to Kunming. Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang urged police to increase security measures, especially in crowded areas.
The March 1 attack suggests two important developments in Uighur militancy: maximizing civilian targets and expanding the geography of operations.
First, the target set at Kunming rail station — random civilians — differs from most previous Uighur attacks. Typically, militants have attacked police, whether on training exercises, on patrol or at police stations, or have become embroiled in confrontations when police disrupted one of their meetings. While mass civilian deaths occurred during July 2009 riots in Urumqi, they have not recurred. A move to maximize civilian casualties will give rise to greater fears among the Chinese public and is also likely to prompt more unified public demands for a forceful state response. Security attention in mainland cities will now shift toward counterterrorism even as authorities strive to keep social tensions under control.
Second, the location is unprecedented for Uighur militant attacks. Uighur separatism and militancy are based in Xinjiang province in China's far northwest. With few exceptions, this is where attacks have occurred. To give an idea of the distances involved, Kashgar, a frequent site of such violence, is 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles) from southwestern Kunming.
Yunnan is a poor but rapidly growing, mountainous, ethnically diverse province. It borders ethnic autonomous regions such as Tibet and Guangxi along with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. As elsewhere in China, Yunnan has seen unrest and violent incidents in response to official corruption, land seizures, environmental degradation, unemployment and other grievances. It has more ethnic tension than most of China and has an expansive regional drug trade and black markets because of its position between China and Southeast Asia. Local attacks in Kunming often involve explosives — the large mining sector makes dynamite widely available — such as a bombing that killed 11 people in 2003 and two nearly simultaneous bombings in 2008 of public buses.
Evidence suggests Chinese internal intelligence has perceived heightened threats to Kunming in recent years, whether related to Uighur militants or otherwise. Security forces staged an unusually large show of force in the city in August 2011. This surge suggested that authorities might have received intelligence of an impending attack. The stated purpose was to provide security for Kunming's Communist Party Conference taking place around that time; alternate motives for the surge, if any, were never revealed.
While there has not been solid confirmation of the attackers' backgrounds, it is worth noting that the number of Uighurs living in the province has increased in recent years. Since the 2009 riots in Xinjiang, the government has stepped up relocation policies that have increased the Uighur presence in the rest of China, including Kunming — but this has failed to achieve the intended goal of better assimilating them into mainstream Han Chinese society. Uighurs in Yunnan have been linked to the drug trade in the far west along the border with Myanmar.
Aside from these shifts in target set and geography, the Kunming attack may show another attempt by Uighur militants to increase the national political symbolism of their attacks. The incident occurred at a politically sensitive time as the country prepares for the Two Sessions, the annual meetings of China's National People's Congress and People's Political Consultative Congress. While Chinese security forces have increased their presence and raised their level of alertness in Beijing ahead of the meetings, Kunming lies in a distant border region that is neither the focus of security attention nor as well protected as more central areas. Moreover, railway stations are soft targets that are notoriously difficult to secure. These factors explain how the militants managed to create such a high body count with just knives and handheld tools. While Kunming does not have particular political significance, militants planning to strike at this politically significant time would have known that they had a greater chance of breaching security at soft target far from the country's political and security center.
Kunming is not the first indicator that small cells of Uighur militants have become more active lately in Xinjiang and other provinces. In late October, just ahead of the Communist Party's Third Plenary Session, three Uighurs with a cache of weapons drove a vehicle through crowds near the Tiananmen Rostrum in Beijing. The vehicle burst into flames in front of the portrait of Mao. That incident showed the possibility that Uighur militancy would seek to expand its geographic reach and aim at more symbolic political targets. While militants in the Beijing incident apparently did not maximize civilian deaths, it is not clear whether this was intentional or the result of flawed execution.
The March 1 Kunming attack does not carry anywhere near the political symbolism as the October attack close to the Communist Party's headquarters, but it suggests that Xinjiang militants are improving their ability to operate outside their region. This is of particular concern for China as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and regional militant networks realign their attention toward regional opponents. Unlike other militants in South Asia and the Middle East, Uighur militants in China have not exhibited the trend toward suicide bombings with improvised explosive devices. Attacks like the one in Kunming leave the perpetrators a chance of survival, even if the attackers are likely to die.
Understanding the full significance of the Kunming attack will require determining whether the attackers were based in Xinjiang and orchestrated the attack across vast distances — as in the Beijing attack in October — or whether they were a radical cell already located in Kunming or elsewhere in Yunnan without personal networks across provincial borders, making them harder to detect. The answer will help determine the level of capabilities Chinese security must contend with. Like all others, Chinese security forces will always struggle to prevent small cells of independent militants from using rudimentary tools to attack soft targets. Beyond that, while Uighur militants have shown similar methods of attack, they have generally lacked signs of effective centralized planning and training. While the Kunming incident may have involved a small independent cell, it and the Beijing attack in October raise the question of whether Uighur militants have attained a higher level of interregional planning and coordination.