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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / As I have predicted more than once
on: July 24, 2015, 09:41:53 AM
Copper Follows Gold to Multi-Year Lows
Weak manufacturing data out of China and a stronger dollar pummeled prices
Updated July 24, 2015 7:51 a.m. ET
LONDON—Gold and copper prices fell to multi-year lows in London on Friday, in the latest in a series of sharp price drops across commodities markets.
Significantly weaker-than-expected manufacturing data out of China, together with a stronger dollar, pummeled prices. The data tapped into underlying fears that demand for copper is slowing, while the greenback’s gains cemented the view that a U.S. interest rate rise is on the cards.
The London Metal Exchange’s three-month copper contract was down 0.6% at $5,242 a metric ton in morning European trading—having traded earlier in the session at the lowest level since July 2009, at $5,191 a ton. Spot gold prices were down 0.9% at $1,080 a troy ounce, having tumbled to a five-year low at 1,077.40 an ounce for the second time in a week.
The Caixin China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index’s initial reading for July weighed in at 48.2—the lowest level in 15 months and the fifth month in a row that the index remained below the 50 level—indicating economic contraction.
“There are definitely concerns of how the Chinese economy will develop going forward,” said Daniel Briesemann, a metals analyst at Commerzbank.
The PMI figure was far below market participants’ expectations and sparked the sell-off. China is the biggest global consumer of copper and prices tend to mirror its economic trajectory. When its economy is seen to be ailing, demand for copper often tails off and prices slump.
Meanwhile, the dollar was stronger against a range of currencies, including the euro and sterling, which put pressure on gold prices. Much of the dollar’s strength has been driven by the prospect of higher interest rates in the U.S.: last week, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen gave the strongest indication yet that U.S. interest rates will rise by the end of the year.
“That means either in September or December there will be a rate rise,” said Clive Burstow, a fund manager at Baring Asset Management is $39.7 billion. “And that’s kind of spooked people because what does a rising interest rate mean? A stronger U.S. dollar.”
Concerns about China’s slowing economy, an impending Fed interest rate rise and issues of production outpacing consumption have led to sharp declines in commodities prices this week. Investors said gold is one of the most affected.
“Gold is probably the most challenged of all the main commodities because of that dollar, Fed, interest rate conundrum. There doesn’t seem to be an appetite for buying in the market as it currently stands,” said Mr. Burstow.
Consumption of industrial metals by China fueled a more-than decade-long rally in prices after the turn of the century. But concern over the nation’s slowing economic growth has caused metals prices to slide over the past 12 months. Currency-market moves have put further pressure on dollar-priced metals, as they becomes more expensive for foreign buyers when the U.S. dollar rises.
Looking ahead, investors are concerned that Chinese demand will remain a thorn in the side of prices, with lackluster consumption from the Chinese state grid—a key buyer—weighing on investors.
“We’re worried that it isn’t going to materialize over the second half of the year,” said James Sutton, a fund manager at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, which has $1.8 trillion in assets under management.
—Biman Mukherji contributed to this article.
Write to Ese Erheriene at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: July 24, 2015, 09:30:08 AM
Click here to watch: Iran Releases Video Threatening Missile Strike on Israel
A video threatening that the safety of Israel will not be ensured despite the nuclear deal signed between world powers and Tehran last week was released on the official YouTube page of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollal Ali Khamenei this week. The video begins with a clip of US President Barack Obama ensuring that the US "will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel's security." A montage of Iranian missiles blasting off follows, accompanied by a voice-over from a speech by Khamenei in which he declares, "Israel's security will not be ensured whether there will be a nuclear agreement or not." The video was released as Iran's leaders try to convince hardliners in the country to accept the concessions it made in the nuclear deal. An Iranian official said Wednesday that Iran will not accept any extension of sanctions beyond 10 years. Abbas Araqchi, one of several deputy foreign ministers, also told a news conference Iran would do "anything" to help allies in the Middle East, underlining Tehran's message that despite the deal Iran will not change its anti-Western foreign policy.
Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, told supporters on Saturday that US policies in the region were "180 degrees" opposed to Iran's, in a Tehran speech punctuated by chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". Under the accord, Iran will be subjected to long-term curbs on its nuclear work in return for the lifting of US, European Union and UN sanctions. The deal was signed by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU. The world powers suspected Iran was trying to create a nuclear bomb; Tehran said its program was peaceful. The accord was a major success for both Obama and Iran's pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani. But both leaders have to promote it at home to influential hardliners in countries that have been enemies for decades. Araqchi, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, told the televised conference that any attempt to re-impose sanctions after they expired in 10 years would breach the deal. He was referring to a resolution endorsing the deal passed by the UN Security Council on Monday. The resolution allows all UN sanctions to be re-imposed if Iran violates the agreement in the next 10 years. If Iran adheres to the terms of the agreement, all the provisions and measures of the UN resolution would end in 10 years.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: China's Global Ambitions
on: July 24, 2015, 09:21:02 AM
China’s Global Ambitions, With Loans and Strings Attached
The country has invested billions in Ecuador and elsewhere, using its economic clout to win diplomatic allies and secure natural resources around the world.
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS and KEITH BRADSHERJULY 24, 2015
点击查看本文中文版|Leer en español
Water pipes set aside near where Ecuador wants a Chinese oil company to build a giant refinery, outside the port of Manta. China has invested heavily in overseas oil projects. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
EL CHACO, Ecuador — Where the Andean foothills dip into the Amazon jungle, nearly 1,000 Chinese engineers and workers have been pouring concrete for a dam and a 15-mile underground tunnel. The $2.2 billion project will feed river water to eight giant Chinese turbines designed to produce enough electricity to light more than a third of Ecuador.
Near the port of Manta on the Pacific Ocean, Chinese banks are in talks to lend $7 billion for the construction of an oil refinery, which could make Ecuador a global player in gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products.
Across the country in villages and towns, Chinese money is going to build roads, highways, bridges, hospitals, even a network of surveillance cameras stretching to the Galápagos Islands. State-owned Chinese banks have already put nearly $11 billion into the country, and the Ecuadorean government is asking for more.
Ecuador, with just 16 million people, has little presence on the global stage. But China’s rapidly expanding footprint here speaks volumes about the changing world order, as Beijing surges forward and Washington gradually loses ground.
While China has been important to the world economy for decades, the country is now wielding its financial heft with the confidence and purpose of a global superpower. With the center of financial gravity shifting, China is aggressively asserting its economic clout to win diplomatic allies, invest its vast wealth, promote its currency and secure much-needed natural resources.
It represents a new phase in China’s evolution. As the country’s wealth has swelled and its needs have evolved, President Xi Jinping and the rest of the leadership have pushed to extend China’s reach on a global scale.
China’s currency, the renminbi, is expected to be anointed soon as a global reserve currency, putting it in an elite category with the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen. China’s state-owned development bank has surpassed the World Bank in international lending. And its effort to create an internationally funded institution to finance transportation and other infrastructure has drawn the support of 57 countries, including several of the United States’ closest allies, despite opposition from the Obama administration.
Even the current stock market slump is unlikely to shake the country’s resolve. China has nearly $4 trillion in foreign currency reserves, which it is determined to invest overseas to earn a profit and exert its influence.
China’s growing economic power coincides with an increasingly assertive foreign policy. It is building aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and stealth jets. In a contested sea, China is turning reefs and atolls near the southern Philippines into artificial islands, with at least one airstrip able to handle the largest military planes. The United States has challenged the move, conducting surveillance flights in the area and discussing plans to send warships.
China represents “a civilization and history that awakens admiration to those who know it,” President Rafael Correa of Ecuador proclaimed on Twitter, as his jet landed in Beijing for a meeting with officials in January.
China’s leaders portray the overseas investments as symbiotic. “The current industrial cooperation between China and Latin America arrives at the right moment,” Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in a visit to Chile in late May. “China has equipment manufacturing capacity and integrated technology with competitive prices, while Latin America has the demand for infrastructure expansion and industrial upgrading.”
But the show of financial strength also makes China — and the world — more vulnerable. Long an engine of global growth, China is taking on new risks by exposing itself to shaky political regimes, volatile emerging markets and other economic forces beyond its control.
Nearly 1,000 Chinese engineers and workers have been pouring concrete for the dam and a 15-mile underground tunnel that is part of the $2.2 billion hydroelectric plant project. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
Any major problems could weigh on China’s growth, particularly at a time when it is already slowing. The country’s stock market troubles this summer are only adding to the pressure, as the government moves aggressively to stabilize the situation.
While China has substantial funds to withstand serious financial shocks, its overall health matters. When China swoons, the effects are felt worldwide, by the companies, industries and economies that depend on the country as the engine of global growth.
In many cases, China is going where the West is reluctant to tread, either for financial or political reasons — or both. After getting hit with Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Russia, which is on the verge of a recession, deepened ties with China. The list of borrowers in Africa and the Middle East reads like a who’s who of troubled regimes and economies that may have trouble repaying Chinese loans, including Yemen, Syria, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
With its elevated status, China is forcing countries to play by its financial rules, which can be onerous. Many developing countries, in exchange for loans, pay steep interest rates and give up the rights to their natural resources for years. China has a lock on close to 90 percent of Ecuador’s oil exports, which mostly goes to paying off its loans.
“The problem is we are trying to replace American imperialism with Chinese imperialism,” said Alberto Acosta, who served as President Correa’s energy minister during his first term. “The Chinese are shopping across the world, transforming their financial resources into mineral resources and investments. They come with financing, technology and technicians, but also high interest rates.”
China also has a shaky record when it comes to worker safety, environmental standards and corporate governance. While China’s surging investments have created jobs in many countries, development experts worry that Beijing is exporting its worst practices.
Chinese mining and manufacturing operations, like many American and European companies in previous decades, have been accused of abusing workers overseas. China’s coal-fired power plants and industrial factories are adding to pollution problems in developing nations.
The China Factor
Articles in this series explore how China is exerting its financial heft and economic influence around the world.
A few miles from the site of the hydroelectric plant, the Coca River vaults down a 480-foot waterfall and cascades through steep canyons toward the Amazon. It is the tallest waterfall in Ecuador and popular with tourists.
When the dam is complete and the water is diverted to the plant, the San Rafael falls will slow to a trickle for part of the year. With climate change already shrinking the Andean glacier that feeds the river, experts debate whether the site will have enough water to generate even half the electricity predicted.
Ecuadoreans on the Chinese-run project have repeatedly protested about wages, health care, food and general working conditions. “The Chinese are arrogant,” said Oscar Cedeno, a 20-year-old construction worker. “They think they are superior to us.”
Last December, an underground river burst into a tunnel at the site. The high-pressure water flooded the powerhouse, killing 14 workers. It was one of a series of serious accidents at Chinese projects in Ecuador, several of them fatal.
The Rise of China
When the research arm of China’s cabinet scheduled an economic development conference this spring, the global financial and corporate elite came to Beijing. The heads of major banks and pharmaceutical, auto and oil companies mingled with top Chinese officials.
Some had large investments in the country and wanted to protect their access to the domestic market. Others came to court business, as Beijing channeled more of its money overseas.
At the event, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, commended China’s efforts to engage globally through investment and trade, as well as to enact economic reforms. It “is good for China and good for the world — their fates are intertwined,” she said in her keynote address.
Chinese men, in Ecuador for the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric project, in their room in a camp for workers. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
China’s pull is strong.
It is the world’s largest buyer of oil, which gives China substantial sway over petropolitics. It is also increasingly the trading partner of choice for many countries, taking the mantle from Western nations. China’s foreign direct investment — the money it spends overseas annually on land, factories and other business operations — is second only to the United States’, having passed Japan last year.
Chinese companies are at the center of a worldwide construction boom, mostly financed by Chinese banks. They are building power plants in Serbia, glass and cement factories in Ethiopia, low-income housing in Venezuela and natural gas pipelines in Uzbekistan.
This striking evolution happened in a short time.
While China made some economic progress under Mao Zedong, his policies left the country turbulent and isolated. Hundreds of thousands of people were executed after the Communist takeover in 1949, accused of opposing the revolution or owning too much land. Famine killed tens of millions starting in the late 1950s. The Cultural Revolution, beginning in 1966, unleashed a decade of violence and economic stagnation.
When China started to open its economy in the late 1970s, it was among the poorest nations. Beijing had to court companies and investors.
One of the first multinationals to enter was the American Motors Corporation, which built a factory in Beijing. The project was initially aimed at producing Jeeps for export to Australia, rather than building cars for Chinese consumers, who still largely rode bicycles.
The Chinese market seemed unimportant, said Gerald Meyers, then the chief executive of the carmaker. He didn’t even bother to visit the country. “We didn’t devote a lot of our boardroom discussions to it,” he said. “We were really trying to scrape out a living in our domestic market.”
At night, some of the Chinese workers at the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant walk to the local brothel (prostitution is legal in Ecuador) and sit at separate tables from the Ecuadorean workers. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
Today, China produces two million cars a month, far more than any other country. It mirrors the broader transformation of the economy from an insular agrarian society to the world’s largest manufacturer.
The change has showered wealth on China. But it has also brought new demands, like a voracious thirst for energy to power its economy. The confluence of trends has compelled China to look beyond its borders to invest those riches and to satisfy its needs.
Oil has been on the leading edge of this investment push. Energy projects and stakes have accounted for two-fifths of China’s $630 billion of overseas investments in the last decade, according to Derek Scissors, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
China is playing both defense and offense. With an increased dependence on foreign oil, China’s leadership has followed the United States and other large economies by seeking to own more overseas oil fields — or at least the crude they produce — to ensure a stable supply. In recent years, state-controlled Chinese oil companies have acquired big stakes in oil operations in Cameroon, Canada, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sudan, Uganda, the United States and Venezuela.
“When utilizing foreign resources and markets, we need to consider it from the height of national strategy,” Prime Minister Li said in 2009, when he was a vice premier. “If the resources mainly come from one country or from one place with frequent turmoil, national economic safety will be under shadow when an emergency happens.”
Road to Dependence
For President Correa of Ecuador, China represents a break with his country’s past — and his own.
His father was imprisoned in the United States for cocaine smuggling and later committed suicide. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mr. Correa focused his doctoral thesis on the shortcomings of economic policies backed by Washington and Western banks.
A few miles from the site of a hydroelectric plant, the Coca River vaults down a 480-foot waterfall, the tallest in Ecuador. When the dam is complete and the water is diverted to the plant, the falls will slow to a trickle for part of the year. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
As a politician, he embraced Venezuela’s socialist revolution. During his 2006 campaign, Mr. Correa joked that the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s comparison of President George W. Bush with Satan was disrespectful to the devil.
In an early move as president, Mr. Correa expelled the Americans from a military base in Manta, an important launching pad for the Pentagon’s war on drugs. “We can negotiate with the United States over a base in Manta if they let us put a military base in Miami,” President Correa said at the time.
Next, he severed financial ties. In late 2008, Mr. Correa called much of his country’s debt, largely owned by Western investors, “immoral and illegitimate” and stopped paying, setting off a default.
At that point, Ecuador was in a bind. The global financial crisis was taking hold and oil prices collapsed. Ecuador and Petroecuador, its state-owned oil company, started running low on money.
Shut out from borrowing in traditional markets, Ecuador turned to China to fill the void. PetroChina, the government-backed oil company, lent Petroecuador $1 billion in August 2009 for two years at 7.25 percent interest. Within a year, more Chinese money began to flow for hydroelectric and other infrastructure projects.
“What Ecuador wants are sources of capital with fewer political strings attached, and that goes back to the personal history of Rafael Correa, who holds the United States directly or indirectly responsible for his father’s death and suffering,” said R. Evan Ellis, professor of Latin American studies at the United States Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. “But there is also a desire to get away from the dependence on the fiscal and political conditions of the I.M.F., World Bank and the West.”
The Ecuadorean foreign minister calls the shift to China a “diversification of its foreign relations,” rather than a substitute for the United States or Europe. “We have decided that the most convenient and healthy thing for us,” said the foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, is “to have friendly, mutually beneficial relations of respect with all countries.”
The Chinese money, though, comes with its own conditions. Along with steep interest payments, Ecuador is largely required to use Chinese companies and technologies on the projects.
China has lent nearly $11 billion to Ecuador, much of which has gone for hydroelectric, bridge, road and other infrastructure projects.
The Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric facility, which is being built by Sinohydro for $2.2 billion, is the largest Chinese construction project in Ecuador. Other such projects include Sopladora, in Morona Santiago province, built by Gezhouba, and Toachi Pilatón, financed by a Russian consortium, but built by the China International Water & Electric Corp.
A 1.25 mile, four-lane bridge over the Babahoyo River was built by the Guangxi Road & Bridge Engineering Corp. at a cost of over $100 million. It opened in 2011.
A $55.6 million project to redirect the flow of the Bulubulu, Cañar and Naranjal rivers was completed this year. It was built by a consortium of Chinese firms — Gezhouba, Hydrochina and China CAMC Engineering.
The Chinese oil companies CNPC and Sinopec, as the Andes Petroleum consortium, run various oil projects in the Amazonian province of Sucumbios. In Orellana and Pastaza provinces, PetroOriental and Andes Petroleum manage concessions.
China’s Sinohydro is reconstructing and modernizing several roads in Azuay and Morona Santiago provinces.
A Chinese joint venture, CRCC-Tongguan Investment, paid $100 million to the Ecuadorean government in 2012 for the rights to the Mirador Copper Mine, with a commitment to invest $1.4 billion over five years. Its Ecuadorean subsidiary, EcuaCorriente, also holds copper and gold properties further north, in Morona Santiago province.
The wind farm at Villonaco, which generates 16.5 megawatts of power, began operations in 2013. It was built by the Chinese company, Xinjiang Goldwind.
By The New York Times
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International rules limit how the United States and other industrialized countries can tie their loans to such agreements. But China, which is still considered a developing country despite being the world’s largest manufacturer, doesn’t have to follow those standards.
It is one reason that China’s effort to build an international development fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, has faced criticism in the United States. Washington is worried that China will create its own rules, with lower expectations for transparency, governance and the environment.
While China has sought to quell those fears over the infrastructure fund, its portfolio of projects around the world imposes tough terms and sometimes lax standards. Since 2005, the country has landed $471 billion in construction contracts, many tied to broader lending agreements.
In Ecuador, a consortium of Chinese companies is overseeing a flood control and irrigation project in the southern Ecuador province of Cañar. A Chinese engineering company built a $100 million, four-lane bridge to span the Babahoyo River near the coast.
Such deals typically favor the Chinese.
PetroChina and Sinopec, another state-controlled Chinese company, together pump about 25 percent of the 560,000 barrels a day produced in Ecuador. Along with taking the bulk of oil exports, the Chinese companies also collect $25 to $50 in fees from Ecuador for each barrel they pump.
China’s terms are putting countries in precarious positions.
In Ecuador, oil represents roughly 40 percent of the government’s revenue, according to the United States Energy Department. And those earnings are suddenly plunging along with the price of oil. With crude at around $50 a barrel, Ecuador doesn’t have much left to repay its loans.
On the beach in Manta, a port city in Ecuador. After Ecuador was shut out from borrowing in traditional markets, the country turned to China to fill the void. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
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“Of course we have concerns over their ability to repay the debts — China isn’t silly,” said Lin Boqiang, the director of the Energy Economics Research Center at Xiamen University in China’s Fujian province and a government policy planner. “But the gist is resources will ultimately become valuable assets.”
If Ecuador or other countries can’t cover their debts, their obligations to China may rise. A senior Chinese banker, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity for diplomatic reasons, said Beijing would most likely restructure some loans in places like Ecuador.
To do so, Chinese authorities want to extend the length of the loans instead of writing off part of the principal. That means countries will have to hand over their natural resources for additional years, limiting their governments’ abilities to borrow money and pursue other development opportunities.
China has significant leverage to make sure borrowers pay. As the dominant manufacturer for a long list of goods, Beijing can credibly threaten to cut off shipments to countries that do not repay their loans, the senior Chinese banker said.
With its economy stumbling, Ecuador asked China at the start of the year for an additional $7.5 billion in financing to fill the growing government budget deficit and buy Chinese goods. Since then, the situation has only deteriorated. In recent weeks, thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Quito and Guayaquil to challenge various government policies and proposals, some of which Mr. Correa has recently withdrawn.
“China is becoming the new company store for developing oil-, gas- and mineral-producing countries,” said David Goldwyn, who was the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs during President Obama’s first term. “They are entitled to secure reliable sources of oil, but what we need to worry about is the way they are encouraging oil-producing countries to mortgage their long-term future through oil-backed loans.”
Plagued by Problems
A pall of acrimony surrounds the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant, Ecuador’s largest construction project.
José Tixi, who works at the hydroelectric plant project, with his family in their home in San Luis. Ecuadoreans on the Chinese-run project have repeatedly protested about the working conditions. Credit Ivan Kashinsky for The New York Times
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1 minute ago
Sounds like USA over the past 40 years. Ironic eh?
1 minute ago
We play world policeman, others get a free security ride. We bomb, so they can build.
2 minutes ago
"...Beijing surges forward and Washington gradually loses ground."That's because Washington chooses to sink billions into an ungrateful...
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Few of the Chinese workers speak Spanish, and they live separately from their Ecuadorean counterparts. When the workers leave their camp in the village of San Luis at noon for lunch, they walk down the main street in separate groups. At night, they also walk in separate groups up the hill to the local brothel. (Prostitution is legal in Ecuador.) The workers sit at separate tables drinking bottles of the Ecuadorean beer, Pilsener.
When the Chinese and Ecuadorean workers return to camp, typically drunk, there have been shoving matches. Once a Chinese manager threw a tray at an Ecuadorean worker at mealtime.
“You make a little mistake, and they say something like, ‘Get out of here,’ ” said Gustavo Taipe, an Ecuadorean welder. “They want to be the strongmen.”
Like other workers, Mr. Taipe, 57, works 10 consecutive days. Then he drives seven hours home to spend four days with his family, then returns for another 10 days. Mr. Taipe and others have complained about low pay for grueling work. He initially made $600 a month. After work stoppages, he now earns $914 a month, a decent wage by Ecuadorian standards.
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Kevin Wang, a Chinese supervisory engineer at the project, played down the issues, saying, “Relations are friendly.” He predicted that the project would be a success. “We can do something here really important,” he said.
The hydroelectric project — led by Sinohydro, the Chinese engineering company, and financed by the Chinese Export-Import Bank — was supposed to be ready by late 2014. But the project has been plagued by problems.
A drilling rig jammed last year, suspending the excavation for a critical tunnel. Then in December, 11 Ecuadorean and three Chinese workers were killed and a dozen were hurt when an underground river burst into the tunnel and flooded the powerhouse. Workers drowned or were crushed by flying rocks and metal bars.
At a legislative hearing after the accident, one worker, Danny Tejedor, told the lawmakers, “I am a welder, and on various occasions I have been obligated to work in extreme conditions of high risk, deep in water.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Muslims banned by gun store
on: July 24, 2015, 07:29:16 AM
Florida gun store bans Muslims in wake of Chattanooga jihad attack
JULY 22, 2015 4:31 PM BY RALPH SIDWAY
This reminded me of a story from last September about an Arkansas Gun Range banning Muslims. No doubt there are others making the same decision. Hallinan’s story is especially important because of his explicit citation of federal law to back up his position.
By banning the sale of guns to Muslims who interpret the Koran literally, Florida Gun Supply owner Andrew Hallinan says he wants to “offend as many people as [possible]” in hopes of “[starting] a conversation about the political correctness that… [is] causing loss of life that we could prevent if we looked at Islam for what it is.”
This is wholly reasonable, and Hallinan’s position deserves serious consideration. Background checks on firearms purchases could also look for links between Muslims and radicalized mosques with known ties to Islamic terrorism, whether through jihad terrorists associated with the mosques, or through jihad financing trials in which they are implicated. There certainly are plenty of such links to investigate.
Hallinan gives himself ample maneuvering room by noting that “the ATF expressly gives me the right and authority to deny service to anybody that I feel is a threat for any reason.”
For this very reason, all Muslims seeking to purchase firearms or earn pilots licenses should come under increased scrutiny. More and more Muslims in the U.S. already are committing jihad terrorist acts. Since Islam is proven to be the sole constant motivating these followers of Muhammad and the Koran, our nation is fitfully starting to have this “conversation,” which boils down to, “How do we deal with a militant, adversarial religious ideology in our midst, which has fourteen centuries of aggression and conquest behind it, and whose founder, holy books and most zealous adherents call for our overthrow?”
“Florida Gun Store Owner Bans Muslims in wake of Chattanooga Attack,” by AWR Hawkins, Breitbart News, July 21, 2015:
Florida Gun Supply owner Andrew Hallinan is instituting a ban on selling guns to Muslims who interpret the Koran literally. In making the announcement, he declared his store a “Muslim-free zone.”
His ban also covers any training or services Muslims might have otherwise received.
Hallinan announced the ban in front of a Confederate flag and told CNN he wanted the announcement to “offend as many people as [possible]” in hopes of “[starting] a conversation about the political correctness that has become overly extreme here in the United States and [is] causing loss of life that we could prevent if we looked at Islam for what it is.”
CNN’s Carol Costella responded by saying, “I’m all for conversation, alright, but you’re going one step farther–you’re banning Muslims who follow the Koran from your store. How do you determine which Muslim follows the Koran?”
Hallinan responded by admitting that it is going to be a difficult ban to enforce at all times, precisely because of the difficulty of ascertaining who follows the Koran literally and who doesn’t.
He then said:
I can’t, by law, ask each and every person who comes through my doors what their religious background is. But the ATF expressly gives me the right and authority to deny service to anybody that I feel is a threat for any reason. And it happens on weekly basis that we have people come through the gun shop [and] they pass their background check but they seem a little off. And we make a determination on a case by case basis whether or not we’re going to arm and train these people.
Costella asked Hallinan if he would deny services to “white supremacists” as well, and Hallinan said he “won’t arm and train anyone from the KKK” or “someone from a white supremacy movement or anything like that.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama blocking heavy arms to the Kurds
on: July 24, 2015, 07:22:02 AM
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Change of heart. The week began with a vicious attack by a suicide bomber with suspected links to the Islamic State in the Turkish border town of Suruc, killing 32 people and wounding more than 100. And it’s ending with Turkey rushing soldiers to the Syrian border to engage in a cross-border firefight with the jihadists, agreeing to allow American warplanes to hit Syria from the the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, and for the first time sending its own F-16 fighters to smack jihadists in Syria.
The reluctant ally in the fight against the Islamic State joins the coalition just as Kurdish forces have been making real gains in northern Syria -- alarming the Turks who have pledged not to allow a Kurdish state to spring up on its border -- and represents a major shift in Turkey’s willingness to allow the U.S. to use Incirlik. But events, and 1.5 million Syrian refugees straining Turkey’s ability to care for them, have been forcing Ankara’s hand, FP’s Dan De Luce writes, even if Washington continues to ignore Turkish proposals for establishing a no-fly zone over northern Syria.
Northern alliance. Defense Secretary Ash Carter continued his Iran and Islamic State-themed barnstorming through the Middle East on Friday, following up his visit with Iraqi officials in Baghdad with a hop over to the Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq to meet with Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, and other Kurdish government and military officials. It’s a significant visit, since the Kurds -- and some members of the U.S. Congress -- have been pushing for the Pentagon to start directly arming Kurdish fighters, who have been holding the line against the Islamic State in Iraq’s north. The administration of President Barack Obama isn’t as eager as some others in Washington to start pushing weapons to the Kurds, which would antagonize both Baghdad and Ankara, instead preferring to go through the government in Baghdad.
It’s always sunny in Kurdistan. The Kurds remain the darling of the western media and politicians, who love the hard fighters who have scrapped for decades to try and carve out their own homeland along the ethnic faultlines for northern Iraq, Iran, and Syria. But now that they have the excuse to do so, are they pushing out Sunni Arabs in the guise of fighting against the Islamic State? FP contributor Sara Elizabeth Williams writes from northern Iraq that witnesses there say the Kurdish Peshmerga, the military force of Iraqi Kurdistan, “has an agenda that goes beyond fighting the Islamic State: establishing the boundaries of a future Kurdish state and moving the Arabs out.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stratfor: Quantum Computing
on: July 24, 2015, 07:06:41 AM
Approaching a Quantum Leap in Computing
July 24, 2015 | 09:01 GMT
A D-Wave Systems chip designed to operate as a 128-qubit superconducting adiabatic quantum optimization processor. (D-Wave Systems, Inc.)
The widespread use of quantum computers in industry is likely only a decade or two away.
The United States will probably maintain its lead in the field, though China will be competitive.
The countries and companies that first access quantum computers will enjoy a powerful advantage over their peers in areas that stand to gain from the technology.
Quantum computers, or computers based on the principles of quantum mechanics, stand to exponentially increase computing power within the next two decades. Though the scientific community is still fiercely debating the very nature of quantum mechanics itself, and numerous technical obstacles stand in the way of applying the principles of quantum mechanics to machines, the field is rapidly developing.
Now, the widespread use of quantum computers in industry is likely only a decade or two away. Such devices will be far more powerful than even the most powerful supercomputers seen today, carrying significant implications for national security, cyberwarfare and intelligence operations, among many other things. Just how powerful quantum computers can be — and how their adoption could lead to another revolution in computer-related technologies — becomes clear when we consider their computing power. Using a quantum computer to solve a problem can loosely be thought of as trying all possible solutions at once, whereas using a classical solution would mean trying them in sequential order. The expansion in computing power gained by incorporating quantum mechanics principles into computing could prove to be as revolutionary to computer science as research in physics and electromagnetism has proved to modern electronics.
Quantum Mechanics: A Primer
The field of quantum mechanics arose from German physicist Max Planck's attempts to describe the spectrum of light emitted by hot bodies. Specifically, he wondered what accounted for the shift in color from red to yellow to blue as the temperature of a flame increased. Planck devised an equation explaining what he had observed, based on the assumption that matter behaved differently at the atomic and subatomic levels.
Though even the great German physicist questioned this assumption, his research kicked off 30 years of scientific inquiry that yielded the theories and discoveries that form the basis of today's understanding of physics and chemistry. Albert Einstein introduced one of quantum mechanics' most famous and perplexing concepts just five years or so after Planck devised his equation, extending the latter's assumption by asserting that a quantum of light, or a photon, behaves as both a wave and a particle. This duality, along with the many other dualities embedded in quantum mechanics, became the bedrock of the field.
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Today, scientists still debate how to interpret quantum mechanics. Perhaps the most widely held approach is called the Copenhagen interpretation, which holds that every quantum particle, known as a "cat," exists in all of its possible states at once until it is measured; only when it is observed does the particle exist in one state. This concept has become known as the principle of superposition.
The superposition principle is one of the fundamental features of "quantum bits" or "qubits," the quantum computer's equivalent to the bits of classical computers. Classical computing relies on data comprising numerous individual bits that can only exist in one of two states, 0 or 1. Computers process data composed of long ordered strings of 0s and 1s. Today's computer chips are made up of millions of transistors and capacitors that can only exist as a 0 or 1; while switching these states now takes a mere fraction of a millisecond (a period that is shrinking every day), there are still natural limits to how fast data can be processed and how small transistors and capacitors can be shrunk.
A qubit has the advantage of being able to be a 0, a 1, and a superposition of both 0 and 1 — that is, it can exist in all possible states. This allows quantum computers to exist simultaneously in all possible states, whereas a classical computer could only exist in them sequentially. This means that a quantum computer can perform vast numbers of calculations at the same time, and that the power of a quantum computer increases exponentially as the number of qubits increases.
An additional boost to the potential power of quantum computers comes from the concept of "quantum entanglement," which Einstein famously described as "spooky action at a distance." Quantum entanglement is the principle that some quantum systems' states cannot be described by the states of their individual elements alone because those elements may be "entangled;" in other words, different elements' states are related to one another in some way, meaning that what happens to one will affect the other, no matter how vast the distance separating the two. Among other things, quantum entanglement can be used to create "super-dense" coding in which two classical bits can be encoded and transmitted via one qubit.
Though quantum computers will have a broad impact on society, the most obvious areas that stand to benefit are the ones that supercomputers dominate today: cryptography, research and military applications. The most well-known capability quantum computers could unlock would be the use of what is known as Shor's algorithm, something classical computers cannot do and a tool of significant interest to the National Security Agency, CIA and the Chinese government.
In short, Shor's algorithm would enable the breaking of complex codes by speeding up the search for a given number's prime factors, the backbone of modern-day encryption methods. The gains that would be made by using a quantum computer to break a code over a classical computer are gigantic: A quantum computer can do in minutes or hours what a classical computer would take years or much longer to do. Of course, the floodgates of stored data will not suddenly open once Shor's algorithm comes into play; quantum computers could also be use to encrypt information far more securely than is possible with classical computers, something already under intense study.
Outside of the military and intelligence spheres, quantum computers would greatly expand data processing and permit the simulation of almost every natural phenomenon. They would also lead to outcomes such as the faster development of new drugs and more accurate weather forecasting, as well as those as exotic as the search for extraterrestrial life and the development of artificial intelligence.
Quantum computing would have important implications for the development of artificial intelligence because it would expand machine-learning algorithms. Today's algorithms rely on pattern recognition; with quantum computing, machines could adapt to anomalous situations. A highly refined machine-learning algorithm would help automated systems handle non-routine tasks, an area that has been lacking in the automation and digitization of jobs and that would improve upon the current research on autonomous cars, robots and drones.
Developing Quantum Computers
Building a quantum computer is no easy task. Still, the past five years have seen significant progress toward the development of an economical quantum computing machine and its components, though the industry remains in its infancy. The problem of preserving and storing qubits lies at the heart of the challenge: A qubit in a superposition state is quite fragile. Its interaction with other particles (whether qubits or otherwise) essentially forces it to collapse into one state or the other (e.g., a 0 or a 1).
Physicists have tried to preserve qubits by supercooling their environment to temperatures just above absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius) and using them in a vacuum. But for nearly all practical purposes outside of research environments and possibly a few government agencies, quantum computers would need to exist at ambient temperatures. The record for storing quantum data at room temperature, set in 2013, is a mere 39 minutes (an improvement upon the previous record of 2 seconds). Even with its prodigious computing power, a qubit needs more time than that to perform meaningful calculations. Of course, classical computers once faced similar challenges. Like today's quantum computers, the classical computers of the 1950s filled rooms, and the idea of shrinking them down to the size of the device you are using to read this article was a distant prospect.
All challenges aside, there has been no shortage of interest in researching technologies for quantum computers. Established technology firms, defense contractors, intelligence agencies and startups, among many others, are pursuing them. In fact, Canadian startup D-Wave Systems, Inc. has already begun selling the first commercial quantum computer, unveiling a 1,000-qubit version of the D-Wave Two in June. The company is collaborating with Google, Lockheed Martin and NASA to develop quantum computers further.
Naturally, D-Wave has found the technical challenges it faces daunting. Its computers have come under heavy criticism for their inflexibility: The D-Wave processor is designed to perform optimization tasks and little else. More fundamentally, some have questioned whether the D-Wave system actually relies on quantum mechanics. Some physicists and IBM have argued that classical computers are capable of performing the same functions and tasks that D-Wave's system does.
For its part, IBM has made its own recent breakthroughs in quantum computer development. In April, IBM researchers published a paper describing a method of simultaneously detecting both an error common to all computers and an error unique to quantum computers. The first is a "bit-flip error," where a 0 accidentally flips to a 1, or vice versa, while the second is a "sign-flip error," where the relationship between 0 and 1 flips. Previous research attempts could not detect both errors at the same time.
Though other countries share the United States' keen interest in developing quantum computers, none appears able to supplant the United States as the global leader in the field. China is likely the only other country with the financial power as well as the military and national security motivations to explore quantum computers and their properties, and Beijing has dedicated significant funds to such research. The Chinese have already shown the ability to perform as well as their American counterparts in developing supercomputers, though China has lagged behind the United States in the commercialization of domestically developed and designed classical computers and their components. But with commercially available quantum computers still decades away, China's interest in the technology, at this point, is mainly strategic. With its successes in supercomputing, China could conceivably develop a fully functioning quantum computer before the United States, though whether it could develop a commercially viable model before U.S. companies do is more doubtful.
Despite the extensive interest quantum computers are generating worldwide, they will not replace classical computers anytime soon; even their adoption among niche customers remains at least a decade away, if not two. Instead, the spread of quantum computers will likely occur in the same sort of slow, methodical manner seen with the adoption of classical computers.
Today's quantum computers, the D-Wave One and the D-Wave Two, are highly refined machines that have been designed to perform one task only: optimization. The development of similarly specialized machines that focus on solving a single problem, whether factorization, simulations or moving traffic efficiently, will continue. These quantum computers will compete with the supercomputers that are currently being developed and optimized to perform similar specific tasks. Government agencies, as well as companies involved in relevant security-related applications such as cryptography, will be satisfied with quantum computers that can perform only one task, just as they are satisfied with supercomputers that are likewise specialized.
However, the development and possible commercialization of a more practical and universal quantum computer remains a distant goal, even though companies like Google are aiming for it now. The adoption of single-task (and, later, universal) quantum computers will be linear rather than exponential, and some industries will adopt them more quickly than others. But just as oil supermajors will use their powers of simulation to unlock more oil reserves, the countries and companies that are the first to access quantum computers will enjoy a powerful advantage over their competitors in areas that can make use of the technology.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Danger from Cuban Embassy
on: July 24, 2015, 07:01:50 AM
By Fred Burton
Editor's Note: The following piece is part of an occasional series in which Fred Burton, our vice president of intelligence, reflects on his storied experience as a counterterrorism agent for the U.S. State Department.
After decades of hostility, the United States and Cuba finally seem to be reconciling. On July 1, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Washington will reopen its embassy in Havana. For the first time since 1961, when the two countries severed ties, U.S. diplomats and staff will fill the embassy and the surrounding city streets, as will a U.S. Marine detachment working security detail.
But even as the embassy in Havana now stands as a monument to improved U.S.-Cuban relations, it will make the United States much more vulnerable to monitoring and infiltration by Cuban intelligence agencies. And today foreign spies pose as real and immediate a threat to U.S. interests as they did during the Cold War.
A History of Espionage
In the 1970s and 1980s, counterterrorism agents like myself witnessed the United States gear its entire national security apparatus toward countering Soviet influence. Looking back, I believe our fixation on the Soviet Union actually caused us to underestimate other countries' agencies. We believed Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence, trained by Moscow though it may have been, was significantly less effective than Russia's KGB.
Indeed, our preoccupation with the Soviet Union blinded us to the fact that Cuba quietly operated assets inside the United States. Among the many spies they recruited were Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers. When the Cubans first recruited the Myerses in 1979, Kendall Myers was a part-time instructor at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute, where U.S. diplomats and other professionals train before they receive their overseas assignments. He later became a senior analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). From my own time in the intelligence business, I know that INR analysts have access to highly classified information from virtually every government agency — and since Myers was working for Havana, so, too, did Cuban intelligence.
The Myerses were finally discovered and put on trial in 2006. But as we would learn four years after the trial, the Cubans had someone with even more insight into the United States' national security apparatus: Ana Montes, a double agent who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Cuban intelligence turned her in 1985, and she passed classified information to Havana for years thereafter.
In the 1980s, when Montes was spying for Cuba, I worked in the burgeoning counterterrorism arm of the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. I was far more concerned with Libya and Iran than with Cuba, since so many of my cases involved Soviet actors and KGB agents. Like the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, I saw the Soviet Union as the primary threat. But all along, despite all our efforts to defend U.S. intelligence and assets, our national security agencies were being repeatedly infiltrated by Cuban intelligence.
Now, with the U.S. Embassy opening in Havana, Cuba will monitor and attempt to recruit U.S. employees as actively as it did during the Cold War. Cuban intelligence will build case files on every American official who travels in country. It will surveil diplomatic staffers as it looks for potential recruits and as it tries to identify U.S. agents.
Cuban intelligence will do so using techniques new and old alike. In the past, the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence employed tactics it learned from the Soviet KGB to collect information and communicate with its operatives. Spies such as Myers and Montes received encrypted radio messages from their Cuban handlers and passed information using dead drops, in which agents leave information at a secret location, and brush passes, in which they physically hand over material in a brief encounter.
Havana will also likely plant listening devices in hotel rooms, taxis and rental cars to monitor on the U.S. diplomatic mission. Operatives will take photographs of the embassy staff as they come and go, locate employees' homes and even plan honeypots and male raven operations, during which an undercover agent acts like a love interest to collect intelligence. In short, with a reopening embassy, the Cubans will have ample opportunity to undermine U.S. national security.
U.S. intelligence agencies are well aware of the Cuban threat. As the embassy opens in Havana, CIA and FBI agents will constantly be briefing State Department staff on situational awareness and counterintelligence. Those who are unaware of long history of espionage may call the countless warnings excessive and deem Washington's intelligence community over-cautious. But the threat is real, regardless of whether embassy workers heed the warnings. As those in the intelligence business often say, the Cold War, in a sense, never really ended. Foreign policy can change at a moment's notice. Strategic alliances never mean absolute trust. And in a world full of hidden threats, there is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Turkish Enigma
on: July 24, 2015, 06:59:33 AM
The Turkish Enigma
July 21, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
By George Friedman
In my "Net Assessment of the World," I argued that four major segments of the European and Asian landmass were in crisis: Europe, Russia, the Middle East (from the Levant to Iran) and China. Each crisis was different; each was at a different stage of development. Collectively the crises threatened to destabilize the Eurasian landmass, the Eastern Hemisphere, and potentially generate a global crisis. They do not have to merge into a single crisis to be dangerous. Four simultaneous crises in the center of humanity's geopolitical gravity would be destabilizing by itself. However, if they began to merge and interact, the risks would multiply. Containing each crisis by itself would be a daunting task. Managing crises that were interlocked would press the limits of manageability and even push beyond.
These four crises are already interacting to some extent. The crisis of the European Union intersects with the parallel issue of Ukraine and Europe's relation to Russia. The crisis in the Middle East intersects with the European concern over managing immigration as well as balancing relations with Europe's Muslim community. The Russians have been involved in Syria, and appear to have played a significant role in the recent negotiations with Iran. In addition there is a potential intersection in Chechnya and Dagestan. The Russians and Chinese have been advancing discussions about military and economic cooperation. None of these interactions threaten to break down regional boundaries. Indeed, none are particularly serious. Nor is some sort of inter-regional crisis unimaginable.
Sitting at the center of these crisis zones is a country that until a few years ago maintained a policy of having no problems with its neighbors. Today, however, Turkey's entire periphery is on fire. There is fighting in Syria and Iraq to the south, fighting to the north in Ukraine and an increasingly tense situation in the Black Sea. To the west, Greece is in deep crisis (along with the EU) and is a historic antagonist of Turkey. The Mediterranean has quieted down, but the Cyprus situation has not been fully resolved and tension with Israel has subsided but not disappeared. Anywhere Turkey looks there are problems. As important, there are three regions of Eurasia that Turkey touches: Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
I have argued two things in the past. The first was that Turkey was an emerging regional power that would ultimately be the major power in its locale. The second was that this is a region that, ever since the decline and fall of the Ottomans in the first quarter of the 20th century, has been kept stable by outside powers. The decision of the United States to take a secondary role after the destabilization that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq has left a vacuum Turkey will eventually be forced to fill. But Turkey is not ready to fill that vacuum. That has created a situation in which there is a balancing of power underway, particularly among Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
A Proximate Danger
The most violent and the most immediate crisis for Ankara is the area stretching from the Mediterranean to Iran, and from Turkey to Yemen. The main problem for Turkey is that Syria and Iraq have become contiguous battlegrounds featuring a range of forces, including Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish elements. These battles take place in a cauldron formed by four regional powers: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. This quadrangle emerged logically from the mayhem caught between them.
Each major power has differing strategic interests. Iran's primary interest is the survival of the establishment and in assuring that an aggressive Sunni polity does not arise in Iraq to replicate the situation Tehran faced with Saddam Hussein. Iran's strategy is to support anti-Sunni forces in the region. This support ranges from bolstering Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up the minority Alawite establishment in Syria led — for the moment — by Bashar al Assad, and assisting the Iraqi army, itself controlled by Shiites and Iraq's Shiite militias. The United States sees Iran as aligned with American interests for the moment, since both countries oppose the Islamic State and Tehran is important when it comes to containing the militant group. The reality on the ground has made this the most important issue between Iran and the United States, which frames the recent accord on nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its primary enemy. Riyadh also views the Islamic State as a threat but at the same time fears that an Iraq and Syria dominated by Iran could present an existential threat to the House of Saud. The Saudis consider events in Yemen from a similar perspective. Also in this context, Riyadh perceives a common interest with Israel in containing Iranian militant proxies as well as the Islamic State. Who exactly the Saudis are supporting in Syria and Iraq is somewhat murky, but the kingdom has no choice but to play a tactical and opportunistic game.
The Israelis are in a similar position to the Saudis. They oppose the Iranians, but their main concern must be to make certain that the Hashemites in Jordan don't lose control of the country, opening the door to an Islamic State move on the Jordan River. Jordan appears stable for the moment and Israel and the Saudis see this as a main point of their collaboration. In the meantime, Israel is playing a wait-and-see game with Syria. Al Assad is no friend to the Israelis, but a weak al Assad is better than a strong Islamic State rule. The current situation in Syria suits Israel because a civil war limits immediate threats. But the conflict is itself out of control and the risk is that someone will win. Israel must favor al Assad and that aligns them on some level with Iran, even as Israel works with Sunni players like Saudi Arabia to contain Iranian militant proxies. Ironies abound.
It is in this context that the Turks have refused to make a clear commitment, either to traditional allies in the West or to the new potential allies that are yet emerging. Partly this is because no one's commitments — except the Iranians' — are clear and irrevocable, and partly because the Turks don't have to commit unless they want to. They are deeply opposed to the al Assad regime in Syria, and logic would have it that they are supporting the Islamic State, which also opposes the Syrian regime. As I have said before, there are endless rumors in the region that the Turks are favoring and aiding the Islamic State. These are rumors that Turkey has responded to by visibly and seriously cracking down on the Islamic State in recent weeks with significant border activity and widespread raids. The Turks know that the militants, no matter what the currently confrontational relationship might be, could transition from being a primarily Arab platform to being a threat to Turkey. There are some who say that the Turks see the Islamic State as creating the justification for a Turkish intervention in Syria. The weakness of this argument is that there has been ample justification that Ankara has declined, even as its posture toward the Islamic State becomes more aggressive.
This shows in Turkey's complex relations with the United States, still formally its major ally. In 2003 the Turks refused to allow U.S. forces to invade Iraq from Turkey. Since then the relationship with the United States has been complex and troubled. The Turks have made U.S. assistance in defeating al Assad a condition for extensive cooperation in Syria. Washington, concerned about an Islamic State government in Syria, and with little confidence in the non-Islamic State militancy as a long-term alternative, has refused to accept this. Therefore, while the Turks are now allowing some use of the NATO air base at Incirlik for operations against the Islamic State, they have not made a general commitment. Nor have they cooperated comprehensively with Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The Turkish problem is this: There are no low-risk moves. While Ankara has a large army on paper, it is untried in battle outside of Turkey's 30-year insurgency in its southeast. Turkey has also observed the outcome of U.S. conventional forces intervening in the region and doesn't want to run the same risk. There are domestic considerations as well. Turkey is divided between secular and Islamist factions. The secularists suspect the Islamists of being secretly aligned with radical Islam — and are the source of many of the rumors floating about. The ruling Sunni-dominated Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym, AKP, was seriously weakened in the last election. Its ability to launch the only attack it wants — an attack to topple al Assad — would appear to be a religious war to the secularists and would not be welcomed by the party's base, setting in motion rifts that could bring down the AKP. An attack on the Sunnis, however radical, complicates relations with the rebel factions in northern Syria that Turkey is already sponsoring. It also would risk the backlash of reviving anti-Turkish feelings in an adjacent Arab country that remembers Turkish rule only a century ago.
Therefore Turkey, while incrementally changing — as evidenced by the recent accord to allow U.S. Predator drones to fly from Incirlik — is constrained if not paralyzed. From a strategic point of view, there appears to be more risk than reward. Its position resembles Israel's: watch, wait and hopefully avoid needing to do anything. From the political point of view, there is no firm base of support for either intervening directly or providing support for American airstrikes.
The problem is that the worst-case scenario for Turkey is the creation of an independent Kurdish republic in Syria or Iraq. That would risk lighting a touchpaper among Kurds in southeastern Turkey, and regardless of current agreements, could destabilize everything. This is the one thing that would force Turkey's hand. However, the United States has historically had some measure of influence among the Kurds in Iraq and also in Syria. While this influence can be overstated, and while Washington is dependent on the Kurdish peshmerga militias for ground support as it battles the Islamic State from the air, it is an important factor. If the situation grew out of control, Ankara would expect the United States to control the situation. If Washington could and would, the price would be Turkish support for U.S. operations in the region. The Turks would have to pay that price or risk intervention. That is the lever that would get Ankara involved.
The Turks are far less entangled in the Russian crisis than in the Middle East, but they are still involved, and potentially in a way that can pyramid. There are three dimensions to this. The first is the Black Sea and Turkey's role in it. The second is the Bosporus and the third is allowing the United States to operate from its air base in Incirlik in the event of increased Russian military involvement in Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine necessarily involves the Black Sea. Crimea's Sevastopol is a Russian Base on the Black Sea. In this potential conflict, the Black Sea becomes a vital theater of operations. First, in any movement westward by the Russians, the Black Sea is their right flank. Second, the Black Sea is a vital corridor for trade by the Russians, and an attempt by its enemies to shut down that corridor would have to be addressed by Russian naval forces. Finally, the U.S./NATO strategy in addressing the Ukrainian crisis has been to increase cooperation with Romania. Romania is on the Black Sea and the United States has indicated that it intends to work with Bucharest in strengthening its Black Sea capabilities. Therefore, events in the Black Sea can rapidly escalate under certain circumstances, posing threats to Turkish interests that Ankara cannot ignore.
The Black Sea issue is compounded by the question of the Bosporus, which is a narrow strait that, along with the Dardanelles, connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. The Bosporus is the only passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. For the Russians, this is a critical trade route and the only means for Russian ships passing into the Mediterranean. In the event of a conflict, the United States and NATO would likely want to send naval forces into the Black Sea to support operations around its perimeter.
Under the Montreux Convention, an agreement signed in 1936, the Bosporus is under Turkish control. However the convention also places certain restrictions on traffic in the Bosporus. Access is guaranteed to all commercial traffic, however, Ankara is authorized to refuse transit to countries at war with Turkey. All countries with coasts on the Black Sea are free to operate militarily in the Black Sea. Non-Black Sea nations, however, suffer restrictions. Only warships under 15,000 tones may be sent, and no more than nine at any one time, with a total tonnage of 30,000 tons. And then they are only permitted to stay for 21 days or less.
This limits the ability of the United States to project forces into the Black Sea — American carrier battle groups, key components of U.S. naval power, are unable to pass through. Turkey is, under international law, the guarantor of the convention and it has over time expressed a desire to be freed from it so Ankara can exercise complete sovereignty over the Bosporus Straits. But it has also been comforted by knowing that refusal to allow warships to pass can be referred to international law, instead of being Turkish responsibility.
However, in the event of a conflict with Russia, that can no longer be discounted: Turkey is a member of NATO. If NATO were to formally participate in such a conflict, Ankara would have to choose whether the Montreaux Convention or its alliance obligations take precedence. The same can be said of air operations out of Incirlik. Does Turkey's relationship with NATO and the United States take precedence or will Ankara use the convention to control conflict in the Black Sea? Even prior to its own involvement in any conflict with Russia, there would be a potentially dangerous diplomatic crisis.
To complicate matters, Turkey receives a great deal of oil and natural gas from Russia through the Black Sea. Energy relations shift. There are economic circumstances on which the seller is primarily dependent on the sale, and circumstances on which the buyer is dependent. It depends on the room for maneuver. While oil prices were over $100, Russia had the financial option to stop shipping energy. Under current pricing, Russia's ability to do this has decreased dramatically. During the Ukrainian crisis, using energy cut-offs in Europe would have been a rational response to sanctions. The Russians did not do it because they could not afford the cost. The prior obsession with the fragility of the flow of energy from Russia is no longer there, and Turkey, a major consumer, has reduced its vulnerability, at least during the diplomatic phase.
The United States is constructing an alliance system that includes the Baltics, Poland and Romania that is designed to contain any potential Russian advance westward. Turkey is the logical southern anchor for this alliance structure. The Turks have been more involved than is already visible — conducting exercises with the Romanians and Americans in the Black Sea. But as in the Middle East, Ankara has carefully avoided any commitment to the alliance and has remained unclear on its Black Sea Strategy. While the Middle East is more enigmatic, the Russian situation is potentially more dangerous, though Turkish ambiguity remains identical.
Similarly, Turkey has long demanded membership in the European Union. Yet Ankara's economic performance over the last 10 years indicates that Turkey has benefitted from not being a member. Nevertheless, the secularists in particular have been adamant about membership because they felt that joining the union would guarantee the secular nature of Turkish society. The AKP has been more ambiguous. The party continues to ask for membership, but it has been quite content to remain outside. It did not want the EU strictures secularists wanted, nor did it want to share in the European economic crisis.
Turkey is nevertheless drawn in two directions. First, Ankara has inevitable economic ties in Europe that are effected by crises, ironically focused on its erstwhile enemy Greece. More important at the moment is the immigration and Islamic terrorism crisis in Europe. Many of the Muslims living in Germany, for example, are Turks and the treatment of overseas Turks is a significant political issue in Turkey. While Ankara has wanted to be part of Europe, neither economic reality nor the treatment of Turks and other Muslims in Europe argue for that relationship.
There is a growing breach with Europe in an attempt to avoid absorption of economic problems. However in southeastern Europe discussions of Turkish investments and trade are commonplace. Put into perspective, as Europe fragments, Turkey — a long-term economic power, understanding of what the short-term problems are — draws southeastern Europe into its economic center of gravity. In a way it becomes another force of fragmentation, simply by being an alternate economic benefactor for the poorer countries in the southeast.
The potential interaction of Turkey in the Middle East is an immediate question. The mid-term involvement with Russia is a longer question. Its relation to Europe is the longest question. And its relationship with the United States is the single question that intersects all of these. For all these concerns, Turkey has no clear answer. It is following a strategy designed to avoid involvement and maintain maximum options. Ankara relies on a multi-level strategy in which it is formally allied with some powers and quietly open to relations with powers hostile to its allies. This multi-hued doctrine is designed to avoid premature involvement; premature meaning before having achieved a level of strategic maturity and capability that allows it to define itself, with attendant risks.
In one sense, Turkish policy parallels American policy. U.S. policies in all three regions are designed to allow the regional balance of power to maintain itself, with Washington involving itself selectively and with limited force. The Turks are paralleling the United States in principle, and with even less exposure. The problem the Turks have is that geography binds them to the role of pivot for three regions. For the United States this role is optional. The Turks cannot make coherent decisions, but they must. So Ankara's strategy is to be consistently ambiguous, an enigma. This will work until outside powers make it impossible to work.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Turkey allows US to launch bombing from our base in Turkey
on: July 24, 2015, 06:53:08 AM
Turkey to Let U.S. Military Use Its Base to Launch Strikes Against Islamic State
By Dion Nissenbaum in Washington, Emre Peker and Ayla Albayrak in Istanbul
Updated July 23, 2015 8:28 p.m. ET
Turkey agreed to allow the U.S. to use air bases there to launch strikes against Islamic State forces in neighboring Syria, a major shift long sought by Washington and sealed hours before a deadly clash between Turkish forces and militants across the border.
After months of tense negotiations, reluctant Turkish leaders agreed to U.S. requests to use the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to send fighter jets and armed drones to attack fighters based in Syria and Iraq, U.S. defense officials said.
Incirlik is a U.S. base about 60 miles from the Syrian border, giving U.S. jets and unmanned drones vastly improved logistics for daily attacks on the radical group compared with other sites across the region now in use. Military officials said the agreement also opens up other bases in Turkey for potential use in the campaign against Islamic State.
“This is a significant shift,” said a U.S. military official. “It’s a big deal.”
The decision to more closely ally with the U.S. also exposes Turkey to a heightened risk of attack by extremists. Thursday’s clash highlighted the dangers Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, already poses to Turkey, which has long served as the primary lifeline connecting the group’s de facto capital in Syria with the outside world.
“This is a threat at their doorstep,” said a senior U.S. defense official. “In the end, it’s in their self-interest to let us use the base to strike ISIL.”
The broad outlines of the deal were settled in a phone call Wednesday night between President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hours before Islamic State forces in Syria opened fire on a border outpost, killing one Turkish soldier and dragging the country even deeper into the chaotic regional conflict.
Turkey has long been accused of aiding Islamic State’s rise by allowing its fighters to freely cross its borders—something its leaders have vehemently denied. The country resisted American pressure to do more in the 60-member international coalition battling Islamic State ever since a bombing campaign started last year. Ankara’s hesitation was due partly to differences with Washington over strategy.
Until now, Turkey has only allowed the U.S. to fly unarmed surveillance drones out of Incirlik. But persistent American pressure, combined with increasing threats from Islamic State forces to turn their weapons on Turkey, finally convinced Turkish leaders to take more decisive steps to fight the militants, officials said.
“In the end, we too have become the target for the ISIS,” said a Turkish official at the Syrian border near Kilis—site of Thursday’s cross-border clash. “There’s a growing nervousness along the border.”
Turkey has pushed the U.S. to focus more attention on driving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and establishing a no-fly zone in northern Syria. But the Obama administration has steadfastly opposed the no-fly zone idea, which would require intensive use of American air power to enforce and could draw the U.S. into a direct confrontation with the Assad regime.
Since the U.S. launched its war against Islamic State last fall, Turkey’s government has engaged in a high-stakes policy gambit: opting to sporadically crack down on the jihadists, but avoiding overt confrontation to limit the risk of retaliatory attacks on Turkish soil.
Declining to open Incirlik base to U.S. warplanes was long seen as a centerpiece of that strategy, allowing Ankara to distance itself from other Western and Muslim nations taking part in airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
The decision to open the base appears to move Turkey more definitively into the U.S. camp—and a more direct confrontation with the militants, with uncertain but potentially profound implications for Turkish security.
As the Islamic State threat has grown, Turkish leaders have slowly agreed to play a more active role in battling the group. Turkey has stepped up efforts to choke off the flow of fighters moving in and out of the country and cracked down on the organization in the country by arresting more than 100 suspected militants in recent weeks.
It has also started allowing the U.S. to train moderate Syrian rebels expected to serve as the ground forces battling Islamic State for control of the fractured country.
Turkey’s policy reversal comes as Ankara finds itself increasingly vulnerable to violence from within and beyond its borders. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has also been losing its regional prominence as the leading Western security ally over the past year, with Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq emerging as key forces in the fight against Islamic State.
Turkey blamed Islamic State for a suicide bombing Monday that killed 32 people in the Kurdish town of Suruç on the Syrian border, though the group hasn’t claimed responsibility for it.
If confirmed, it would be a sign that a long-dormant risk to Turkey is turning into an active conflict. It would also add to the regional policy challenges facing Ankara as Kurdish insurgents at home ramp up attacks against security forces, disrupting a two-year-old truce and threatening to derail peace talks.
Escalating violence within and across its southeastern borders increase the risk of civil strife in Turkey, where major security threats are all materializing just as a leadership struggle roils Ankara amid an effort to establish the country’s first coalition government since 2002.
The new danger Islamic State poses to Turkey became clear early Thursday when five militants attacked the Turkish military border post from an Islamic State-controlled area opposite a small border town called Elbeyli, possibly as they were prevented from trying to cross into Turkey, officials said. One soldier was killed and two were wounded, Turkey’s military said.
Turkish soldiers and tanks returned fire, killing one Islamic State fighter in what is believed to be the first direct clash between the rival forces.
Turkey is also facing new threats from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which claimed responsibility for killing two Turkish police officers this week in separate attacks.
The PKK said it killed the two policemen for cooperating with Islamic State, and in retribution for the Monday suicide attack, which targeted volunteers preparing to cross into Syria to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
Syrian Kurdish militants affiliated with the PKK defeated Islamic State in Kobani after a four-month fight that ended in January.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union. The group has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that killed 40,000 people.
The U.S. cooperates with the PKK’s Syrian affiliate against Islamic State, aiding the Kurdish militants with airstrikes—a policy that has caused friction between Washington and Ankara.
“It’s a very complex situation on the ground, with multiple enemies,” said Salih Akyurek, a former Turkish army colonel who is now a researcher at the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies in Ankara.
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, Emre Peker at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: I'm shocked! Absolutely shocked! Syria cheated!
on: July 24, 2015, 06:34:53 AM
Mission to Purge Syria of Chemical Weapons Comes Up Short
By Adam Entous and Naftali Bendavid
Updated July 23, 2015 8:31 p.m. ET
In May of last year, a small team of international weapons inspectors gained entry to one of Syria’s most closely guarded laboratories. Western nations had long suspected that the Damascus facility was being used to develop chemical weapons.
Inside, Syrian scientists showed them rooms with test tubes, Bunsen burners and desktop computers, according to inspectors. The Syrians gave a PowerPoint presentation detailing the medical and agricultural research they said went on there. A Syrian general insisted that the Assad regime had nothing to hide.
As the international inspectors suspected back then, it was a ruse, part of a chain of misrepresentations by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to hide the extent of its chemical-weapons work. One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.
An examination of last year’s international effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons, based on interviews with many of the inspectors and U.S. and European officials who were involved, shows the extent to which the Syrian regime controlled where inspectors went, what they saw and, in turn, what they accomplished. That happened in large part because of the ground rules under which the inspectors were allowed into the country, according to the inspectors and officials.
The West was unable, for example, to prevent Mr. Assad from continuing to operate weapons-research facilities, including the one in Damascus visited by inspectors, making it easier for the regime to develop a new type of chemical munition using chlorine. And the regime never had to account for the types of short-range rockets that United Nations investigators believe were used in an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin gas attack that killed some 1,400 people, these officials say.
Obama administration officials have voiced alarm this year about reports that Mr. Assad is using the chlorine weapons on his own people. And U.S. intelligence now suggests he hid caches of even deadlier nerve agents, and that he may be prepared to use them if government strongholds are threatened by Islamist fighters, according to officials familiar with the intelligence. If the regime collapses outright, such chemical-weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic State, or another terror group.
“Nobody should be surprised that the regime is cheating,” says Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria under President Barack Obama. He says more intrusive inspections are needed.
The White House and State Department say last year’s mission was a success even if the regime hid some deadly chemicals. Western nations removed 1,300 metric tons of weapons-grade chemicals, including ingredients for nerve agents sarin and VX, and destroyed production and mixing equipment and munitions. U.S. officials say the security situation would be far more dangerous today if those chemicals hadn’t been removed, especially given recent battlefield gains by Islamists. Demanding greater access and fuller disclosures by the regime, they say, might have meant getting no cooperation at all, jeopardizing the entire removal effort.
“I take no satisfaction from the fact that the chlorine bombs only kill a handful at a time instead of thousands at a time,” says Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. “But it is important to keep a perspective that the most dangerous of these inhumane weapons are no longer in the hands of this dictator.”
The following account of the inspectors’ efforts on the ground is based on interviews with people who were involved. Syrian officials in New York and Damascus didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
Inspectors from The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, together with U.N. personnel, arrived in Damascus in October 2013 to an especially difficult work environment. They were in a war zone, and rebel forces viewed them with hostility because the inspection process forestalled U.S. airstrikes, which the rebels were counting on to weaken the Assad regime.
Because the regime was responsible for providing security, it had an effective veto over inspectors’ movements. The team decided it couldn’t afford to antagonize its hosts, explains one of the inspectors, or it “would lose all access to all sites.” And the inspectors decided they couldn’t visit some sites in contested areas, fearing rebels would attack them.
Under the terms of their deployment, the inspectors had access only to sites that the Assad regime had declared were part of its chemical-weapons program. The U.S. and other powers had the right to demand access to undeclared sites if they had evidence they were part of the chemical-weapons program. But that right was never exercised, in part, inspectors and Western officials say, because their governments didn’t want a standoff with the regime.
Russia, Mr. Assad’s longtime ally, had used its clout at the U.N. and the OPCW to limit the mandate of the inspectors, preventing them from accusing the regime directly of using chemical weapons, such as in the 2013 sarin attack.
In its initial confidential declaration to the OPCW, the regime identified 23 sites where 1,300 metric tons of chemicals were stored. The regime also admitted to having more than 100 missile warheads, mainly Scud missiles, and roughly 1,100 aerial bombs, which principally posed a threat to Israel.
The sites stretched for more than 240 miles, from an air base 16 miles from the Jordan border in the south to a facility close to Turkey in the north. A network of bunkers hiding chemical weapons was located just 3 miles from a major Hezbollah base.
Among the biggest surprises for the inspectors was Syria’s fleet of mobile chemical-weapons production facilities, housed on 18-wheeler trucks. They looked so much like regular trucks that they even carried advertisements, including one for a Hungarian moving company.
Scott Cairns, a chemist and munitions expert who was one of the inspection mission’s leaders, says it was “unlike any other program that I’ve seen or read about.”
The big question looming over the whole operation was how forthcoming the regime had been about the scope of its chemical-weapons work. As the inspections were beginning, in private briefings for U.N. and congressional officials, U.S. intelligence agencies gave the regime an informal grade of B-plus for truthfulness, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.
Central Intelligence Agency analysts initially thought the declaration matched what they believed the regime had. Some intelligence officials at the Pentagon were more skeptical, believing that Syria may have squirreled away a secret reserve, defense officials say.
The inspectors were suspicious of Syria’s claim to have only 20 tons of ready-to-use mustard agent, which can be loaded into artillery shells, aerial bombs and rockets. U.S. intelligence agencies expected the Syrians to have hundreds of tons.
When U.N. officials pressed the matter, the Syrians said they had destroyed hundreds of tons of mustard agent in fire pits before agreeing to the inspections. The inspectors were skeptical, noting that it had taken other countries decades to destroy similarly large stockpiles.
Inspectors also were suspicious of Syrian claims that a high percentage of chemical-weapons warheads and bombs—around 30% of the total—had been detonated during exercises and trials. Additional stocks, Syria claimed, were converted into conventional weapons. The worry was that the regime was keeping weapons in reserve.
Jerry Smith, a retired British military officer, was in charge of field operations for a team of international weapons inspectors involved with trying to rid Syria of chemical weapons. ENLARGE
Jerry Smith, a retired British military officer, was in charge of field operations for a team of international weapons inspectors involved with trying to rid Syria of chemical weapons. Photo: Matthew Lloyd for The Wall Street Journal
Syria’s declaration listed only strategic weapons—Scud warheads and aerial bombs meant for war with Israel—not short-range munitions, including the rockets that an earlier U.N. inquiry found at the site of the August 2013 sarin attack.
Members of the inspection team didn’t push for answers, worried that it would compromise their primary objective of getting the regime to surrender the 1,300 tons of chemicals it admitted to having. “It was a question of priorities,” says one team member.
After traveling to the Syrian capital from Beirut in a convoy of armored Toyota Land Cruisers, the inspection team took over the ninth floor of the Four Seasons hotel, which they turned into a makeshift command center. The team included weapons experts, chemists, medics and negotiators. Three were native Arabic speakers.
Jerry Smith, a retired British military officer who had taken part in similar OPCW operations during his seven years with the organization, was in charge of field operations.
That first night, Mr. Smith and other team leaders drove to Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet their main contact, Gen. Hassan al-Sharif.
Weeks earlier, Gen. Sharif had hosted a U.N. team sent to investigate the sarin attack. His message at the time was that Syria didn’t have a chemical-weapons program. Now, Syria was admitting to having chemical-weapons sites, and it was Gen. Sharif’s job to ensure inspectors got access to them.
The Syrians laid out the ground rules. Inspectors could visit only sites Syria had declared, and only with 48-hour notice. Anything else was off-limits, unless the regime extended an invitation.
“We had no choice but to cooperate with them,” said Mr. Cairns. “The huge specter of security would have hampered us had we gone in there very aggressively or tried to do things unilaterally.”
At 7 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2013, seven inspectors headed out for the team’s first inspection. A U.N. security officer had insisted on armored vehicles as escorts. The Syrians sent two slow-moving, Soviet-era BRDM-2 vehicles armed with machine guns, and two unmarked vehicles filled with Syrian intelligence agents toting AK-47s.
The slow speed of the convoy—15 m.p.h.—unnerved the inspectors. They later told the Syrians to get rid of the BRDM-2s, concluding they were better off being less conspicuous and more agile.
The convoy stopped first at the mouth of a bunker in the side of a hill. It was covered with camouflage netting. Inspectors in protective suits entered two at a time and walked through concrete tunnels to chambers filled with steel containers. The containers held chemicals that, when mixed together, created sarin. The bunker also contained aerial bombs and warheads.
Parked outside the bunker were mobile weapons-production facilities that sat on 18-wheelers. Inspectors would later liken the vehicles to Transformers toys because they looked so ordinary on the outside. As such, they would have been difficult to target from the air.
“This wasn’t kitchen chemistry,” Mr. Smith recalls thinking. “It was a piece of quality engineering.”
Syrian guards carried the empty aerial bombs out of the bunker and laid them in a row. The Syrians had stored them without chemicals inside. Mr. Cairns says the bombs contained two internal chambers separated by a thin membrane. When the bombs are filled with chemicals, activating them requires turning a crank attached to the back of the bomb, which rotates a rod inside, pierces the membrane and mixes the chemicals.
The inspectors directed the Syrians to destroy the bombs by rolling over them with a bulldozer. But that failed to dent them. Mr. Smith spotted a nearby tank and asked a Syrian colonel to use it. The tank rolled over each bomb repeatedly. Eventually, it crushed one.
Mr. Smith was amazed. A Syrian officer thumped his chest and said: “Made in Syria.”
In Homs, the inspectors slept in abandoned villas ringed by Syrian troops. On the main road into the city, inspectors toured one of the largest sarin storehouses, surrounded by a wall but few guards. Mr. Smith says it was “hidden in plain sight.”
At another site, guards were bearded and weren’t wearing Syrian army uniforms. Many were equipped with German-made G3 rifles, a weapon often carried by Iranian forces. Inspectors suspected they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or an Iranian-backed militia.
Other facilities were too risky to approach. To check on one near Aleppo, where there was heavy fighting, inspectors sent Syrian troops with tamper-proof cameras to confirm the regime’s claims that all chemicals had been removed. For another, inspectors spoke to rebel leaders over Skype to negotiate safe passage, but in the end decided against going because they thought they could be targeted.
Dangerous Mission: Destroying Chemical Weapons at Sea
Getting the deadly chemicals out of Syria was fraught with difficulty. They had to be shipped through often-dangerous terrain to the port of Latakia on the Mediterranean, where they could be loaded onto ships to be destroyed at sea.
First, the tall legs on the tanks storing the chemicals had to be cut so the vessels would fit into trucks. Some weren’t cut evenly and chemicals spilled in transit.
At a meeting at a U.S. military headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, an American admiral laid out a plan for moving the chemicals. The plan assumed the international community would be able to control the speed, frequency and order of deliveries to the port. Mr. Smith informed the admiral that the Assad regime was calling the shots.
In Latakia, which was flooded with Syrian soldiers, a Danish vessel was charged with transferring the most dangerous chemicals to an American ship. Syrian soldiers were taken aback when Danish Marines stepped ashore, prompting Mr. Smith to step between them. Gen. Sharif defused the situation by inviting the Danish captain for tea.
In February 2014, with the Syrians dragging their feet on delivering the declared chemicals to Latakia, the OPCW created a new team to try to identify what the Syrians might have been hiding.
The new team flew into Damascus once a month to meet with Gen. Sharif and Syria’s leading scientists. As inspectors pressed the Syrians about suspected gaps in their initial weapons declaration, new details about the program began to emerge.
U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies had long suspected that there were research facilities in Damascus run by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, or SSRC. In a bombing run in early 2013, Israeli warplanes had struck a convoy of trucks next to one of them. Israel believed the trucks were carrying weapons for Hezbollah.
At first, the Syrians told the new team they had no research facilities at all because they had developed their weapons in the field using what they described as “pop-up” labs. The inspectors had seen intelligence that suggested otherwise.
During an informal dinner in April 2014, inspectors half-jokingly suggested that the Syrians should allow them to visit an SSRC facility.
“If you are so interested, why don’t you just come along?” a Syrian official responded, according to Mr. Smith.
A Syrian man received treatment at a field hospital following a suspected chlorine-gas attack by Assad forces in Idlib in May. ENLARGE
A Syrian man received treatment at a field hospital following a suspected chlorine-gas attack by Assad forces in Idlib in May. Photo: Firas Taki/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
One Saturday the following month, the inspectors’ motorcade entered one of the SSRC compounds in Damascus. The facility’s director told the inspectors that no chemical weapons had been developed there. The facility had done research on detecting chemical agents and on treating people exposed to toxins, he said.
Gen. Sharif attended the presentation, which included an Arabic-language PowerPoint. The slides explained the SSRC’s work in areas including oncology and pesticides. The skeptical inspectors urged the Syrians to come clean about all their research and development facilities.
Last October, the Syrian regime added several research facilities to its official declaration of chemical-weapons sites, including the one in Damascus visited by inspectors that May. That gave inspectors the right to visit them for examinations. Western officials say samples taken by inspectors at the sites found traces of sarin and VX, which they say confirms that they had been part of the chemical-weapons program.
Earlier this year, American intelligence agencies tracked the regime’s increasing use of chlorine-filled bombs. The weapons-removal deal didn’t curtail the work of Syria’s weapons scientists, allowing the regime to develop more effective chlorine bombs, say U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence. The regime denies using chlorine.
The CIA had been confident that Mr. Assad destroyed all of the chemical weapons it thought he possessed when the weapons-removal deal was struck. In recent weeks, the CIA concluded that the intelligence picture had changed and that there was a growing body of evidence Mr. Assad kept caches of banned chemicals, according to U.S. officials.
Inspectors and U.S. officials say recent battlefield gains by Islamic State militants and rival al Qaeda-linked fighters have made it even more urgent to determine what Syria held back from last year’s mass disposal, and where it might be hidden. A new intelligence assessment says Mr. Assad may be poised to use his secret chemical reserves to defend regime strongholds. Another danger is that he could lose control of the chemicals, or give them to Hezbollah.
The team that visited the SSRC facility in Damascus recently asked the regime for information about unaccounted for munitions. Officials say there has been no response from Damascus.
“Accountability?” asks Mr. Cairns, the inspector. “At this point in time, it hasn’t happened.”
Write to Adam Entous at firstname.lastname@example.org
and Naftali Bendavid at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia on his imprisonment
on: July 24, 2015, 06:29:32 AM
Updated July 23, 2015 7:37 p.m. ET
Since Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 2013 electoral victory, which was plagued by widespread allegations of gerrymandering, fraud and voter intimidation, Malaysia has taken a turn for the worse. Mr. Najib, who once promised democratic and economic reforms and pledged to allow “the voices of dissent” to be heard, has doubled down on political repression.
A former deputy prime minister of Malaysia and leader of the opposition, I am now in the fifth month of a five-year prison sentence that has been roundly condemned by governments and human-rights groups around the world. I spend my days in solitary confinement in meditation and in the company of the few books that are allowed into my cell. Meanwhile, allegations of corruption at the highest levels of Malaysian government have surfaced.
In 2012, the draconian Internal Security Act was repealed by the Najib government with much fanfare, only to be replaced by the Prevention of Crime and Prevention of Terrorism Acts, which are equally, if not more, repressive. Beyond encroaching on Malaysian citizens’ fundamental liberties, these new laws rob judges of their discretionary sentencing powers.
Instead of abolishing the outdated and much-abused Sedition Act of 1948 as promised, Mr. Najib’s government has deployed it as a weapon of mass oppression. In the past 18 months, more than 150 Malaysians have been arrested and many charged with sedition for an array of activities including accusing the government of voter fraud and criticizing the verdict in my trial. The arrested include students, professors, journalists, cartoonists, activists, human-rights lawyers and opposition politicians.
Mr. Najib’s finance ministry’s “strategic development fund,” 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, founded by Mr. Najib in 2008, is under intense scrutiny. As this newspaper reported on July 2, Malaysian investigators “have traced nearly $700 million of deposits into what they believe are the personal bank accounts of Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.” Neither the original source nor ultimate destination of the money is clear.
A few weeks earlier, on June 18, this newspaper reported that during the 2013 election 1MDB “indirectly supported Prime Minister Najib Razak’s campaign.” The fund paid what appeared to be an inflated price for assets acquired from a Malaysian company; the company then contributed to a Najib-led charity that announced projects, such as aid to schools, that Mr. Najib was able to tout as he campaigned.
After these two stories were published, Mr. Najib’s office put out a statement that “there have been concerted efforts by certain individuals to undermine confidence in our economy, tarnish the government and remove a democratically-elected prime minister.” It called the Journal articles a “continuation of this political sabotage.” Not surprisingly, foreign investors are increasingly wary. Malaysia’s currency, the ringgit, recently fell to a 16-year low.
Meanwhile, the Najib government sows communal and religious animosity among the Muslim ethnic Malay majority and the country’s large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. Mr. Najib’s ruling coalition blamed a “Chinese tsunami” for its losing the popular vote in the 2013 parliamentary elections, regardless of a study showing this to be false. And despite Mr. Najib’s claims of moderation internationally, the state-run media have vilified Shiite Islam. Last summer the prime minister urged his ruling United Malays National Organization members to be “brave” like Islamic State fighters in Iraq, causing him to later explain he doesn’t support Islamic State or its radical brand of Islam.
Such actions undermine the fragile fabric of Malaysia’s multiethnic and multireligious society. In four decades in public service I cannot recall a time when racial and religious sensitivities have become so inflamed, and at the same time so poorly managed by the country’s political leadership.
Yet I stayed put in Malaysia to face a difficult third bout of unjust incarceration because we in the opposition believe in a brighter future made possible by good governance and the rule of law. We believe in the dismantling of Malaysia’s system of race-based privileges that has devolved into nothing more than rent-seeking for the privileged few. We believe that corruption is a slow bleed that robs future generations of the education and business opportunities that will make them prosper.
Most important, we are joined by a new generation of young, millennial Malaysians with a commitment to building an inclusive, democratic and economically vibrant country.
Still, there is real danger ahead. Middle-income nations like Malaysia—after several decades of economic mismanagement, opaque governance and overspending—can devolve into failed states. The irresponsible manner in which the current leadership is handling religious issues to curry favor from the extreme right is fueling sectarianism. Increased political repression may drive some to give up on the political system altogether and consider extralegal means to cause change, thus creating a tragic, vicious cycle.
Yet there remains a clear path out of this mess: a return to the underpinnings of the Malaysian Constitution, which preserves and protects the rights of all Malaysians; a devolution of power from the executive, whose role now resembles that of a dictator more than a servant of the people; elections that are truly free and fair; and a free media unafraid to challenge authority.
Malaysia is ready for change. This is why, rather than flee my country, I chose to stay and continue the fight for peaceful, democratic reform from my prison cell. This is not easy and puts a tremendous burden on my family. I am grateful for their love and commitment. While I am physically behind bars my spirit remains with them, the people of Malaysia, and people all around the world who continue the struggle for dignity and for freedom.
Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia (1993-98), is a former member of parliament for the People’s Justice Party and until April was leader of the opposition.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Malaysia
on: July 24, 2015, 06:27:34 AM
Review & Outlook
Malaysia’s Missed Democracy Lesson
Obama again can’t find a voice for liberty and moderate Muslims.
July 23, 2015 7:14 p.m. ET
Malaysia is in the midst of a first-class political scandal, thanks in part to reporting in this newspaper that $700 million linked to a state-owned investment fund allegedly was transferred to the personal accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mr. Najib denies wrongdoing, and neither the original source nor ultimate destination of the money is clear.
Yet the larger scandal in Malaysia is hiding in plain sight. We’re talking about the imprisonment of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is five months into a nonappealable five-year prison sentence on trumped-up sodomy charges. Nearby we publish an op-ed by Mr. Anwar, written in his jail cell, detailing the Najib government’s broader assault on the civil liberties of all Malaysians.
While Mr. Anwar’s op-ed speaks for itself, it would help if others speak up for him. That goes especially for President Obama, who has long claimed an interest in cultivating the forces of moderation in the Muslim world. Too bad, then, that he refused to meet Mr. Anwar when he visited Malaysia last year, though he had time for a very public round of golf with Mr. Najib in Hawaii a few months later. Mr. Obama’s reticence on behalf of political freedom in the world, from Iran in 2009 to Malaysia today, is one of the mysteries of his Presidency. Out of realpolitik or indifference, he is mute.
At a White House event in June with young South Asian leaders, he answered a pointed question about Mr. Anwar’s imprisonment with a dainty answer about how “democracy is hard,” adding that “it’s important for America to recognize that we’re not perfect, either.” And what, exactly, did Mr. Obama have in mind? “I mean, the amounts of money, for example, that are involved in our elections these days is disturbing because it makes it seem as if a few people have more influence in the democracy than the many.”
We often hear from friends overseas that they find U.S. foreign policy perplexing and disheartening these days. Maybe it has something to do with a President who sees a moral equivalence between funding free speech at home and jailing a moderate opposition leader abroad.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Gov. Jeb Bush's proposals to cut govt.
on: July 24, 2015, 06:24:22 AM
s Florida Governor, Jeb Bush conquered what he called “Mount Tallahassee,” and now that he’s running for President he is proposing to do the same to “Mount Washington.” On Monday he offered some initial ideas on how to do it, and some are better than others.
The good news is that he wants to start by reducing the size of the bureaucratic Everest. “You can have a fast-expanding economy or you can have a fast expanding government, but you can’t have both,” he said in a speech at Florida State University.
His best idea would freeze the federal workforce and then reduce it by 10% over four years through attrition. In particular he proposes a “three-out, one-in” rule—one new hire for every three who leave. According to the White House budget office historical tables, that would shrink federal civilian employment by some 210,000 from the 2.114 million full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the executive branch in 2015. As recently as 2008 there were 1.875 million FTEs.
For skeptics who doubt this is possible, Mr. Bush pointed to his record in Florida, where the state workforce fell by 11% over his eight years despite a rising state population. He can also point to Journal contributor and NYU scholar Paul Light, who has described the “inefficiency and bloat” of more than 10,000 senior executives “who occupy more than 60 layers of management just at the top” of the Washington organization chart. Ten percent may be shooting too low.
Mr. Bush also wants a line-item veto along the lines Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has proposed. This is a hardy perennial, but it would at the margin enhance the power of a President who wants to control spending (unlike the current one).
“If we reform how government works,” Mr. Bush said, “and build capacity for people to achieve earned success by our very nature we’ll all become conservatives because the demands on government will subside.”
Mr. Bush’s other ideas are more populist gimmicks than genuine reforms. Take his pitch to dock the pay of Senators and Congressmen when they don’t show up for votes. We’d be happier if a couple hundred of them didn’t show up at all. But in any case Mr. Bush couldn’t do this without Congress’s consent, and he’d need their votes to get more important things done. Americans can always throw the bums out during elections.
Even worse is Mr. Bush’s call for a six-year ban on lobbying for former members of the House and Senate, as well as expanding the definition of lobbyist so more people come under its restrictions. This buys into the liberal narrative that the problem in Washington is too many lobbyists.
Businesses have no choice but to lobby a government that can cripple them with a single new regulation. The First Amendment also gives all Americans the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The real problem is the opportunities for corruption and special dealing that a too-large government provides. Every new regulation or twist of the tax code is an opening for some powerful Member to assist the powerful. But the solution is to reduce the size and scope of the regulatory state and to reform the tax code. Mr. Bush says he plans to propose both regulatory and tax reforms, and those will do more to reduce the influence of lobbyists than will restrictions on lobbyists that will be evaded in any case.
One other benefit of a government that tries to do fewer things with fewer people: It might be able to launch a website without crashing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This could get very interesting , , ,
on: July 23, 2015, 10:16:42 PM
Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MATT APUZZOJULY 23, 2015
WASHINGTON — Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
The request follows an assessment in a June 29 memo by the inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies that Mrs. Clinton’s private account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails.” The memo was written to Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management.
It is not clear if any of the information in the emails was marked as classified by the State Department when Mrs. Clinton sent or received them.
But since her use of a private email account for official State Department business was revealed in March, she has repeatedly said that she had no classified information on the account.
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Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington in January 2009, before she took office. In emails, aides asked if they could share her address with members of the Obama administration.
New Trove of Hillary Clinton’s Emails Highlights Workaday Tasks at the State DepartmentJUNE 30, 2015
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department in Washington on Sept. 12, 2012, discussing the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
A Closer Look at Hillary Clinton’s Emails on BenghaziMAY 21, 2015
The initial revelation has been an issue in the early stages of her presidential campaign.
The Justice Department has not decided if it will open an investigation, senior officials said. A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign declined to comment.
At issue are thousands of pages of State Department emails from Mrs. Clinton’s private account. Mrs. Clinton has said she used the account because it was more convenient, but it also shielded her correspondence from congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests.
She faced sharp criticism after her use of the account became public, and subsequently said she would ask the State Department to release her emails.
The department is now reviewing some 55,000 pages of emails. A first batch of 3,000 pages was made public on June 30.
In the course of the email review, State Department officials determined that some information in the messages should be retroactively classified. In the 3,000 pages that were released, for example, portions of two dozen emails were redacted because they were upgraded to “classified status." But none of those were marked as classified at the time Mrs. Clinton handled them.
In a second memo to Mr. Kennedy, sent on July 17, the inspectors general said that at least one email made public by the State Department contained classified information. The inspectors general did not identify the email or reveal its substance.
The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.
In March, Mrs. Clinton insisted that she was careful in her handling of information on her private account. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said. “There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”
In May, the F.B.I. asked the State Department to classify a section of Mrs. Clinton’s emails that related to suspects who may have been arrested in connection with the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The information was not classified at the time Mrs. Clinton received it.
The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.
On Monday, a federal judge sharply questioned State Department lawyers at a hearing in Washington about why they had not responded to Freedom of Information Act requests from The Associated Press, some of which were four years old.
"I want to find out what’s been going on over there — I should say, what’s not been going on over there," said Judge Richard J. Leon of United States District Court, according to a transcript obtained by Politico. The judge said that “for reasons known only to itself,” the State Department “has been, to say the least, recalcitrant in responding."
Two days later, lawmakers on the Republican-led House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, said they planned to summon Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff to Capitol Hill to answer questions about why the department has not produced documents that the panel has subpoenaed. That hearing is set for next Wednesday.
“The State Department has used every excuse to avoid complying with fundamental requests for documents,” said the chairman of the House committee, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina.
Mr. Gowdy said that while the committee has used an array of measures to try and get the State Department to hand over documents, the results have been the same. “Our committee is not in possession of all documents needed to do the work assigned to us,” he said.
The State Department has sought to delay the hearing, citing continuing efforts to brief members of Congress on the details of the nuclear accord with Iran.
It is not clear why the State Department has struggled with the classification issues and document production. Republicans have said the department is trying to use those processes to protect Mrs. Clinton.
State Department officials say they simply do not have the resources or infrastructure to properly comply with all the requests. Since March, requests for documents have dramatically increased.
Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.
State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / June existing home sales
on: July 22, 2015, 01:57:37 PM
Existing Home Sales Increased 3.2% in June To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Existing home sales increased 3.2% in June to a 5.49 million annual rate, beating the consensus expected 5.40 million. Sales are up 9.6% versus a year ago.
Sales rose in all major regions of the country. The increase in sales in June was mostly due to single-family homes, but sales of condos/coops were also up in June.
The median price of an existing home rose to $236,400 in June (not seasonally adjusted) and is up 6.5% versus a year ago. Average prices rose 4.6% versus last year.
The months’ supply of existing homes (how long it would take to sell the entire inventory at the current sales rate) declined to 5.0 months in June from 5.1 in May, as a faster sales pace more than offset an increase in inventories.
Implications: The market for existing homes continued to heat up in June, hitting the fastest sales pace in over 8 years despite tight supply and record high prices. Sales of previously owned homes increased to a 5.49 million annual rate in June, beating consensus expectations and representing the fastest sales pace since February 2007. Sales were up in every major region of the country and should continue to trend upward. All-cash buyers accounted for 22% of sales in June, down from 32% a year ago. As a result, while total sales are up a healthy 9.6% from a year ago, non-cash sales (where the buyer uses a mortgage loan) are up a more robust 25.7%. So when all-cash sales eventually bottom out, total sales will start rising at a more rapid pace. The gain in mortgage-financed sales suggests a long-overdue thaw in lending. What’s interesting is that the percentage of buyers using credit has increased as the Fed tapered and then ended QE. Those predicting a housing crash without more QE were completely wrong. In fact, rising rates appear to be increasing the pace of sales, as buyers look to lock in terms before the looming fed rate hikes push borrowing costs higher. The details of today’s report were solid as well. Rising prices are bringing sellers to market (inventories rose for a fifth consecutive month in June), but supply hasn’t been able to keep pace with demand. In fact, the average time it took to sell a home in June decreased to 34 days from 40 in May, the fastest pace since recording began in 2011. Look for more inventory to come to market in the year ahead as “on-the-fence” sellers move to take advantage of higher prices. In other housing news this morning, the FHFA index, which measures prices for homes financed with conforming mortgages, increased 0.4% in May and was up 5.7% from a year ago.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson 1782
on: July 22, 2015, 11:07:55 AM
"We lay it down as a fundamental, that laws, to be just, must give a reciprocation of right; that, without this, they are mere arbitrary rules of conduct, founded in force, and not in conscience" —Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia, 1782