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03 May 2015

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William R. Cumming

Thanks P.B. for this informative post!

Allen Thomson


I have not followed this particular topic, but do have some curiosity about der Spiegel reporting because of a recent item there about a nuclear site in Syria:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/evidence-points-to-syria-still-working-on-a-nuclear-weapon-a-1012209.html

There, too, secret information was alleged to have been obtained which, in that case, links a recently constructed underground facility near the Lebanon border with the al Kibar reactor Israel blew up in 2007. I've tried to check out the assertions in the article (http://fas.org/man/eprint/spiegel.pdf) and the satellite photography in Google Earth seems quite consistent with them. I.e., somebody, presumably the Syrian government, did build an underground facility at 34.514 N, 36.408 E in late 2008-2009, it does appear to have a power line running to it, etc.

However, the imagery says zip about the purpose of the facility -- that, according to the article, comes from COMINT of unspecified provenance. Without that COMINT, we're merely left with a mildly puzzling and not very large place in a remote area of Syria.

Getting back to der Spiegel, I note that this story ran in early January and that it does allege an Iranian/Hezbollah involvement. This was around the time various folks were getting excited about the possibility that the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran might bear fruit.

So I'm left with a variety of possible ways to understand the story, where it came from, its veracity, the possible political motivations of der Spiegel or lack thereof, etc.

walrus

Thank you very much for your penetrating analysis P.B. As Richard Sale has pointed out, Journalists are as prone to temptation as the rest of us and are useful propaganda tools if they suspend their disbelief.

To me, an amateur, this all seems much too convenient and has the smell of an intelligence operation. I would have thought that a narrative alleging that ISIS is not really religious at all but a front for the Antichrist is extremely useful in deterring the flow of young impressionable would be jihadists from the West.

Are German journalists any more impressionable than others? Hitler diaries?

Patrick Bahzad

True, hitler diaries come to mind as prime example of wishful thinking you're right !

Charles I

wow, its been great since you started posting, thanks very much

Patrick Bahzad

There's a number a possible conclusions one may infer from this story and others ... What I noticed recently about this newspaper is that they have been surprisingly discreet about the BND-NSA collusion in spying out other European governments and companies, while other German papers have been very vocal about this ... Probably one more coincidence, or me being too paranoid :-)

Patrick Bahzad

Stay put Charles, it's only gonna get better when we get to the attack on camp OBL in July 2014 ... Got to build up tension, just like the MSM :-)

Ishmael Zechariah

PB,

Thank you for highlighting the importance of "Syria" in what is going on. It is, for the most part, the key clue. There is a proxy war going full bore in Iraq and Syria. As most here at SST know, wars are very expensive endeavors and require money, men, material. On this basis the duration of this war is surprising. When & if this conflict dies down, I am willing to bet that the results will be less than optimal for either side. Any comments from you as to who the master puppeteer(s) behind all this is would be appreciated.

Ishmael Zechariah

BabelFish

Patrick, Thank you for this writing and what crossed my mind was wondering if I had any spare relics to sell to Der Speigel. Maybe Hitler's paint brushes or Parsifal's armor?

Patrick Bahzad

BF, I think they recently sold some paintings of the great "Fuhrer" so you might try your luck on eBay with some fake paint brushes as well !

Patrick Bahzad

IZ,
I think Syria is the perfect example of a multi-player game with local, regional and global powers having a stake in this war. The puppeteering is the result of various interactions between all these local, regional and global players. That leaves the doors open for all sorts of possibilities.
In addition, I wouldn't put it past certain PR agencies to start building up contingency plans in anticipation of the coming presidential election in the US. Might come in handy to be able to point to some "independent" foreign newspaper reporting if your candidate gets entangled into some nasty domestic debate about the Iraqi legacy ... Who knows, what other pieces of investigative journalism might come to light !

Babak Makkinejad

Patrick Bahzad:

They are being played for the fools that they are; there is no independent analysis capability in Germany at least as far as the World of Islam is concerned; not in the Fifth State, not in the State, and not among the Academics - in my opinion.

Patrick Bahzad

BM,

I think you're absolutely right !

mbrenner

In full awareness that sourcing in the world of Intelligence, official or unofficial, is a sensitive matter, are you in a position to indicate how much of what you report about the genesis of ISIl (and its relations with al-Qaeda) were known to US officials and - if so - when?

Fred82

I never bought the whole Baathists are secretly controlling the Islamists meme for one minute.

On another note, what is Mohamed Yunis al Ahmed up to these days?

What about Mustafa Setmariam Nasar?

Patrick Bahzad

Fred82,

Probably good common sense not to see ISIS as a monolithic organisation, whether Salafi/Takfiri or ex-Baathist (talking about leadership here). There might be cracks in that armour (I dare not use the word "chinks" anymore, following US Army's twitter issues with that expression) ... :-)

Regarding al-Suri, his fate after his rendition to Syria remains unknown ... Some people say he's been released in 2011 as part of an attempt by Bashar al-Assad to flood the opposition with hardcore Jihadis, the idea being to discredit any opposition to the regime, but these reports could not be confirmed, at least not to my knowledge.

Al-Ahmad is currently negotiating the leadership of the Baath party and its armed wing JRTN with another faction now that former leader al-Duri's death seems to have been confirmed (DNA analysis). How this is going to play out on his dealings with ISIS is however hard to say. As he has been in close contact with the Syrian government (maybe even protected by Bashar's government), this is not going to bolster his credentials with potential allies in Iraq.

William R. Cumming

P.B> Is Syria already de facto partitioned never to be a unity again?

William R. Cumming

Still not quite sure who P.B. is in fact?

Patrick Bahzad

WRC,

de facto partition: yes
never united again: probably not, even if international borders remained unchanged.

Patrick Bahzad

WRC,

Do you need official credentials or just a few pointers as to my resume ?

Patrick Bahzad

mbrenner,

I would assume everything I've posted is known to US IC, as I've only used "open source" information, which has been cross-referenced with other sources to check for reliability.
The issue is not so much what is known to US officials though, but what they do with the info they gather it and how much credit they give this intel, depending on the source.
Regarding ISIS, the main issue is obviously with HUMINT, because you won't be able to assess certain intel, unless you got certain sources close enough to the organisation.
While it is close to impossible I suppose to get someone from ISIS' innercircle, there are ways to circumvent this problem, with proper safeguards in place, provided you still have independent HUMINT resources that are not linked to assets of "dubious" allies.
However, when your intel work is mostly based on "high tech", and your enemy's communications are mostly "low tech", you got an intelligence gap/discrepancy and you end up with a serious problem.

ISL

PB,

Thank you for the detailed analysis - I would like to note that in IMO worth the effort. As has been a theme on SST, ISIS is displaying far more sophisticated tactics and strategy than one would expect from a purely fanatical group (as Hollywood portrays fanatics - i.e., our propaganda). More evidence of good strategy was displayed in the apparent "trade off" between Tikrit and Baiji over the last few weeks - the latter being far from symbolic, unlike Tikrit. They also tested the elite Shiite militia's whose performance underwhelmed in 15000 against a few hundred with US airstrikes.

Your comment to mbrenner, hits the mark:

"The issue is not so much what is known to US officials though, but what they do with the info they gather it and how much credit they give this intel, depending on the source."

as there is certainly a cognitive dissonance in the policy (bad Iraq ISIS, good Syria Al Q and moderate rebel unicorns). Do you feel the intelligence is being shaped to meet the policy needs - certainly there is a complete disconnect between the theater of operation in Iraq and Syria, even though they are in reality one and the same (Cockburn reports things are going so smashingly well in Syria that forces are shifting to Iraq).

I inquire, because IMO when policy and reality diverge, eventually reality (or Karma) bites.

Old Gun Pilot

Colonel,
Where again were these secret documents found? On a stump, wrapped around cigars maybe?
OGP

Mr.Murder

ISIS grew on the bones of Oil for Food, which outgrew the control of all parties(old guard of regional gov't actors and their access to capital) and was initially encouraged to thrive for plausible means. It could be used for leverage on other aims(clearing an oil pipeline or stopping it joining the trans arabaian in southern Lebanon, black market sales thru Turkey or Cyprus as US/Russian hedge influences, distraction from Israel/Palestine).

There's no way an opponent of this danger level would be allowed to develop so close to Israel without Western input. The Iraq partition was a threat to Turkey so ISIS ends up doing the same thing and also threaten Iranian ally. The Kurds could not partition due to allied Turkey. Now it is possible, indirectly. Much capital can flow through illegal channels and still keep the floor price for oil, arms, and influence. ISIS allows for continued siphoning of Iraq resources from decentralized sectors and the larger state of bribery that nationbuilding cultivates. This triangulation on steroids.

David Habakkuk

Patrick Bahzad,

Your comments on HUMINT, and also the reference to the Hitler diaries, remind me of some remarks by the historian and former MI6 officer Hugh Trevor-Roper.

Late in his career, Trevor-Roper made a complete ass of himself by accepting the Hitler diaries as genuine. But during the war, he had run the unit in MI6 which was in charge of collating and analysing the decrypts of Abwehr communications from Bletchley Park.

In November 1939 overtures from figures purporting to be anti-Hitler conspirators had led to the kidnapping of two MI6 agents at Venlo in the Netherlands, and the wrapping up of the organisation's networks in Europe.

Three years later, Trevor-Roper's unit concluded that the overtures being made by the Abwehr chief Admiral Canaris were not a parallel ruse, and that responding to them might open the way for a 'butcher's cleaver' move, to hark back to the title of the first volume of Colonel's Lang's civil war trilogy.

As we now know, it was Churchill who was responsible for the failure to respond. One of the more fascinating what-ifs of the war relates to how things might have worked out, had he decided differently.

The essay on Kim Philby that Trevor-Roper wrote decades later is in part a denunciation of MI6 – and a key argument is that 'secret intelligence' is 'the continuation of open intelligence by other means.'

Obviously looking back both at the failures of MI6 and at those of German wartime intelligence, Trevor-Roper wrote of how:

'A report is graded as credible because a particular spy has been graded as ''reliable'' by his employers, whereas credibility really depends not on the person but on the report: on its demonstrated coherence its known or knowable context.'

As you point out, certain 'secret intelligence' can only be assessed with the assistance of other 'secret intelligence.' However, it seems to me that your most recent piece is a virtuoso demonstration of how to assess what purports to be explosive 'secret intelligence' by a meticulous setting of what is claimed in the context of 'open intelligence'.

The implications are, I think, interestingly double-edged. Those who do not have a very extensive understanding of how other societies work are liable to find out that they think they are 'puppet masters', while they may in fact be 'puppets'.

But then, speaking as someone whose trade was as a generalist television current affairs producer, one often does not actually need detailed knowledge of a subject to be able to work out who has such knowledge and who does not.

Long before I came across the 1996 'Clean Break' paper, I knew that Richard Perle was a borderline imbecile. But any competent current affairs researcher could have ascertained that within a few hours.

All I would have needed to do was to find a few competent Middle East scholars, and read over to them the now notorious lines from the paper:

'Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet’s family, the direct descendants of which—and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows – is King Hussein.'

Starting from a position of near complete ignorance, it would have been a few days work, at the most, to discover that these people thought they were 'puppet masters', and were likely to end up as 'puppets'.

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