Friday, May 6, 2011

A Never-Ending 'War on Terror'

By Ivan Eland
May 3, 2011

Editor’s Note: Many Americans hope the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will permit the winding down of government excesses related to the “war on terror,” including a sensible process for adjudicating the scores of cases still pending against Guantanamo Bay detainees.

However, neoconservatives and other hardliners are pressing for even more draconian government powers aimed at accused “terrorists” and permitting the expansion of the global war against Islamic militants, as the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland notes in this guest essay:

The WikiLeaks documents released on Guantanamo prisoners indicate appalling military incompetence in haphazardly patching together sketchy and contradictory information that has allowed many high-risk terror suspects to go free, while low-risk or innocent detainees continue to be incarcerated.

Yet some members of Congress would like to strengthen the military’s role in holding and trying such suspects and have the military completely take over the “war on terror.”

The documents indicate that in the case of many Guantanamo prisoners, the slapdash and fragmentary intelligence of their guilt was contradictory and would not have stood up in court or even under the lax evidentiary standards of kangaroo military tribunals. That’s why many of the prisoners are being detained indefinitely without any kind of trial.

Also, of the approximately 600 prisoners who have been released from the prison — either freed or placed into the custody of other countries — about 200 of them were designated “high risk” after their capture. Forty-two released prisoners resumed (or commenced) their terrorist or insurgent activities once they were released.

Given these poor results, you might suspect that politics, rather than risk, might be affecting prisoner releases. You would be right. Large numbers of detainees from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were released, whereas even low-risk detainees from Yemen are still in the slammer, just because of “instability” in that country.

About 60 Yemeni prisoners have been cleared for repatriation, but they still languish in Guantanamo for geopolitical reasons.

So letting the military be the prosecutor, judge, jury and jailer for these prisoners has predictably made the process subject to incompetence and politics.

If the Guantanamo detainees were instead in the civilian justice system, some of both of these maladies would still exist, but the various functions would be less subject to abuse because of checks and balances than when they are consolidated under the executive branch alone. Also, reduced secrecy would allow fewer abuses and provide some accountability for results.

Unbelievably, given the incompetence and politics in the military’s anti-terrorism detention effort, those who adore the military want to expand its role in dispensing justice for terrorists and fighting them abroad. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-California, have introduced bills in the Senate and House, respectively, that would do just that.

According to a Human Rights First summary of both bills, they require taking the prosecution and handling of terror suspects out of the civilian courts. The bills require that terror suspects be held indefinitely without trial or be tried before military commissions, unless the secretary of defense grants a waiver.
This provision is flagrantly unconstitutional, because the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution requires a “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury,” for “all criminal prosecutions.” The bill also dangerously violates the long-standing principle of posse comitatus, which helps safeguard the republic by keeping the military out of domestic law enforcement.

The bill subjects even U.S. citizens captured in the United States to military jurisdiction, requires the FBI and local law enforcement to turn terror suspects over to the military, and requires federal prosecutors to get the secretary of defense’s approval to pursue anti-terrorism cases in the United States.
Also, the bills prevent the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo, even if the government itself has declared them innocent or not a threat and cleared them for transfer. This provision likely violates the Fifth Amendment’s command that no person be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Finally, the bills allow the president to make war anywhere in the world against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces” without further congressional approval.

Furthermore, under the McKeon bill, the secretary of defense, without further congressional affirmation, can unilaterally decide to add new entities to the “associated forces” category. These provisions are also flagrantly unconstitutional, because they violate the requirement that Congress provide specific declarations of war and approvals for military actions.

Taking their lesson from European kings of yore, who dragged their countries into countless wars and foisted the costs in blood and treasure on their subjects, the U.S. Founders believed that unilateral executive war-making was dangerous to the republic and that the people’s branch of government — Congress — should pass judgment on all such actions.

The civilian courts and law-enforcement agencies have had a good record of prosecuting and jailing terrorists. In contrast, such antiterrorism activities are not the military’s strong suit, as its record shows. Yet posturing politicians, who want to be seen as tough on terrorists, are actually undermining anti-terror efforts by expanding the military’s role.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Economics is the system by which we allocate, distribute and exchange resources. The “triple bottom line” of sustainable development is usually conceptualised as a “venn diagram” of the three overlapping and interacting spheres of ecology, society and economics.

This is, however a misleading representation of the true nature of the triple bottom line, because ecology, society and economics do not in reality interact as equals at the same level of systemic organisation. A more accurate conceptualisation of the interactions between ecology, society and economics is a “nested hierarchy” or “holarchy”. Human society is  “nested within” ecology, because we fundamentally depend on ecosystem services in order to form our society. Economy is depicted “nested within” human society, because economies fundamentally depend on functioning human societies.
A sustainable economy works within such a contextual framework, where the economy is a tool used by the society on which it depends, and societies adapt to care for the environment on which they depend.
Markets as we know them routinely “fail” by failing to appropriately value such super-valuable things as “ecosystem services” like breathable air, drinkable water and fertile soil, and  “in kind work” such as caring for children. Corporations, the main structural players in “Market” economies,  have impunity and a lack of social and environmental responsibility built into their structure, and can even legally profiteer from war and disaster. “Command” economies, or state controlled economies, can produce very efficient economic growth and rapid increases in material living standards (for example the rapid growth in Eastern Europe after world war two, and the current rapid growth in China) but the social and environmental side effects are just as devastating (often more so) than the failures of market economies.
Many economies have a state bureaucracy that to various degrees can regulate the social and environmental excesses of irresponsible, failure-prone markets.  This arrangement has achieved some reasonable outcomes, but has two fundamental problems.
One is that “democratic” institutions intended to make the state answerable to its population can be corrupted by corporate power, particularly when centralised political power concentrates into a small number (usually two) of major political parties or coalitions. A common scenario is that working people have limited access to political processes, often limited to an “either or” vote every few years, while corporate players have the resources to continually and constantly lobby for their interests.
At the other end, state power can become overly stifling and interferes excessively in people’s day-to-day lives. This is a particular problem for small business people including family farmers. Big business, with a lot more potential to cause social and ecological harm than small business, can use its influence on the state to circumvent or minimise state interference, and worse, influence the nature of state interference to further big business interests.
The way to a free economy that is sustainable and democratic, bypasses both corporate and government power and vested interests. Instead of the slave economy characteristics of hierarchy-advantage, self-interest and competition, a free economy is based on mutual respect, responsibility and co-operation. It is based on real physical, ecological and human resources, and conscious, co-operative, convivial means of utilising and sharing these resources. Examples of practical solutions to build such an economy within the shell of the “old” economy are based on grassroots organising for a truly free, socially and ecologically embedded market. Visions for a sustainable, convivial modern global industrial economy include Participatory Economics, and Resource Based Economics.

U.K. arrests 5 in terror alert near nuclear reprocessing site

May 04, 2011 01:39 AM (Last updated: May 04, 2011 01:39 AM)By Tim Castle Reuters

LONDON: British police said Tuesday they had arrested five men close to a nuclear reprocessing plant in northwest England under counterterrorism laws.
The arrests were made after Prime Minister David Cameron urged Britain to remain vigilant against potential reprisals following the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“While bin Laden is gone, the threat of Al-Qaeda remains,” Cameron told Parliament Tuesday.

“And, of course, there is always the risk of a radicalized individual acting alone, a so-called lone-wolf attack. So we must be more vigilant than ever – and we must maintain that vigilance for some time to come,” he said.
Britain will keep its terrorist threat level – currently at severe – under review, he said.

Police said they were unaware of any link between the arrests and bin Laden’s death.

The men were arrested Monday after officers conducted a stop check on a vehicle near Cumbria’s Sellafield site.The men are all aged in their 20s and from London.

A spokesman for the police’s North West Counter Terrorism Unit declined to comment on media reports the men had been filming the site
“There were suspicions from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary that led to some arrests. There were some suspicions about them near to the perimeter fence,” he said.

A police counter terrorism source said the arrests were not preplanned. “The local officers felt there was enough to arrest them. It’s a case of seeing if there is anything to it.”
Police held the men under section 41 of the Terrorism Act, which allows officers to arrest people suspected of terrorist offences and hold them for 48 hours without charge.

The men were being transferred to the northern English city of Manchester to be questioned by counterterrorism officers.

Local police were alerted by officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a specialist force which provides protection for civil nuclear licensed sites.
Fifty-two people were killed in London in 2005 when Al-Qaeda inspired suicide bombers blew up underground trains and a bus.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Oil and Gas Industry's Congressional Friends, Congressman 'Struggling' and More in Capital Eye Opener

By Zachary Newkirk on May 3, 2011 10:05 AM : May 3

OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY'S POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS:Gas prices are rising again, causing even more "pain at the pump" and challenging a nation to think up new clichés for paying lots of money while filling up one's car. Hawaii broke records last week when gas hit more than $4.50 per gallon.

But, just as gas keeps flowing into American vehicles to keep them running, the oil and gas industry's money keeps pouring into politicians' committees.

During the 2010 election cycle, the oil and gas industry contributed more than $30.5 million to federal level political interests, according to Center for Responsive Politics research. This amount includes more than $17.1 million from industry political action committees, nearly $11.4 million from individuals associated with the industry and more than $2 million in outside money the industry spent to independently promote or slam political candidates.

About 77 percent of that money benefited Republicans.

Since the 1990 election cycle, the oil and gas industry has contributed more than $270 million to political campaigns, committees and causes. Republicans received 76 percent of the total money.

The top five beneficiaries of the oil and gas industry during all campaigns have been Republicans. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has raked in more than $2.7 million from the industry. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is a distant second with more than $2.1 million.
But during the 2010 election cycle, a Democrat, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), was the top recipient with $452,700 in contributions. Another Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) rounded out the top five with $225,500. Lincoln was a member of the Blue Dog Caucus before her defeat to now-Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). Boren is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Party, voting against the health care bill, voting for its repeal, and voting against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for that position.

What companies are contributing the most? The people and PACs affiliated with Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chief Oil and Gas were the top three political donors during the 2010 election.

Koch Industries' employees and PAC doled out more than $1.9 million, of which 94 percent benefited Republicans. All five of the Democrats Koch Industries contributed to are -- or were -- members of the conservative Blue Dog Caucus.

The employees and PAC of ExxonMobil contributed more than $1.4 million to federal-level politics during the 2010 elections. Republicans received 88 percent of that money. Chief Oil and Gas' employees and PAC contributed $1 million to the conservative American Crossroads outside spending group.

rehberg.jpgCONGRESSMAN'S FINANCIAL WOES?: Rep. Denny Rehberg(R-Mont.), a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012, is "struggling just like everybody else" as he recently said of his economic status.

But unlike "everybody else," Rehberg is calculated to be worth between $6.6 million and $56.2 million, for an average of about $31.4 million, according to the Center's research based on 2009 personal financial disclosure forms -- the most recent available.

This would make Rehberg the 14th wealthiest member of the House of Representatives, according to the Center's study. In 2004 and 2005, Rehberg was the 11th wealthiest member of the House.

The wealthiest member of the House of Representatives (and the entire Congress) is Rep.Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) with an averaged net worth of more than $303.5 million.

Thumbnail image for russfeingold.jpgPRIORITIES USA REVEALS DEMOCRATIC DIVIDE:  Democrats recently announced that they will fight fire with fire in the world of money in politics. In reaction to the conservative outside spending groups like American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two groups -- Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action -- were created to raise $100 million for President Obama's re-election campaign, according to Politico on Friday.

Priorities USA Action is a 527 group while Priorities USA, with a 501c(4) status, does not have to disclose its donors.

Longtime Democratic advisers -- including former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, strategist Paul Begala and former Rahm Emmanuel aide Sean Sweeney  -- will head the new outside spending groups.

President Obama is a stated opponent of undisclosed campaign funds. In April, he announced plans to require companies on government contract to disclose their campaign contributors, a plan that was met with Republican opposition. But Obama has not spoken out against the creation of these new Democratic groups.

Not all Democrats are pleased with large outside spending groups being formed, no matter their potential for raising $100 million.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), a long-time advocate for campaign finance reform and fierce critic for undisclosed outside spending groups, told The Huffington Post, "I’m not going to endorse playing with the devil. I'm not going to endorse becoming just another corporate candidate."

Monday, May 2, 2011

As Smartphone Scandal Grows, Tech Firms Run for Cover, Reap Windfall Profits

Recent revelations that Apple's iPhone and iPad, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 operating systems collect, store and transmit records of users' physical locations to central databases--secretly, and without consent--have ignited a firestorm over Americans' privacy rights in an age of hypersurveillance.
And with a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Florida by two iPhone users, The Register reports, Apple guru Steve Jobs was forced to respond to complaints after the firm's usual tactic--deafening silence--failed to assuage customer's anxieties.
The lawsuit alleges that "irreparable injury has resulted and continues to result from Apple's unauthorized tracking of millions of Americans," plaintiffs Vikram Ajjampur and William Devito averred. They are requesting their case be granted class-action status, a move likely to send shudders along the silicon spine of the secretive Cupertino high-tech powerhouse.
In response to the outcry, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple "is scaling back how much information its iPhones store about where they have been and said it will stop collecting such data when consumers request it, as the company tries to quell concerns it was tracking iPhone owners."
But as journalists Yukari Iwatani Kane and Jennifer Valentino-Devries point out, "a week of silence on the growing controversy, raised new questions and criticism about its data-handling practices."
The ecumenical nature of the smartphone spying scandal tapped another firm, beloved by Wall Street grifters and national security mavens alike, on the shoulders last week.
The Detroit News reported that two "Oakland County women have filed a $50 million class-action lawsuit against Google Inc. to stop the company from selling phones with Android software that can track a user's location."
Like Apple, Google claims that tracking software is meant "to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," and stressed that "any location sharing is done with the user's permission."
That's rather rich coming from a firm whose former CEO, Eric Schmidt, told CNBC in 2009, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," a telling statement all the more pertinent here when secret state snoops demand access to your search history, conveniently "retained" for the asking by the search and advertising giant." If Android location services are turned on," independent security researcher Samy Kamkar told The Register, "the OS sends Google a MAC addresses, network signal strength, and GPS coordinates for each Wi-Fi network, as well as a unique identifier for the phone that grabs the information and the time of day." (emphasis added)
"By combining the identifier with the location data," Kamkar told the nose-tweaking UK publication, "Google could easily determine where you work and where you live. If this location information and unique IDs remain on Google's servers, it could potentially be extracted via subpoena or national security letter."
As privacy and security researcher Christopher Soghoian revealed in 2009, "Sprint Nextel" and other telecom giants "provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009."
Soghoian wrote that this "massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers," a service eagerly provided our political minders by the telecoms as the secrecy-shredding web site Cryptome revealed with their publication of dozens of Online Spying Guides.
As we now know, secret state agencies such as NSA and the FBI routinely grab customer records from the telecoms to obtain dialed telephone numbers, text messages, emails and instant messages, as well as web pages browsed and search engine queries in addition to a staggering mountain of geolocational data, oftentimes with a simple, warrantless request.
The NSA's so-called "President's Surveillance Program" for example, vacuums-up huge volumes of "transactional" records gleaned from domestic emails and internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel itineraries and phone records from other secret state satrapies as well as banks, credit reporting agencies and data-mining firms.

As The Wall Street Journal reported more than three years ago, "the NSA's enterprise" is linked to "a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light."
Investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman revealed that "the effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called 'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed," the tip of a vast surveillance iceberg.
But such programs could not function without the close, one might argue incestuous, collaboration between the secret state and their corporate partners as The Washington Post disclosed last year in their "Top Secret America" investigation.

In fact, as Soghoian and other researchers have learned, internet service providers and the telecoms "all have special departments, many open 24 hours per day, whose staff do nothing but respond to legal requests. Their entire purpose is to facilitate the disclosure of their customers' records to law enforcement and intelligence agencies--all following the letter of the law, of course."

Plaintiffs Julie Brown and Kayla Molaski said they neither "opted-in" to Google's surveillance features nor approved of being tracked, by their phones no less, asserting that Android's tracking capability puts "users at serous risk of privacy invasions, including stalking," according to their complaint.
And with congressional grifters on both sides of the aisle poised to hold hearings this month about the controversy, it appears that smartphone manufacturers will have some 'splainin' to do. Right-wing congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) told the Journal that Apple "apparently 'lied' to him and another lawmaker last year when it said its phones don't collect and transmit location-based data when location services such as mapping are turned off."

Damage Control
Seeking to tamp down criticism, Apple claimed it was all a mistake, the result of "software bugs" which they are now striving mightily to "fix."
Strange then, or perhaps not, given the company's notorious penchant for secrecy, that nary a hint of a problem passed their granola-flecked lips prior to revelations which researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allen posted on their iPhone Tracker blog.
To wit, the researchers discovered that the geolocation file is stored on both the iOS device and "any computers that store backups of its data," and "can be used to reconstruct a detailed snapshot of the user's comings and goings, down to the second."
A particularly convenient "feature" when the feds, local cops, your boss or a seedy private snoop comes a calling.
According to iPhone Tracker's FAQ: "If you run it on an OS X machine that you've been syncing with an iPhone or an iPad with cellular plan, it will scan through the backup files that are automatically made, looking for the hidden file containing your location. If it finds this file, it will then display the location history on the map."
In response to the question: "Why is Apple collecting this information?" the researchers answer "it's unclear." However, "one guess might be that they have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's pure speculation. The fact that it's transferred across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn't accidental."
"The more fundamental problem," Warden and Allen write "is that Apple are collecting this information at all."
An April 27 damage control statement from the firm claims that "Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so."
They assert that "iPhone is not logging your location," but rather, is "maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location." You see it's all an innocent misunderstanding, nothing more than a convenient means for users to "quickly find GPS satellites."
While the "entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone," we're told that they "download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone."

Further claiming that "this cache is protected but not encrypted," it's "backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes."

In other words, we won't tell you we're downloading an unencrypted locational cache onto your iTunes library where it can be read by anyone with access to your laptop or home computer, so any trouble that might attend an unauthorized peek at your data is your problem.

But because "we care," and not because of the adverse publicity generated by the firm treating their customers "like little particles that move in space ... that occasionally communicate with each other," as physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi told The Wall Street Journal, Apple plans "to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon."

However, CNET News reported last week that Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), "isn't satisfied with Apple's explanation of why iPhones keep track of their users' locations and wants a federal probe into the Cupertino software marker's privacy practices."

For their part Microsoft, journalist Declan McCullagh writes, "says it does not save location histories directly on Windows Mobile 7 devices," but acknowledge that "in some circumstances" the firm "collects information including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude."
Like Apple and Microsoft, CNET reports that "Android devices store a limited amount of location information but transmit to Google current and recent GPS coordinates, nearby Wi-Fi network addresses, and two 16-letter strings apparently representing a device ID that's unique to each phone," a point emphasized by the women suing Google over the firm's privacy breach.
Paranoia or Well-Founded Suspicions? You Make the Call!
Surveillance concerns are inevitable, especially when advert pimps seek to market useless junk to consumers or unaccountable secret state agencies monitor political dissidents at home and abroad, by peeping at locational data when the "unique device ID is transmitted, which allows a company to track a customer's whereabouts over an extended period of time," as CNET cautions.
Similar privacy and surveillance issues also surround unencrypted connections to the internet with the largely opaque practice of deep-packet inspection (DPI), a favorite tool beloved by marketeers and government spies alike, as Antifascist Calling reported back in December.
It now appears that smartphone manufacturers have joined their telecom partners in the spy game, a scandal that first broke the surface when whistleblower Mark Klein spilled the beans about AT&T's close collaboration in NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, a constitution-shredding operation that continues apace under the "change" regime of "transparency president," Barack Obama.
Concerns over the uses of geolocational databases are not fodder, as some would have it, for "privacy conspiracy theorists screaming back to their panic rooms," but rather is an inevitable outgrowth of a culture of secrecy and deceit that permeates the opaque universe shared by corporations and governments.
As Declan McCullagh and other journalists have pointed out, "location databases can be a gold mine for police or civil litigants: requesting cell phone location information from wireless carriers has already become a staple of criminal investigations, often without search warrants being sought."
Increasingly, niche security outfits such as the Israeli-owned firm Cellbrite, whose top executives possess high-level security résumés, along with probable connections to Israel's NSA equivalent, Unit 8200, tout their ability to customers in global police, military and intelligence agencies to extract location histories from smartphones in under two minutes as The Tech Herald reported.
Such marketing ploys however, are fully in tune with today's "cybersecurity" paradigm, the latest front (and profit center) in America's endless "War On Terror."
As George Mason University researchers Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins reported in an essential new study, Loving the Cyber Bomb? The Dangers of Threat Inflation in Cybersecurity Policy, "the rhetoric of 'cyber doom'" that calls forth new control measures, "lacks clear evidence of a serious threat that can be verified by the public. As a result, the United States may be witnessing a bout of threat inflation similar to that seen in the run-up to the Iraq War."
"Additionally," Brito and Watkins write, "a cyber-industrial complex is emerging, much like the military-industrial complex of the Cold War. This complex may serve to not only supply cybersecurity solutions to the federal government, but to drum up demand for them as well," a point that Antifascist Calling has reported many times.
While criminals, stalkers, identity thieves and other miscreants exploit systemic vulnerabilities for their own sociopathic ends, much the same can be said of private security firms such as HBGary, Palantir and hundreds of others servicing the secret state, all capitalizing on "zero day vulnerabilities" in software and operating systems while designing stealthy, undetectable "root kits" for their government partners.
One can imagine that similar "black programs" exist for exploiting smartphone vulnerabilities, a likely prospect made all the easier when they are built-in features of the operating systems.

Bin Laden's Killing Could Alter Af-Pak, Other Policies

By Jim Lobe*
WASHINGTON, May 2, 2011 (IPS) - Sunday's killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by a small, helicopter-borne team of U.S. Navy Seals could result in significant impacts on U.S. relations and strategy both in Pakistan, where the raid was carried out, and neighbouring Afghanistan, where it was launched, according to policy experts here.

Analysts agreed that the operation, which targeted a compound in a wealthy suburb of Islamabad without prior consultation with Pakistani officials, will likely worsen already-fraught ties with that country.

They also agreed that the operation's success offers President Barack Obama a chance to more fully embrace a counterterrorist (CT) strategy in Afghanistan, as opposed to the more ambitious counterinsurgency (COIN) and nation-building strategy pursued by the outgoing commander there, Army Gen. David Petraeus. If so, the 100,000 troops currently deployed there could be drawn down more quickly than has been anticipated.

Broadly hailed as a major victory for Washington in its nearly decade-long pursuit of al Qaeda's leadership, most analysts here also agreed that bin Laden's death could hasten the demise of al Qaeda itself, even as threats posed by its affiliates in the Islamic world are likely to persist for some time.

"With his demise, …it will take a long time for anyone to reclaim bin Laden's influence in the salafi terrorist circles, regardless of who and how quickly someone nominally replaces him at the head of al Qaeda," according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a South Asia specialist at theBrookings Institution, who described his status and prestige among violent Islamists as "almost mythical".

"Bin Laden was the only al-Qaeda figure able to command the attention of a mainstream Arab audience," wrote Marc Lynch, an Arab public opinion expert at George Washington University, on his blog Monday.

"He remained uniquely charismatic and able to frame al-Qaeda's narrative in ways which resonated with a broader Arab and Muslim audience," according to Lynch, who predicted that his death will only briefly distract the Arab media's attention from the popular uprisings that have both dominated the region over the past several months and further marginalised al Qaeda's appeal for violent resistance against the U.S. and the West.

Indeed, bin Laden's killing could actually give renewed momentum to the so-called "Arab Spring", according to Christopher Davidson, a Gulf expert at Britain's Durham University.

While bin Laden himself had become "little more than a figurehead" in recent years, "the impact of his death on authoritarian regimes in Middle Eastern and other Islamic countries will be significant, as he served an important and valuable role as a 'bogeyman' that could be wheeled out to justify …why brutal crackdowns and limits on political expression were often needed," he said.

For now, however, the biggest foreign policy implications of bin Laden's killing – and the completely unilateral manner in which it was carried out – appear to lie with Pakistan.

That bin Laden had been living for some time – possibly as many as five years – in an unusually large and heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, a community 50 kms from Islamabad whose residents include a disproportionate number of retired senior military officers, confirmed to most analysts that at least some sectors of Pakistan's government provided effective safe haven for Washington's "Public Enemy Number One".

"We are very concerned that he was inside of Pakistan," one senior administration official told reporters in a telephone conference call Sunday night immediately after Obama announced bin Laden's death.

Public charges by senior U.S. government and military officials that Islamabad was not cooperating fully with Washington's counterterrorism efforts had already become increasingly bold in the weeks leading up to Sunday's raid. And despite assurances by both sides Monday that they remain close allies, the action seems certain to worsen relations, according to virtually all analysts here.

"It strains credulity to say that Pakistani officials did not know what was going on in the suburbs of Islamabad," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations(CFR), in a teleconference with reporters Monday.

"It suggests to me that this long-fraught and difficult relationship will be entering yet another difficult phase moving forward," he said, suggesting that Washington will find it hard to justify continued substantial aid to Islamabad – currently appropriated at 1.5 billion dollars and over one billion dollars a year in non- military and military aid, respectively – unless confidence can be restored.

"Pakistan essentially has a choice. It either partners with the United States much more completely, or it has to be prepared for the United States to act independently," according to Haass, who held senior policy positions in both the George H.W. and George W. Bush administrations.

"This will definitely worsen our relations with Pakistan," said Col. Pat Lang (ret.), who served as the top Mideast and South Asia officer at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). "But I don't see that we can do anything about it; it's the Pakistanis that are moving away from us and toward China, and that process will continue."

Lang also noted that the success of the cross-border strike against bin Laden may also provide an opportunity for Obama to reduce his commitment to a "nation-building" COIN strategy in Afghanistan in favour of a CT strategy that would require many fewer troops on the ground.

That assessment was echoed by Haass, who has been critical of the COIN strategy and its costs in blood and treasure in Afghanistan since Obama agreed with Petraeus in November 2009 to increase U.S. troop strength to 100,000 by late 2010.

"This will very much play into a growing debate as we move towards Jul. 1 about the proper trajectory of U.S. policy in Afghanistan in general and more specifically the rate of drawdown of U.S. forces," he said.

Obama pledged in November 2009 to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan as of Jul. 1, 2011, but Petraeus has reportedly argued for only a nominal reduction.

"I am hopeful that this provides closure to the American public for 9/11, and that closure provides some form of political backbone for members of Congress to become more engaged in the debate on the war," said Matthew Hoh, director of the Afghanistan Study Group, who was deployed to Afghanistan as a marine captain and then as a State Department official.

"I'm also hopeful it will provide political space to President Obama to allow him to pursue a serious de-escalation of the war," he added.

Patrick Cronin, a national security expert at the Center for a New American Security, was even more emphatic in terms of the potential strategic importance of the moment.

"The United States needs to further pivot from counterinsurgency, which feeds the perception of occupation, to counterterrorism, which requires a sharper discrimination between al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said.

But COIN advocates warned against such a move. Max Boot, a neo- conservative who has often given public voice to Petraeus's private views, worried Monday that "many Americans may decide that the threat from al-Qaeda is (now) gone and that we can afford to draw down in Afghanistan."

Noting the continued existence in the region of a number of "Islamist terrorist groups", he argued on the CFR website that a "comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan is still vital to prevent that country from falling to Osama bin Laden's fellow travellers."

Brookings' Felbab-Brown, meanwhile, argued that bin Laden's death could enhance chances for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Despite their separate structures and al Qaeda's limited influence over the Taliban's decision-making, bin Laden likely was a significant force against the Taliban engaging in strategic negotiations – not the least because the Taliban's disavowal of al Qaeda has been a critical precondition and/or the essential desired outcome of such negotiations," she wrote on the Brookings' website.

"Bin Laden's demise may create a more permissive environment for Taliban Central to make such a commitment, saying that whatever new leadership emerges after bin Laden's death is not the same old al Qaeda, with which the Taliban has not been willing to break for over 15 years." 

*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Libyan rebel capital doubts Gaddafi’s son is dead

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 1st, 2011 -- 2:18 pm
BENGHAZI, Libya — The Libyan rebel capital Benghazi was rocked by sustained gunfire and explosions overnight as fighters celebrated reports that Seif al-Arab, a son of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, died.
But by early Sunday doubts about the truth of the report crept in, quelling the joyful mood, as it was suspected that news of Seif al-Arab's death in a NATO air strike was propaganda from the Tripoli regime.
"I don't believe it because it was told by the Libyan TV," said Waleed Mohammed, 34, a policeman.
He added that if the news were true it would "not make the war finish early because Gaddafi is a crazy man," and "even if all his family were dead, he won't give up. Not until he dies."
A regime spokesman on Sunday said a NATO raid killed Gaddafi's second-youngest son and three grandchildren, but that the Libyan strongman had escaped unhurt.
But scepticism quickly replaced jubilation in the eastern rebel bastion, where a parallel government is gearing up to take the reins should Gaddafi be ousted or killed.
"I don't believe it because it is all on the Libya channels and that is all lies," said Mohammed Dahash, 25, who works in a mobile phone shop.
"I don't think it is true because since February 17 everything Gaddafi has said has been lies," said Ahmed Sidan, 20, evoking the start date of the anti-regime demonstrations that escalated into violent conflict.
"He did it before: in 1986 he said his daughter was killed but she is still alive," Sidan said of Kadhafi's claim that his adopted child, Hanna, was killed in an air raid ordered by then-US president Ronald Reagan.
"Kadhafi always lies," said Alsharifa Warfali, 48, a mother of seven.
"But if Seif is dead, so what? We've lost hundreds of sons in Benghazi. Gaddafi's son is not extra special," she added.
That sentiment was echoed in the higher echelons of the Libyan opposition Transitional National Council.
"We regret the spilling of any Libyan blood in the world... but the blood of Gaddafi's son is not more precious than that of the Libyan people," Mustafa Mohamed Abdul Jalil, chairman of the TNC, told Al-Jazeera television.
Very little is known about Gaddafi's youngest son, who made a splash in the German city of Munich in 2007 when he was involved in a night club brawl over a striptease show staged by his female dancing partner, Der Spiegel reported.
Libyan state television showed senior Muslim and Christian clerics "presenting their condolences" as they stood before four bodies covered by sheets.
And the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tripoli, Giovanni Martinelli, confirmed to an Italian television channel that Seif al-Arab had been killed.
But lack of material evidence to support reports of Seif al-Arab's death, which were aired on Libya's state-controlled channels, coupled with the absence of a confirmation from NATO, also fed mistrust among opposition media professionals.
"Gaddafi has said Seif is dead... so where is the body? Show us the body," said Alaa al-Obeidi, a producer for the Qatar-based channel Libya al-Ahrar.
"Personally, I don't think he is dead. He will get new IDs and passports to leave the country and go live in Africa, probably Uganda, which has good ties with Gaddafi," he added.
"Gaddafi is trying to milk NATO air strikes on military facilities to say they are trying to assassinate him," said Jalal al-Gallal, who serves on the media committee of the Benghazi-based TNC.
"But the truth is, the news cannot verified. There is no evidence, it is all hearsay," Gallal said, adding "if it is true, I hope Gaddafi will see the light and leave Libya to put an end to this bloodshed."
The Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday it had "serious doubts" the West was not targeting Libyan leader Gaddafi and his family.
But Libyan diplomat who defected from the regime said Gaddafi was a legitimate target for air strikes "because the only official function he had ever insisted in holding was that of highest commander of the Libyan army."
"That makes him a legitimate military target," Idris Tayeb Lamin, who says he was a political prisoner for 10 years before being pardoned by the regime without rhyme or reason, told AFP.
"This is the job Gaddafi insisted to have and it is the job that will get him killed," he said.
Asked why the mood had shifted from euphoria to scepticism overnight he said people were desperate for a reason -- any reason -- to celebrate as they had "adjourned their lives" waiting for a "bomb to land on Gaddafi's head."
"Libyans have become like prisoners waiting for someone to open the door... for Gaddafi to go," he said.