All posts by Number9

Khashoggi Killing a Rogue Op? Saudi Renaissance

(CNN) Saudis confirm death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  Quoting, the explanation is:

Discussions between Khashoggi and those who met him during his arrival at the consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and physical altercation, which led to his death, according to State TV.

This is not likely to be the  truth, but it is nevertheless a remarkable admission, seldom seen outside the Western countries, and the scattering of highly developed Asian democracies. The Saudis have adopted the explanation of a “rogue operation”  to shield those  ultimately responsible.

No official definition of “rogue operation” exists. But since “rogue” is a character trait, it implies a small group without authorization from above. That  meaning doesn’t apply here.  15 Saudis, including a forensic pathologist, flew to Istanbul on two Gulfstream corporate jets to do something nasty.

The presence on the Saudi team of a forensic pathologist anticipates murder, and the need to accomplish it without leaving traces at the scene.  Whether the torture of Khashoggi was a personal or cultural expression of members of the “kill team”, or an adjunct to interrogation prior to his murder is decided by the lack of forensic evidence.  To commit murder, and clean up the scene to the point that Turkish forensics is frustrated, requires great skill — as much skill as Turkish placement within the consulate of undetectable cameras.

If we stretch the word “rogue”  to the breaking point, and we assume Prince Salman is a rational actor, we gain understanding of his environment, and how his personality interacts with it. When a  leader attempts to radically change a nation,  these intermediate states occur in the transition:

  • The franchise loses traditional members as radical changes disadvantage members of the franchise.
  • The franchise broadens to include members formerly without representation, disconnected from the power structure, and who lack value to the structure.
  • Rifts appear in the power structure, as some members remain loyal to traditional, now disenfranchised elements.
  • While attempting change at levels from the grass-roots and up, the new leader also  maneuvers to remain at the top of the shifting pyramid.
  • The leader tends to increasingly identify  the self with the state. The self becomes indispensable.
  • Disaffected members of the power structure acquire a kind of double vision loyalty to  leadership, the image of the traditional role of office separating from the actual person.
  • This double vision can result in replacement of the leader who more embodies the traditional role of the office.

(CNN)Saudi former diplomat called ‘pivotal’ in Khashoggi’s apparent killing. Did Saudi intelligence officer and diplomat Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb have a case of double vision,  deciding himself to murder Khashoggi? Or was it Prince Salman’s decision? Given Salman’s age, either is possible. It is possible that Prince Salman enabled Mutreb, without actually approving the deed. The recent suppression of dissent, which has dismayed supporters of the prince, could have given Mutreb his inspiration to murder.

This is a pattern that in different proportions becomes almost universal. Bits of it can be seen in Hugo Chavez (early years) and Suu Kyi , however diverse they may otherwise be. In the absence of clandestine sources, it serves as a useful template. It does not exclude that Khashoggi was murdered on Salman’s orders, but it allows an alternative.

The contention of forces is unique to Saudi Arabia:

  • The ancient desert tribes,  with a continuous thread to the time of the founding of Islam. Conservative, reactionary elements isolated for centuries from the cosmopolitan.
  • The Hejaz of the western coast, with a different, cosmopolitan history, and the potential of  ferment, both social and political.
  • The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, embodied in the Qatari outlook, and very real in the eyes of those who fear it.
  • The core of the House of Saud, which seeks to rearrange all of the above as a modern industrial state.

Nothing in the above mix resembles the  the typical post-colonial state, with Western affinities. Saudi Arabia was never a colony. That Saudi Arabia is susceptible at all to international pressure is in itself remarkable.

The acknowledgment of Khashoggi’s death omits the crime of murder. Still, it is a significant step of the belated Arab Renaissance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Asks for Audio of Khashoggi Killing – “If it exists.”

(CNN) The latest on the missing Saudi journalist.

It exists. If you’ve been wondering why the Turks have not released, here’s the explanation.

The Turks allege that the recordings came from an Apple watch, but this is not possible. Robert Baer has pointed out that the Turks bug consulates as a matter of course. Implanted bugs are the likely source of the audio.

The problem for the Turks is that a microphone, and the associated electronics, have a finger-print of type that is impossible to mimic well. Contributing elements:

  • Every microphone is a noise generator, of both Brownian noise, and  Kelvin noise from the electronics.
  • The part of a mic that captures sound is like a drum head, with its own individual tones and modes that differ even between different units  of the same model.
  • The boundary reinforcement effect changes the sound that the mike itself hears, by 6 decibels per octave per surface. A microphone on a wristwatch hears very differently from one connected to a flat wall by a tiny tube.
  • The microphone signal is never transmitted verbatim. It is converted to numbers by an analog-to-digital converter. The stream of numbers is then reduced in size by one of many CODECs, coder-decoder combinations.
  • The analog-to-digital converter adds many artifacts to the signal: quantization noise, spurious tones and combinations of tones, sidebands, harmonic and inter-modulation distortion, and idle tones, present when there is no sound at all.
  • The CODEC continues to mess with the sound, adding more artifacts, and deleting many things the ear cannot hear, but which laboratory instruments can easily measure.

So how can the sound of an Apple watch be disguised? By degrading it with noise and distortion, both the Apple origin, and the intelligibility of Khashoggi’s screams are simultaneously obscured. Notch-filtering some artifacts and adding others adds further confusion. If they have the sophistication, the Turks might try modeling the “drum head” of an Apple Watch microphone. But the signature of the original “drum head” cannot be obliterated, only obscured.

Turkish engineers are doubtless busy running the audio through signal transformations in line with the above. These days, it’s all done with computer algorithms, with little need for special hardware. We wait while the Turks cook the audio, and taste-test the result, which can be frustrating or awful. For it must serve two purposes, or sacrifice one:

  • Disguise the true origin, from microphones implanted in the structure of the consulate, while faking the artifacts of Apple Watch audio.
  • In opposition to the above, leave Khashoggi’s last words intelligible enough to prove a point.

Rather than release self-incriminating audio, the Turks may choose to let Saudi off the hook. Pressing the point could sacrifice  every bugged consulate in Istanbul.

Knowing your consulate is bugged is  half the battle. The other half is merely the cost of razing it to the ground, or living with big ears.

 

Reuters: Espionage scandals; Note to Vladimir Putin

(Reuters) Espionage scandals show Russian army’s growing clout.

Russians should consider  the thoughts of a former GRU head of the “Special Tasks” department, responsible for assassinations.  Since Pavel Sudoplatov is no longer alive,  some of his words are reproduced here. Sudoplatov was gravely concerned with the misuse of poisons, of which he was himself accused.

For the benefit of Western readers, Pavel Sudoplatov was a military intelligence officer under Stalin , a direct subordinate of Lavrentiy Beria. He was responsible for the assassinations of Leon Trotsky, personally liquidated Ukrainian nationalist Yevhen Konovalets, as well as other liquidations involving poisons. His responsibilities also included sabotage and unconventional warfare, during and after World War II.

With the fall of Beria, Sudoplatov was arrested, tried, and imprisoned, the inevitable result of having been Beria’s subordinate. As the Soviet leadership distanced from Stalin’s terror, Sudoplatov became a special object of fear, because his unit had been one of the principal clients of Grigory Mairanovsky’s state poison laboratory, the products of which were always tested on human subjects. In his struggle for rehabilitation, Sudoplatov showed that he never controlled the poison laboratory, that his use of poisons was always with the authorization of the Soviet leadership, and that all such uses were documented.

His 1994 autobiography, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness—A Soviet Spymaster, coauthored with his son Anatoli, (Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-77352-2) reveals a thoughtful man who one might have wished as a friend, caught up in and deceived by a brutal system. It is a common failing not to understand the times you live in. Sudoplatov’s comprehension came later, during his imprisonment. The result is one of stunning insight.

On page 283 of the English edition, Sudoplatov considers questions that should be of interest to all Russians:

  • Do poisons have legitimate use by the security services?
  • Can the use be subject to effective controls to prevent abuse?
  • Should poisons be used for executions outside the criminal code?

I have taken the liberty of quoting two lengthy paragraphs from page 283, because the best advice to Russia comes from Russia. Sudoplatov is no longer alive, so it is his testament for current and future governments of Russia.

…toxicological laboratories are a logical component of technical support services of every security organization. Agents in the years of the Cold War were often equipped with poisons; Aleksandr D. Ogorudnik, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who was a CIA agent in Moscow, committed suicide with poison in the course of his arrest in 1977. Before that, he poisoned his woman friend, fearing his own exposure through her. Toxicological service is necessary for security operations. However, the danger is that such a powerful and silent weapon can be manipulated in the interests of authoritarian rule and dictatorship. A secret directive by the government should be circulated to all the staff of toxicological services, strictly defining their functions and forbidding production of disguised poisonous weapons that might be used in an uncontrolled way. Unfortunately, in these delicate security issues, much depends on the honesty and morals of those who give the orders and those who obey them.

Is it justified to administer drugs or nonlethal poisons to a terrorist in order to neutralize him or to safeguard your source of information in a terrorist ring so that you can round up the whole group later? Even a well-planned operation is always subject to fatal error. Strict regulations must rule out individual operational executions by poisoning under any circumstances; legal execution must be reserved for convictions under the criminal code.

Sudoplatov died in 1996, but these words mean more now than when they were written.

Bloomberg: The Big Hack; Is it True?

(Bloomberg) The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies, is refuted by (Reuters) DHS says no reason to doubt firms’ China hack denials, and further by Apple tells Congress it found no signs of hacking attack.

Which story is true? This offers another exercise for predictors, in the weighing of evidence and comparing the veracity of sources. But let’s first consider the art world. Up until about 1870, genres of art were arranged by the French Academies in a rigid hierarchy.  In reporting by U.S. based media,  a hierarchy  also exists, which determines priorities, depth, and accuracy.

Just by living, most people have some understanding of politics, law, and economics. The stories they read are put together mostly by people with general liberal arts educations, with competence that varies from reasonable to remarkable. Technology is at the opposite pole of incomprehension.  There is no such thing as native understanding of how it works, and few care  if the facts are murdered. Yet in the Bloomberg story and the Reuters response, tech has leaped all the way to the top, square in the arena of geopolitics.

This is compounded by the apparent, self-enforced differences of regular journalism and investigative journalism. In regular journalism, diligence is satisfied by consulting “sources”, who are either people in government or people with impressive job titles and credentials. But  the liberal arts education of a typical reporter provides insufficient guidance for discrimination. Lacking a fund of technical knowledge that would identify the relevant credential, Reuters reporters relied exclusively on nontechnical sources. Bloomberg, with in-house competence in  computer technology, did the opposite.

The errors resulting from lack of in-house competence can be subtle or egregious. But while mistakes about the latest “tech” widget or phone are usually harmless, harm does come when tech leaps to the top and collides with politics. This was so in the case of CNN, Shame! Raise Your Standards! “Russia unveils ‘Satan 2 Missile”, where inaccurate reporting risked instigating an arms-race, and for which no correction was issued.

The flaws in the Reuters stories are not as serious.  But Reuters defers to authorities, without considering distorting influences:

  • The statutory obligation of government authorities to protect national security investigations and foreign intelligence.
  • The obligation of Apple to protect shareholder value. If Apple had supported the Bloomberg claims, it could have provoked retaliation by China against Apple’s China operations, possibly including seizure of assets, so severe as to materially impact the company.
  • Lacking Bloomberg’s technical resources (Bloomberg is also a hardware company), it is difficult for Reuters to interpret technical sources. Hence an unconscious bias — excessive reliance on “authorities”, typically drawn from government and finance.

The severity of the hack is indicated by the Amazon response. Quoting Bloomberg,

The following November, Amazon sold the entire infrastructure to Beijing Sinnet for about $300 million. The person familiar with Amazon’s probe casts the sale as a choice to “hack off the diseased limb.”

In the case of Apple, some consideration by Reuters of the above issues would have offered the possibility  that the consulted individuals could not  publicly support the Bloomberg claims.  Quoting Apple’s recently retired general counsel, Bruce Sewell (brackets mine),

“I got on the phone with him [then FBI general counsel] personally and said, ‘Do you know anything about this?,” Sewell said of his conversation with Baker. “He said, ‘I’ve never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.’ He called me back 24 hours later and said ‘Nobody here knows what this story is about.’”

The  denial is what anybody with a shred of fiduciary responsibility would have said. Even in retirement, it’s  not Sewell’s job to wreck Apple, nor can we expect the FBI general counsel to blow a national security investigation.

(Reuters) Apple tells Congress it found no signs of hacking attack appears to solidify Apple’s denial, at the risk of perjury before Congress. But   the single direct quote of the article, by Apple Vice President for Information Security George Stathakopoulos, leaves at least two loopholes:

“Apple’s proprietary security tools are continuously scanning for precisely this kind of outbound traffic, as it indicates the existence of malware or other malicious activity. Nothing was ever found,” he wrote in the letter provided to Reuters.

The above asserts the absence of outbound traffic, not the absence inbound traffic, or of implanted chips. Apple could have neutralized the  implants by laser drilling, or by modifying  the IPMI (read down) firmware.

Given the gravity of the stakes for Apple, and other U.S. interests in China, Stathakopoulos may have been given a waiver by the executive branch, with disclosure to Congress in some future closed proceeding.

The first Reuters article, relying heavily on credentials that virtually assure bias, elevates the credibility of Sewell, who is anything but a disinterested person. Here the needs of the open source intelligence, and the media are at odds. A media outlet wants an article to be taken as informative, even when it isn’t. If it were not for that need, Reuters might have mentioned the statutory secrecy requirements of a national security investigation, which reduces to null the content value.

So for open source intelligence, we have to sift and toss the drek, of which the first Reuters article mostly consists.

But the Bloomberg article is rich in facts, some of which can be checked. Could it be a total fabrication? Quoting,

In all, 17 people confirmed the manipulation of Supermicro’s hardware and other elements of the attacks. The sources were granted anonymity because of the sensitive, and in some cases classified, nature of the information.

17 sources hoping to short some stock would be a helluva conspiracy. It’s not worth considering. But you can do something that neither Reuters or CNN seem capable of,  find a genuine expert, qualify that expert yourself, and fact-check the Bloomberg technical background.  (Bloomberg has hardware experts in house.)

Silicon Valley has a  grapevine. Bloomberg found 17 voices. But without a big, shiny credentials badge, how will you know someone is sufficiently knowledgeable to be useful? I’m going to tell you now.

Your qualifying question should be, “Is there a particular system on the motherboard to  which the Chinese chip is likely to be attached?”

The alleged Chinese implant chips are very small, consume little energy, have low clock speeds, and have few terminals (pins). Most of a motherboard operates at extreme speeds, requiring lots of energy. This incompatibility  limits the points of attachment on a Supermicro motherboard to one particular feature: the baseboard management controller chip, which implements the IPMI interface.

IPMI is old. Silicon Valley is awash with greybeards who know it well. If you aspire to technical excellence in your open source endeavors, you should add some numbers to your book. Boards are routinely x-rayed, providing interesting graphic material above and beyond the drekky clip-art typically used with such articles.

The grapevine awaits you. Give it Credence, Clearwater, Revival.

Or just stick with Marvin Gaye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Establishing the Motive

(CNN) Reports: Sources say Saudi journalist killed in consulate in Turkey. More clarification comes with (WaPo) Turkey concludes Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi killed by ‘murder’ team, sources say. Quoting,

Khashoggi first visited the consulate on Sept. 28 to obtain a document related to his upcoming wedding, according to his fiancee and friends. He returned to the consulate on Tuesday, at about 1:30 p.m., concerned that he might not be allowed to leave, according to his fiance, Hatice Cengiz.

So Khashoggi had presentiments of his demise. (Reuters) Saudi Arabia opens up consulate after journalist vanishes is more specific. Quoting,

A Turkish security source told Reuters that a group of 15 Saudi nationals, including some officials, had arrived in Istanbul in two planes and entered the consulate on the same day Khashoggi was there, and later left the country.

There are statements about security cameras pointing both towards and away from the consulate, but what they have recorded, if anything, is vague. Turkish police sources uses the word “believe”, indicating a higher degree of certainty than the published facts allow. In the conservative world of Western police work, a phrase such as “disappearance deemed suspicious” might be used.

Khashoggi probably was murdered in the Saudi Consulate. Tragedy though it is for the victim, our search is for motives and geopolitical implications. In this part of the world, where police diligence is strongly influenced by the politics, our first stop is the question:  With the choice of doing nothing, why are the Turkish police so aggressive? The answer could be the flip side of the Saudi motive to murder.

“Islamist” as a word applies to both Turkey and Saudi, but the actualities are so different, it cannot be very descriptive:

  • Turkey is a recently secular state that still claims to be secular, though the claim is withering before Erdoğan’s Islamist onslaught.
  • Saudi is the preeminent Islamic state, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to reform — which involves, to varying degrees, disengagement of the religious establishment from civil government, towards secularization.

Each country, starting from the endpoint goal of the other, is moving in the opposite direction. If geography were not in the way, this would be enough for a war. But crossing of trajectories is not enough motive for a murder, and Turkish assertiveness remains for the moment a mystery.

Could Khashoggi have anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, an historic purveyor of intrigue in the Arab world? Whether he was a member is probably unknowable, but we may not need to know.  Brief mentions of the Brotherhood in the context of Qatar and the UAE set the context.

(Atlantic) The Muslim Brotherhood Is the Root of the Qatar Crisis lays it out. Quoting,

In fact, while the countries’ 13 demands of Qatar include a range of issues, the overwhelming majority are relevant to their ongoing concerns about Qatar’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, and reflect these countries’ desire to nip what they view as an existential threat in the bud….

Qatar is openly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has hidden presence throughout the Middle East.  Conflict with the Brotherhood is best observed in the visible society of the UAE, the vanguard of Gulf reform. (Fanack) UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood: A Story of Rivalry and Hatred offers a compact chronicle of suppression. Quoting,

Throughout the 1990s, a plan called ‘drying the springs’ was implemented to exclude Islamists from public office and restrict their activities in the public domain. No Islamists were spared, including those who had no known affiliation or those who were affiliated with apolitical groups such as the Tabligh community.

In Qatar, Saudi, and the UAE,  fine gradations of religious belief have resulted in extreme political polarization. Turkey is the exception, apparently unafraid of the Brotherhood as a subversive religious import. This is likely due to Erdoğan’s Islamist onslaught, which absorbs religious impulses that would otherwise manifest as subversion.

A devoted specialist could spend days reading Khashoggi, looking for hints of hidden knowledge dangerous to the House of Saud. But what did Khashoggi write about the Brotherhood? Quoting from (WaPo Global Opinions) Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable,

…Columnists close to the Saudi leadership repeatedly demanded that Islamists be “eradicated.” It’s no secret that the crown prince despises the Muslim Brotherhood, yet it is actually a strange contradiction to identify a person as a Muslim Brotherhood activist….

Bosh! It was always repressive, but nobody dared. But the words, repeated twice! It’s not just the opinion, but where it appeared, in one of the two most important newspapers in the U.S., read all around Capitol Hill. The Saudi conclusion: The Muslim Brotherhood has a mole on Capitol Hill.

(Independent)Trump says Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ‘would not last two weeks’ without US support. Given the stalwart support of the Trump Administration for Prince Salman, why is the threat of Khashoggi so dire as to justify murder? The Saudis are aware that in the American political system, radical shifts are possible with each new administration:

  • Without American munitions, which have been used in the Yemen air campaign in possible war crimes, Iran would gain a foothold on the Arabian peninsula. The GOP tends towards realpolitik, but a second term for Trump cannot be assured.
  • In the recent past, the Dems have supported pluralistic religious elements, recognized the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a legitimate political entity, and have been generally more concerned with the moral provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act.

If the Dems win the next election, Khashoggi, a relatively-harmless wordsmith, could gain the ear of the high and mighty in Washington. Having identified the fear, we have the motive. Khashoggi was killed over his writing for the Washington Post.

There remains a dangling thread in our murder mystery – the Turkish motive  for assertions of murder. The Brotherhood, essentially an Arab movement, has no traction in Turkey. Turkish sympathy for the Brotherhood in the foreign context is weak. So why have the Turks bothered?

(Middle East Institute) Saudi-Turkey ties take a turn for the worse offers vague suggestions of regional rivalry, but the final paragraphs get specific. Quoting,

Against its own long-term interests, Turkey is allying with Iran to weaken the Kurds in Syria, keep them out of the peace process, and in effect strengthen the Syrian government. The Saudis have opposed the Syrian government for years, trying to diminish the growing influence of Iran and Syria in Lebanon, which was traditionally an old ally of Riyadh.

It seems the assertive Turkish investigation of the alleged murder of Khashoggi, which probably happened, is just to annoy the Saudis, a tiny widget in a regional Rube Goldberg machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speculation: Iran Takes Over Basra; What to Watch For

What follows is speculation. There is no evidence in open source that this is happening or will happen.

The population of Basra is enraged at Iraq’s  central government, and Iran, which supports the general composition of the Iraq government. (NPR) U.S. Closes Consulate In Basra, Citing Iran-Backed Violence.

Although there has been substantial violence towards Iranian interests, there is nevertheless an opportunity for Iran in this, a  way to create positive sentiment towards Iran, without decreasing negativity toward the Iraq central government. The immediate object would be to loosen the hold of the Iraqi central government by supplanting it in civil affairs. The ultimate goal would be functional political accession.

We can cut through  a lot  by noting that providing drinkable water could almost instantly erase the hostility that burnt out the Iranian consulate.

This involves Islamic charities as fronts for one or more of Iran’s charitable trusts, the bonyads. In Iran, bonyads are a large presence in Iran’s economy, accruing funds from bonyad owned businesses and acting as anonymous disbursement agents. Iran’s bonyads offer invisible capital flows, making it feasible to provide significant services and solutions in a small area of Iraq, as a kind of beachhead.

The model is provided by the Muslim Brotherhood’s accession to power in Egypt. The Brotherhood was illegal, and ruthlessly suppressed, until the 2011 revolution. But even in the shadow if illegality, the Brotherhood provided extensive services to the poor that ultimately was responsible for their accession to political power. (WaPo , 4-8-11) In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood’s charitable works may drive political support. The opening paragraphs give the flavor (highlighting mine):

For needy families in this dusty village outside Cairo, Mohamad el-Seesy is a useful man to know….A devout member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Seesy, 45, leads an Islamic charity that has burrowed deeply into the community by providing an array of religious and social services.

The Brotherhood was not even legal at inception of these activities. Before 2011, It burrowed quite successfully in full view of Hosni Mubarak’s police state. A “second government”  sounds strange till we recall Joe Valachi’s revelations of La Cosa Nostra. Then it becomes very familiar.

The strategy of supplanting the functionality of Iraq’s native government in civil affairs has not thus been evident, though it is very obvious in the military sphere. But as we are separated by distance and culture, it is hard to appreciate how much knowledge Iran has of the hidden pulses of Iraq, with which they share a linked religious establishment.

Points:

  • Volatility means opportunity.
  • The evacuation of the U.S. consulate is convenient to Iran’s purpose.
  • Watch for an upsurge of charitable activity.

Basra is only 15 miles from Iran, closer than Pas-de-Calais is to Dover.

 

 

The U.S. – China Love Affair; Aspen Security Conference Part 2

In Aspen Security Conference; The Rise of China, Part 1, CIA analyst Michael Collins is quoting as saying China wants to replace the U.S. as the world superpower. Without negation, my reply is

I agree, although the tone almost implies that it’s the fault of China. The fault is ours, a major failure of U.S. policy. Historical inevitability contributes to the outcome.

This article will try to explain us to ourselves, and to  China readers who aren’t blocked by the Great Firewall.

(Japan Times) Dissent surfaces as China begins to question its readiness for trade war with U.S. Quoting,

The essays have raised concerns that the ruling Communist Party underestimated the depth of anti-China sentiment in Washington and risked a premature showdown with the world’s sole superpower. Such views push the bounds of acceptable public debate in a nation where dissent can lead to censure or even jail time, and are particularly bold, given Xi has amassed unrivaled control while leading China to a more assertive role on the world stage.

and

“It seems like Chinese officials were mentally unprepared for the approaching trade friction or trade war,” Gao Shanwen, chief economist for Beijing-based Essence Securities Co., whose biggest shareholders include large state-owned enterprises, wrote in one widely circulated commentary. “Anti-China views are becoming the consensus among the U.S. public and its ruling party.”

Strategists in the U.S. and China, sharing the fault of single-issue thinking, have explained the friction in terms of their areas of responsibility:

  • Compatibility of political systems. China’s political system has unexpectedly evolved towards totalitarianism.
  • Economics. China’s massive, unsustainable trade surplus, which is really our fault. No one can fault China for doing the best they can.
  • Intelligence community. China’s massive economic espionage in the U.S. has resulted in the loss of intellectual capital, the fruits of decades of research and development.
  • World Order. China’s assertion of sovereignty over an entire sea, defined by the Nine Dotted Line, signifies complete breakdown of the quasi-legal system called “international law”, a mainly Western creation that gradually evolved since the Peace of Westphalia.
  • Military Threat. China’s increasing military power admits possible use for coercion. The Nine Dotted Line creates a ready issue; China’s military creates the means.
  • Mercantile Dominance.  U.S. – Asia trade  was direct with the smaller East Asian nations until about the mid 90’s. China has replaced the U.S. and Japan as  mercantile hubs of the region, interposing as the primary mercantile hub.  Smaller nations, once U.S. subcontractors and suppliers of bulk commodities,  have become China subcontractors.  Even in what some might think an early stage of this development, the U.S. has lost opportunity to create added value.
  • Destruction  of the romantic notion of a U.S. role in Asia, dating to  Commodore Perry, elaborated by Theodore Roosevelt, sanctified in the blood of World War II, reprised by Kissinger and Nixon.
  • Loss of the American Empire. The U.S. never had an empire in name, but  the effective result of aggressive multinational corporations was a form of mercantilism. In  many cases, multinationals implemented their own foreign policies.
  • Loss of U.S. manufacturing base, causing widespread distress in U.S. society.

China’s  pundits may be puzzled as to why these elements should combine now, if they have in fact combined, to create a trade war. As with Russia, inward focus and  cultural isolation of national barriers promote single-issue thinking. For China, this is the attempt to identify the single issue that if rectified, will allow the recent state of relations to continue without interruption.

To China pundits, the idea of a single issue could seem obvious, shown  by the tariffs, a new U.S. policy feature introduced by the Trump Administration. Some U.S. pundits, focused on economic matters, might share this view.  It’s hard to juggle multiple issues, and harder still build consensus around them.

When a single issue is identified, compact in explanation, immediate in impact, easily quantifiable, implying a response that already has a name, it is a catalyst for change. The issue is the trade deficit, and the response, tariffs. China cannot be blamed for doing the best it can, yet with some irony, trade has become the principal focus of action.

Writing about international relations sometimes refers to a “chill” between powers.  When water is cooled below the freezing point, does it always turn to ice? Not always. With care, water can be supercooled to -48.3C. If the water is pure,  supercooling can be accomplished in an ordinary freezer. But if the smallest ice crystal comes in contact with supercooled water, it will cause the water to instantly turn to ice.

U.S.-China relations have been chilling for a long time. Since the water remained liquid, we did not notice that it had become supercooled. The crystal of ice is a surprise to all of us. The love affair is on the rocks.  It’s not a matter of sentiment anymore.

Next: More explanations, U.S. goals, prognostications.

 

 

 

 

 

Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack; Missile Attack on U.S. Forces?

(Reuters) Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack. Quoting,

The deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned U.S. and Israeli leaders on Monday to expect a “devastating” response from Tehran, accusing them of involvement in an attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz.

(CNN) Iran blames the US and Saudi Arabia for military parade attack quotes Ramezan Sharif with a theory that is actually plausible. Quoting,

Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said the attackers were affiliated with a terrorist group supported by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s state-run Press TV said.

“The individuals who fired at the people and the armed forces during the parade are connected to the al-Ahvaziya group, which is fed by Saudi Arabia,” Sharif said. Saudi Arabia hasn’t responded to the allegations.

The “Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement” in Ahwaz, a southwestern province with a large Sunni minority and slightly seditious tendencies, denies responsibility. ISIS, who frequently claims responsibility for attacks they did not carry out, offered no corroboration of their claim. The upshot is that no claim is accompanied by proof, and there is no contradiction of denials.

The al-Ahvaziya group, still lacking proof, is a partial exception. With support from Saudi Arabia, it could have operated without support from Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement. To Saudi, faced with shooting down Iranian manufactured missiles that have caused deaths, support of the group would be retribution in kind, the common mode of thought in that region.

Neither the U.S. or Israel had anything to do with it. But the  pain of sanctions has motivated Iran to repurpose the event in the service of hard line unity against the traditional national enemies, one of which is defined by the constitution of Iran. It gives the hardliners the grist they need to silence Iranian progressives.  It doesn’t help that Rudy Giuliani (The Guardian) gives speeches to the MEK and   pushes the revolution-in-Iran line. (Newsweek) Rudy Giuliani Says US Will Overthrow Iranian Regime, Blowing Official White House Line.

Hence, the question. Why does Iran use maximum volume to implicate Israel and the U.S., with a little less volume against Saudi?  Iran has transferred to Iraqi Shiite militia proxies the indigenous capability to assemble missiles. (Reuters) Exclusive: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies. As with the similar capability transferred to Yemen’s Houthis, the purpose of the transfer is to facilitate plausible denial. Neither group actually has the indigenous industrial base to make all the parts.

Since the spin on the parade attack appears to be part of a logical process, there is probably a logical reason, with a focal response, such as attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq,  by ground, missile, or a combination of both.

In Iran Sanctions; Bolton on Regime Change, I suggested that the probabilities favor Iran’s response as actions we don’t want, rather than what we do want, specifically, “”chance of positive outcome to sanctions = 14%”. This is really  just a recapitulation of Carl von Clausewitz. The enemy will react. Tactical and diplomatic brilliance are required to cause the enemy to choose the path of our choice, not his. Quoting (italics mine),

“But everything takes a different shape when we pass from abstractions to reality. In the former, everything must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the one side as well as the other striving after perfection and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality?”

and

But it is necessary for us to commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts their relation to the whole be kept constantly in view.

About the U.S. strategic position, several things may be noted:

  • As noted in Israel says Iran lied on nuclear arms, pressures U.S. to scrap deal, the international ecosystem has blunted the full impact of sanctions.
  • The delicacy of the U.S. position in Iraq is suggested  by inaction in the form of strikes against the missile transfers.
  • The inaction may also be to allow potential targets to ripen. But it does not negate the above.

U.S. planners may feel that air strikes against these facilities could provoke something related to the prediction of  9/29/2017, given in The Kurd Referendum; Implications for U.S. Policy. Quoting,

Unless Brinton’s sequence can be averted, the U.S. position will become untenable. The nature of extremists could make resolution impossible. The curtain on this conflict rises perhaps a year, or a bit more, from now.

If Iran’s planners read von Clausewitz, a missile attack by Iran’s proxies would not be the single mode. It would be accompanied by ground attacks to inflict synergistic pain. As with the U.S. sanctions objective, the Iranian objective will be to make continued U.S. presence in Iraq a question of U.S.  politics.

 

 

FBI Evacuates New Mexico Sunspot Observatory; Exercise for Predictors

The aura of exotic mystery makes this a good exercise for aspiring predictors. It might drag you in and keep you engaged. A most informative article is Mysterious Evacuation Of Solar Observatory Overlooking White Sands Smells Like Espionage.

Authors Rogoway and Treveithick could be dead on, or close. But as Sherlock Holmes would say to Dr. Watson, the most evident possibility is not necessarily the probability.  It helps to devise  alternative theories for comparison of relative strengths. Holmes’ method of logical deduction emphasized the exposure of contradictions hidden by superficial attraction.

Two theories without evident support are:

  • Something to do with space aliens.
  • Something to do with weapons of mass destruction.

These are examples of conspiracy theories, attractive to emotional disorder, but without any basis in fact. Noting that FBI agents swarmed over the antenna towers on the site, Rogoway and Treveithick find espionage a good fit.   There could have been eavesdropping devices on the towers, which overlook the White Sands Missile Range.

(CNN) Mysterious ‘security issue’ forces a solar observatory to be evacuated quotes a nearby resident: “We were told we had a credible threat through the FBI and to leave,” evacuee Sean Williams told the station. The on site postmaster was required to leave, but Apache Point Observatory, 0.5 miles south, remains open.

“Credible threat” could have literal meaning, or use as a term understood by the general public. This provokes one of the conundrums that would have intrigued Holmes. As a reason, it does not explain why:

  • There is no ground security perimeter.
  • The area under threat is geographically defined with precision.
  • Apache Point Observatory was allowed to remain open.
  • The site is closed “for a week.” Threats are not usually resolved on a timetable.
  • The extensive use of helicopters is not by itself curious, but with the lack of a security perimeter, it is.

So Rogoway and Treveithick are doing pretty good, though Holmes would not be satisfied with the dangling threads. But the above list contains all the information required for a complete solution.

A crucial question, which the news sites are particularly bad at figuring out, is who to consult. They like to cite authorities, meaning, people with badges. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges. Try an electrical engineer, preferably one with experience in RF (radio frequency).

I could give you an informed opinion, but it might seem authoritative, and it would deprive you of legwork. Go run down the electrical engineer. A local ham radio club might suffice. Print this out and bring it along. You’ll have an informed opinion, with a significant possibility of correctness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pussy Riot Member Verzilov, Poisoned? Botulin Toxin; A Gareth Williams Clue

(Independent) Pussy Riot activist seriously ill in Moscow hospital’s toxicology department after suspected poisoning. Quoting,

Ms Nikulshina, said that Mr Verzilov woke up and realised that he was losing his sight. …“First it was his vision, then his ability to speak, and then his ability to walk,” she told Meduza.

“Descending paralysis”, starting near the brain and descending over a short time to the legs, is symptomatic of one poison in particular, botulin toxin, which causes a well known form of food poisoning most commonly caused by improperly canned foods.

Was Pyotr Verzilov actually poisoned by the state? Unlike the Salisbury poisonings, forensic evidence will never be obtained. It is my inclination to think that he  probably was. The symptoms should be enough to alert MI-5 with respect to the death of Gareth Williams in 2010. In retrospect, one cause of the ambiguous conclusion was the lack of toxicology evidence. Quoting Wikipedia,

In September and October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who defected from Russia and who now lives in Britain, stated during interviews that “sources in Russia” have claimed that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as the SVR, was responsible for Williams’s murder. According to Karpichkov, the SVR tried and failed to blackmail Williams into becoming a double agent.[36]

In response to the SVR’s attempts, Williams apparently claimed that he knew “the identity of a Russian spy inside the GCHQ.” Karpichkov claimed that Williams’s threat meant that “the SVR then had no alternative but to exterminate him in order to protect their agent inside GCHQ.” Regarding the cause of death, Karpichkov claimed that the SVR killed Williams “by an untraceable poison introduced in his ear.”[37][36]

Botulin toxin is the most poisonous substance known, about 1,000,000 times more potent than Novichok. It acts too slowly to be an optimal chemical warfare agent.  It is not undetectable in patients who have suffered food poisoning, but in the quantity required to cause death via the ear, it probably is.

(New Yorker) A Pussy Riot Activist Is the Victim of the Latest Apparent Poisoning in Russia offers good background as to why Verzilov, hardly a professional politician, would be a target. With the help of a sympathetic judiciary, he defied the security forces. If Verzilov has been poisoned, an occasionally independent judiciary complicates the question of what Russian authorities are ultimately responsible for the decision to poison him.

If there is anything positive about this, it’s the opportunity to take another look at power in Russia. We all want to know if Putin has a pad of Rx forms in his desk drawer, with check boxes for the type of poison. Do mutants of the NKVD troikas, which in the early Soviet Union  issued instant death sentences, survive in modern Russia? It would be a waste to leave this on the level of the tawdry and sensational. So let’s proceed.

There has been a tendency to personify Russia in Vladimir Putin, while in fact, Putin is a product of Russia, where multiple clans compete. While the Russian judiciary is rarely independent, the very fact that it was in the case of Verzilov should strengthen our appreciation of the complexities.  Putin is blamed for incidents such as these, because it is conveniently simple,  it is not contradicted by open-source, and he is the most powerful individual in Russia.

Putin  collaborates with the system he leads. His ludicrous statement reported in (Telegraph) Vladimir Putin says Salisbury poison suspects are Russian ‘civilians’ and hopes they will ‘tell their story’ is the most recent example.  Putin cannot disavow the actions of the clans. To do so would erode the myth of power.

In Iran/MEK Bomb Plot; Assassinations; Russia Comparison, I wrote

As with the recent misadventure of Russian mercenaries in Syria (Newsweek: ‘A Total F***up’: Russian Mercenaries in Syria Lament U.S. Strike That Killed Dozens), and the Litvinenko hit, this implies  multiple entities, not inherited from the Soviet Union, with varying degrees of competence, which may not be in complete  control of the Kremlin.

This analysis lacks  the benefit of clandestine signals intelligence, which may tip the scales. But even the statements of MI-5,  asserting that the  Skripal poisoning had high level state approval, don’t take it all the way to Putin. In open source, it remains an open question. The troikas may exist.

But if the ultimate responsibility does not go all the way to the top, it implies that Russia is  more dangerous than when we imagined that Vladimir Putin was supremely powerful. We are dealing with a state that shares a characteristic of a non-state actor: the absence of a rational supreme authority that shares core values of decency.

I feel sorry for Sergei Lavrov, whose job is conducting diplomacy under these conditions. (Reuters) Moscow ready to make steps to improve Russia-U.S. ties: Lavrov.

Sergei, you have a hopeless job. All these poisonings are enough for us to seal the borders to Russians with Super-Glue.