Tag Archives: terrorism

Attacks rock France

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – France was rocked by multiple, near simultaneous attacks on entertainment sites around Paris on Friday evening and French media said at least 60 people were killed and hostages were being held in a concert hall in the capital.

The apparently coordinated gun and bomb attacks came as the country, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference that opens later this month.

Western security sources said they suspected an Islamist militant group was behind the carnage. … Continue reading Scores killed in Parisian attacks, hostages held

 

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Scores killed in Parisian attacks, hostages held

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Reuters reporters and photographers
November 14, 2015

A member of the French fire brigade aids an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A member of the French fire brigade aids an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) – France was rocked by multiple, near simultaneous attacks on entertainment sites around Paris on Friday evening and French media said at least 60 people were killed and hostages were being held in a concert hall in the capital.

The apparently coordinated gun and bomb attacks came as the country, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference that opens later this month.

Western security sources said they suspected an Islamist militant group was behind the carnage.

At least two explosions were heard near the Stade de France national stadium where a France-Germany friendly football match was being played, attended by President Francois Hollande.

The match continued until the end but panic broke out in the crowd as rumours of the attack spread, and spectators were held in the stadium and assembled spontaneously on the pitch.

There were reports of possibly as many as four shootings in central Paris, one of which turned into a hostage taking at a popular rock music venue, witnesses said.

TF1 television said up to 35 people were dead near the football stadium, including two suspected suicide bombers in the attack in the neighbourhood of Saint Denis, north of central Paris.

Police helicopters circled the stadium as Hollande was rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation. The president’s office said he had called an emergency cabinet meeting for 2300 GMT to manage the crisis.

Police confirmed there had been shootings and explosions at the stadium, but not the number of casualties.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital’s 10th district and the Bataclan music hall, where bystanders were evacuated as elite police commandos took up position.

Crowds leave the Stade de France where explosions were reported to have detonated outside the stadium during the France vs German friendly match near Paris, November 13, 2015.      REUTERS/Gonazlo Fuentes

Crowds leave the Stade de France where explosions were reported to have detonated outside the stadium during the France vs German friendly match near Paris, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Gonazlo Fuentes

Several witnesses told television stations that up to 60 hostages were being held inside the popular concert venue.

“There are lots of people here. I don’t know what’s happening, a sobbing witness who gave her name only as Anna told BFM TV outside the Bataclan hall. “It’s horrible. There’s a body over there. It’s horrible.”

Elsewhere, police cordoned off a wide area around the Petit Cambodge restaurant where witnesses said gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles had fired at diners through the plate-glass windows, causing multiple casualties.

“I was on my way to my sister’s when I heard shots being fired. Then I saw three people dead on the ground, I know they were dead because they were being wrapped up in plastic bags,” student Fabien Baron told Reuters.

There were also reports of shootings in rue de Charonne in the 11th district and at the central Les Halles shopping centre.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Paris attacks, which came within days of attacks claimed by Islamic State militants on a Shi’ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon, and a Russian tourist aircraft which crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Earlier on Friday, the United States and Britain said they had launched an attack in the Syrian town of Rakka on a British Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John” but it was not certain whether he had been killed.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting by Paris Newsroom; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by James Dalgleish)

 

French fire brigade members aid an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French fire brigade members aid an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

People react as they gather to watch the scene near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

People react as they gather to watch the scene near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French police secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French police secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A man lies on the ground as French police check his identity near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. The man was later released after his identity was verified.    REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A man lies on the ground as French police check his identity near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. The man was later released after his identity was verified. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French special forces evacuate people, including an injured man holding his head, as people gather near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French special forces evacuate people, including an injured man holding his head, as people gather near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

General view of the scene with rescue service personnel working near covered bodies outside a restaurant following shooting incidents in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

General view of the scene with rescue service personnel working near covered bodies outside a restaurant following shooting incidents in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French riot police secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following a fatal shooting at a restaurant in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French riot police secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following a fatal shooting at a restaurant in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French fire brigade members secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French fire brigade members secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A general view of the scene shows rescue service personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene shows rescue service personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

 

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New Snowden Documents Reveal Secret Memos Expanding Spying

by Julia Angwin & Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Charlie Savage, the New York Times, and Henrik Moltke, special to ProPublica
June, 2015

Without public notice or debate, the Obama administration expanded the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international Internet traffic to search for evidence of malicious computer hacking, according to classified NSA documents.

In mid-2012, Justice Department lawyers wrote two secret memos permitting the spy agency to begin hunting on Internet cables, without a warrant and on American soil, for data linked to computer intrusions originating abroad — including traffic that flows to suspicious Internet addresses or contains malware, the documents show.

The Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and “cybersignatures” — patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the NSA sought permission to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers.

The disclosures, based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor, and shared with the New York Times and ProPublica, come at a time of unprecedented cyberattacks on American financial institutions, businesses and government agencies, but also of greater scrutiny of secret legal justifications for broader government surveillance.

While the Senate passed legislation this week limiting some of the NSA’s authority, it involved provisions in the U.S.A. Patriot Act and did not apply to the warrantless wiretapping program.

Government officials defended the NSA’s monitoring of suspected hackers as necessary to shield Americans from the increasingly aggressive activities of foreign governments. But critics say it raises difficult trade-offs that should be subject to public debate.

The NSA’s activities run “smack into law enforcement land,” said Jonathan Mayer, a cybersecurity scholar at Stanford Law School who has researched privacy issues and who reviewed several of the documents. “That’s a major policy decision about how to structure cybersecurity in the U.S. and not a conversation that has been had in public.”

It is not clear what standards the agency is using to select targets. It can be hard to know for sure who is behind a particular intrusion — a foreign government or a criminal gang — and the NSA is supposed to focus on foreign intelligence, not law enforcement.

The government can also gather significant volumes of Americans’ information — anything from private emails to trade secrets and business dealings — through Internet surveillance because monitoring the data flowing to a hacker involves copying that information as the hacker steals it.

One internal NSA document notes that agency surveillance activities through “hacker signatures pull in a lot.” Brian Hale, the spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said, “It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government gathers intelligence on foreign powers that attempt to penetrate U.S. networks and steal the private information of U.S. citizens and companies.” He added that “targeting overseas individuals engaging in hostile cyberactivities on behalf of a foreign power is a lawful foreign intelligence purpose.”

The effort is the latest known expansion of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, which allows the government to intercept Americans’ cross-border communications if the target is a foreigner abroad. While the NSA has long searched for specific email addresses and phone numbers of foreign intelligence targets, the Obama administration three years ago started allowing the agency to search its communications streams for less-identifying Internet protocol addresses or strings of harmful computer code.

The surveillance activity traces to changes that began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The government tore down a so-called wall that prevented intelligence and criminal investigators from sharing information about suspected spies and terrorists. The barrier had been erected to protect Americans’ rights because intelligence investigations use lower legal standards than criminal inquiries, but policy makers decided it was too much of an obstacle to terrorism investigations.

The NSA also started the warrantless wiretapping program, which caused an outcry when it was disclosed in 2005. In 2008, under the FISA Amendments Act, Congress legalized the surveillance program so long as the agency targeted only noncitizens abroad. A year later, the new Obama administration began crafting a new cybersecurity policy — including weighing whether the Internet had made the distinction between a spy and a criminal obsolete.

“Reliance on legal authorities that make theoretical distinctions between armed attacks, terrorism and criminal activity may prove impractical,” the White House National Security Council wrote in a classified annex to a policy report in May 2009, which was included in the NSA’s internal files.

About that time, the documents show, the NSA — whose mission includes protecting military and intelligence networks against intruders — proposed using the warrantless surveillance program for cybersecurity purposes. The agency received “guidance on targeting using the signatures” from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to an internal newsletter.

In May and July 2012, according to an internal timeline, the Justice Department granted its secret approval for the searches of cybersignatures and Internet addresses. The Justice Department tied that authority to a pre-existing approval by the secret surveillance court permitting the government to use the program to monitor foreign governments.

That limit meant the NSA had to have some evidence for believing that the hackers were working for a specific foreign power. That rule, the NSA soon complained, left a “huge collection gap against cyberthreats to the nation” because it is often hard to know exactly who is behind an intrusion, according to an agency newsletter. Different computer intruders can use the same piece of malware, take steps to hide their location or pretend to be someone else.

So the NSA, in 2012, began pressing to go back to the surveillance court and seek permission to use the program explicitly for cybersecurity purposes. That way, it could monitor international communications for any “malicious cyberactivity,” even if it did not yet know who was behind the attack.

The newsletter described the further expansion as one of “highest priorities” of the NSA director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander. However, a former senior intelligence official said that the government never asked the court to grant that authority.

Meanwhile, the FBI in 2011 had obtained a new kind of wiretap order from the secret surveillance court for cybersecurity investigations, permitting it to target Internet data flowing to or from specific Internet addresses linked to certain governments.

To carry out the orders, the FBI negotiated in 2012 to use the NSA’s system for monitoring Internet traffic crossing “chokepoints operated by U.S. providers through which international communications enter and leave the United States,” according to a 2012 NSA document. The NSA would send the intercepted traffic to the bureau’s “cyberdata repository” in Quantico, Virginia.

The disclosure that the NSA and the FBI have expanded their cybersurveillance adds a dimension to a recurring debate over the post-Sept. 11 expansion of government spying powers: Information about Americans sometimes gets swept up incidentally when foreigners are targeted, and prosecutors can use that information in criminal cases.

Citing the potential for a copy of data “exfiltrated” by a hacker to contain “so much” information about Americans, one NSA lawyer suggested keeping the stolen data out of the agency’s regular repository for information collected by surveillance so that analysts working on unrelated issues could not query it, a 2010 training document showed. But it is not clear whether the agency or the FBI has imposed any additional limits on the data of hacking victims.

In a response to questions for this article, the FBI pointed to its existing procedures for protecting victims’ data acquired during investigations, but also said it continually reviewed its policies “to adapt to these changing threats while protecting civil liberties and the interests of victims of cybercrimes.”

None of these actions or proposals had been disclosed to the public. As recently as February, when President Obama spoke about cybersecurity at an event at Stanford University, he lauded the importance of transparency but did not mention this change.

“The technology so often outstrips whatever rules and structures and standards have been put in place, which means that government has to be constantly self-critical and we have to be able to have an open debate about it,” Obama said.

 Creative Commons

Laura Poitras contributed reporting. This story was co-published with the New York Times. For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on the NSA’s efforts to break encryption, our NSA Programs Chart and the agency’s spying operations on cell phone apps.ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

 

Related reading on F&O:

Digital Domesday: surveillance and serfdom, by Graham Murdock

45 years later, Ottawa fumbles national security, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

Supporting BDS not “anti-Semitic”, by Tom Regan

Freedom of the press ain’t so free anymore, by Tom Regan

Suit by Wikimedia and partners targets American mass surveillance, by Deborah Jones

Mumbai Attacks: Piles of Spy Data, a Puzzle Unsolved, by Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica, and James Glanz and David E. Sanger, New York Times

How to Stop Being Tracked Online, by Hanging Chen, ProPublica

Privacy Tools: Encrypt What You Can, by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES, a blog announcing new works, and the odd small tale. Look for evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. If you value journalism, please help sustain us.

 

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The end is NOT nigh

prison-370112_1920 copy

The “security psychosis” created by politicians and the media is one of the most serious threats to freedom and liberty that we now face in North America (and in almost all democratic countries globally), writes Tom Regan.

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
April, 2015   

It’s enough to give a person permanent hypertension. 

Russian president Vladimir Putin likes to flex his military muscles more than a steroid pumped-up body builder. China wants to challenge the United States for dominance in Asia. North Korea’s top leadership is, well, crazy. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are messing up the Middle East and threatening citizens around the world. And what ISIS and Al-Qaeda aren’t doing to destabilize the region, Iran is. It looks like the world is more dangerous that it has ever been for Uncle Sam. 

Except that … it’s not. Now, politicians with their own agendas and media outlets with theirs, will try to convince you otherwise. But reality and the facts just don’t support that conclusion.

Stephen Kinzer, a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, pointed this out in a recent opinion piece in the Boston Globe. As he wrote,1 the US is safer than any superpower in modern history: 



“Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security. Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals. It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so. Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States. Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security. As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a draconian bill, C-51, skillfully exploiting "security psychosis" to help win the next election. Above, last fall heavily armed police were called in to accompany Canadian Remembrance Day marchers. © Deborah Jones, 2014

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a draconian bill, C-51, skillfully exploiting “security psychosis” to help him win next fall’s election. Above, heavily armed police were called in to accompany marchers last fall in Canadian Remembrance Day, previously a tame affair. © Deborah Jones, 2014

The danger of imagining a bogeyman under every rock (or in every incident, regardless of how minor) is that you create a “security psychosis,” according to Kinzer, in which you imagine every single danger is a potential life-threatening catastrophe for you and your loved ones.

Kinzer goes on to argue that this is actually a good time for the US to negotiate agreements with rivals, both real and imagined, in order to promote and maintain the safety that actually exist in reality. 

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk more about his idea of the “security psychosis.” The “security psychosis” created by politicians and the media is one of the most serious threats to freedom and liberty that we now face in North America (and in almost all democratic countries globally).

Politicians in both the United States and Canada (and we will deal more with Canada in a second) have used the “security psychosis” to convince citizens that if they don’t surrender many of the basic liberties and freedoms that have been won over many years of struggle, their lives will be in constant danger. Politicians do this for an obvious reason – power and control. The media do it because it increases revenues. After all, if cable-TV networks are telling people that, basically aside from a few bumps in the road things are pretty good, no one is going to watch.

Which brings us to Canada and Bill C-51.2 If you are more likely to be killed by a lightning strike on your birthday than die in a terrorist attack in the United States, then in Canada you are probably more likely to be killed by an angry beaver during Canada Day celebrations than die at the hands of some misguided jihadist or Neo-Nazi white supremacist.

Following two recent separate incidents where individuals who claimed jihadist ideals attacked a soldier with a car, and Parliament Hill with an old rifle, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper elevated the attacks to 9/11 status, and introduced legislation that can only be termed draconian when it comes to its impositions on Canadians’ freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and even freedom of ideas.

Harper is skillfully exploiting this “security psychosis” to not only convince Canadians that he’s just trying to protect them from some unseen, unknown, and really quite unrealistic, global threat, but to also use it as a cudgel to beat or smear those who would speak out against his somewhat dubious claims. 

In reality, Harper is trying to use the “security psychosis” to get him and his unpopular party reelected in a general election next October, at a time when their handling of almost all other issues seems questionable and unpopular. Canadians should not have to willy-nilly hand over essential democratic rights and freedoms so an unpopular politician can gain a few more years in office. 

It would be nonsense to say that we live in a world that is free from all possible terrors and conflicts, or that we can’t afford to pay attention to what is happening globally. But we also cannot afford to make those threats greater than they actually are at the cost of things that many Americans and Canadians fought and died for – both at home and overseas – in years past. We need to look at the world realistically and make decisions that protect not only our security but our democratic ideals as well.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

References and further reading:

The world of threats to the US is an illusion, by Stephen Kinzer, the Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/04/11/have-seen-enemies-and-they-weak/Cho9J5Bf9jxIkHKIZvnVTJ/story.html

Bill C-51, Parliament of Canada: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6932136&Col=1&File=4





Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

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Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease

By Matthew Harwood, American Civil Liberties Union
February 2015

The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening America’s national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist.

“The lone wolf is the new nightmare,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently, and the conservative pundit wasn’t alone in thinking so. “I really see [lone wolves] as being a bigger threat than al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State, or the al-Qaeda franchises,” Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at the global intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor, told VICE News. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, appearing on “Meet the Press,” Attorney General Eric Holder said, “The thing that I think keeps me up most at night [is] this concern about the lone wolf who goes undetected.”

You could multiply such statements many times over. There’s only one problem with the rising crescendo of alarm about lone wolves: most of it simply isn’t true. There’s nothing new about the “threat” and the concept is notoriously unreliable, as well as selectively used. (These days, “lone wolf” has largely become a stand-in for “Islamic terrorist,” though the category itself is not bound to any specific ideological type.) Worst of all, its recent highlighting paves the way for the heightening of abusive and counterproductive police and national security practices, including the infiltration of minority and activist communities and elaborate sting operations that ensnare the vulnerable. In addition, the categorization of such solitary individuals as terrorists supposedly driven by ideology – left or right, secular or religious ­– often obscures multiple other factors that may actually cause them to engage in violence.

Like all violent crime, individual terrorism represents a genuine risk, just an exceedingly rare and minimal one. It’s not the sort of thing that the government should be able to build whole new, intrusive surveillance programs on or use as an excuse for sending in agents to infiltrate communities. National programs now being set up to combat lone-wolf terrorism have a way of wildly exaggerating its prevalence and dangers – and in the end are only likely to exacerbate the problem. For Americans to concede more of their civil liberties in return for “security” against lone wolves wouldn’t be a trade; it would be fraud.

Anatomy of the Wolf

The “literature” on both terrorism and the lone wolf should be approached with a healthy degree of skepticism. To this day, there is little consensus on what exactly terrorism is; the same is true of the lone-wolf variety.

Unlike the United States, Canada, or other countries that have eroded civil rights to crack down on  "terrorism," Norway's response to a "Lone Wolf" extremist, who slaughtered 77 people,  was to remain calm. Norwegians refused to fortify their world with counterterror security structure. Above, Norway's symbolic "wound" cut into Utøya island to memorialize where most of the victims died. (See Norway's Void on F&O) Copyright Jonas Dahlberg Studio 2014, courtesy of KORO / Public Art Norway.

Unlike the United States, Canada, or other countries that have weakened civil liberties to crack down on “terrorism,” Norway remained calm following the slaughter of 77, many of them children, by a “Lone Wolf” extremist. Norwegians refused to fortify their world with counterterror security structure. Above, Norway’s symbolic “wound” cut into Utøya island to memorialize the place most of the victims died. (Read Norway’s Void on F&O) Copyright Jonas Dahlberg Studio 2014, courtesy of KORO / Public Art Norway.

In the media and in recent academic studies, what separates the lone-wolf terrorist from the phenomenon in general is the perpetrator. Lone wolves are, by definition, solitary individuals, almost always men, often with mental health problems, who lash out violently against civilian targets. At least in some fashion, they are spurred on by belief. Researcher Michael Becker defines it this way: “Ideologically driven violence, or attempted violence, perpetrated by an individual who plans and executes an attack in the absence of collaboration with other individuals or groups.” Although you wouldn’t know it at the moment in America, the motivation for such attacks can run the gamut from religiously inspired anti-abortion beliefs to white supremacism, from animal rights to an al-Qaeda-inspired worldview.

According to the literature, lone wolves are unique in the annals of terrorism because of the solitariness with which they plan and carry out their acts. They lack peer or group pressure and their crimes are conceived and executed without assistance. In this way, they bear a strong resemblance to the individual school shooters and rampage killers that Americans are already so used to.

One practical reason many such individuals act alone, according to researchers, is fear of detection. In “Laws for the Lone Wolf,” white supremacist Tom Metzger wrote: “The less any outsider knows, the safer and more successful you will be. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Never truly admit to anything.” (Before 9/11, lone-wolf terrorism in America was overwhelmingly a right-wing affair.)

This isn’t to say that individuals who commit political violence don’t talk to anyone before they attack. Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, who were either convicted of such a crime or died during it, finds that they often expressed their extremist beliefs, grievances, and sometimes their violent intentions to others — mostly friends and family or online communities. The good news should be that family, friends, and colleagues might be able to help prevent those close to them from engaging in political violence if, as a society, we were to adopt strategies that built trust of law enforcement in the public, particularly affected communities, rather than fear and suspicion. (But given the record these last years, don’t hold your breath.)

On the other hand, the methods that the police and national security state seem to be exploring to deal with the issue – like trying to determine what kinds of individuals will join terrorist groups or profiling lone wolves – won’t work. The reasons individuals join terrorist groups are notoriously complex, and the same holds true for politically violent people who act alone. After reviewing those 119 lone-wolf cases, for example, the researchers concluded, “There was no uniform profile of lone-actor terrorists.” Even if a “profile” were to emerge, they added, it would be essentially worthless: “[T]he use of such a profile would be unwarranted because many more people who do not engage in lone-actor terrorism would share these characteristics, while others might not but would still engage in lone-actor terrorism.”

As a group, such solitary terrorists differ from society at large in one crucial way: almost one out of three had been diagnosed with a mental illness or personality disorder before engaging in political violence. Another study concentrating on 98 U.S. perpetrators found that approximately 40 percent had recognizable mental health problems. The comparable figure for the general population: 18.6 percent.*

Given such high rates of psychological disturbance, there’s a chance individual attacks could be prevented if at-risk people got the mental health care they needed before they took a violent turn. 

Fact vs. Fiction

Fortunately, what makes lone wolves so difficult to detect beforehand renders them more impotent when they strike. 

Because such individuals don’t have a larger network of financing and training, and may be disturbed as well, they are likely to have a far less sophisticated skill set when it comes to arming themselves or planning attacks. Terrorism researcher Ramon Spaaij of Australia’s Victoria University created a database of 88 identified lone wolves who perpetrated attacks between 1968 and 2010 in 15 countries. What he found should dispel some of the fear now being associated with lone-wolf terrorism and so the increasingly elaborate and overzealous government planning around it.

Spaaij identified 198 total attacks by those 88 solo actors – just 1.8 percent of the 11,235 recorded terrorist incidents worldwide. Since lone wolves generally don’t have the know-how to construct bombs (as the Unabomber did), they usually rely on firearms and attack soft, populated targets, which law enforcement responds to quickly. Therefore, Spaaij found that the average lethality rate was .062 deaths per attack while group-based terrorists averaged 1.6 people per attack.

Inside the United States, 136 people died due to individual terrorist attacks between 1940 and 2012 – each death undoubtedly a tragedy, but still a microscopic total compared to the 14,000 murders the FBI has reported in each of the last five years. In other words, you shouldn’t be losing sleep over lone-wolf attacks. As an American, the chance that you’ll die in any kind of terrorist violence is infinitesimal to begin with. In fact, you’re four more times likely to die from being struck by lightning. If anything, the present elevation of the lone-wolf terrorist to existential threat status in Washington creates the kind of fear and government overreach that the perpetrators of such attacks want to provoke.

If individual terrorists are the “new nightmare,” it’s only because we allow them to be.

Lone Wolf ≠ Muslim

During the December hostage crisis at a café in Sydney, Australia, orchestrated by Man Haron Monis, an Iranian immigrant, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell had this dire prediction: “[W]e’re going to see this kind of attack here,” he told “CBS This Morning.” “It shouldn’t surprise people when this happens here sometime over the next year or so, guaranteed.”

This was typical of the recent rhetorical escalation by officials and former officials in the national security state when it comes to this kind of terror. But Morell’s prediction was no prediction at all. Such attacks do occur here. One had, for instance, been solved a little more than a month earlier. Eric Matthew Frein was apprehended the day before Halloween through an intensive search in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania after shooting two state troopers outside a police barracks with a sniper rifle in September. Officer Corporal Bryon K. Dickson II died, while Trooper Alex T. Douglass was wounded. Frein, whom authorities initially called an “anti-government survivalist,” was eventually charged with two terrorism counts after he told police that the shootings were a way to “wake people up.” They also found a letter he had written to his parents stating that he wanted to “ignite a fire” because only “another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had.”

Individual violence like this, whether labeled as terrorism or not, is nothing new. It’s been dealt with for decades without the kind of panic, fear-mongering, and measures being instituted today. After all, according to Spaaij, between 1968 and 2010, 45 percent of all individual terrorist attacks recorded in 15 countries occurred in the United States.

However, as Spaaij and his research partner Mark Hamm discovered, these figures are distinctly bloated. The reason is simple: included in them are numerous examples of “individual” terrorist acts inspired by al-Qaeda-style ideology that actually resulted from law enforcement-instigated or -aided plots. Spaaij and Hamm found that at least 15 of these had occurred between 2001 and 2013. In them, a “lone” perpetrator would actually be involved with, and often directed or encouraged by, a government informant or undercover agent. This adds up to about 25 percent of post-9/11 cases of lone wolfism in the U.S., though the label is hardly accurate under the circumstances. These are essentially government stings, which not only inflate the number of individual terrorism incidents in the U.S., but disproportionately focus law enforcement attention on American Muslim communities.

An egregious example was the case of Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old Massachusetts man and American Muslim. The FBI busted him in 2011 for conspiring with undercover agents to build crude explosive-laden drones out of remote-controlled planes to fly into the Pentagon and the Capitol Building. In reality, this was a government-concocted plot, and Ferdaus was no lone wolf. (He was incapable of thinking this up or carrying it off on his own.) The FBI ignored clear signs that their target wasn’t a terrorist, but a mentally ill man, deteriorating rapidly. Nevertheless, he was repeatedly termed a lone wolf by law enforcement and the media. Charged with providing material support to terrorists, in 2012, he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

By contrast, when the apparent lone wolf isn’t a Muslim or other minority, he rarely finds the fear-inducing terrorist label pinned on him by the government, the media, or security experts. Take James von Brunn, a white supremacist who murdered a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the act had no connection to terrorism, although it was ideologically motivated, as one FBI official acknowledged.

Or Francis Grady, who tried to burn down a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, in 2012, because, as he told a U.S. district court judge, “They’re killing babies there.” Grady was not charged with a terrorism offence either. When asked why, Assistant United States Attorney William Roach said that Grady had tried to burn down an unoccupied room in an empty building.

Compare those reactions to the case of Zale Thompson, a disturbed African-American man who attacked four New York City police officers in October with a hatchet. Only a day after the attack, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, “I’m very comfortable this was a terrorist attack, certainly.” The apparent evidence: Thompson was a recent convert to Islam who had visited websites affiliated with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, “Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and manipulated word in the American political lexicon.” The same can be said of its lone-wolf version. Not surprisingly, it has by now become essentially synonymous with being Muslim and little else, which stigmatizes American Muslims and makes their communities targets for abusive law enforcement techniques, including FBI-style sting operations and massive, intrusive surveillance. Typically, one terrorism researcher defined lone wolves as “individuals pursuing Islamist terrorist goals alone.” In reality, Muslims have no more of a monopoly on lone-wolf terrorism than they do on terrorism more generally.

Counterproductive Responses

At the moment, the response to the lone-wolf hullabaloo, like so much else in recent years, is inching us further down the path toward an American police state. One government response, now being re-emphasized, comes (of course!) with its own acronym: countering violent extremism, or CVE. 

The program, announced in 2011, aims to partner with communities – almost exclusively Muslim ones in practice ­– in the name of terrorism prevention. One of the ways communities are to do this is by creating safe spaces where individuals can discuss politics and religion without fear of lurking government agents. Yet members of these same communities will then be encouraged to report back to authorities about what was said and by whom in an effort to identify those at-risk of becoming violent extremists, whether alone or in concert with others. American Muslim communities have already experienced government stings and infiltration by informants, and tasking community members to report back to authorities doesn’t seem much different than directly putting agents in their midst. 

If CVE’s goal is to build the capacity within communities to prevent violence and terrorism, lone or otherwise, then agencies like Health and Human Services and the Department of Education should be leading the way. They could provide social and mental health services and educational resources – to all communities instead of singling particular ones out based on religion, race, or ethnicity. Instead, not surprisingly, the White House has put the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI in charge of executing its CVE programs, while emphasizing the coordinating role of local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. American Muslim communities are rightly leery of this arrangement, particularly in light of the way these outfits have recently focused on religious beliefs as a basis for suspicion and, at least in the FBI’s case, have manufactured terror plots by preying on the sick and the vulnerable.

Other proposed solutions to the “lone-wolf” problem are even more indiscriminate.

In a recent book, former RAND Corporation analyst Jeffrey Simon offers an inventory of possible technological strategies for identifying the wolf in sheep’s clothing before he attacks. These are typical of our moment and include the widespread use of Internet-enabled smart surveillance cameras, as well as the active, suspicionless monitoring of Internet and social media usage. Another increasingly popular approach he suggests is the expansion of biometric collection, meaning the government would assemble biological traits unique to each individual, such as facial dimensions and DNA, without any evidence of wrongdoing.

It should be noted that such an approach – and it’s typical of the direction the national security state and law enforcement have taken in these years – would represent a fundamental assault on a free society. Such “countermeasures” should send a shiver down your spine. Simon seems to recognize this, writing, “Privacy issues will have to be addressed, including the willingness of the public to have their facial expressions, eye movements, heart rates, breathing patterns, and other characteristics captured by sophisticated sensors wherever they go in order for a decision to be made by others concerning what they might be intending to do.”

The dangers to Americans in allowing government agencies to collect such intimate information in order to discover whether any of them are possible lone wolves should be obvious in terms of the destruction of privacy, among other things. The result would be both an Orwellian world and a hopeless one in safety terms. It’s already clear that none of these expensive and advanced technological “solutions” will work. Totally innocent conduct (“false positives”) will overwhelm the truly menacing. Some of these approaches, like surveillance cameras, may help finger a perpetrator after the crime, while others, such as trying to identify who will engage in terrorism by his body language, will only further contribute to the security theater the government has staged since 9/11. 

Nevertheless, the ineffectiveness of an intrusive security state won’t stop its adherents from pushing for more power and methods of control that are ever more intrusive. “We have to put… aside… all the bleeding-heart, politically correct people who say we can’t be emphasizing one community over the other,” VICE quoted Congressman Peter King as saying in a radio appearance. The threat, he added, is “coming from the Muslim community and it shows that the [New York Police Department] and [former police commissioner] Ray Kelly were right for so many years when they were really saturating areas where they thought the threat was coming from.”

The once-secret NYPD suspicionless surveillance program King is referring to – it stretched from Connecticut to Pennsylvania – never produced a single terrorism lead, much less a conviction. It was “successful” at only one thing: making American Muslim communities in the greater metropolitan area feel as if they were under siege and destroying trusting relations between them and the police.

As King demonstrates, the people who pledge to protect our lives and our liberties are often the same ones who cry wolf. With shepherds like these guarding the flock, wolves may be beside the point.

Copyright  Matthew Harwood 2015

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch. It is re-published here with permission.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor of the ACLU and holds an M.Litt. in International Security Studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

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U.S. conviction of David Hicks, Guantanamo Detainee, not valid

by Raymond Bonner, Special to ProPublica
Jan. 28, 2015

David Hicks speaking in xx. Photo by Adam Thomas via Flickr, Creative Commons

David Hicks speaking in Canberra. Photo by Adam Thomas/Flickr, Creative Commons

SYDNEY — The United States has acknowledged that the conviction of an Australian man held for nearly six years in Guantanamo Bay was not legally valid.

The Australian, David Hicks, was one of the first people sent to Guantanamo, and he has already figured in a key U.S. court decision that expanded the rights of detainees held in the offshore prison. Initially charged with multiple crimes, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, attempted murder, and aiding the enemy, Hicks ultimately pleaded guilty to a single charge of providing “material support” to terrorism.

Hicks recently appealed, arguing that the law used against him was passed after 9/11 and could not be applied retroactively. In its reply, the U.S. argued that the review court should refuse to review the case because Hicks had entered a guilty plea.  But in a crucial concession, the military commission’s chief prosecutor said that if the appeal were allowed, “the Court should not confirm Hicks’s material-support conviction.”  

The Jan. 16 brief by Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins was obtained by ProPublica and has not yet been made public.

“Hicks will finally get justice,” said Michael Mori, a Marine Corps major who was Hicks’ military lawyer. Mori is now out of the military and is no longer involved in the case, but he said he has seen a copy of the prosecutor’s brief, as did two lawyers currently representing Hicks.

Hicks would not have been convicted in the first place “if the case had been tried in federal court, instead of the politically motivated military commissions,” said Mori, author of a book about the case, “In the Company of Cowards: Bush, Howard and Injustice at Guantanamo,” which was published last September.

The latest development is a striking retreat for the American government. The Bush administration initially described Hicks as among the “worst of the worst,” the label used for the men held in Guantanamo. And in 2007, when Hicks was still in Guantanamo, the American ambassador in Australia, Robert D. McCallum Jr., described the Guantanamo detainees as “ruthless fanatics who would kill Australians and Americans without blinking an eye.”

Hicks’ case stands out in any discussion about the use of the military commissions in the war on terror. He was a Westerner, Detainee 002 (001 was another Westerner, John Walker Lindh, from San Francisco. Lindh pleaded guilty in federal court to two-terrorism-related charges in 2002 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison) and he was on the first plane bringing prisoners to Guantanamo.

Later, Hicks was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo detainees had the right to file habeas petitions in civilian courts to challenge their detention.  And he was the first person convicted and sentenced by the military commission.

Many legal analysts have questioned whether the military process begun by the Bush administration can ever arrive at the truth.  How can a judge assess a statement extracted by torture? How reliable are the allegations in the government’s indictments when prosecutors overcharged, as they did in Hicks’ case? If the Bush administration had allowed suspects to be tried in federal courts, the government’s charges and the suspects’ claims of innocence could have been put to rigorous test.

In the case of David Hicks, opinions remain divided over whether he was a lost soul in search of adventure and meaning in his life or a committed Taliban supporter, who, with his Caucasian skin and Australian passport, was being groomed by al-Qaida to carry out terrorist attacks in the West.

A heavy drinker and drug user, Hicks was expelled from school at 14. He was only 5-feet-5-inches tall, but he played Australian Rules football, which is physically more demanding than rugby, and became a kangaroo skinner in Australia’s Outback; he then went to Japan to train horses. Tired of that, he ventured to the Balkans where he joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, which at the time was fighting with NATO support against Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s leader.  When that war ended, he returned to Australia, and after trying unsuccessfully to join the Australian army, he went to Pakistan, hoping to ride the Silk Trail on horseback, he told his parents.

There, he found Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-supported organization battling India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba eventually ended up on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and executed the 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans. But at the time, the group was officially viewed as a collection of regional insurgents.

Lashkar sent Hicks to Afghanistan for training. American and Australian officials have said that he attended at least four al-Qaida camps. In the most exhaustive journalistic examination of the Hicks case, “Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks,” Australian journalist Leigh Sales wrote that Hicks “did a seven week training course, including marksmanship, small team tactics, ambush, camouflage and intelligence gathering,” and that he claimed to have met bin Laden twenty times, which was probably a boast, which he later regretted. A military prosecutor described Hicks, to Sales, as a “ne’er-do-well,” “big talker,” and a “kooky maverick,” without the courage or intellect to carry out a major operation.

In his own memoir, “Guantanamo: My Journey,” Mr. Hicks glosses over his time in Afghanistan. Sally Neighbour, an Australian journalist who has written extensively on Islam and terrorism post 9/11, asserted in her review of the book that Hicks had been less than forthcoming. She noted that he devoted only one page in the 456-page book to his al-Qaida training.

“None of this is to suggest that David Hicks deserved the ‘six years of hell’ he describes,” Neighbour wrote. “He did not, which is why so many Australians campaigned for his release. At the least, Hicks owed them a frank, open and truthful account of his whole story, rather than this distorted air-brushed version of the truth.”

Hicks’ ordeal began when he was captured in late 2001 by the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban group.  The Afghans turned Hicks over to the American military for a ransom of $5,000, according to his father. After being interrogated aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu, he was flown to Guantanamo, where he cooperated with interrogators.

The Australian government was content to let him stay there because whatever he was doing in Afghanistan, he had not violated any Australian laws, so he would have to be released if he were sent home.

When Hicks was first captured, Australian tabloids labeled him “Australia’s own Taliban.” But public opinion turned here, and support for David Hicks became the symbol, for conservatives and liberals, to express their opposition to the manner in which America was conducting the war on terror 2014 Guantanamo, secret prisons, torture and the lack of due process under the military commissions.

Prime Minister John Howard, the leader of the country’s center-right Liberal Party, and who coincidentally had been feted at a gala party at the Australian embassy in Washington two days before 9/11, was facing a tough re-election and appealed to President Bush and Vice President Cheney to bring Hicks to trial. The charges against Hicks were then reduced to the one count of material support for terrorism, and he pleaded guilty.

He was returned to Australia, served seven months in jail and then was released after a total of nearly six years behind bars. He has since married, lives in Sydney and works at odd jobs. He is currently on a job outside Sydney, beyond reliable cellphone service and thus not available for an interview, his Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny, said in a telephone interview from his office in Adelaide. “We’re very please to see that they agree he is innocent, and the conviction cannot stand,” Mr. Kenny said.

In November 2013, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York, and Joseph Margulies, a law professor who has represented several Guantanamo detainees in landmark cases, filed an appeal in Hicks’ case. They argued that Hicks’ guilty plea and conviction were not legally valid because material support for terrorism was not a crime under American law at the time Hicks was in Afghanistan, nor was it a war crime under international law.

Last July, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the material support conviction of another Guantanamo detainee, Ali al-Bahlul. In light of that decision, United States v Bahlul, in November, the military review court hearing Hicks’ appeal asked the government and Hicks’ lawyers to specifically address the question of whether Hicks’ conviction should be affirmed.

In the seven-page brief responding to that question, the commission’s chief prosecutor argues first that the court should not hear Hicks’ appeal because he had pleaded guilty. Hicks’ lawyers argue the plea was coerced by the torture and brutal conditions under which Hicks was held at Guantanamo. They said his plea was irrelevant in any event because courts cannot accept a guilty plea to conduct that was not a crime at the time it occurred.

In his brief, the chief prosecutor acknowledges that if the court believes it has jurisdiction, it “should decline to affirm Hicks’s material-support conviction” in light of the appeals court ruling on Bahlul.

Hicks, 39, has maintained a low profile since his release. But at a human rights ceremony in Sydney last month, he heckled the country’s attorney general, George Brandis.

“Hey, my name is David Hicks,” he shouted as Brandis was speaking, the Guardian-Australia reported. “I was tortured for 5 1/2 years in Guantanamo Bay in the full knowledge of your party! What do you have to say?”

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Related reading:

CIA psychologists failed both scientific rigour and morality, by Laurence Alison, The Conversation

Verbatim: U.S. senators condemn CIA detention, interrorgation activities, by F&O

 ProPublica’s coverage of Guantanamo Bay. (You will leave Facts and Opinions’ site) ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up here for their newsletter.


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Tackling radical Islam requires rethink and nuance

ANDREW MACLEOD, King’s College London 
January, 2015

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Balakot, Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan, October 8, 2005 — People search for 50 missing children in the rubble of a school where 200 teachers and children died in the 2005 earthquake. UN Photo

I learned a number of lessons about Islam in Peshawar, Pakistan. As a senior United Nations official, I arrived in the country within 24 hours of the massive earthquake that struck in October 2005. Pakistan accepted foreign assistance to the degree that many of us were treated as if we were nationals, with few restrictions placed on our movement.

During the relief and reconstruction effort I found myself seconded to the office of the Pakistan Army’s Vice Chief of General Staff (VCGS). I had full range of his office, including plugging my laptop into the local area network of their computer system. Can you imagine any other country giving that degree of access to a foreigner?

In October 2006, a year after the earthquake, the VCGS sent me to the office of the Provincial Relief Commissioner in Peshawar, asking him to report on the contingency planning for the second year after the earthquake.

It was here in Peshawar, site of the recent massacre of 152 people, including 133 schoolchildren, that the Provincial Relief Commissioner gave me a lesson in religious conservatism. He said:

You see, Andrew. God sent the earthquake because the people were bad, so God punished them. If the people have been good this year, this winter will be fine. If the people have been bad, God will punish them again and who am I to get in the way of the will of God?

Hence he planned for no contingency. The people’s fate was in the hands of God.

On return to Islamabad I said to the VCGS:

Sir, it’s like he believes God sent the earthquake.

The VCGS replied:

Andrew, he does. And I want you to think about it this way. You believe that tectonic plates caused the earthquake, because you read that in a book. He believes God sent the earthquake, because he read that in a book. Whose book is right?

This question “whose book is right” sums up the most important lesson. When dealing with people who hold strong religious beliefs, one does not discuss alternative opinions or beliefs, one discusses alternative views of fact.

Belief is negotiable, fact is not.

Pakistan, 22 October 2005 -- An injured woman rests in Mansehra District Hospital, later evacuated, after the earthquake. UN Photo

Pakistan, 22 October 2005 — An injured woman rests in Mansehra District Hospital, later evacuated, after the earthquake. UN Photo

The Provincial Relief Commissioner may have been a conservative cleric, but was not a “radical Muslim”. He had a fundamental belief in God, but he would not strap a suicide vest to a murderer and cause carnage.

The West, in a need to fit everything into Twitter feeds and soundbites, misses a number of nuances. In the West we talk of “moderate” Islam and “radical” Islam, thinking it is that simple. We miss the nuances, including the existence of atheists of Islamic culture, moderate Muslims, conservative Muslims and the small radical Islamic minority who have a huge impact.

While we cry “why isn’t moderate Islam doing something?”, we need to recognise that moderate Islam is fighting a war against the radicals. We need to recognise many more Muslims have died in this fight than Westerners. If we are to defeat the radicals, the West needs to be on the same side as the atheistic, moderate and even conservative in the battle against radical Islam.

If the West recognised that moderate Islam is fighting a war already, wouldn’t it be more sensible to ask: “How does the West support the moderates’ war on radical Islam?”.

Nuance here is important. Wouldn’t the rhetoric be better if it recognised that the West needs to be on the moderates’ side, instead of asking “them”, the moderates, to join “us” the West in “our” crusade for freedom?

So far the West is going backwards. Many more Americans died fighting the war in Afghanistan and Iraq than died on 9/11 – a main reason given for the invasions. For all their blood and treasure spilt and spent, the recently declassified US Senate inquiry found that Islamic fundamentalism is stronger now than on 9/11. Something has gone dreadfully wrong.

One of the reasons for the step backwards is that the West’s actions have provided great motivation and recruiting propaganda for the extremists. One doesn’t need to be a policy specialist to see this.

Remember the V2 bombs that rained down on London in the Second World War? Did these scare the British into submission or did they convince the British to “never surrender”, as Winston Churchill continually said?

What do you think happens in Pakistan when a drone strike hits a wedding, or school? You might kill a terrorist in the crowd, but how many more have you created as they watch a mother, sister or child being killed as “collateral damage”?

While we rightly condemn the French murders and may cry for free speech after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, do we equally reaffirm the responsibility that comes with free expression? Do we get the nuance between the right to free expression and the responsibility in knowing when to shut up?

If we want to unite moderate Muslims in a team against the radicals, are we doing this sensibly when we protest for a set of cartoons that offend, yet don’t protest for the many thousands more that die in their lands?

Doesn’t this lack of empathy push moderate Muslims into the arms of radical Islam – united in offence to their religion, even while the moderates also condemn the murders?

In the nearly 14 years since 9/11 we have seen massive changes in technology. We have seen the creation of Twitter and YouTube. These are incredible tools for global communication. They are great methods to motivate people to a cause – any cause.

So far the radicals have used these tools to great effect in recruiting from angry communities in Islamic countries and from small but significant populations in France, Australia, the UK and US who are disengaged, excluded and in search of a sense of belonging.

Technology has given a route for extremists to reach the excluded people who are sometimes attracted to charismatic, murdering narcissists who turn lonely sad people into murderers. The West makes that job so much easier by bombing schools or celebrating offensive cartoons.

Unless the West has a fundamental rethink and changes the game, the radicals will win. We, the moderates of all religions, must unite and find a new way to defeat terrorism because the current strategy is simply not working.

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Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor, Public Policy, at King's College London

Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor, Public Policy, at King’s College London

His website is here.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

 

 

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Je Suis Charlie

charlie

The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

Scorecard, Wednesday, Jan. 7: Pen – 0. Sword – 12, and counting.

Masked gunmen with AK47s and a rocket launcher killed at least 10 journalists and two police officers early Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that had been under police protection since extremists firebombed it in 2011.

 French leader François Hollande  declared a national day of mourning for Thursday. The hashtag #jesuischarlie flooded social media. World leaders spoke out in solidarity.

Crowds flocked to Place de la République in Paris in the evening, many people holding up pens. The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

World leaders expressed outrage, support for France, and in some cases, also support for press rights. It was a rare outpouring of support for journalists and freedom of expression which, literally and metaphorically, have been under fire on all fronts and in most countries lately.
 
“This is an attack against freedom of expression and freedom of the press – the two pillars of democracy,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who, ironically, was in the midst of a New Year visit to the UN Correspondents Association.
 

From the United States, Barack Obama called  the shooting “horrific” while Secretary of State John Kerry said, in French, “Tous les Américains au côté de la France.” British prime minister David Cameron tweeted, “”We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

 
Reporters Without Borders appealed to all media outlets globally to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons thought to offend the extremists. “Freedom of information cannot shrink in the face of barbarity and yield to blackmail by those who assail (our) democracy and what  (France) stands for. In the name of all those who have fallen in the defence of fundamental values, let us continue Charlie Hebdo’s fight for free information,” said RSF in a statement.
B6vwy0sCMAABMA5.jpg-large

One of the last cartoons drawn by Charb, killed in Wednesday’s slaughter by extremists. “Still no terrorist attacks in France,” it says. “Wait! We have until the end of January to present our wishes,” says the man with an AK47. Photo via Twitter, fair use.

It’s no coincidence that on the same day a dystopian novel by Michel Houellebecq, Submission, was released in France, amid a media fire storm. 

“The book’s publication could not come at a more sensitive time as France is currently undergoing a fierce debate on Islam and national identity,” noted  an analysis on the French site France 24.

Charlie Hebdo was one of many outlets to feature the book.

Submission, said numerous French media outlets, portrayed a France years in the future ruled by Sharia law and a Muslim government. In the world of Submission Muslims would eliminate France’s secular focus on human rights, captured in the official national motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, coined during the French revolution. 

France takes human rights seriously, and has a long tradition of accepting and even celebrating satire. It was in France the famous quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” was coined, attributed to a biographer of French enlightenment writer Voltaire, the pen name of François-Marie Arouet.

One of the journalists killed by the extremists Wednesday was Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier. “A drawing has never killed anyone,” he  told Der Spiegel in 2012.  “Extremists don’t need any excuses. We are only criticizing one particular form of extremist Islam, albeit in a peculiar and satirically exaggerated form. We are not responsible for the excesses that happen elsewhere, just because we practice our right to freedom of expression within the legal limits.”

“I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” Charbonnier told Le Monde in 2012, in a story about the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo by extremists in 2011, after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed. 

As the world learned through the bloody, brutal, irrational, self-defeating and continuing aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the clear and present danger now is the fanatical attack on Charlie Hebdo will boost fanatics of all stripes.
 
Extremism by fanatics, the latest of whom claim allegiance to the self-branded “Islamic State,” has been met by extremist xenophobia and bigotry aimed at Muslims in general. Carnage in the names of religion and “war on terror,” both, continues in world war zones, far from the light of publicity now shining on Charlie Hebdo. And if recent history is a guide, the reaction can easily backfire on all of the rights cited today in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings. Since 9/11, press freedoms of all kinds have been amongst the collateral damage in the “War on Terror.”
 
Warned UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “If this attack is allowed to feed discrimination and prejudice, it will be playing straight into the hands of extremists whose clear aim is to divide religions and societies. With xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments already on the rise in Europe, I am very concerned that this awful, calculated act will be exploited by extremists of all sorts.”
 
Who will keep a cool head after Wednesday’s slaughter by gunmen reportedly screaming, triumphantly, “Allahu Akbar?”
 

 

Further reading:

Freedom of Expression, Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/issues/freedom-expression#.VK2lEt6kb8s

An image gallery of the attacks, Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/portfolio/2015/01/07/en-images-l-attentat-de-charlie-hebdo_4550797_3224.html

Wikipedia page for Charlie Hebdo, including backgrounder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo

Ban outraged by ‘horrendous and cold-blooded’ attack on French magazine: United Nations news release: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49741&Cr=UNESCO&Cr1=#.VK2JBN6kb8s

World leaders condemn attack on France’s Charlie Hebdo, France 24: http://www.france24.com/en/20150107-charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-journalist-terror-/

‘Charlie Hebdo’ Editor in Chief: ‘A Drawing Has Never Killed Anyone,’ by Stefan Simons, Der Spiegel, September, 2012

A “Charlie Hebdo”, on n’a “pas l’impression d’égorger quelqu’un avec un feutre,” Le Monde archive:  http://www.lemonde.fr/actualite-medias/article/2012/09/20/je-n-ai-pas-l-impression-d-egorger-quelqu-un-avec-un-feutre_1762748_3236.html#jsi567twGzKCWauk.99

RWB APPEALS TO MEDIA OUTLETS TO PUBLISH CHARLIE HEBDO CARTOONS, Reporters san Frontiers/Reporters Without Borders:  http://en.rsf.org/france-rwb-appeals-to-media-outlets-to-07-01-2015,47454.html

1101 Journalists Killed since 1992: Committee to Protect Journalists report: http://www.cpj.org/killed/ 

 

 

 

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Evidence lacking in U.S. claim that NSA thwarted attacks

 

by Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer
Published October 23, 2013

Two weeks after Edward Snowden’s first revelations about sweeping government surveillance, United States President Obama shot back. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany,” Obama said during a visit to Berlin in June. “So lives have been saved.”

In the months since, intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks. The figure has become a key talking point in the debate around the spying programs.

“Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe — saving real lives,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on the House floor in July, referring to programs authorized by a pair of post-9/11 laws. “This isn’t a game. This is real.”

But there’s no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.

The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.

A chart declassified by the agency in July, for example, says that intelligence from the programs on 54 occasions “has contributed to the [U.S. government’s] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad” — a much different claim than asserting that the programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 attacks.

NSA officials have mostly repeated versions of this wording.

When NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander spoke at a Las Vegas security conference in July, for instance, he referred to “54 different terrorist-related activities,” 42 of which were plots and 12 of which were cases in which individuals provided “material support” to terrorism.

But the NSA has not always been so careful.

During Alexander’s speech in Las Vegas, a slide in an accompanying slideshow read simply “54 ATTACKS THWARTED.”

And in a recent letter to NSA employees, Alexander and John Inglis, the NSA’s deputy director, wrote that the agency has “contributed to keeping the U.S. and its allies safe from 54 terrorist plots.” (The letter was obtained by reporter Kevin Gosztola from a source with ties to the intelligence community. The NSA did not respond when asked to authenticate it.)

Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs’ record, the NSA declined to comment.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Alexander on the issue at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?” Leahy said at the hearing. “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Alexander replied, without elaborating.

It’s impossible to assess the role NSA surveillance played in the 54 cases because, while the agency has provided a full list to Congress, it remains classified.

Officials have openly discussed only a few of the cases (see below), and the agency has identified only one — involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab — in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

The surveillance programs at issue fall into two categories: The collection of metadata on all American phone calls under the Patriot Act, and the snooping of electronic communications targeted at foreigners under a 2007 surveillance law. Alexander has said that surveillance authorized by the latter law provided “the initial tip” in roughly half of the 54 cases. The NSA has not released examples of such cases.

After reading the full classified list, Leahy concluded the NSA’s surveillance has some value but still questioned the agency’s figures.

“The American people are getting left with the inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs.”

“We’ve heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted” by the two programs, Leahy told Alexander at the Judiciary Committee hearing this month. “That’s plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress, we get it in statements. These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all thwarted. The American people are getting left with the inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs.”

The origins of the “54” figure go back to a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, less than two weeks after the Guardian’s publication of the first story based on documents leaked by Snowden.

At that hearing, Alexander said, “The information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world.” He didn’t specify what “events” meant. Pressed by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Alexander said the NSA would send a more detailed breakdown to the committee.

Speaking in Baltimore the next week, Alexander gave an exact figure: 54 cases “in which these programs contributed to our understanding, and in many cases, helped enable the disruption of terrorist plots in the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world.”

But members of Congress have repeatedly ignored the distinctions and hedges.

The websites of the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee include pages titled, “54 Attacks in 20 Countries Thwarted By NSA Collection.”

And individual congressmen have frequently cited the figure in debates around NSA surveillance.

  • Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who is also on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement in July referring to “54 terrorist plots that have been foiled by the NSA programs.” Asked about the figure, Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told ProPublica that “he was citing declassified information directly from the National Security Agency.”
  • Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, issued a statement in July saying “the programs in question have thwarted 54 specific plots, many targeting Americans on American soil.”
  • Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., issued his own statement the next day: “The Amash amendment would have eliminated Section 215 of the Patriot Act which we know has thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US (and counting).” (The amendment, which aimed to bar collection of Americans’ phone records, was narrowly defeated in the House.)
  • Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in July.”You just heard what he said, senator,” Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. “Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what’s wrong with it, then, if it’s managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record.” Asked about Rogers’ remarks, House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen said in a statement: “In 54 specific cases provided by the NSA, the programs stopped actual plots or put terrorists in jail before they could effectuate further terrorist plotting.  These programs save lives by disrupting attacks. Sometimes the information is found early in the planning, and sometimes very late in the planning. But in all those cases these people intended to kill innocent men and women through the use of terror.”
  • Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., went even further in a town hall meeting in August. Responding to a question about the NSA vacuuming up Americans’ phone records, he said the program had “been used 54 times to be able to interrupt 54 different terrorist plots here in the United States that had originated from overseas in the past eight years. That’s documented.”
  • The same day, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who sits on the Intelligence Committee, defended the NSA at a town hall meeting with constituents in Cranston, R.I. “I know that these programs have been directly effective in thwarting and derailing 54 terrorist attacks,” he said. Asked about Langevin’s comments, spokeswoman Meg Fraser said in an email, “The committee was given information from NSA on August 1 that clearly indicated they considered the programs in question to have been used to help disrupt 54 terrorist events. That is the information the Congressman relied on when characterizing the programs at his town hall.”

Wenstrup, Heck and Lankford did not respond to requests for comment.

The claims have also appeared in the media. ABC News, CNN and the New York Times have all repeated versions of the claim that more than 50 plots have been thwarted by the programs.

The NSA has publicly identified four of the 54 cases. They are:

  • The case of Basaaly Moalin, the San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support Al Shabab, the terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the attack on a Kenyan mall last month. The NSA has said its collection of American phone records allowed it to determine that a U.S. phone was in contact with a Shabab figure, which in turn led them to Moalin. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has argued that the NSA could have gotten a court order to get the phone records in question and that the case does not justify the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
  • The case of Najibullah Zazi, who in 2009 plotted to bomb the New York subway system. The NSA has said that an email it intercepted to an account of a known Al Qaeda figure in Pakistan allowed authorities to identify and ultimately capture Zazi. But an Associated Press examination of the case concluded that, again, the NSA’s account of the case did not show the need for the new warrantless powers at issue in the current debate. “Even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to — and did, regularly — monitor email accounts linked to terrorists,” the AP reported.
  • A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.
  • A case involving a purported plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. This convoluted episode involves three Americans, including Khalid Ouazzani of Kansas City, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 2010 to bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda. An FBI official said in June that NSA surveillance helped in the case “to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.” But no one has been charged with crimes related to that or any other planned attack. (Ouazzani was sentenced to 14 years last month.) The Kansas City Star reported that one of the men in the case had “pulled together a short report with the kind of public information easily available from Google Earth, tourist maps and brochures” and that his contact in Yemen “tore up the report, ‘threw it in the street’ and never showed it to anyone.” Court records also suggest that the men in Yemen that Ouazzani sent over $20,000 to may have been scamming him and spent some of the money on personal expenses.

Published under Creative Commons licence

Further reading:
ProPublica series on surveillance

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