Archive for the ‘Bahrain’ Category

Empire Files: Saudi Arabia’s History of Thuggery

January 17, 2016

Yesterday I put up a number of posts criticising and attacking Saudi Arabia and its brutal use of the death penalty, following the complaint of the Saudi Foreign Minister, al-Jubair, that the kingdom had an image problem because of it, and moaning that people should respect their use of the death penalty ‘Because it’s the law’. This is another, very informative, and grimly fascinating video discussing Saudi Arabia’s long history of repression, violence and brutality from its very foundation. The video’s from Empire Files, which is another news agency specialising in criticising and documenting the corruption and political oppression committed by the American Empire.

Presented by Abby Martin, the video begins with shots of the western great and good meeting and praising various Saudi royals, mentioning the country’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It then goes on to discuss the Saudi use of public executions. Among the crimes liable to the death penalty are atheism and adultery. 43% of all executions are for non-violent drug offences. It also discusses the execution of Ali al-Nimr, a democracy protester, by crucifixion and beheading. These cases are judged in secret courts, and other punishments include amputation and whipping.

The programme also goes on to examine the almost complete absence of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Despite having been given the right to vote, women in Saudi Arabia require the permission of male relatives or guardians to go to school, work or even receive medical treatment. They may also be punished for their own sexual assault. The video cites a rape case, where the victim received more lashes than her attackers. Women constitute only 17% of the Saudi work force. 77% of female graduates are unemployed.

The kingdom has also been actively clamping down and suppressing protesters and activists campaigning for democracy. Many of these have been arrested and tried in secret courts. The punishments include execution, or transferral to re-education centres. The attacks on democracy campaigners escalated after 9/11. Before hundreds were being arrested. Now it’s thousands. Furthermore, no civil rights organisations are allowed in the country.

The programme then moves on to describe the history of the kingdom. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by a single dynasty. The current king’s personal wealth is estimated at $18 billion. Despite the obscene wealth of its rulers, 20% of its population live in abject poverty, with a youth unemployment rate of 30%.

Thirty per cent of the country’s population is composed of migrant workers, who are virtually slaves due to the system of kafala, sponsorship, through which they are imported. The programme describes their exploitation, with 15 – 20 hour working days, maltreatment, confiscation of passports on arrival, and adverts for runaway labourers and domestic workers, similar to those for de jure slaves in the American West.

Martin then talks to the Saudi dissident, Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the Gulf Institute. Al-Ahmed states that part of the problem is that the country’s vast wealth is confined to the king, his relatives and cronies. The present king can in no way be described as a great reformer. He imprisoned his four daughters for 14 years, and to this day no-one knows what happened to them. The king is an absolute monarch. The Saudi parliament is only partially elected. It is also partly appointed, and wields no power. As for the judicial system, al-Ahmed describes it as medieval and tribal. It deliberately excludes women, blacks, ordinary people and the Shi’a. It is similar to ISIS. And the bond between Saudi Arabia, America and the West is money. Bill Clinton and George Bush have both visited Saudi Arabia, probably secretly looking for Saudi sponsorship for their election campaigns. Al-Ahmed states that this should be investigated by the FBI. It appears to be a case of the Saudis trying to buy off prospective American presidents in the aftermath of 9/11.

The kingdom itself was founded after 20 years of warfare and campaigning by Ibn Saud, who declared himself king in 1925. Ibn Saud was aided in his rise to power by a religious militia. These later revolted, and so Ibn Saud had them massacred. The conquest of what is now Saudi Arabia was complete by 1932. Ibn Saud tried, and failed, to conquer and incorporate what is now Yemen.

The Saudi family struck oil after World War I, and invited the Americans in to exploit it. The Americans were only too pleased, after having been shut out of the rest of the oilfields of the Middle East by the triumphant European colonial powers. The American oil company, Chevron, staked its claim to the Saudi oilfields in 1933. This resulted in the formation of Arab-American Oil – Aramco. Despite the name, Aramco was 100 per cent owned by the Americans. It is the property of four American oil companies, including Chevron and Mobil. These oil companies paid a small proportion of their profits to the Saudi royal family as royalties.

Italian bombing during the Second World War severely disrupted oil supplies. In 1943 President Roosevelt declared that the defence of the Saudi oilfields was a national priority. Two years later, in 1945, Roosevelt signed a treaty with the Saudis giving them American protection in exchange for oil. This was the start of the network of American army and naval based in the country. In 1953 15,000 or so oil workers went on strike, demanding a union. The monarchy responded by assassinating the leaders and promulgating a royal decree banning working class organisations. In 1962 a left-wing revolution broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK responded by supporting the royalist counterrevolution.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West has not gone untroubled, however. There was a rift following the foundation of Israel. In response to Israeli victories during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Saudis launched their oil embargo, sparking the energy crisis of the 1970s. This did not, however, bother Nixon and Kissinger very much. If the worst came to the worst, they planned on bombing the kingdom in order to secure the vital supplies of oil. In the event, they didn’t need to take such drastic action. The Saudis were alarmed by the spread of Communism. So Nixon and Kissinger convinced the Saudis, along with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrein to back their war on Communism and specifically the conflict in Vietnam.

In the 1980s Saudi Arabia was the major backer of the Mujahideen. In 1979 there was a religious uprising in imitation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was suppressed, and the 60 leaders executed. Saudi Shi’a were also attacked for celebrating a Shi’a religious festival. Following the killing of a student, there were mass demonstrations by the Shi’a, women’s organisations, the Communist party and the religious community. In retaliation, the Saudis deployed 20,000 soldiers, strafing the Shi’a communities with helicopter gunships. And Ronald Reagan pledged his support in suppressing any revolution. Saudi Arabia was, of course, the major American base in 1990 for the Gulf War.

The Saudis’ response to the Arab Spring was, predictably, also harsh. The regime issued a ban on all journalism that dared to question or criticise the monarchy, and the internet was subject to even heavier censorship. Saudi troops helped to crush the Arab Spring in neighbouring Bahrein. Despite this, people are still fighting and dying for their right to freedom in the east of Saudi Arabia. There was another uprising in 2013 following the shooting of another young person. Saudi Arabia has also responded to the threat by making massive purchases of arms. It is the biggest customer for American weapons, having bought $5.5 billion of them c. 2012. The kingdom is also a major financier of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This was admitted by Hillary Clinton in documents revealed by Wikileaks. They are estimated to have given $100 billion to terrorists.

They also had strong links to the 9/11 hijackers. 28 pages of the official inquiry into 9/11 remain classified, but the leader of the inquiry has stated that the material points to Saudi Arabia as a major funder. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the Middle East has alarmed them so much, that the Saudis have held secret meetings with Israel. The Saudis have also been active trying to suppress the rebellion in Yemen. So far, half of those killed have been civilians. Saudi arms have levelled the ancient and historic city of Sanaa, and there are cases where civilians and rescue workers have been attacked and killed.

This is a brutal, authoritarian and cruel absolute monarchy, responsible for the savage suppression of human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East. It is scandalous that the West continues to support this murderous regime, although not surprising given the vast profits from and the dependence of the West on Saudi oil, while western arms manufacturers make money from selling to them.

Prof Paul Rogers on ISIS’ Blowback War

December 29, 2015

This month’s (December 2015) issue of Justpeace, the newsletter of the Roman Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, carries an article ‘The Paris Atrocity, and After’, by prof Paul Rogers. Rogers is professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. In his article he analyses the Paris attacks, and their intended consequences. He makes the point that the massacres had three purposes, and were ultimately intended to provoke the West into retaliating so the Islamists could gain further recruits in Syria and Iraq as the true defenders of Muslims. Identifying the three aims of the attack, he writes

The first is to demonstrate that in the wake of the destruction of Russia’s Metrojet over Sinai and the bombing in Beirut on November 12, ISIS has now gone truly international. Thus its modus operandi has reached the level of the loose al-Qaida affiliates in the post-9/11 years: Islamabad, Bali, Madrid, London, Jakarta, Istanbul, Mombasa, Amman, Sinai, Casablanca, Djerba in Tunisia – and many more. This is potentially a very major change since ISIS has so far concentrated primarily on its territorial base, in contrast to the old al-Qaida movement.

The second is to further damage intercommunal relations, not just in Paris but across western Europe and further afield. An accelerating Islamophobia suits ISIS in its quest to attract more recruits from recent diasporas and more established migrant communities, many members of whom now feel thoroughly insecure and greatly worried and even fearful of the hardening of attitudes towards them.

The third is to provoke and incite France and other states to intensify the war against ISIS – in Syria, Iraq, and anywhere else that it, or its affiliates, make progress.

ISIS wants war. It presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the ‘Crusader west’. This message, though pernicious and dangerous, is currently being encouraged by the progressive withdrawal of all Middle Eastern states from active involvement in the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

The air war in Syria was in early 2015 led by the United States with the participation of France, Australia, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan. In recent months, however, the four Arab states have ceased bombing. In addition, Justin Trudeau’s new government in Canada is withdrawing all CF-18 strike-aircraft from Syria and Iraq, and Australia is reported to have paused its operations in Syria since the Russians started separate air attacks (almost all against non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels). That leaves just the US and France. So in Syria at least, ISIS can easily claim that a ‘crusader onslaught’ is taking place.

Furthermore, the sustained air assault of the last 15 months, with close to 10,000 targets hit, has not pushed ISIS into retreat. In the first 11 months of the air war, to July 2015, the US-led coalition killed 15,000 ISIS supporters. By October, that had risen to 20,000, yet a Pentagon source said that the total number of ISIS fighters was unchanged at 20,000-30,000. (USA Today, 12 October 2015).

In an extraordinary admission, US intelligence sources say there has been a surge in recruits to ISIS in spite of the air war and the losses. In September 2014, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined from 80 countries; a year later the figure had risen to 30,000 from 100 countries.

In blunt terms, ISIS is actually being strengthened by the air war, and it can be assumed that it wants more. The movement vigorously and insistently peddles the message of ‘Islam under attack’; and though it is disliked and hated by the great majority of Muslims worldwide, the message strikes enough of a chord with a small minority to serve ISIS’s aim of creating this purist if brutal caliphate.

Prof Rogers writes a weekly article on security at the Open Democracy website. The full article originally appeared there on 14 November. The website’s address is http://www.opendemocracy.net.

Republicans Demand Obama Lead Saudi War in Yemen

April 4, 2015

Earlier this morning I put up a video by the American internet news programme, The Young Turks, commenting on the airstrikes last week by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis are Shi’a and have revolted against the persecution and marginalisation inflicted on them by the state’s Sunni authorities. Saudi Arabia is an extremely strict Sunni state, and so has led a coalition of other Sunni Muslim nations to strike against the rebels. The coalition includes the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, with additional support promised by Pakistan and Turkey. The airstrikes raise the terrifying spectre of a war between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims erupting across the Middle East, plunging the region into bloodshed and chaos.

Both the EU and America have decided to keep out of the conflict. The previous video explains why this is a good policy, if America is to carry out successful negotiations with Iran on that country’s nuclear programme. Both countries are also fighting a common enemy in ISIS in Iraq. Iran is a Shi’a nation, and are probably aiding the Houthi rebels. Any attack by America on the Houthis would damage the tentative negotiations with Iran, as well as alienate Shi’a throughout the Middle East. It there’s one thing the West does not need in the region, it’s fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda on one side, and the Shi’a on the other.

This, apparently, is not good enough for the Repugs. John Boehner, the Republican speaker in the Senate, has condemned Obama for doing nothing, and claimed that ‘the world is starving for American leadership’. He has therefore demanded that American join the Saudis in attacking Yemen.

The Young Turks here point out exactly why this is nonsense, because of the above reasons. And also because Obama has also been vigorous in continuing to prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also shows how keen the Republicans are for America to continue fighting the Saudis’ proxy wars for them.

The video’s an object lesson in why the Republicans should not be allowed anywhere near American foreign policy. Their ignorance and sheer belligerence threaten to escalate an already perilous situation into an international conflict, where millions could die, and the rest of the world suffer disastrous consequences through the effect on the oil supply.

There is another reason for not wanting to do what the Saudis tell the West in this instance. Saudi Arabia is a strictly Wahhabi nation, where other religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and so on are not permitted. Nor are other forms of Islam, such as the Shi’a. It is therefore wrong and unfair to require members of these faiths to fight for a country that does not recognise them, and persecutes their believers if they attempt to worship within its borders.

The Young Turks on Saudi Airstrikes and Sunni Coalition Against Yemen

April 4, 2015

A week or so ago I blogged about the horrific implications of the ISIS terrorist attack in Yemen, and the Saudi airstrikes against the Houthi rebel forces. ISIS are horrific, not just because of the mass death and terror they inflict on the territories they occupy, but also because of the massive cultural vandalism they also commit.

In Iraq they have smashed immensely valuable Assyrian antiquities and bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrod in order to cover up their looting and destroy the remains of the country’s pre-Islamic history. They have also destroyed mosques and shrines to St. George and Seth, one of Adam’s sons, who is revered in Islam as the Prophet Sheth. Yemen is also rich in history, as the centre of civilisations going back thousands of years. Its city, Marib, was the capital of the kingdom of Sheba, whose Queen visited King Solomon in both the Bible and the Qu’ran. There is thus a similar possibility that ISIS could attempt to destroy these ancient and vastly important remains as well.

I also blogged on the airstrikes against Yemen by the Saudis, and the terrible threat they also pose for peace in the Middle East. The Houthi are Shi’as, who have been marginalised and persecuted by the Sunni Gulf states. The attack on them by the Saudis could act as the catalyst for a wider war between Shi’ah and Sunni that could tear apart this entire region.

In this video from The Young Turks, they also discuss this possibility and the other political implications of the airstrikes. It hasn’t just been Saudi Arabia that launched the attack. They were also assisted by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, as well as Egypt. Pakistan was also considering sending ground forces if Iran became involved, while Turkey promised to provide logistical support. Iran, meanwhile, has possibly been supplying aid to the Houthis, but this is unclear.

The Turks point out how dangerous this situation is, especially when Turkey and Pakistan are both being drawn into it. Both are ‘tangential’ to the Middle East. Turkey in particular is a relatively modern, secular country, which has tried to position itself as a European as well as Middle Eastern country.

The Turks point out that the Saudis have probably acted because this time they can’t get America to wage war on their behalf, as they have so many times in the past. And aiding them would be very much against America’s interests. America needs to avoid a confrontation with Iran as it is negotiating with them over the country’s nuclear programme. Furthermore, both America and Iran are fighting ISIS in Iraq. The last thing America needs is to take part in attack on Yemen, and so find itself fighting the entire Shi’a population of the Middle East, as well as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The one positive aspect to this is that America has not blindly done what the Saudis want. Several of the posters on the Islamophobic sites, were former members of the American armed forces. They had served in Saudi Arabia, and bitterly resented the arrogance with which the Saudis boasted they had the Americans wrapped around their little fingers and could get them to do their bidding. If America finally shows some independence from the Saudis in Middle Eastern policy, this might make some a little less prejudiced towards Muslims generally through experiences serving Saudi oil aristocrats.

Vintage Curtis: The Power of Nightmares

January 23, 2015

This is an attempt to provide a fuller answer to the question Mike over at Vox Political posed in his post Terrorism, Islam, and the need to keep the Western world in fear. Mike suggested that politicians were exaggerating the scale of the threat from Islamist terrorists, and, for that matter, Russia, in order to keep us down. Ten years ago the Beeb’s Adam Curtis produced the documentary, The Power of Nightmares, arguing that this was precisely the case.

The Power of Nightmares: Politicians and the Use of the External Threat

The Power of Nightmares is a superb documentary. I found it stored at the Internet Archive. Broadcast eleven years ago, it was a series of 3 films titled Baby, It’s Cold Outside, The Phantom Victory and The Shadows in the Cave. The series examined the rise of the Neo-Cons in America, the origins of radical Islamism in the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and the War on Terror. Curtis took the view that the scale of the terrorist threat had been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality in order to serve the Neo-Cons’ right wing agenda. Politicians, according to Curtis, had used external threats to restore their own power and authority. Whereas once they power and prestige through offering the possibility of transforming the world for the better, people had now become disillusioned. In this post-ideological vacuum, politicians became mere managers. Now, by exploiting the fears of terrorism, and of terrible, unimaginable enemies that only they could correctly identify, they hoped to win back their status by presenting themselves as being the only people, who could protect us.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

In the first episode, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Curtis described the origins both of the Neo-Cons, and radical Islamism. The Neo-Cons were the followers of the philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss believed that modern, liberal society had made Americans socially atomised, nihilistic and materialistic. He wished to counter this by stressing religion as a socially cohesive force, which could be used to unite America. His ideas were then taken over by Irving Kristol, a former liberal, who crossed over to the Dark Side following the race riots of the ’60s and ’70s. He believed that Liberalism itself was responsible for the breakdown and moral decline of American society. The Neo-Cons attempted to reverse this process, not only by using religion, but also by stressing the existence of an external threat. This would be used to unite Americans behind traditional, Conservative values, as well as restore American particularism – the view that America had a unique identity and duty to tackle evil in the world.

This external threat was the Soviet Union.

The Neo-Cons and the Demonisation of the USSR

Here, their ideas of the military power of the USSR was entirely illusory. The Neo-Cons were originally entirely cynical in their use of religion and the existence of an external threat. These were, to them, nothing more than Plato’s ‘Noble Lie’, a useful mythology to move the populace to a desired end. It did not matter whether the myth was factually true or not. As they became obsessed with finding evidence of Soviet military supremacy, they became convinced by their own propaganda.

This part of the film is blackly funny. The Neo-Cons hated Kissinger, because Kissinger was ruthless pragmatic. Kissinger did not believe in moral absolutes. He was merely interested in creating a stable world. He therefore signed the arms limitation agreements with the Brezhnev regime which formed the basis of the d├ętente between America and the USSR. The Neo-Cons thus created ‘Team B’, to examine the military reports the government was using, but use them to show that in reality the Russians really were ahead of America. There was absolutely no evidence of this. And so the Neo-Cons decided that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. The absence of any evidence that the Soviet were superior, meant that they were so far ahead their weapon systems had evaded detection. The Americans had been unable to find any evidence that the Russians had acoustic detection equipment on their submarines. Instead of concluding, however, that this meant that they didn’t have any detection equipment, the Neo-Cons instead decided that the Soviets had something better, and so sophisticated, it was undetectable. Similarly, line of radar installations in the Soviet Far East were interpreted, not as anything as mundane as radar installations, but as a super-sophisticated laser weapon array. The Neo-Cons thought they finally had found the positive proof they needed when they discovered a document written by the CIA presenting the case that the Soviets were indeed militarily superior. Except that the CIA informed them that it was rubbish. They knew, because they’d written it, and it was nothing but black propaganda. They even brought out the document’s author, to tell the Neo-Cons that it was nonsense. But the Neo-Cons still wouldn’t believe it. The Neo-Cons had also managed to convince themselves that the USSR was responsible for the proliferation of Marxist terrorist organisations around the world, such as Germany’s notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang. Again, there was no evidence for this, and it was entirely illusory. Nevertheless, to the Neo-Cons it was a fact.

The Rise of Reagan

The Neo-Cons finally gained the power they craved when Reagan took office. Reagan had partly succeeded through an alliance with the American religious right. Believing that America was fundamentally corrupt, these had traditionally stood aloof from politics, as they did not wish to become entwined with such a corrupt system by voting. The Neo-Cons allied the religious Conservatives to oust more traditional Conservatives, who stressed personal freedom and choice. The film here includes footage of a Republican candidate stating his support for a woman’s right to choose on abortion being booed off the platform at a Republican convention. The result was the renewed Cold War in the 1980s, and the funding of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as part of Reagan’s confrontation with the Evil Empire.

Sayyid Qutb and Radical Islam

At the opposite political extreme were the radical Islamists, who took their ideas from Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was an Egyptian schoolteacher, who had gone to America in the 1950s to study the American way of life, and bring the lessons learned back to Egypt. He did, but they were lessons that the US definitely didn’t want to give. Like the Neo-Cons, he believed that American society was fundamentally rotten and materialistic. Americans pursued material goods, fussing over their lawns and consumer accessories. He was particularly shocked by a dance held in a church hall, which he described as being full of ‘love and lust’. While most Westerners would simply regard the dance as being entirely innocent, rather than any kind of orgy, to Qutb it was an example of the way Liberalism allowed people to give way entirely to their animal desires. And he definitely didn’t want this coming back to his homeland.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood. He wanted a morally regenerate, Islamic society, that would enjoy all the technological and scientific benefits of Western society, but would have none of the materialism or permissiveness of Western Liberalism. The Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser, was adamant that Egypt would be a secular society, and Qutb was imprisoned and tortured. His experiences in prison convinced Qutb that Western liberalism and democracy were fundamentally brutal. He formulated an ideology which advocated the formation of an elite, who would act as a revolutionary vanguard to create the new Islamic society. The Islamist revolutionaries believed that by adopting Western values of democracy, the country’s political leaders had betrayed Islam. And as Islam’s enemies, they deserved to be killed.

The Assassination of Sadat and Ayman Zawahiri

This doctrine resulted in the assassination of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat. Qutb had been executed, and was succeeded as the leader of the Islamist revolutionaries by Ayman Zawahiri. Sadat was marked for assassination both because of the domestic corruption of his regime and because he signed the peace accords with Israel at Camp David. Sadat publicly denied any corruption, but in fact his administration was marked by the corrupt influence of six bankers. Rather than returning to the kind of arch-traditionalist Islam Zawahiri and the others wanted, he pursued an open-doors policy towards the West. His signing of the peace agreement with Israel was also seen, not as a heroic act of a genuine peacemaker, but as that of someone who had fundamentally betrayed Islam. As a result, the Islamists rose up and assassinated him.

They were profoundly disappointed with the result. The Muslim Brotherhood had believed that the assassination of the liberal, secular leaders would provoke the masses to rise up against the Westernised, secular society that had been imposed on them. But the Egyptian masses didn’t rise up, and the Islamists were rounded up, and put on trial. As a result, the Islamists pushed their doctrine further. They decided that the Jaihiliyya, the non-Islamic state of ignorance created by Westernisation had corrupted even the people themselves. Hitherto they had confined their violence to politicians. Now they argued that even members of the public should be killed as traitors to Islam.

The Phantom Victory: Afghanistan and the Fall of Communism

Episode 2: The Phantom Victory discussed the War in Afghanistan, and the Neo-Cons fall from power with the accession of George Bush snr and then Bill Clinton to the presidency. The Americans saw the War in Afghanistan as part of their crusade to destroy the Soviet Union. They therefore began to arm the Mujahideen. These were initially organised around Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. Azzam, however, did not believe in killing non-combatants, and made his followers take an oath to that effect. In competition with Azzam, however, was a smaller group of Islamist rebels, the followers of Zawahiri, who were quite prepared to kill and murder innocents. These were the group Islamic Jihad. One of those idealistic Muslims, who went to Afghanistan to join the struggle against the Soviet, was Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was originally a follower of Azzam, but was seduced away from him to Zawahiri’s group. Complementing the fighters were many political dissidents, who had been released from prisons all over the Arab world in the hope that they would go to Afghanistan, and not come back.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, was acutely aware of the immense problems facing the Soviet Union. He believed that the USSR was in danger of imminent collapse, and so wished to push forward a comprehensive campaign of reform. In order to do so, he wished to withdraw from Afghanistan in order to concentrate on the USSR’s domestic problems. He therefore sought a negotiated peace with Reagan and the Mujahideen. But the Reagan administration would not make a deal, and Gorby was shocked by their intransigence. In the period following the Soviet withdrawal, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet bloc collapsed completely. Both the American Neo-Cons and the radical Islamists believed they had been responsible for the USSR’s collapse. But this was untrue. The USSR fell, not because of military defeat, but because the regime and society was fundamentally rotten.

George Bush Snr

Convinced of America’s special destiny to promote democracy and correct moral values in the world, the Neo-Cons wanted Bush’s regime to export it at gunpoint to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during Gulf War I. But Bush was, like Kissinger, another pragmatist, and so was content merely with freeing Kuwait, and containing Saddam. He did not want to change the Iraqi regime, and his supporters believed that, had he adopted this aim, America would still be in Iraq 14 years or so later.

Bill Clinton

The Neo-Cons were further disappointed when Clinton became president. Slick Willy had succeeded partly by winning over Republican supporters alienated by the religious influence on their party. The Neo-Cons saw him in the same Manichaean terms they applied to the Soviet Union – as the embodiment of evil itself. They therefore sought to blacken him anyway they could. Clinton was accused of multiple adultery, of fraudulent land deals in the Whitewater scandal, assassinating one of his aides, and smuggling drugs through an airport in Arkansas. These accusations all came from a minute American Conservative magazine, the American Spectator. With the exception of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, none of this was true. And in the case of the Whitewater deal, the Clinton’s actually lost money. One of those speaking in the documentary about this was a former journalist on the magazine, who had initially believed these stories, but then came to repudiate them utterly.

The Brutal Collapse of Islamism in Algeria

The Islamists in the Middle East were also suffering their own setbacks. In Algeria, the Islamic party, the FLN, had won the first round of elections. They presented a challenge to democracy, as the Islamists wished to replace secular authority with that of the Qu’ran. This would effectively make political parties obsolete, as the Qu’ran could not be challenged as the source of law. The armed forces stepped in and seized power, rather than the secular society destroyed. The Islamist forces in their turn rose up against them. The result was a bloody civil war, in which the Islamists took to attacking and killing the civilians they felt had betrayed Islam by not supporting the revolution. The various Islamist militias were infiltrated by the Algerian armed forces, who turned them into committing increasingly extreme and horrific acts of terrorism. The intention was to turn ordinary Algerians away from these groups through disgust at the atrocities they were committing. The tactic succeeded, and the Islamists terrorists became ever more extreme. Finally they turned on each other. Each group believed that they, and only they, were the true Muslims. The end finally came with one Islamist group, led by a former chicken farmer, declaring that it and only it represented true Islam, and advocating the death of everybody else.

The Shadows in the Cave: Dubya and 9/11

Shadows in the Cave, the third and final film, took the story from the election of George ‘Dubya’ Bush
to the time the show was screened in 2004. As is now notorious, Dubya was another Neo-Con, and believed that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden really were at the centre of a vast, global terrorist network. This network was another illusion. There was just a number of different, radical Islamic groups, who used bin Laden as a source of funding. But bin Laden himself was in no way their leader. Rather, they were using him. The idea of a single terror network, al-Qaeda, really only appeared after 9/11, and was a result of the American legal system. In the aftermath, the Americans rounded up other Islamists, who had been complicit in the atrocity, with the aim also of convicting bin Laden himself. But the legislation under which the terrorists were tried had been put in place in order to deal with organised crime. In order to convict bin Laden, the authorities needed to prove that he was head of a distinct terrorist organisation with its own identity. And hence they produced al-Qaeda, which was largely a legal fiction. Bin Laden himself only started using the term after it was used by the Americans.

The 9/11 attack, rather than being a sign of the movement’s international strength, was even then the result of a small minority. Most of the Islamists in Afghanistan were radical nationalists, who wished to export the Islamic revolution to their own countries. However, rather than taking that step, bin Laden had gone for ‘the further enemy’ America.

The Northern Alliance: Dodgy Information and the Selling of Prisoners

In hunting down al-Qaeda, Americans also allied themselves with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, a group of warlords fighting the Taliban. They were given arms and money in return for intelligence and al-Qaeda prisoners. A total of a million dollars may have been given to them. But some of the information they supplied, and the prisoners they handed over, were much less than what they seemed.

Remember Tora Bora? Those were the caves in which bin Laden supposedly had his lair. The documentary includes footage of American news programmes, in which the caves were presented as a highly sophisticated complex, complete with separate living units, offices and replete with high-powered surveillance devices. The Americans duly bombed the caves, only to find to find that it was a simple series of caves. Some had been used to store equipment, but it was definitely not the underground Bond-villain style fortress it had been built up as.

As for the prisoners, many of whom may not have been directly involved in the attacks, but were shipped off to Gitmo anyway. It’s even doubtful how many of them were actually al-Qaeda terrorists. Some may just have been Arabs unlucky enough to have been picked off the street by the Northern Alliance to sell to the Americans.

The Hunt for Domestic Terrorists

The authorities were naturally keen to round up possible domestic terrorists. There developed a theory that there were a number of terrorist ‘sleeper cells’ in America, ready to rise up and commit further atrocities. Several of the Muslims arrested on suspicion of terrorism seem to have been innocent. There was a group of three men, who had gone away to a terrorist training camp, before returning to America. They were watched by the FBI for a year as suspected terrorists, but none of them did anything terrorist-related. In fact, one of them had been so desperate to get back to America, that he had actually feigned illness. Then one of them left for Bahrain, and sent his friends a letter, stating that he was getting married and would not see them for some time. The authorities swooped, believing that this was a code for a possible suicide attack on the American Gulf fleet. No, the message was as innocuous as it appeared. Rather than going to blow himself up, the man really had gone to get married, and so didn’t expect to see his friends for some time.

Another group were arrested after they filmed themselves going to Disneyworld. This was seen by the authorities, following their experience with criminals, as a kind of casing video, in which the suspected terrorists were looking for points of attack. They had disguised their actions, however, simply as a group of tourists making an ordinary video of their day. Other evidence was a doodle from the house they occupied, which was interpreted as a secret map of the defences of an American base in Turkey by its head of security. It wasn’t. Subsequent investigation showed it had been drawn by a madman a year previously. The man had occupied the same house, and was convinced he was head of the Yemeni security forces. He had drawn the doodle, which then got lost down the back of the furniture, until it was discovered by the FBI.

Other suspects included a group of young Muslims, who’d been out paintballing. This was again interpreted as terrorist training, but was in fact exactly what it appeared: a group of young guys out paintballing.

And some of the people making the accusations were themselves very dodgy. One was a Mr Mimzy. Mimzy was a multiply fraudster, wanted on 13 counts. In return for a lighter sentence, Mimzy made a deal with the Federal authorities in which he accused one of the supposed ‘terrorist’ groups above. They were arrested, but his evidence was thrown out after he was heard telling one of his fellow prisoners that he’d made it all up.

The Mirage of a Dirty Bomb

And then there was the furore about the terrible possibility Islamic terrorists could produce a ‘dirty bomb’. This was a conventional bomb that was designed to hurl amounts of radioactive material out with the explosion, to contaminate the surroundings. People were naturally afraid that such a device would be used, and they, their friends and families were suffer a long, lingering death from radiation sickness.

The federal authorities had prepared for that, and experts from the various atomic organisation simulated the result of such a bomb. They found that rather than cause mass death, it would be extremely surprising if a single person died. They found that it was possible people would suffer a massive, but non-fatal exposure to radiation, but only if they remained where they were for a long time.

A very long time.

About a year.

In reality, the bomb’s explosion would result in the material being so widely scattered and rarefied, that there simply would not be enough of it to cause serious harm, especially if the detonation zone was carefully clean up afterwards.

British Failures

And just in case we in Britain think that it’s only the Americans who got carried away with this, Curtis provided some domestic examples from Blair’s Britain. When Britain joined the hunt for bin Laden, it was with much fanfare. We were going to do better than the Americans, because of our long experience fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland. This didn’t fare much better either. Curtis shows footage of a British officer looking embarrassed as he admits that they haven’t found bin Laden, or captured any terrorists either. Of the 664 people arrested after 9/11 in London, all but a handful were guilty of no more than watching terrorist videos or reading their literature. Many of them were not actually terrorists at all. One of the Jihadis was the owner of a gym, which specialised in self-defence training. It was called ‘Ultimate Jihad Training’, but in reality its only client was a security guard, who wanted to learn how to defend himself at his job. The vast amount of terrorism in Britain was committed, not by Muslims, but by the Protestant and Roman Catholic paramilitaries in Ulster.

Curtis’ film argues that rather than really existing, Blair and the others had taken over the precautionary principle from the Green movement. This urged that even if there was no evidence of a threat, one should nevertheless be prepared for the very worst, and take precautions. The result was politicians imagining a series of terrible threats and events, for which there was no evidence. He contrasted the panic sweeping Britain with the relative calm in Spain. Despite the horrors of 7/7, the Spanish had not panicked and become afraid their entire society was under threat. He concluded that, while there clearly was a threat of Islamist terrorism, and there had been legitimate reasons for suspecting some of those arrested as terrorists, Bush, Blair and the other politicos had massive overstated the extent of the threat. A threat existed, but we were actually quite safe.

The series can be found at:

https://archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares-Episode1BabyItsColdOutside

It’s very well worth watching.

Not Just Russians: Britain’s Webcam Computer Spies

November 23, 2014

One of the major stories over the past week or so has been that a Russian website is showing hacked images from webcams from around the world, including about 600 or so from Britain. This has naturally caused alarm at the way the potential exists for people’s private computers to be attacked and used to spy on them.

The Russians, however, are not the first or only people to have developed and used such software. In its ‘In the Back’ section for the 22nd August – 4th September issue of this year, Private Eye published a story about the use of similar software developed by a British company. This was being used by the Bahraini government to spy on and persecute dissidents. Here’s the story.

Bahrain Shower

New documents reveal that expensive British spy software – marketed as a means of tracking “paedophiles and terrorists” – has been used by the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior to hack the phones and computers of activists and lawyers.

The software, sold by Gamma Group, a company based out of serviced offices in Winchester, works by sending malware called FinSpy to “target” computers and phones (see Eyes 1368 and 1351). This allows content to be harvested and turns the computer or phone into a mobile spying device by secretly activating the microphone and webcam and intercepting Skype calls.

Gamma Group, which had not applied for an export licence from the UK authorities, denied last year that is product was being used in Bahrain. A spokesman told the Observer: “It appears that during a demonstration one of our products was stolen and has been used elsewhere. I believe a copy of FinSpy was made during a presentation and that copy was modified and then used elsewhere.

However, new documents obtained from the Gamma Group customer support server include logs sent to Gamma, showing a list of Bahraini targets and whether or not all their files had been “archived” – in other words, pinched Gamma says it only sells to government agencies.

Mohammed Al-Tajer, Bahrain’s leading human rights lawyer, has been on the wrong end of Gamma-inspired snooping. Having once defended a group of Shia Muslims accused of throwing a petrol bomb at a police car, and having also published evidence of torture of detainees, shortly before Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising, in January 2011, he received a recording of himself having sex with his second wife, accompanied by a message telling him to watch his step. The new documents show that, on the same day in January, Gamma spyware was successfully installed on Al-Tajer’s computer, archiving all his files, in contravention of illegal privilege and most likely turning his computer into a mobile spying device.

In April 2011, Al-Tajer was then arrested and held by the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior for four months. Every morning he was made to stand against a wall and was beaten until he fainted. A subsequent report5 into the security services, commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad Al-Khalifa and carried out by human rights lawyers and others, found evidence of widespread torture, including “beating; punching; hitting the detainee with rubber hoses (including on the soles of the feet), cables, whips, metal, wooden planks or other objects; electrocution; sleep-deprivation; exposure to extreme temperatures; verbal abuse; threats of rape; and insulting the detainee’s religious sect Shia).” It also found evidence of deaths at the hands of the security forces.

In late 2011, Bahrain thought it had better do something to reform its police forces, bringing in a hired hand from overseas to ensure the force met international codes of practice. It wasn’t long before this new adviser was hailing the “substantial progress” being made, detailing a “new police code of conduct” and “comprehensive programme of training in human rights”, adding: “I am bewildered by the level of criticism aimed at a nation that has acknowledged its mistakes, but has plans in place to put things right.”

This state of bewilderment was presumably nothing new to the adviser, John “Yates of the Yard” Yates (for it was he”, who as Met Police assistant commissioner in London had overseen the Met’s brilliant early phone-hacking investigation and had personally declared that there were only a “handful of victims”. He later resigned when the number approached 4,000.

Even after Yates had begun his reforms in Bahrain, Al-Tajer continued to receive text message threats from anonymous telephone numbers; and in June 2012 the sex recording was finally published on YouTube, as was footage of Al-Tajer eating and praying.

Yates told the Eye he had never heard of Mohammed Al-Tajer (he was only the leading lawyer defending police cases, after all), nor of Gamma Group, and that he had had no operational involvement in police matters, acting solely as a “strategic adviser”.

* The hacker who posted internal Gamma documents on the internet showing how it FinSpy, aka FinFisher, software had been sold to the oppressive regime and used to spy on the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation (BICI), which was investigating torture and killings in the country, also revealed that the kit wasn’t quite as effective as Gamma likes to claim.

“After infecting a target’s [computer]the targets [sic] works for few days only then he never comes online and we have to infect him again,” the Bahrainis complained. “We can’t stay bugging and infecting the target every time since it is very sensitive. And we don’t want the target to reach [sic] to know that someone is infecting his PC or spying on him.”

I can’t say that the information that webcams could be hacked came as news to me. I can remember being told by a member of staff in one of Bristol’s computer shops that they had a friend, who was a hacker. This individual used to tap their victim’s webcams, so he could see them through the computer. The staff member, who told me this, didn’t approve of it himself, and really didn’t want anything to do with such activities. Nevertheless, hackers were still doing it.

This is very much the world of 1984, where Big Brother used the televisions in people’s homes to spy on them. In the case of the Russian hackers, despite their protestations that they are doing it to make people aware of the existence and the dangers posed by the software, it looks to me very much like the Russian secret services making veiled threats about their capability for cyberwarfare, espionage, and ability to intimidate foreign nationals in their own homes.

As for Gamma Group and the Bahrain government, Britain has, unfortunately, a long history of supplying arms and spying equipment to oppressive governments around the world, including the Middle East. This includes BAE selling weapons banned under international law, like electronic batons and shields, to places like Saudi Arabia. Gamma Group is merely the latest to join this long and infamous list.

Other foreign companies are no better. Nokia sold software it had developed to allow governments to hack into and monitor private mobile phones to various despotic governments in the Middle East, including Iran.

This does, however, raise the chilling question of whether this software is being used domestically to gather information on people the British and American states consider politically awkward. The Snowden revelations showed the truly massive extent to which both countries’ secret services were monitoring and spying on the phone calls and electronic communications of their citizens. The Coalition has attempted to censor politically inconvenient websites, like Pride’s Purge, using legislation it has attempted to pass under the pretext that this would protect children from internet paedophiles. The police have also been used by UKIP and fracking companies to harass and intimidate Green protestors and documentary film-makers.

How do we know that the Tories and their corporate backers aren’t using this already to track and monitor left-wing groups and individuals they consider subversive?