The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a nation of 173 million people. It has a fine military tradition with the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world (the military accounts for 25% of Pakistan’s national budget) and is a declared nuclear weapons state.
Since Oct 21 2011 it is an elected member of the UN Security Council (for the next 2 years) and its soldiers have played key roles in UN peace keeping missions.
However, something has happened inside its body politick to cause the global community to have strong concerns that Pakistan may be deteriorating into a very unstable country racked by sectarianism and extremist ideology and that this has permeated into the government, military and intelligence services to such an extent that it threatens Western security.
To a Western observer, a very curious group has emerged in the Pakistani body politick called the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) /Pakistan Defense Council
In January 2012 they held a rally in which approximately 10,000 people attended. The event was pitched as a coalition of ‘right minded’ leaders and supporters supporting the military and security services. It was held ironically in Liaqat Bagh Park in Rawalpindi Northern Punjab. This was the site of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (leader of the PPP who represent in large measure the moderate Sunnis (Barelvis) in 2007 and where her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979.
Rawalpindi is also the headquarters of the Pakistani Army and where their officers are trained.
The DPC rally was sponsored by Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) and the Deobandi-Wahhabi-Salafist Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and included representatives of the political and religious right in Pakistan. It was meant to be a show of strength of the community’s resolve to support the military’s decision to force the government to stop road NATO road convoys resupplying into Pakistan through the Kyber Pass because of the November 2011 air strikes on a Pakistani military outpost killing 25 Pakistani soldiers.
Another rally of a similar nature happened on 12th of February this year, this time in Karachi.
Again. no one from the moderate Sunnis (Barelvis), Shias, or Christians were invited to participate, (as if they would be any less patriotic Pakistani’s than the Wahhabi-Deobandi in their condemnation of drone attacks killing civilians as well as terrorists). So this rally and the below picture of its leaders conveys not only a political solidarity of the right but moreover conveys the propaganda that it’s only the people at the rally who are true patriots.
The chairman of the Pakistani Defence Council is ironically not a military man but a clergyman, Maulana Sami ul Haq.
Ul Haq also heads his own political movement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, or JUI). More importantly however he is at the apex of the ideology of the elites that control Pakistan and also the insurgents in Afghanistan because he is also chair of Darul Uloom Haqqania, the preeminent Deobandi Islamic seminary for Pakistan and Afghanistan. This institution is the ‘font’ of current religious orthodoxy in Pakistan and Afghanistan of what it means to be a good Muslim. This same institution is the alma mater of several Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar. As many of the top jobs in government, military and Intelligence are products of or strongly influenced by Darul Uloom Haqqania and the ideologies it promotes, it would be impossible to understand Pakistani domestic or foreign policy or even the machinations of Afghan politics and insurgency without an understanding what Darul Uloom Haqqania or JUI stands for.
Ul Haq said at the DPC Rally: “All religious parties will guide the nation on national issues… US must refrain from attacking our sovereignty and recognize Pakistan as an atomic power just like India… (the current situation) was an Armageddon between good and evil.”
In late January the DPC held a rally in Multan ul Haq lead a mass public oath that the people would rise up to lead their lives for the defence of their country. Former ISI boss Hameed Gul told the enthusiastic crowd that India is a dagger in the back of Pakistan via Afghanistan.
At this year’s February, Karachi DPC rally, ul Haq called on the crowd to defend not only the geographical frontiers of the country but also its ‘ideological frontiers’. JuD spokesman, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed used the occasion to apologize to the Afghans that Pakistan’s soil was being used against them. He saw the DPC and the brave warriors in Afghanistan who once again had defeated a world power as the beginnings of a broader ‘Islamic revolution’ He warned the Government of Pakistan (now ruled by PPP’s Gilani) to disengage itself from the US war against terror and warned that if it did not, “the Pakistani people would come on the streets and oust the present rulers.” And declared a mass sit in outside the national Parliament on 20th of February 2012 ‘DPC vows to resist reopening of Nato supplies, drone attacks’ International The News Feb 13 2012
Another huge PDC rally is planned for Quetta at the end of February. Interestingly Quetta (which is in Pakistan) is the home base of the Afghan Taliban which is called the ‘Quetta Shura”.
The agenda of the religious political right that JUI represents includes not only supporting state and non-state use of force or other assertive action against enemies from without such as India (and now it seems the US and its allies who were once their allies but are now evil) but also safeguarding pure Islam from the infectious influence of moderate Sunnis (Barelvis), Shias, Ahmadis, Jews, Shias, Hindus, Christians and the West (including one presumes the vestiges of old British values and institutions still remaining in Pakistan) by the aggressive Islamization of the State especially the legal system and education where only what is ‘right’ in their eyes must be upheld and everything else that is ‘wrong’ outlawed.
Normative values in Pakistani society as well as foreign policy therefore increasingly reflect this world view which is very similar to extreme forms of Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in Saudi Arabia of the political kind (as opposed to the non-extreme purely religious, unobjectionable, self-purification Salafi teachings which ironically from a paradigm point of view is similar in its spiritual dimension to Christian fundamentalism of going back to the purity of the Book rather than be ‘distracted’ by religious tradition). This is not surprising as Darul Uloom Haqqania, like so many other such institutions in Pakistan and globally, are financed in large measure by Saudi money.
What makes this scenario even more disconcerting is that Pakistan is a nuclear power and that extremist elements may be able to control or influence that ‘agenda’ too, (especially if they have influence over any future PM, given that a PM will now control not only the numbers in Parliament but also the nuclear button). That does not bode well for world peace given the fact that their mortal enemies the Jewish State of Israel and Shia Iran are (or soon will be) also nuclear capable.
Even though one can sympathize with ul Haq (or more moderate voices from the right in Pakistan such as Imran Khan’s party) demands for US drone attacks to stop because amongst other things they inflict tremendous casualties on innocent civilians, one hopes for Pakistan’s sake and for the sake of security in our homelands from global terrorism and the ideologies that fuel them, Pakistan can rejuvenate its democracy and justice system free from the fear of sectarian violence and limit the influence and power of radical leaders in matters of security and foreign affairs at least so as to ensure their territory or those that they or their ‘thought leaders’ control is not used as bases for the inculcation, training or export of terrorism.
The ‘revelations’/allegations about Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and or the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau (IB) allegedly hiding of Osama bin Laden (OBL) from their supposed American allies in Abbottabad, (a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, North West Pakistan) and the ensuing ‘Memogate Scandal’ are but the most recent examples of the controversies and instability rocking Pakistan, a nuclear state.
The revelations came from Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Ziaud Din Butt (aka) Ziaud Din Khawaja at a conference on Pakistani-U.S. relations in October 2011. Whilst the news was shocking to the West, and some have suggested the source had a grudge against the Pakistani regime and the full extent of the story may not be factual or entirely reliable, it was apparently no surprise within certain sections of the elite in Pakistan.
The ISI/IB, like many intelligence agencies (such as Iran) (have to) resort to shady characters to effect ‘under the radar’ missions against ‘enemies of the state’. The same official implicated in giving sanctuary to OBL in Abbottabad also was the alleged ‘handler’ for other renowned terrorists like the London born, LSE educated, Pakistani trained, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik. Saeed Sheik and elements within the officially banned, Islamic militant groups variously labelled Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), were said to be the ones behind the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Sheik’s group’s most infamous episode however was in the kidnapping and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
Interestingly one has to ask, if it’s true and they had some knowledge, influence or control over someone like Saeed Shiek, what strategic interest ISI/IB or elements within their ranks may have had to allow this ‘asset’ loose to do this?
At the time of his murder in Karachi, Pearl (an Israeli citizen living as a permanent resident in America) was the the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, and was based in Mumbai, India. Was he a spy? If so, for whom was he working? Or was he a nosy journalist that was writing stories that were too ‘close to home’ for some people? Was this all just about militants being lucky to kidnap such a high profile person useful for ransom and when demands were not met and they found out that he was Jewish the militants just executed him? During the 9 days Pearl was held his captors allegedly wrote a strange ransom note on the Internet demanding ‘freeing of all Pakistani terror detainees and releasing a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government.’ (Time U.S. 21 Feb 2002).
In March 2003, only one year after Pearl was murdered, al-Qaeda’s Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, alleged master mind behind 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, was captured in Rawalpindi and handed over to the US. Whilst in custody in Guantanamo Bay detention camp he is alleged to have confessed to many things including the murder of Daniel Pearl by personally beheading him.
If that is true and if Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik who was implicated in the kidnapping was an ISI/IB ‘asset’, what was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also confessed/boasted that he was involved in many of the most significant terrorist plots over the last twenty years, including the World Trade Center 1993 bombings, the Operation Bojinka plot, an aborted 2002 attack on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, the Bali nightclub bombings, the failed bombing of American Airlines Flight 63 and the Millennium Plot. If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow jihadi’s like his nephew Ramiz Yousef were involved with the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman’s plans/conspiracies to blow up the World Trade Centres in 1993 and in 1995 with other associates such as his other nephew and Ammar al-Baluchi were planning on hijacking or blowing up planes over the US, then it is no little wonder that he planned and pulled off 9/11 as it was a plan whose various elements were seven years in the making.
Other matters of concern to the West are that many terrorists who committed or tried to commit terrorist acts against Western cities travelled to Pakistan either to be radicalized or trained as terrorists.
People like UK’s 2001 shoe bombers Richard Reid and his co-accused Saajid Badat or the London 7/7/2005 bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer are reported to have been recruited by extremists such as JeM’s Osama Nazir and Amjad Farooqi (aka Amjad Hussain), radicalized by attending radicalization ‘finishing’ schools such as Jihad bi al-Saif and then put on the conveyor belt onto radical groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)/al-Furquan/ Khudam-ul-Islam and Harakat ul-Mujahideen who operate hands-on terrorist boot camps in known extremists strongholds not only in the Western tribal regions (FATA) such as Waziristan but also in Peshawar and other cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province or adjacent districts such as Malakand or Baluchistan.
Peshawar was also where OBL and his mentor and ‘professor’ Abdullah Azzam first collaborated to create Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK), the forerunner of Al Qaeda in the 1980’s. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood’s emphasis on Jihad/struggle via the political system to effect change, MAK was for violent and armed Jihad. Azzam’s trademark slogan was, “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues.” Abbottabad is in the same district and so OBL was in a sense ‘back home’ when the US Navy Seals raid happened in May last year.
No state with an active democracy is really a monolith, and so for Pakistan too, it would be wrong to ‘tar’ (everyone in ISI/IB) ‘with the same brush’ and say they are an extremist ‘state within a state’ (as some high ranking diplomats have suggested).
Certainly it would be wrong to suggest that the Pakistani Army is not professional because it is susceptible to the demands and expectations of the religious right or finds it useful to have their support. Just recently for example Pakistan Army has decided to court martial Brigadier Ali Khan for his alleged links with Hizb-ul-Tehrir which political group it is reported, in the aftermath of the raid that killed OBL in Abbottabad, produced pamphlets urging soldiers to turn against their commanders. It also comes on the heels of Pakistani Taliban insurgents storming the Naval Air Station in Karachi, apparently armed with inside information on its layout and security. They destroyed two U.S. supplied surveillance aircraft.
Disturbingly however, the Pakistani Journalist Saleem Shahzad was killed in Karachi two days after writing about links between ‘rogue elements’ in the Pakistani Navy and Al Qaeda.
Further it would be wrong to say that every leader in the religious right in Pakistan supported or inspired terrorists (many would probably suggest they were only supporting freedom fighters against Indian aggression in Kashmir and that they have no control over how impassioned ‘idealists’ then ‘self-propel’ themselves against the West).
Also these parties/groups, whilst influential, do not represent the thinking of the majority of people in Pakistan on all issues.
However, since the days of General Zia’s earlier Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamisation) programs since the late 1970’s, the radical right parties have been given “a strong legal and political apparatus that enables them to influence policy far beyond their numerical strength” (International Crisis Group Asia Report No 216 Dec, 12, 2011 p (i) and (1), and particularly footnote 1).
The notorious Blasphemy Laws introduced by General Zia in the 1980’s which carries the death penalty in Pakistan have been criticized as being contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion. In Pakistan the Blasphemy Laws have been sometimes abused by villagers as personal vendettas and sometimes by others to silence and intimidate minorities and free speech as un-Islamic. Many attempts over the years have been made to amend or ameliorate the harsh application of this law. However in October 1997, His Honour Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti a Pakistani High Court judge who acquitted two people on blasphemy charges was shot in his chambers in Lahore by radical militants unhappy about the judge’s findings.
After what appears to be a contrived case was launched against a Christian lady Aasia Noreen Bibi resulting in her being the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death for defending her Christian faith , Sherry Rehman (PPP) politician introduced a private member bill into Pakistan’s parliament in late 2010 to amend the law so it couldn’t be abused like this. She was supported by governor of Punjab, Salmaan Tasser and special Minister for Minorities Shahabaz Bhatti. Since then both Tasser and Bhatti have been assassinated. Tasser’s killer, his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadi, was treated like a hero by the radical right. In fact the judge Pervz Ali Shah who sentenced Qadi to execution for his murder of the former governor has had to flee Pakistan because his Rawalpindi offices were ransacked and he received numerous death threats. Also Sherry Rehaman received so many death threats that she has since withdrawn her bill. Aasia Noreen Bibi remains on death row.
This series of recent events is very disturbing for the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan which for decades has had a fine tradition inherited from the British of judicial administration. It also is symptomatic of a structural disintegration of the Pakistani’s state seemingly unable to protect its institutions and officials. Unless it is addressed, the road to further radicalization and destabilization of the Pakistani State seems inevitable.
Have the politicians in Pakistan the will to resist this attack on the State? Politics in Pakistan is complex with many players and leaders of the Army and intelligence agencies change with the passing of the political winds. For many years the army was a faithful partner with the West and also of the UN and they have often collaborated with Allied commanders in operations against militants and terrorists in the War on Terror.
Support for certain rallies that the religious right may organize in defence of Pakistani sovereignty such as the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) (discussed in Part 1) does not mean that the Military and Security Services agree with everything the religious right stand for but it is a worrying development for democracy and stability given the broader agendas of the groups represented on the DPC.
We shall need to see how the relationship between current Army chief General Kiyani and ISI chief Lt. General Pasha and embattled PM Gilani develops in light of the ‘Memogate Scandal’. The fact that President Zardari (widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto) has felt the need to flee the country with his staff to operate his office from Dubai is symptomatic of growing dysfunctionality of the Pakistani body politic.
With the Parliament of Pakistan in such a state, the army is really the key to the immediate future of the health of democracy and the Rule of Law in Pakistan.
Address the army’s concerns and much of what happens in politics will no doubt be more stable and vice versa.
The army wields a lot of power and influence in Pakistan. The relationship between it and the ISI/IB or with government and non-government players is not easy to understand. It is not unlikely that the military and ISI/IB are not always ‘on the same page’ with each other let alone the government of the day. Also they may act independently of each other in seeking to do what they think is best for Pakistan and their own sectional interests. Also there may be people in these organizations who quite independent of the organization itself run their own agendas relying from time to time on their connections with all political and financial brokers and ‘assets’ in and outside Pakistan including non-state militia associated with some radical groups. Nevertheless they are command structures and in theory ultimately should be responsible to the government.
If you were ‘in the shoes’ of an impassioned ISI/IB official who was brought up to see good and evil a certain way, with wars raging around and subversives real or imagined from neighbouring countries like Iran or India trying to destabilize your country, would you utilize ‘assets’ available to secure your country’s security interests; especially if a political party was in power who you knew would not act decisively the way that you deem is in the best interests of national security?
Whatever the answers to that question may be in our eyes, when the volatility and violence within Pakistan and Afghanistan spill over to affect our homelands (such as the indoctrination and training in Pakistan of terrorists for suicide missions in the West), the West surely has every right to do what is necessary to protect its own people including asking the power brokers in Pakistan to do more to get their house/region in order.
How does one diplomatically talk to the military and intelligence agencies directly in any case? If the Pakistani democracy is too weak politically and economically to govern independently of fear or favouritism and cannot control its military and intelligence agencies, how can another country commence dialogue with the government about such things and how can they approach military and Intelligence agencies? If the military and security agencies in Pakistan do not want to co-operate with a proper diplomatic approach from the West, however it comes, will other ‘suitors’ such as China then just step in to fill the political, military and economic void?
These are not easy questions to answer whether you are in the Europe or the US. These are probably difficult issues within Pakistan which itself has more than the West had its people suffer the consequence of lawlessness, corruption and extremist violence and threats of violence.
Perhaps part of the answer may be for the West to put more diplomatic effort into resolving Kashmir with India and Pakistan so that the Pakistani Army has an incentive to reinforce democratic principles and institutions in Pakistan and distance themselves from the excess of the extreme right who are otherwise useful ‘assets’ in their border wars and instruments of leverage geo-politically.
The other part of the solution may be to pull out of Afghanistan and stop the drone attacks in Pakistan because the roots of the problem probably cannot be fixed that way in the medium to long term. Indeed these measures at the moment, no matter how seemingly effective they are in the short term are fuelling the narrative of the extreme right in Pakistan from whence new recruits and devotees will surely come to replace their ranks. Whatever negotiations happen in Afghanistan there must be just as much diplomatic effort go into discussions with Pakistan. Any lasting peace in region and in the West from trans-national jihadi terrorism will need their endorsement and active support. To be able to give assistance to Pakistan in these ways and to put away the military option of troops on the ground and drone strikes, what the West needs from Pakistan’s political, military and intelligence leaders is a sustainable and verifiable assurance they will not allow that region or its own territory to be used as a base for terrorism against the West either ideologically, financially or materially.
Central Asian Jihadists’ Use of Cryptocurrencies in Bitcoin
On August 13, 2020, the US Justice Department announced that it seized $2 million in Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency from accounts of three Salafi-Jihadi extremist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State, relied on to finance their organizations and violent plots. According to their statement, the U.S. authorities seized over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to Sunni-Jihadi militant organizations. Indeed, the disclosed criminal case documents indicate that this was the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency by US intelligence agencies in the context of terrorism.
US counterterrorism agents analyzed transactions of cryptocurrency on the blockchain, a secure form of public ledger for the online funds, and employed undercover operations as well as search warrants on email accounts to establish a money trail of Sunni terror groups that was detailed in an 87-pages of the Washington DC federal court report
The revealed papers indicate, in some instances, al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups in Syria acted under the cover of charities ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Reminder for Syria’. In this regard, it should be noted that some al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups also have frequently acted under the umbrella of the charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ for bitcoin money laundering and have solicited cryptocurrency donations via Telegram channels to further their terrorist goals.
But that doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorist groups from the post-Soviet space raised funds precisely through this charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ of al Qaeda, whose accounts were seized by the US Justice Department. It has become a tradition in the Islamic world that charity organizations and foundations widely give to themselves the names ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’, as the Quranic meaning of these words (Quran 2:43; 63:10;9:103)exactly corresponds to the purposes of “voluntary charity”. Analysis of the finance campaigns of al Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian militant groups demonstrates that they frequently raised cryptocurrency donations through charities called ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’.
In order to explore the scale of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Jamaats’ crowdfunding campaigns, we analyzed their social media activities where they raised Bitcoins, dollars, Russian rubles and Turkish lira over the past two years.The methods and sources of the Uzbek and Uighur Islamist militants’ crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoins are about the same as those of their parent organizations, the global Sunni terrorist groups ISIS and al Qaeda.Due to the inclusion in the list of terrorist groups, they carry out sophisticated cyber-operations for solicitation of cryptocurrency donations.
Before “mastering” the complex technology of cyber-tools in order to raise bitcoin funds in cyberspace, Central Asian jihadists used the simple ‘hawala’ money transfer system (informal remittance system via money brokers).Sometimes they have resorted to conventional ‘hand-to-hand’ cash transfer channels, where trust, family relationships or regional affiliations play an important role.
According to a UN report, Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist group Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) leading jihad in Syrian Idlib province have close financial ties with its cells in Afghanistan. The UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team states that “regular monthly payments of about $ 30,000 are made to Afghanistan through the hawala system for KTJ.”
The UN report asserts that “similarly to KTJ, KIB sends financial assistance, from its cell in Istanbul, through the hawala system to Afghanistan. Funds are brought in by informal money exchangers for Jumaboi from Maymana, the capital of Faryab. The original source of this income is the smuggling of fuel, food and medicine from neighboring Turkmenistan.”According to the UN report, “suffering material losses, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)and Tajik militant group JamaatAnsarullah (JA) are forced to engage in criminal activity, including transportation of drugs along the northern route in Afghanistan.”For the Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamist Party (TIP) from China’s Xinjiang province operating under the umbrella of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northern Syria, “funding comes primarily from the Uighur diaspora” in Turkey, Central and Southeast Asia.
Dark Web & Bitcoin: New Endeavor of Central Asian Terrorists
With the development of digital cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, Central Asian jihadists actively began to exploit this innovative financial transaction system to support their attacks and other terrorist activities. It is known that al Qaeda-backed Salafi-Jihadi groups of the post-Soviet space are seeking to purify Islam of any innovations (Bid’ah) and strictly following the Sharia law. They live similarly to how the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions lived in the seventh-century and always oppose any form of Bid’ah, considering it to be shirk and heresy. However, the Uzbek and Uighur Wahhabis did not shy away from using bitcoin innovation.
The first advertisements of Central Asian terrorist groups crowdfunding campaigns accepting bitcoin for Jihadi purposes in Syria appeared on the Telegram channel in 2017. In November of that year, a self-proclaimed charity group al-Sadaqah began a fundraising campaign on the internet from Western supporters to help the Malhama Tactical, the first private military contractor team from Central Asia working exclusively for jihadist groups in Syria.Al-Sadaqah in English on Telegram, explicitly relying on the English-speaking western sponsors, called on them to make bitcoin donations to finance the Malhama Tactical and the Mujahedeen fighting against the Assad regime in northeastern Syria.
As we have previously analyzed, Malhama Tactical is a private jihadi contractor operating in the Idlib-Aleppo region of Syria. The group, founded by an Uzbek jihadist Abu Salman (his real name is Sukhrob Baltabaev) from Osh City of Southern Kyrgyzstan in May 2016, is closely allied with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the strongest militant factions in northern Syria. The Malhama Tactical is known to have regularly conducted military training for jihadists of HTS, Ahrar al-Sham, Ajnad al Kavkaz and the Turkistan Islamic Party.After the death of Abu Salman in August 2019, Ali Ash-Shishani, the native of Russia’s North Caucasus became the new leader of Malhama Tactical.
In 2017-18, al-Sadaqah charity on Telegram called on followers to donate via a “Bitcoin wallet anonymously and safely for the Mujahedeen brothers of Malhama Tactical”. The charity group urged potential cryptocurrency contributions to benefit from “the ability to confuse the trail and keep anonymity”.
We do not know how much bitcoin money al-Sadaqah managed to raise for the activities of the Central Asian Muhajireen. But according to Malhama Tactical’s report on the internet, crowdfunding has been “fruitful.” In an effort to explain how donations were spent, Malhama Tactical has advertised extensively to followers on 17 October 2018, in a video posted on Telegram, that a new training camp had been built and purchased airsoft rifles, night vision devices and other modern ammunitions.
Since 2018, Uzbek and Uighur militant groups KTJ, KIB and TIP have begun an agitation campaign to fundraising bitcoin money on the Internet. Judging by the widespread call for Bitcoin donation online, their need for anonymous, secure, and hassle-free funding streams have made cryptocurrencies of some potential value to them. These properties are the anonymity of fundraising, the usability of remittance and transfer of funds, the security of attack funding, acceptance of funds, reliability, and volume of web money.
And every time they announced a crowdfunding campaign, they clearly declared for what purpose the collected bitcoins would be used. For example, al Qaeda-linked KTJ’s most recent call for bitcoin appeared on Telegram in May 2020 as a banner that asks to “Equip a jihadist”. The poster showed a masked jihadist and the exploitation of the Quran’s Hadith in Uzbek, calling on the believers to prepare and equip a fighter going on a raid for the sake of Allah.
Another picture shows a jihadist with a Kalashnikov AK-74 in his hand, over whose head enemy planes and helicopters fly. The picture gives a symbolic meaning about the empty-handed jihadists in Syria, fighting against the Russian and Syrian powerful military aircraft to protect the Islamic Ummah. Then goes on with KTJ’s call to make donations in bitcoins and rubles to purchasing equipment and ammunition for the Central Asian Mujahedeen in Syria. On the bottom it was displayed the long address of the virtual wallet for Bitcoin donations along with KTJ’s Telegram and web contacts promising the anonymity of potential donors.
On June 18, 2020, KTJ militants published the opinion of the well-known ideologue of modern jihadism Abu Qatada al-Falastini in Telegram from whom they asked whether the crowdfunding campaign of Bitcoin for the purposes of Jihad contradicts Islam. As it is known, there are still ongoing disputes among the world’s top Islamic scholars about whether cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are deemed Sharia-compliant.
Abu Qatada from a religious point of view justified the acceptability of using Bitcoin to protect the Islamic Ummah and wage holy Jihad, but at the same time warned against full confidence in Bitcoin. In his opinion, the enemies of Islam can destroy this cryptocurrency in the future, and if it loses its current value, and then the devout Muslims who have invested their savings in Bitcoin could go bankrupt. Abu Qatada al Falastini is a greatly respected Salafi thinker among Central Asian jihadists and he gave a pep talk to KTJ when it pledged bayat (Oath of Allegiance) to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in 2015.
On June 25, 2020, KTJ posted another Crypto Crowdfunding campaign announcement on its Telegram channel to provide Uzbek jihadists with modern military gear and equipment. For clarity, the group published a picture entitled “Perform jihad with your property” in Uzbek, which indicates the prices for military clothing and weapons. For example, the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle costs $300, unloading vest for AK-47 cartridges – $20, Field Jacket – $50, Military Combat Boots – $30.In total, $400 will be needed on the full provision of one Mujahid with weapons and uniforms. On the upper side of the picture is a Hadith quote about “He who equips a fighter in Allah’s path has taken part in the fighting.”
A month later, the group’s Telegram channel reported that it had managed to raise $4,000, for which 8 sets of weapons and uniforms were purchased for the Uzbek Mujahedeen. Also, KTJ’s media representative announced that the group is stopping the fundraising campaign for this project.
Other projects of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups were the Bitcoin crowdfunding campaign for the purchase of motorcycles for Inghimasi fighters (shock troops who penetrate into the enemy’s line with no intent to come back alive), cameras, portable radios, sniper rifles and night vision devices. For each project, a separate closed account was opened on the website of jihadist groups in Telegram, after which the Bitcoin and Monero accounts, as well as contact information, were closed.
Another crowdfunding project posted on January 29, 2020, in Telegram, called ‘Helping captive Muslim sisters’ and claims to raise money to free Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek ISIS women hold in the al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The KTJ jihadists posted pictures of Central Asian women with their children holding posters “We need help” in Kyrgyz, and asked the fellow Muslim believers to raise money to ransom them from the captivity of the Kurdish communists. It was not clear to us how much money was raised as a result of the crowdfunding campaign since this channel was later blocked by the Telegram administrator.
The annual largest crowdfunding project for the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups is being implemented on the eve of the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, during which believers pay Zakat (obligatory tax) and Sadaqah (voluntary alms).According to the Quran, recipients of the Zakat and the Sadaqah include the poor and needy, debtors, volunteers in jihad, and pilgrims.
The websites of the Central Asian Jihadist Jamaats revealed that their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the jihad was particularly active during Ramadan. Ramadan is known as a holy and generous month, but this year was especially generous to notorious al Qaeda-linked Central Asian extremist groups. KTJ, KIB, Uighur’s TIP and Russian-speaking North Caucasian militant group Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA), that pledged allegiance to HTS, have boosted their military budget during Ramadan.
To avoid the risk of being blocked or tracked, they created a temporary mirror group called ‘Zakat’, where the donation money was received. Zakat’s wallet received donations from Central Asian labor migrants in Russia in the amount of $150 to $220 each time to purchase livestock, which was then slaughtered in sacrificial prayer on behalf of the donors. After Ramadan and the holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the ‘Zakat’ mirror group in Telegram was closed.
The Central Asian Islamist extremist groups have asked their supporters to make Bitcoin donations mainly at the following two virtual wallet addresses:
Our analysis confirmed that multiple transactions were made to these bitcoin addresses. In addition, other transactions were made in digital currencies, the addresses of which were blocked on Telegram.
In conclusion, the significance of the crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should not be given exaggerated importance, even though they have improved the position of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups in Syria and Afghanistan, and boosted their budget. Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist groups’ technical abilities are not currently suited to bypass the financial controls of international counterterrorism organizations and discreetly conduct money laundering.
The history of their activities has shown that small Uzbek, Uighur and Russian-speaking Islamist extremist groups from the post-Soviet space and China have been assimilated with more powerful global Sunni terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda and HTS. And accordingly, their potential for crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should be viewed through the prism of their global parent organizations.
In any case, the governments of Central Asia and Russia do not have sufficient mechanisms and leverage to combat illegal cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web by global Salafi-Jihadi movements waging jihad in the Middle East. As noted at the beginning of this article, such opportunities to monitor and investigate jihadist crowdfunding activities are available to the US government and financial institutions. For example, the U.S. Treasury“ has access to unique financial data about flows of funds within the international financial and commercial system,” which is invaluable for tracking illicit flows of money.
Consequently, Central Asian governments must rely not only on Moscow but also actively cooperate with Western counter-terrorism and financial institutions to disrupt the Salafi-Jihadi group’s external crypto crowdfunding sources.
The Afghan intelligence services
Still today the Afghan Intelligence Services’ ability to collect information is definitively scarce. This is mainly due to the limited specific training of staff and the very scarce and even improper use of the most recent technologies.
The Afghan Intelligence Services collect information mainly in major cities and in the areas most controlled by the government and this often leads the decision-makers who use this “complacent” or rhetorical intelligence to make severe evaluation errors.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) does not correctly disseminate its news in the traditional “information cycle” of a Service and therefore it leaves decision-makers with scarce, incomplete and often inaccurate information. Established in 2001 and heavily supported by the United States, the NDS is based in Kabul but is strongly supported by Germany, GBritain and obviously the United States. It should be noted that its first Director was Mohammed Arif Sarwari, one of the leaders of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, i.e. the old “Northern Alliance”.
It was precisely the NDS that in 2015 caused the fall of Kunduz into the hands of the Taliban, who were, indeed, a full invention of the Pakistani Intelligence Services, which were in search of an Afghanistan that could only play the role of “depth area” for a possible nuclear or even conventional confrontation with India. Ironically, it is from the Pakistani Intelligence Services that the United States received the largest or almost total amount of news and information precisely, or apparently, against the Taliban. Quos Deus lose vult, dementat.
Moreover, the current relations between the NDS, the National Security Agency of Afghanistan (NSA), i.e. another Intelligence Service in Kabul, the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry show a very poor ability of communication and exchange of news between them, which makes them often be late in their operations or even useless.
Or sometimes voluntary collaborators of what Westerners would call the “enemy”, but for some operatives or executives of the NDS or of the other Afghan Intelligence Services could also be an “Islamic brother”. Sometimes it has happened.
In the case of Kunduz, the very evident and aggressive Taliban operations were deemed ineffective or irrelevant. Nobody took seriously the news coming from the most reliable “sources” among the rebels. No agency of the Afghan Service took seriously or even studied the Taliban operations in Kunduz.
The NDS, however, was established mainly with the support of the American CIA.
But there is a strategic and conceptual problem that should not be overlooked at all: all NATO countries that participated or still participate in military operations in Afghanistan have very different ideas about their role in the war against the “rebels” and in the country.
The Resolute Support Mission, composed of about 13,000-16,000 soldiers from 39 NATO countries and from other countries, operates from Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Laghman, and focuses mainly on the training of Afghan forces, as well as on military consultancy and assistance, hoping that the local Afghan forces will reach a level capable of ensuring at least fictitious national independence.
At least until 2014, akey year for the new relationship between NATO and the Afghan government, the Italians – who are still training the Afghan police very well – went there especially not to displease the usual U.S. Big Father that the Italian strategic system still sees as unquestionable and unassailable.
This participation “to bring democracy” has led to some positive effects for Italy, especially on the technological-intelligence level. But it has never been enough.
Nevertheless, the silly servility and sycophancy of Italian politicians, who closely resemble the character of Nando Mericoni played by Alberto Sordi in the movie An American in Rome, is still largely widespread. Italian politicians – even starting from the text of the Constitution – do not know or do not want to understand the eternal rules of foreign policy and strategic thinking, of which they know nothing yet.
Certainly you cannot obtain votes, additional funding and small favours from foreign policy. This is the level of Italian politicians, especially in current times more than in the past.
France, as long as it stayed in Afghanistan, interpreted its presence in Kabul as a way to control Asia’s intermediate axis so as to avoid Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Iranian and even American expansion.
The Brits went to Afghanistan to fight against a “terrorism” of which – like everyone in the West-they do not know the organizational and doctrinal roots or even the purposes, but see as the maximum destabilization of their unreasonably “multi-ethnic” and hence inevitably “multipolitical” societies.
This is the terrible case of a propaganda that stifles even the ruling classes that should be immune to it.
Certainly this was not even true in Afghanistan because the bad guy, namely Osama bin Laden, was often elsewhere. He was considered the only mastermind of the aforementioned “radical Islamic terrorism” – or whatever can be defined with this rather rough terminology – and hence to be killed, like a horse thief in the Far West. As has precisely happened, the killing of Osama bin Laden did not change anything.
He had to be killed because he had killed American citizens. True, right. But foreign policy is never the extension of any country’s domestic criminal law.
There was even Germany present in Afghanistan to contemplate its military decline, but above all to show – even eighty years later – that it was no longer a Nazi country. As Marx would have said, le mort saisit le vif.
In short, the varied presence of NATO and of the initial coalitions of the willing in the War on Terror had no clear ideas and probably did not even know where it really was.
Meanwhile, since 2014 – the year of the actual withdrawal from Afghanistan by the United States and its attack forces (after rigged elections, but in any case, whenever the United States participate in operations abroad, it always has acoitus interruptus)– the Taliban have started their great and real campaign to conquer the territory and, above all, the Afghan “souls”.
In 2015 NATO and the United States had planned to keep 13,000 military plus 9,800 U.S. soldiers for counter-terrorism activities. Later, however, the withdrawal from the Afghan territory – coincidentally after the great Battle for Kunduz – ended in December 2016, but leaving alive and operational as many as 8,400 soldiers on the ground.
Currently as in the past, the real problem for Afghanistan is Pakistan. General Musharraf, the former Pakistani President from June 20, 2001 to 18 August 18, 2008 (note the dates) and perpetrator of the 1999 military coup, clearly stated that the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), i.e. the Pakistan single intelligence structure, supported and trained all terrorist groups in Pakistan so as to later send them to Afghanistan, with a view to carrying out “terrorist” attacks on NATO, Western and Afghan targets.
In 2015 -a key year for Afghanistan – in an interview with The Guardian, Musharraf clearly said that the ISI had always “cultivated” the Taliban mainly to destabilize the government led by Karzai (a man also linked to India) but, in particular, to carry out harsh actions against India.
Pakistan keeps on supporting terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world – not only the Taliban, but also the other groups.
Rahmatullah Nabil, the Chief of the NDS -i.e. the new Intelligence Service affiliated to CIA but entirely Afghan – also officially showed documents proving that the funds long granted by the United States to Pakistan to “fight terrorism” shifted to the Pakistani Service ISI, precisely to train, recruit and support terrorism.
Hence the forgetfulness – so to speak – of the Afghan governments with regard to intelligence comes from far away.
At the time of the Soviet invasion, the KGB and the GRU created their two local counterparts, namely the Khadamar e-Aetela’at Al-Dawlati (KHaD) and the Wazeelat e-Amniat-e-Daulati (WAD), respectively.
The two agencies disappeared when Najibullah’s government fell in 1992, pending the great Russian crisis. As a result, however, also the Afghan State in all its forms collapsed. Therefore also the two agencies linked to the Soviet intelligence Services evaporated.
What there was, anyway, in the Afghan Intelligence Services before the Soviet invasion?
The first governments that had just come to power, after Russia’s arrival, organized four agencies: Kargarano Amniyati Mu’asasa (KAM), i.e. the “Workers’ Intelligence Service”;Da Afghanistan da Gato de Satalo Adara (AGDA), i.e. the “Agency for Safeguarding Afghan Interests”, Amin’s real longa manus, and the aforementioned WAD and KhAD.
The President of the time, Noor Tarakai, had little power, while Hafizullah Amin made sure that both the Communist Party (or, more precisely, the Afghan People’s Democratic Party) and the Agencies were divided in two, always following the policy line of the Khalq and Parcham factions.
The Khalq (meaning “masses” or “people”) was directly supported by the USSR. It was largely made up of Pashtuns and was particularly popular among the working classes.
The very superficial Marxism shown by the faction was often only a way to defend the Pashto world from the pressures of other ethnic groups.
The Parcham (meaning “flag”) was the most widespread faction of the party in the urban classes and in the middle and upper classes.
Eternal separation between rural and urban areas, a typically Maoist and classic crux of every practical and extra-Western interpretation of Marxism-Leninism.
The Parcham reunited laboriously with the Khalq faction during the 1978 Revolution, but it really came to power only after the Soviet operation, the local coup, i.e. Operation Tempest 333 of December 27, 1979, when the Alpha divisions of the KGB quickly took the Tajbeg palace and assassinated Hafizullah Amin.
Meanwhile, it was Amin himself who had ordered the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammed Taraki.
In the intermediate phase of his regime, Amin also had many Afghans assassinated – and not only his known opponents.
A possible, future “Cambodian” twist of Afghan Communism? Probably so.
At that juncture the USSR intervened since it did not want ideological deviations or Afghan approaches to Chinese Communism, as practiced in Vietnam or, precisely, in Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia. Hence Operation Shtorm 333 was carried out which, apart from Amin’s assassination, lasted approximately three months, to definitively “settle” the remaining issues.
With specific reference to the Afghan intelligence services, Hafizullah Amin mainly used the AGSA, but also the KAM, only to settle his scores. The two agencies, however, received technical assistance and training from East Germany and the USSR.
Nevertheless, the shift between the different ethnic groups is precisely the key to understanding the Afghan intelligence services prior to the U.S. and NATO operations. I believe that, in any case, ethnic factionalism – probably dating back to the old political-tribal faith – was the key to the functioning of the new Afghan Intelligence Services, even during the naive Western administration.
In January 1980 the KHaD fully replaced the KAM.
Furthermore, the KHaD was placed outside the administration of the Interior Ministry, dominated by the Khalq and then immediately transferred to the office of the Prime Minister, who later also became National Security Minister.
The Directors of the Afghan Intelligence Services always reported directly to the KGB and, in 1987, the standard situation was that the Afghan Intelligence Service employed almost 30,000 operatives and officials and over 100,000 paid informants.
Each element of the Afghan Intelligence Service had at least one KGB “advisor” behind them. As also shown in Syria, Russia paid but did not trust it too much.
Between 1983 and 1993, the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI -established by a British officer – trained, with the support of CIA, almost 90,000 Mujahideen to send them fighting the USSR in Afghanistan.
The KHaD had also the statutory obligation to “defend the Communist regime” and “unite all Afghan ethnic groups under one single political system”, especially in collaboration with the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs.
Again in the 1980s, the KHaD always had both East German and Soviet instructors and numerous secret mass executions took place.
About 60,000 Afghans were sent to the USSR between 1980 and 1984.
Again in those years, as many as 10,000 KHaD officers received special training from the KGB.
In an old confidential document, CIA also estimated that the total cost of the Soviet engagement in Afghanistan was over 15 billion roubles, plus additional 3 billion roubles for the period when it did not directly occupy Kabul.
Since currently the 1979 rouble is still worth 22.26 Euros, in principle we can calculate a Russian occupation expenditure of 233 billion and 930 million, plus the extra three billion roubles.
The KHaD also created tribal militias on the borders, while the KGB organized the internal tribes on its own, mainly for sabotage and to spread dezinformatsjia.
After the USSR’s final collapse and the arrival of the United States, however, a new Afghan Service, the NDS, was immediately created.
It was made up mainly of former KHaD agents and Mujahideen. Indeed, there was no other population available.
The Service, however, was known to be bad or even very bad: its operatives and analysts were selected only on a tribal level or by simple political affiliation.
They never went to school for education and training. They had no serious training centres and they did not professionally check their networks of informants.
Even the United States, however, spent a lot of money in Afghanistan: the Congressional Research Office has calculated a 1.6 trillion dollar spending in Afghanistan and Iraq only for the “War on Terror”.
The Afghan Service costs the USA 6.4 billion dollars every two years.
And spending always tends to increase, regardless of the poor results reached.
What about China? First of all, China wants the political stability of Afghanistan, which is a neighbouring and Islamic country. In particular, it controls Kabul to prevent Uyghur jihadism from finding a safe and secure place there. It prevents the Uyghurs from having contacts with the Taliban. It has already happened.
Everything will happen when the United States definitively leaves Afghanistan, since China now regards that country as an essential pawn in its relationship with India, while – through Pakistan – China strengthens its relations with the Taliban, which the Chinese view as the next and inevitable masters of Kabul. This forecast is really easy to make.
Moreover, China provided 70 million per year to the Afghan government to support its counter-terrorism efforts, while there have long been Chinese soldiers in Badakhstan and, above all, in the Wakhan Corridor, where it is said that China has already created a military base and has even already deployed a brigade of the People’s Liberation Army.
China has also put pressures on Kabul for Afghanistan to accept its satellite positioning system, instead of the GPS developed and managed by the United States.
Some Chinese troops, however, have also been stationing in Tajikistan for long time, again to protect the Wakhan Corridor.
Since his rise to power in 2014, however, also Ashraf Ghanihas thought to immediately improve his relations with China so as to use, first of all, China’s influence on Pakistan to avoid the Pakistani support to the Taliban – which is unlikely – as well as ensure that China begins to invest significantly in Afghanistan, now that the civil and international war is on the wane.
The China-Pakistan Corridor, one of the first axes of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative, is now worth 62 billion U.S. dollars of costs alone.
There is also a new railway line leaving from the port of Gwadar, the axis of China’s projection, and arriving in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and beyond.
In 2016 China also signed an agreement with Afghanistan for the Belt & Road Initiative, with the promise of 100 million U.S. dollars for infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, which have not been provided yet.
Trade between Afghanistan and China is fully asymmetric and, until Afghanistan is completely pacified – certainly by others and not by China -we believe that that the issue will not be very relevant, at least for China.
And until the triangulation between the Taliban, Pakistan and China – which has still many doubts about the reliability of the Pakistani “students” operating in Afghanistan (precisely, the Taliban) -is not even clear, the Afghan economic revival – if at China’s expense – will be slow or unlikely.
The way in which the Chinese intelligence services operate
Since the time of Empress Wu Chao, who created the first Chinese intelligence service in 625 A.D., much has changed, but we could also say that some traits have not completely changed, as we might believe at first sight.
Later there was China’s extraordinary adventure in the modern world, which began with the fall of the last Emperor Pu Yi, who was also guilty of collaborationism with the Japanese in Manchukuo and ended his days artistically drawing the phrase “today the people are sovereign” at the court of Mao Zedong.However, as early as 1934, the British intelligence Services deciphered MASK, the code used by the Komintern to encode information from Moscow to Shanghai which, at that time, was the CPC’s pole.
However, it was in 1957 that the United States began to fly its U-2s over China, starting from Peshawar.
In 1966, two years after the beginning of the Great Cultural and Proletarian Revolution, there was the great purge of the intelligence services in China carried out by the very powerful Kang Sheng. He was the mover of the fall of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Lin Biao, but then he was associated with the “Gang of Four” and hence suffered the usual damnation memoriae. A man of Mao Zedong who knew too much, but died in his bed.
Then, as is well-known, in 1971 Li Biao was killed while fleeing to the USSR with his plane.
Not surprisingly, again in 1971, Kissinger began to deal secretly with China. Lin Biao’s death was the seal on the definitive strategic separation between China and the Soviet Union – which was what the United States was interested in.
In 1973 the first CIA “station” was created at the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, while China took the Paracel Islands and CIA left its main station in Taiwan.
In 1975 the first Chinese Electronic Intelligence satellite (ELINT) was launched, but the following year saw the death of Zhou Enlai, the true master of Chinese foreign policy and Kissinger’s friend who protected Mao from his mistakes.
The Armed Forces returned to power: with the support of all the military, Deng Xiaoping quickly put Hua Guofeng aside and became the CPC Secretary, but reforms were still being studied. Initially Deng was not as reformist as currently believed in the West.
Hence in Deng’s reformist phase, the U.S. diplomatic recognition was shifted from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China – and that was China’s real goal at the time.
Shortly afterwards, China also opened diplomatic offices in the United States.
In 1981, however, the Americans developed programmes for controlling the Chinese agents operating in the USA, while Deng Xiaoping himself started China’s nuclear rearmament.
The China National Nuclear Corporation was established in 1988.
Ten years later, in 1999, the Chinese Armed Forces built a base for intercepting military signals in Cuba but, in 2002, the Chinese cyber attacks on some U.S. networks – known as TITAN RAIN – began, while the FBI even opened a liaison office in Beijing, with assignments also extended to Mongolia.
In 2004, China put the Nanosatellite I into orbit, but there was also a further cyber attack – probably of Chinese origin – on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, as well as on the Naval Ocean Systems Center, and finally on the space and strategic installation in Huntsville, Alabama.
In 2010, Google suffered an AURORA cyber attack. A long, powerful and initially uncontrollable attack.
Probably also Symantec, Northrop Grumman, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical were hit by AURORA cyber attacks – albeit this fact is not confirmed.
Hence data collection, mainly economic and technological intelligence for China, but also a complex relationship with the United States to be penetrated informally, but not to be damaged too much.
In any case, the reins of the Chinese Service (or rather, the intelligence services) were held by the State Security Ministry.
A legal difference should be underlined: while, legally speaking, the KGB was a Central Committee’s Department, the Communist China’s intelligence Service was a real Ministry.
The Interior Ministry was represented by the Public Security Ministry but, in general terms,it should be said that – unlike the old Soviet ones – the Chinese intelligence Services are less obsessive in their relationship with possible “sources”, anyway preferring ethnically Chinese people.
Furthermore, the Chinese Foreign Service seems to prefer sources that – unlike what happened with the Soviet KGB – have no money or personal crisis problems, which become dangerous or ambiguous.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, the Chinese intelligence Services do not willingly pay for news and information. They do not blackmail and they do not extort. Quite the reverse. They do not pay at all. If anything, they help Chinese abroad for relatives or other matters.
Hence rarely do the Chinese intelligence Services pay for the data they receive.
The Chinese intelligence Agencies are therefore interested in people who,only rarely, come within the range of attention of the enemy intelligence Services. Operationally speaking, this is an excellent choice.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, China’s intelligence Services do not organize rezidenture abroad. They also rarely hold clandestine meetings and almost never use covert communications.
“The floating bird is existence, if it dives it is non-existence”. The mind is like the moon: it is reflected in the water at a speed that man does not perceive. The mind should not be stopped, but left free to grasp the void, the invisible, the Nothing.
The Chinese intelligence Services, however, organize closed areas where a “source” finds itself – with its pace and needs – providing the materials needed by the Chinese government.
The width of the network, however, is such that the slow and non-invasive pace of Chinese operatives is capable of reaching the same – or even larger – quantity of sensitive material collected by a Service that does not follow the Tao, i.e. the natural flow of events and people.
Moreover, the Chinese intelligence Service often operates with real academics, real students, real journalists and very real businessmen.
The cover is often irrelevant, but also very true. Indeed, it is considered a cover attracting excessive interest – like jealousy which, as Karl Kraus used to say, “is a dog’s bark which attracts thieves”.
Obviously, in this respect, the Chinese intelligence Services have a significant advantage, since they can legally use real journalists and real academics, while in the West – including in Italy – it is forbidden to use “journalists, clergymen, parliamentarians and town councillors” as agents. Stupidity has been tormenting the intelligence Services with a ferocity worthy of a better cause.
Hence no one who can really be useful. This leads the Western intelligence services to fabricate useless complicated “stories” that are often easily discovered by the adversaries.
Not to mention the forty-year defamation of the intelligence Service – as is the case in Italy – which causes other damage.
For the intelligence Services, the Chinese technological companies operating in the West must be economically self-sufficient and, indeed, make profit, without weighing on the Service’s or State’s coffers.
An often predatory “Western-style” profit is also allowed, at least as long as this does not negatively affect intelligence operations.
Therefore, the Chinese companies using up technology and data – which are the primary material of current Chinese intelligence – must be the most obvious and natural enterprises, without hidden compartments or ambiguous operatives that the host country’s intelligence Services can discover – albeit possibly not so easily.
Another problem in the control of Chinese operations in the West is the difficulty – and, indeed, we could say the reluctance- with which our companies, including SMEs, report the often harshly blackmailing cyber attacks, or even the crises resulting from fraud and scams often carried out by managers and employees.
The obsession of being always listed on the Stock Exchange makes companies, including the small and medium-sized ones, excessively afraid of disclosing such adverse operations.
According to Leonardo-Finmeccanica, during the Covid-19 phase, there have been 230,000 malspam operations worldwide, 6% of which in Italy.
This year 51% of all Italian companies have suffered one or more significant cyber attacks, with a 125% average expansion for the domains called “Covid”.
In China, however, there has recently been a change of the State system.
While in the past, before globalization, also thanks to an “imperial” psychology, the Service had above all to defend borders and, to some respects, also the “purity” of the Chinese ethnic balance, today – considering the global economic role played by China – the Service has to deal with 1) the security of raw materials supplies from abroad and 2) the stability of the productive system in a phase of great social transformations.
Hence the necessary current complexity of the Chinese Party’s and State’s decision-making system: the top level is the National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG), which also has many informal strategic decision-making mechanisms within the Chinese ruling class. An elite that has always been more informal than we might think.
Certainly, at institutional level, there is also the Politburo Standing Committee, but there is still Hu Jintao, a man still essential to the power architecture of Xi Jinping, who listens to him carefully.
There is also the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group, which is less involved in relations with the United States – of which the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group is in charge – but mainly controls the work of the Agencies and connects them.
In addition to the intelligence Services’ role, a fundamental role is also played by the various and often excellent academic and non-academic think tanks.
Also the results of these structures are assessed by the Small Groups.
But how is foreign policy decided in China?
First of all, there is the CPC but, more precisely, the “Politburo Central Committee”, in addition to the aforementioned Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC).
With its 204 members and 167 “alternate” members, the Central Committee meets once a year.
The “Politburo Central Committee” is composed of 25 members, elected by the Central Committee. It meets once a month and five of its members do not usually live in Beijing.
The PBSC, the Central Committee Standing Group for Foreign Affairs, meets once a week and has nine members.
The Meeting is often coordinated by the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office.
Within the Standing Committee, the Foreign Affairs Office has a specific area responsibility, but we should not think that Chinese Communism is authoritarian, at least in the childish sense of the term.
The bigger the issue, the wider and freer the discussion. The leader’s policy line is always to buildthe broadest consensus among his advisers.
With specific reference to the thorniest issues, the leader often appoints a “first collaborator” but usually the “central” meetings are routine for minor issues, even geopolitically, while the leader speaks and decides on the essential issues: the relations with the United States – still a constant obsession of the Chinese intelligence Service – with Japan, Taiwan or, most likely, the Russian Federation.
The policy line at the top of the decision-making system – and this also pleases Xi Jinping – is still the old and stable policy line developed by Jang Zemin, which was defined in 1999: “collective leadership, democratic centralism, individual preparation and decisions that always result from meetings”.
In this way, the Standing Committee and the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office prepare briefings and distribute them among the Central Committee’s offices.
Often there is no voting, but discussions are held until consensus is reached.
For example,a rare case of voting was when North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2009 and China had to decide whether to withdraw its support for the country. Seven negative votes were cast against support for North Korea.
The establishment of the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG)mainly followed the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
A fact that has marked China’s recent political history.
Hu Jintao, whom the PSBC defined as a “main personality”, leads a complex office: eight Ministers from the State Council; two from the Foreign Ministry; the National Security Minister; the Minister of Commerce; the Taiwan Affairs Office, the Office dealing with Hong Kong and Macao; the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and finally the Information Office.
There are also two Party’s bodies: the Propaganda Department and the International Department.
The Armed Forces are represented by the Defence Minister and the Chief of Staff.
Therefore, the Chinese intelligence Services have a completely different style and modus operandi compared to the Westerners’ intelligence practices. They also have a complex and technically refined organization of political control over the Services’ operations, and finally a different finalization of the Chinese Agencies’ operations in the West, at least for the time being.
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