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The Taliban’s Enablers

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Since the 9/11 attacks, numerous books have been written about the Taliban, documenting its history and resurgence.

Many writers fault the United States for failing to turn Afghanistan into the Shangri La that it could be, claiming that beginning with the Bonn conference in December 2001, the Afghanistan war has been a disaster punctuated by one missed opportunity after another, guided by a hubristic new imperialism.

Some recurrent themes pervade this literature. To begin with, it is believed that the Taliban is not as bad as is commonly thought and that its actions should be equated with those of others, thereby implying that bad behavior is the norm. It has likewise been argued that the Taliban can be coaxed into behaving better if only Washington will provide the right combination of carrots and sticks, and that isolating the movement, and holding it accountable for its atrocities, will only embolden it. Finally, there is the view that the West in general and Washington in particular must excuse the Taliban’s “excesses” as just another way of life: This requires treating Pashtunwali (the tribal code of behavior traditionally governing Pashtun society), Shari’a, and democracy as merely different approaches to living, none better, none worse than another.

Through often learned prose, plenty of repetition, and the kind of authorization conferred by academic presses, these placating chroniclers have greatly burnished the Taliban’s image in the West. As U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan shifts from surge to surgical strikes to peace talks, Americans had better get to know the real Taliban.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism

As a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Ahmed Rashid reported on the rise of the Taliban as it happened. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, first published in 2001 prior to 9/11 and now in its second edition (2010),[1] was among the first book-length examinations of the Taliban. Rashid’s work is best known for the section, “The New Great Game,” which outlines a new colonialism in which Iran, Russia, China, the United States, and even Japan control the fate of the region. He faults Washington for the rise of the Taliban because it failed to provide the proper circumstances and funding that could have prevented its resurgence. As Rashid puts it: “The pipeline of U.S. military aid to the Mujahedin was never replaced by a pipeline of international humanitarian aid that could have been an inducement for the warlords to make peace and rebuild the country.”

In a chapter for the new edition—”The Taliban Resurgent 2000-2009″—Rashid argues that excluding the Taliban from the Bonn conference was a disastrous oversight but fails to acknowledge that the Taliban would certainly have opposed its goal—to create, in Rashid’s words, “a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government.” He goes on to blame the Taliban resurgence on U.S. failure to commit adequate forces to the country in its “rush” to move on to Iraq: “even a few more U.S. troops could have made a huge difference.” What he neglects to mention, though, is that even if the Bush administration had decided to commit every person, dollar, and piece of equipment that went to the Iraq war to Afghanistan, much of it would have spent years sitting at Bagram Air Base, awaiting transportation over Afghanistan’s nonexistent infrastructure.[2]

While Rashid acknowledges that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has provided safe haven and intelligence to the Taliban since its founding, he downplays those efforts, putting them on equal footing with “problems within NATO and lack of U.S. focus.” These problems, however, are not on equal footing. Nothing short of a full invasion of Pakistan could have prevented the Taliban from resurging.

Rashid’s solution has always been to negotiate with the Taliban, bringing it into the civilized world, in part, by honoring it. He argues that the Taliban of the 1990s was “essentially a peasant army rather than an international terrorist organization. This is what they still are … not a monolithic organization, but one in which there [are] several interest groups, some of which could be won over.” Here Rashid makes the same error of omission made by many of the Taliban’s enablers: He pretends that Washington has never treated the movement with the same kind of diplomatic engagement it treats genuine governments. In fact, from 1995 until January 2001, the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban.[3] Michael Rubin has documented the steady stream of U.S. diplomats (Thomas W. Simons, Robin Raphel, Warren Christopher, John Holzman, Madeline Albright, Donald Camp, William B. Milan, and Bill Richardson[4]) who negotiated with the Taliban.[5] Clinton administration insiders Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon claim that Karl Underfurth, then assistant secretary of state for South Asia, met with “Taliban representatives at least twenty times between the August 1998 [African Embassy] bombings and the end of the Clinton administration.”[6] The Japanese government negotiated with the Taliban in an attempt to remove and purchase the fourth-century twin statues of Buddha overlooking Hazara before their destruction in March 2001.[7] Those negotiations too came to naught. And what is a diplomat to make of the fact that Mullah Omar will not meet face-to-face with non-Muslims?

In 2011, the Karzai government set up the High Peace Council (HPC) to pursue diplomacy, naming as its leader Berhanuddin Rabbani, the closest thing Afghanistan had to an elder statesman. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker marveled at the monumental accomplishment of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. But soon the Taliban began behaving like the Taliban: On September 20, 2011, one of its “negotiators” detonated a bomb hidden in his turban, killing Rabbani and four other HPC members. When former “moderate Taliban” Arsala Rahmani succeeded Rabbani, he too was murdered, gunned down on the way to work. As might be expected, no one is currently clamoring to fill the job of chief HPC negotiator.

The Taliban Shuffle

In The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,[8] Kim Barker, former foreign correspondent for The Chicago Tribune covering India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, describes her love affair with Afghanistan and Pakistan as “more all consuming than any relationship I had ever had.” If this kind of glib, colloquial prose, adored by Rolling Stone and New York Magazine, was her book’s only fault, it would not be so bad. Unfortunately, readers learn more about Kim Barker—what she eats, drinks, wears, or with whom she flirts, travels, and has sex—than about the Taliban.

Barker only shallowly explores the damage done to the image of the West caused by the collection of journalists who invaded first Kabul and then the rest of the country after the Taliban was toppled in November 2001. She describes toga parties, trampoline orgies, rooftop raves, and general drunken revelry at journalist hangouts but never speculates that such behavior may have presented the West in the most negative light possible to the Afghan people. Instead, she is quick to blame George W. Bush, the U.S., British, Canadian, German, and Dutch militaries, the CIA, and frequently India, for the woes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. To her mind, Western aid is never quite enough. (Even the non-Western Chinese government is faulted for its insensitivity in including pigs as a gift to the Kabul Zoo.) After complaining about the deplorable state of clinics built by U.S. Agency for International Development contractors all over Afghanistan, some of which had no medicine and no doctors, Barker blames Washington for the deficiencies rather than the Taliban who prevented the female half of the Afghan population from becoming physicians, regularly destroyed clinics before 9/11, and made life in Afghanistan generally miserable and unsafe for foreign physicians.

Alongside an explanation of the concept of jihad that is embarrassingly shallow, Barker has an astonishing penchant for tolerating shortcomings, including outright predatory sexual behavior, among the native peoples. She notes the irony of the situation of “Islamic clerics [who] forced me to wear a black abaya showing only my eyes, but then privately asked to see my face and hair,” but is unwilling to label it hypocrisy. After a lengthy description of the tendency of Pakistani men to engage in frequent “ass-grabbing free-for-all” sessions, she explains: “An ass-grab was about humiliation and, of course, the feeling of some men in the country that Western women needed sex like oxygen, and that if a Pakistani man just happened to put himself in her path or pinched her when the sex urge came on, he’d get lucky. I blamed Hollywood.” But why not blame Pakistani men? This condescending and infantilizing tendency to write about Afghans and Pakistanis as dependent on others, unable to think or act critically or curb their impulses, makes Barker’s book a useless exercise in West-bashing.

Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban

A more insightful look into the Taliban comes in Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban[9] by Jere Van Dyk, student, chronicler, and former prisoner of the Taliban. Having first ventured into Afghanistan in the 1970s on the so-called “hippie trail,” Van Dyk returned after the Soviet invasion, living and traveling with warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and his followers. Those years were documented in his book In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey.[10] In 2008, believing he could get inside the new Haqqani network (now run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin) with the right fixers, he returned. In search of a group of Pashtuns identifying themselves as members of the Taliban who were to take him to meet up with the Haqqanis, he and his fixers were captured shortly after crossing into Pakistan and eventually released only when CBS paid a ransom.

In preparation for the mission, Van Dyk grew his beard, dressed like an Afghan, and wandered the streets of Kabul studying and imitating the mannerisms he observed. His one handicap? An inability to speak Dari, Pashto, or Nouristani. The whole enterprise smacks of Gonzo journalism and extraordinary naiveté:

I wanted to find out what the Taliban were really like, to see how different they were from the mujahideen. I wanted to learn what they thought and what their goals were. I wanted to go to their training camps. I wanted to explain the Taliban to the outside world. I wanted to go deep into the heart of Taliban country, to get to their leaders, men I knew from the 1980s, and through them perhaps even Osama bin Laden himself. I felt that with my contacts, my history with the mujahideen, and my knowledge of Pashtun culture, I could do what no one else could do. I knew these people. We had once been friends.

Van Dyk’s love of Afghan culture blinds him to its horrors as when a description of Pashtun tribal code ends with the blithe observation: “Under Pashtunwali, a rumor can end a woman’s life.” His jailer Gulob promises freedom and safety if he will convert to Islam. Van Dyk complies in order to save his skin, leading to effusive passages of admiration for his captors and their culture and a refusal to condemn the Taliban for what it did to his beloved Afghanistan. Stockholm syndrome overtakes him, and he soon begins to pray, speak, wash, eat, and even think (or so he says) like a Pashtun.

Nonetheless, there is a good deal of information to be gleaned from Van Dyk’s considerable experience in the region, and he comments on his own situation with humor and insight. In retrospect, the most interesting bit of information has to be Gulob’s comment that “Osama and al-Zawahiri are not in the tribal zones. They are being protected by institutions. Pakistan will never give them up.” It would appear that Van Dyk did get the inside scoop after all.

Taliban: The Unknown Enemy

Scottish journalist James Fergusson’s Taliban: The Unknown Enemy[11] incorporates every element of the pro-Taliban-anti-U.S. agitprop template. The title bespeaks the book’s thesis—we in the West do not really know the Taliban.

Fergusson even questions the validity of the term “Taliban,” or as one unnamed British special forces officer put it: “In 2006, when the fighting started, we called everyone who resisted us ‘Taliban.’ But they really weren’t necessarily. They were just the community’s warrior class who had always defended their community against outsiders and were bound to do so again. The ‘Taliban’ in that sense were an enemy of our own creation.” The anonymous officer may be correct in the sense that the Taliban has grown beyond the original Pashtun warlords who pledged loyalty to Mullah Omar between 1994 and 1996. But the term has not lost its significance or its usefulness. “Taliban” has become something of an umbrella term capable of signifying a movement of diverse characters sharing the same goals. Arguing whether those loyal to Hekmatyar, Haqqani, or Lashkar-e-Taiba are “genuine” Taliban is a bit like arguing whether al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, the Somalian al-Shabab, and Nigerian Boko Haram are “genuine” al-Qaeda. Their goals, enemies, tactics, and beliefs are the same. Taliban fighters may be Kashmiri or Punjabi; they have even been known to admit Americans like John Walker Lindh.[12]

Fergusson’s revisionist history of the Taliban portrays the regime as not quite as bad as the West has painted it. Women were not really treated as badly as was believed—denied education, barred from working, or forced to hide themselves. Fergusson reassures us that “women were not always automatically beaten for showing their faces,” which must come as quite a relief to all.

This intentional whitewashing of one of the most destructive regimes of modern times covers all bases. Fergusson underreports well-known Taliban atrocities like the (literal) poisoning of the wells on the Shomali plains in 1997. On the destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas, Fergusson quotes (but does not document) a decree from Mullah Omar to protect the statues as a source of tourist revenue but is unable to explain how the decree was ignored. As the “first Western journalist in more than two years to interview the fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” Fergusson essentially becomes a cheerleader for the terrorist leader and his group by promoting what might be called the “wing theory” of terrorist organizations, whereby a group poses as a bicameral enterprise in which its “political wing” promotes an agenda peacefully while a “militant wing” promotes that same agenda violently.

Ameliorating the guilt of the Taliban requires playing up someone else’s to explain Afghanistan, and there is a long list of guilty parties in the book. Hamid Karzai bears the brunt of the scorn reserved for Afghans. Karzai’s greed and his government’s corruption are now well-known, but Fergusson goes too far in describing it as no better and perhaps worse than the Taliban’s. Offering no evidence, he refers to the current National Directorate of Security as “the successor to the KHAD,” the much-feared Afghan iteration of the KGB secret police run by the Soviet puppet Muhammad Najibullah.

But Washington is the true villain in Fergusson’s telling. Beginning with the cliché that after 9/11 the “international community” was sympathetic to the United States, he proceeds to lament that “Americans failed miserably to exploit this tide of goodwill.” And then it gets absurd when he writes that “with just a little more patience from the U.S., bin Laden might have ended up in a courtroom, al-Qaida might have lost its figurehead, and 9/11 and the entire War on Terror might never have happened.” The “U.S.’s reliance on proxy local forces” is faulted on one page and the U.S.’s excessive militaristic footprint on another.

So what should Washington do according to Fergusson? Invest in Afghanistan and coerce further investment from the “international community.” As his friend Mullah Abdul-Basit told him in 2007, had U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan unarmed, solely to rebuild the country, “you would have been our guests … If your engineers and agriculture experts had come to us and explained what they were trying to do, we would have protected them with our lives.” Perhaps such an idea would not seem quite so absurd had the Taliban no history of (and penchant for) kidnapping and killing aid workers.

As a result of Fergusson’s partisan revisionism, in which the group is more sinned against than sinning, the real Taliban remains “unknown.”

Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban

Unlike Van Dyke, who was ransomed from his captivity, Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad paid the ultimate price for his inside connections. Nearly everyone, the U.S. government included, believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence killed Shahzad for his reporting on the close and growing ties between it, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.

But Shahzad’s posthumously published book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11[13]—the go-to source for all the minutiae on the post-9/11 Taliban—is no antidote to the reflexive anti-Western tracts reviewed above. For Shahzad, the word “terrorist” only refers to the U.S. government as he prefers the term “militants” or “Commanders” (always capitalized) for the Taliban he befriended. Likewise al-Qaeda is “a resistance movement against Western Imperialism,” fighting the “occupation forces” of the “U.S.-NATO-led war machine.”

Inside Al-Qaeda does have some value, outlining in stunning detail the post-9/11 Taliban, comprised of extremist Taliban, malleable Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, tribal Taliban, Taliban affiliates, and al-Qaeda-Taliban affiliates. He painstakingly explains the various rivalries that divide the tribal Taliban and seems to have known (and liked) everyone involved. Ignoring the pre-9/11 connections between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Shahzad insists that the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan drove them to collaborate, rather than the other way around.

While still alive, and in this postmortem book, Shahzad gave credibility to the assortment of Taliban fighters, mullahs, and “Commanders” who spoke freely to him. Though they certainly said things they wanted the world to believe, stretching the truth in the process, if even half of what they told him is accurate, the West is still greatly underestimating the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in all their iterations.

Taliban Life, Poetry, and Myth

Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn have become the Taliban’s most generous supporters and most prolific apologists. The two moved to Afghanistan in 2006, settling in Kandahar, where they set up the now-inactive blog, AfghanWire.com. By running cover for the Taliban, minimizing atrocities, and deflecting blame elsewhere, they ingratiated themselves with Mullah Mohammed Salem Zaeef and became the editors of his self-pitying and evasive biography My Life with the Taliban.[14] This work promised the ultimate insider’s history of the Taliban but delivered little more than an anti-U.S. polemic, peppered with passages of execrable (and unintended) irony: “The Taliban had also started to implement shari’a law: Women were no longer working in government departments, and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards. Life in the city was returning to normal.”

Another piece of Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s charm offensive on behalf of the Taliban is an anthology titled The Poetry of the Taliban,[15] the goal of which is to humanize the Taliban fighters. The poems themselves are inconsequential, neither great nor terrible by today’s admittedly low standards. As one might expect, there are poems about killing, waging jihad, confronting the enemy, glorious Shari’a, and so on. What is perhaps most interesting (and ignored by Van Linschoten and Kuehn) is that among the list of predictable Taliban obsessions (Bush, Obama, Karzai, Guantanamo Bay) emerges the true enemy: the Western invention of human rights and, collaterally, the nongovernmental organizations that oversee their implementation and report on their absence.

But far more important than the quality of the poems themselves is their utility in selling the idea that the Taliban is morally and culturally equal to the West. Take, for example, the back cover blurb where Harvard’s Michael Semple writes that the Taliban is not “culturally backward” but is in fact “inspiring a people to resist a dull global plan to modernize them.” The bulk of this rhetorical salesmanship is found in Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s introduction. One of their tropes equates poetry written by British combat veterans who fought the Taliban with examples of Taliban verse: “Both sets of poets take leave of their mothers before they leave for the front, both are in turns thrilled and fearful when the moment of battle arrives, and both grieve at the death of friends and family.” The sales pitch may convince some, but it fails on the follow-through: When their war is over, returning British soldiers will not try to close girls’ schools, compel non-Anglicans to join the Church of England, and force everyone to eat, work, and play as they do in a coordinated effort to efface and annul the very idea of human rights.

Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s latest effort is an academic revisionist history, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan,[16] which tries to dispel the “popular discourse” that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have merged into a singular entity they call “Talqaeda.” The first problem is the failure to convince that such a discourse is popular; even Shahzad did not suggest a merger so much as a symbiotic convergence of interests leading to cooperation. Aside from its thesis, the book has serious methodological flaws. Nearly every important assertion hangs on a footnote that reads merely: “Interview,” followed by a location and date. While anonymity may be acceptable for a journalist’s fixers, drivers, and perhaps even translators, it has no place in “for-the-record” sources. It is simply impossible to gauge the veracity of the work without being able to assess the credibility of the sources. Ironically, the authors reject sources like the 9/11 Commission Report as being unreliable, along with information “extracted under duress from Khalid Sheik Mohammed.” The cumulative effect of this work of pseudo-scholarly journalism renders the project little more than a book of rumors cloaked in a veneer of academic paraphernalia.

Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s primary goal is to disassociate al-Qaeda from Mullah Omar’s movement, but history is not on their side. By their account, the Taliban leadership was completely unaware of bin Laden prior to 1996, and they even fatuously claim that the Rabbani-Massoud government invited bin Laden to Afghanistan. In seeking to absolve the Taliban of all guilt relating to the 9/11 attacks, they unconvincingly argue that its leaders neither knew the attacks were coming nor approved of them after. Even the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001, when he was leader of the Northern Alliance (and therefore the Taliban’s number one enemy in the region), caught the Taliban by surprise according to the authors. Their insinuation that al-Qaeda’s desire to restore the caliphate and the Taliban’s desire to restore Afghanistan to some kind of Qur’anic Khurasan are incompatible is based on scant evidence.

Finally, the book closes with what reads like an opaque threat: Unless “serious negotiations” conducted “on multiple levels” about the future of Afghanistan include the Taliban, the “escalated levels of conflict … will increasingly resemble the violent civil war of the 1990s.” Work with the Taliban, or else.

Conclusion

In Taliban lore, the indigenous Afghan mujahideen defeated the Soviet Union with very little help from the outside just as earlier generations of Afghans defeated a steady stream of foreign invaders from Alexander the Great to the British, each bent on enslaving them. The myth of Afghan invincibility endures today with the United States portrayed as the latest invader, no different than the Soviet Union. The myth-makers’ adherents are confident that history will repeat itself. In the April/May issue of Azan, Taliban propagandists push the U.S.-U.S.S.R. comparison by blending the names Obama and Gorbachev into Obamachev, “meant to draw parallels between … the USSR under the leadership of Mikail Gorbachev on the eve of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 with that of the United States under Barack Obama amid the upcoming U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.”[17]

This facile equalization of all foreign invaders, especially the Soviet Union and the United States, is understandable from Taliban sources, but far too many Taliban experts are complicit in these gross misrepresentations. Washington’s involvement in Afghanistan has always been motivated by the desire to oppose enemies (Soviet, Iranian, al-Qaeda) and to ameliorate the lives of the Afghan people. The Soviet Union, by contrast, sought to own Afghanistan. In the post-Kennedy era of U.S. largesse, so much aid went to Helmand province that it became known as “Little America.”[18] In the 1980s, Moscow’s top scientific minds devised bombs resembling toys so as to attract and maim children.[19] In contrast, in the days between 9/11 and the October invasion, U.S. planes dropped untold tons of food along with leaflets explaining to the Afghan people that better days were coming. Perhaps the Taliban leaders really cannot see the difference between Soviet perfidy and U.S. attempts to wipe out al-Qaeda and make life better for all Afghans, but Western scholars and journalists know better. Rather than lending credence to Taliban propaganda, they ought to admit that were Washington to adopt Soviet-style tactics, Afghanistan would never stand a chance.

As we enter a new era in which the Taliban is seen as a legitimate political force, there can be little doubt that it will eventually take over Afghanistan. From Vice President Biden’s claim that “the Taliban, per se, is not our enemy”[20] to the ongoing rewriting of history, its enablers, apologists, and admirers assist the takeover in big and small ways by denying that the era of Taliban rule was a travesty of governance during which abominable crimes were committed. And though the constant drumbeat of “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” finds a willing audience in the Obama administration, the Taliban is interested in negotiation only to gain, not to compromise.

So when the announcement of three-way negotiations in Qatar between Washington, the Karzai government, and the Taliban were applauded this spring in the usual circles as positive progress, the Taliban immediately showed its true nature: On June 16, Mutasim Agha Jan of the Taliban praised the upcoming talks as “a major step in formulating a channel for talks between Kabul and the Taliban,”[21] but on June 18, the Taliban office in Doha opened bearing a plaque and the banner of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”[22] (the name used under Mullah Omar from 1996-2001) and publicly denounced Karzai as a U.S. puppet (implicitly likening him to Najibullah and predictably prompting the Karzai government to pull out of the negotiations). As Davood Moradian of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies recently put it: “A peace that is ‘Made in Pakistan,’ promoted by London, sold by Washington, and financed by Qatar is doomed to fail.”[23]

As of this writing, the diplomatic enterprise appears to be on hold, but it will surely be restarted. And if Mullah Omar is allowed to emerge from hiding in Quetta and revive his atavistic, seventh-century utopian fantasy, the world will see just how unregenerate the Taliban is. Only this time around, no one will be able to claim ignorance.

first published in Middle East Forum

A.J. Caschetta is senior lecturer in English at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He can be reached at ajcgsl@rit.edu.

[1] Yale University Press.
[2] For information on Afghanistan’s infrastructure, see “South Asia: Afghanistan,” World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., July 10, 2013.
[3] Jayshree Bajoria, “Backgrounder: The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2011.
[4] For background on Richardson’s discussion with the Taliban, see Bruce O. Riedel, “Islamism Is Not Unstoppable,” Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, pp. 51-60.
[5] Michael Rubin, “Taking Tea with the Taliban,” Commentary, Feb. 2010.
[6] The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), pp. 272-3.
[7] Reuters, Mar. 5, 2001.
[8] New York: Doubleday, 2011.
[9] New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2010.
[10] New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1983.
[11] Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2011.
[12] Peter A. Olsson, “Homegrown Terrorists, Rebels in Search of a Cause,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013, pp. 3-10.
[13] London: Pluto Press, 2011.
[14] New York: Columbia University Press, 2010; see, also, “Brief Reviews,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2011.
[15] New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
[16] New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
[17] The Jihad and Threat Monitor, no. 5329, Middle East Media Research Institute, June 6, 2013.
[18] All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 5, 2010.
[19] CBC News (Can.), Oct. 28, 2000; M. Siddieq Noorzoy, “Afghanistan’s Children: The Tragic Victims of 30 Years of War,” Middle East Institute, Apr. 20, 2012.
[20] ABC News, Dec. 19, 2011; Fox News, Dec. 19, 2011.
[21] Tolo News (Kabul), June 17, 2013.
[22] The New York Times, June 19, 2013.
[23]Taliban Guns Send a Message about Obama’s Peace Process,” The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2013.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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ISIS and the Continuing Threat of Islamist Jihad: The Need for the Centrality of PSYOP

Kimbra L. Fishel

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Defining the Problem

The National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS) calls for direct military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the disruption of terror plots, the destruction of terrorist safe havens and sources of finance, a shared responsibility with allies in confronting the threat and combating radicalization to counter ISIS ideology. The Trump Administration’s NSS accurately identifies the ISIS end goal as creation of the global Islamic caliphate and notes its totalitarian vision. This strategy further acknowledges the threat posed by ISIS will remain after its territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria. While the Trump Administration put forth a series of wide ranging efforts spanning the instruments of power for insurgent warfare, the President is nearing a moment of critical decision regarding US involvement in Syria and Iraq. Early withdrawal risks abandoning the area to a reemergence of the regional caliphate as well as to Iranian and Russian influence. Declaring victory too soon could blind the US to the continued global threat of Islamist jihad. Therefore, US actions must secure the ways and means of meeting the Administration’s end goal – that of destruction of the ISIS threat and overall stability of the region — through a campaign heavily targeted on Islamist ideology and centered upon psychological operations.

This Islamic State evolved out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Islamist terror organization. ISIS represents a politico-religious ideology based on the 7th century Islamic Caliphate that is antithetical to Western values and ideals and opposes all Muslims who do not share its view of Islam. The organization’s infrastructure or Dawa seeks the conversion of non-Muslims and to instill Islamist views in all Muslims. ISIS is a global insurgency promoting subversion from within in which Sharia law replaces political institutions. It utilizes social media to incite global support for operations and mujahideen recruitment. By 2014, at least 60 militant Islamist groups had pledged allegiance to or support for the Islamic State. Since that time, a series of attacks throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and the United States demonstrated ISIS’s global reach as well as its ability to attract a worldwide flow of recruits. Unlike Al Qaeda, which primarily stressed a global virtual network and the spectacular terror attack, ISIS initially captured and held territory in Iraq and Syria, functioning as a state as well as an Islamist terror network. In June 15, 2014, Operation Inherent Resolve began military intervention against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In 2018, the regional caliphate in Iraq and Syria is all but destroyed by the United States and coalition partners.

ISIS’s success at establishing its transnational organization came by demonstrating an ability to acquire and hold territory while simultaneously spreading the concept of the global caliphate. It undermined competitors, attracted sympathizers, and grew in regions that were ungovernable by states. These areas include not only Iraq and Syria but also Yemen, regions of Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Nigeria, where Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and renamed itself the Islamic State’s West African Province. In 2016, terrorism specialist Rohan Gunaratna maintained that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, it will continue to expand in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and SE Asia and will eventually attempt a spectacular terror act utilizing its foreign fighters. The 2015 Paris attacks demonstrated the ISIS/local nexus and the capability to carry out such an attack.

Similarly, US Director of National Intelligence Dan R Coats maintains with the loss of territory, the ISIS threat in 2018is that the organization will regroup in a long-term insurgency to reestablish itself in the region while giving priority to transnational terror attacks and global interconnection. This threat includes home country attacks carried out by ISIS sympathizers. Since 2016, ISIS has published 13 magazines in languages including English, German, French, and Arabic and released videos promoting jihad. The August 2017 attack in Spain was detailed in the ISIS magazine Rumiyah, which also called for “all-out war” against the West. EUROPOL also recognizes the long-term security challenge from the increased threat of attack in European states as foreign fighters return home or infiltrate states as territory is lost in Iraq and Syria.

Proposed Resolutions

The 2017 NSS highlights a successful ground campaign in Syria and Iraq in which much of the territory captured by ISIS had been retaken and the physical caliphate had been destroyed. According to the former Deputy Assistant to President Trump, Sebastian Gorka, moving from the Obama strategy of attrition to the Trump strategy of annihilation resulted in military success on the ground. This involved the setting of grand strategy and policy at the NSC and DOD levels while leaving theatre operations to the commanders in the fields as well as calling for a Muslim/Arab partnership with the US to meet the ongoing threat. Still, others see the Trump strategy as merely an amplification of the Obama strategy.  Analyst Phillip Lohaus testified before Congress that despite successes certain elements of the Trump strategy remain similar to Obama’s strategy, including special forces direct action missions, airstrikes, and the use of drones. The problem remains that there is still no plan for a post-Islamic State in either Iraq or Syria: if American involvement is reduced too soon the Islamic State could reemerge.

In rightfully focusing on ideology, Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that Obama’s policy of “countering violent extremism” failed to address the underlying threat that produces the violence. She is correct, as focusing on the tactic ignores the strategical underpinnings inherent in the threat, namely that of radical Islamism. She argues that the Trump Administration took a solid step by identifying the enemy. However, the focus of US strategy must not be exclusively on violence but must go straight to targeting the spread of ideology. Trump’s promise to be a friend to moderate Muslim reformers and to screen those entering the US for radical Islamist ideology is a start, but a full policy must be developed that targets how Islamist ideology is spread. This will require a careful balance between rights and security in a democratic Republic. It will also involve an understanding of the psychology surrounding the Islamist movement and those who seek to join it.

Similarly, in moving beyond the focus on violence, Gunaratna called for a full engagement of a four-dimensional threat composed of the ISIS core in Syria and Iraq, the ISIS branches, the global ISIS infiltration, and ISIS online.In short, ISIS loss of territory does not equate to victory against ISIS due to the ability of the organization to effectively move from one style of conflict to another: from a territorial-based operation to a decentralized global mode of recruitment and attack. It is because of the nature of the threat posed by ISIS that analyst Michael Pregent testified before Congress that from a tactical and operational standpoint what is needed beyond the taking of ISIS territory is for US forces to partner with local Sunni forces that can hold territory while US Special Operations Forces conduct kill and capture operations. Strategically, the US must work toward reconciliation in Iraq and Syria as well as the dismantling of the militia. However, Pregent fears this will not occur due to Russian and Iranian actions in the area. Thus, ISIS activity will remain a recurring problem.

New Recommendations

Countering the Islamic State requires at its center a psychological campaign targeting Iraq and Syria and ISIS threats to the United States and Europe and regions throughout the world.The concern about the creation of a power vacuum by premature withdrawal of US forces is a legitimate issue. President Trump recently indicated the United States would pull out of Syria “soon” and is considering his options, although the recent Syrian chemical attack in Douma will render that prospect moot in the short term. Whether Trump’s statements are part of diplomatic maneuvering to pressure other countries in the region and in Europe to take on more of the burden remains to be seen. However, the United States vacating the area is not a viable option, as the Islamic State will attempt to reestablish the regional caliphate and Iran will likely try to seek a permanent military base in Syria, potentially backed by the Russians. The political integrity of Iraq is necessary to counter Iran and its Shia form of Islamist militancy.

A campaign targeting ISIS infiltration into the United States as well as other host countries is also required. Expect an expansion of regional and global ISIS operations as operatives attempt to infiltrate communities to carry out attacks and inspire home-grown terrorist sympathizers. The non-radical Muslim communities of all countries should be targeted as allies against potential attack from extremist ideology.

Instead of Syrian withdrawal, military operations of seizing and holding territory should continue and a no-fly zone should be established. Operation Inherent Resolve must shift its primary focus to one of psychological operations. The combined Joint Inter Agency Task Force with US military command and operational control over all assets is critical because it allows for organizational control and the mixing of elements from CIA, State Department, and the military. Special operations forces in Syria and Iraq include Special Forces (Delta and Seal Team 6), Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs units. The Psychological Operations focus will be on countering ISIS propaganda while Civil Affairs engages in national assistance to improve living conditions for the people on the ground so that they are willing to work with Special Forces and are susceptible to PSYOP. In general, there are three groups of Muslims present for target operations: the Islamists loyal to ISIS who must be isolated and destroyed, the Reformers who should be backed by US and coalition partners, and the vast majority of Muslims who are not Islamists and whose “hearts and minds” the coalition seeks to win over.

The Hearts and Minds of the Persuadable

The psychological component within the United States and Europe against ISIS remains the centerpiece of operations utilizing assets across the board. In the US, the department of Homeland Security becomes the lead agency with important agencies such as FBI and ATF working as part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. As psychological operations are illegal within the US, the focus within the US is on public information. In Europe, the State Department will be the primary player in negotiation with host countries, with the National Security Council managing the effort. CIA is available for clandestine operations as needed. Specifically, in either the US or Europe, group identities will be either undermined or reinforced in those hostile and friendly groups respectively.

Host country populations will be mobilized to support Muslim reformist groups and the moderate majority, establishing intergroup linkages for possible assimilation into the population. Group and social identities of Muslims will be targeted, reinforcing those identities which bolster reformist Muslims and isolating those which reinforce radical Islamism. Given that Middle Eastern cultural and religious identity is a crucial component of worldview and that ISIS is a political religious ideology, targeting those social bonds that are vulnerable to ISIS propaganda and recruitment is a key operational element.  The goal is assimilation of the moderate majority who are persuadable away from radicalization and to break potential group fusion with radical Islamists before it occurs. Preventing the radicalization of moderate Muslims by Islamists is the preferred route, as de-fusion from a group is a difficult process, and will provide a possible foundation for better future engagement with Western powers.

 

References

Alexander, Michele G., Shana Levin and P.J. Henry. 2005 “Image Theory, Social Identity,

SocialDominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying

InternationalImages.” Political Psychology, 26, no. 1: 27-45.

Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. 2017.The Challenge of Dawa Political Islam As Ideology and How to Counter

It.Stanford University: Hoover Institution Press.

Coats, Dan R. Statement for Record. Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence

Community. February 13, 2018.

https://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/congressional-testimonies/item/1845-

statement-for-the-record-worldwide-threat-assessment-of-the-us-intelligence-community

Europol. Changes in Modus Operandi of Islamic State (IS) Revisited. The Hague. November

  1. https://www.europol.europa.eu/publications-documents/changes-in-modus-

operandi-of-islamic-state-revisited

Gorka, Dr. S. Battlefield Successes and Challenges: Recent Efforts to Win the War Against ISIS.

January 17, 2018.  House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Subcommittee on National Security.

https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/battlefield-successes-challenges-recent-efforts-win-war-isis/

Griffin, Bryan. 2016. Encyclopedia of Militant Islam. New York: London Center for Policy

Research.

Gunaratna, Rohan. 2016. “Global Terrorism in 2016.”Revista UNSCI/UNSCIJournal40

(Enero/January):133-138.

Holland, Steve. March 30, 2018.  “Trump Tells Advisors He Wants US Out Of Syria.” Reuters.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-syria/trump-tells-advisers-he-wants-u-s- out-of-syria-senior-officials-idUSKBN1H61J0

Lohaus, Phillip. January 17, 2017. Moving the Needle From Degradation to Defeat Aligning

Ends, Ways, and Means in the Fight Against the Islamic State.America

Enterprise Institute.

National Security Strategy of the United States. December 2017. The White House.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-        0905.pdf

Pregent, Michael. Wednesday, January 17, 2018. “Battlefield Successes and Challenges: Recent

Efforts to Win the War Against ISIS.” US House of Representatives Committee on

Oversight and Government Reform’sSubcommittee on National Security.

https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Pregent-Hudson-Statement-1-

17-NS-ISIS.pdf

State of New Jersey. October 2, 2017. ISIS Poised for Attacks in Europe and Australia.

https://www.njhomelandsecurity.gov/analysis/isis-poised-for-attacks-in-europe-and-

Australia

Swann, William B. Jr., Jolanda Jetten, Angel Gomez, Harvey Whitehouse and Brock Bastian.

  1. “When Group Membership Gets Personal: A Theory of Identity Fusion.”

PsychologicalReview12, no.3: 441-456.

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The GMO case in the interpretation of the School of Economic Warfare

Gagliano Giuseppe

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In 1983 laboratory experimentation on genetic mutation seemed to pave the way for a future technological revolution. Entrepreneurs heavily invested in research and development of bio-technologies applied for agricultural purposes. In this regard, businessmen sealed a number of deals concerning new varieties of plants created through transgenic processes. European farmers were particularly concerned about this fast-paced development and aggressive propaganda in favor of transgenic products, especially because the agro-chemical sector had confirmed their resistance to pesticides and herbicides.

The development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) raised some concerns about their impact on human health and on the ecosystem. At the same time, the European agricultural business sector feared that the development of GMOs would have created a dependency on U.S. multinational agro-chemical corporations.

The European public opinion – whose trust had already been broken after the scandals of BSE (mad cow disease) and dioxin in chicken – has so far been caution and vigil towards this new form of agriculture and demanded specific labeling for all GMO products (officially approved in February 2000).

American consumers instead, relied on quality controls provided by the federal agencies like FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION  and EPA , which were considered reliable watchdogs for public health and environmental safety. Since their approval is automatically considered as a guarantee for consumers’ safety, the GMO labeling procedure appears as superfluous. Free market regulations prescribe that every country intending to reject the import of a given product, must provide a proof of its health risks. The transatlantic debate on this topic mostly focused on food safety and environmental protection preserving biodiversity in the long run and promoting a healthy diet. The failure of Cartagena Convention to draft a protocol on biotechnological risks occurred during a phase in which European consumers demanded their governments to make clearer decisions. When in December 1996 the EU Commission authorized the placing on the market of transgenic corn (that benefited the company Novartis), many EU countries expressed their concerns. In February 1997, Austria and Luxembourg prohibited the import of that specific type of corn; similarly, in September 1998, Greece and the United Kingdom banned the rapeseed produced and distributed by Agrevo. Over the course of the same year, Denmark banned all kinds of GMOs and France suspended the farming of transgenic corn in accordance with the decision made by the Council of State on September 25th, 1998. Public opinion was also very worried and reluctant towards GMOs products. Fearing that governments would have not protected the interests of consumers, many associations and environmental movements vocally campaigned against GMOs and showed civil society’s response to the economic dominance of the United States. In January 1999, the Organization for Biological Certification Soil Association condemned the company Monsanto for the insufficient protective measures against the pollination of surrounding plantations. Soil Association  revealed  the risks of cross-contamination operated by  winds and insects moving the pollen of transgenic plants for long distances. At the same time, a poll conducted by the French NGO Friends of the Earth revealed that numerous fast food chains had already eliminated – or were about to do so – all GMO based food.

The environmental experts of the scientific community were concerned about the impact of the extensive use of chemicals on the crops whose genes were resistant to herbicides; they hypothesized that in response to this, insects might develop a gene mutation as well. The British Medical Association demanded the creation of a health agency and the ban of antibiotic-resistant marker genes in transgenic food. They basically asked for a moratorium.

Already in August 1998, the British researcher Arpad Pusztai pointed out some health risks caused by GMO potatoes and a few days later he lost his job at the Rowett Research Institute. This episode – that had received extensive media coverage – reinforced the stances of the GMOs critics as it was perceived as an attempt to bury a certain kind of scientific research in order not to spread fear. For their part, consumers were already shocked by the BSE scandal and started reducing significantly the purchase of transgenic products. Pushed by public opinion, the British government – that had previously welcome GMO biotechnologies – recognized the importance of a moratorium. Therefore, it commissioned two studies on the impact of GMOs on health, agriculture and environment. Large retailers were therefore forced to yield to the will of consumers. Sainsbury – second largest grocery store in the UK – together with Body and Mark and Spencer announced the withdrawal of all GMO products and some other big European groups followed their example: Carrefour (France), Esselunga (Italy), Migros (Switzerland), Superquinn (Ireland), Delhaize (Belgium). These latter issued a press release in which they committed to addressing the requests of consumers and only sell GMO free products, in agreement with agricultural and raw materials industries.

They appointed Law Laboratories Ltd, an independent research lab, for quality controls in cultivated fields and in food-production chains in order to detect the potential presence of GMOs. Some GDO companies offered consumers the choice between transgenic products and a GMO-free alternative of their own production. Paradoxically, the campaign against GMOs turned into a marketing strategy that favored national brands over the big industrial chains. On April 27th 1999, Tesco, leader in the UK food distribution, decided to collaborate with Greenpeace in order to identify suppliers that guaranteed GMO free products. Tesco’s commitment in the distribution of biological products resulted in both great enthusiasm of environmentalist groups and in Greenpeace’s success in the countries where Tesco was present (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland).

On April 28 of the same year, Unilever, the first grocery store that introduced GMOs on the UK food market, decided to stop distributing these products; so did Nestlé – the Swiss titanic food industry- and H. McCain, world leader in the frozen food distribution, that withdrew the sale of transgenic potatoes as consumers had requested. The actions taken by the European agro industrial sector led many foreign companies to adjust their policies. In the United States, for example, Gerber – company specialized in food for children – decided to utilize only organic corn. As a result, most American farmers realized that transgenic seeds were the reason of the drop in exports (60% drop in 1998). The reports issued by the federal agencies USDA  and EPA clearly showed that the amount of insecticides used for a transgenic sowing was exactly the same used for traditional sowing. Besides, and that certain types of insect were resistant to the toxins present in transgenic plants.

These revelations produced some troubles in the agro-chemical sector that controlled 2/3 of the global market of pesticides and one quarter of the seeds one and the whole market of transgenic plants. Multinational corporations like Monsanto (USA), Du Punt de Nemours (USA), Novartis (Switzerland), Aventis (France and Germany) and Zenecca (United Kingdom) had made huge investments in order to reach the global control of pesticide market. They engaged in the significant challenge of setting the regulations of a new market (norms, rules, financing) to secure their absolute primacy in the biotechnological field.  These companies also initiated a communication campaign on global food security with slogans like: “Acting in harmony with Nature” (Novartis); “You have the right to know what you are eating. Especially if it’s the best” (Monsanto).  Since June 1999, Monsanto Director-General, Robert Shapiro, launched a massive advertising campaign involving the most important news outlets in the UK and in Europe in response to the protests.  The leitmotiv of this campaign was the idea of improving people’s diet and health while protecting the environment. In an open letter addressed to the President of Rockefeller Foundation, Gordon Conway (that had previously discredited this technologies and highlighted the disadvantage of developing countries), Shapiro announced Monsanto’s intention to use biotechnologies to produce sterile seeds. Later, on October 6th, 1999 Shapiro intervened in a conference-call during the debate in London with Greenpeace. Loaded by the criticism of environmentalist and consumers, Monsanto tried to regain some credit. Since it was aware of the fact that the opposition to GMOs was caused by its obstinate attempt to acquire the absolute primacy in seed production and distribution, Monsanto decided to change strategy. The political change of course was due to the necessity of meeting market and investor requests, that started to share their very low expectations of growth for the agrochemical food sector.

In December 1999, thanks to the fusion with the group Pharmacia-Upjohn, Monsanto sold 20% of its agricultural division and developed its pharmaceutical branch, whose outcomes were very positive thanks to the sales of Celebrex – an analgesic medicine used in the treatment of arthritis. Most likely, this strategy paved the way and favored the increase in production of medicated feed, also known as “pharma-food”. These products that can be found on the counter of big food chains in the shape of candies for the sight-improvement or chewing gum for the cold. The core concept of the pharma-food is the focus on the advantages of a healthy diet and is one of the innovative challenges of the next century. This moment marked the beginning of a partnership between pharmaceutical laboratories and food industries on nutrigenetics, a new science that offered evidence for a healthy diet with healing properties. In recent years, about eight billion dollars invested in life sciences led to significant achievements in this new biotechnological branch. Nevertheless, the worldwide opposition of consumers and environmentalists made investor fear a sharp fall in sales and therefore the agro-chemical industry changed direction. The trade of transgenic products is a very important challenge for the U.S. government that traditionally supported the agrochemical industry. The United States never denied the favor towards the agrochemical industry and its ability to boost the production process, like in the case of the medicated feed. During the Cartagena conference in 1999, the opposition of a group from Miami led by the United States referred the matter to the World Trade Organization (Seattle, December 199) but no deal was reached anyways.

The US strongly supported the Montreal Conference (January 24 – 28th 2000) and managed to secure an important benefit. On the one hand, the act of the conference recognized the precautionary principle that granted the importer countries the right to ban GMO products; on the other hand, it was not very clear how these countries could claim this right in practice. The text of the agreement stated:  “the exporters are only requested to inform about the possibility that a load may or not contain GMOs, without specifying the nature or ensure the presence of GMOs”. This formulation allowed the US to buy time since there was no specific measure prescribing the creation of a separate production chain.

Congressional lobbies – agricultural professional organizations backed by scientists and academics – defended the GMO cause in front of the U.S. Senate and asked for the government’s unconditional support and opposed the compulsory labeling procedure requested by the EU. The President of the National Organization of Corn Producer, Tim Hume, strongly criticized the European skepticism towards GMOs: in his opinion, European or American organization opposing GMOs only aim at increasing their profits through the exploitation of people’s fears and concerns. According to several researchers, GMOs would be the only solution to fight world hunger and cure many diseases. According to John Oblorogge, Professor at the University of Michigan, the second generation of transgenic plants will allow to increase the nutritive content of the crops. Charles Arntzen, Emeritus Professor at Arizona State University and former President of the Research Institute Boyce Thompson, considered the labeling process as an unjustified scaremongering for consumers and concluded that “The microbiological contamination of food is a problem as much as the labeling”.

Scientists therefore requested public funding to support university research on biotechnologies in order to avoid big corporation funding that usually represents an obstacle to independence and objectiveness.

In order for their strategy to be effective, GMOs critics needed to cast doubts on transgenic product and amplify it through local and regional press, TV channels, environmental associations websites, internet forums (that are often loaded with information). Besides, due to GMO critics’ initial disadvantage, they had to identify the contradictions in GMOs supporters discourse and exploit them to their own benefit. On their side, businessmen in the agrochemical sector had to conduct a number of tests on their products in order to prove the absence of toxicity before putting them on the market. Entrepreneurs must anticipate the strategy and study the potential of the opponent in order to foresee its attacks towards their products or their company and be able to react rapidly. It is no more a matter of crisis management and substantial communication, but rather of managing the power during the attack and react accordingly, case by case.

Greenpeace has indeed contributed to boosting the campaign against multinational agricultural corporations Unilever and Nestlé, which were forced to withdraw their transgenic products from the United Kingdom. The analysis of Greenpeace French website reveals a manipulative communication strategy. The absence of transparency of the debate on GMOs is quite remarkable in the narrative employed in the brief introduction to the topic posted in the topical issues section: “Manipulators”; “Sorcerer’s apprentices”; “disturbing lottery”; “inadequate and weak responses”; “the future of our health is at stake”; “environmental impact”; “risks for public health”. This narrative reflects the clarity of the premises of Greenpeace as a protest movement: it portrays the duel between the weak (consumers) and the strong (agrochemical multinational corporations), and exploits the power of the general discontent linked to the primary need of nutrition that is common to each human being. Its technique consists in manipulating the consumers (both figuratively and tangibly) according to the following scheme from the INFO-CONSUMERS section on Greenpeace website, articulated in four simple concomitant steps:

  1. Spread the two lists of products with the producers’ names: the white list of GMOs-free products for which it is possible to track the origin of the ingredients and additives; the black list of products that might contain GMOs and for which the supplier (highlighted in bold) does not oppose GMOs possible presence and cannot formally deny it.
  2. Questions to the suppliers through spamming the administration of the targeted company with petitions, fax, mail, phone calls in order to push it to take some measures in response, usually through a public statement. For this purpose, the website offers some pre-compiled letter templates that are filled with the address of the negligent industrial groups (Danone Unilever France and Nestlé France). In addition, Greenpeace shared a successful story of a company that, after having found its name on the black list and received a number of petitions, had publicly apologized for the presence of GMOs and issued a written statement declaring their withdrawal from its production.
  3. Forwarding the response of the company and the letters to at least 5 people.
  4. Keeping Greenpeace posted with updates on the activist participation and the recruiting of new activists.

This pressing strategy against agro-chemical industries turned out to be effective because it forced producers to report on their activities. Greenpeace has recently published other two lists containing all the GMOs introduced in the animal feed and asked consumers to make sure that poultry farmers used the organic ones. Activists are also asked to communicate the answers through updating the lists.

Whenever necessary, Greenpeace may also resort to disinformation. In its magazine, the organization reports that in 1998 the Council of States favored Greenpeace in revoking the authorization for the cultivation of GMOs corn that had been granted at the beginning of the year. Although on February 5th 1998, Greenpeace and other organizations had requested the annulment of a decree of the French Minister of Agriculture, the Council of State had simply decided on September 25th 1998 to suspend that decree and refer to the EU Court of Justice for the interpretation of the EU law. The activists did not actually win, but they have leveraged on a free interpretation of reality and deliberately spread misinformation across public opinion. In fact, what is important for Greenpeace is to push the intervention of national courts, no matter the result obtained. Greenpeace has also proved capable of considering all the nuances of a given issue, when it decided to admit a mistake and play the transparency card. In 1998, British researcher Arpad Pusztai was fired because he had proved that some test animals fed with transgenic potatoes presented some organic atrophies. In reality, the variety of potatoes that the researcher used in his experiments had been transformed with a gene of a toxin of a different species; therefore, these potatoes were not harmful because of the presence of GMOs, but because of this toxin that was harmful per se. In August 1998, Greenpeace had presented Pusztai as a renowned expert that had been unfairly fired after proving the toxicity of transgender plants. The following year, Greenpeace specified: “The conclusions of this research is still fragile, as some varieties of potatoes produce their own insecticide. Besides, similar vegetables are regularly sold in Canada”.  In this specific case, Greenpeace managed to appear as genuinely misguided by this research, and recognizing to have made a mistake just like anyone else.

Transgenic market represents a strategic field for the U.S. government. Since the early ‘80s, multinational chemical and pharmaceutical corporations have freely operated in the field of genetic engineering and allowed the US to establish their worldwide primacy. Nowadays a consistent part of EU and U.S. public opinion (consumers and farmers) strongly opposes these initiatives. On the other hand, US government criticized the European public opinion and attacked the EU weaknesses in response, without offering justifications for its own support for GMOs. According to Alan Larson (Undersecretary ad interim for Economic, Trade and Agricultural Affairs):“because of the EU, many U.S. corn producers are deprived of almost 200 million dollars in exports. (…)Some EU agencies specialized in food safety revealed to be easily influenced by politics and should take inspiration from the FDA. I had never witnessed such a level of scaremongering in Europe between consumers.”

It is important to note that there is no independent health agency at the EU level. The only authorities that can effectively address this issue belong to Member States, that is the reason why it is legitimate to question their impartiality. According to James Murphy, U.S. adjunct representative for international trade:

Our ability to sell these products goes beyond economic data. It is more a humanitarian, ecological and food safety issue. We are witnessing a strong opposition from Europe … with the lack of trust of public opinion towards science … the opposition group were able to exploit the anxiety of consumers that have consequently lobbied their political representatives.”

David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, that represented the US at the Montreal Conference in 2000, declared to the Washington File that

Focusing on biodiversity and environmental protection can sometimes overshadow the debate on food safety. Negotiations…should not be focused on trade regulations…that could hinder international trade. The United States will not support it. According to many experts, the scaremongering in Europe towards GMOs, risks to let thousands of people die from hunger and millions of children of developing countries, if scientists and institutes financing researches refuse to apply modern biotechnologies. The safety and the quality of the food produced through modern biotechnological techniques are not different from traditional food”.

The skepticism of the scientists and of the EU politicians is the proof of their incapacity to support research on GMOs and this delay is the cause of many deaths in developing countries. The defense strategies that the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Agencies put in place consisted in a discourse centered on accountability and justification: on November 1st1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its new internet website in order to inform consumers on the state of biotechnological research applied to the agricultural sector. The website was aimed at providing an answer to the most Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) and shed light on regulations and information on international trade related to agricultural products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration organized three public conferences on the GMOs issue: Chicago – November 18th; Washington November 30th; Oakland – December 13th1999. These public debates allowed U.S. consumers to express their views on the policies of the FDA: many associations like Consumer Union demanded the labeling of transgenic product to ensure the respect of the right of choice.

During the Washington session, Joseph Levitt, Director of the Center of Food Safety at FDA declared: “Taken note of the controversy … we want to point out your recommendations in order to improve our verification of food safety strategies and optimize the sharing of information on the public level.”

According to the Director of the Center for Biotechnologies for Agriculture and Environment of the University of Rutgers, the skepticism of European consumers towards GMOs was the result of ineffective norms that had been proved incapable of preventing the BSE diseases and the sale of animal feed containing dioxin. James Maryanski, FDA Coordinator of biotechnologies maintained that EU regulations focused on product, foods and additives rather than on the plants used in the production process. Today FDA is managing to adopt new regulations to apply when a product does not comply to certain safety standards. The only law controlling the food obtained from transgenic plants dates back to 1992 and essentially consists in the same safety measures foreseen for traditional food. This law was heavily criticized by an American author, because it allowed the commercialization of GMOs without any proof of safety or authorization. It seems that at the moment FDA is imposing the agrochemical industries to carry out preemptive checks in order to avoid any risk for the health. Multinational corporations like Monsanto and Du Pont de Nemours were forced to batten down the hatches and tried to adopt a new approach based on accountability and justification. On October 6th, 1999 during a debate with Greenpeace, Monsanto took the initiative and admitted its lack of listening and conciliation spirit. Similarly, Du Pont de Nemours, recognized that businessmen were incapable of addressing the concerns of public opinion and considered them as the result of ignorance. Between the counter-offensive techniques used by Monsanto, the use of advertising campaigns as communication weapons plays a prominent role: “The protests of farmers, consumers and businessmen forced Shapiro to publicly withdraw Terminator technology from the market”.

This principle – an open letter addressed to a famous Foundation – allowed to orient the message towards the desired direction, limiting the competitor’s operating space.

“(…) The decision has therefore taken into account the opinions that you have expressed and those of a huge number of experts and personalities, included the representatives of our important agricultural community. We have consulted many international experts in order to get to a deep and independent evaluation of the subject. We will continue to encourage a free and transparent debate”.

This press release portrays Monsanto as a responsible company that pays attention to collective interests and partners up with farmers to help them improving their harvest, rather than a monopolistic corporation that exploits on its power.

The strong mobilization of GMOs detractors and its media echo provoked a sudden halt in the GMOs scientific progress. In fact, transgenic plants were created in order to improve agricultural output, but their long-term impact on people had not been considered. To this day, nobody is able to guarantee that GMOs are fully harmless. This is a key issue that is capable to persuade part of the U.S. population.

This year, the FDA has been subject to a legal action because of its politics on food biotechnologies that was considered too lightly regulated. This is the commercial reason why some U.S. retailers must obtain supplies of non-transgenic corn, so that they comply with the traceability designed at the EU level. The European campaign was not addressed to cope with the economic rivalry with the US on GMOs, but rather from a complete absence of clear information and from food safety issues (BSE and dioxin in chicken).

Agrochemical industries completely misinterpreted the balance of power and this precluded the chance of anticipating and foresee such a campaign. It was too late when they understood the necessity of changing communication strategies, since US farmers refused to buy their seeds.

When the protests broke out, companies showed their lack of global vision and knowledge of the fields, environment in general and of the other actors, so that the ignorance on competition principles dragged them into a crisis.

Managing information risks cannot be improvised but needs to be based on a substantial plan. This episode shows the power of information as offensive strategy and the limitations that companies go through when they have to reorganize their communication approach to attract consumers.

In a meeting, it is not so important to know the interlocutor, but rather having the ability of putting oneself in the other’s shoes.

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Strategy of U.S. Anti-Russia Sanctions Becomes Clearer

Eric Zuesse

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On Friday, April 6th, Reuters headlined “Russian businessmen, officials on new U.S. sanctions list”, and opened: “The United States on Friday imposed major sanctions against 24 Russians, striking at allies of President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other ‘malign activity’. Below are the most prominent businessmen targeted along with their main assets and connections as well as extracts from the U.S. Treasury statement.”

As that Reuters list makes even clearer than before, U.S. economic sanctions against Russia are focused against mainly the following four categories of targets in Russia:

Russian competitors to America’s largest international oil companies. These specific U.S. firms were listed, on March 27th, in an excellent article by Antonia Juhasz in Pacific Standard magazine, “INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA: A Pacific Standard analysis shows the oil and gas industry is among the tax bill’s greatest financial beneficiaries.” There, they were listed in rank order. For example: the largest such firm, Exxon/Mobil, was given $5.9 billion in “2017 Tax Act Savings,” and the second-largest, Philipps 66, won $2.7 billion in it. The latest round of anti-Russia sanctions focuses clearly against these international U.S. oil firms’ Russian competitors.

However, previous rounds of U.S. sanctions have especially focused against:

Russian competitors of Lockheed Martin and other international U.S. weapons-firms —  Russian manufacturers that are selling, to foreign governments, military aircraft, missiles, and other military equipment, on the international markets: competing military products. The competitive purpose of these sanctions is to boost not U.S. international oil-firms, but U.S. international weapons-firms.

Russian banks that lend to those firms. Some of these banks have also other close ties to those firms.

Russian Government officials, and billionaires, who cooperate with Russia’s elected President, Vladimir Putin. Putin refuses to allow suppliers to the Russian military to be controlled (such as are the military suppliers to America’s Government) by private investors (and especially not by foreigners); he wants the weapons-manufacturers to represent the state, not the state to represent the weapons-manufacturers; i.e., he refuses to privatize Russia’s weapons-producers, and he instead insists that all firms that supply Russia’s military be controlled by Russia’s elected Government, not by any private investors. (By contrast, The West relies almost entirely upon privately owned weapons-makers.) He also prohibits foreign interests from controlling Russia’s natural resources such as oil firms, mining, and land-ownership, and this explicitly applies even to agricultural land. However, most important are Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (otherwise known as “Strategic Investment Law”), which defines as a “Strategic Entity” and thus subject strictly to control only by the Russian Government and citizenry, four categories: Defense, Natural Resources, Media, and Monopolies. Russia’s refusal to allow U.S. billionaires to buy control over these — to buy control over the Government — is, to a large extent, being punished by the U.S. anti-Russia sanctions.

Focusing on the latest round: The Reuters article lists the specific main targets of the new sanctions. These targets are, as described by the U.S. Treasury Department, and as quoted by Reuters:

  • “Oleg Deripaska is being designated … for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Viktor Vekselberg is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Kirill Shamalov is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Andrei Skoch is being designated for being an official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
  • “Suleiman Kerimov is being designated for being an official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
  • “Vladimir Bogdanov is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Igor Rotenberg is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”

Those are the ones that the Reuters article specifically listed. In addition, there are:

DESIGNATED RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

Andrey Akimov, chairman of the board at Gazprombank

Andrey Kostin, president of VTB bank

*Alexey Miller, chief executive of Gazprom

Mikhail Fradkov, president of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

Sergey Fursenko, member of the board of directors of Gazprom Neft

Oleg Govorun, head of the Presidential Directorate for Social and Economic Cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States Member Countries

Gazprom is Russia’s oil-and-gas giant; and, likewise in accord with Putin’s demand that national-security industry remain under state-control instead of control by private investors, its controlling investor is the Russian Government. However, a few individuals are listed who are simply Russian Government officials, presumably likewise more cooperative, with carrying out the intentions of the elected President, than the U.S. and its allied governments consider to be acceptable.

Clearly, the special focus of these sanctions is on supporting U.S. international oil firms competing against Russian international oil firms.

On January 26th, Reuters bannered “U.S. hits Russian deputy minister and energy firms with sanctions”, and opened:

The United States added Russian officials and energy firms to a sanctions blacklist on Friday, days before details of further possible penalties against Moscow are due to be released.

A Treasury Department spokesperson said the department is “actively working” on reports required under the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Terrorism Act” and aimed to release them consistent with timelines in the legislation.

Trump or his Treasury Secretary were actually responding to pressure from “Democrats” and unnamed others; but, when the final statement from the Treasury was issued on January 29th (and largely ignored by the press), it turned out that no new sanctions were issued, against anyone. The billionaires’ lobbyists had achieved nothing more than to provide (via the anti-Russia verbiage from members of Congress) to the American public, yet more anti-Russia indoctrination in support of America’s war against Russia; but, this time, no real action was taken by the President against Russia.

On 28 December 2017, the ‘private CIA’ firm Stratfor, which does work for the CIA and for major U.S. corporations, had headlined, “Russia Won’t Sit Still for Additional U.S. Sanctions”, and summarized prior U.S. economic sanctions against Russia:

Since the Soviet period, the United States has targeted Russia with numerous sanctions. The primary ones currently in effect were instituted over human rights violations and the conflict in Ukraine. In late 2012, the United States expanded its Soviet-era sanctions over human rights and approved the Magnitsky Act to punish those deemed responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower who investigated Kremlin abuses and a tax-fraud scheme. The act penalizes dozens of people believed to be involved in the case, but the measure has evolved into a platform for the United States and its allies to punish Russia for a much wider scope of human rights abuses. 

The Ukraine sanctions imposed by the United States (and, to a lesser extent, by the European Union, Canada, Australia and Japan) stem from Russian involvement in the conflict there and includes the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russian support of the previous government, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the annexation of Crimea. Those penalties include:

  • Limits on debt issuance to Russia’s six largest banks, four primary state oil firms and four state defense firms.
  • Sanctions on Russia’s energy industry, prohibiting U.S. firms from providing, exporting or re-exporting goods and technology related to deep-water, Arctic offshore and shale oil and natural gas projects in Russia.
  • Bans on subjects receiving dual-use goods by Russia’s primary state defense companies.
  • Sanctions (travel and asset freezes) against hundreds of Russian entities and individuals. 

That was a fair summary; but, because Stratfor derives some of its income from the CIA, it stated as being facts, instead of as being lies, that “Sergei Magnitsky [was] a whistleblower who investigated Kremlin abuses and a tax-fraud scheme,” even though Magnitsky actually was never a “whistleblower,” and he was, to the exact contrary, assisting an American hedge-fund operator to illegally avoid $230 million in taxes that were due to the Russian Government and which tax-fraud had been reported not by Magnitsky as any ‘whistleblower’ but instead by, essentially, a bookkeeper, who was afraid of being prosecuted if she didn’t report to the police this tax-evasion that she was working on. Furthermore, Stratfor’s “to punish those deemed responsible for the death of” Magnitsky also is a lie, because the only person who so “deemed” was the American tax-fraudster who had employed Magnitsky. That employer accused Russia’s police of beating to death in prison this criminal suspect, Magnitsky, and he used, as ‘documentation’ for his charges, fake ‘translations’

into English of the police documents, and these ‘translations’ were taken at face-value by U.S. and EU officials, who couldn’t read Russian, and who wanted to cooperate with, instead of to resist, the U.S. Barack Obama Administration and the UK David Cameron Administration.

Furthermore, Stratfor, when it refers to “human rights violations and the conflict in Ukraine,” is actually referring instead to “the most blatant coup in history”, as the head of Stratfor put it when describing what the Obama regime referred to as the ‘revolution’ that in February 2014 had overthrown Ukraine’s democratically elected Government and that then began an ethnic-cleansing campaign to get rid of the residents in the areas that had voted over 75% for the President whom the U.S.-run operation had overthrown. In fact, U.S. think-tanks criticized Obama for providing insufficient assistance to the newly installed Ukrainian regime’s firebombings of the places where over 90% of the residents had voted for the now-ousted Ukrainian President. And that was entirely typical. This is a sort of ‘philanthropy’ that America’s billionaires receive ‘charitable’ tax-writeoffs for funding (donating to). No matter how aggressive a U.S. President may be against Russia, America’s aristocracy (through their ‘philanthropies’ etc.) complain that it’s not aggressive enough — America’s Government must do yet more, in order to ‘support human rights’ abroad.

So, that’s what America’s anti-Russian sanctions are all about: serving America’s billionaires.

first published at strategic-culture.org

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