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Azeri Intelligence: Dealing with Handcuffs and Hindrances

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Azerbaijan has been known to have more natural resources than most nations. However, it is its geographical location and history that sometimes has been more important in understanding its Intelligence Community.

Since 1967 the Azeri Ministry of National Security was headed and influenced by the less than popular Soviet KGB. Until 1967 the security authorities of the republic had been headed only by non-Azerbaijanis. In the same year General Heydar Aliyev was appointed as chairman of the KGB of Azerbaijan. In October 1991, after the Republic of Azerbaijan gained independence, the Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan was established on the material-technical basis and staff of the State Security Committee.

This intelligence agency, which we will refer to from here on out as the MNS, has numerous departments of communication. The MNS frequently deliberates and bases its decisions on the methodologies within the internal State authority established under the Republic of Azerbaijan, better understood as the Milli Majlis, which relatively recently changed how long a President could hold office. Now the President can be reelected as many times as necessary while the country is at war. Before this amendment, the President could only hold office for up to three terms, each having a five year period. Understand that each Parliamentarian deputy, all 125 of them, are put into position by the President. There are no debates about putting laws into Congress or by Congress. Rather, the influence of political clans takes precedence.

One of the more recent discussions on corruption was the firing of Eldar Mahmudov, the Minister of National Security. The President, Ilham Aliyev, did not give a reason as to why he was fired nor was he required to. “Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has dismissed his powerful security minister in an unexpected move against an official who was widely seen as an Aliyev loyalist. Aliyev announced the dismissal of National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov in a decree that was published on his website. He did not provide any explanation for the decision. The 59-year-old Mahmudov had served at the post since 2004. Opposition politicians complained that Aliyev’s failure to explain the reason for Mahmudov’s firing showed that there was no transparency in the country’s political decision- making process. Critics have long accused Aliyev of authoritarianism, corruption, and rights abuses. Aliyev also dismissed his previous national security minister, Namig Abbassov, in July 2004 without providing any reason.”  

Minster Mahmudov was   considered to be financially indulgent, for lack of a better term, stealing money that went into a bank that was owned by his cousin. Compounding these events was the fact that the editor of the most popular newspaper within the country reporting on the story was related to the President himself. The political clans mentioned earlier are extremely important in understanding the powers of the President, which thereby impact the intelligence-gathering techniques and strategies of the MNS.

“The political and economic system in Azerbaijan is largely based on a pyramidal web of patronage. Clans, mainly based on regional origin as well as the ruling elite, keep the system intact to secure their financial and power interests. Two clans, the Nakhichevanis and Yerazi, have dominated politics for decades. Heydar Aliyev had his origin in both clans, which gave him a strong powerbase. The Aliyev family stands on the top of the pyramid and makes sure that key positions in all spheres of society are taken by the closely related and like-minded. This structure has developed into extensive bureaucracy and corruption. Corruption in all spheres of society poses the largest threat to the functioning of the state. Most ministers have bought their jobs and many are directly related to the president. Moreover, membership of the president’s party, YAP, is a precondition for state employment.”

Consequently, the Azeri nation is mired in a situation that it really cannot control, nor is it able to voice its opinion to the authorities for fear of being incarcerated on charges that are often fabricated.

“There are limitations to freedom of expression and assembly and the rights to liberty and fair trial. The authorities have arrested dozens of political activists on bogus charges, imprisoned critical journalists, broke up several peaceful public demonstrations, and adopted legislation that further restricted fundamental freedoms. Torture and ill-treatment continue with impunity. The authorities did not effectively investigate credible allegations of beatings, threats, and other abuses in custody made by several arrested political activists.”  

These difficulties and restraints that form the background noise of MNS functioning are producing ill-advised impacts that put the people of Azerbaijan at risk. The MNS thus operates within an area that is consumed by a history of corruption and severe limitations on its impartial independence. The MNS gathers intelligence on its own people and these surrounding influential countries: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Syria.

Imagine the pressure, if you can just for a moment, being an agent within the Ministry of National Security. With no ability to perform your duties impartially or objectively and with your own personal livelihood obviously tied to how well you honor allegiance to the Presidential clans, the MNS ends up being largely just another subjective arm of manipulation by the President. When such corruption and bias is allowed to not just exist but actually blossom within the intelligence community, then it is not just the civil liberties of the people or the general level of freedom of Azerbaijan that becomes compromised: the actual national security of the country vis-à-vis the global community becomes undermined. The future of Azeri national security and perhaps the very legitimacy of its intelligence community, in the form of the MNS, have a long road of revision and reform in its future if Azerbaijan wants to truly play a bigger role regionally across the greater Caspian with integrity and effective power.

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Top Afghan commander’s killing raises questions

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The formidable, flamboyant, maverick police chief of southern Afghan province of Kandahar General Abdul Raziq Achakzai was gunned down in a shootout inside the provincial governor’s office on Thursday, along with the governor and intelligence chief. The ‘insider attack’, which wiped out the provincial leadership, was carried out by the governor’s bodyguard and claimed by the Taliban, which shows Taliban infiltration of police and army in the war-ravaged country.

Gen. Raziq, 39, a bulwark against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan had a larger-than-life persona. To his credit, he had almost wiped off the terrorist group from its traditional stronghold – Kandahar, and was always seen in the thick of things. As the Taliban mounted gruesome attacks to seize other parts of the country, Gen. Raziq’s presence in Kandahar ensured peace and stability there.

A fierce commander, who was seen as an American ally, was often accused by human rights watchdogs like Human Rights Watch of ‘torture, extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses’. But, his presence was so powerful and domineering in a country where U.S. war has stretched into its 18th year that the government struggled to sideline or ignore him.

The social media was inundated with poignant posts on Thursday, with netizens terming his death an “irreparable loss”, which could have “far-reaching consequences” for peace and security in southern Afghanistan, where he was a “pillar of stability”. Many of them blamed Pakistan while many blamed the U.S. for his violent end.

On Friday afternoon, the fallen commander was given a tearful adieu in Kandahar city by the border police he commanded for years. The bustling city was remarkably quiet as his coffin was paraded to the burial ground. The invincible man had met his inevitable death.
The enormity of the tragedy can be gauged from the fact that the Afghan government decided to delay the parliamentary elections that were scheduled for October 20.

Not the one to mince his words, Gen. Raziq was fiercely critical of Pakistan for providing sanctuary to the militant groups attacking Afghanistan. Over the years, he had survived many bids on his life, including a deadly suicide bombing last year. In an interview once, he said he had lost the count of times when the Taliban tried to exterminate him. A brave young commander and a smart war strategist, he always prevailed because he always had an upper hand and better luck.

However, on Thursday, his luck ran out. The incident took place following a meeting between Afghan and American officials at Kandahar governor’s compound in the afternoon. In a statement, Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was aimed at Gen. Raziq and Gen. Austin Miller, the newly-appointed top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Miller escaped unhurt.

News reports, quoting eyewitnesses, said the shooting took place when Gen. Raziq was escorting the U.S. officials, including Miller, to their helicopters. How Miller survived the attack, which killed Gen. Raziq, governor Zalmai Wesa and intelligence chief Gen. Abdul Momim, is a great mystery. If the attack was indeed aimed at Gen. Raziq and Miller, then how did latter escape unhurt. Did the Taliban actually not want to kill the top U.S. official in Afghanistan?

There are many questions that may never be answered. Many believe Gen. Raziq, who was not in favor of peace talks with the Taliban, had become a stumbling block in the U.S.-led so-called ‘peace efforts’. Notably, the U.S. and Taliban officials had recently held secret parleys in Doha, in which the U.S. delegation had even proposed a political role for the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, thereby giving legitimacy to the group they have been claiming to fight for the past 17 years.

Although Gen. Raziq was seen as a staunch U.S. ally in southern Afghanistan, many observers believe he had become a liability because of his dogged opposition to peace talks with the Taliban. For Americans, there can be no permanent friends or foes, and we have examples of Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi before us. This could well have been an attack orchestrated and executed jointly by the U.S. and Taliban to get rid of the formidable anti-Taliban commander.

In a statement, the U.S. military said the target of the Thursday attack was Gen. Raziq, not Miller. It is interesting how sure they can be that the attack was not aimed at Miller. As eyewitnesses said, Gen. Raziq was walking alongside Miller and other U.S. officials when the assailant opened fire. Gen. Raziq received four bullets – two in legs, one in abdomen and one in chest. The top U.S. commander safely walked to his helicopter and left the spot.

If the Taliban insurgency is all about the U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and if all they want is the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the war-torn country, it defies logic why the Taliban fighter masquerading as an Afghan policeman would open fire at Afghan officials and not the U.S. official. There is definitely more to it than meets the eye. The attack proves yet again the duplicitous policies of the U.S. in Afghanistan and its covert support to groups that seek to destabilize the country.

The ‘peace talks’ between the U.S. and Taliban officials is hogwash. Otherwise how does it make sense that the ‘peace talks’ would be followed by deadly suicide bombings and targeted attacks. The engagement between the U.S. and its former-allies is basically to prevent any chance for real ‘peace’. The idea is to keep the pot boiling so that the U.S. can justify its presence in Afghanistan.

In the process, both friends and foes will have to pay the price; like Gen. Raziq did today and many others did before him. Everything is fair in a dirty war.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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The issue of intelligence between the United States and China

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The economic and intelligence tension between the United States and China is currently at its peak since the end of the Cold War. During that phase, however, China had also taken actions to oppose the Soviet Union, with the opening to the United States and the “ping-pong diplomacy” in the early 1970s, as well as its tacit support to Kissinger’s resolution of all tensions between the United States and the Southeast Asian countries.

At the time China wanted to help the United States to regionalize – in Asia – its historic “Northern enemy,” namely Russia.

In his “Three Worlds Theory”, Mao Zedong placed it together with the United States in the “First World”, as both imperialist powers, while he regarded China as the current and future leader of the whole Third World fighting against the “metropolises” of the First World.

Said project has not changed, it has only changed its language and its procedures.

Now that the bilateral tension between the United States and the People’s Republic of China is at its highest, the rationale for this new Sino-American scenario is simple. China wants to achieve global geopolitical hegemony, while the United States led by President Donald J. Trump wants to rebuild its new economic and purely financial hegemony, and hence resort to protectionist practices.

The practices that even the old liberal handbooks of economic science considered lawful when a “nascent industry” needs to be protected.

China has now Africa in its own hands – a continent where the US power is linked almost exclusively to the US Africa Command, which is headquartered at the Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.

Europe, of course, does not count for anything.

Moreover, China operates in Iran and also in Russia, considering that it has now incorporated Russia into its Belt and Road project towards Europe and the Mediterranean – in spite of the Eurasian Alliance project of Russian origin – and hence operates as a hegemonic power in Central Asia.

It does so by operating with a strategy that is at first economic, but also and above all political: the peripheries of the world against the metropolises, i.d. Mao’s old “policy line”.

Currently we are instead shifting from geoeconomy to the real global strategy – and China will have no particular difficulty in moving from a generically friendly position towards the United States to a far more adverse one.

When its primary interests are attacked by US actions, China will never make the first move.

The Thirty-Six Stratagems of the Chinese secret art of war are clear in this regard: “Watch the fires burning from the river” and also “Hide a knife behind a smile”.

However, let us better analyze what has happened in the current “spy war” between the United States and China.

For nearly ten years, the US spy network in China has been severely undermined, if not wiped out. This has happened to the US intelligence services also elsewhere.

Allegedly, the vulnerability of the US network results from the fact that China has long “penetrated” the network used by the operatives and informants present in China.

China maintains that this has led to the “elimination” of 30 local citizens who worked for the United States and the imprisonment of an unknown number of others.

China’s counterintelligence operation is said to have started in 2010, when the encrypted firewall used by the US operatives in China was discovered.

Obviously it is almost useless to add that the “sophisticated” IT firewall used by CIA is now in China’s hands and the analysts of its intelligence services will use and implement it even more easily.

Moreover, the program discovered by China had to be used in such a way as not to connect with and not to be traced by CIA’s major IT networks.

Without CIA knowing it, however, the encrypted system could also connect with its primary web network – and China could listen or read quietly and easily.

Incidentally, it is currently certain that all countries’ intelligence services can use the Web, but it is equally certain that the security of communications is at least the top goal, together with the quality and depth of the intelligence and analyses reported to the “central unit”.

Nevertheless, the more the Web gets complex, the easier it is “penetrated”. This law has been never denied by facts.

The more complex it is, the easier is to manipulate or “penetrate” it.

Experts tell us that the Web’s rate of complexity increases by seven the danger it can be penetrated. At every additional step of structural complexity there is a 7-time multiplier for possible “holes”.

Hence, in many cases, it would be good to still resort to the old craft systems that made the history of modern intelligence. China still does it.

We believe, however, that the real problem lies in the fact that the United States still believes that China is a country which is trying – with some difficulty – to follow the development course of the Anglo-Saxon community.

This is certainly not the case: China has not long been a “second class” nation or, as some US analysts say, a “Third World country that has grown too much”.

Far from it: it is a good thing that the United States soon realizes that China is certainly the second military and economic power in the world and that it can certainly cooperate with the United States, but dictating at least some essential conditions.

No Chinese decision-maker thinks about a “covert war” against the United States – not even remotely: currently the Party and the State think about other “enemies” and other regions.

However, we should never forget China’s huge power of constraint, persuasion and negotiation.

Moreover, the free market myth has affected the whole system of what – in the intelligence community of every modern country – should be the axis of all major operations, namely influence.

Over 110 “Confucius Institutes” have been founded in the US universities and huge Chinese capital is present in many of the most important US entertainment companies, such as Legendary Group, AMC Theathers, STX Entertainment, Studio 8 and Global Road Entertainment, as well as in many other smaller companies.

Not to mention Chinese investments in other sectors and in US Treasury securities.

The US majors obviously sell much in China, but China has entered their system with money, not just with encrypted firewalls.

Clearly China is strongly interested in the US operations on its territory, but certainly the Chinese leaders have operated a linkage between the trade wars started by President Trump and their counterintelligence actions.

This is another bond to break.

The more the geoeconomic contrast between the United States and China mounts, the more intrusive actions will be taken by China in the United States (such as those of the many Chinese students in North American universities who are spying for their country of origin), as well as “harsh”  counter-intelligence operations.

Furthermore, what some leaders of the US Central Intelligence Agency fear is partly true: China is now in such a Cold War phase with the United States as to eventually oust it from its position as global power.

It is very unlikely, however, that Chinese leaders think they can weaken the US power in a short lapse of time: there is no blitzkrieg or lightning war that can decide, in a short sequence of clashes – even in the muffled world of intelligence or in the slightly noisier world of electronic war – who definitively wins.

It is pure madness and the Chinese are not mad at all.

Obviously both contenders must well understand that the Great Powers – if they have to disappear – do so over a period of centuries, always much more slowly than they have grown in good times.

Certainly even traditions count in the world of intelligence.

The United States is the realm of technology, in which an American –  a good American and not an ugly American like the one described by the British novelist and intelligence agent, Graham Greene, who however had titled his novel The Quiet American – believes blindly. Probably the ugly and the good are two sides of the same coin.

The tradition of Chinese intelligence is also excellent in technology, but it does not forget the ancient rules of power and war.

When some defecting KGB men were sent to some US military academies, they were surprised that in the libraries there were not the classics of Eastern war thought and strategy: the Thirty-Six Stratagems, the Liezi, as well as Sun Zu’s military treatise The Art of War.

Hence too much technology in the United States and sometimes a certain tendency to conceptual hyper-simplification; too little history and knowledge of the real power structure which – when really powerful – is covert.

Also China, however, is not lagging behind in the field of technology. We should recall the hacking of over 30 companies among the most important ones in America, including Apple and Amazon, with a modified chip.

The Silicon Valley is now full of spies who work for the Chinese government for money or for other reasons.

According to many officers of the Armed Forces, all the US military networks are in danger.

CIA, too, has successfully carried out some operations on the Chinese territory, sometimes forcing the Chinese to give up their electronic espionage techniques, and also using Chinese intelligence agents.

Hence what can we do to stop, slow down and put in an acceptable position of security and business as usual this crisis between China and the United States, which – apart from trade wars – is still a mere war between intelligence services?

A first solution could be an extensive and universal protection – to be reached and signed as soon as possible – for the protection of sensitive intellectual property.

Currently trade secrets and patents are acquired not with old reverse engineering, but with the launch of IT attacks on companies and even law firms that hold regulations and protections.

While, as is well known, China is now a global software producer, it would be rational that even China would adapt to a new, stricter and safer international regulation of IPs and networks.

There could also be – in the offing – an international agreement on web addresses and network security, organized by the major companies operating in the sector, which are all interested in achieving a higher security level.

The US Invention Secrecy Act dates back to 1951 and it is too old for the technologies it should protect. Moreover, it is not part of the US intelligence chain.

In fact, the large US companies have increasingly relied on international laws for the protection of industrial data, often coming out of the North American judicial and legal system.

This is another “hole” that the United States must fill as soon as possible.

Moreover, now the US military can control patents, even when they are fully developed in the civilian sphere.

This is a good thing, but one thing is the law and another is counterintelligence.

However, the Web is and will always be wide-meshed: Google, in particular, is used by 67% of all Internet operators in the world and it has never made a secret of wanting a US patent system as “weak” as possible.

Google itself wants to sell the trade secrets at low price and quickly – and possibly keeping its own ones very secret.

The classic case of a paradox generated by a technology that does not find the legal mesh suitable for regulation.

Furthermore, China adheres to all international intellectual property regulations but, also in China, it is precisely the complexity and the inevitable archaic nature of rules compared to the speed of technology that impose the aforementioned “wide mesh” to China’s patent protection.

Hence two things are needed: firstly, a technical-legal and bilateral Conference between China and the United States, with a view to regulating the specific needs of sensitive data protection.

Moreover, light is better than darkness, although the Chinese wisdom tradition maintains that it is necessary to “cultivate darkness” – as when you need to grow rhubarb.

Secondly, a US-Chinese Committee shall be established at the highest possible level, where one asks the other for the patents it needs – obviously against payment.

Later a “third” Committee shall be created to check the efficacy of the agreement, possibly made up of members of the intelligence community of a country that is good for both countries: Italy, for example, which is second to none in the field of cybersecurity and can guarantee both contenders.

Thirdly, an International Conference shall be held – again possibly in Italy – to draw up specific rules for “technology secrets”, to be adapted each year according to new technologies.

Obviously also a new international Authority would be needed to coordinate and control – above all – the private network managers and the content collectors, as well as  websites.

ICANN, the Californian organization that – as we may all recall – was given the Internet “source code” by the US government, is still a cooperative incorporated under California’s law, although the source code is now an open  secret and former President Obama decided it to be managed not only by ICANN.

Hence the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is still a structure that is only responsible for “opening” the network, as well as for dissemination and “transparency”.

The Web, however, must also be a structure controlling data security, reliability and efficacy.

For each “transparency”, a rule of security and control. If the system of intellectual property protection fails, the whole contemporary world will fail.

Hence we could think of establishing an Agency, again in Italy, with the major powers’ support – an Agency called Security Agency for the Internet (SAFI), which can remove or report real-time passages of business and State secrets within the whole network.

This is another action that could be taken in Italy.

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Is Jamal Khashoggi real a dissident journalist?

Dr. Andrea Galli

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Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi allegedly disappeared from Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. According to the US press, a trap was set for him at a meeting to hand him new documents for his remarriage. Fifteen Saudi intelligence officers would have come to arrest him, torture him, kill him and dismember him. His mortal remains would have been returned to Saudi Arabia. Since then, Turkey and the United States have been asking Saudi Arabia, which denies the allegations of the US press, for clarification. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vehemently denied the allegations.

The case has become one of the major international crises between the West and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has above all unveiled the double standards of the West’s relations with the Saudi Kingdom. Analysts have suggested that the diplomatic crisis has been exploited by the West to create in Saudi Arabia a condition similar to Libya, in preparation for regime change and a possible military intervention.

Jamal Khashoggi is represented in the media as a journalist and dissident, suggesting that the case has a connotation of violation of freedom of expression and human rights. In reality, Jamal Khashoggi was the nephew of an important Saudi Arabian’s arms smuggler, Adnan Khashoggi, who was considered the richest man in the world in the early 1980s. Adnan Khashoggi, who died in London in June 2017, was known for his lavish business deals. Adnan Khashoggi was implicated in the Iran–Contra affair as a key middleman in the arms-for-hostages exchange. His role in the affair created a controversy when Adnan Khashoggi donated millions to the American University in Washington, DC to build a sports arena which would bear his name. In 1988, Adnan Khashoggi was arrested in Switzerland, accused of concealing funds in connection with Imelda Marcos, widow of the exiled Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Adnan Khashoggi stopped fighting extradition when the U.S. prosecutors reduced the charges to obstruction of justice and mail fraud and dropped the more serious charges of racketeering and conspiracy. In 1990, a United States federal jury in Manhattan acquitted Adnan Khashoggi and Imelda Marcos.

Jamal Khashoggi, today considered disappeared since 2 of October 2018, after he entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, befriended Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s in Afghanistan and Sudan while championing his jihad against the Soviets. At that same time, he was employed by the Saudi Arabian intelligence services as an advisor. It is reported that Jamal Khashoggi was the only non-royal Saudi Arabian who knew of the Royals’ intimate dealing with al-Qaeda in the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He dissociated himself from bin Laden following the attacks. It what during this time that Jamal Khashoggi’s cousin, Dodi Fayed, was dating the UK’s Princess Diana.

During his career as intelligence advisor, Jamal Khashoggi became the protégé of the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki Ben Mark, who then became an ambassador to London. Then he entered the service of Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, who was extensively tortured in the Ritz-Carlton during the palace coup d’état in November 2017. In recent years, Jamal Khashoggi defended the Muslim Brotherhood and Israel, which was why he was hired by the Washington Post. According to intelligence information, several members of the royal family whose assets were confiscated in whole or in part during the palace coup d’état in November 2017 have planned an operation against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the sources, Jamal Khashoggi was involved in this conspiracy. Analysts have suggested that Jamal Khashoggi might have been considered especially dangerous by the Saudi Arabian leadership not because he was a dissident, but rather a pillar of the Saudi Arabian establishment who was close to its ruling circles for decades and was involved in intelligence operations sponsored by foreign forces.

The fate of Jamal Khashoggi is still unknown and the facts of the investigations are still fragmentary and contradictory. But the case has some reminiscence with that of the ex-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter who were poisoned in Salisbury in March. The difference is that in the Skripal case it took nothing more than a swift declaration (sans evidence) from British intelligence agencies before sanctions had been slapped on Moscow.

Trump has promised “severe punishment” will be handed out to Riyadh if it turns out that the country is responsible for the alleged killing of the journalist — but that harsh comment has been tempered by other less angry statements which indicate that the US president is not quite serious about doling out any kind of consequences. After all, there are other things on Trump’s mind, far more important than the fate of one journalist. Referring to a $110 billion weapons deal previously signed by Riyadh and Washington and noting that Jamal Khashoggi was not a US citizen, Trump told journalists last week that he didn’t really want to stop “massive amounts of money” from being poured into the US from Saudi Arabia. “It would not be acceptable to me,” Trump said.

In other words, if Saudi Arabia really did send a team to torture, kill and dismember Jamal Khashoggi, weapons sales are still more important. Even the sale of weapons which are being used by Riyadh to continually slaughter civilians in Yemen during a war that threatens to create the worst famine in 100 years, according to the UN. On the other hand, if the Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman refuses again to pay some hundreds of billions to the United States for the defense of his country, the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance case is a beautiful pretext for a regime change in Libyan style.

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