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Anxiety in Ankara: Assassination, Geopolitics, and Democracy in Turkey

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On December 19, 2016, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was assassinated by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, an off-duty police officer, in Ankara during an art exhibit. The assassination took place at a critical junction, as Turkey and Russia have just started to repair their broken relationship due to the earlier downing of a Russian jet fighter. Furthermore, it also coincided with historic meetings between Turkey, Russia, and Iran to create a Syrian peace treaty, where Turkey gave up almost all political and military positions regarding the Syrian crisis.

The assassination itself still has many unanswered questions: was the assassin acting alone or on someone’s behalf or with the assistance of others; why did Turkish intelligence and law enforcement forces not provide sufficient security for the ambassador; what was the motive behind the attack and why was the assassin killed rather than captured? Additionally, a Turkish judge issued a media ban on the attack, making it more difficult to understand and reveal facts about the assassination. In order to inform the international community and reduce the chances of such an attack happening against other diplomatic dignitaries in Turkey, the Turkish government needs to be transparent about the findings of the investigation, demonstrating it has solid, objective evidence provided in a timely manner.

I graduated from an American university with Ph.D. in criminal justice in the summer of 2005 and returned back to Turkey to work for the Ankara Police Department’s counterterrorism and operations division. This assassination has reminded me of another high-profile killing which happened in Ankara in 2006. On May 17 of that year Alparslan Arslan, a lawyer, used his official ID to enter the council of state court building in Ankara, circumventing security checks. Once inside, he attacked a session of the council of Turkish State members, killing one and wounding four. Luckily, a police officer who was working on the Court’s security detail managed to catch Arslan alive and handed him over to the counterterrorism division. As we started to investigate the assassination two disturbing details arose. First, the security camera recordings at the high court building were erased immediately after the attack . Second, as I started to interrogate Arslan, I was surprised in several ways: Arslan was not acting like a suspect who just killed somebody. He had very high self-esteem, was very relaxed, and tried to portray what he had done as quite normal. As I spoke to him he told me, “not to worry myself too much and let me be as I will get out of prison very soon.” I asked him how and he said “there will be a coup and I will come out as a hero.” When I confronted him, asking how he was so sure of such a thing, he said “this is what I know and will not comment more.” This conversation was recorded during the interrogations in the Ankara counterterrorism and operations interview room and the video is still available in police archives.

When I look at the assassination of the Russian ambassador, I see a lot of similarities. First of all, the attack was carried out by a police officer who allegedly entered the art gallery by using his official police ID. Additionally, as I watch the videos available from different angles during and after the shooting, it was very obvious that the assassin prepared for his attack professionally. He was very relaxed and almost too calm before he killed the ambassador. He patiently waited while acting like a security guard. It appears he planned every detail of his attack, including his speech with Arabic quotes. Moreover, just like Arslan, he was also sure what was going to happen to him. Only this time, according to his own words, he wanted to die instead of fleeing the crime scene alive. In contrast to the common practice during hostage takings, the killer let everybody in the art gallery leave while he remained in the room with his gun. The assassin wore a slim black suit and, based on the video recordings, had only a hand gun. His clothing was not bulky, indicating he did not carry additional weapons. In fact, he might have had at most a spare magazine, giving him the chance to have twenty more bullets after shooting the ambassador eleven times. These details raise several questions.

First, a regular riot police officer does not have access to the schedule of the Russian ambassador. Further, according to reports, Ambassador Karlov decided to attend the program just two hours prior to the event. Additionally, the assassin had obviously surveyed the crime scene and surroundings in advance as he prepared for the attack. Therefore, one of the most important questions to ask is how the assassin received details of the ambassador’s schedule as well as have time to conduct surveillance. Second, it is a very well-known police procedure in Turkey that a high value target – like the assassin of an Ambassador – should be apprehended alive if possible. After all, these kinds of attacks could spark greater events or be tied to future plans. Instead of capturing the assassin alive, the Ankara police opted to kill him at the scene, eliminating the most important piece of evidence – the assassin himself. A suspect with only a handgun and limited ammunition should have easily been captured alive. I wonder many things: were there negotiations with the suspect; why the police did not use any tear gas to incapacitate the suspect; why didn’t they incapacitate him by wounding him; and why were the police so impatient, as the priority in such cases is to always capture the suspect alive? There seems to be no logical explanation for killing the assassin. This alone raises the most critical suspicion about the attack and its aftermath.

The attacker was very sure of himself and his speech as he addressed people at the exhibit, perhaps memorizing Arabic references from al-Qaeda nasheeds. Also, his speech had specific references to jihadi literature, such as “emin beldeler” – safe places – and the police found three books related to al-Nusra in his hotel room. It is highly likely that this officer’s radical views were known among his peers at the riot police. If this is the case, the question is obvious: how was he allowed to continue to serve as a police officer with open Salafist jihadist ideas? Riot police officers work very closely, in groups of ten to twenty, often waiting for long hours without doing anything. This would give other officers and team leaders ample time to assess the assassin’s thinking and report it. This never happened. Some might argue the assassin could have deliberately hidden his views from those around him, but such a task is structurally very difficult by the riot police work environment.

The attacker graduated from the Izmir Rustu Unsal Police School in 2014. After the December 2013 corruption operations against Erdogan’s son and his close circle, the AKP did not allow graduates of the police schools to become officers unless they were proven loyal to the AKP. Thus, Altintas could only have become an officer after receiving open support from AKP members, as hundreds of other police school graduates did not become officers in 2014. In addition, he was transferred from Diyarbakir to Ankara after working only one year as an officer in Diyarbakir. This, by regulation, is actually impossible in Turkey. I served in the Turkish National Police (TNP) for twenty years and the TNP administration closely follows this rule without bending it. Normally, only ministerial or prime ministerial level interference would result in the transfer of an officer from Diyarbakir to Ankara after just one year. Typically, at least three years of service is mandatory before a move. This raises significant questions and needs to be explained.

In another break with standard norms, Interior minister Suleyman Soylu was reported to have directed the police operation against the assassin. It is very uncommon for a cabinet minister to direct a counterterrorism operation. In fact, even a city chief of police does not get directly involved in such operations, as they also require special training and experience. Under normal circumstances, the chief and deputy chiefs of the counter-terrorism and operations division and the chief of Special Operations (SWAT) would come together at the crime scene to plan and execute maneuvers. In Turkey, the chief of counter-terrorism operations is the police operative who is by law assigned as the legally responsible person for such command. Therefore, the Interior minister should not have had any say in such operations at all, let alone led them with impunity. In addition to Soylu being at the crime scene immediately after the attack, there were allegations about the assassin’s roommate (a lawyer whose law office was searched and locked after the attack) having relationships with several high level AKP members, including Soylu himself. Allegedly, it was after an interview with the assassin’s sister to Hurriyet daily that several pictures appeared on social media showing Soylu with the assassin’s roommate and compelled the subsequent court ban on reporting the case. This instantly put an end on any news or social media posts related to the assassination and investigation.

Further complicating the situation, Minister Soylu was transferred to the AKP in 2012 , later becoming its deputy director. Before that he was the General Director of the True Path Party (DYP). Soylu became the general director of the DYP after Mehmet Agar. Agar is widely known as a representative of the so called “deep state” in Turkey, a vigilante organization formed by high-level officers carrying out murders, especially after the infamous “Susurluk case” for which he was sentenced to five-years imprisonment . This connection is also an essential tie which is being overlooked entirely. The assassination happened at a time of great political and economic distress in Turkey. President Erdogan and his administration changed their Syrian policies and partnered with Russia and Iran, abandoning their ambitions in Aleppo. Erdogan personally asked al-Nusra members to leave Aleppo. In fact, several jihadist organizations, including al-Nusra and Ahrar-usham and their affiliates, likely felt back-stabbed as Turkey signed the treaty with Russia and Iran, guaranteeing the integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian Government and by extension Bashar Assad. This assassination, like the downing of the Russian jet, crippled Turkey’s independent stand against Russia, almost compelling them to approve all of Putin’s demands.

Turkey needs to answer the unanswered questions behind the assassination. The details of the investigation and the more sinister ambiguities of the attack, including the potential ties of the assassin and his close circle to formal government, must be revealed to the public. Assassination on an ambassador in the heart of Turkey’s capitol by a police officer with a state-issued gun is a crime that cannot be ignored. Until the unresolved questions are clarified foreign delegations may not feel safe in Ankara, creating another huge setback in Turkish democracy, the rule of law, and the country’s global standing.

Ahmet S. Yayla is an assistant professor at the DeSales University Homeland Security Department and faculty member at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. He is also a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University. Dr. Yayla previously served as a full professor and the chair of the Department of Sociology at Harran University in Turkey. Dr. Yayla is a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police and served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey between 2010 and 2013.

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Biological warfare: A global security threat

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Biological warfare is not a new concept in arena of international politics as it has been used as a tool to sabotage enemy in previous centuries. Biological weapons are a sub-category of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in which there is a deliberate use of micro-organisms like pathogens and toxins to cause disease or death in humans, livestock and yields.Form its usage in 14th century by Mongols to its usage by imperial Japan during 1930s-40s against Chinese, it has always been a threat to global security. The evolution of bio-weapons can be broadly categorized into four phases; first phase includes the post WWII developments with the evident use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres.The second phase was marked by the use of nerve agents like tabun, cholinesterase inhibitor and anthrax and plague bombs. The initiation of third phase was marked by the use of biological weapons in Vietnam war during 1970s where deadly agents like Agent orange were used. 4th and last phase include the time of biological and technological revolution where genetic engineering techniques were at their peak. Traditionally they have been used in wartime in order to defeat enemy but with the emergence of violent non-state actors, bioterrorism is another potential threat to the security of states. There are certain goals that are associated with the use of biological weapons. Firstly, it is purposed to hit to economy of the targeted country, breaking down government authority and have a psychological effect on masses of the targeted population. It is also a kind of psychological warfare as it may hit a smaller number of people but leaves impact on wider audience through intimidation and spreading fear. It also creates natural circumstances under which a population is induced with disease without revealing the actual perpetrator.

With the advancement in genetic engineering techniques more lethal biological weapons are being produced everyday around the world. Countries which are economically deprived are more likely to pursue such goals as it is difficult for them to go for heavy military sophistication keeping into consideration their poor economic conditions. Biological weapons serve as inexpensive tool for developing countries to address their issues in prevailing international security environment. During the initial decades of cold war, united states of America (USA) and Soviet Union went for acquiring tons of biological weapons alongside nuclear proliferation.

 The quest for these weapons reduced during 1970s with the formation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This convention was presented in 1972 before countries and finally came into force in 1975 with 150 countries who signed this convention and 140 countries who fully joined this treaty. This convention prohibits any biological weaponization in order to promote peace and stability around the world. But this convention has obvious defects as it is unable to address many issues like it doesn’t prevents itself the use of biological weapons but just reinforces 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of bio-weapons. Convention allows ‘defensive research’ to which there are many objections that what is incorporated into this defensive research. It is non-binding to the signatory states and in case if countries are proliferating it lacks the effective oversight techniques to look after them either they are pursuing these biological weapons capabilities or not. Since the inception of this convention till now it has clearly failed in stopping the countries from acquisition as well as usage of these weapons. This is evident as there were many cases after 1975 where these weapons were used as in 1980s when Iraq used mustard gas, sarin and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups inside Iran. Another incident which was highlighted was Sarine nerve gas attack in Tokyo subway system leaving thousands injured and many got killed. In post-cold war era, however, the number of these attacks reduced as much attention was shifted to terrorism after 9/11 attacks with the change in global security architecture.

“Anthrax letters” in post 9/11 attacks revealed yet another dimension of bio-weapons which was the threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors. US became a victim of bio-terrorism when in 2001 a powder was transported through letters containing bacterium called anthrax infecting many people. One purpose which terrorists have is to make general masses feel as if they are unsafe in the hands of their government which can be best achieved through the use of these weapons. The fact that biological weapons are cheaper and more devastating than conventional weapons make it more likely for biological weapons to be used by terrorists. Also, the fact that they are easy to hide and transport and a smaller quantity can leave long-lasting impacts on larger population makes these weapons more appealing.  Now that we are facing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 which according to some conspiracy theories is a biological weapon pose even more serious challenge to the international security in coming decades. There is no such scientific research which proves Corona Virus as a biological weapon but the realization here is that whether or not it is a biological weapon but world was least prepared for it. Not only the developing countries but also developed states suffered more despite having enormous medical infrastructure. The fact that there has been decline in the incidents related to bioterrorism should never let us think that there is no possibility of such attacks. The fact that world failed to handle Covid-19 puts a question mark on the credibility of measures if we are faced with bio-terrorism. The medical community as well as general population needs to develop an understanding of how to respond if there is such attack. At the international level there is a dire need to develop some strong norms which discourage the development and use of such weapons in any capacity.    

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The ‘Post-Covid-19 World’ Will Never Come

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On May 3rd, the New York Times bannered “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe” and reported that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.”

In other words: the ‘news’-sources that were opposing the governments’ taking action against Covid-19 — libertarian ’news’-sites that oppose governmental laws and regulations, regardless of the predominant view by the vast majority of the scientists who specialize in studying the given subject — are looking wronger all the time, as this “novel coronavirus” (which is what it was originally called) becomes less and less “novel,” and more and more understood scientifically.

The “herd immunity” advocates for anti-Covid-19 policies have been saying that governments should just let the virus spread until nature takes its course and such a large proportion of the population have survived the infection as to then greatly reduce the likelihood that an uninfected person will become infected. An uninfected person will increasingly be surrounded by people who have developed a natural immunity to the disease, and by people who don’t and never did become infected by it. The vulnerable people will have become eliminated (died) or else cured, and so they won’t be spreading the disease to others. That’s the libertarian ’solution’, the final solution to the Covid-19 problem, according to libertarians.

For example, on 9 April 2020, Forbes magazine headlined “After Rejecting A Coronavirus Lockdown, Sweden Sees Rise In Deaths” and reported that, “Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continuously advocated for laid back measures, saying on Swedish TV Sunday that the pandemic could be defeated by herd immunity, or the indirect protection from a large portion of a population being immune to an infection, or a combination of immunity and vaccination. However, critics have argued that with a coronavirus vaccine could be more than a year away, and insufficient evidence that coronavirus patients that recover are immune from becoming infected again, the strategy of relying on herd immunity and vaccinations [is] ineffective.”

The libertarian proposal of relying upon “herd immunity” for producing policies against this disease has continued, nonetheless.

CNN headlined on 28 April 2020, “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story”, and reported that 

On March 28, a petition signed by 2,000 Swedish researchers, including Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, called for the nation’s government to “immediately take steps to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.”

The scientists added: “The measures should aim to severely limit contact between people in society and to greatly increase the capacity to test people for Covid-19 infection.”

“These measures must be in place as soon as possible, as is currently the case in our European neighboring countries,” they wrote. “Our country should not be an exception to the work to curb the pandemic.”

The petition said that trying to “create a herd immunity, in the same way that occurs during an influenza epidemic, has low scientific support.”

Swedish authorities have denied having a strategy to create herd immunity, one the UK government was rumored to be working towards earlier on in the pandemic — leading to widespread criticism — before it enforced a strict lockdown.

FORTUNE magazine headlined on 30 July 2020, “How parts of India inadvertently achieved herd immunity”, and reported that, “Around 57% of people across parts of India’s financial hub of Mumbai have coronavirus antibodies, a July study found, indicating that the population may have inadvertently achieved the controversial ‘herd immunity’ protection from the coronavirus.” Furthermore:

Herd immunity is an approach to the coronavirus pandemic where, instead of instituting lockdowns and other restrictions to slow infections, authorities allow daily life to go on as normal, letting the disease spread. In theory, enough people will become infected, recover, and gain immunity that the spread will slow on its own and people who are not immune will be protected by the immunity of those who are. University of Chicago researchers estimated in a paper published in May that achieving herd immunity from COVID-19 would require 67% of people to be immune to the disease. Mayo Clinic estimates 70% of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity, which can also be achieved by vaccinating that proportion of a population.

On 27 September 2020, Reuters bannered “In Brazil’s Amazon a COVID-19 resurgence dashes herd immunity hopes”, and reported that, “The largest city in Brazil’s Amazon has closed bars and river beaches to contain a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that may dash theories that Manaus was one of the world’s first places to reach collective, or herd, immunity.”

Right now, the global average of Covid-19 intensity (total cases of the disease thus far) is 19,693 persons per million population. For examples: Botswana is barely below that intensity, at 19,629, and Norway is barely above that intensity, at 20,795. Sweden is at 95,905, which is nearly five times the global average. Brazil is 69,006, which is around 3.5 times worse than average. India is 14,321, which is slightly better than average. USA is 99,754.  

However, the day prior, on May 2nd, America had 30,701 new cases. Brazil had 28,935. Norway had 210. India had 370,059. Sweden’s latest daily count (as-of May 3rd) was 5,937 on April 29th, 15 times Norway’s 385 on that date. Sweden’s population is 1.9 times that of Norway. India’s daily count is soaring. Their population is four times America’s, but the number of new daily cases in India is twelve times America’s. Whereas India has had only one-seventh as much Covid-19 intensity till now, India is soaring upwards to become ultimately, perhaps, even worse than America is on Covid-19 performance. And Brazil is already almost as bad as America, on Covid-19 performance, and will soon surpass America in Covid-19 failure.

There is no “herd immunity” against Covid-19, yet, anywhere. It’s just another libertarian myth. But libertarians still continue to believe it — they refuse to accept the data.

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Application of Cyber Security: A Comparative Analysis of Pakistan and India

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In today’s world, communication is controlled by the internet. The Internet is what links the communication protocol of a state to its cyber domain. Cyber security encompasses techniques, technologies, methods and blueprints made to secure networking systems from potential cyber-attacks. Efficient systems of cyber security therefore mitigate and reduce the danger of network systems being attacked or accessed by unauthorized systems.

Despite the existence of such robust networks and security protocols, the exploit of such systems is always a click away, due to the integration of the internet as a worldwide network, and in times of global outbreaks and crisis, internet activity also inevitably increases. This was particularly observable with the spread of the Covid-19 as a global pandemic, which also saw an increase in over-the-web activity, and gave a new breathing space for cyber-criminals. According to estimates, Covid-19, as a pandemic, can already be classified as the largest ever existing threat to cyber-security across the globe, since the induction of the world wide web as a global chain of networks. Thus, it would be fair to say that the effects of the covid-19 were not selectively felt by developing states only, but also encapsulated great powers of the contemporary era.

While contextualizing Pakistan and India in the cyber-security debate following the events of the covid-19 scenario, the trend in increased virtual cyber-attacks and espionage was no different to the rest of the world. The real question mark lies in the ability of both countries to effectively deal with the overwhelming cyber-activity in the post-pandemic era. The government of Pakistan established the National Center for Cyber Security (NCCS) in June 2018, and continues to strengthen its cyber-security domain, with a dynamic change in policy making, centric to cybersecurity and threats to cybersecurity from its immediate adversary, India. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan, also launched ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’, with the primary   objectives of  increasing connectivity, rectifying digital infrastructure, and investing in the awareness of digital skills and promotion of entrepreneurship. Pakistan also approved the first ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’, aiming to focus on investment opportunities by IT companies and building the framework necessary for a digital ecosystem. Although a sustained effort has been made to strengthen the cyber-domain of Pakistan, there are many technicalities and loopholes that must be addressed with high priority. One, the lack of an effective communication method, that is free from external intrusion, and allows for the restriction of unwanted network traffic on its master server. In more recent times, an intrusion occurred during the webinar of Institute of   Strategic Studies (ISSI) due to non-encrypted internet connection, which allowed unspecified individuals access to the digital webinar. Two, the lack of stable internet connectivity, which prevents effective implementation of security protocols and acts as a hindrance to critical data packets, that must be sent between cyber-security officials in an event of a cyber-attack or espionage of any degree. Three, the existence of exploitable source code in key governmental websites and pages that are always prone to cyber-attacks, and must be revisited in the near future.

On the other hand, India saw a 37% in cyber-activity in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic; an eye-opener for state officials, who have prioritized cybersecurity as the next immediate threat to Indian National Security. In recent developments, India has also launched several directives to its cyber-security strategy in the post-pandemic era, including the initiative launched by The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), namely ‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat’ with the coordination and support of the  National E-Governance Division. According to MIETY, 44 training and mock drills are being given to 265 organizations from different states of the world, a landmark achievement in Indian cyber-security history. However, just like its South Asian neighbor Pakistan, India is also equally overwhelmed by the threat and emergence of hostile cyber-activity. With a 45% ratio of internal cyber attacks, and a 38% ratio of external intrusions from proposed adversaries, China and North Korea, India has strengthened its ties with Israel to revamp its cyber-security strategy,  in order to mitigate the immediate threat to its cyber-domain, both internally and externally.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There is an immediate need to extend and further research the cyber capabilities of both Pakistan and India, which would primarily define the different types of technologies and how they are being actively made a part of the National security policy of both Pakistan and India. These efforts must be the immediate need of the hour, with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 and its irregular patterns becoming an inevitable fate of regional and global politics, in the times to come. While India seems to have its primary bases covered, there is no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic did not have a sparing effect on its cyber-domain, either, leaving the door open for Pakistan to make significant improvements to its cyber domain and cyber-security strategy, in order to effectively deter the threat faced from its adversary. Moreover, Pakistan can also seek inspiration from a potential integrated tri-service defense cyber strategy, that is being highly considered by Indian cyber-security and state officials, which would aid in keeping any form of cyber-hostility at bay in upcoming times.

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