Authors: Asaad H. Almohammad, Ph.D. & Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.
[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]f ISIS were the German Nazis, the Emni (al-Amnyah in proper Arabic), i.e. the ISIS security/intelligence forces would be the Gestapo and the Abwehr combined. The civilians in its held territories would be the Imperial Japanese Army’s comfort women. The Emni is feared by ISIS members and civilians alike. As one of the most ruthless non-state actors,
ISIS is terrorized by a devil of its own making, with Saddam’s former intelligence officers in the core of its inception. Since its origin, the Emni has instilled fear in its members, rival fighting groups, and civilians alike. From the killing of journalists and rivals, both in their strongholds and abroad, to plotting terrorist attacks in Europe, the Emni is instrumental in the execution of most, if not all, of ISIS’ atrocities. Arguably, the Emni also has far reaching influence on the global psyche and policy. This faction of ISIS is creating events on a monthly basis that are fuelling anti-immigrant sentiments and Islamophobia globally. From the rise of right wing movements and parties in Europe to the Muslim travel ban in the United States, the Emni, through their continuous operations and threats, have elicited tribalism across the globe as well as eroded sympathy for Syrians fleeing both Assad’s and ISIS’s brutal atrocities.
We are not asking you to be Philip K. Dick, but if you were to imagine a world without ISIS, would Brexit have happened? Would the United States limit, or prevent, victims of the Syrian war from finding a refuge in the nation of immigrants? If you have that vivid of an imagination, would Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders be global household names? The irony here is of course is that these three loathe nothing more than globalization. Which leads to the question of whether ISIS has had significant influence in making the liberal world order and globalization become so indecent in the West? Would the party of Reagan have abandoned its President’s hallowed faith in the brotherhood of men if it weren’t for embracing public paranoia fuelled by free trade and amplified by terrorism? If terrorism is a tool to exert influence on a rival’s psyche, then unfortunately ISIS is already winning. Terrorism only works when we are scared of the perpetrators enough to radically change our behaviors and political stances. For ISIS, Islamophobia and fear great enough to block helpless Syrians fleeing the terrorist group, equate to their mission accomplished. We cannot imagine that the mess we are in is the result of some sort of grand strategy by the Emni. However, we are witnessing devolution from the new world order; the EU has been hit hard and members of NATO have had to put up with many compromises, and the West is increasingly abandoning its multilateral commitments and liberal values.
Even if the Emni has only a marginal influence on the aforementioned historical events, we must understand the impact and role of this entity within ISIS. However, to reach this understanding we need to know what is the Emni? How did it come into being? Who is behind it? What kind of influence does it exert? Where does it operate? Why does it cultivate such a reputation of forcefulness? Approaching this topic we have both the need and the urgency to learn more. The first step to resolve a problem is to identify and gather as much information as possible about it. Realizing this mission would be insufficient if it relied only on published research and open-source information, it also incorporates a number of trusted on-the-ground local Syrian sources to gather intelligence information about the Emni and relies on previous ICSVE research.
The Arabic Teacher
Delving deep into our investigation endeavouring to understand the Emni, a pattern in the puzzle pieces starts to emerge, the repeating name of Abu Luqman or Abu Luqman al-Soori. To even our bravest and most courageous sources, the name brought horror, dismay, and bitterness. It became clear that only way to learn about the operations of the Emni lay in our sources’ ability to collect information about Abu Luqman who was born as Ali Juma al-Shwakh in the Syrian town of al-Sahel, Raqqa governate in 1973. At thirty-four years of age, he is a father of five; three boys and two girls. Abu Luqman graduated in 2002 from the faculty of Arts and Humanities (Department of Arabic) from the University of Aleppo.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Arabic literature, he started his mandatory military service in the Syrian army. As a first lieutenant in the Syrian Military Intelligence, Abu Luqman spent a part of his uniformed service in the city of Ras al-Ayn, al-Hasakah. During his time in Ras al-Ayn, he was an effective operative and was well liked by his superior. First lieutenant is the highest achievable rank for mandatory service recruits, suggesting that Abu Luqman managed to get the recognition of the permanent professionals at the Military Intelligence Directorate. That recognition took him to the headquarters of Military Intelligence at the Defence Ministry in Damascus. As a Sunni Syrian, a minority in Syrian intelligence, his Damascus assignment implies that he was highly trusted—for a Sunni.
After concluding his military service Abu Luqman returned to al-Sahel, Raqqa governate to teach Arabic in al-Sahel al-Garbi School from 2005 to 2010. During his time as an Arabic teacher, he used to frequent Iqra book store in the city of Raqqa where he was exposed to Salafi books, CDs of executions and their sharia justifications, speeches and audio books promoting militant jihad. In hindsight and in reconciliation with available data, we suspect Abu Luqman’s second half of uniformed service at the Military Intelligence Directorate headquarters may have pushed him towards the dark and extreme corners of the Sunni sect alongside political events occurring in the region. The Military Intelligence Directorate is largely made of Alawites, a sub-branch of Islam that is also al-Assad’s sect. Sunni Syrians are mostly excluded when it comes to permanent positions within the directorate. Abu Luqman was not a permanent professional but rather among the recruits serving their mandatory service. The general sentiment within the directorate is that Sunnis are not to be trusted or promoted to high ranks, something that may have weighted heavily on a Sunni who had managed to penetrate their ranks.
Meanwhile as of 2002, the Syrian regime permitted Iranian agents to preach in Raqqa governorate. One of the Iranian Islamic Revolution’s missions was to spread Shiites’ values and revolutionary ideals globally. In this same time frame the U.S. Coalition forces had invaded Iraq followed by Jordanian leader Abu Musab Zarqawi having entered the fray and setting of horrific sectarian violence there. Zarqawi named the Shia as al-Qaeda in Iraq’s main enemy and strongly encouraged all Sunnis to unite under the banner of militant jihad. This at a time when Syrian Sunnis were also feeling increasingly marginalized and targeted. It is suspected that the discrimination and lack of trust that Abu Luqman experienced during his time at Military Intelligence Directorate, anger over the U.S. invasion of Iraq along with the increasing sectarian tension between Shiites and Sunnis there, precipitated his finding refuge in an Islamist political movement that opposed the Syrian regime and claimed to unite Sunnis in the search for a just Islamic form of governance. Moreover, information obtained from trusted sources confirm that Abu Luqman idealized Saddam Hussein and had some positive views of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
For a marginalized Sunni Baathist (the Baath Party currently leads Syria and used to be Iraq’s leading party, although in Iraq—unlike Syria, the Iraqi Baathists were predominantly Sunni), al-Qaeda in Iraq appealed to him. One element would have been their common enemy i.e. Shiites as rivals and proxies of the Iranian-led anti-Sunni campaign which was becoming bloodier and increasingly barbaric in neighbouring Iraq. This occurring as Shiites were increasingly put into power in Iraq while prominent Sunni Baathists serving in the military and intelligence had been sent home without jobs or even pensions. Being a marginalized Sunni and a Baathist, Abu Luqman likely identified with al-Qaeda in Iraq given the role former Iraqi Baathists played in that organisation.
Abu Luqman’s affection to al-Qaeda in Iraq put him on the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate’s radar. In early months of 2010, Abu Luqman was arrested on charges of sedition. He was detained at the Sednaya military prison. On the surface he was just an Arabic teacher, a marginalized Sunni who was arrested in a wave of another political suppression campaign. However, information obtained from trusted sources suggests that Abu Luqman was already at that time at least an al-Qaeda sympathiser and perhaps already much more.
The Sednaya military prison, 30 kilometres north of Damascus, is known for torture and extrajudicial executions. The facilities are used to detained political opposition, be it Islamists, Kurds, or Communists. According to WikiLeaks, the American embassy in Damascus cabled the Central Intelligence Agency, among others, details confirming a massacre that took a place in Sednaya prison in 2008. Contents of the leak suggest that most of the detainees at the facilities were Islamists and Kurds.
It is known that Bashar al-Assad feared the U.S. led coalition of Iraq and worried that he might be next on the list of dictators toppled by Western powers. As a result, Sunni insurgents and suicide bombers were allowed to launch through Syria. Haji Bakr, a former Saddam’s Iraqi intelligence official who is credited with providing the game plan for forming ISIS in Syria and later its launch into Iraq worked hand-in-hand with Assad’s intelligence during the U.S. led invasion of Iraq to launch these Sunni actors to fight the Americans. Based on obtained leaks information, after the toppling of Saddam’s government the Syrian regime also offered Islamist detainees in Sednaya prison military training in Syria to join the Islamist insurgency fighting against American forces in Iraq. Moreover, the cable also showed that upon the return of these militant Islamists from their time in Iraq, some were sent by the Syrian regime to Lebanon, some remained at large, and others were rearrested and detained at the Sednaya prison. Starting in July 2008, a cadre of those re-incarcerated led two riots in the prison resulting in the deaths of approximately one hundred detainees, a number of military personnel, and unspecified numbers of injuries. By December 2008 the Syrian regime regained control of the facilities. The cited leak suggests that one justification for the Islamists’ success in holding hostages, getting their demands of food met, and retaining control over parts of the facilities was due to the training they received from the Syrian regime and the combat experience they had gained in Iraq.
As mentioned earlier, Abu Luqman was arrested and detained in the Sednaya prison in early 2010. In the course of our investigation we obtained evidence indicating that during the period of his incarceration, Abu Luqman became a very close friend of Fiwaz Muhammad al-Kurdi al-Hiju (a.k.a. Abu Ali al-Shari) and Ahmad al-Nasir (a.k.a. Abu Yousif). Sources reported that al-Hiju had fought against the American forces in Iraq sometime before 2008. He was born in 1956 and spent some time in Saudi Arabia before 2002. Al-Hiju was also a Salafist whose knowledge of sharia rules and justifications was highly respected among Islamists in the prison. It is suspected that al-Hiju tipped the scale in transforming Abu Luqman from a radical Islamist sympathizer into a violent jihadist.
In early stages of the Syrian uprising, Assad’s regime blamed the upheaval on foreign conspirators, the U.S. and its allies, and terrorists. That narrative was largely ridiculed by the media and watchdogs. The Syrian regime issued a number of amnesties releasing a large number of Islamists from the Sednaya prison perhaps in hope of their subsequent actions supporting Assad’s narrative of terrorists threatening the regime. Three of the most prominent prisoners released at that time went on to become the heads of three of the most powerful Islamist groups in Syria. Those Islamist leaders are: Hassan Abboud, the former leader of Ahrar al-Sham; Zahran Alloush, the former leader of Jaysh al-Islam; and Ahmad Aisa al-Shaykh, the former commander of Suqour al-Sham Brigade.
Our investigation shows that Abu Luqman and his friends, Fiwaz Muhammad al-Kurdi al-Hiju and Ahmad al-Nasir; all became key members of ISIS. Al-Hiju became the highest sharia judge during the early months of ISIS’ takeover of the city of Raqqa. As of late March 2017, Ahmad al-Nasir was the Emir (head) of ISIS’ death squads and Abu Luqman had become the Wali (general director) of the ISIS Emni (ISIS’s intelligence and security forces). To establish a better understating of the Emni, it is important to examine Abu Luqman’s activities after his release from prison and before he became its Wali, or general director.
Al-Nusra Front and the Conspiracy
A while after his release from Sednaya military prison, sometime after February 2012, Abu Luqman joined the ranks of al-Nusra Front (a.k.a. Jabhat al-Nusra, renamed now as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. He operated as a low-rank fighter for the group in Tabqa in Raqqa governate, Syria. In March 2013, Abu Luqman appeared in Raqqa governorate emerging as a key player there for al-Nusra Front. During his rise in the ranks, he was in contact with Fiwaz Muhammad al-Kurdi al-Hiju (a.k.a. Abu Ali al-Shari), his friend from the Sednaya prison. As mentioned earlier, al-Hiju was one of the detainees trained by the Syrian regime to fight against the American forces in Iraq who was then rearrested and detained in the same prison after returning to Syria and who later rose to a leadership role in ISIS.
At the time Abu Luqman recontacted his friend, al-Hiju had become a key player in ISIS. A number of trusted sources reported that the two men held five meetings in al-Sahel, Raqqa. Through al-Hiju, Abu Luqman clandestinely met the leadership of ISIS in Raqqa during his time in al-Nusra. ISIS has shown itself adept at co-opting al-Nusra leadership into their ranks but not openly, instead sending them back to gather intelligence, assassinate key leaders and clear a path for overtaking the rival group in battles. Many defectors told the second author of such plots carried out by ISIS to overtake al-Nusra leadership. Abu Luqman is reported to have clandestinely switched over to ISIS and that he proposed a plan through which he would eliminate Abu Saad al-Hatherami, the leading figure of al-Nusra Front in Raqqa, thereby helping ISIS to takeover their territory.
Abu Luqman’s uniformed service in Syrian Military Intelligence as a first lieutenant had arguably made him an effective undercover operative. He succeeded in providing evidence against al-Hatherami to the Nusra leadership, casting doubt on his superior loyalty to al-Nusra Front and causing al-Hatherami to be labelled an infidel and enemy of Islam. Abu Luqman proved his worth to ISIS’ leadership after executing al-Hatherami and succeeding him. Already as a leading figure of al-Nusra Front in Raqqa, Abu Luqman had gained the respect of violent jihadists in Raqqa. He alone had executed around 50 solders of al-Assad’s army in a public display of ruthlessness. That act of savagery alone made him the most feared jihadist in Raqqa.
Abu Luqman’s mercilessness, calculating, increasing popularity and rise in al-Nusra Front’s ranks did not deter him from pursuing the plan he proposed to ISIS’ leadership in Raqqa. In fact it helped him to rise in ISIS as well as he defected from al-Nusra while helping to destroy it from the inside. Abu Luqman, while still inside al-Nusra, but already working for ISIS effectively facilitated the desertion of around 630 foreign and local fighters from al-Nusra Front, persuading them to join ISIS when his defection and switch to ISIS became publically known, which raised the number of ISIS fighters to 2,300 in Raqqa city. That in turn weakened al-Nusra Front significantly. Two weeks after his public desertion from al-Nusra Front, Abu Luqman emerged as a key player in ISIS’s ranks.
The Rise of the Emni’s “Father”
As already discovered, the ISIS plans to take over villages, set up intelligence cells and to conquer from within was conceived by Saddam’s former intelligence operative, Haji Bakr whose files were discovered in Syria after his death and reported by Christopher Reuter of der Spiegel. Haji Bakr conceived the blueprint to set up the ISIS Emni, but now following Haji Bakr’s death, Abu Luqman was rising to become an increasingly prominent member of ISIS as the Emni became a formalized entity within the now declared Islamic State. Two events were reported to be behind his rise. First, he managed to use his tribal connections to recruit a significant number of fighters. Belonging to the Syrian al-Ajeel tribe, he used the help of Ibrahim al-Hindi, a key tribal figure, to recruit members of al-Ajeel. Secondly, he led a large group of hundreds of hardened fighters that had deserted al-Nusra Front to operate for ISIS. Under his leadership, that group managed to defeat a number of groups that were affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) –one of ISIS’s most hated enemies.
In April 2013, Abu Luqman and his fighters executed 1,273 captured fighters from groups affiliated with the FSA, making a public display of their remains in the yard of the Public Hospital in Raqqa. Moreover, he gave the remaining FSA’s affiliates an ultimatum: “Either join ISIS or suffer the same fate.” The remains of the executed FSA’s affiliates were buried in two locations; one in Salhabia Charqui, Raqqa governorate, and the other to the south of the main irrigation canal. A week after that ultimatum, around 5,750 new recruits joined the ranks of ISIS. A significant portion of these new recruits was from his tribe and former FSA affiliates. A middleman was entrusted by Abu Luqman to oversee the recruitment and vetting of former FSA affiliates to ensure their loyalty. Assigned because of his tribal connections and friendship with Abu Luqman, this middleman was Hwaydi al-Shlash from al-Mishlab, Raqqa governorate.
Photos of Abu Luqman (al-Shwakh) with his brother and of al-Shami
During the first few months of ISIS’ takeover of Raqqa, (after April 2013) Abu Luqman became an increasingly prominent member and key operative for ISIS. He was reported to oversee and conduct the public executions and following display of the corpses of foreign nationals (fighters and civilians), journalists (local only), and fighters from rival groups (e.g., Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra Front, FSA’s affiliates). At first, he used the administrative building at Tabqa Dam as an operations base. It was from this base that he established a key detention facility, ran the ISIS Emni (ISIS’ security and intelligence forces), Nukta 11 (Point 11) death squads, Chechen squads (i.e. the hardened fighters coming from the Caucases Emirate), Islamic police (i.e. the hisbah), military police, and the special operations office.
Within a year of joining the ranks of ISIS, Abu Luqman became Raqqa’s Wali or governor. Notably, ISIS also set up sharia and training camps for its new recruits near the Tabqa prison making it possible that beheadings of prisoners could be arranged for new recruits to carry out at the end of their sharia training as they gave their bayats to ISIS.
It is remarkable that Abu Luqman has chosen to leave the position of the Wali a number of times. It is reported that he currently spends most of his time with the organization as the leading figure of the Emni in Syria and a leader of infiltration squads in the battlefield. The infiltration squads (a.k.a. Anghmasiiyn) are made of armed units that penetrate rival forces. They do so by advancing undetected or stay behind to cause maximum damage, as major forces retreat. Moreover, Abu Luqman was very close to Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (born as Taha Subhi Falaha). Al-Adnani was the official spokesperson and a senior leader of ISIS, acting as the second in charge to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was also in charge of the ISIS Emni including planning and executing operations outside of ISIS territory Abu Luqman and al-Adnani were seen together a number of times in the city of Raqqa. Additionally, before U.S. forces killed al-Adnani in the city of al-Bab, (near Aleppo) Syria in August of 2016, Abu Luqman was fighting alongside him. As of late August 2016, Abu Luqman was seriously injured around al-Bab city, sustaining injuries to his back. And in early September 2016 he was brought to the outskirts of Raqqa to obtain medical attention.
Taken altogether, in reconciliation with information obtained from trusted sources, a number of factors that facilitated Abu Luqman’s radicalization and rise in ISIS’ ranks were thoroughly demonstrated. His story, at certain level, resembles the one of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Both were educated, spent time in detention in the company of violent jihadists, and were part of al-Qaeda affiliated groups in some capacity before joining ISIS and turning against al-Qaeda. This section mentions that Abu Luqman is one of the key architects of the ISIS’ security/intelligence forces or the Emni. It is noteworthy that the Emni’s operations and structure has evolved over the years following its inception. Like Saddam’s former intelligence officer, Haji Bakr before him, Abu Luqman’s years of uniformed service in Syrian military intelligence allowed him to put his same experience of tactics employed by the Syrian regime into practice.
The Current Organizational Hierarchy of The Emni
The organizational structure of the Emni has been deduced from collected intelligence. As shown in the following figure, the Emir or General Director reports to the Caliphate House Office. The Emni encompasses two committees; one operates from Syria and the other from Iraq. Each committee is made up of six members, including the Emir or director of the committee. Information obtained indicates that the Emir of the Emni in each country maintains influence over death squads, Chechen squads, Islamic police or the hisbah, military police, and the special operations office. The aforementioned squads, both police units, and the special operations office also operate independently of the Emni. However, the later maintain a supervisory role over them. The intelligence also uncovered that orders, as usual for ISIS, flow top to bottom while operation reports go in the opposite direction.
It is unclear whether the key architect of the Emni as it now stands, Abu Luqman, had this grand scheme in mind when he established the forces. Given Haji Bakr’s similar structure that he was putting in place before Abu Luqman came to power it appears it was their mutual grand design, one building on the foundation left by the other. That said, the structure of the Emni provides its Emir or general director with the ability to influence critical operations and departments. To that effect, presenting the organizational hierarchy at this stage is the appropriate point of departure before delving into the complex relationships and operations associated with the Emni.
Making of a Wali
As of late September 2016, following the assassination of al Adnani, Abu Luqman stepped up to becoming the Emir (director) of the Emni in Syria. At that point Abu Luqman seemed unstoppable. He managed to gain even more power and influence. In just two weeks he was promoted to lead and oversee the militant operations of foreign fighters in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria. His expertise and connections allowed him to become the direct commander of ISIS fighters (foreign and local) in Raqqa governorate. As the Emir of the Emni in Syria, one of his first actions was to lead a successful operation to apprehend Sadam al-Jammel, the Wali (governor) of Raqqa and his accomplices who tried to desert from ISIS and escape into Turkey.
As of late October 2016, Abu Luqman ordered the release of Abdul Rahman al-Faisal form a detention center belonging to the Emni. Al-Faisal had been sentenced to death by the general sharia judge for reasons we were unable to discover. This release escalated an existing feud between Abu Luqman and his Iraqi counterpart, Abu Anas al-Iraqi. Al-Iraqi was the Emir (director) of ISIS security forces in Iraq and was, in part, behind the arrest of al-Faisal. Abu Luqman totally rehabilitated al-Faisal, making him his assistant.
Intrigues occur everywhere and ISIS is no exception. According to chatter that was difficult to verify by sources with direct contact with ISIS, Abu Luqman was detained briefly due to ordering the release of al-Faisal. Moreover, it was reported that it was Abu Anas al-Iraqi who ordered Abu Luqman’s arrest. However, according to these reports, Abu Luqman was released by his loyalists in the Emni. By the end of October 2016, Abu Luqman was promoted to the Wali (governor) position of Raqqa governate He also became in charge of the Emni’s committee in Syria. So far, he has been the only Wali who also oversees the operation of the ISIS Emni. It is noteworthy that he had left that position of Wali a number of times before this promotion, seeming to prefer the battlefield.
The Wali and Bureaucrats
As the Wali of Raqqa, Abu Luqman has two deputies. First, the head of his executive office is an Iraqi national from Rawi, Iraq known as Maktab Tanfithy, though his real name is Usama al-Abdul al-Gani (a.k.a. Abu Haritha Rawi). Al-Gani is in charge of overseeing the operations of directors from departments that fall under the control of the Wali (e.g. public services, energy, communication, finance, etc.). He delivers orders from the Wali to directorates in Raqqa governorate, oversees the implementation of such orders, and assists in nominating potential directors of these sectors (a.k.a. Emirs). Moreover, the Emir of the directorate of administrative affairs, Abu Muhammad al-Magribi, reports to al-Gani. The directorate of administrative affairs oversees the operations of administrative departments within the directorates falling under the control of the Wali.
Second, the Wali’s security adviser is a Syrian national from Idlib Governorate. He is known as Abu Muhammad Tarmini. Originally from Mount Zāwiya, Idlib, less is known about Tarmini compared to Abu Luqman’s other deputy. What is known was that he used to lead ISIS operatives in al-Dana town in Idlib. He then joined the fight in Idlib and moved to Raqqa after Abu Luqman was promoted to the Wali of the city. The two deputies operated from the same building where the Wali’s office is located.
In early November 2016, Abu Luqman promoted two loyal operatives to head the directorates of fighters and of agriculture. Moreover, as the Wali of the city he was actively engaged in recruiting new fighters. Information obtained from trusted sources show that Abu Luqman managed to recruit around 730 fighters from his tribe at this time. The lion’s share of these recruits was less than 18-years-of-age and a significant portion of their recruitment was not voluntarily. The measures that he took as Wali to increase taxes and these forced recruitments had, arguably, made him unpopular in Raqqa governorate.
By late November 2016, Abu Luqman was injured for the second time. His injuries, however, were not life threatening. After incurring these injuries he went into hiding. Trusted sources reported that, as of late December 2016, Abu Luqman was staying with his family in a military compound in Tabqa, Raqqa governorate. However, he frequently visited the city of Raqqa to hold meetings with the leadership of the Emni. During those visits he was heavily guarded. The aforementioned meetings took place in his Wali office.
During his time in Tabqa from late December 2016 to mid-January 2017, Abu Luqman managed to get an exemption from having to obtain permission to carry out executions from ISIS’s general sharia judge. For the period between December 2016 and early January 2017, a period in which Abu Luqman operated from the administrative facilities at Tabqa Dam, the executions numbered 3 per day. As described in a previous report, the Emni managed a detention center in the administrative facilities of the dam. The detainees were those accused of threating the security of ISIS. To that end, it is noteworthy that the aforementioned number of executions per day represented a significant rise from earlier months. In addition to those executed were others charged with threatening the security of ISIS.
ISIS’ Chief Spooks in Syria
In late January 2017, Abu Luqman returned to the city of Raqqa and started operating from the Wali office working as the Wali (governor) of Raqqa. Abu Luqman was also the highest ranked member of the Emni in Raqqa. It is important to note that it is uncommon for the Wali to retain influence over members of the Emni. It is within the power of the Emir (director) of the Emni and his deputies to remove a Wali of a city. However, having been the chief architect of the Emni as it is now formulated and given his previous position as the Emir (director) of the Emni in Syria certainly made have made him more powerful than most Walis. His particular background implies that he cannot be removed from the position of the Wali by the Emni operating in Syria.
In late January 2017 Abu Luqman operated from the center of Raqqa city. His office faced Naem Roundabout, a famous spot in the city where public executions, including brutal beheadings, frequently take place. He was in the office from 10 am to 4 pm. As a display of power he patrolled the city every Friday. Abu Luqman resided with his wife and five children in a house with an exterior of yellow marble. The house used to belong to a former figure in the Baath party. Pedestrians and those driving were not allowed to enter the street where Abu Luqman resided unless they lived there and there was a checkpoint at the entrance of the street. Before he moved into that house, the Coalition forces hit a gas station in its immediate vicinity. To go to work, Abu Luqman drove in a grey van with a motorcade of two other cars.
During that time, Muhammad al-Abdullah (a.k.a. Abu Atika, Haj Idris), a lanky man from Tunis, became the Emir (Director) of the Emni in Syria. As the Emir of the Emni he reported to Abu Luqman, the Wali of Raqqa and director of the Emni’s committee in Syria. Al-Abdullah was also the sharia judge of the Emni and a member of its committee in Syria. That judgeship meant that he received details on potential attacks, both in ISIS-held territories and abroad. In addition, it also made him a source of theological and ideological justification for such attacks.
Information obtained from trusted sources uncovered a number of key operatives who reported to Muhammad al-Abdullah, the Emir of the Emni in Syria, and Abu Luqman, the Wali of Raqqa and director of the Emni’s committee in Syria. Our investigation showed that the operatives we learned about are members of the Emni’s committee in Syria. Their roles and details are as follow:
Abdul Rahman al-Sahu (a.k.a. Abu Adam), a Syrian man, is reported to be in charge of infiltration and intelligence operations conducted by the Emni. The infiltration squads are units that penetrate rival forces. They do so by advancing undetected or stay behind to cause maximum damage, as major forces retreat. Emni has used more sophisticated infiltration tactics like activating sleeper cells or ordering their spies to carry attacks within rivals’ territories. Al-Sahu was also a sharia judge within the forces. He is in charge of the office of the Emni in the town of Maadan, Raqqa governorate.
A Syrian man by the first name Abdul Aziz (a.k.a. Abu Al-Zahraa and commonly known as al-Khal) is one of those in charge of ISIS armaments in Syria. He operated from a weapons arsenal in the immediate vicinity of the General Organization for Drinking Water and Sanitation.
A Syrian man by the alias Abu Muhammad al-Jazrawi was reported to be in charge of death squad raids conducted by the Emni.
An Iraqi man by the alias Abu Hasan al-Iraqi was reported to oversee the medical care and protection of key figures. He operated from the Modern Medicine Hospital, Raqqa. A civilian population is always present in the hospital.
Mosul, Sirte, and Raqqa
Based on details obtained from trusted sources, as of early March 2017, Abu Luqman was in Mosul, Iraq. He was promoted from his position as the Wali of Raqqa to the general director or Wali of the Emni in Syria and Iraq, the highest rank within the Emni. That gave him the power to oversee the operations of the two committees of ISIS security forces. As such, he would report to the Caliphate House Office. Moreover, from Mosul, Abu Luqman managed to promote his assistant, Abdul Rahman al-Faisal (a.k.a. Abu Faisal), to both the position of Wali of Raqqa and as the head of the committees of ISIS security forces in Syria.
By mid-March 2017, Abu Luqman emerged, according to our sources, in Sirte, Libya. It is unclear whether he had travelled to Syria before appearing in Libya or travelled there directly from Mosul, Iraq. Forces loyal to Abu Anas al-Iraqi, the leader of the Emni’s committee in Iraq, arrested Abu Luqman soon after he arrived in Sirte. The tensions between Abu Luqman and al-Iraqi were mentioned earlier. The feud had escalated in the past when Abu Luqman released Abdul Rahman al-Faisal who had previously been detained by al-Iraqi’s forces. The drama between the two operatives, more on al-Iraqi’s side, might have reach its tipping point after Abu Luqman became the highest ranked member of the Emni for both Iraq and Syria and al-Faisal, who al-Iraqi hated, was promoted to be al-Iraqi’s counterpart in Syria. However, sometime around the 20th of March 2017, Abu Luqman managed to communicate with the Caliphate House Office, which then ordered his release.
As of early April 2017, Abu Luqman arrived back in Raqqa. Information obtained from trusted sources indicates that he and his brother-in-law had travelled to the cities of Mosul and Sirte before that. It was clear that Abu Luqman was on a mission. However, the nature and objectives of such a mission remain unclear. Upon his arrival in Raqqa, Abu Luqman summoned Abu Nasir al-Shami an Iraqi national who is in charge of ISIS’s forces in Tabqa. It appears that they had a meeting regarding the developments around the Tabqa dam.
To that effect, as the Wali of the Emni, Abu Luqman might have travelled to Sirte to establish another Emni’s committee in Libya. ISIS currently seems to be on the defeat in Syria and Iraq and is assessing its next moves. Moreover, the terror group has a history of carrying out attacks in Europe when pressure on their strongholds mounts. If Abu Luqman was on a mission to expand the presence and operations of the Emni in Libya, such a move likely also has significant national security implications for European countries. In other words, having an operations base for the Emni in Libya is especially dangerous given the smuggling routes from Libya, and North Africa in general; to Europe and the access it could provide ISIS in plotting and conducting terrorist attacks in European cities. Additionally, such a move would also be expected to strengthen ISIS in North Africa. As already radicalized North Africans reside in Europe, particularly Belgium, Netherlands and France, this may also bode badly for Europe.
Furthermore, being the highest ranked member of the Emni, Abu Luqman is arguably the most significant target for American forces in Syria. As demonstrated earlier, Abu Luqman groomed his assistant and most loyal operative, al-Faisal, to be the director of the Emni’s committee in Syria and the Wali of Raqqa city. Having such influence arguably makes Abu Luqman the most prominent member of ISIS-held territories. He is also expected to have access to potential terrorist attack plots in the West.
The Emni’s Intra-Departmental Influence
As displayed in the organizational hierarchy, the Emni maintains influence in Syria and Iraq on: death squads, Chechen squads, Islamic police (the hisbah), military police, and the Special Operations Office. Details obtained from trusted sources uncovered some aspects of the operation and leadership of the aforementioned departments. However, we were unable to gather information on the Special Operations Office.
Death Squads are unique in the sense that they don’t need to get the permission of the sharia judge to conduct operations, carry out arrests, or eliminate targets that the Emni decides upon, be it enemy fighters, civilians, or other ISIS members. Up to now the whereabouts of their bases were unknown. In mid-March 2017, one of their bases was uncovered. The base was located at the administrative building at the Tabqa Dam11. The squads operate under the full control of the Emni. Its current leadership was put into place and promoted by Abu Luqman and thus likely totally loyal to him. Ahmad al-Nasir is the Emir (Director) of the death squads. He was promoted to that position in December 2016. Like Abu Luqman he was born in the 70’s and graduated from the faculty of Arts and Humanities (Arabic Department), University of Aleppo, and was also detained in Sednaya military prison. Al-Nasir was also an Arabic teacher. Al-Nasir was a major player who was intrusted with very critical positions, one, which was the Emir of the Syrian Emni sometime around May 2015. Al-Nasir has green eyes; but he is always masked when in public.
The Military Police is led by Abdul al-Kafi al-Shmari (a.k.a., Abu Hajir), a Saudi national from the city of Tabuk. As the Emir of the military police, he oversees the enforcement of sharia laws related to jihad (e.g. paying jihad-based taxes, arresting ISIS members who don’t have legitimate reasons to abstain from fighting jihad) and military cases (e.g. cases against fighters). He had a feud with operatives from the Emni. However, he obeyed and reported to the Emir of the Emni to resolve this feud. Al-Shmari is thirty years old. He has a degree in architectural engineering and used to work in real estate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic Police or hisbah is led by Muhammad al-Bazi, a Syrian national who was born in 1972. Before becoming the Emir of the Islamic police, he was the Emir of al-Jarnia, Raqqa and the Emir of Tishrin Dam. As the head of the Islamic police he is associated with torture and death. It was reported that he managed to lure two men who had been on the run by detaining their wives and children. The two women and children were put in small cages. The display was shown to the tribal leaders of the two men, who then surrendered themselves to the Islamic police so that their families would be freed. The men were accused of conspiring against ISIS and executed by operatives of the Islamic police. It is noteworthy that al-Bazi moved to Raqqa after Kurdish forces took control of the town of al-Jarnia. He was selected by Abu Luqman to lead the Islamic force after the Emni executed his predecessor. Clearly crossing the Emni can have disastrous results.
Chechen Squads are led by Abu Omar al-Shishani. His kunya implies that he is Chechen. Al-Shishani is the Emir of al-Muhajirin (immigrants/foreign fighters) Directorate. This man with three silver teeth is in his 50s. Al-Shishani oversees social, economic, and legal affairs that relate to foreign members of ISIS who come from over 80 countries worldwide. Under his leadership, the directorate gained a reputation of spying on foreign members who may have been sent from their home countries to infiltrate and spy on ISIS. Upon their arrival new members are sequestered temporarily and hand over their passports, phones and fill out paperwork about their previous military training and desires for serving ISIS. During this time period the Emni conducts investigations on all new foreign fighters and immigrants to ISIS, checking on the references they provide, searching their phones which are turned over upon joining, downloading their contacts and trying to ascertain that they are who they say they are. Al-Shishani constantly reports to the Emni to handle the arrest of suspected members.
The Emni gave the Directorate of Immigrants the permission to be the sole trader of cars in Raqqa. The money generated from the trade goes to the directorate budget which is responsible, we have learned, for arranging housing for foreign fighters, paying widows pensions, paying salaries of foreign fighters, etc. Also, under the supervision of the Emni, al-Shishani was allowed to conduct business in Raqqa to generate more income for the Directorate of Immigrants. His business activities include real estate, agriculture, and hospitality. As of March 2017, Al-Shishani had generated just above USD 10 million. Al-Shishani managed an operation through which estates and businesses of those departing the city get redistributed to agents of the Directorate of Immigrants. Al-Shishani had been in charge of the directorate since the 9th of December 2015. The directorate reportedly has two clandestine offices outside ISIS-held territories; one in Turkey and the other in Germany. These offices report to al-Shishani. Reports from the aforementioned offices are submitted to the leadership of the Emni. The Chechen squads are Caucases Emirates fighting forces operating under the leadership of al-Shishani.
The involvement of the ISIS Emni in both inspiring and actually directing terrorist attacks and assassinations, both in neighbouring countries to Syria and Iraq, and in Europe and beyond, makes its operations and leadership of special interest to policymakers worldwide. Through terrorizing civilian populations, it has made itself instrumental to spreading ISIS’ message of fear and also helped divide democratic societies against their Muslim populations. This sowing of suspicions and hatred that plays right into ISIS’s recruiting methods and ideology that intones that Muslims are reviled and being attacked by the West. The Emni’s shrewd terrorist plotting and ability to portray the after-effects of their attacks in slick videos has also helped the terrorist organisation to preach its doomsday ideology, portray itself as still strong even while losing its territory and whip up support for further recruitment. Clearly, its activities have resulted in Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiments—to the sorrow of many fleeing ISIS’s brutality, reinforcing ISIS’ narrative among radical and marginalized Muslims in the West. The Emni’s far-reaching influence reveals an immense need to understand the entity. Using our limited resources and contacts on the ground, the operations and leadership of the Emni were investigated as deeply as we were able to penetrate. Reporting on information obtained from trusted sources in ISIS-held territories and neighbouring countries, the organizational structure of the Emni is demonstrated here including biographical details of its leadership. However, elements of the hierarchy in Iraq require more information. That said, the details discussed in earlier sections allow a clearer understanding of the leadership and operations of the Emni in Syria.
Moreover, the obtained details enable an inference of the stages of one of the Emni’s chief architect’s radicalization, which is similar for many of the Syrian ISIS leaders. As shown in this report, his prior grievances as a marginalized Sunni during Assad’s regime while watching the Coalition invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the sectarian violence that followed, coupled with his intelligence experience, effectiveness in the battlefield, callous nature, Machiavellianism, and recruiting skills have facilitated his rise to the highest rank in the ISIS Emni. The network of Islamists who have spent time fighting alongside the insurgency in Iraq and those loyal to him have made Abu Luqman, the Emni’s father, one of the most popular and feared operatives.
Furthermore, the Emni’s powers within ISIS allow its leadership to micromanage and exert influence on the various directorates that operate in its strongholds. The Emni in Syria has started to promote its operatives to govern cities and towns while having permanent seats in the committee. That in turn provides the Emni with enough power to seize control of all major functions within its territories in Syria. It is unclear whether the same trend applies in Iraq. It is noteworthy that with this level of influence the Emni should not be viewed only as intelligence forces. To that end, the tension between the Emni and other entities within ISIS has been steadily increasing but it’s likely that with its ruthless power it will continue to dominate, at least in Syria.
This report also documents the movement of the Emni’s leadership between Raqqa, Mosul, and Sirte. Notwithstanding Sirte’s drama, the Emni seems to be expanding into North Africa. Having access to the smuggling route between Libya and Europe could result in devastating events in Europe, although the Emni has also been successful directing attacks within Europe without it. The Emni presence in Sirte will likely also complicate the Libyan government’s operations against ISIS. They might also direct attacks to capture oil and gas fields in Libya. That might trigger illegal oil and gas trade across North Africa and increase the resources ISIS has for further attacks and payments to its cadres. The Emni’s expansion into Libya also presents a nightmare to neighbouring countries. The potential expansion from Libya to Mali, through Niger or Algeria, has highly significant military implications.
Recent activities of the Emni suggest that the entity is also overseeing ISIS operations in battling American forces and their Syrian allies. Recently obtained information indicate the instalment of IEDs and presence of BM 21 Grad multiple Launch Rocket Systems in the north of al-Mansoura, Raqqa. The operation of the aforementioned capabilities is believed to be handled by forces within the Emni. The leadership of the Emni is recently more present in the city of Raqqa. To that effect, the entity might be plotting retaliatory attacks around Tabqa against the American forces and their Syrian Allies.
Clearly it is to the West’s advantage to understand and then destroy the ISIS Emni, which as this report makes clear, grew out of expertise and knowledge gained from operatives serving under Saddam Hussein’s and Bashar al- Assad’s intelligence operations who have taken that knowledge and expertise and turned it into building a terrorist “state” and an intelligence operation which has shown itself to be a formidable opponent to the West.
Reference for this article: Asaad H. Almohammad, Speckhard, Anne (April 12, 2017) ReportsThe ISIS Emni: It’s Organizational Structure, Current Leadership and Clues to its Inner Workings in Syria & Iraq. ICSVE Research Report.
 Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573
 Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573
 Amnesty International, “Syria: Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison, Syria,” Amnesty International Ltd, London, UK, 2017.
 Amnesty International, “About Saydnaya,” 2017. [Online]. Available: https://saydnaya.amnesty.org/en/saydnaya.html. [Accessed 2017].
 WikiLeaks, “Public Library of US Diplomacy,” [Online]. Available: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08DAMASCUS482_a.html. [Accessed 2017].
 Reuter, C. (April 18, 2015). The terror strategist: Secret files reveal the structure of Islamic State. Speigel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573
 WikiLeaks, “Public Library of US Diplomacy,” [Online]. Available: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10DAMASCUS158_a.html. [Accessed 2017].
 Joshua Landis, “Syria’s Top Five Insurgent Leaders,” 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/biggest-powerful-militia-leaders-syria/. [Accessed 2017]
 Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118. Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/475
 Reuter, C. (April 18, 2015). The terror strategist: Secret files reveal the structure of Islamic State. Speigel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html
 Almohammad, Asaad & Speckhard, Anne (March 29, 2017) Why Taking the Tabqa Dam is Important in the Fight against ISIS and Retaking of Raqqa. ICSVE Brief Reports http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/why-taking-the-tabqa-dam-is-important-in-the-fight-against-isis-and-retaking-of-raqqa/
 Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118. Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/475
 Reuter, C. (April 18, 2015). The terror strategist: Secret files reveal the structure of Islamic State. Speigel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamic-state-files-show-structure-of-islamist-terror-group-a-1029274.html; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573m
 Almohammad, Asaad & Speckhard, Anne (March 29, 2017) Why Taking the Tabqa Dam is Important in the Fight against ISIS and Retaking of Raqqa. ICSVE Brief Reports http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/why-taking-the-tabqa-dam-is-important-in-the-fight-against-isis-and-retaking-of-raqqa/
 Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118. Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573m;
Central Asian Jihadists’ Use of Cryptocurrencies in Bitcoin
On August 13, 2020, the US Justice Department announced that it seized $2 million in Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency from accounts of three Salafi-Jihadi extremist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State, relied on to finance their organizations and violent plots. According to their statement, the U.S. authorities seized over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to Sunni-Jihadi militant organizations. Indeed, the disclosed criminal case documents indicate that this was the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency by US intelligence agencies in the context of terrorism.
US counterterrorism agents analyzed transactions of cryptocurrency on the blockchain, a secure form of public ledger for the online funds, and employed undercover operations as well as search warrants on email accounts to establish a money trail of Sunni terror groups that was detailed in an 87-pages of the Washington DC federal court report
The revealed papers indicate, in some instances, al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups in Syria acted under the cover of charities ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Reminder for Syria’. In this regard, it should be noted that some al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups also have frequently acted under the umbrella of the charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ for bitcoin money laundering and have solicited cryptocurrency donations via Telegram channels to further their terrorist goals.
But that doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorist groups from the post-Soviet space raised funds precisely through this charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ of al Qaeda, whose accounts were seized by the US Justice Department. It has become a tradition in the Islamic world that charity organizations and foundations widely give to themselves the names ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’, as the Quranic meaning of these words (Quran 2:43; 63:10;9:103)exactly corresponds to the purposes of “voluntary charity”. Analysis of the finance campaigns of al Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian militant groups demonstrates that they frequently raised cryptocurrency donations through charities called ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’.
In order to explore the scale of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Jamaats’ crowdfunding campaigns, we analyzed their social media activities where they raised Bitcoins, dollars, Russian rubles and Turkish lira over the past two years.The methods and sources of the Uzbek and Uighur Islamist militants’ crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoins are about the same as those of their parent organizations, the global Sunni terrorist groups ISIS and al Qaeda.Due to the inclusion in the list of terrorist groups, they carry out sophisticated cyber-operations for solicitation of cryptocurrency donations.
Before “mastering” the complex technology of cyber-tools in order to raise bitcoin funds in cyberspace, Central Asian jihadists used the simple ‘hawala’ money transfer system (informal remittance system via money brokers).Sometimes they have resorted to conventional ‘hand-to-hand’ cash transfer channels, where trust, family relationships or regional affiliations play an important role.
According to a UN report, Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist group Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) leading jihad in Syrian Idlib province have close financial ties with its cells in Afghanistan. The UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team states that “regular monthly payments of about $ 30,000 are made to Afghanistan through the hawala system for KTJ.”
The UN report asserts that “similarly to KTJ, KIB sends financial assistance, from its cell in Istanbul, through the hawala system to Afghanistan. Funds are brought in by informal money exchangers for Jumaboi from Maymana, the capital of Faryab. The original source of this income is the smuggling of fuel, food and medicine from neighboring Turkmenistan.”According to the UN report, “suffering material losses, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)and Tajik militant group JamaatAnsarullah (JA) are forced to engage in criminal activity, including transportation of drugs along the northern route in Afghanistan.”For the Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamist Party (TIP) from China’s Xinjiang province operating under the umbrella of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northern Syria, “funding comes primarily from the Uighur diaspora” in Turkey, Central and Southeast Asia.
Dark Web & Bitcoin: New Endeavor of Central Asian Terrorists
With the development of digital cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, Central Asian jihadists actively began to exploit this innovative financial transaction system to support their attacks and other terrorist activities. It is known that al Qaeda-backed Salafi-Jihadi groups of the post-Soviet space are seeking to purify Islam of any innovations (Bid’ah) and strictly following the Sharia law. They live similarly to how the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions lived in the seventh-century and always oppose any form of Bid’ah, considering it to be shirk and heresy. However, the Uzbek and Uighur Wahhabis did not shy away from using bitcoin innovation.
The first advertisements of Central Asian terrorist groups crowdfunding campaigns accepting bitcoin for Jihadi purposes in Syria appeared on the Telegram channel in 2017. In November of that year, a self-proclaimed charity group al-Sadaqah began a fundraising campaign on the internet from Western supporters to help the Malhama Tactical, the first private military contractor team from Central Asia working exclusively for jihadist groups in Syria.Al-Sadaqah in English on Telegram, explicitly relying on the English-speaking western sponsors, called on them to make bitcoin donations to finance the Malhama Tactical and the Mujahedeen fighting against the Assad regime in northeastern Syria.
As we have previously analyzed, Malhama Tactical is a private jihadi contractor operating in the Idlib-Aleppo region of Syria. The group, founded by an Uzbek jihadist Abu Salman (his real name is Sukhrob Baltabaev) from Osh City of Southern Kyrgyzstan in May 2016, is closely allied with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the strongest militant factions in northern Syria. The Malhama Tactical is known to have regularly conducted military training for jihadists of HTS, Ahrar al-Sham, Ajnad al Kavkaz and the Turkistan Islamic Party.After the death of Abu Salman in August 2019, Ali Ash-Shishani, the native of Russia’s North Caucasus became the new leader of Malhama Tactical.
In 2017-18, al-Sadaqah charity on Telegram called on followers to donate via a “Bitcoin wallet anonymously and safely for the Mujahedeen brothers of Malhama Tactical”. The charity group urged potential cryptocurrency contributions to benefit from “the ability to confuse the trail and keep anonymity”.
We do not know how much bitcoin money al-Sadaqah managed to raise for the activities of the Central Asian Muhajireen. But according to Malhama Tactical’s report on the internet, crowdfunding has been “fruitful.” In an effort to explain how donations were spent, Malhama Tactical has advertised extensively to followers on 17 October 2018, in a video posted on Telegram, that a new training camp had been built and purchased airsoft rifles, night vision devices and other modern ammunitions.
Since 2018, Uzbek and Uighur militant groups KTJ, KIB and TIP have begun an agitation campaign to fundraising bitcoin money on the Internet. Judging by the widespread call for Bitcoin donation online, their need for anonymous, secure, and hassle-free funding streams have made cryptocurrencies of some potential value to them. These properties are the anonymity of fundraising, the usability of remittance and transfer of funds, the security of attack funding, acceptance of funds, reliability, and volume of web money.
And every time they announced a crowdfunding campaign, they clearly declared for what purpose the collected bitcoins would be used. For example, al Qaeda-linked KTJ’s most recent call for bitcoin appeared on Telegram in May 2020 as a banner that asks to “Equip a jihadist”. The poster showed a masked jihadist and the exploitation of the Quran’s Hadith in Uzbek, calling on the believers to prepare and equip a fighter going on a raid for the sake of Allah.
Another picture shows a jihadist with a Kalashnikov AK-74 in his hand, over whose head enemy planes and helicopters fly. The picture gives a symbolic meaning about the empty-handed jihadists in Syria, fighting against the Russian and Syrian powerful military aircraft to protect the Islamic Ummah. Then goes on with KTJ’s call to make donations in bitcoins and rubles to purchasing equipment and ammunition for the Central Asian Mujahedeen in Syria. On the bottom it was displayed the long address of the virtual wallet for Bitcoin donations along with KTJ’s Telegram and web contacts promising the anonymity of potential donors.
On June 18, 2020, KTJ militants published the opinion of the well-known ideologue of modern jihadism Abu Qatada al-Falastini in Telegram from whom they asked whether the crowdfunding campaign of Bitcoin for the purposes of Jihad contradicts Islam. As it is known, there are still ongoing disputes among the world’s top Islamic scholars about whether cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are deemed Sharia-compliant.
Abu Qatada from a religious point of view justified the acceptability of using Bitcoin to protect the Islamic Ummah and wage holy Jihad, but at the same time warned against full confidence in Bitcoin. In his opinion, the enemies of Islam can destroy this cryptocurrency in the future, and if it loses its current value, and then the devout Muslims who have invested their savings in Bitcoin could go bankrupt. Abu Qatada al Falastini is a greatly respected Salafi thinker among Central Asian jihadists and he gave a pep talk to KTJ when it pledged bayat (Oath of Allegiance) to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in 2015.
On June 25, 2020, KTJ posted another Crypto Crowdfunding campaign announcement on its Telegram channel to provide Uzbek jihadists with modern military gear and equipment. For clarity, the group published a picture entitled “Perform jihad with your property” in Uzbek, which indicates the prices for military clothing and weapons. For example, the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle costs $300, unloading vest for AK-47 cartridges – $20, Field Jacket – $50, Military Combat Boots – $30.In total, $400 will be needed on the full provision of one Mujahid with weapons and uniforms. On the upper side of the picture is a Hadith quote about “He who equips a fighter in Allah’s path has taken part in the fighting.”
A month later, the group’s Telegram channel reported that it had managed to raise $4,000, for which 8 sets of weapons and uniforms were purchased for the Uzbek Mujahedeen. Also, KTJ’s media representative announced that the group is stopping the fundraising campaign for this project.
Other projects of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups were the Bitcoin crowdfunding campaign for the purchase of motorcycles for Inghimasi fighters (shock troops who penetrate into the enemy’s line with no intent to come back alive), cameras, portable radios, sniper rifles and night vision devices. For each project, a separate closed account was opened on the website of jihadist groups in Telegram, after which the Bitcoin and Monero accounts, as well as contact information, were closed.
Another crowdfunding project posted on January 29, 2020, in Telegram, called ‘Helping captive Muslim sisters’ and claims to raise money to free Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek ISIS women hold in the al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The KTJ jihadists posted pictures of Central Asian women with their children holding posters “We need help” in Kyrgyz, and asked the fellow Muslim believers to raise money to ransom them from the captivity of the Kurdish communists. It was not clear to us how much money was raised as a result of the crowdfunding campaign since this channel was later blocked by the Telegram administrator.
The annual largest crowdfunding project for the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups is being implemented on the eve of the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, during which believers pay Zakat (obligatory tax) and Sadaqah (voluntary alms).According to the Quran, recipients of the Zakat and the Sadaqah include the poor and needy, debtors, volunteers in jihad, and pilgrims.
The websites of the Central Asian Jihadist Jamaats revealed that their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the jihad was particularly active during Ramadan. Ramadan is known as a holy and generous month, but this year was especially generous to notorious al Qaeda-linked Central Asian extremist groups. KTJ, KIB, Uighur’s TIP and Russian-speaking North Caucasian militant group Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA), that pledged allegiance to HTS, have boosted their military budget during Ramadan.
To avoid the risk of being blocked or tracked, they created a temporary mirror group called ‘Zakat’, where the donation money was received. Zakat’s wallet received donations from Central Asian labor migrants in Russia in the amount of $150 to $220 each time to purchase livestock, which was then slaughtered in sacrificial prayer on behalf of the donors. After Ramadan and the holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the ‘Zakat’ mirror group in Telegram was closed.
The Central Asian Islamist extremist groups have asked their supporters to make Bitcoin donations mainly at the following two virtual wallet addresses:
Our analysis confirmed that multiple transactions were made to these bitcoin addresses. In addition, other transactions were made in digital currencies, the addresses of which were blocked on Telegram.
In conclusion, the significance of the crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should not be given exaggerated importance, even though they have improved the position of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups in Syria and Afghanistan, and boosted their budget. Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist groups’ technical abilities are not currently suited to bypass the financial controls of international counterterrorism organizations and discreetly conduct money laundering.
The history of their activities has shown that small Uzbek, Uighur and Russian-speaking Islamist extremist groups from the post-Soviet space and China have been assimilated with more powerful global Sunni terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda and HTS. And accordingly, their potential for crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should be viewed through the prism of their global parent organizations.
In any case, the governments of Central Asia and Russia do not have sufficient mechanisms and leverage to combat illegal cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web by global Salafi-Jihadi movements waging jihad in the Middle East. As noted at the beginning of this article, such opportunities to monitor and investigate jihadist crowdfunding activities are available to the US government and financial institutions. For example, the U.S. Treasury“ has access to unique financial data about flows of funds within the international financial and commercial system,” which is invaluable for tracking illicit flows of money.
Consequently, Central Asian governments must rely not only on Moscow but also actively cooperate with Western counter-terrorism and financial institutions to disrupt the Salafi-Jihadi group’s external crypto crowdfunding sources.
The Afghan intelligence services
Still today the Afghan Intelligence Services’ ability to collect information is definitively scarce. This is mainly due to the limited specific training of staff and the very scarce and even improper use of the most recent technologies.
The Afghan Intelligence Services collect information mainly in major cities and in the areas most controlled by the government and this often leads the decision-makers who use this “complacent” or rhetorical intelligence to make severe evaluation errors.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) does not correctly disseminate its news in the traditional “information cycle” of a Service and therefore it leaves decision-makers with scarce, incomplete and often inaccurate information. Established in 2001 and heavily supported by the United States, the NDS is based in Kabul but is strongly supported by Germany, GBritain and obviously the United States. It should be noted that its first Director was Mohammed Arif Sarwari, one of the leaders of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, i.e. the old “Northern Alliance”.
It was precisely the NDS that in 2015 caused the fall of Kunduz into the hands of the Taliban, who were, indeed, a full invention of the Pakistani Intelligence Services, which were in search of an Afghanistan that could only play the role of “depth area” for a possible nuclear or even conventional confrontation with India. Ironically, it is from the Pakistani Intelligence Services that the United States received the largest or almost total amount of news and information precisely, or apparently, against the Taliban. Quos Deus lose vult, dementat.
Moreover, the current relations between the NDS, the National Security Agency of Afghanistan (NSA), i.e. another Intelligence Service in Kabul, the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry show a very poor ability of communication and exchange of news between them, which makes them often be late in their operations or even useless.
Or sometimes voluntary collaborators of what Westerners would call the “enemy”, but for some operatives or executives of the NDS or of the other Afghan Intelligence Services could also be an “Islamic brother”. Sometimes it has happened.
In the case of Kunduz, the very evident and aggressive Taliban operations were deemed ineffective or irrelevant. Nobody took seriously the news coming from the most reliable “sources” among the rebels. No agency of the Afghan Service took seriously or even studied the Taliban operations in Kunduz.
The NDS, however, was established mainly with the support of the American CIA.
But there is a strategic and conceptual problem that should not be overlooked at all: all NATO countries that participated or still participate in military operations in Afghanistan have very different ideas about their role in the war against the “rebels” and in the country.
The Resolute Support Mission, composed of about 13,000-16,000 soldiers from 39 NATO countries and from other countries, operates from Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Laghman, and focuses mainly on the training of Afghan forces, as well as on military consultancy and assistance, hoping that the local Afghan forces will reach a level capable of ensuring at least fictitious national independence.
At least until 2014, akey year for the new relationship between NATO and the Afghan government, the Italians – who are still training the Afghan police very well – went there especially not to displease the usual U.S. Big Father that the Italian strategic system still sees as unquestionable and unassailable.
This participation “to bring democracy” has led to some positive effects for Italy, especially on the technological-intelligence level. But it has never been enough.
Nevertheless, the silly servility and sycophancy of Italian politicians, who closely resemble the character of Nando Mericoni played by Alberto Sordi in the movie An American in Rome, is still largely widespread. Italian politicians – even starting from the text of the Constitution – do not know or do not want to understand the eternal rules of foreign policy and strategic thinking, of which they know nothing yet.
Certainly you cannot obtain votes, additional funding and small favours from foreign policy. This is the level of Italian politicians, especially in current times more than in the past.
France, as long as it stayed in Afghanistan, interpreted its presence in Kabul as a way to control Asia’s intermediate axis so as to avoid Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Iranian and even American expansion.
The Brits went to Afghanistan to fight against a “terrorism” of which – like everyone in the West-they do not know the organizational and doctrinal roots or even the purposes, but see as the maximum destabilization of their unreasonably “multi-ethnic” and hence inevitably “multipolitical” societies.
This is the terrible case of a propaganda that stifles even the ruling classes that should be immune to it.
Certainly this was not even true in Afghanistan because the bad guy, namely Osama bin Laden, was often elsewhere. He was considered the only mastermind of the aforementioned “radical Islamic terrorism” – or whatever can be defined with this rather rough terminology – and hence to be killed, like a horse thief in the Far West. As has precisely happened, the killing of Osama bin Laden did not change anything.
He had to be killed because he had killed American citizens. True, right. But foreign policy is never the extension of any country’s domestic criminal law.
There was even Germany present in Afghanistan to contemplate its military decline, but above all to show – even eighty years later – that it was no longer a Nazi country. As Marx would have said, le mort saisit le vif.
In short, the varied presence of NATO and of the initial coalitions of the willing in the War on Terror had no clear ideas and probably did not even know where it really was.
Meanwhile, since 2014 – the year of the actual withdrawal from Afghanistan by the United States and its attack forces (after rigged elections, but in any case, whenever the United States participate in operations abroad, it always has acoitus interruptus)– the Taliban have started their great and real campaign to conquer the territory and, above all, the Afghan “souls”.
In 2015 NATO and the United States had planned to keep 13,000 military plus 9,800 U.S. soldiers for counter-terrorism activities. Later, however, the withdrawal from the Afghan territory – coincidentally after the great Battle for Kunduz – ended in December 2016, but leaving alive and operational as many as 8,400 soldiers on the ground.
Currently as in the past, the real problem for Afghanistan is Pakistan. General Musharraf, the former Pakistani President from June 20, 2001 to 18 August 18, 2008 (note the dates) and perpetrator of the 1999 military coup, clearly stated that the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), i.e. the Pakistan single intelligence structure, supported and trained all terrorist groups in Pakistan so as to later send them to Afghanistan, with a view to carrying out “terrorist” attacks on NATO, Western and Afghan targets.
In 2015 -a key year for Afghanistan – in an interview with The Guardian, Musharraf clearly said that the ISI had always “cultivated” the Taliban mainly to destabilize the government led by Karzai (a man also linked to India) but, in particular, to carry out harsh actions against India.
Pakistan keeps on supporting terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world – not only the Taliban, but also the other groups.
Rahmatullah Nabil, the Chief of the NDS -i.e. the new Intelligence Service affiliated to CIA but entirely Afghan – also officially showed documents proving that the funds long granted by the United States to Pakistan to “fight terrorism” shifted to the Pakistani Service ISI, precisely to train, recruit and support terrorism.
Hence the forgetfulness – so to speak – of the Afghan governments with regard to intelligence comes from far away.
At the time of the Soviet invasion, the KGB and the GRU created their two local counterparts, namely the Khadamar e-Aetela’at Al-Dawlati (KHaD) and the Wazeelat e-Amniat-e-Daulati (WAD), respectively.
The two agencies disappeared when Najibullah’s government fell in 1992, pending the great Russian crisis. As a result, however, also the Afghan State in all its forms collapsed. Therefore also the two agencies linked to the Soviet intelligence Services evaporated.
What there was, anyway, in the Afghan Intelligence Services before the Soviet invasion?
The first governments that had just come to power, after Russia’s arrival, organized four agencies: Kargarano Amniyati Mu’asasa (KAM), i.e. the “Workers’ Intelligence Service”;Da Afghanistan da Gato de Satalo Adara (AGDA), i.e. the “Agency for Safeguarding Afghan Interests”, Amin’s real longa manus, and the aforementioned WAD and KhAD.
The President of the time, Noor Tarakai, had little power, while Hafizullah Amin made sure that both the Communist Party (or, more precisely, the Afghan People’s Democratic Party) and the Agencies were divided in two, always following the policy line of the Khalq and Parcham factions.
The Khalq (meaning “masses” or “people”) was directly supported by the USSR. It was largely made up of Pashtuns and was particularly popular among the working classes.
The very superficial Marxism shown by the faction was often only a way to defend the Pashto world from the pressures of other ethnic groups.
The Parcham (meaning “flag”) was the most widespread faction of the party in the urban classes and in the middle and upper classes.
Eternal separation between rural and urban areas, a typically Maoist and classic crux of every practical and extra-Western interpretation of Marxism-Leninism.
The Parcham reunited laboriously with the Khalq faction during the 1978 Revolution, but it really came to power only after the Soviet operation, the local coup, i.e. Operation Tempest 333 of December 27, 1979, when the Alpha divisions of the KGB quickly took the Tajbeg palace and assassinated Hafizullah Amin.
Meanwhile, it was Amin himself who had ordered the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammed Taraki.
In the intermediate phase of his regime, Amin also had many Afghans assassinated – and not only his known opponents.
A possible, future “Cambodian” twist of Afghan Communism? Probably so.
At that juncture the USSR intervened since it did not want ideological deviations or Afghan approaches to Chinese Communism, as practiced in Vietnam or, precisely, in Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia. Hence Operation Shtorm 333 was carried out which, apart from Amin’s assassination, lasted approximately three months, to definitively “settle” the remaining issues.
With specific reference to the Afghan intelligence services, Hafizullah Amin mainly used the AGSA, but also the KAM, only to settle his scores. The two agencies, however, received technical assistance and training from East Germany and the USSR.
Nevertheless, the shift between the different ethnic groups is precisely the key to understanding the Afghan intelligence services prior to the U.S. and NATO operations. I believe that, in any case, ethnic factionalism – probably dating back to the old political-tribal faith – was the key to the functioning of the new Afghan Intelligence Services, even during the naive Western administration.
In January 1980 the KHaD fully replaced the KAM.
Furthermore, the KHaD was placed outside the administration of the Interior Ministry, dominated by the Khalq and then immediately transferred to the office of the Prime Minister, who later also became National Security Minister.
The Directors of the Afghan Intelligence Services always reported directly to the KGB and, in 1987, the standard situation was that the Afghan Intelligence Service employed almost 30,000 operatives and officials and over 100,000 paid informants.
Each element of the Afghan Intelligence Service had at least one KGB “advisor” behind them. As also shown in Syria, Russia paid but did not trust it too much.
Between 1983 and 1993, the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI -established by a British officer – trained, with the support of CIA, almost 90,000 Mujahideen to send them fighting the USSR in Afghanistan.
The KHaD had also the statutory obligation to “defend the Communist regime” and “unite all Afghan ethnic groups under one single political system”, especially in collaboration with the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs.
Again in the 1980s, the KHaD always had both East German and Soviet instructors and numerous secret mass executions took place.
About 60,000 Afghans were sent to the USSR between 1980 and 1984.
Again in those years, as many as 10,000 KHaD officers received special training from the KGB.
In an old confidential document, CIA also estimated that the total cost of the Soviet engagement in Afghanistan was over 15 billion roubles, plus additional 3 billion roubles for the period when it did not directly occupy Kabul.
Since currently the 1979 rouble is still worth 22.26 Euros, in principle we can calculate a Russian occupation expenditure of 233 billion and 930 million, plus the extra three billion roubles.
The KHaD also created tribal militias on the borders, while the KGB organized the internal tribes on its own, mainly for sabotage and to spread dezinformatsjia.
After the USSR’s final collapse and the arrival of the United States, however, a new Afghan Service, the NDS, was immediately created.
It was made up mainly of former KHaD agents and Mujahideen. Indeed, there was no other population available.
The Service, however, was known to be bad or even very bad: its operatives and analysts were selected only on a tribal level or by simple political affiliation.
They never went to school for education and training. They had no serious training centres and they did not professionally check their networks of informants.
Even the United States, however, spent a lot of money in Afghanistan: the Congressional Research Office has calculated a 1.6 trillion dollar spending in Afghanistan and Iraq only for the “War on Terror”.
The Afghan Service costs the USA 6.4 billion dollars every two years.
And spending always tends to increase, regardless of the poor results reached.
What about China? First of all, China wants the political stability of Afghanistan, which is a neighbouring and Islamic country. In particular, it controls Kabul to prevent Uyghur jihadism from finding a safe and secure place there. It prevents the Uyghurs from having contacts with the Taliban. It has already happened.
Everything will happen when the United States definitively leaves Afghanistan, since China now regards that country as an essential pawn in its relationship with India, while – through Pakistan – China strengthens its relations with the Taliban, which the Chinese view as the next and inevitable masters of Kabul. This forecast is really easy to make.
Moreover, China provided 70 million per year to the Afghan government to support its counter-terrorism efforts, while there have long been Chinese soldiers in Badakhstan and, above all, in the Wakhan Corridor, where it is said that China has already created a military base and has even already deployed a brigade of the People’s Liberation Army.
China has also put pressures on Kabul for Afghanistan to accept its satellite positioning system, instead of the GPS developed and managed by the United States.
Some Chinese troops, however, have also been stationing in Tajikistan for long time, again to protect the Wakhan Corridor.
Since his rise to power in 2014, however, also Ashraf Ghanihas thought to immediately improve his relations with China so as to use, first of all, China’s influence on Pakistan to avoid the Pakistani support to the Taliban – which is unlikely – as well as ensure that China begins to invest significantly in Afghanistan, now that the civil and international war is on the wane.
The China-Pakistan Corridor, one of the first axes of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative, is now worth 62 billion U.S. dollars of costs alone.
There is also a new railway line leaving from the port of Gwadar, the axis of China’s projection, and arriving in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and beyond.
In 2016 China also signed an agreement with Afghanistan for the Belt & Road Initiative, with the promise of 100 million U.S. dollars for infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, which have not been provided yet.
Trade between Afghanistan and China is fully asymmetric and, until Afghanistan is completely pacified – certainly by others and not by China -we believe that that the issue will not be very relevant, at least for China.
And until the triangulation between the Taliban, Pakistan and China – which has still many doubts about the reliability of the Pakistani “students” operating in Afghanistan (precisely, the Taliban) -is not even clear, the Afghan economic revival – if at China’s expense – will be slow or unlikely.
The way in which the Chinese intelligence services operate
Since the time of Empress Wu Chao, who created the first Chinese intelligence service in 625 A.D., much has changed, but we could also say that some traits have not completely changed, as we might believe at first sight.
Later there was China’s extraordinary adventure in the modern world, which began with the fall of the last Emperor Pu Yi, who was also guilty of collaborationism with the Japanese in Manchukuo and ended his days artistically drawing the phrase “today the people are sovereign” at the court of Mao Zedong.However, as early as 1934, the British intelligence Services deciphered MASK, the code used by the Komintern to encode information from Moscow to Shanghai which, at that time, was the CPC’s pole.
However, it was in 1957 that the United States began to fly its U-2s over China, starting from Peshawar.
In 1966, two years after the beginning of the Great Cultural and Proletarian Revolution, there was the great purge of the intelligence services in China carried out by the very powerful Kang Sheng. He was the mover of the fall of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Lin Biao, but then he was associated with the “Gang of Four” and hence suffered the usual damnation memoriae. A man of Mao Zedong who knew too much, but died in his bed.
Then, as is well-known, in 1971 Li Biao was killed while fleeing to the USSR with his plane.
Not surprisingly, again in 1971, Kissinger began to deal secretly with China. Lin Biao’s death was the seal on the definitive strategic separation between China and the Soviet Union – which was what the United States was interested in.
In 1973 the first CIA “station” was created at the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, while China took the Paracel Islands and CIA left its main station in Taiwan.
In 1975 the first Chinese Electronic Intelligence satellite (ELINT) was launched, but the following year saw the death of Zhou Enlai, the true master of Chinese foreign policy and Kissinger’s friend who protected Mao from his mistakes.
The Armed Forces returned to power: with the support of all the military, Deng Xiaoping quickly put Hua Guofeng aside and became the CPC Secretary, but reforms were still being studied. Initially Deng was not as reformist as currently believed in the West.
Hence in Deng’s reformist phase, the U.S. diplomatic recognition was shifted from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China – and that was China’s real goal at the time.
Shortly afterwards, China also opened diplomatic offices in the United States.
In 1981, however, the Americans developed programmes for controlling the Chinese agents operating in the USA, while Deng Xiaoping himself started China’s nuclear rearmament.
The China National Nuclear Corporation was established in 1988.
Ten years later, in 1999, the Chinese Armed Forces built a base for intercepting military signals in Cuba but, in 2002, the Chinese cyber attacks on some U.S. networks – known as TITAN RAIN – began, while the FBI even opened a liaison office in Beijing, with assignments also extended to Mongolia.
In 2004, China put the Nanosatellite I into orbit, but there was also a further cyber attack – probably of Chinese origin – on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, as well as on the Naval Ocean Systems Center, and finally on the space and strategic installation in Huntsville, Alabama.
In 2010, Google suffered an AURORA cyber attack. A long, powerful and initially uncontrollable attack.
Probably also Symantec, Northrop Grumman, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical were hit by AURORA cyber attacks – albeit this fact is not confirmed.
Hence data collection, mainly economic and technological intelligence for China, but also a complex relationship with the United States to be penetrated informally, but not to be damaged too much.
In any case, the reins of the Chinese Service (or rather, the intelligence services) were held by the State Security Ministry.
A legal difference should be underlined: while, legally speaking, the KGB was a Central Committee’s Department, the Communist China’s intelligence Service was a real Ministry.
The Interior Ministry was represented by the Public Security Ministry but, in general terms,it should be said that – unlike the old Soviet ones – the Chinese intelligence Services are less obsessive in their relationship with possible “sources”, anyway preferring ethnically Chinese people.
Furthermore, the Chinese Foreign Service seems to prefer sources that – unlike what happened with the Soviet KGB – have no money or personal crisis problems, which become dangerous or ambiguous.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, the Chinese intelligence Services do not willingly pay for news and information. They do not blackmail and they do not extort. Quite the reverse. They do not pay at all. If anything, they help Chinese abroad for relatives or other matters.
Hence rarely do the Chinese intelligence Services pay for the data they receive.
The Chinese intelligence Agencies are therefore interested in people who,only rarely, come within the range of attention of the enemy intelligence Services. Operationally speaking, this is an excellent choice.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, China’s intelligence Services do not organize rezidenture abroad. They also rarely hold clandestine meetings and almost never use covert communications.
“The floating bird is existence, if it dives it is non-existence”. The mind is like the moon: it is reflected in the water at a speed that man does not perceive. The mind should not be stopped, but left free to grasp the void, the invisible, the Nothing.
The Chinese intelligence Services, however, organize closed areas where a “source” finds itself – with its pace and needs – providing the materials needed by the Chinese government.
The width of the network, however, is such that the slow and non-invasive pace of Chinese operatives is capable of reaching the same – or even larger – quantity of sensitive material collected by a Service that does not follow the Tao, i.e. the natural flow of events and people.
Moreover, the Chinese intelligence Service often operates with real academics, real students, real journalists and very real businessmen.
The cover is often irrelevant, but also very true. Indeed, it is considered a cover attracting excessive interest – like jealousy which, as Karl Kraus used to say, “is a dog’s bark which attracts thieves”.
Obviously, in this respect, the Chinese intelligence Services have a significant advantage, since they can legally use real journalists and real academics, while in the West – including in Italy – it is forbidden to use “journalists, clergymen, parliamentarians and town councillors” as agents. Stupidity has been tormenting the intelligence Services with a ferocity worthy of a better cause.
Hence no one who can really be useful. This leads the Western intelligence services to fabricate useless complicated “stories” that are often easily discovered by the adversaries.
Not to mention the forty-year defamation of the intelligence Service – as is the case in Italy – which causes other damage.
For the intelligence Services, the Chinese technological companies operating in the West must be economically self-sufficient and, indeed, make profit, without weighing on the Service’s or State’s coffers.
An often predatory “Western-style” profit is also allowed, at least as long as this does not negatively affect intelligence operations.
Therefore, the Chinese companies using up technology and data – which are the primary material of current Chinese intelligence – must be the most obvious and natural enterprises, without hidden compartments or ambiguous operatives that the host country’s intelligence Services can discover – albeit possibly not so easily.
Another problem in the control of Chinese operations in the West is the difficulty – and, indeed, we could say the reluctance- with which our companies, including SMEs, report the often harshly blackmailing cyber attacks, or even the crises resulting from fraud and scams often carried out by managers and employees.
The obsession of being always listed on the Stock Exchange makes companies, including the small and medium-sized ones, excessively afraid of disclosing such adverse operations.
According to Leonardo-Finmeccanica, during the Covid-19 phase, there have been 230,000 malspam operations worldwide, 6% of which in Italy.
This year 51% of all Italian companies have suffered one or more significant cyber attacks, with a 125% average expansion for the domains called “Covid”.
In China, however, there has recently been a change of the State system.
While in the past, before globalization, also thanks to an “imperial” psychology, the Service had above all to defend borders and, to some respects, also the “purity” of the Chinese ethnic balance, today – considering the global economic role played by China – the Service has to deal with 1) the security of raw materials supplies from abroad and 2) the stability of the productive system in a phase of great social transformations.
Hence the necessary current complexity of the Chinese Party’s and State’s decision-making system: the top level is the National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG), which also has many informal strategic decision-making mechanisms within the Chinese ruling class. An elite that has always been more informal than we might think.
Certainly, at institutional level, there is also the Politburo Standing Committee, but there is still Hu Jintao, a man still essential to the power architecture of Xi Jinping, who listens to him carefully.
There is also the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group, which is less involved in relations with the United States – of which the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group is in charge – but mainly controls the work of the Agencies and connects them.
In addition to the intelligence Services’ role, a fundamental role is also played by the various and often excellent academic and non-academic think tanks.
Also the results of these structures are assessed by the Small Groups.
But how is foreign policy decided in China?
First of all, there is the CPC but, more precisely, the “Politburo Central Committee”, in addition to the aforementioned Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC).
With its 204 members and 167 “alternate” members, the Central Committee meets once a year.
The “Politburo Central Committee” is composed of 25 members, elected by the Central Committee. It meets once a month and five of its members do not usually live in Beijing.
The PBSC, the Central Committee Standing Group for Foreign Affairs, meets once a week and has nine members.
The Meeting is often coordinated by the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office.
Within the Standing Committee, the Foreign Affairs Office has a specific area responsibility, but we should not think that Chinese Communism is authoritarian, at least in the childish sense of the term.
The bigger the issue, the wider and freer the discussion. The leader’s policy line is always to buildthe broadest consensus among his advisers.
With specific reference to the thorniest issues, the leader often appoints a “first collaborator” but usually the “central” meetings are routine for minor issues, even geopolitically, while the leader speaks and decides on the essential issues: the relations with the United States – still a constant obsession of the Chinese intelligence Service – with Japan, Taiwan or, most likely, the Russian Federation.
The policy line at the top of the decision-making system – and this also pleases Xi Jinping – is still the old and stable policy line developed by Jang Zemin, which was defined in 1999: “collective leadership, democratic centralism, individual preparation and decisions that always result from meetings”.
In this way, the Standing Committee and the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office prepare briefings and distribute them among the Central Committee’s offices.
Often there is no voting, but discussions are held until consensus is reached.
For example,a rare case of voting was when North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2009 and China had to decide whether to withdraw its support for the country. Seven negative votes were cast against support for North Korea.
The establishment of the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG)mainly followed the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
A fact that has marked China’s recent political history.
Hu Jintao, whom the PSBC defined as a “main personality”, leads a complex office: eight Ministers from the State Council; two from the Foreign Ministry; the National Security Minister; the Minister of Commerce; the Taiwan Affairs Office, the Office dealing with Hong Kong and Macao; the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and finally the Information Office.
There are also two Party’s bodies: the Propaganda Department and the International Department.
The Armed Forces are represented by the Defence Minister and the Chief of Staff.
Therefore, the Chinese intelligence Services have a completely different style and modus operandi compared to the Westerners’ intelligence practices. They also have a complex and technically refined organization of political control over the Services’ operations, and finally a different finalization of the Chinese Agencies’ operations in the West, at least for the time being.
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