Connect with us

Intelligence

The new geopolitics and Greek perspective in the Eastern Mediterranean

Published

on

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he Eastern Mediterranean has become the epicenter of maritime and geopolitical developments as great powers, regional actors antagonise for influence and access to energy resources. Greece a traditional maritime nation could play a constructive role on the stabilisation of the region.

Since 2012 US has decided to intensify its role in Asia – Pacific, neglecting, in a sense, the frozen issues in the Eastern Mediterranean (East Med). Accordingly, the US reduced the Six Fleet’s naval presence, which has currently a single command ship in Italy and four Aegis destroyers.  Naturally, the reason for the Pacific shift has been the emergence of China that invests huge resources at sea. What is important in our East Med context, is that the frozen and unfinished business in the East Med have costed dearly and the bill has arrived sooner than expected. Previously inactive actors (Iran, Russia) and Turkey have now become active. Each one of them are squeezing themselves in to get a piece of the pie; a pie that has been created and (peculiarly) left unattended by its maker: the US. Paradoxically, none of these actors has ever been genuine maritime nation or maritime power. The concepts of maritime nation and power integrate the cultural element (history and tradition), geography, the commercial activities (commercial fleet) and naval power. 

As regards Russia, it has been encouraged by the American hesitance now has indeed achieved an impressive placement in the region. As regards Iran it has managed to antagonise the American strategic interests in the greater peninsula, the straits and now strives to establish itself west and eastbound. And finally, it is Turkey. It is an actor whose behaviour affects regional balance of power. Currently it follows a neo-ottoman vision. It is an actor that although has never been a maritime nation, it assumes this role based on an authority that was given in the past. That mandate is now almost void. So, while Turkey was given a policeman’s status in the area, it now acts and reacts on an independent agenda practically antagonising all of its neighbours, hence contributing to a general instability. All three actors above have a common denominator: Instability. They benefit from instability and exploit it, pushing towards a self-deterministic and independent agenda.

NATO and European Union (EU) have also a limited presence in Mediterranean. In 2016, NATO commenced the Operation “Sea Guardian” with objectives to support the maritime security. In parallel, NATO has also been assisting Frontex and Greek Coast Guard to patrol its borders, in order to reduce the influx of “non-vetted people” coming from the turkish coasts. The EU has also interests in Mediterranean Sea e.g. energy security, migrations flows, control of the jihadist fighters. However, the EU is also preoccupied with internal issues, the financial crisis and the Euroscepticism. While EU is looking to diversify its energy imports in order to diminish the dependency from Russian gas, is also showing reluctance in stabilising a safe zone in the rich East Med area.

Greek perspective

On the one hand, the three actors Russia, Iran, Turkey assume dynamic and sometimes aggressive role. On the other, we have their neighbours that react to that pressure, yet they are also very cautious in modifying their stance from passive to active. The latter neighbouring states are: Greece, Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus. Only two countries from the above have long standing maritime tradition: Greece and Cyprus, whereas Egypt and Israel are investing resources in navy.

As regards the American-Greek relations, the US position and intentions remain unclear, as regards the East Med sea area. For example: The US does not encourage Turkey to remove its illegal military occupation force over an EU country and major energy actor in the region: Cyprus. It is a fact that practically makes no sense, serves none, especially in view of the current Cyprus – Israel – Egypt and Greece good relations. So, what we see here is that although all these mentioned countries are in a kind of accord, an instigator exists that creates uncertainty. Thus, we have Turkey, a country that has not ratified UNCLOS, that claims a part of Cyprus’s EEZ, wishing to maintain privileged military presence in the island, while -in parallel- it disputes sovereignty over the Greek islands, challenging Israeli policies and intervenes in Egyptian politics.

Greece will remain passive until it is either provoked, or it is invited to assume a more active role. In fact, the situation in the East Med tends to instability, due to Greece’s limited presence in the SE region. Although Greece already supplies NATO with the Souda Base (in Crete) it follows cautious foreign policy based on maturity and ethics. This translates into conservatism. Greece, a democratic, mature and -most of all- maritime nation, could play a more significant role in stabilising the situation in the East Med and save the alliance from a lot of resources. Greece could play this role, if it is only assisted from the US (and perhaps Britain), however it has proven in the past that can act as a strong ally in times of need. The qualities of Greece were always there, yet paradoxically being neglected for decades: Compatible social and political values, winner’s material, maturity and understanding of the area. By contrast, decades of American and British indifference deprived the alliance perhaps from its most useful maritime partner in the region.

Therefore, two key questions require an answer: First: How can one achieve stability in the region, which is rich in resources, and create a safe and orderly zone for trade interests to grow. Second: Who may a reliable partner be found, in achieving the above goals? We shall respond to these, in relation to the challenges ahead:

The main challenges in Maritime Security

(a) Migration: The conflict in the Middle East, especially in Syria created huge migratory flows from Turkish coast to Greek shores and Europe. This has been significantly reduced by the EU – Turkey deal and the presence of NATO in the Aegean. What further steps need to be taken?

(b) Maritime Terrorism and Piracy: Islamist terrorists can expand their activities in the Med, in order to attack all kinds of economic interests (e.g. affecting tourism and trade). The instability in Syria and Libya’s ungoverned regions increases the risk.

(c) Proliferation of conventional and WMD: Smugglers use cargo vessels to transport illegal arms. It is a risk factor that remains high.

(d) Miscalculations of littoral states: The situation in Turkey and the stance that adopts creates tensions to its neighbouring littoral states. A miscalculation could escalate into war. Another point of tension could be the Israeli-Lebanese relations, as regards the EEZ delimitation.

(e) Uncertainty in the US policy

Insofar, the US evaluated any tensions in the East Med sea, as bilateral issues to be resolved by neighbouring states. This stance however, neglected the essence of the problem, which is the Islamic expansionism (as expressed in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Egypt) and the neo-ottoman agenda adopted in Turkey. Therefore, the US “neutrality” only intensified the problems.

The new maritime order

The maritime and geopolitical order of the East Med is shaped by forces emanating from, Levante and the Eurasian and Black Sea. China is establishing access in the Med based on the “One Belt, One Road” agenda; Iranian naval power aspires to extend westbound and eastbound beyond the Persian Gulf.  Russia has already established maritime presence in the area. Russia has been mostly benefited from the recent developments in the Med Sea. It is now a major naval power with permanent presence. The US must decide what policy shall adopt towards Russia. 

The littoral states of East Med, with the exception of Greece and Cyprus are not traditional maritime states, while most of them currently invest in naval power. NATO so far adopted a selective policy in the East Med, having as primary goal to deter Russian naval presence. This strategy has failed, while at the same time instability emerged.

The new American administration claims a more assertive strategy. It now understands that reliable partners are needed to deal with Islamic fundamentalism (e.g. the Kurds), whereas its position as regards the maritime region remains unclear. The blockade of Qatar from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states could affect the strategic developments in the East Med.  The blockade may not be so much related to terrorism per se, but to the relationship of the country with Iran. Syrian Kurdish forces upgraded their role as allies of the US on the war against ISIS. The perspective of Syria Kurdish autonomous, or perhaps independent state could change the maritime order in favour of the US, and perhaps Russia.

Conclusions

The normalisation of “hot spots” and “frozen conflicts” in the Mediterranean Sea requires reliable and capable maritime partners with maturity and tradition, without aggressive and expanding ambitions. 

Greece a traditional maritime nation could play an important role to the stabilisation of the region. The US and EU should reconsider the position of Greece in EM and to realise that the problematic Turkey provoke only tensions.

The US, Russia and regional states should cooperate building measure of confidence, reducing the risk of confrontation in order to deter a crisis. The maritime security requires a modern navy to copy with the new security challenges in East Med. As regards, Greece and Cyprus they require assistance. NATO and European Union should pursue a most assertive role for the security and stabilisation of East Med. They must closely cooperate in the Med, bringing other institutions and establish impartial forums of dialogue.

The article based on author’s lecture in Kiel Seapower Symposium 2017 for Eastern Mediterranean (Tuesday 20, June 2017)

Continue Reading
Comments

Intelligence

Central Asian Jihadists’ Use of Cryptocurrencies in Bitcoin

Uran Botobekov

Published

on

Central Asian Jihadists in Syria. A screenshot from Telegram, April 6, 2019

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 banner calling for donations to Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad. A screenshot from Telegram, May 18, 2020

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.

The banner requesting to provide Uzbek jihadists with modern military gear and equipment. A screenshot from Telegram, March 3, 2020.

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:

– 3HoWzYwaBbTg7sKGtHz3pAZxdHZoXUJRvG;

– 12SxsxvrE8zrtRveSeFJYA6sgbJZbyHDGk.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Continue Reading

Intelligence

The Afghan intelligence services

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Intelligence

The way in which the Chinese intelligence services operate

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Published

on

 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.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

South Asia30 mins ago

Emerging Muslim Blocs and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Over the years, Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had established substantial influence over the Muslim...

Reports3 hours ago

Nearly 9 in 10 People Globally Want a More Sustainable and Equitable World Post COVID-19

In a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey of more than 21,000 adults from 28 countries nearly nine in ten say...

Americas5 hours ago

Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the...

Reports7 hours ago

Global development efforts should increase focus on fragile states in light of COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating inequality, poverty and insecurity in vulnerable, or fragile, countries and territories, making it more important...

Africa9 hours ago

South Sudan: Progress on peace agreement ‘limps along’

Although the transitional government in South Sudan continues to function, with state governors now appointed, among other developments, progress on...

Newsdesk11 hours ago

More research needed into COVID-19 effects on children

More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 disease among children and adolescents, the head...

South Asia13 hours ago

Justice for Justice!

A country where justice is served to affluent people only, however the poverty stricken suffer. Where justice and law are...

Trending