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The Bahrain Summit: A Cyber Rescue for Gaza?

Ariel Brodkey

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On the eve of the upcoming American peace-summit in Bahrain, there is only one burning question: what about Gaza? It’s already been made clear that the upcoming summit is not about addressing regional flashpoints, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, the meeting will focus on economic cooperation and development in a region facing immense systemic challenges, such as youth unemployment, water and food scarcity, and others. While this approach may appeal to the more diplomatic angels of our nature, it does not reflect the complex reality on the ground in which a lack of economic growth, or worse de-development, is a major force behind violent upheavals.

This is particularly the case in the Gaza Strip, which inches closer to total political, economic, and humanitarian collapse daily. Even if solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t on the table in Bahrain, developing Gaza’s economy certainly should be.

This situation really is the epitome of a rock and a hard place. How can Hamas come to the negotiating table and not lose the support of its base, or worse, invite competition which will likely result in civil war? How can Israel proverbially keep the heads of Gaza’s civilian population ‘above water’ (no irony lost in that metaphor) without allowing Hamas to co-opt resources and entrench their positions? Moreover, what can the rest of us, or the international community for that matter, really do about it?

It turns out there are a multitude of international organizations, IGOs, NGOs, and even private think tanks which are trying to provide strategies, funds, and projects as an answer to Gaza’s questions. It takes about ten seconds of looking at the situation on the ground to understand that these international actors are consistently falling short of their ambitions and things are getting worse before they get better. The urgency of bolstering Gaza’s economy becomes apparent to an Israeli when considering the prospect of another regional humanitarian and possibly refugee crisis, this time on Israel’s southern border. In fact, it was these concerns that were the impetus for a year-long study my colleagues and I conducted. We essentially asked, how can international strategies for Gaza, particularly those concerned with development, be refined and adjusted to be more effective in facilitating real change? What we found ultimately led us to some surprising recommendations for decision-makers. If Gaza is going to be discussed in Manama, those attending should be aware of these findings.

For international organizations, there are many actors to consider coordinating with on Gaza’s development (Israel, Hamas, NGOs, and civil society organizations). However, we found that coordination is disproportionately higher with one actor in particular, almost by twice as much – the Palestinian Authority (PA). Despite its extremely limited influence in Gaza, the PA is coordinated with at a much higher degree than Hamas, Israel, or even UNRWA. The reasons for this are unclear. Gaza cannot be discussed in isolation of the West Bank, since any future Palestinian state would encompass both territories as a unitary political entity. Given the PA’s status as the sole legitimate political representative of the Palestinian people, development goals must be in line with what Ramallah wants more so than Gaza City.

There are those who advocate that working with the de facto regime in Gaza is the only way to make progress on the ground and have called on international players to abandon their no-contact policies vis-a-vis Hamas. However, this is an odd preference when considering the ambiguous status of Gaza and Hamas under international law. This is a serious technical problem that the PA does not have. This is where, contrary to the recommendations of Gisha and other policy forums, we found that attempts at working directly with Hamas will not only be counterproductive in Gaza, but will ultimately weaken the political position of Israel’s only real partner for a viable two-state solution. This is an externality Israel and the international community cannot afford.

In a separate vein, we found a motif within nearly all strategies and policies that from the onset screamed ‘fatal flaw’. Being the most powerful actor in the equation, almost all plans call on Israel to unilaterally lift restrictions on the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, offering no incentives, rationale, or process as to how or why they would be inclined to do so. Even an amateur negotiator could point out the problem with this approach – not only does this call to action ignore Israel’s key objections and concerns, but it treats it as a monolithic party when that couldn’t be farther from the case. Unlike many of their regional counterparts, Israeli decision-makers are democratically beholden to their constituents. Therefore, calling upon them to do something is about as effective as wishing it into reality, as Israel’s security policy is directly shaped by the intricate and complex processes of democratic national politics. In fact, most members of the international community work with the Israeli state via a separate and completely detached diplomatic channel than those concerned with Palestinian state-building, where coordination is at a minimal level with the IDF (COGAT) rather than Israeli decision-makers.

The web becomes further tangled when adding to the mix the Oslo-era institutions, which inextricably bound the Israeli and Palestinian economies together. How can anyone realistically expect to set economic development goals and implement them when the entire economic and monetary system sits in the hands of Israel under the framework of the Paris Protocol? Israel is and will remain the lynchpin of any economic development in the Gaza Strip, but for some reason there is a disconnect between what Israeli decision-makers are asked to do and what they can expect in return or regarding their key inhibitions as a prospective customer. Those designing strategies for Gaza’s development must be acutely in tune with the interests of Israel’s national leadership. Of course, before someone uses this analysis to advocate that international pressure on Israel is the answer, a quick historical review demonstrates that when it comes to affecting Israel’s policies from the outside, honey works much better than vinegar.

One area in which nearly all international strategies converge is identifying the private sector as the key driving and guiding force in sustainable, scalable growth. This is not only expressed outright as a goal by most actors, but it is reaffirmed by their strong emphasis on reforming the regulatory environment and fostering the flows of investment – foreign, domestic, and regional. There are essentially two major problems, however, inhibiting this private sector-led growth, even with Gaza’s immense economic potential. First, the lack of a sound banking system (or effective monetary system for that matter) within Palestinian society means that there are little to no local banks which can finance local projects, leaving Palestinian entrepreneurs dependent on external backing. This isn’t just a problem for private sector investment, but also for governance and civil institutions. Civil servants and citizens alike are currently reliant on suitcases of cash brought in from the outside – a phenomenon which often results in Hamas seizure and, based on the rhetoric of Israeli politicians, has a short shelf-life as a solution.

Second, the material risks on any investment in Gaza are extremely high. For example, suppose Mercedes was interested in building a manufacturing facility in Rafah. They would have to consider the viability of their investment compared to the risks. Such risks include, but are not limited to: unstable flow of electricity; a lack of healthcare; a non-existent payroll mechanism other than cash; double taxation at the border; the dual-use list limiting the flow of raw materials for building the infrastructure and the goods; and of course, the constant threat that militants may commandeer the facility, resulting in all that investment going up in smoke during the next military escalation.

So, now that you know some of the risks, is your checkbook ready? Even something as altruistic as charity has utilitarian considerations attached and unfortunately the lack of investment security is a big problem for growing any industries in Gaza. After all of these insights it would be easy to see Gaza’s development as a Sisyphean task in which everything is tangled, linked, or could only be changed with a fundamental shake-up the status quo. Instead, and contrary to our own expectations, what we found were three clear conclusions in the midst of the chaos and confusion. First, we found that experts and practitioners tend to be in ‘silos’ in the framework of their disciplines, missing critical input from other areas of expertise and limiting the viability of their recommendations. Second, long-term planning in Gaza is a strategic mistake and many plans are contingent on realities which are far from materializing, such as politically negotiated settlements. Third, while Israel is called upon to change certain aspects of the status quo, its concerns and objections are not sufficiently addressed or taken seriously – making them unlikely to accept those recommendations fully.

The necessity of developing Gaza’s economy demands that it be approached with the current limitations in mind and perhaps the fundamental shake-up we’ve been waiting for might already be here. International actors should develop Gaza’s economy with the tools of today, not yesterday, and should therefore focus on the digital rather than the physical sphere. With two key pillars in mind, digital payments systems and web-based job creation,  the reasons for shifting emphasis toward a digital economy are all tied to the challenges we identified beforehand. Going digital bypasses the physical restrictions in Gaza today. From high transaction costs, to crippling import export regimes, and the stifled flow of funds, all of these barriers are unlikely to disappear overnight. Cyberspace, however, has no borders or political roadblocks. But it gives Gaza a way of offering value to a global marketplace as a freelance/outsource hub. Perhaps more importantly, it creates a way for its people to be directly connected with those who financially support them – through employment, investment, or aid.

Digital development also offers two things that traditional industries can’t – portability and scalability. When a job only requires a computer and an internet connection, the combination of low overhead costs and portability in times of conflict make it much more attractive to investors since it mitigates major risks. Furthermore, the marketplace for digital goods and services is expanding exponentially, so compared to the profit potential of textiles, furniture, or agriculture, it’s a no-brainer for someone concerned with ROI. Perhaps the most promising aspect of a digitally connected economy and finance system is that it can address Gaza’s cash crisis, answer Israel’s primary security concerns, and offer critical oversight, which is lacking in the status-quo all at the same time. Technological advancements in e-commerce could empower Gaza’s consumers, businesses, and even civil servants by providing them with a stable source of income protected by smart contracts. Both Israel, the PA, and international organizations could automatically track and prevent Hamas from shaking down civilians or misappropriating funds for terrorist operations. In fact, this technological shift already enjoys support among some Israeli decision-makers and of course will create a tool for the PA to bolster its influence in the Strip by being seen as ‘the one who pays the bills’.

Obviously this is not a silver bullet, and of course there are major hurdles to be overcome to make this vision a reality. What is certain though is that the prerequisites for developing Gaza’s digital economy are far fewer and much more manageable than anything else which has been tried before. These ideas have already been tested and proven on a small scale by an incredible initiative that created Gaza’s first tech hub, known as Gaza Sky Geeks, even under the current crippling political inertia. Between this proof of concept and our research, I think it’s safe to say that those attending the summit in Manama would do well to think outside the box when addressing economic development and cooperation in the Middle East, especially where it is desperately needed most. Einstein famously stated, “we can’t solve the problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” and I think he would agree that this is certainly an experiment worth trying.

Ariel Brodkey is a recent graduate of the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy where he was also a fellow in the Argov honors program. He served as an operator and commander in an elite IDF special operations unit, earning several awards and a citation. Today, Ari is a research and teaching assistant specializing in American and comparative politics, the Middle East peace process, and international political economy.

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Central Asian Jihadists’ Use of Cryptocurrencies in Bitcoin

Uran Botobekov

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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.

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The Afghan intelligence services

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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.

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Intelligence

The way in which the Chinese intelligence services operate

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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 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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