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Deep Dive: Bezos, anti-Saudi activists and a character assassination campaign against the Crown Prince

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With the latest spurious allegations concerning the alleged hack of his phone by the Saudis, Jeff Bezos brought himself back into an unwelcome and embarrassing spotlight, involving nude pictures of himself cheating on his ex-wife, all seemingly for the sake of destroying the reputation of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. His claim that Mohammed bin Salman taunted him with photos of the supposedly “secret” affair and then somehow used his own phone’s Whatsapp account to hack Bezos’s phone and to expose the nudes, which were then leak to the public remains unsubstantiated despite the mention of undisclosed forensic investigators supposedly responsible for these latest disclosures to the soap opera.

Background

The story about the alleged hack broke exactly a year ago, after Jeff Bezos and his wife filed for divorce in January 2019. Soon after, the National Enquirer publicized pictures of Bezos’ affair with his girlfriend, including “intimate texts and photos.” Bezos accused the Enquirer of extortion & blackmail. Bezos, backed by his security chief, accused Saudis of having taken part in a hack that led to the leak of these photos. The Saudis denied having anything to do with that. Soon after, information came out that Bezos’ girlfriend gave the photos and texts to her brother, who leaked them to the media.

Bezos had further alleged that the owner of the Enquirer had a business relationship with Mohammed bin Salman, but after the revelation came out concerning his girlfriend & her brother’s involvement in the leak, did not appear to pursue this matter further. The story died down despite Bezos’ personal op-eds with accusations, but in January 2020 Bezos doubled down on his initial allegations. He produced a poorly sourced UN report produced by Agnes Callamard, and an equally questionable forensics report by investigators he paid for, claiming that there was a hack and that the hack came from the Crown Prince’s account.  Increasing evidence point in other directions.

For instance, US prosecutors tasked with investigating the alleged leak/hack say they have evidence that the girlfriend and her brother are the culprits. Bezos is yet to explain what connection, if any, there is between the Crown Prince and Bezos’ girlfriend. Was she in possession of Mohammed bin Salman’s phone? Did he first hack the account and then have her leak it to the press in exchange for a princely sum of money?  The increasingly embarrassing situation went from bed to worse in terms of optics for Bezos himself when a number of cyberexperts started questioning the conclusions in the forensics report, stating that Bezos has not actually established a technical link between Mohammed bin Salman’s account and Bezos’ phone.

At issue now is Bezos’ central claim—that his phone was hacked at all. Whether Bezos will spin these developments into a conspiracy theory—in which his girlfriend was in on it with Mohammed bin Salman, seduced Bezos to get into his good graces and ruin his marriage and personal life, and then, after the Crown Prince hacked Bezos phone, took the resulting leak and shared it with a tabloid—remains unclear. Increasingly, however, pressure is mounting on Bezos to back his claims, as his allegations appear increasingly fantastical yet persistent.

These accusations raise several inconvenient questions that neither Bezos, nor the mainstream media which parroted his side of the story without doing the basics of any ethical journalist—which is to say, demanding evidence of these scandalous claim—bother to address.

For instance, why did Jeff Bezos keep silent about the Crown Prince’s alleged knowledge and “taunts”, allegedly made BEFORE the hack, all this time? Why did he not say anything even at the time when he first reported the incident?

Further, he does not explain how Mohammed bin Salman would even know about this clandestine liaison. Did he have a gaggle of spies follow the Amazon founder around? Or was Bezos always so careless with his online activity that the Saudis could have hacked him long before and been tracking him for some time?

Which raises yet another natural question: how is it that Jeff Bezos, the founder of a gigantic company with millions of accounts, could have failed to secure his own personal data? And can any of his customers trust him with their own privacy? Supposedly bad blood between Bezos and the Saudis is related to a business dispute over his interest in building Amazon in KSA, but failing to address Saudi concerns over Amazon’s handling of Saudi customers’ data. If so, Bezos’ behavior is fraught with irony.

The next question any reasonable person could/should ask is why would the heir to the throne of a major Middle Eastern country use his own personal account to engage in any sort of illicit and unethical activity, much less something blatantly criminal as a hack of one of the wealthiest individuals in the world? Is there no one Mohammed bin Salman could hire, even if that is something he was contemplating for unknowable reasons? Why would he make himself so vulnerable, especially considering the many other character attacks he’s been facing since early on in his tenure?

Finally, even IF there is technical evidence linking Mohammed bin Salman’s Whatsapp account to the hack, how do we know that the Crown Prince’s phone was not hacked or spoofed, which is more than likely? For all it’s worth, Bezos himself probably had interacted with the Crown Prince over that account and could have easily leaked it elsewhere. But why would Bezos be involved in a set-up that discredited him in light of his own personal drama unfolding before the world’s eyes?

Rather than speculating on Bezos’ motivations, I invite the readers to examine his actions, which indicate that this story is about far more than just Bezos’ personal issues with the Saudis (if any of these rumors are even true).

Shortly following the break out of the media storm over the renewed allegations, Bezos tweeted a picture of himself from Jamal Khashoggi’s memorial with the hashtag “Jamal”. Who else attended that memorial? Jamal Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, known for her support of Turkey’s authoritarian president Erdogan, and none other than the UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard, a fierce defender of Qassem Soleimani against US strikes, and the allegedly impartial UN official responsible for the UN investigation of the Saudi role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Discrediting her claims to objectivity, the very same Callamard has now sided with Bezos demanding an international investigation into the hacking allegations against Mohammed bin Salman, despite the lack of evidence. What a coincidence!

Bezos was also pictured with the founder and executive director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, at the memorial. CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in investigations concerning money laundering to Muslim Brotherhood-backed terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, and has extensive links to the Brotherhood.

By tweeting this image shortly after the renewed claims, Bezos admits the following:

He has a political agenda in going after the Saudi Crown Prince, beyond any business dispute

The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, is not objective but rather openly sides with the ex-Saudi spook cum turncoat cum Qatari agent Jamal Khashoggi—despite the Washington Post’s own admission that the Qatar Foundation International fed Khashoggi the articles he used to attack the Crown Prince in the pieces basically rewritten to the level of readability by his editor Karen Attiah. The Washington Post, if it has benefited financially from this arrangement, may itself be implicated as an unregistered foreign agent in violation of US laws, and Bezos is openly hinting at that. Karen Attiah, after all, also took part in the memorial.

Finally, Bezos’s accusations against Mohammed bin Salman are directly tied to Qatar and the Khashoggi matter. This thinly veiled message affirms that Bezos, Callamard, and others are deeply involved with state actors who are fueling the ongoing political campaign to discredit, smear, and ultimately oust the Crown Prince.

What could be Bezos’ political calculus in this unseemly scenario, where he is publicly making himself into a laughingstock at least as much as he is turning Mohammed bin Salman into fodder for supposedly reputable national publications, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (who published all of this uncritically)? Furthermore, why is he returning to the apparently debunked story after a year and subjecting himself to potential embarrassment and discreditation, likely knowing fully well that there is no “there, there”?

There is no mystery. The strategy by Mohammed bin Salman’s enemies, from the very beginning of the Khashoggi affair, has been to make it appear that the Khashoggi death is not an isolated incident; rather, the claim has been that Mohammed bin Salman has a strategy of surveilling, hacking, physically intimidating, and even trying to abduct dissidents, critics, and opponents of his policies. Since Khashoggi’s death, both the NY Times and WaPo, known for taking conspiracy theories and baseless allegations from the Qatar-funded Arabic and English language media and giving them legitimacy without ever providing counterpoints or raising doubt about these claims, have printed numerous articles giving space to known leftist, pan-Arabist and pro-Muslim Brotherhood critics of the Crown Prince and his Vision2030 reform plan, who reside in Canada, the UK, and the US and who have all claimed that they had been threatened, harassed, or surveilled by Saudi intelligence in the wake of Khashoggi.

Prior to Khashoggi’s death, however, these individuals resorted to broader statements claiming that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for a crackdown on dissent (read: antagonistic activism) inside the Kingdom. The Khashoggi affair gave an opening to opportunists to push for creating an image of Mohammed bin Salman as an irredeemable villain who will never stop shutting down anyone who stands up to him. Bezos has clearly aligned himself with other agents of this strategy, and despite past evidence showing that other parties were responsible for the embarrassing leak of his “dick pics” (technical term), jumped in full throttle into this morass.

The calculus here is not so much to “prove” that Mohammed bin Salman is personally guilty of this cyberattack, which may ultimately prove impossible even if any evidence exists, but to embarrass him (again) to such an extent that his own family will decide that he deserves no more chances to fix his reputation in light of this ongoing PR/information warfare nightmare, and should be removed from a public role or at least from his current position.

As for the timing, if Bezos, as it increasingly appears to be the case, is in cahoots with foreign regimes and possibly elements of domestic intelligence agencies who have an ax to grind with Mohammed bin Salman, the recycling of the old conspiracy theory is nothing new. It follows a pattern of other such thinly veiled character attacks on the Crown Prince, and likely came from the same Qatari playbook. The aim is to weaponize the media and to cause a public fracas, at any cost. Furthermore, the thought is that that the public is heavily dependent on Amazon for services, and therefore anything will go. By contrast, the Western public does not perceive itself as being dependent on Saudi Arabia or its Crown Prince, and presumably has no loyalties to him, even if he is unjustly accused of crimes he did not commit. Timing, however, is of interest here.

The Iran-Qatar connection fueling Qatar’s interest in continuous attacks on Mohammed bin Salman

January 2020 started with the killing of the head of IRGC’s Al Quds Brigade Qassem Soleimani, which appeared to be a blow to the Iranian regime’s hegemonic ambitions, especially as it struggles to contain internal protests and faces uprisings against its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. Responding to this event, Iran caused a self-inflicted PR disaster when it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane with 176 civilians on board—and lied about it for three days. Following this fiasco, Qatar offered $3B to Iran to cover the costs of paying the families of the victims. There may have been some awkwardness to the exchange, as the US used the Al Udeid base in Qatar for the operation, and yet the Qatari officials traveled to Iran immediately thereafter to offer condolences on the death of Soleimani. 

Qatar’s public siding with a US adversary did not go unnoticed. Indeed, it constituted yet another political example of Qatar openly supporting Iran’s aggressive action in the region. Qatar’s past silence during the oil tanker crises resulted in an intelligence report indicating that Doha was in cahoots with Tehran and covered for Iran, rather than share information that could have prevented these attacks. Analysis of Qatar’s long-term relationship with Iran and its reaction to any steps by the US and others that would have had any negative impact on the regime indicates that Qatar may have even facilitated the attacks on ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia in September, widely attributed to Iran. 

Increased scrutiny over these geopolitical concerns are a massive headache to Doha, which had spent millions on lobbying efforts in the United States and Europe, and has developed a sophisticated media apparatus to cultivate an image of a pro-Western, friendly country open for business. After a series of missteps involving its close ally Iran, Qatar may have been desperate to distract from its own US government ire-raising role in these events, and sought to redirect the negative scrutiny and public outrage onto a favored scapegoat for all sorts of scandals, the Crown Prince, who was made vulnerable due to Qatar’s prior character assassination campaigns as well as the Saudi government’s complete lack of PR acumen. Bezos, who may have personal issues with Mohammed bin Salman, had already proven his usefulness against him through the consistent role the Washington Post has played in not letting the Khashoggi affair die down.

Indeed, Bezos himself made that issue highly personal by attending Khashoggi’s memorial alongside Callamard, Attiah, and Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé.  On the one hand, here was an opportunity to give Iran time to recover from bad publicity long enough to be able to focus on strategy and shutting down protests—when the Western world is busy gossiping about the hapless Crown Prince, they are not paying attention to the violent crackdown and torture of protesters, and killing of journalists in Iraq and Lebanon; on the other hand, it was another opportunity to resurrect the ghost of Khashoggi, putting more salt on the wounds of Western perception of Saudis.

But why would anyone side with Qatar, especially someone as wealthy as Bezos, who needs not depend on Qatari largesse? And why have other media outlets, presumably with no business grievances with the Kingdom, and portions of Western intelligence agencies, be lending a hand to these dubious operations, which have turned the US media into a battleground for authoritarian foreign regimes and unregistered agents of influence?

With Bezos, those who are fueling this witch hunt have likely appealed to his vindictive motives following the business dispute with Saudi Arabia. Bezos has a reputation  going back years before Mohammed bin Salman’s ascent to his position. And aside from the Crown Prince, Bezos has engaged in public spats with other corporate leaders not so long ago. Motive, meet opportunity. The media did not need to be “sold”, as it has been aligned with Qatar’s agenda in the West since after the imposition of the boycott against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, and the ensuing Qatari campaign to win friends and to destroy Saudi Arabia’s image in the West.

How the Media Circus around Bezos’ Unfounded Claims Carries Water for Foreign Regimes

The Strange Case of Cybersecurity “Expert” and Khashoggi Ally Iyad El-Baghdadi

A Palestinian born critic of Saudi Arabia Iyad El-Baghdadi, in a lengthy soft-ball interview with the Deutsche Welle on the subject of the hack, writes:  “…Then, Bezos in February of 2019 wrote a Medium post saying that he had just experienced a blackmail attempt and hinted very strongly that Saudi Arabia was probably involved. We immediately put two and two together. Number one: We know that MbS has a problem with Bezos, that was very clear because the propaganda output of his regime was really aggressive against him. What we also know is that they had an ongoing business relationship. And we know that Jamal Khashoggi’s murder came in the middle of that. So we published our findings online and two days later we were contacted by the head of security for Bezos (editor’s note: Gavin de Becker, a longtime security consultant hired by Bezos), who said: ‘You guys are onto something and we have certain information we want to share with you as well.’”

El-Baghdadi claims to have “worked” with Bezos’ security team on investigating the incident. El-Baghdadi admits to having worked with Jamal Khashoggi in the past on his “MENA democracy” initiative. Khashoggi had been building an anti-Saudi think tank and engaging in cyberoperations against Saudi online activists when he was killed.  El-Baghdadi’s distaste for the Saudi government is not explicitly explained, nor is his fellowship with Khashoggi ever fully presented, but both have had a history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood ideology and resented Saudi outreach to Israel. El-Baghdadi, for instance, wrote of “two Israels”, with one of which “no peace” is possible, claiming that there are no Israeli centrists or peace partners, only “colonial masters”, and calling for “resistance”.  Khashoggi was both opposed to normalization with Israel and wrote against Jews. What is interesting here is that El-Baghdadi was hired by Bezos’ security chief after the hack, but his role appears limited to propaganda, as he had no access to the technical information regarding any allegedly cyberattacks on Bezos and he admitted as much. His reputation of being affiliated with Khashoggi and attacking Saudi Arabia should, but somehow does not, discredit his professional conclusions of what must have transpired, even though they are based not on technical forensic evidence, but on ideological conclusions.  El-Baghdadi believes that Mohammed bin Salman was personally responsible for the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi based on Khashoggi’s personal criticism of the Crown Prince and his policies.

El-Baghdadi even states that Bezos’ security team and he started to “coordinate things”, without explaining what it is they coordinated—and the DW reporters do not challenge him on this issue. What is public knowledge, however, is that in the same year after Bezos’ alleged hack, El-Baghdadi, speaking to Qatar’s mouthpiece, Al Jazeera, claimed that he was in the “crosshairs” of the Saudi government, that he is a pro-”democracy” activist (does that mean he is calling for a violent internal coup against a popular heir to the throne?) despite having no connection to the Kingdom or its people, and many months after Khashoggi’s death (May 2019), and felt “in danger”. He apparently came to that realization after starting to work with  Bezos’ team in February 2019, after the scandal regarding Bezos’ hack had already waned in the public eye. Did Bezos put him up to that?

Or did Bezos hire El-Baghdadi to make these statements, that would not only keep the Khashoggi story alive well past its due date, but would appear to substantiate his own concerns about Saudi Arabi? If Qatar was supportive of this apparent collusion, El-Baghdadi’s claims would further the idea being propagated that Khashoggi was neither an isolated case nor an issue arising from “rogue operatives”, but rather part of a strategic and brutal crackdown against Mohammed bin Salman’s critics. This would further distract from the emerging information that Khashoggi himself was no white fluffy kitten, but an experienced intelligence operative who had sold out to Qatar, and was weaponized against Riyadh. The story was soon picked up without any criticism by various Western publications, including The Daily Beast, which claimed that the activist was “forced into hiding”—although he continued to tweet and speak to the media.

To return to the interview, DW, despite this suspicious background that undermined the story, did not in any way push back, but rather gave El-Baghdadi plenty of space to attack Mohammed bin Salman, repeat unproven claims that the Crown Prince massacred Khashoggi in the Consulate, and link all of that to the Bezos hack as revenge for the Washington Post’s coverage of the Khashoggi affair. Of course, once again, DW never asks about any possible collusion between the Washington Post and the Qatar Foundation International, nor whether El-Baghdadi benefited financially in any way from his relationship with all these actors.

Even when El-Baghdadi makes clear the case of his personal collusion with the Bezos team in describing the extent of their professional collaboration, and even after admitting that there is no evidence that the phone was compromised at the time Bezos alleged or earlier, the reporter lets the activist continue as an expert witness on this subject, without questioning any aspect of his story or motives. Thus, DW, by failing to do its job and remain skeptical of such sweeping claim, legitimized someone with a clear political agenda, gave him a platform, and introduced him to the public eye, not as a political actor, but as a victim who is the “good guy” in this confusing chain of events. DW relinquished its role as a neutral observer and objective medium of information and sided with Bezos and Team Khashoggi.

What makes this situation still more sinister is that, like the BBC, DW receives public funding from the German government. In other words, Germany, as a state, is essentially taking part in this situation and siding with Bezos, El-Baghdadi, and promoting unsubstantiated claims about Khashoggi’s death. Aside from Qatar, then, European governments and their media tools, are playing an interventionist political role in this campaign.

Agnes Callamard, meanwhile, appears to be backing an El-Baghdadi-like activist in UK, who is funded by unknown forces (possibly Qatar, some pro-MB foundations, or Bezos), Ghanem Almasarir, who hails from the Kingdom, but shares El-Baghdadi’s virulently anti-Saudi views. Almasarir now came out to allege that he, too, was being electronically surveilled by Saudi intelligence, allegedly hacked through the use of the same Israeli malware that was supposedly used to spy on Khashoggi and El-Baghdadi, and now has been allowed by the UK to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for these alleged activities. Even if the case ultimately is thrown out, it is clear that he will get the attention he wishes, and the indelible damage to Saudi Arabia as a country, and Mohammed bin Salman personally, will have been done.

In yet another recent incident, the FBI—which since Robert Mueller’s time has had CAIR and other Islamist organizations involved in sensitivity trainings— supposedly foiled an attempted abduction of a young Saudi YouTuber, Abdulrahman Almutairi, by the Saudis. The Daily Beast report is almost entirely based on Almutairi’s own story, in which he claims that Mohammed bin Salman sent a hit team for him in the airport to kidnap him because he had criticized the Crown Prince. The likelihood of such a plot against such an unknown person is extremely low.


But what is obvious is that The Daily Beast and other publications are eager to report such sensationalist accounts, without verifying details, because they confirm the inherent bias against the Crown Prince and in favor of the “dissidents”, young people without jobs, funded by unknown organizations, and living abroad, whose sole raison d’etre seems to be making low quality podcasts and videos trash-talking Mohammed bin Salman. All these individuals are supposedly of such importance to the Crown Prince that he would risk a major scandal with the United Stated government in an attempt to illegally recover them and bring them back home rather than ignore their yammerings. The readers are invited to believe this version of the events on the ground that “reputable journalists” wrote it up.

In the case of Almutairi, if they media had so much as checked his social media account, they would have discovered a self-revealed history of mental health issues (Almutairi has written about being bipolar), discussing his hospital stays and mandatory medication for his condition. A cursory review would also disclose that he was studying on a Saudi government scholarship and KSA was also paying his medical bills. Due to his frequently erratic behavior, the government finally cut off his tuition. Almutairi complained about it on Instagram (screenshot); in short, he was a mentally unstable, disgruntled individual, who ended up calling the FBI on his own father, accusing him of working with the Saudi government to abduct him. (It is possible that his father came to visit to persuade him to return home for continued medical treatment.) In other words, he is less than a credible source, yet the media did not look into any of these details, thus essentially misinforming the public and creating the impression that Almutairi’s story was exactly what it appeared to be. These media outlets used a mentally ill individual to push their agenda, without disclosing the facts, shamefully exposing him to the kind of public attention that could aggravate his condition.

It seems that Bezos and Callamard are working together to identify anyone who may be persuaded to make similar claims against Saudis to bolster Bezos’ own credibility, but also in order to discredit the Crown Prince.

The Clown Choir Whitewashed Qatar’s Hacking but Echoes Baseless Claims Against the Saudis

The rest of the so-called “mainstream media” has hardly been any more professional nor has demonstrated any journalistic integrity over this matter.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered this story with the following headline (thinly veiled as an opinion piece): “Saudi Arabia murdered a journalist and hacked Jeff Bezos. Trump sent them U.S. troops”. The rest of the piece is very much along the same vein, embracing unproven or discredited and openly biased assertions, without even an attempt to present a counterpoint that could shed light on the otherwise outrageous scenario being presented. Given the increasing public distrust in the media and the disappearing skill of distinguishing between opinion & fact, even if such an article is categorized as an “opinion” piece, at best it will feed into existing perceptions, at worst some may take it as information, rather than a personal position.

The NY Post, in its initial coverage, took Bezos allegations as “evidence“ rather than claims.

The Washington Post, not surprisingly, has followed its owner’s line with fierce loyalty. It has published multiple stories on this issue, all of them equally one-sided, and despite the paucity of technical evidence, reaffirms that these allegations “implicate” Mohammed bin Salman in the hack.

The Daily Beast coverage runs was about the same.

The NY Times makes an effort at appearing objective by covering what the “UN experts” have said about the hack, but does not question their expertise nor their conclusion nor the fact that the same experts had previously produced a one-sided report on Khashoggi lacking in facts or evidence.

Vanity Fair amps up the drama by using a conclusive description of the “MBS-Bezos” hack as a potential “ticking time bomb”.

AP News follows the lead claiming, again, with very little backing or follow-up investigation, that the Saudi Crown Prince’s phone is linked to the alleged hack.

NBC News once again focuses on the UN experts, and their completely unproven (and likely unprovable claim) that the alleged hack was aimed at influencing Washington Post coverage of Saudi Arabia. It is hard to take seriously such an allegation, given that the chickens have already flown the coop and the incriminating information against Bezos has already been published; he has divorced and lost half his fortune. How could he possibly be influenced by that incident to change all of the coverage about KSA? 

The Hill takes fearmongering to the next level, with the writers claiming that now everyone who is critical of KSA could be endanger of being hacked.

MarketWatch echoes the mass media hysteria.

Ditto for Axios.

PBS also takes Jeff Bezos’ claims as proven fact. If only the media had stuck to following the late Jim Lehrer’s  rules for ethical journalism, perhaps the issue of public trust would not have been quite so evasive. 

And on and on it goes.

In short, once again, the scions of journalism have beclowned themselves with premature, one-sided coverage based on a high profile figure’s sensationalist claims, and have failed to follow-up with their own investigation on any of these comments or even to wait for other experts to weigh in.  In the fray to be the first to “break” the “news” that Bezos claimed something that has already been largely discredited, these outlets once again put their own credibility at question.

Why would they take such a risk? There are several observations to be made of this baseless kerfuffle.

First, these same outlets reacted in exactly the same way to the initial reports of Khashoggi’s disappearance and death. They based their reports on leaks and claims made by the foreign media (Turkish intelligence affiliates known for their outright disinformation), and in some cases had to publish retractions of debunked histories concerning the case. They had failed to inform the public of essential facts concerning Khashoggi’s past, and to this day, many of these outlets, particularly the Washington Post, refer to Khashoggi as a “dissident” and “journalist” without disclosing his relationship to intelligence, to Qatar, and to the fact that others were basically writing his columns for him.  These outlets have worked to shape a narrative about Khashoggi, just as they are currently working to shape a narrative about Jeff Bezos’ phone, and have not allowed facts to get in the way of spinning these tales. At no point have any of these outlets set their own reporters to investigate the situation on the ground in Turkey after Khashoggi’s disappearance. Adopting a Turkish intelligence agency’s narrative is not merely lazy, unethical journalism, but rather turns the US press into agents for foreign governments and their intelligence agendas. 

Second, in both cases, the outlets have used very similar language to describe the stories. For instance, many have used sensational and personal language to describe the Crown Prince, referencing the “bone saw”, or describing him as “dark”. Similarly, now, the same outlets are peddling the Bezos narrative almost word for word, and rely on the same UN “experts” for “analysis”.  After the Saudi Embassy denied the accusations, not one probed further or contacted the Saudis for a more detailed comment on the allegations.  Just as the slogan of the “MeToo” movement has become “believe all women” (with questionable results), the slogan of the current craze around the Saudis appears to be “believe all attackers/dissidents/anyone with a grievance”. Investigative rigor of pursuing all perspectives has gone out the window, perhaps because the agenda is not to inform the public, but to shape the narrative, and also to give a particular portion of the readership what they are inclined to believe and want to hear. Would these outlets make a successful American businessman a villain of a story that also involves a controversial Saudi prince, whose reputation they themselves had already undermined with previous reporting? Doing so would amount to an admission of incompetence or malice against Mohammed bin Salman in previous reporting.

Finally, it is Qatar rather than Saudi Arabia that has a reputation for hacking critics. An Arab journalist details the cyberattack on him following his investigation into Qatar’s policies, one of 1,500 celebrities reportedly hacked by the agents of the country. Elliott Broidy, a former Republican Party apparatchik who has gained his own renown for allegedly plotting policies to counter Qatar’s influence in the US with an Emirati operative, unsuccessfully sued Doha for the alleged hack and leak of his email, which revealed embarrassing personal and professional information, leading to his resignation from his post. However, while his legal attempt at holding Qatar and its agents accountable for the hack has thus far failed, his efforts at disclosing the various parties involved in illicit Qatari schemes found their way into the press. Even the NY Times was forced to acknowledge that hacking has become a strategic method of promoting its agenda and intimidating potential critics, as well as a pathway to espionage for Qatar.

And those who have followed Qatar’s increasingly aggressive interference in the West and foreign affairs, as David Reaboi has, have noted that even as Qatar openly engaged in aggressive and criminal activity, the US media has become a “megaphone for foreign agitprop”. The above-mentioned outlets all continued to support the pro-Qatar, anti-Saudi narrative, even after Qatar’s hacking scandal broke, revealing that it was not merely a coincidence, but pecuniary and political motives, that drove some in the media to align with a country openly using its intelligence to meddle and spy in the US, and hack US citizens. 

Given the ironic role these outlets have played whitewashing Qatar’s hacks at the time, the contrast with the coverage of the allegations concerning Mohammed bin Salman is striking. What gives this different treatment, where in the first instance, over a thousand reputable critics came forward as witnesses against Qatar’s hacking, and where various well known entities were implicated in the recruitment of agents for the leak and distribution of Broidy’s kompromat, and where in the second instance there is little more than Bezos’ personal vendetta backed by weak poorly sourced reports by his political allies?

How did Mohammed bin Salman Arouse the Media and Intelligence Agencies’ Ire?

Why are the campaigners against the Crown Prince so relentless in their hounding?

David Reaboi outlines some of the ignoble role the media has played in this gruesome saga, not as an impartial arbiter of some moral standards, nor as an objective pursuer of truths, but rather as nothing more than crude tools employed by various autocratic foreign regimes in pursuit of their anti-Saudi foreign policy.

However, there is more to the story (and a long litany of Mohammed bin Salman’s enemies) than just the media.

No sooner had Mohammed bin Salman burst onto the political scene than controversy and media speculation about the heir to the throne began. That event coincided with the announcement of the boycott against Qatar following Doha’s rejection of the thirteen demands put forth by the members of the Anti-Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain) and which included the calls to shut down Al Jazeera, an appeal to move away from Iran, the push to drop support for various terrorist groups and the funding of Muslim Brotherhood, and a warning against further meddling in the politics of various MENA states. Simultaneously dealing with the Qatar crisis, the Crown Prince was also handling the ongoing war in Yemen, an aggressive push for domestic reform, and the necessary move to consolidate power, which included a corruption probe against some Royal Family members and their associates with a reputation for involvement in dubious financial and political schemes.

Not too long after, the rumors began.

Some were focused on Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged personal hypocrisy, including the supposedly shocking allegations that the Prince who went after some people for corruption himself had purchased an expensive yacht, chateaux, and a painting. Some of these rumors were so poorly sourced that the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal were forced to withdraw these stories. New rumors started flying with the corruption probe, each more incredible than the next. The rumors began with a story in an obscure Arabic language Qatari-backed publication in London, quickly moved to the known pro-Qatar vehicle the Middle East Eye, and from there, in various forms and with details increasingly vague and unverifiable, migrated to The Guardian, NY Times, and other major publications.

The story, which sounded dubious from the start, concerned some official under investigation for corruption allegedly being tortured to death. His personal details and circumstances of his supposed demise increasingly disappeared as the story moved up in ranks. No New York Times or other journalist ever bothered following-up on the story and either collaborating or dismissing these allegations, and nothing ever came of it due to the lack of detail. However, the story circulated for months firmly embedding itself in the public mind, even as details faded over time, perhaps deliberately so.

The spread of similarly emotionally appealing but vague and unsupported stories attacking Mohammed bin Salman’s character were published with increased frequency as his first visit to the United States drew closer. By the time he arrived for a three week series of meetings, the media war, mostly consisting of subtle attacks on his image as a reformer popular with young people and with a mindset for a blossoming relationship with the West, appeared to be at its apogee. Most of these allegations smacked of an old Soviet-style smear campaign. Thanks to the widespread network of Qatari and Qatar-funded media, character assassination was back in vogue

.

The Aim of the Attacks is to Discredit the Crown Prince and to Demoralize His Supporters

Character assassination can be broadly defined as the “malicious and unjustified harming of a person’s good reputation”. It can, but not always does, fall under the legal category of “defamation of character”; however, the smear techniques used to destroy one’s reputation are not always false, nor necessarily carry legal culpability. In international relations, various forms of character assassination have been used as part of information warfare strategy to smear, demoralize, and, ultimately, to disarm their opponents. Information warfare is not a simple concept to define. According to some sources, information warfare involves information collection, transport, protection, and manipulation with the aim of gaining a competitive advantage over one’s adversary, whether in the military, intelligence, political, or business context. Other elements may include information disturbance, degradation, and denial. Another way of looking at it is as a combination of electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, and psy-ops (psychological operations).

Information warfare utilizes cyberspace, advanced computing, mobile networks, unmanned systems, and social media to gather intelligence, disrupt the operational capabilities of the other adversary, and to engage in a variety of tasks to advance the mission of the governmental or non-state actors.

Character assassination is an element of information warfare that can be pursued through a variety of disinformation tactics and is generally considered a type of psy-ops. More recently, however, traditional means of character assassination, has also relied on various types of cyberwarfare, such as hacking to advance the agenda of destroying the reputation of the target. In the course of the past two years, all of these methods had been used with the clear aim of bringing about the downfall of the Crown Prince, or at least weakening his relationships with Western countries and portions of the Arab world. The death of the former Saudi government spokesman and intelligence officer Jamal Khashoggi sparked a spike in attacks on the Crown Prince, which bordered on obsessive. For months, not a day passed without some supposedly objective Western outlet characterizing him in highly negative terms and by contrast, falsely painting Khashoggi to be an innocent journalist, whose only crime was his criticism of the monarchy and who met his end at Mohammed bin Salman’s hands for that reason.

The attacks were soon interspersed with negative publicity related to a group of women’s rights activists, both men and women, who were detained and eventually put on trial after being accused of working with foreign entities against Saudi Arabia. Indeed, journalists and political operations seemed to merge into one as increasingly negative stories about Saudi Arabia, regardless of how irrelevant, superficial, or one-sided continued to proliferate. Most journalists somehow managed to tie in literally anything that happened in US politics or in the region to Jamal Khashoggi and to the Crown Prince—whether it was the war in Yemen or the story of runaway Saudi girls who have had conflicts with their strict families. Mohammed bin Salman’s face was brought to every publication and was made to embody some abstract evil, while the incorrect narrative about Khashoggi’s death, often based entirely on leaks from Turkish newspapers affiliated with the local intelligence agencies, took on increasingly gruesome and often contradictory iterations.

The result of this coordinated series of attacks included the withdrawal of various lobbyists and business partners from work with Saudi Arabia, two Congressional resolutions holding Mohammed bin Salman personally responsible for Khashoggi’s death, a joint Congressional resolution pushing for US withdrawal from Yemen (which was vetoed by President Trump), and negative coverage of Saudi Arabia even following terrorist attacks and acts of war committed against its people and infrastructure by Iran and its proxies. The character assassins who went after the Crown Prince were successful in creating negative impressions of his person because, they took advantage of three factors: 1.) the bitter political climate in the US, 2.) the information vacuum left by the Saudis themselves, and 3.) unsuspecting Western audiences who were overwhelmed with one-sided stories from a multitude of seemingly respectable outlets. The non-stop coverage permeated every conceivable type of institutions, and while the Khashoggi-related discussions waxed and waned, the attacks on the Crown Prince himself never fully abated.

The media played a significant role in facilitating these attacks.

Who are the Forces Behind the Media and Political Campaigns to Punish or Oust the Crown Prince?

The media has allowed Turkish leaks to drive the narrative, showing little concern for truth or justice, and willingly publishing even the wildest stories, taking little responsibility when these tidbits from Erdogan’s table changed momentarily. Essentially, the leading Western Press, as Lee Smith writes, has become a tool of political operatives and foreign and domestic intelligence agencies with an agenda—to take down Mohammed bin Salman, and to replace him with members of the reactionary faction that was at the helm prior to his surprising rise to power. Ironically, the same people who blame the Saudi government for its alleged support for Saudi members of Al Qaeda who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks are gunning to remove the very person who pushed that faction from power. Is their agenda modernization and, however gradual, liberalization and reform of Saudi Arabia, or are they merely concerned with access to their old and well-known players?

The Old Guard, with its connections to the Western intelligence agencies, was at the forefront of assorted leaks and fabrications that plagued the early months of investigations into Khashoggi’s death and subverted the assessment of the security situation. Turkish President Erdogan immediately took advantage of the events to push his own narrative, claiming to have a secret tape tying the Crown Prince to the murder; however, the tape itself was never fully released and to this day, nothing concrete is known about what actually happened. It was obvious that at the time that Turkey, which was pushing for a pathway into Syria and which was enduring increasing tensions with the United States, was using this opportunity to extort Saudi Arabia and the United States, with bad optics if nothing else, in exchange for significant leeway to pursue its own agenda.

Mohammed bin Salman’s corruption probe may have recovered some money for the country and temporarily stopped some Islamist sympathizers and funders from their destabilizing activities inside the country and plots against the Crown Prince, but he, without a doubt, has further angered those who already had grievances against him, whether as a result of competing claims to power, different political priorities, old family grudges, or condescension towards a young prince who surpassed many older pretenders with his quick rise to prominence. Alwaleed bin Talal, the son of the Soviet-sympathizing “Red Prince”, who is known for funding interfaith efforts in the West but also for his financial schemes, was a backer and promoter of Jamal Khashoggi, as was Turki al-Faisal, the former Chief of Intelligence, who has strong contacts with Western intelligence agencies, especially the US, UK, and Germany. Turki al-Faisal was not imprisoned during the probe, but Alwaleed was placed under arrest. The famous former Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, whose daughter is the new Saudi Ambassador to the United States and whose son is the Ambassador to the UK, is alleged to be under a travel ban. He, too, was a Washington insider, who once was a press favorite and feed information to US intelligence agencies.

The backers of former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef—who was surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, such as the Governor of Mekka (Turki al-Faisal’s half-brother, Khalid al-Faisal)—are using the grievances of those implicated in the corruption probe who lost their money, freedom, and/or dignity to undermine the Crown Prince, going so far as to align with Turkish, Qatari, Muslim Brotherhood, and Western intelligence actors with an interest in weakening, extorting, or displacing the Crown Prince with someone more pliable, such as bin Nayef or another familiar candidate.

All these actors knew they could not act directly in a palace coup against Mohammed bin Salman as he has managed to consolidate the support of the National Guard and other security agencies, but the intelligence apparatus within the country could—and given what happened with Khashoggi—very likely was infiltrated by those looking to subvert his agenda—and who, via the likes of Turki and Bandar—could have worked with their old Western contacts and counterparts to pursue that common goal. None of that is spoken of in public in Saudi Arabia, particularly to foreigners—and yet, without understanding the extent of penetration of Western institutions by the enemies of the Crown Prince, we cannot begin to understand the seriousness of the unfolding situation. Essentially, we have portions of Western intelligence agencies working against the security interests of the United States in having a stable, liberalizing, economically prosperous Saudi Arabia with a leading role in the Middle East. The supposedly independent and private media has been disinforming the public, and taking part in political operations that impact the events both in the United States and abroad. And now it appears that the business community, or at least some individuals such as Jeff Bezos, can also be coopted by these foreign and domestic interests, in pursuit of the same goals, even if their own grievances and agendas are entirely personal. 

According to many Saudis social media giants inflict unequal crackdowns, shadow bans and account suspensions, for those who praise the Crown Prince while anti-Saudi bots and accounts are allowed to replicate and spread propaganda. We are already seeing the impact of such alliances in the Silicon Valley and the tech world, as much as on K Street and in intelligence agencies. These institutions may not need to be paid off by Qatar or Turkey, but they may have domestic political agendas that are in line with the anti-Saudi forces, and although they may not agree on long-term goals, they can certainly be more immediate allies.

Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood activists had a ball with their own media in smearing the Crown Prince, who stood in the way of Qatar’s sponsorship of terrorist groups and Islamists in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and even in the United States, and who expelled Muslim Brotherhood ideologues from their positions in the mosques inside KSA. Iran lobbyists and former Obama officials, who were threatened by Saudi Arabia’s opposition to the nuclear deal and Iran’s assorted regional proxies, too, had a hand in promoting the anti-Crown Prince narrative, which soon became an expertly organized and coordinated media and political campaign, with the same type of language describing Mohammed bin Salman appearing in multiple, otherwise divergent outlets and channels.

It helped that the PR campaign concerning his role was superficial and it took only a rumor to besmirch a pristine image. The Crown Prince was described only in terms of his own image as a young dynamic reformist leader, but his substantive accomplishments inside the Kingdom have not been explored in depth, particularly in the period leading up to Khashoggi’s demise. Whatever positive impression he made on the Western public was easily destroyed by the very first scandal and rumors.

The media was a willing partner to all of these interests in part and parcel because they, too, viewed the Crown Prince as a disruptive force that threatened a comfortable status quo. Many of the media were connect to the “Old Guard” and benefited both financially and in terms of social status from those relationships. Mohammed bin Salman’s focus on internal reforms and reduction of media related expenditures upstaged their access, their influence, and supposed expertise on Saudi Arabia, which consisted ultimately of the leaked crumbs of information from the country’s intelligence officials. Ultimately, none of the smear attacks against Mohammed bin Salman were about human rights, Saudi Arabia’s role, or anything other than bringing down a political leader that stood in the way of power and influence.

Qatar’s economic and political interests in distancing US from KSA and becoming the primary investor and counterpart played their part, for sure. Muslim Brotherhood saw this as an opportunity to promote their own ideology, particularly if their adversary was weakened and his credibility suffered. The lack of interest in the human side of the Saudi story was transparent and obvious: there was no real attempt by the Western scolds to engage with the Saudis and provide opportunities for professional networking or to volunteer their skills in a variety of productive ways, any of which could have had practical utility towards making Vision 2030 easier to achieve. Many Westerners did not necessarily share in all of Qatar’s, Turkey’s, the Old Guard’s, or Obama’s political agendas, were nevertheless otherwise threatened by the possibility of Saudi Arabia rising, developing its own industries, and assuming independent leadership in the region.

For that reason, even the defense sector that benefited the most from deals with Saudi Arabia, did not lean on Congress particularly hard to ensure that the relationship endured, but just enough to get these deals to pass. Universities, tech companies, and assorted would be cultural and business counterparts that ultimately abandoned Saudi Arabia, may not have had a specific anti-Saudi agenda to begin with, but ultimately yielded to the increasingly radical left movement in US institutions and its partnership with both Sunni and Shi’a Islamists.

At the end of the day, Mohammed bin Salman found himself isolated not because he did anything worse than any other leader in the region, or the world, but because he is not a convenient presence for anyone who does not wish to see Saudi Arabia to become a powerful and modern country, or who is opposed to the reforms—cultural, and religious, as much as political and economics. Thus assorted radicals, Islamists, leftists, self-interested Iran stooges, and corrupt media and institutional apparatchiks made a strange alliance, all focused not on building bridges or overcoming any specific issues or making either Saudi Arabia or the West better places, but rather on bringing down the one person who stood in their way to full control of institutions, narratives, minds, and self-enrichment. Islamists, in the past, had colluded with the media and assorted social institutions and felt comfortable in that alliance.

Mohammed bin Salman ruined the party—and what better way to pay him back for these political operatives who imagined themselves to be central to journalism and the gatekeepers of truth and morality than by humiliating him where he should have been reaping success and destroying every potential for anything positive? They took advantage of existing vulnerabilities in Arab culture & media and in Western polarization and increasing lack of critical thinking, and sold everyone a dark fairy tale that too many people with too many interests were all too ready to swallow. Ultimately, the only way to overcome these issues, to repair the Crown Prince’s reputation in the West, and to expose this unholy alliance seeking to undermine him, is by working to shift the perspective of the West towards KSA from viewing it as a “necessary evil” or an inconvenient ally to understanding that there is a lot of good will, and genuine interest, in deepening cooperation and collaboration.

Eventually, even the internally focused Crown Prince started to wise up and take measures to protect his own reputation from these attacks.

What are the Options for Shutting Down These Attacks and to Prevent Further Reputational Damage?

As Dr. Najat Al Saeed explains, Mohammed bin Salman, in his recent visit to the UAE, inaugurated a joint KSA-UAE Committee to Combat Character Assassination. The idea is to counter psychological/information warfare against the leaders of these countries by various forces. However, so far, there is no evidence that the Committee has been able to produce anything of value. The response from the Embassy to this latest attack has been extremely mild and did not yet shut down this meritless discussion. If anything, it invited further leaks by Bezos. For now, Bezos is acting like he has nothing to fear. He has calculated the risk of engaging in likely defamatory tactics, and having seen how paralyzed the Saudis get in the wake of such extremely bad publicity, decided that he is better off taking his chances, since the Kingdom will not wish to dignify his below-the-belt tactics with a substantive strategic response.

If Mohammed bin Salman wishes to put an end to this resource-draining, distracting, and needless damaging bullying smear campaign, he should pursue an active, forward-looking strategy aimed at both preventing and shutting down these disinformation campaigns at the root, before they take on a life of their own. The strategy should include at least four major prongs:

Legal—it should be legally costly to engage in any sort of deliberate defamation, especially where the allegations are likely to be proven false. Bezos’ ill intent and the extent of reputational damage may be the easiest elements to prove here; even if there is ultimately a settlement of some sort, KSA should make it clear that there will be a legal pushback and that Bezos himself will be embarrassed and lose credibility in the process.

PR—Saudis should not be waiting for the events to resolve themselves. Left to their own devices, the Crown Prince’s enemies will continue searching for new, additional angles of attack. Saudis should identify strong spokespeople not afraid of engaging in deliberative and strategic confrontations, and have them respond to these attacks, attend panel discussions, make frequent appearances on TV, and be fairly assertive in combating these allegations before the public. Such spokespeople should be well prepared to keep calm, and to understand the Western mentality. At the same time, they should not forget about the positive aspects of public outreach and communication, and be able to engage with the public itself, to explain the situation, to introduce the people to the country in a positive way that makes it easy to examine its position, and to focus on relevant issues, not just what feels like “fun” to the insiders (i.e. talk about Saudi accomplishments in hosting Western-style events, which have no bearing on these attacks or most Westerners’ interests).

Furthermore, the media has to be held accountable for failure to do due diligence, but more importantly based on emerging evidence of collusion by various outlets in support of foreign interests and with clear agendas to convey false narratives and to inflict reputational damage on Mohammed bin Salman as a person, and on the Kingdom. Recently, CNN was forced to settle with an American high school student Nick Sandmann, after painting him in a false light and demonizing him for his alleged role in the March of the Living. The standard of proof of defamation by the media is substantially higher for a public figure, but nevertheless not impossible to meet, at least to the extent of sending a strong message that such campaigns are damaging to the public confidence in journalism and destructive to the United States, as much as to Saudi Arabia.

The media has been able to use a few cases of disgruntled activists to play on public sympathies and proclivity for bleeding heart Americans and anti-Saudi bigots to favor anyone who appears to be acting in pursuit of “democracy”. But if the events of the Arab Spring have taught anyone anything, it is to be skeptical of the claims made by such “do-gooders” and to vet carefully both the claimants and their agendas. Saudis can play an invaluable role as partners to the United States in educating the public about fallacious arguments, deceptive organizations, and doublespeak narratives. That means, however, that they can no longer afford the luxury of isolating themselves and refusing to take an active social role.

Cybersecurity—Saudis should invest into this sector, first by hiring the best in the business from the West, and second by having them train young Saudis (including the top echelons of the government) in secure communications and best practices. For the instant crisis, they should hire independent forensics experts to examine the accounts in question and not rely on Bezos to make their case for them. As far as Bezos is concerned, truth doesn’t matter. The Saudis are already a step behind, but finding out exactly what happened will help them immensely.

Information Warfare—the Saudis should understand that they cannot ignore the crisis into dissolving as after over two years of the tensions with Qatar, Turkey, Muslim Brotherhood, assorted infiltrators of the Western intelligence agencies, and others, it is obvious that they are invested in having the Saudis in general, and Mohammed bin Salman specifically, fail. They should, therefore, invest into media mechanisms that could win public hearts and minds, as well as identify the vulnerabilities of their enemies’ and hit at them.

For instance, Amazon’s poor information security is an opportunity for some great billboards in Times Square outlining how Bezos’ poor practices endanger millions of users, and also to develop Saudi or Saudi & Western joint ventures, alternatives to Amazon that are better, more responsive to individual needs, and are more secure. Amazon is a great service, but is not beyond competition and is certainly not too big to fail if its founder is more invested in fighting wars on behalf of foreign regimes than in ensuring cyber security for his customers.

Most importantly, the Saudis should remind the public that the burden is on the accuser—in this case, Jeff Bezos—to prove his claims. Allegations should not be given the weight of evidence to be used as weapons to discredit, smear, and destroy reputations even of individuals in positions of wealth and power, such as Mohammed bin Salman.  His position in life does not nullify his basic human right to be treated with justice and not to have his life destroyed by rumors, hearsay, and malicious campaigns.

Irina Tsukerman is a human rights and national security attorney and analyst based in New York. She has written extensively about geopolitics, foreign policy, and security issues for a variety of domestic and international issues and her writing has been translated into Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Indonesian.

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Intelligence

Estonia’s national security concept

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image source: Estonian Defence Forces

The development of regional and global military cooperation is seen as one of the most important pillars of Estonia’s security strategy, while a concerted effort to domestic security focused on resilience and deterrence is seen as another. Considering Estonia’s defence plan mandates that country’s defence could no longer be restricted to military protection only, armed forces will then be merged with non-military competencies to provide a comprehensive collective defence. National security and the accompanying preparedness are believed to be the responsibility of a multitude of sectors and individuals from both the governmental and corporate sectors, as well as from civil society organisations.

Comparison of the previous two National Security Policies shows that the convergence of security domains alongside ministerial distribution of duties is being substituted by a broad task-based strategy, which is likely the most apparent manifestation of Estonia’s emerging comprehensive strategy. [1][2]The 2017 National Security Policy also presents the idea of resilience, which appears significantly throughout the paper and is further explored in a distinct sub-chapter for perhaps the first instance.

One of the most important ideas on which Estonia’s national defence policy plans rely is “whole of government” plus “whole of society,” which combine together the two most important parts of the comprehensive strategy framework and the notion of “resilience.” [3]Therefore, it is vital to recognise that such revamped conceptual ideas have garnered a reasonably positive reception from the general public. In addition, the notion that national security should be a shared responsibility of the whole population is widely accepted in Estonia. Consequently, Estonians have high expectations for a complete security and defense architecture, indicating both the intentional robustness of the majority of the people and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It is possible to interpret such huge backing for national defence as a byproduct of securitization. In this way, the notion that perhaps a comprehensive strategy towards defence can ensure a country’s security is supported by a large number of people who believe it.

Key Elements

With regard to Estonia, the comprehensive strategy was first embraced as aspect of a progressive European security thought that was gaining popularity at the same time that Estonia was actively integrating into the NATO and European Union. During that time period, it was considered a viable alternative to the classic territorial defence concept. Beginning in 2008, during the course of the August War, incidents in Georgia’s national defence concepts began to take enormous importance. But it was in 2014, following the invasion and occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, until it became clear that these two notions are not in competition with one another[4]. As an alternative, a comprehensive strategy might be seen as an essential supplement towards the territorial defence paradigm in order to achieve greater advantages in terms of resilience as well as deterrence capabilities.

Accordingly, Estonia has adopted a comprehensive strategy to national defence that emphasises the necessity for coordination and cooperation across multiple government agencies in order to develop cohesive response in the event of a crisis. When the breadth of cooperation across nearby but diverse domains is taken into account, the relevance of defence strategy may be appreciated in detail. There are also five other areas being evolved in contrast with military defence, like civilian assistance for national defense, international operations, internal stability, preservation of successive society and the political processes by providing essential services, if not at least, proactive sharing of information and psychological operations. [5]According to the Estonian government, the following ministries are responsible for different tasks: the Defense ministry is instrumental in the advancement of military protection and civil assistance for military defence, the foreign ministry is central to global pursuits, the Interior ministry is responsible for general and internal security as well as the upkeep of the country’s and society’s sustained functions, and the Government is concerned with strategy and psy-ops. These responsibilities are maintained in the revised defence plan as well. It is worth highlighting that, rather than three different laws governing the defence industry in peacetime and conflict, as well as international collaboration, the revised national defence policy, in accordance with the comprehensive strategy rationale, consolidates various regulatory sectors into a single body.

Security Environment & Threats

The Estonian security environment is influenced by the country ‘s global developments and cross-border risks. Estonia’s NSC for 2017 recognises asymmetric risks which do not respect national boundaries and whose origins are impossible to discern. Simultaneously, they have an impact that is comparable to that of conventional security risks. Islamist terrorism has been a persistent concern in the West since the 9/11 bombings on the World Trade center. Middle Eastern and North African countries with unstable governments offer a continual terrorist danger to the West, harming Estonian security. Terrorism is among the greatest security dangers confronting average citizens throughout Europe. Estonia pays attention to European events. Numerous incidents have occurred in Europe during the previous two decades, including bombs in London and Madrid, shooting incident at Frankfurt airport, and Paris terror attacks. As a result of this, Estonia has included global crises and unequal socioeconomic progress as security risks in its policy paper. When Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi was executed in Libya, while civil war erupted in Syria and Yemen as a result of the Arab Spring movement, Europe might have been the most adversely affected region. There was an international flood of refugees that will continue for the next decade as a result of the said incidents.[6]

It’s been Russia that has posed the greatest external danger for Estonia during the previous decade. The Russians have employed a variety of strategies to attain their objectives. Additionally, Russia has boosted its troop involvement in the Baltic Region and along the Baltic Countries’ borders.  Confrontational and aggressive Russian acts may be seen for instance in military drills and air boundary breaches as well as threats to use nuclear weapons. As a result, Russia poses a danger to the whole Euro-Atlantic area, as it has the potential and inclination to utilise a wide range of non-military armaments: armed, economic, energy, or informational. War, crises, and conflict have occurred in Russia and the surrounding area on a regular basis. There were two direct transgressions: the 2008 conflict in Georgia and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which continues to this day. The rioting in April 2007 (including the assault on the Estonian Embassy in Russia) and the kidnapping of an Estonian security law enforcement officer in 2014[7] are examples of indirect confrontations that have taken place since. Russia has also demonstrated its digital prowess in a global setting. According to this paper, cyberattacks have indeed been taken into account of factors that affect security because Russia launched a cyberattack against Estonia in April 2007.[8]

While the challenges to Estonia’s security environment have evolved over time, the purpose of protecting the country has remained constant. Keeping Estonia’s national sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order, and national security in tact is essential to the state’s mission. Human rights, basic freedoms, and also the achievement of core human ideals are all intertwined in a country’s security measures. By building civil society and enhancing the country’s worldwide standing, democratic ideals assure the long-term viability and sustainability of society.

Aiming to create solutions that might benefit other nations in the face of global crisis is becoming increasingly important as their impact on Estonia grows. Rule-based world order must be maintained through adhering to international law and the United Nations Charter. As a result, humanitarian assistance and human rights protection are deemed essential. These initiatives have broad worldwide backing. While other Baltic states are more concerned with protecting human rights within virtual environment, Estonia stands out for its emphasis on unfettered Internet access.

Collective Security

Euro-Atlantic collaboration has always been the most important factor in ensuring Estonia’s security, especially prior and afterward entering the EU but also NATO. There is no doubt that NATO is Estonia’s best defence against a potential attack, and thus active participation is a national issue. As a member of NATO, Estonia regards the United States as a vital ally in the country’s security because of its foothold in Europe. [9]Additional collaboration with security-related organisations is crucial to Estonia in order to maintain global and regional equilibrium. There will be a lot of focus on conflict avoidance and the United Nations’ ability to handle global concerns. The Estonian government also endorses the OSCE, which strengthens Estonia’s ability to engage in EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. [10]Estonia, on the other hand, has not particularly emphasised enhancing collaboration and actively participating in crafting the security policy of the relevant organisations.

Estonia believes it is critical to limit conventional firearms in Europe, therefore it wishes to join international arms reduction treaties. It highlights the critical role of the country in preventing the trafficking or unlawful movement of weapons of mass destruction including their parts through their borders. Estonia has cordial ties with the Nordic states, the NSC affirms. Close collaboration with these nations has benefited Estonia’s economy and bolstered the country’s defence capabilities. Estonia seems to be eager to develop Nordic-Baltic military cooperation on a regional and global scale and also desires an open discussion with Russia as well as practical collaboration.

Protecting Living Environment

The state of the natural environment and general wellbeing in Estonia, as well as the socio-economic scenario, contingency planning, uninterrupted access to essential services, food, and potable water, and the potential of societal cohesion to effectively deal independently in the situation of a prolonged disruption of essential services are the primary factors influencing the security of the Estonia’s environment. Storms and floods are the most common natural disasters that create crises in Estonia, with storms accounting for the majority of incidents. Active civil assistance is being established in order to cope with crises, which strengthens society’s preparedness to manage with emergency situations that may be fairly expected and planned for. To do this, it is necessary to improve public knowledge of possible threats as well as available mitigation methods. Improved environmental conditions are encouraged in Estonia by promoting environmentally sustainable principles and behavioural habits among the population. This is accomplished through the management and execution of pollution countermeasures, the efficient utilisation of natural resources, and waste minimization. Estonia is putting in place measures to avoid the spread of ecologically dangerous chemicals as well as to detoxify polluted land and water areas. Social and economic concerns have an impact on the living environment as well. As early as 2004, the NSC stressed the need of addressing labour market issues, implementing a viable social security structure that incorporates at-risk populations, and training a qualified workforce in significant numbers to assure sustained economic growth.[11]

Tracking, controlling risk, and coping with the repercussions of climate change are all examples of strategies for reducing the hazards associated with climate change. Cooperative efforts are created with the worldwide community, local governments, the corporate and nonprofit sectors, as well as the scientific community, in order to achieve this goal International collaboration also involves marine traffic management and maritime pollution monitoring, among other things.

Estonia, like its surrounding countries, is cognizant of the potential dangers posed by radiation. Nuclear power stations with in Baltic Sea region that are more than a decade old are regarded to be potentially risky. Estonia engages in worldwide efforts to improve radiation protection in the Baltic Region, being part of a global effort. [12]Early warning systems are in place to identify radioactive mishaps in adjacent nations at an early stage, allowing for faster response times.

International Conflicts and Crises Response

Engagement in crisis response and peacekeeping operations is a significant component of Estonia’s national security strategy. The goal was to design a crisis management framework that would take into account military, regulatory, and financial concerns, among other things. Involvement in international combat operations and civilian initiatives provides the country with an excellent chance to gather valuable expertise. Meanwhile, they represent vows to make a positive contribution to the improvement of regional stability within the immediate area and throughout the globe. When there is an internal emergency, the first responsibility is to secure the survival of the populace. Specifically, the state believes that emergencies may be avoided and their repercussions minimised by collaboration with the general public, local municipalities, government entities, corporate and non-profit organisations, and other organisations and individuals. The duty of the state is to strengthen the information management system of the people and to offer instructions for appropriate conduct in emergency circumstances to the public through various communication channels, including radio and television. All types of exercises have already been extensively researched and designed with the goal of incorporating the greatest number of people feasible. Aside from this, assistance has been granted for voluntary initiatives that try to avoid dangers and deal with the early indications of calamities.

The functioning of critical services is tied to the occurrence of emergencies. The state conducts a rigorous investigation into the interruptions of critical services and the dangers that might result in the suspension of services. To mitigate this, public awareness campaigns are created, and trainings incorporating as many participants as feasible are carried out as a preventative strategy. In order to assure the effective service delivery, effective collaboration between the government with the private sector is essential. Examples include electronic network infrastructure, services supplied, and vital information platforms that are mostly owned and operated by private companies.

The government must be prepared to manage the humanitarian catastrophe while also providing development assistance. In order to do so, it is critical for Estonia to engage in NATO and EU emergency management operations, as well as the activities of the NATO Response Force and its EU Battlegroups, among other activities. Through development assistance, Estonia enables nations that create a social structure that is tolerant of democracy and human rights, in compliance with its skills and resources. According to the National Security Council’s 2017 report, activity in the fields of development assistance and human rights protection contributes to the creation of an atmosphere that minimises the possibility of conflict and promotes security. So the emphasis is placed on the avoidance of global wars and crises, with the goal of reducing the negative effects on Estonia with its allies as a result of these events. As a matter of fact, Estonia endorses the expansion of the EU and NATO, that will contribute to the strengthening of the Western value sphere both in Eastern and central Europe. Because of the same rationale, Estonia is committed to maintaining positive ties with all of its neighbours.

Energy Security

A tiny yet open economy, Estonia’s economy is strongly reliant on global economic growth. National security, according to the 2004 NSC, relies on effective development and accountability of economic connections as well as a stable influx of foreign investments. As a result of its deep ties to the global economy, the state is very vulnerable to downturns and volatility in other economies. The high reliance on non-Estonian (Russian) monopolised energy systems and sources poses a significant risk to the country as a whole.[13]

Estonia’s energy security depends on the safety of its supply chain and its infrastructure. To break free of energy monopolies, countries in the EU must link their energy grids and increase the variety of energy sources they use. Improving domestic energy efficiency is critical to reducing reliance on foreign energy imports. According to NSC 2017, Europe’s energy policy, which seeks to make the most of available resources inside the EU, will be heavily relied upon in the next years. Estonia intends to increase its use of renewable energy sources for power and heating in the far future.[14]

With the ongoing Ukraine-Russian crisis which has resulted in an altered security scenario for Estonia, ceasing to finance Russia’s military complex will require the state to develop a replacement to Russian gas. The construction of a floating LNG import facility, which has been in the works for more than a decade, might help Estonia lessen its reliance on Russian gas imports. A pier plus an additional LNG ship is part of Alexela’s (energy firm) proposal for the Paldiski harbour on the Baltic Shoreline. The Estonian proposal would ultimately need a state assurance and financial support.[15]

Conclusion

Estonian security policy is rife with ambiguity, both conceptually and practically. Two parallel conceptions of comprehensive security and unified defence have emerged in Estonia, a departure from the typical comprehensive approach. Estonia is able to maintain its well-trodden course of complete defence because to the split among these two terms. Even the decision makers of defence policy generally define Integrated Defense in this manner.

As a result of this misunderstanding, Estonia’s strategic decisions prioritise complete defence and asymmetric warfare. This has repercussions for Estonian perceptions of and definitions of threats. Aside from that, the greatest danger to Estonian security is conventional, which is one that Russia has been more likely to influence in its actions in the post-Soviet realm, for example. A parallel idea of resilience exists in Estonia as a result of this misperception. It appears to mean various things for the Estonian defense community’s uniformed and civilian members. This contrasts with how resilience is understood by the military, which views the concept of resilience primarily through the lens of total defence. Using the Estonian method of resilience in conjunction with a comprehensive approach demonstrates how the military versus civilian sides of the security debate focus on distinct areas of security. As a result of Estonia’s current dual strategy, it is difficult to establish broad societal agreement on the most probable levels of uncertainty, operational methods in such conditions, and long-term investments for the country.

Creation of domestic institutions which are adept in participating actively in international security architecture, as well as mobilisation of the regular military force, are required. This includes clearly defining the responsibilities and duties of all organisations in Estonia engaged in comprehensive national security, as well as accurately analysing the nation’s defense capabilities and conveying the findings to Estonia’s military partners.


[1]National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[2] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2010 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156839/Estonia%20-%20National%20security%20concept%20of%20estonia%202010.pdf

[3] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017. https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf

[4] Raik, Kristi, Mika Aaltola, Katri Pynnöniemi, and Charly Salonius-Pasternak. “Pushed Together by External Forces? the Foreign and Security … – FIIA.” The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 2015. https://www.fiia.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/bp167.pdf.

[5] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.3 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf

[6] Marnot, Diana. “Comparison of Security Policy Documents of the Baltic States,” 2020. https://digiriiul.sisekaitse.ee/bitstream/handle/123456789/2568/2020%2010%20julgeolekupoliitika%20ENG_WEB.PDF?sequence=1.

[7] Fisher, Max. “This Is Bad: Russia ‘Abducts’ Estonian Officer after Obama Says Us Will Defend Estonia.” Vox. Vox, September 5, 2014. https://www.vox.com/2014/9/5/6110037/estonia-russia-officer-kidnapped.

[8] “2007 Cyberattacks on Estonia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 1, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_cyberattacks_on_Estonia.

[9] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.3 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

 

[11] National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004, p.19 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[12] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.18 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

[13] National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2004, p.19 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/156841/Estonia-2004.pdf.

[14] “National Security Concept of Estonia – Kaitseministeerium,” 2017, p.16 https://kaitseministeerium.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/national_security_concept_2017.pdf.

[15] Tammik, Ott. “Estonia May Build LNG Terminal to Cut Russia Energy Dependence.” BloombergQuint, March 23, 2022. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/estonia-may-build-lng-terminal-to-cut-russia-energy-dependence.

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Taking the India-Singapore Cyber Partnership Forward

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On the sidelines of the recently concluded Special ASEAN-India Foreign Minister’s meeting, Singapore and India agreed on the need to give their relationship a new impetus. The two countries have a robust political and defence partnership with regular engagements. For India, Singapore has been the top source of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), and India’s FDI in Singapore has observed an uptick in recent years. The relations between India and Singapore are based on shared values, economic interests, and convergence of perspectives on key strategic issues. Since last year, both have sought to consolidate relations through increased collaboration in information technology and cybersecurity. In February 2022, the two signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for deepening cooperation in science, technology, and innovation.

As a global data hub, Singapore has a high stake in the cyber domain. It has paid close attention to efforts for maintaining its reputation in cybersecurity and has worked towards a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy. As a city-state, Singapore has sought to utilize diplomacy as deterrence to ensure its interests in the cyber domain. Today, Singapore is considered a cyber diplomacy pioneer among the ASEAN countries. It plays an active role in discussions on cyber in the United Nations and other platforms.  Singapore has put emphasis on becoming the ‘conversation starter’ for acceptable behaviour in cyberspace and has taken a lead in the war against cybercrime. To this end, the city-state has taken steps to build regional and global alliances for cooperation and experience sharing and has emphasized regular cyber exercises for staying ahead of the emerging cyber threats curve.

  According to International Telecommunications Union’s Global Cyber Security Index report, Singapore has focused heavily on national cyber defence and has not taken recourse to any known disruptive actions. This highlights Singapore’s commitment to peaceful cyberspace and projecting its image as a law-abiding nation. For enabling safe and secure cyberspace, Singapore has focused on building resilient infrastructure. It seeks to utilize research and development in the cyber domain as a source of ‘competitive advantage’, with the possibility of turning Singapore into an international hub for cybersecurity innovation.

In recent years, Singapore’s cyber insurance market has created a space of its own in Asia. The global cyber insurance market is estimated to exceed USD 20 billion, by 2025, with the Asia-Pacific market expected to witness almost 35 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2025. It has been argued that the cyber insurance industry stands to witness exponential growth in the emerging climate of record ransomware attacks and cyber incidents.

Singapore updated its cyber security strategy in 2021, which goes beyond critical sectors and seeks a more proactive stance toward cyber threats. While focusing on cyber resilience and capability development for detecting and analysing malicious cyber activities, the plan looks at developing a ‘Made in Singapore’ solution for creating Singapore’s cybersecurity ecosystem. Further, the strategy also underlines the need for addressing ‘dilemmas of digitalization’, such as geopolitical tensions in cyberspace.

Notwithstanding Singapore’s military capabilities, Singapore (like its ASEAN counterparts) believes that escalating cyber incidents might not be beneficial for small states [PDF], as they would want to avoid cyberspace conflicts spilling over beyond the virtual domain. However, while the ASEAN seeks neutrality in the emerging tech rivalry between the US and China, Singapore’s emphasis on ‘ASEAN centrality’ is far from elementary.

Singapore is referred to as the anchor of the US naval presence in Southeast Asia and enjoys long-standing defence ties with the Quad countries. In August 2021, Singapore inked an MoU with the US for expanding information sharing and training to combat cyber threats. However, along with a deep partnership with the US, Singapore balances strong ties with China. While the US remains vital for regional security dynamics, especially in the shadow of increasingly aggressive Chinese maritime manoeuvres, Beijing stands as Singapore’s most important trade partner.

Thus, for Singapore, any partnership which falls outside the ambit of the great power rivalry will have a central role in its strategic thinking. As an emerging tech powerhouse, India possesses natural viability for strategic partnership with Singapore.

For India, there are several dimensions where Singaporean experiences are valuable. The delay in finalising a National Cyber Security Strategy has regularly highlighted New Delhi’s difficulty in opting for the best available policy options in cyberspace. It is argued that India needs to review its cyber-defence policies and should give equal attention to building cyber-offensive capabilities for deterrence. New Delhi’s narrow focus on cyber threats from Pakistan and China, has also been pointed out by some as a constrained approach.

Like Singapore, India has balanced the Western and the Eastern views on cyber diplomacy tables. India seeks to safeguard its strategic autonomy and cyber sovereignty while adopting a multi-stakeholder approach. However,  the recent laws like the mandate on the Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for storing customer metadata, highlight the increasing significance of keeping unrestricted and undesired cyber activities in check. It has been reported that as the tech sector grows in India, cyber incidents like ransomware attacks, which affected a staggeringly high 68 per cent of India’s organizations in 2021, will necessitate a mature cyber insurance market for organisations and businesses at all levels.

The tech neutrality sought by the ASEAN countries has been visible on the 5G issue. While the US has sought to influence countries across the globe to avoid Chinese firms like Huawei over security and espionage-related concerns, governments in Southeast Asia have voiced their discomfort in choosing between the two sides.

The Singaporean PM had downplayed the security concerns over Huawei, saying that it is not ‘a black and white issue’, and that Singapore will carefully study the impact of 5G technology to decide. Unlike most  Southeast Asian countries, India has decided to go ahead with indigenous alternatives. For India, a successful 5G experience can consolidate its tech leadership credentials further.

As a global tech war accelerates and a digital divide between the two super cyber powers and the rest of the world emerges, middle powers will be compelled to seek convergence for safeguarding their national interests. As leaders in tech and innovation, India and Singapore stand as natural partners in the Indo-Pacific, as well as beyond.   

(Views are personal)

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Unmasking India’s IB and RAW

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India’s prime minister Narendra Modi granted a year-long extension in service to retiring heads of India’s Intelligence bureau (Arvind Kumar) and the Research and Analysis Wing (Samant Kumar Goel). Both officers are specialists in the art of disinformation and insurgency.  They masterminded the so-called Blakote strikes inside Pakistan. Besides, they mounted a world-wide Pakistan-bashing campaign that resulted in Pakistan’s isolation in comity of nations. Pakistan FATF woes could veritably be attributed to the machinations of the said two officers. They are protégé of India’s national security czar Ajit Doval. Doval himself boasts of having carried out covert activities in Pakistan for about eleven years. He did not care a fig for violating the diplomatic norms while posted in Pakistan.

Difference between the Intelligence Bureau and RAW

The common belief is that the IB and the RAW have separate domains. But, in actual fact, the both organisations coordinate their activities. Like the RAW, the IB also has its offices abroad. In his book, RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations, Yatish Yadav make startling disclosures about activities of India’s intelligence agencies. In a chapter titled “Hunting the RAW traitor”, he reveals the career of the RAW agent Rabinder Singh, an ex-Army man who sold national secrets to the CIA for money. Singh was outwardly a religious person who had a penchant for quoting from Hindu religious book Bhagwad Gita. He led parallel lives and passed on classified information to the foreign power. Although given asylum in the U.S., he was soon forsaken by the CIA and met with an unexplained road accident there. The accident was masterminded by the RAW.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is the national domestic internal security and counter-intelligence agency that works under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was formed as the ‘Central Special Branch’ on December 23, 1887, which was later renamed as ‘Intelligence Bureau’ in 1920. The organisation mainly focused on National Security activities. According to an article published in Jagaran Josh, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is said to be the oldest surviving intelligence organisation in the world.

About Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

Initially, the IB was only responsible for India’s internal and external intelligence, but in 1968, it was bifurcated and left with internal intelligence only. While it’s external branch was handed over to the newly created Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The bifurcation took place after IB lapse in the intelligence about the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and India-Pakistan War of 1965. So the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was founded in 1968 to counter external security threats. The RAW provides intelligence to policymakers and the army and it keeps a close eye on the activities of the neighbouring countries (China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc.) of the nation.

Generally, the IB is the national internal intelligence agency that maintains the internal security of the nation, while RAW is an external intelligence agency that keeps an eye on international threats. The main functions of the IB include counterintelligence, counterterrorism, VIP Security, anti-secession activities and intelligence collection in border areas. RAW on the other hand collects secret information about the activities of neighbouring countries. IB functions under the governance of the Ministry of Home Affairs, while RAW has been placed directly under the Indian Prime Minister’s office. IB gets its employees from the Indian Police Service, law enforcement agencies and the military, while RAW has its own service cadre known as the Research and Analysis Service (RAS). Initially RAW was also dependent on the services of trained intelligence officers from the military, police and other services for its candidates.

Objectives

The RAW’s objectives include:

Monitoring the political, military, economic and scientific developments in countries which have a direct bearing on India’s national security and the formulation of its foreign policy. Mould international public opinion and influence foreign governments. Covert Operations to safeguard India’s National interests. Anti-terror operations and neutralizing elements posing a threat to India.

To control and limit the supply of military hardware to Pakistan, from mostly European countries, America and more importantly from China.

RAWS exploits

The RAW stoked insurgency in East Pakistan that led to dismemberment of Pakistan. The Indian army and other agencies acted in tandem.

Another event shows that Indian diplomats developed deep ingress in Islamabad. On May 29, 1988, a senior official of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau was abducted in Islamabad. India alleges that his abductors were personnel from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). According to their own account of the incident, narrated in the news magazine Herald, they beat up the IB official until he revealed the location of a secret telephone exchange that was monitoring calls made by Zia-ul-Haq.

Kalbushan Jhadav’s story speaks volumes on how India penetrates even its serving officers to carry out sabotage and subversion in Pakistan.

Disinformation

‘Disinformation’ (Russian deziinformatzia) is a concept that finds mention in Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (Principles of War). Even before Sun Tzu, Kautilya in Arthashastra supported disinformation as a civil and military warfare tool within his concept of koota yuddha (unprincipled warfare as distinguished from dharma yuddha, righteous warfare).

Tzu’s and Kautliya’s principles were used not only in World War II but also in the Cold War period (to hoodwink own and foreign people). Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).  He gives several examples of disinformation including subliminal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’ (Ibid., p. 9).  In the USA, the Creel Committee, through false anti-German propaganda turned pacifist Americans against Germans.

Disinformation influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with words `we the people’. Yet Chomsky says the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking (Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, p.16). He asserts that in a “properly functioning democracy”, there is a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission [Committee], which succeeded, within six months, in Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which [through fake news, films, etc.] succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world….  After the war, the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Square…’ (ibid.page 12).

Fifth-generation war is believed to be a vague term. George Orwell (Politics and the English Language) suggested that that trying to find a clear-cut definition of fifth-generation or hybrid war would reveal exactly that kind of vagueness, with the use of important-sounding, pseudo-technological words to impress readers and convince them that this war is being fought at a level the layperson cannot comprehend. However, India has proved that it understands the dimensions of the fifth generation war or fake news. It knows how to apply its techniques to achieve its objectives. It is time for Pakistan to wake up

EU Lab belatedly discovered a world-wide network that spread disinformation against Pakistan. Even prestigious Indian newspapers sometimes publish reports or articles that smack of being pieces of state-sponsored disinformation.  Harvard’s criteria for detecting fake news could be applied to disinformation bloomers. Harvard suggests `everyone should vet a publisher’s credibility first and then check all the sources and citations’. James Carson offers tips in his article `Fake news: What exactly is it – and how can you spot it‘? (Telegraph January 31, 2019)

Disinformation camouflaged in Op-Eds is hard to detect as they do not usually quote their sources of information. A case in point is Shishir Gupta’s article ‘In Imran Khan’s 18-point Kashmir plan for Aug 5, outreach to Turkey, Malaysia and China’, published in Hindustan Times dated July 28, 2020.

RAW officers speak many languages such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Sinhalese, German, Polish and Urdu. By the time of Morarji Desai, RAW had a staff of “more than five thousand on its payroll”. Desai turned out to be inhospitable to RAW and Kao, and K. Sankaran Nair left the organisation. N.F. Suntook took charge and “saved the agency”. RAW “recruited trained and deployed informers and covert action teams in the USA, Iran and several European countries as well as in India’s immediate neighbours. It also employed analysts, polygraph examiners, cartographers, linguists, economists and political analysts to defend the country from internal foes and external enemies. While the I.B.’s mandate was essentially within the country, it also opened offices at times on foreign soil. As is to be expected, the two agencies joined hands, and at times fought over turf to the detriment of the common cause.

In Bangladesh, RAW combated the influence of the CIA and Pakistan. The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a big blow and a much-chastened RAW regrouped to regain its lost influence in Bangladesh. By November 1988, RAW’s station head, code-named Krishna Patwardhan, had set up the necessary network in Bangladesh, to target elements that were hostile to India.

RAW saw spectacular action in other theatres as well. On March 20, 1988, RAW operative Anupam Malik began to carry out Mission Fiji’, “aimed to disrupt and dismantle Fiji’s military regime” that threatened to upset the ethnic balance in Fiji. Attempts were being made by this regime to deny political rights to ethnic Indians, most of whom had been immigrants to the country during the British Raj. Deporting all ethnic Indians to India’ was a distinct possibility. By the 1990s Sitiveni Rabuka, the strongman, was honey-trapped and compromised by RAW agents in Fiji and had to abdicate political power.

Similarly, RAW’s involvement in Afghanistan, we learn, began with the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country. The agency’s operatives carried out missions right through the chequered regimes of Tarki, Amin and Karmal encountering opposition from Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq and the Taliban at different times.

In Sri Lanka, RAW propped up the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and had to follow the contradictory path of support and opposition following the dictates of the political masters in Delhi.

In the chapter titled “Shadowy War in Washington”, we see the RAW operative code-named ‘Blue Sky’ track down the Khalistani leader Jagjit Singh Chouhan and successfully penetrate the World Sikh Organisation, the International Sikh Federation and the Babbar Khalsa International. While the traditional rivalry between the I.B. and RAW continued, according to RAW operative Krishna’s candid opinion, “the I.B. proved to be far superior in the Canadian theatre than the RAW.”

Concluding reflections

RAW’s cover officers, including RK Yadav and B. Raman, make no bones about India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s insurgency. They admitted that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. Raman reminds us that the Indian parliament passed a resolution on March 31, 1971, to support the insurgency.

Indira Gandhi had then confided with RAW chief R.N.Kao that in case Sheikh Mujib was prevented ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta.

In order to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a cell had been established in RAW with the sole objective of disrupting it and the cell worked ‘under the supervision of the Indian Prime Minister’.

Yet another book (Terror in Islamabad) has been published by an officer Amar Bhushan who happened to have served as a diplomat at the Indian High Commission Islamabad. Before being posted to Islamabad, Bhushan had served as an officer of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing, Border Security Force Intelligence, and State Special Branch for a quarter of a century. His book mentions another RAW officer, Amit Munshi (real name Veer Singh) posted as Cultural Attache.

Since times immemorial diplomats have enjoyed immunity in countries where they are posted. International conventions govern their conduct in host countries. If a diplomat is caught red handed violating norms of diplomatic conduct, he is declared a persona non grata. Bhushan’s book reveals that Singh’s assignment was to “identify potential Pakistanis for subversion”. The familiar elements of intelligence craft are espionage, sabotage and subversion. India added one more element “insurgency” to the intelligence craft if we go through another RAW officer’s book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane. B. Raman makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

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