Category: Security (Page 1 of 2)

The Bear in the neighbourhood: Comments from experts on Russia policy

Is Russia an existential threat to the West? Is it just another geopolitical adversary? The answer to this question can determine Western action and Western goals. If we consider the Second World War definition of the West, which is limited to Western Europe and North America, policy prescription will be radically different than when one compares an ever expanding NATO and EU. This is important, and has been a major factor in punditry’s analysis of US President Donald Trump’s meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Hamburg G20, at a time of extreme global turmoil.

What we know so far is that there has been external interference in the US presidential election, by cyber attacks, originating from Russian mainland. That’s the US joint Intel assessment. Although the assessment claims that the cyber attack was ordered by Vladimir Putin, no public evidence was forwarded to corroborate that claim, and it is all classified. Nor is there any evidence of any active collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign, yet, nor any clear indication of whether Russian interference decisively tilted the vote count.

Reporting continues to attempt to flesh out details, as investigations continue. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported last week that a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who claimed to have had communications with former Trump official advisor Michael Flynn, was actively seeking Clinton emails from hackers. Matt Tait, a cybersecurity professional who was a source for the Journal‘s reporting, wrote that he was contacted by Smith, who represented himself as working with the Trump campaign, to verify emails he said he had received on the dark web.

Whatever else turns out, Russia is still a geopolitical adversary of the United States and Europe. It is imperative for countries to have a clear coherent grand strategy and one based on a clear understanding of the issues. In light of that, we asked three International Relations experts, two from US, one from UK, on how should the West deal with Russia.

Here’s what they said.

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Careful of labels: The Tommy Robinson vs Quilliam story

On May 2, the Quilliam anti-extremist organisation in London was the site of an altercation between Quilliam members and Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, and a cameraman. Tommy now works for the British branch of Ezra Levant’s right-wing Canadian news network, Rebel Media.

Tommy had gone to the offices of Quilliam to complain about an article in The Guardian newspaper by Quilliam’s researcher named Julia Ebner, about the rise in right-wing extremism in the UK, and how it and Islamist extremism feed off each other. This broad point is often well made and cogently put by Quilliam members like Maajid Nawaz, Adam Deen and Haras Rafiq who is Quilliams’ CEO. It is a convincing case for how extremism on all ideological fringes breeds a mirror image reaction on the opposite fringe.

The issue Tommy had with the article was with this specific paragraph, with the most contentious section highlighted:
That the far right has moved from the fringe into the mainstream demonstrates the massive support that white supremacist movements have attracted from digital natives. Their online followership often exceeds that of mainstream political parties: with over 200,000 followers, Tommy Robinson’s Twitter account has almost the same number of followers as Theresa May’s.

Tommy decided to confront the article’s author by going to see her at Quilliam’s London headquarters. As seen in the video uploaded to Rebel Media’s Youtube channel, Tommy tried to gain access to the building, was asked by Adam Deen if he had an invitation, and when he said he didn’t was asked to leave. Tommy then proceeded to interrogate Deen about whether he thought he was a white supremacist.

Once he was on his own, he re-entered the ground floor lobby, and given no-one was around, decided to go downstairs to see who he could find. Having done this, he ran into the various staff members and researchers who make up the Quilliam team, found Julia in a small conference room with other members, and proceeded to shove his microphone in their faces, while his cameraman filmed them all. A scuffle ensued when Deen tried to stop the incident by apparently grabbing Tommy’s microphone and recording equipment attempting to stop the cameraman filming. Tommy spoke to Haras Rafiq, and the police who were called then escorted Tommy and his cameraman off the premises.

Let me be plain. This was absolutely unacceptable conduct on Tommy Robinson’s part. He violated Quilliam’s security, and the organisation has now had an emergency relocation to new secure premises. He trespassed without permission, and intimidated members of their staff. This, despite all his protestations, made him look like the aggressor rather than the victim, the opposite of his aim. Also, he lost credibility in insisting he’s not an extremist when he copied tactics used by Islamist and other far-right organisations like Al-Muhajiron and Britain First. Added to this, the reaction of members of Quilliam’s staff, who understandably felt surprised and threatened was non-conducive to de-escalating the potential for physical conflict, as their snatching of the microphone and other film equipment only made the situation worse.IMG_0139

That said, let’s consider why Tommy was there, while in no way offering it as an excuse for his actions. Maajid Nawaz and Haras Rafiq have gone on record and repeatedly stated that they do not believe Tommy is a white supremacist, and that the article, which they had no editorial oversight over, was not intentionally worded to portray him as such. That’s all very well, but as Andrew Neill said on the BBC’s Daily Politics, the sentence structure and its chronology strongly implies that Tommy is a white supremacist. Despite Maajid Nawaz’s protestations to the contrary, there is no getting around this. Apparently English is Julia Ebner’s 3rd language, so it is perhaps understandable that her wording could be considered a little awkward in places. However, this is also little comfort as it shows the laxness of the editorial process both within Quilliam up to this point and at The Guardian. 

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No, British National Anthem is not promoting any far-right ideology

Back in October, a Student Union leader of King’s College London wrote a Facebook post, saying he thought the National Anthem should be banned because it promoted far-right ideology, white supremacy and xenophobia. He also said that nation states are a really bad idea.

First, why does this trivial issue occupy someone in a position like the vice president for welfare and community at the KCL SU? Surely this post requires a lot of time? Doesn’t he also have some studying to do?

Anyway, I disagree entirely with Mr Abdullahi’s premise and argument. As such, in response to his use of his right to free speech to criticise what he sees as an out-dated institution, I’ll use my right to free speech to rebut him.

His entire position seems to revolve around the fact that he finds the anthem racist and a remnant of the British Empire. It also apparently empowers far-right nationalists who glory in the old and timeworn idea of the nation state.

First of all, if Mr Abdullahi had actually looked into the history of the national anthem, he might find that it was written during the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740’s. If anything it is an anti-Scottish anthem more than anything else, as it was penned in reaction to Bonnie Prince Charlie storming south to retake the English throne for the Stuart dynasty.

Incidentally, if he wants to see examples of national anthems with less than savoury lyrics maybe he should look at the Chinese, the Mexican, the Algerian, the Turkish and the Vietnamese national anthems. These have some blood curdling lyrics that make Britain’s look meek in comparison.

The second issue with Mr Abdullahi’s misguided comments concern his “f*** the nation state” statement. By this comment, I guess Mr Abdullahi is against all forms of national sovereignty and identity. In other words, he seems to want to live in the world of John Lennon where there are no countries and we are all just one big happyfamily.

I’ve got bad news for him: the nation state is arguably the single biggest protection against external and inter-tribal violence in the history of humanity.

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Bombs + Dollars’ analysis of the House Intel report on Snowden

Edward Snowden was a portrayed as a frustrated worker who clashed with colleagues, failed workplace training, and exaggerated his credentials in a report by the United States House of Representative Intelligence Committee. Most damningly, it alleges that he has passed on classified information to the Russian government. In the words of Bombs + Dollars editor Sumantra Maitra, “This is rough.”

The House Intel Committee began investigating in 2014 in order to analyze the damage Snowden’s leaks did to U.S. national security and how to minimize the risk of it happening again. It is worth noting that the Intel Committee has their own point of view. The 4 page report available to the public is but a small summary of the classified 36-page report, with information selected to best make their case. The committee’s investigation avoided interviewing individuals who may be witnesses as a possible trial of Snowden and in some cases interviewed second- or third-hand sources who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s colleagues, rather than the colleagues themselves. Nonetheless, much of the information is in-line with what has been reported in journalistic and non-governmental sources about Snowden, though some of the House’s claims are worded in a sensationalistic manner.

First, the report states that Snowden caused “tremendous damage to national security.” The information he revealed that Glenn Greenwald and other journalists published about U.S. intelligence programs both domestic and abroad is, of course, available to anyone with an Internet connection. That is a necessary consequence of a journalistic expose, and journalists can only control the degree to which they minimize the most damaging information, but it is sometimes justified for public knowledge.

Yet a large amount of the information published had nothing to do with spying on American citizens–or even foreign citizens. The U.S. tapped the phones of foreign leaders, for example, and conducted espionage on its rivals during diplomatic and trade negotiations, it was reported, based on Snowden’s leaks. “[T]he vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests,” the report says. Snowden has already admitted that he didn’t even read all the documents he leaked.

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Trump ally Gingrich says maybe U.S. shouldn’t even defend NATO allies that hit military spending target

Former Republican Speaker of the House and shortlist finalist for Donald Trump’s VP selection Newt Gingrich said on CBS News this week that NATO allies “ought to worry about our [U.S.] commitment.”

This came after Trump said he would consider only defending a NATO ally from Russian incursion “if they fulfill their obligations to us.” Trump has often accused American allies of not paying their fair share. In many cases, he has used made-up numbers to make his argument. For example, he said of South Korea, “They don’t pay us.”

In this case, Trump didn’t set out specifics about NATO, but many NATO countries have come under criticism for spending well below the target of 2% of GDP on defense. Only five of the 28 members meet the goal. Those countries are the U.S., Greece, the UK, Estonia and (since 2015) Poland.

Asked specifically about whether the U.S. would defend Estonia, which borders Russia, from an attack, Gingrich said,

“Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The Russians aren’t gonna necessarily come across the border militarily. The Russians are gonna do what they did in Ukraine. I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg. I think we have to think about what does this stuff mean.”

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Secrecy, privacy, security, transparency

End-to-end encryption for civilian messaging services is a dearly-held dream of many outside the intelligence and security communities. It certainly isn’t something that I myself disagree with; I’d like to think that the messages I send to my loved ones are, in fact, being read only by my loved ones. However, every time that somebody uses an app with E2EE to send a message or make a call, members of the worldwide intelligence communities cradle their heads in their hands and cry.

Allo-app-img_6663-640x427Yesterday, Google jumped on the ‘encryption-for-all!’ bandwagon, announcing their new messaging service Allo, messages sent through which not even Google itself will be able to decrypt (theoretically, and for now) when the app is operating in Incognito mode. After all, to the average citizen it is perfectly reasonable to take steps to ensure one’s privacy, especially when you know good and well that there are those out there with the capacity to intercept and read your unencrypted (and therefore insecure) messages should they choose to.

In fact, Google is actually late to the game on this one. As Wired pointed out earlier today, Facebook (with Messaging and Whatsapp) as well as Apple (iMessage, Facetime) have been quietly encrypting your communications for some time now. More people are aware of this now, due both to the consequences of the Snowden revelations and the extremely public throw down between Apple and the FBI over getting into the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter. And that’s the real rub. For all that we are entitled to privacy (and so we should be, not disagreeing with that!), our intelligence services and security organizations have the duty to protect against threats to the security of the State and the citizens therein (that would be us). Of course, the problem with that is privacy for everyone means privacy for everyone….including criminals and terrorists. Apple cannot build the FBI a backdoor into an iPhone, because that sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Not to mention, once that capacity exists it can’t be taken back, and absolutely nobody can guarantee that it won’t eventually trickle down to some who will use it negatively. This is an ethical as well as legal dilemma, and there really is no simple (or, so far, complex) solution.

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When it rains, it pours

The greater question is…why are there such repeated security leaks?

2016 has not been a banner year for large international corporations. It would seem that increasing globalization in combination with a higher level of technological savvy (and a healthy dose of employee discontent) is causing corporate corruption schemes to unravel. Between the Unaoil bribery debacle and the Panama Papers offshore funds scandal, some of the best-known global companies and personalities have been brought under the miscroscope by investigative journalism.

In recent years, a lot of scrutiny has been given to whistleblowers and leaks, particularly as they pertain to governments (Edward Snowden and PRISM, anyone?). However, what we have seen in the first few months of 2016 is the strength of journalistic investigtion bought to bear on multinational companies and global corruption on an increasing scale. And, more and more, current or former members of staff for these companies are the source for massive amounts of information that can and have resulted in arrests, ruined careers, and spectacular losses of reputation.

And another thing; current technology and Big Data being what it is, nearly unfathomable amounts of information are being released into the wild by these whistleblowers, and with every leak that volume of information is increasing. Wikileaks accounted for approximately 1.2 million documents (so far, anyway). Snowden made off with roughly 1.7 million documents. The Panama Papers, on the other hand, have been estimated at 11.5 million documents.

Eleven point five million documents. Consider that for a moment. 

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Weekly Reading List: So, I got published in War on the Rocks and Nottspolitics

Big week, as I mentioned before, with a couple of major publications coming, other than my regular columns.

To start with, the biggest one till date, my essay on War on the Rocks, where I write a Neo-Realist critique of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest revisionist history lesson. And was then called a Neo-Con for some reason, in the comments. But that’s another issue.

The second big one was my guest post at the official blog of the University of Nottingham, Dept of Politics and IR, where I talk about a foreign policy course for Philippines and how it should balance between China and US.

Other than that, here are my weekly columns.

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The future of nuclear security post-Obama: A report on the final Nuclear Security Summit

Absence of Iran and Russia & the Czech complacence.

Approaching the end of his presidential term, Barack Obama convened leaders from over 50 countries for the final Nuclear Security Summit. The March 31-April 1 Washington gathering marks the end of a high-level diplomatic process with roots stretching back to the 2009 Obama´s Prague Summit speech.  In light of contemporary narratives of terrorists´ willingness to hijack unguarded nuclear materials, or target nuclear sites, a wide participation of all vital players became a sine qua non of securing vulnerable substances. The absence of representatives from Russia and Iran casts doubts on the undertaking´s future success.

As a part of his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama articulated his concerns regarding nuclear proliferation and insufficient security of hitherto acquired materials. His address initiated a series of summits aimed at safeguarding existing nuclear supply, including the minimisation of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), participation in international organisations, and prevention and detection of illegal trafficking of materials indispensable for the weapon-creation. Recent stagnation and lack of improvement coupled with the 2016 non-participation of key actors in the endeavour not only highlight the flawed architecture of the process, but also contributed to the loss of momentum and might render the previous achievements futile.

Together administering the vast majority of the total global stock, involvement of Russia is an essence for any significant political breakthrough to be achieved. Its absence has been officially blamed on “shortage of mutual cooperation on agenda”; even though the rationale seems to lie in Russia’s desire to demonstrate the deadlock inevitably resulting from the failure to recognize the country´s rejuvenated position in the world.

Regardless of the genuine reason for Russia’s decision to boycott the summit, it will undoubtedly have repercussions capable of stalling, if not outright undermining the progress. Recent comeback of Russia to the leaders’ club and the use of other than hard-power instruments to manipulate system for own benefit manifests the position the country has asserted, as much as its ability to influence and steer the course of events. Similar empty chair crises had in the past served to teach a lesson of no bright prospects of advancement without the absentee.  While the U.S. administration speaks of the missed opportunity for Russia and slipping further into isolation, Obama must be well aware that chances for considerable change in nuclear security domain wane as his term slowly draws to the close, and Russia´s assistance would have enhanced future outlooks.

As Obama declared preceding the gathering, “…we’ll remain vigilant to ensure that Iran fulfils its commitments.” Not inviting Iran to the summit puts the fervor of commitment to the test.

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Weekly Reading List: All about foreign policy Realism.

Hi everyone, been long we had a Weekly Reading List! Not weekly anymore, unfortunately, as I am busy with my work and research, but as Easter break is approaching, and I will be immersed full time in my PhD thesis, here’re a few articles which I want to leave you guys with, which I wrote in the last one month.

JIR2016_1First, the big one.

My research paper got published, titled “Was Putin Ever Friendly to the West?”: An Expository Study of the First Two Terms of President Vladimir Putin, In Light of the Theories of Realism. (Journal of International Relations, Faculty of International Relations, University of Economics in Bratislava 2016, Volume XIV, Issue 1, Pages 58-92. ISSN 1336-1562 (print), ISSN 1339-2751 (online) Published 15. 3. 2016)

You can download the full paper here.

Aurangzeb_in_old_age_2Secondly, most of you would remember I wrote a comparative piece on how modern Russia is like seventeenth century India under the Mughals? I went a bit further and compared Putin and the medieval Indian emperor Aurangzeb. (Which, incidentally got a nice review here!)

I wrote two articles on Russia-Direct, the first one on how unlikely it is for Russia to actually invade the Baltics, and the second one on the fact that Russia and US is not in any New Cold war, but just a usual Great power rivalry with competition and cooperation happening simultaneously.

I also wrote one long essay for The Interpreter Magazine, on how contrary to popular belief, Obama is not a Realist…infact he doesn’t seem to understand what Realism in foreign policy means.

With regards to my weekly columns, here are they. 

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