Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shadowland: Flying Blind

There's an interesing first batch of letters responding to this week's column, "Flying Blind," about the way travelers are being turned into inmates by airline security. Several of the writers favor profiling of one sort or another, which is a practice with all kinds of sinister overtones of its own, and probably isn't that reliable for the kind of mass transit we're talking about in American airports.

When I went through Ben Gurion a couple of weeks ago, a charming interviewer -- a graduate student in psychology -- did a very thorough job trying to find discrepancies in my explanation of why, among other things, I had Lebanese visas in my passport. ("I went there last year when there was so much hope for democracy? Remember that?" I said. I got the impression she didn't.) No doubt facial expressions played a role in the fact she let me get on the plane. I just kept smiling. But it's proving very diffictult to codify expressions into some sort of system than computers, or minimally trained security staff, can figure out. If you're interested, just take a look at this very detailed paper presented at Delft University in Holland. (Also see the photographs below.)

A fair amount of ironic humor crept into the e-mails about the column. My personal favorites are these two:


Agree completely. We are jumping at shadows, behaving like a nation of cowards, and making ourselves ridiculous. The real terrorists must be laughing themselves silly. All they have to do is whistle the tune, and we dance to it. The cheapest form of psychological warfare imaginable. Everyone agrees that aviation security is a necessity, but I would really like to see some strategic thinking rather than the knee-jerk, reactionary idiocy we see today. Perhaps the nation which sent a robot to patrol the Martian surface and decoded the human genome could come up with a technological way of screening passengers and cargo for explosives in an effective yet non-intrusive way? The fact that this has not been accomplished, almost two decades after Pan Am 103, is an utter disgrace. Right now, we have to surrender our Evian and hand cream to board an airliner, and TSA screeners fondle us in ways that would get you arrested for sexual assault anywhere else. We have to take off our shoes because Richard Reid tried to hide a bomb in his shoes--thank God he didn't try to hide it in his underwear!


Nudity. Nudity is the answer to airline security. All passengers should be totally nude, with no jewelry, no carry-on luggage, no nothing. Then all we would have to worry about is a terrorist eating or drinking something that might blow up during flight (like prune juice, pinto beans, etc.) This would drastically limit the options of any would-be terrorist.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The JonBenet Hoax: The Important Part

Several irate e-mails responding to the Shadowland column on the over-coverage of claims by a creep named John Mark Karr that he murdered six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in 1996 insisted that the story was more than prurient entertainment, it was a warning to parents and others who wanted to protect their children from sexual predators.

Point taken. I stand by my criticism of the coverage, but the detention of Karr ultimately appears to have been a very good thing. The headlines yesterday were, of course, about the Boulder, CO, district attorney's motion to quash the arrest warrant against Karr because his DNA did not match that found in JonBenet's underwear. Those voyeuristic news readers and opportunistic news media who were hoping for months of trials and psychodrama centered on the case must surely be disappointed.

Yet the actual text of the motion to quash shows that the events surrounding Karr's detention in Thailand and eventual arrest in the United States, where he still faces child pornography charges, almost certainly saved other children from abuse.

Points 14 and 15 are especially chilling, given Karr's lurid descriptions of JonBenet's imagined death in the e-mails he had sent under the pseudonym "Daxis" to Prof. Michael Tracey:

"14. It was apparent from Daxis' emails, his manuscript, and from his phone conversations (1) that he believed his narrative of his responsibility for the death of JonBenet and (2) he believed his narrative about the sexuality of young girls and his ability to have a loving relationship with young girls, similar to the one he believed he had had with JonBenet Ramsey.

"15. After the death of Mrs. Ramsey [earlier this year], Daxis became more intense about his desire to publish his explanations about himself and his responsibility for the death of JonBenet, but to also keep his identity secret. He also began to express sexual interest in specific young girls he said he had met in the new school at which he had recently been hired and at which he was to teach when school began in mid-August. He began to describe his interest in several girls in much the same terms that he had described his interest in JonBenet Ramsey."

- C.D.

Turkey: Troop Movements

The Turkish military as a new chief of staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, sworn in yesterday. He's a man to watch as the Middle East grows more dangerous and volatile by the day, and Ankara moves to assert its influence around the neighborhood.

Buyukanit said during the handover ceremony that defeating Kurdish separatism is one of his top priorities -- and that kind of talk has Iraq's all-but-independent Kurdish leaders worried. The Turkish Kurds of the PKK allegedly find safe haven among their Iraqi cousins, and the Turkish army has been building up its forces on the frontier, implicitly threatening an open invasion, for several months. The number of Turkish troops poised on or near the border has been estimated at anywhere from 120,000 to 220,000.

What is clear, as The Christian Science Monitor reports, is that the Turks are preparing for an invasion, if and when they feel the time is right. According to an August 18 onscene report on The Guardian, "Turkey and Iran have dispatched tanks, artillery and thousands of troops to their frontiers with Iraq during the past few weeks in what appears to be a coordinated effort to disrupt the activities of Kurdish rebel bases."

Meanwhile, if the generals and the Erdogan government have their way, Turkey will also provide a large contingent of troops to the revivified UNIFIL forces in Lebanon. This is over the explicit objections of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, whose position gives him a high profile but little direct power. He said recently that it is "not Turkey's responsibility to protect the interests of other countries."

France, Italy and other EU countries, which are providing about half the 15,000 UNIFIL forces called for after Security Council Resolution 1701 brought a cessation of hostilities in the Israel-Hizbullah War, have said repeatedly they want Muslim troops to fill out the rest of the contingent.

From the first week of fighting, senior Lebanese officials were also telling me they wanted the Turks to deploy. Their reasoning: Syria has to be held in check, and Syria is probably more frightened of Turkey than it is of any other power on earth, including Israel. - C.D.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Iran: The Response?

The wires have picked up on a despatch from Agence Global by Abbas Maleki and Kevah L. Afrasiabi. Maleki is described as the Director of the International Institute For Caspian Studies in Tehran and currently a senior research fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Afrasiabi is a political scientist and author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts vs. Fiction. The outline below, as it appears in the article, seems plausible:

Iran has, expectedly, sought clarification on a number of issues, including the following:

• The incentive package mentions respecting Iran's rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), yet the only NPT articles mentioned are Articles I and II, pertaining to non-proliferation, and not Article IV, pertaining to a country's "inalienable right" to acquire nuclear technology;

• Iran wants firm guarantees on the proposed offers of nuclear assistance, such as the sale of light water reactors to Iran, as well as a secured nuclear fuel supply;

• Iran seeks clarification on the status of U.S. sanctions which presently prohibit those offers of nuclear and technological assistance to Iran: Is the United States willing to lift some if not all of those sanctions?

• The package's promise of an Iran-EURATOM cooperation agreement needs to be fleshed out;

• The package's brief reference to security and its hint of Iran's participation in a "regional security" arrangement needs further clarification; and,

• The timeline on the promised incentives, including the economic and trade incentives, has to be made specific.

Furthermore, Iran's response indicates that Iran is willing to re-adopt the IAEA's Additional Protocol and to take the steps toward legislating it as part and parcel of a final agreement.

Meanwhile, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has declared Iran's willingness to use its influence in Lebanon for an Israeli-Hizbullah prisoners' exchange, reminding the world of Iran's stabilizing role. ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update: Women and Jihad

Last December we published a cover story on "The Women of Al Qaeda." This is from the most recent issue of "Terrorism Focus" published by the Jamestown Foundation.

London Plot Draws Attention to Potential Female Suicide Bombers
The arrests of at least two women out of the 24 suspects initially held in the recently foiled plot in London highlight the potential threat posed by radical Muslim women (al-Jazeera, August 21). While little is known about the recent female detainees, women have played a central role in providing ideological and logistics support to al-Qaeda and local jihadi terrorists. The role of female suicide bombers is still relatively new and could shift over time, should al-Qaeda and like-minded groups increasingly recruit Muslim women for future attacks.
In the few cases known about Muslim female suicide bombers, most were related by family to the male suspects and terrorist leaders. For example, an Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, appeared on Jordanian television in November 2005 confessing her intent to bomb a Western hotel in the capital city of Amman together withher husband (Khaleej Times, November 13, 2005). Having failed to release her explosives belt, her husband pushed her out of the ballroom and detonated his explosives. In recent years, several Palestinian female bombers, including Sana'a Shahada, Iman Asha, Abir Hamdan and Thawiya Hamour, had familial and personal links to male terrorists (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 3, 2003).
Other examples of female suicide operatives include a 19-year old Uzbek girl, Dilnoza Holmudora, who was married to the leader of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Uzbekistan, and two Egyptian women, who shot at a tourist bus in Cairo in April 2005. Both women were in their 20s. One was the fiancée, and the other the sister of the male perpetrators (RCA No. 278, April 20, 2004).
Most recently, the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq issued a communiqué claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing on August 16, executed by a female member of the group's suicide brigade, targeting a combined patrol of U.S. forces and Iraqi National Guards in al-Muqdadiyah (Associated Press, September 28, 2005). According to the message, more than 15 soldiers of the patrol were killed and others injured. Media reports indicate that the woman, wearing an explosives belt, detonated herself on the U.S.-Iraqi patrol near a bus stop, killing seven and wounding 20, including civilians and military members.
Despite the recent participation of Muslim women in attacks, a Muslim woman's primary role in the al-Qaeda family has been to offer moral and ideological support to male jihadis. The wives of male militants demonstrate their support for their husbands, sons, brothers and other fighters through their communiqués and statements in jihadi magazines. Um Muhammad, the wife of the deceased al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, posted a letter last month on a jihadi website urging Muslim men to hold steady in jihad and warned the Iraqi government that the "great death is coming" (Mujahideen Shura Council website, July 2006). In the al-Khansaa magazine, the propaganda arm of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, articles focus on the role of women in jihad. Even on the internet, websites for Muslim women such as encourage them to support male jihadis in various conflicts worldwide.
In short, women are increasingly being called on for jihad. No longer invisible, Muslim women are able to utilize modern technology, with support from a new generation of male terrorists, to proclaim their voices on the global jihadi landscape.
Farhana Ali is an Associate International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation and has done extensive research on jihadist networks and religious extremism.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Press: The JonBenet Furore

A couple of follow-ups on last week's column, "Pulp Fact," about the JonBenet Ramsey case:

It's intriguing that the ransom note for JonBenet claimed her abuction in the name of "a small foreign faction" that respected Mr. Ramsey's "business but not the country that it serves." How strange, and how appropriate, one would think, if the kidnapper were a would-be expatriate looking to bankroll his dreamed-of travels to Central America, Europe and Thailand ...

More substantively, Media watcher Andrew Tyndall's forthcoming rundown on network news coverage gives a good picture of what he calls "JonBenet's Summer Diversion":

It was fortuitous that Monday saw a ceasefire end five weeks of fighting in southern Lebanon between the Hezbollah militia and the Israeli Defense Force. This letup in hard news cleared the way for tabloid tales. “It was a story that, as they say, had all the elements,” NBC’s Mike
Taibbi reminded us, “a pretty little girl with a melodic name, JonBenet, a beauty pageant veteran already at age six, found strangled, possibly sexually abused, and beaten to death in
her own Boulder home on the day after Christmas.” That was 1996. Now a suspect has been arrested in Thailand, to lead the year’s heaviest (44 min v 6 52-wk-avg) Crime week.

WEAK CONFESSION The Ramsey family archive was dusted off. Videotape of Little Miss
Colorado pageant performances was rerun. The bereaved parents’ protestations of innocence were reaired. A journalism professor turned JonBenet documentary filmmaker had tipped off prosecutors about one of his e-mail correspondents. They tracked down John Mark Karr, an expatriate schoolteacher, to Bangkok. “I was with JonBenet when she died,” he confessed.
“She died accidentally.” Case closed—except for a few details. ABC’s Dan Harris cited Karr’s
claim that he drugged the girl: “The autopsy report said drugs were not detected.” That Christmas, CBS’ Erin Moriarty added, “Karr’s former wife claims he was at home in Alabama.”
When Karr’s handwriting was compared with the ransom note, ABC’s Bill Redeker reported, independent document examiners were “dubious.” CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen concluded: “You never really see a case where a confession weakens the perception of the defendant’s guilt.” This may be a case of “suicide by confession.”

POOR PRIORITIES For all the attraction of that cold case, the networks still inexcusably spurned serious stories. On the economic front, only NBC assigned a reporter to cover Ford
Motors’ decision to slash automobile production by 21% this fall. Only ABC assigned a reporter to the ruling that warrantless wiretaps of citizens by the National Security Agency are unConstitutional. And only CBS had a correspondent cover the verdict that the tobacco industry ran a racketeering enterprise to market cigarettes through a conspiracy of lies: “Guilty,” declared Wyatt Andrews, “but the monetary award was zero.” ...

TOP TEN AUGUST 14–18, 2006
1 Little Miss Colorado murder mystery ...............42 [minutes total on all three nets]
2 Israel-Lebanon fighting: UN ceasefire begins...39
3 TransAtlantic jetliners bomb plot investigated..21
4 Airline travel: security precautions tightened ...18
5 Computer laptop batteries fire safety recall ........9
6 Iraq combat: US sees deteriorating security........9
7 UAL passenger disrupts flight in midair .............7
8 Brown bears on Alaska’s Katmai Peninsula .......6
9 Hijacked jets attacks: FDNY audiotapes.............5
10 Immigrant population reaches 36m nationwide..5

DAY by DAY [The more telling numbers]
M Israel-Lebanon: UN ceasefire goes into effect ..18
T TransAtlantic jetliners plot: any al-Qaeda role?.8
W Israel-Lebanon: Hezbollah funds rebuilding.......8
T Little Miss Colo: suspect arrested in Thailand..20
F Little Miss Colo: suspect traced via e-mails .....15

©2006 ADT RESEARCH 135 RIVINGTON ST, NYC 10002 tel 212 674 8913 fax 212 979 7304

Italy-Lebanon: D'Alema's Dilemma

Photographs of Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema walking arm and arm through the ruins of Beirut on August 17 with Hizbullah parliamentarian Hussein Haji Hassan have -- not surprisingly -- created an uproar in Italy's Jewish community. Certainly the image raises questions about the Prodi government's intentions and strategy as it maneuvers to take the lead in the U.N. deployment now slowly getting started in Lebanon. What kind of assurances does it want from Hizbullah? What kind of assurances is it willing to give Hizbullah? What will Israel's reaction be? This is subtle and and possibly quite dangerous policymaking Italian style, and is certainly a story to watch. - C.D.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hizbullah: The Inside Story

There's been no shortage of commentary over the last month explaining Hizbullah, where it came from and where its leader, 46-year-old Hassan Nasrallah may think he's going. Most recently on the Newsweek site you can read Babak Dehghanpisheh's update on reconstruction efforts, and there's Web commentary (by me, among others) available as a podcast from Newsweek On Air. But some of the most interesting material is to be found in this book published last year by Saqi Press in Britain and signed by one of Nasrallah's top aides. It's self-serving, of course, but it is also extremely detailed. It is, in fact, an invaluable guide to the way the organization sees itself, and wants to be seen by others.

Video Blog: Walls Within Walls

A few days ago, as I was winding up my trip to Israel, I called up Daniel Seidemann of Ir Amim, an NGO focused on Jerusalem issues and especially the question of the "separation barrier." He obligingly took me on a tour of what, under other circumstances, might sound like a benign listing of holy sites: the Mount of Olives, the Hill of Evil Counsel, the ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the road to Bethlehem. The result was a video blog, shot with my tiny Sanyo Xacti camera and edited with the help of Jonathan Groat at Newsweek Online in New York.

Flashes from the Past: Notes on "The Ugly American" and "Unhappy Hours"

Sooner or later, every foreign correspondent learns that what Americans really want from the rest of the world is to forget about it. This is just a fact we have to deal with. Isolationism is an instinct in a nation of immigrants looking to dedicate their lives, not to the past, but to the future, and that's nothing new. When George Washington warned against "entangling alliances" overseas, he meant, as much as anything, entangling histories. I wrote about this general theme back around the Fourth of July. And I've been warning since the earliest days of the Iraq War that a big part of the administration's goal was to persuade the American public it was safe to change the channel -- which people are more than anxious to do, in any case.

A few months ago, to accompany a piece I wrote about George Clooney's political angst, and parallels with the movies being made about the time he was born, Newsweek posted the last scene from the 1963 film of "The Ugly American" with Marlon Brando. It's definitely worth watching.

Three years ago, when some 50 Americans had been killed in an Iraq where the mission was not quite accomplished, I wrote about the same theme. I've had a little trouble calling it up from the Newsweek archive -- although it is there, somewhere -- so here is the full text from August 1, 2003, as I find it in my laptop:

Shadowland: Unhappy Hours

The capture of Saddam Hussein, when it comes, may pacify America. It won’t change much in Iraq.

By Christopher Dickey

Over a catfish sandwich and a Coke in the Raleigh-Durham airport, I learned how the United States ends a war. Above the bar a long array of televisions, maybe eight or ten of them, broadcast silent sports-network images of tennis matches and stock car races. Only one was tuned to a closed-caption news channel.

This was ten weeks ago, in the middle of May, and it was obvious to any of us who’d covered Iraq that more than 100,000 Americans were still there, still in harm’s way. Serious harm. So why, I asked the woman tending bar, was nobody watching?

“Well,” she said, in one of those charming drawls were almost every sentence sounds like a question, “during the war, all these TVs were on news all the time? And you know, people would watch it and just kind of feel depressed, like, and down? And then President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier?” She waited for me to nod, like I might not have seen it. I did. “And the very next day, the boss called up and said we could put all these TVs back on ESPN.”

The war had ended, in other words, because on May 1 President George W. Bush made a thoroughly choreographed display of announcing it was over. And the American people believed him because they wanted to. They were tired of the war, even tired of winning it. They just wanted it zapped into the past, gone and forgotten like last season’s reality shows. But with more than 50 American soldiers killed since Bush declared major combat operations were over, the reality of the fighting that’s still going on has crept back into the American consciousness like an unexpected hangover. So the administration is increasingly anxious to show the war has ended … again.

Saddam Hussein can do that for the president. All Saddam has to do is get captured or, better yet, get killed. And, true to form, he’s even willing to play his old familiar role as Washington’s favorite bad guy. The erstwhile Butcher of Baghdad (or a mighty good imitator) keeps churning out audio-taped taunts that amount to “catch me if you can.”

Our American warriors here in Iraq, where I am now, certainly can and certainly will catch this decrepit thug, and sooner rather than later. But what will that mean? Problem solved? Just a little cleaning up to do once the Butcher bites the dust? Time to zap back to the sports networks? (How’s Kobe going to get through this? And ain’t that a shame about Kournikova?) It’s conceivable that Bush himself thinks Saddam’s death will pacify Iraq. But in fact this manhunt is mainly about pacifying America.

Two weeks ago Gen. John Abizaid, the new CENTCOM commander, made it clear he knows just what’s going on where the boots hit the ground: “A classic guerrilla-type campaign against us. It’s low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it’s war, however you describe it … I would think it’s very important for everybody to know that we take casualties and we cause casualties to be inflicted upon the enemy because we are at war.”

American troops are being picked off day by day by little groups of fewer than a dozen men, probably Ba’athi veterans of Saddam’s old military and security forces. But the attackers are waging this war mainly on their own account. For them, to paraphrase an old song, Operation Iraqi Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. There’s every indication they’re following their own instincts, not orders from their old boss.

“There is some level of regional command and control going on,” said Abizaid, but he wouldn’t claim the regions were all connected. “Not yet,” he told Pentagon reporters. “Could they become connected? Sure, they could become connected.” If they do, we probably won’t have heard of the mid-level commanders from the old Ba’athi army who make that happen.

As Abizaid elaborated his clear-eyed vision of the war, the uncomfortable paradox of the occupation grew more apparent. He literally claimed that as things get better, they’ll get worse. “You have to understand that there will be an increase in violence as we achieve political success.” With every step forward by the Coalition and the Iraqis working with it, pressure will mount from the guerillas trying to thwart it.

There’s also a problem, often cited by the U.S. commanders on the ground here, of “foreign fighters.” Essentially, these fanatics are from the international brigades of Islamic terror, the same sort who went to fight in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines, Indonesia -- wherever there were infidels to kill along their martyrs’ path to Paradise. For such Jihadists, Iraq is an answered prayer. “This is the place to come,” as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Coalition troops here, told us at a briefing Baghdad yesterday.

You see what this means, of course. While there’s little proof that Al-Qaeda was here when Saddam was in power, Iraq under occupation already is the training ground for future Osamas.

No wonder Washington works so hard to spin the message back toward the simple, compelling narrative of the chase – a story the Pentagon is confident will come to an end. But our soldiers know better. They’re here for the long haul no matter what happens to the defunct dictator, and it’s a fight their government and their people would rather forget.

Maybe that’s why Maj. Gen. John Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, told a Quantico seminar on lessons learned in Iraq that happy hour is a vital part of a modern-day officer’s preparation. Like his colleagues, Mattis recognized that even during the “major combat operations,” field commanders had to improvise mightily in spite of official assumptions about the way the war was supposed to unfold. They had to know each other, and believe in each other, and the time they spent as younger men arguing doctrine and details over a couple of beers played a vital role. “The friendships and the trust, the mutual respect between officers who served once together as captains and majors who went to happy hour together…,” Mattis said in an emotional passage quoted by “Stars and Stripes,” “there was a bond between those of us on this stage, that I don’t care what the enemy could have done, I don’t care what weapons they had … there is nothing the Iraqis could have done to break the bond between us.”

Well, General, stay away from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. During happy hour back there, folks aren’t watching you, and they’re sure not watching your back. They’re watching ESPN every chance they get.

Post Script: Saddam was captured almost five months later, in late December 2003.

Catching Up

The advent of the latest wars in Gaza and Lebanon so entirely consumed my writing time over the last six weeks that I just ran out of the energy needed for decent blogging. Here, briefly, is what I've been working on:

Shadowland: Pulp Fact 18 August 2006
The JonBenet case is a reminder that news is what you make of it—or not.

Newsweek: The Real Nasrallah 13 Aug 2006
How a son of Beirut's slums became one of the most engaging, and dangerous, leaders in the Muslim world. Written with Babak Dehghanpisheh, who reported on the ground in Lebanon.

Newsweek: Eye for an Eye 6 August 2006
Israel shadow-boxes with a surprisingly high-tech foe. Inside the new Hizbullah.
(also check out the audio link to Newsweek on Air)

Newsweek: Mideast: Ripples of War 30 July 2006
From Iraq to Al Qaeda, the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah is resonating far beyond the battlefield.

Shadowland: Let It Bleed 26 July 2006
Leaders at the Rome summit on the Mideast are ignoring the real bottom line: Hizbullah is winning.

Newsweek Cover Story: Torn to Shreds 24 July 2006
While Israel tries to root out an enemy, Hizbullah feeds on the devastation.

Shadowland: Best-Laid Plans 21 July 2006
Hizbullah wanted to lead the Muslim and Arab world; Israel wanted to wipe Hizbullah off the map. Their strategies quickly went awry.

Newsweek Cover Story: The Hand That Feeds the Fire 16 July 2006
Behind The Crisis: How Iran is wielding its influence to wage a stealthy war against Israel and America. (With Peraino, Dehghanpisheh, Wolffe, Barry, Hosenball and others)

Newsweek: Sharon's Shadow 9 July 2006
As the crisis builds, Israelis are asking what the legendary general would have done. Can Olmert lead on his own? The article is a collaboration with Dan Ephron and Joanna Chen in Jerusalem.