Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Consequences of Intervening in Syria – Stratfor

The  Consequences of Intervening in Syria is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The French military’s current campaign to dislodge jihadist  militants from northern Mali and the recent  high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both  directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi  regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign  powers’ decision not to intervene in Mali when the military  conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily  armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in  Moammar Gadhafi’s military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an  implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this  situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.

As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign  intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military  intervention, like that taken against the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, or  the lack of intervention seen in Mali in March 2012, the West — and its Middle  Eastern partners — have pursued a middle-ground  approach in Syria. That is, these powers are providing logistical aid to the  various Syrian rebel factions but are not intervening directly.

Just as there were repercussions for the decisions to conduct a direct  intervention in Libya and not to intervene in Mali, there will be repercussions  for the partial intervention approach in Syria. Those consequences are  becoming more apparent as the crisis drags on.

Intervention in Syria

For more than a year now, countries such as the United States, Turkey, Saudi  Arabia, Qatar and European states have been providing aid to the Syrian rebels.  Much of this aid has been in the form of humanitarian assistance, providing  things such as shelter, food and medical care for refugees. Other aid has helped  provide the rebels with non-lethal military supplies such as radios and  ballistic vests. But a review of the weapons spotted on the battlefield reveals  that the rebels are also receiving an increasing number of lethal supplies.

Visit our Syria  page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.

For example, there have been numerous videos released showing Syrian rebels  using weapons such as the M79 Osa rocket launcher, the RPG-22, the M-60  recoilless rifle and the RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. The Syrian government  has also released videos of these weapons after seizing them in arms caches.  What is so interesting about these weapons is that they were not in the Syrian  military’s inventory prior to the crisis, and they all likely were purchased  from Croatia. We have also seen many reports and photos of Syrian rebels  carrying Austrian Steyr Aug rifles, and the Swiss government has complained that  Swiss-made hand grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates are making their way  to the Syrian rebels.

With the Syrian rebel groups using predominantly second-hand weapons from the  region, weapons captured from the regime, or an assortment of odd ordnance they  have manufactured themselves, the appearance and spread of these exogenous  weapons in rebel arsenals over the past several months is at first glance  evidence of external arms supply. The appearance of a single Steyr Aug or RBG-6  on the battlefield could be an interesting anomaly, but the variety and  concentration of these weapons seen in Syria are well beyond the point where  they could be considered coincidental.

This means that the current level of external intervention in Syria is  similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist  proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The external  supporters are providing not only training, intelligence and assistance, but  also weapons — exogenous weapons that make the external provision of weapons  obvious to the world. It is also interesting that in Syria, like Afghanistan,  two of the major external supporters are Washington and Riyadh — though in  Syria they are joined by regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the  United Arab Emirates, rather than Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Americans allowed their partners in  Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to determine which of the myriad  militant groups in Afghanistan received the bulk of the funds and weapons they  were providing. This resulted in two things. First, the Pakistanis funded and  armed groups that they thought they could best use as surrogates in Afghanistan  after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, they pragmatically tended to funnel cash  and weapons to the groups that were the most successful on the battlefield —  groups such as those led by Gulbuddin  Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin  Haqqani, whose effectiveness on the battlefield was tied directly to their  zealous theology that made waging jihad against the infidels a religious duty  and death during such a struggle the ultimate accomplishment.

A similar process has been taking place for nearly two years in Syria. The  opposition groups that have been the most effective on the battlefield have  tended to be the jihadist-oriented groups such as Jabhat  al-Nusra. Not surprisingly, one reason for their effectiveness was the  skills and tactics they learned fighting the coalition forces in Iraq. Yet  despite this, the Saudis — along with the Qataris and the Emiratis — have been  arming and funding the jihadist groups in large part because of their success on  the battlefield. As my colleague Kamran Bokhari noted in February 2012, the  situation in Syria was providing  an opportunity for jihadists, even without external support. In the  fractured landscape of the Syrian opposition, the unity of purpose and  battlefield effectiveness of the jihadists was in itself enough to ensure that  these groups attracted a large number of new recruits.

But that is not the only factor conducive to the radicalization of Syrian  rebels. First, war — and particularly a brutal, drawn-out war — tends to make  extremists out of the fighters involved in it. Think Stalingrad, the Cold War  struggles in Central America or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans following  the dissolution of Yugoslavia; this degree of struggle and suffering tends to  make even non-ideological people ideological. In Syria, we have seen many  secular Muslims become stringent jihadists. Second, the lack of hope for an  intervention by the West removed any impetus for maintaining a secular  narrative. Many fighters who had pinned their hopes on NATO were greatly  disappointed and angered that their suffering was ignored. It is not unusual for  Syrian fighters to say something akin to, “What has the West done for us? We now  have only God.”

When these ideological factors were combined with the infusion of money and  arms that has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria over the past year, the  growth of Syrian jihadist groups accelerated dramatically. Not only are they a  factor on the battlefield today, but they also will be a force to be reckoned  with in the future.

The Saudi Gambit

Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis  experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan  — and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S.  forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra — the Saudi  government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria  is worth the inherent risk.

There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be  able to break the arc of Shiite  influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.  Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall  of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government  friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni  regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.

Supporting the jihad in Syria as a weapon against Iranian influence also  gives the Saudis a chance to burnish their Islamic credentials internally in an  effort to help stave off criticism that they are too secular and Westernized. It  allows the Saudi regime the opportunity to show that it is helping Muslims under  assault by the vicious Syrian regime.

Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship  their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large  number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in  Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya,  Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own  troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis  are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey,  where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The  reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a  stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will  even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with  fresh troops.

The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in  Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths  of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who  survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as “tactical  Darwinism” the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core  of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.

But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have  effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to  the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil  war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah  regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah’s fall in  1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was  egregious.

Now we are seeing that the jihadist militants in Libya pose a threat not only  to the Libyan regime — there are serious problems in eastern Libya — but also  to foreign interests in the country, as seen in the attack on the British  ambassador and the U.S. diplomatic mission in  Benghazi. Moreover, the events in Mali and Algeria in recent months show  that Libya-based militants and the weapons they possess also pose a regional  threat. Similar long-lasting and wide-ranging repercussions can be expected to  flow from the intervention in Syria.

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

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Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy – Stratfor

Ferocious,  Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chairman, Stratfor

North Korea’s state-run media reported Sunday that North  Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country’s top security officials  to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures,” which has been  widely interpreted to mean that North  Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were  retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang  following North Korea’s missile test in October. A few days before Kim’s  statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United  States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington’s  tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as  weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface,  threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test  fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without  actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a  weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don’t succeed in  actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make  more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something  solid to threaten enemies with.

North Korea, of course, has been doing this for years and doing it  successfully, so what appears absurd on the surface quite obviously isn’t. On  the contrary, it has proved to be a very effective maneuver. North Korea is  estimated to have a gross domestic product of about $28 billion, about the same  as Latvia or Turkmenistan. Yet it has maneuvered itself into a situation where  the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea have sat  down with it at the negotiating table in a bid to persuade it not to build  weapons. Sometimes, the great powers give North Korea money and food to persuade  it not to develop weapons. It sometimes agrees to a halt, but then resumes its  nuclear activities. It never completes a weapon, but it frequently threatens to  test one. And when it carries out such tests, it claims its tests are directed  at the United States and South Korea, as if the test itself were a threat.

There is brilliance in North Korea’s strategy. When the Soviet Union  collapsed, North Korea was left in dire economic straits. There were reasonable  expectations that its government would soon collapse, leading to the unification  of the Korean Peninsula. Naturally, the goal of the North Korean government was  regime survival, so it was terrified that outside powers would invade or support  an uprising against it. It needed a strategy that would dissuade anyone from  trying that. Being weak in every sense, this wasn’t going to be easy, but the  North Koreans developed a strategy that we  described more than 10 years ago as ferocious, weak and crazy. North Korea  has pursued this course since the 1990s, and the latest manifestation of this  strategy was on display last week. The strategy has worked marvelously and is  still working.

A Three-Part Strategy

First, the North Koreans positioned themselves as ferocious by appearing to  have, or to be on the verge of having, devastating power. Second, they  positioned themselves as being weak such that no matter how ferocious they are,  there would be no point in pushing them because they are going to collapse  anyway. And third, they positioned themselves as crazy, meaning pushing them  would be dangerous since they were liable to engage in the greatest risks  imaginable at the slightest provocation.

In the beginning, Pyongyang’s ability to appear ferocious was limited to the North Korean army’s  power to shell Seoul. It had massed artillery along the border and could  theoretically devastate the southern capital, assuming the North had enough  ammunition, its artillery worked and air power didn’t lay waste to its massed  artillery. The point was not that it was going to level Seoul but that it had  the ability to do so. There were benefits to outsiders in destabilizing the  northern regime, but Pyongyang’s ferocity — uncertain though its capabilities  were — was enough to dissuade South Korea and its allies from trying to  undermine the regime. Its later move to develop missiles and nuclear weapons  followed from the strategy of ferocity — since nothing was worth a nuclear war,  enraging the regime by trying to undermine it wasn’t worth the risk.

Many nations have tried to play the ferocity game, but the North Koreans  added a brilliant and subtle twist to it: being weak. The  North Koreans advertised the weakness of their economy, particularly its  food insecurity, by various means. This was not done overtly, but by allowing  glimpses of its weakness. Given the weakness of its economy and the difficulty  of life in North Korea, there was no need to risk trying to undermine the North.  It would collapse from its own defects.

This was a double inoculation. The North Koreans’ ferocity with weapons whose  effectiveness might be questionable, but still pose an unquantifiable threat,  caused its enemies to tread carefully. Why risk unleashing its ferocity when its  weakness would bring it down? Indeed, a constant debate among Western analysts  over the North’s power versus its weakness combines to paralyze  policymakers.

The North Koreans added a third layer to perfect all of this. They portrayed  themselves as crazy, working to appear unpredictable, given to extravagant  threats and seeming to welcome a war. Sometimes, they reaffirmed they were crazy  via steps like sinking South Korean ships for no apparent reason. As in poker,  so with the North: You can play against many sorts of players, from those who  truly understand the odds to those who are just playing for fun, but never, ever  play poker against a nut. He  is totally unpredictable, can’t be gamed, and if you play with his head you  don’t know what will happen.

So long as the North Koreans remained ferocious, weak and crazy, the best  thing to do was not irritate them too much and not to worry what kind of  government they had. But being weak and crazy was the easy part for the North;  maintaining its appearance of ferocity was more challenging. Not only did the  North Koreans have to keep increasing their ferocity, they had to avoid  increasing it so much that it overpowered the deterrent effect of their weakness  and craziness.

A Cautious Nuclear Program

Hence, we have North Korea’s eternal nuclear program. It never quite produces  a weapon, but no one can be sure whether a weapon might be produced. Due to  widespread perceptions that the North Koreans are crazy, it is widely believed  they might rush to complete their weapon and go to war at the slightest  provocation. The result is the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South  Korea holding meetings with North Korea to try to persuade it not to do  something crazy.

Interestingly, North Korea never does anything significant and dangerous, or  at least not dangerous enough to break the pattern. Since the Korean War, North  Korea has carefully calculated its actions, timing them to avoid any move that  could force a major reaction. We see this caution built into its nuclear  program. After more than a decade of very public ferocity, the North Koreans  have not come close to a deliverable weapon. But since if you upset them, they  just might, the best bet has been to tread lightly and see if you can gently  persuade them not to do something insane.

The North’s positioning is superb: Minimal risky action sufficient to lend  credibility to its ferocity and craziness plus endless rhetorical threats  maneuvers North Korea into being a major global threat in the eyes of the great  powers. Having won themselves this position, the North Koreans are not about to  risk it, even if a 20-something leader is hurling threats.

The China Angle and the Iranian Pupil

There is, however, a somewhat more interesting dimension emerging. Over the  years, the United States, Japan and South Korea have looked to the Chinese to  intercede and persuade the North Koreans not to do anything rash. This  diplomatic pattern has established itself so firmly that we wonder what the  actual Chinese role is in all this. China is currently engaged in territorial  disputes with U.S. allies in the South and East China seas. Whether anyone would  or could go to war over islands in these waters is dubious, but the situation is  still worth noting.

The Chinese and  the Japanese have been particularly hostile toward one another in recent  weeks in terms of rhetoric and moving their ships around. A crisis in North  Korea, particularly one in which the North tested a nuclear weapon, would  inevitably initiate the diplomatic dance whereby the Americans and Japanese ask  the Chinese to intercede with the North Koreans. The Chinese would oblige.  This is not a great effort for them, since having detonated a nuclear device,  the North isn’t interested in doing much more. In fact, Pyongyang will be  drawing on the test’s proverbial fallout for some time. The Chinese are calling  in no chits with the North Koreans, and the Americans and Japanese — terribly  afraid of what the ferocious, weak, crazy North Koreans will do next — will be  grateful to China for defusing the “crisis.” And who could be so churlish as to  raise issues on trade or minor islands when China has used its power to force  North Korea to step down?

It is impossible for us to know what the Chinese are thinking, and we have no  overt basis for assuming the Chinese and North Koreans are collaborating, but we  do note that China has taken an increasing interest in stabilizing North Korea.  For its part, North Korea has tended to stage these crises — and their  subsequent Chinese interventions — at quite useful times for Beijing.

It should also be noted that other countries have learned the ferocious,  weak, crazy maneuver from North Korea. Iran is the best pupil. It has  convincingly portrayed itself as ferocious via its nuclear program, endlessly  and quite publicly pursuing its program without ever quite succeeding. It is  also persistently seen as weak, perpetually facing  economic crises and wrathful mobs of iPod-wielding youths. Whether Iran can  play the weakness card as skillfully as North Korea remains unclear — Iran just  doesn’t have the famines North Korea has.

Additionally, Iran’s rhetoric at times can certainly be considered crazy:  Tehran has carefully cultivated perceptions that it would wage nuclear war even  if this meant the death of all Iranians. Like North Korea, Iran also has managed  to retain its form of government and its national sovereignty. Endless  predictions of the fall of the Islamic republic to a rising generation have  proved false.

I do not mean to appear to be criticizing the “ferocious, weak and crazy”  strategy. When you are playing a weak hand, such a strategy can yield  demonstrable benefits. It preserves regimes, centers one as a major  international player and can wring concessions out of major powers. It can be  pushed too far, however, when the fear of ferocity and craziness undermines the  solace your opponents find in your weakness.

Diplomacy is the art of nations achieving their ends without resorting to  war. It is particularly important for small, isolated nations to survive without  going to war. As in many things, the paradox of appearing willing to go to war  in spite of all rational calculations can be the foundation for avoiding war. It  is a sound strategy, and for North Korea and Iran, for the time being at least,  it has worked.

Read more:  Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy | Stratfor

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Prisoner Number A26188 – Henia Bryer: BBC TV

A documentary titled Prisoner Number A26188 – Henia Bryer was shown on BBC1 on Sunday 27 January 2012. It told the story of Henia Bryer, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and now lives in Cape Town, South Africa. It was made by her niece Lisa Bryer, who was one of the producers of The Last King of Scotland. A26188 was the number tattooed on Henia’s arm in Auschwitz; she refused to have it removed after the war.

Most of the 45 minutes programme consisted of Henia speaking to camera, interspersed with still photographs of the Holocaust. The only archive film was the British one about the liberation of Belsen, which was narrated by Richard Dimbleby. Henia’s husband, two sons and grandson also spoke.

In 1939 Henia lived in Radom in Poland with her parents, an older brother, a younger brother and a sister who was the youngest of the four children. The older brother was physically, but not mentally, disabled as a result of problems with his birth. Henia’s father owned a shoe factory, so the family had a comfortable life before the war.

The Germans entered Radom on 9 September 1939, eight days after they invaded Poland. They immediately installed loudspeakers, which spewed out hate propaganda, leaving nobody with any doubts about their attitude towards the Jews.

The Jews had to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David on them. Some people were puzzled to see Henia wearing one, as she was fair haired and did not conform to the Nazi stereotype of the Jew.

Henia’s family were initially able to survive because her father had a store of gold coins. He was forced to continue working, but was no longer paid.

In 1941 the Radom Ghetto was established, with about 30,000 inhabitants. There were actually two ghettos; Henia and her family lived in the larger of the two, where there were 10 people to a room. Her younger brother was taken away to work in an armament factory. He survived, but never told her about his experiences.

In 1942 20,000 of the people in the Ghetto were shot or sent to death camps.

Henia had a lucky escape when she was suffering from an abscess. There were no dentists, so she was to go to the hospital to have it lanced. It burst on the day that she was due to go, so she stayed at home. Everybody at the hospital was killed that day.

Her older brother was not so lucky. Because of his disability he had to go to the hospital, which he knew meant his death. Henias said that:

He knew exactly what was happening… he took off his winter coat and he gave it to my mother and he said: ‘Give it to someone who will need it. I won’t need it any more’. And she came home with a coat.

In March 1944 the ghetto was closed and the last 300 Jews were loaded onto cattle trucks, with no ventilation, toilets, water or light, and taken to the Majdanek concentration camp. There, they were stripped and given thin, striped uniforms. The women were separated from the men. This was Henia’s first encounter with female SS guards; she commented that they were even crueller than the SS men.

After 6 weeks she was sent to Plaszow, which she said was well portrayed in the film Schindler’s List. Most of its inmates came from Krakow. She was employed as one of a team of 10 women who had to push wagons loaded with stones along rails from a quarry. The camp did not have a crematorium, so the bodies of the victims of hangings, shootings and disease were burnt on a nearby hill, with the ashes flying over the camp.

Henia’s younger sister was taken away with many other children. Loud music was played in the camp as the children were sent to their deaths.

The Jews were allowed to rest on Sundays. The Germans would surround a barrack, and take its inmates away to donate blood to be given to wounded German soldiers. The amount of blood that was taken and the poor diet meant that those forced to donate would not survive long. When Henia’s barracks was chosen there appeared to be no escape. She stayed in her bunk and managed to convince an SS man that she had typhus, so was not taken away.

Her father was beaten to death by a Kapo, one of the prisoners who oversaw other inmates in return for better conditions.

In October 1944 Henia was sent to Auschwitz, where she encountered her mother and her best friend. Like all Jews arriving at Auschwitz, she had to undergo a selection for slave labour of death. It was conducted  by Josef Mengele, who sent her for slave labour.

As at Majdanek, she was stripped and then issued with clothes. In this case, they were civilian ones, but they were too smal for her. Expecting to die because of the intense cold, she started crying. She heard somebody calling her name, but could not see him through her tears. The voice told her to approach a nearby fence. On the other side was one of her father’s former employees. He worked in the part of the camp that sorted out the possessions of the dead, and he provided her with warm clothes that fitted.

Henia met two identical twins from Radom, who were being used for Mengele’s human experiments. she said that they were lucky to be warm in the experimental block, whilst she was cold, hungry and carrying out hard labour. They told her not to envy them.

She was evacuated from Auschwitz just before the Red Army arrived, and took part in a death march. Many prisoners were shot because they could not keep up; their corpses were all along both sides of the road. She ended up at Bergen-Belsen.

Henia had seen people dying and being shot, hanged, punished and tortured, but Belsen was the biggest shock. She had never seen anything like the huge mountain of corpses, which were partly decomposing. She said that ‘even by the standards of Auschwitz, this was the pits.’

She caught typhus at Belsen, where people just sat around waiting to die. 13,000 prisoners, including the only friend that she had in the camp, died even after if was liberated by the British. There were not enough doctors, and many inmates could not cope with the better food that they were now given.

Some survivors from Radom were in Stuttgart, so Henia went there and met her mother. It was difficult to re-build their lives, and they had not psychiatric help. They stayed with an uncle in Paris for two years, before using false passports to go to Palestine in 1947 on a Greek ship.

They found Henia’s brother in Israel. He and she both served in the army. They underwent a healing process in Israel, but had a rule that they did not talk about the camps at home, so Henia does not know how her brother and mother survived. She met Maurice, her South African husband in 1952, and moved first to Bloemfontein and later to Cape Town.

For UK viewers, the programme is available on the I-Player until Saturday 2 February. It was made by an independent production company, which will no doubt have sold it to other countries.

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The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis – Stratfor

The  Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The recent jihadist attack on the Tigantourine natural gas facility near In  Amenas, Algeria, and the subsequent hostage situation there have prompted some  knee-jerk discussions among media punditry. From these discussions came the  belief that the incident was spectacular, sophisticated and above all  unprecedented. A closer examination shows quite the opposite.

Indeed, very little of the incident was without precedent. Mokhtar  Belmokhtar, who orchestrated the attack, has employed similar tactics and a  similar scale of force before, and frequently he has deployed forces far from  his group’s core territory in northern Mali. Large-scale raids, often meant to  take hostages, have been conducted across far expanses of the Sahel. What was  unprecedented was the target. Energy and extraction sites have been attacked in  the past, but never before was an Algerian natural gas facility selected for  such an assault.

A closer look at the operation also reveals Belmokhtar’s true intentions. The  objective of the attack was not to kill hostages but to kidnap foreign workers  for ransom — an objective in keeping with many of Belmokhtar’s previous forays.  But in the end, his operation was a failure. His group killed several hostages  but did not destroy the facility or successfully transport hostages away from  the site. He lost several men and weapons, and just as important, he appears to  have also lost the millions of dollars he could have gained through ransoming  his captives.

Offering Perspective

Until recently, Belmokhtar  and his group, the Mulathameen Brigade, or the “Masked Ones,” which donned  the name “Those Who Sign in Blood” for the Tigantourine operation, were  associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Prior to their association with  al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they were a part of Algeria’s Salafist Group  for Preaching and Combat, which operated in the Sahel. As part of these groups,  Belmokhtar led many kidnapping raids and other operations throughout the region,  and these past examples offer perspective for examining the Tigantourine  operation and for attempting to forecast the groups’ future activities.

In April 2003, Belmokhtar was one of the leaders of the Salafist Group for  Preaching and Combat operation that took 32 European tourists hostage in the  Hoggar Mountains near Illizi, Algeria, which is roughly 257 kilometers (160  miles) southwest of the Tigantourine facility. Seventeen hostages were freed  after an Algerian military raid, and the rest were released in August 2003 —  save for one woman, who died of sunstroke.

 

Prior to 2006, when the  Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat essentially became al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb, kidnappings and attempted kidnappings occurred roughly once  a year. But after 2006, the operational tempo of kidnappings  in the Sahel quickened, with about three to five operations conducted per  year. According to U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and  Financial Intelligence David Cohen, al Qaeda earned approximately $120 million  in ransoms from 2004 to 2012. Cohen added that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb  had become the most proficient kidnapping unit of all al Qaeda’s franchise  groups.

Examples of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s proficiency abound. In  September 2010, the group took seven hostages from a uranium mine in Arlit,  Niger, and kidnapped four European tourists in Mali in January 2009. More  recently, it kidnapped three aid workers in Tindouf, Algeria, in October  2011.

Typically the group prefers to kidnap more than one person. Having multiple  hostages allows the captors to kill one or more of them to ratchet up pressure  for the ransom of the others. Guarding multiple hostages requires more  resources, but Belmokhtar has plenty of human resources, and the additional  ransom makes guarding them worth the extra effort.

Holding multiple hostages also enables the kidnappers to make political  statements — often connected to outrageous demands. In the Tigantourine attack,  much attention was paid to the militants’ demands to the U.S. government to  release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as “The  Blind Sheikh,” and Aafia  Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of terrorism  charges. But again, such demands are not unprecedented. Edwin Dyer, one of the  four European tourists kidnapped in January 2009, was beheaded in June 2009  after the British government refused al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s demand to  release imprisoned jihadist cleric Abu Qatada. The group again demanded the  release of Abu Qatada in April 2012 in exchange for British-South African  citizen Stephen Malcolm, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali, in November 2011.  Certainly the militants had no realistic expectation that the British would meet  their demands; the demands and Dyer’s subsequent execution were meant as  political statements, not realistic objectives.

Botched Missions

Tactically, how the Tigantourine attack transpired remains unclear. What we  do know is that the amount of militants used in the attack is not unprecedented.  While serving as a unit leader for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat  in 2005, Belmokhtar led a group of 150 militants in a raid on a military outpost  in Lemgheiti, Mauritania, that left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead and another 17  wounded.

According to a Jan. 21 statement made by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek  Sellal on Jan. 21, it appears that Belmokhtar’s Tigantourine operation was  a two-pronged attack. One team appears to have been tasked with intercepting a  bus taking Western employees from the facility to the airport. Militants  reportedly used vehicles marked as oil company security or as belonging to the  Algerian government. Sellal noted that the objective of the operation was to  take a group of the hostages out of the country, presumably transporting them to  northern Mali’s Kidal region, where in recent years al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb has held its foreign hostages.

Notably, the Tigantourine facility is located only about 32 kilometers from  the Libyan border. The attackers probably took advantage of the chaos in Libya  to gather weapons and prepare for the attack and then came across the border  from Libya to conduct the attack. They could have covered very quickly the  distance from the Libyan border to the facility, and this likely provided them  an element of tactical surprise.

The second prong of the attack was directed against the facility itself.  Heavily armed attackers surprised the security forces at the facility and  subdued them by concentrating their forces and using overwhelming firepower.  Algerian forces recovered from the assailants a recoilless rifle,  rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several medium and light machine guns. We  are currently unsure if this group was tasked with taking additional hostages at  the facility and fleeing with them, staging a  drawn-out hostage drama, as in Beslan, or sabotaging the facility and  fleeing. Such an operation may have meant to divert attention from the group of  militants that was transporting hostages out of the country. Having a group of  hostages in custody outside Algeria could have helped them extract the second  team from the facility.

In any case, the first unit apparently failed to achieve its objective, and  it does not appear that the militants were able to take hostages from the bus  and quickly transport them out of the country. (Currently, not all of the  hostages are accounted for, but they are most likely among the unidentified  dead. It will take time for forensics teams to identify them.) Moreover, on the  second day helicopter gunships thwarted the escape efforts of some militants,  who had used foreign hostages as human shields.

Some reports indicate that the attackers set explosive charges around the  plant and attempted to destroy it Jan. 19, an action that apparently triggered  the final assault to neutralize the militants at the facility. We have not seen  photos of any demolition charges or any other indication that the attackers  employed any sort of sophisticated improvised explosive devices in the  operation. If the attackers went to the trouble to bring large quantities of  explosives with them on the raid, they likely did so intending to use the  explosives to damage the plant or to facilitate a drawn-out hostage drama — or  both. The militants wouldn’t need large quantities of explosives to seize  hostages, and they would not have spent the money to buy them or the effort to  transport them unless they are critical to their mission.

But tactically, both missions — stopping a vehicle to kidnap foreigners and  storming a facility — are within the demonstrated capabilities of Sahel-based  jihadist militants. In addition to numerous vehicular ambushes al Qaeda in the  Islamic Maghreb has conducted to steal cargo or grab hostages, it has also  raided hotels, homes and clinics to seize hostages. Perhaps the attack most  similar to Tigantourine was the September 2010 raid on the Areva uranium mining  facility near Arlit, Niger. The facility was more than 320 kilometers from the  Malian border and more than 160 kilometers from the border with Algeria. The  militants demonstrated their ability to operate hundreds of kilometers from  their bases in northern Mali, successfully storm a facility and return to  northern Mali with Western hostages. These militant groups have also staged  large-scale raids on military bases across the Sahel.

Several indicators suggest the Tigantourine operation was intended to seize  hostages, not kill hostages. According to a June 2007 classified cable released  by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers said that Belmokhtar had criticized al  Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s suicide operations that mean to kill civilians.  Moreover, the attackers did not immediately begin to shoot foreigners as they  did during the November 2008 Mumbai  attack and the June  2004 attack against foreign energy workers in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. They  failed to hold these hostages for any period of time, and by all accounts they  failed to take Western hostages back to northern Mali. This amounts to a  significant loss for Belmokhtar.

Avoiding Complacency at Energy Sites

Despite a long history of militant activity in Algeria, energy facilities had  largely escaped unscathed — until last week. When al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb began to conduct  large vehicle bombings in Algiers and roadside bombing attacks against buses  carrying foreign energy workers in or near the capital, energy companies  countered the threat by flying workers directly into airports near energy  facilities like the one in In Amenas.

This lack of attacks led to some complacency on the part of Algerian  officials and security forces at Tigantourine. But in the wake of the recent  attack, security at such facilities will be increased, and any sense of  complacency will disappear — at least for a while. And because militants prefer  to hit softer targets, we are unlikely to see follow-on attacks at similar  facilities in the region in the immediate future. It may also take Belmokhtar  some time to replace the leaders and materiel unexpectedly lost in the  attack.

However, with targets in the region becoming scarcer and harder to attack,  these groups will likely continue to extend their range of operations for new  kidnapping victims. Doing so would not only replace the resources they lost in  the attack but would also circumvent the French and African military offensive  in Mali, where their traditional smuggling activities will be disrupted.

Another lingering concern is the presence of large  quantities of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in the region. If  Belmokhtar or other militants decide to attack Westerners working at energy  facilities in the region instead of merely kidnapping them, and if increased  security prevents them from other direct assaults, like Tigantourine, these  militants could attack aircraft used to ferry Westerners to airports near these  remote sites.

As Mali becomes a more difficult environment in which to operate, these  groups likely will retreat, at least initially, to Mali’s  Kidal region and possibly Niger’s Air region. Once those areas face the  French-backed African intervention forces, a retreat farther back into southern  Libya is likely, due to the vacuum of authority there and the close links they  have with Libyan militants.

Contrary to what has been widely discussed, the Tigantourine attack fit well  within the range and capability of Sahel-based jihadist militants like those of  Belmokhtar’s group. Thus the attack was more of a reminder of the region’s  chronic problems and less a startling new threat. Militancy and banditry were  fixtures in the Sahel well before the jihadist ideology entered the region. This  history — combined with the vacuum of authority in the region brought on by the  Malian coup and the overthrow  of Gadhafi, the prospect of millions of dollars in ransom and the large  quantities of available weapons — means we will see more kidnappings and other  attacks in the years to come.

Editor’s Note: A comprehensive assessment on al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb can be found here.

Read more:  The Unspectacular, Unsophisticated Algerian Hostage Crisis | Stratfor

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Avoiding the Wars That Never End

Republished from Stratfor.

Avoiding the  Wars That Never End is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer, Stratfor.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would  transfer the primary responsibility for combat operations in Afghanistan to the  Afghan military in the coming months, a major step toward the withdrawal of U.S.  forces. Also last week, France began an  intervention in Mali designed to block jihadists from taking control of the  country and creating a base of operations in France’s former African  colonies.

The two events are linked in a way that transcends the issue of Islamist  insurgency and points to a larger geopolitical shift. The United States is not  just drawing down its combat commitments; it is moving  away from the view that it has the primary responsibility for trying to  manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies.  Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests  involved.

Insecurity in 9/11’s Wake

It is interesting to recall how the United States involved itself in  Afghanistan. After 9/11, the United States was in shock and lacked clear  intelligence on al Qaeda. It did not know what additional capabilities al Qaeda  had or what the group’s intentions were. Lacking intelligence, a political  leader has the obligation to act on worst-case scenarios after the enemy has  demonstrated hostile intentions and capabilities. The possible scenarios ranged  from additional sleeper cells operating and awaiting orders in the United States  to al Qaeda having obtained nuclear weapons to destroy cities. When you don’t  know, it is both prudent and psychologically inevitable to plan for the  worst.

The United States had sufficient information to act in Afghanistan. It knew  that al Qaeda was operating in Afghanistan and that disrupting the main cell was  a useful step in taking some action against the threat. However, the United  States did not immediately invade Afghanistan. It bombed the country extensively  and inserted limited forces on the ground, but the primary burden of fighting  the Taliban government was in the hands of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan  that had been resisting the Taliban and in the hands of other forces that could  be induced to act against the Taliban. The Taliban gave up the cities and  prepared for a long war. Al Qaeda’s command cell left Afghanistan and shifted to  Pakistan.

The United States achieved its primary goal early on. That goal was not to  deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would  achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its  command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group’s ability to plan  and execute additional attacks. The move  to Pakistan at the very least bought time, and given continued pressure on  the main cell, allowed the United States to gather more intelligence about al  Qaeda assets around the world.

This second mission — to identify al Qaeda assets around the world —  required a second effort. The primary means of identifying them was through  their electronic communications, and the United States proceeded to create a  vast technological mechanism designed to detect communications and use that  detection to identify and capture or kill al Qaeda operatives. The problem with  this technique — really the only one available — was that it was impossible to  monitor al Qaeda’s communications without monitoring everyone’s. If there was a  needle in the haystack, the entire haystack had to be examined. This was a  radical shift in the government’s relationship to the private communications of  citizens. The justification was that at a time of war, in which the threat to  the United States was uncertain and possibly massive, these measures were  necessary.

This action was not unique in American history. Abraham Lincoln violated the  Constitution in several ways during the Civil War, from suspending the right to  habeas corpus to blocking the Maryland Legislature from voting on a secession  measure. Franklin Roosevelt allowed the FBI to open citizens’ mail and put  Japanese-Americans into internment camps. The idea that civil liberties must be  protected in time of war is not historically how the United States, or most  countries, operate. In that sense there was nothing unique in the decision to  monitor communications in order to find al Qaeda and stop attacks. How else  could the needle be found in the haystack? Likewise, detention without trial was  not unique. Lincoln and Roosevelt both resorted to it.

The Civil War and World War II were different from the current conflict,  however, because their conclusions were clear and decisive. The wars would end,  one way or another, and so would the suspension of rights. Unlike those wars,  the war in Afghanistan was extended indefinitely by the shift in strategy from  disrupting al Qaeda’s command cell to fighting  the Taliban to building a democratic society in Afghanistan. With the second  step, the U.S. military mission changed its focus and increased its presence  massively, and with the third, the terminal date of the war became very far  away.

But there was a broader issue. The war in Afghanistan was not the main war.  Afghanistan happened to be the place where al Qaeda was headquartered on Sept.  11, 2001. The country was not essential to al Qaeda, and creating a democratic  society there — if it were even possible — would not necessarily weaken al  Qaeda. Even destroying al Qaeda would not prevent new  Islamist organizations or individuals from rising up.

A New Kind of War

The main war was not against one specific terrorist group, but rather against  an idea: the radical tendency in Islamism. Most Muslims are not radicals, but  any religion with 1 billion adherents will have its share of extremists. The  tendency is there, and it is deeply rooted. If the goal of the war were the  destruction of this radical tendency, then it was not going to happen. While the  risk of attacks could be reduced — and indeed there were no further 9/11s  despite repeated attempts in the United States — there was no way to eliminate  the threat. No matter how many divisions were deployed, no matter how many  systems for electronic detection were created, they could only mitigate the  threat, not eliminate it. Therefore, what some  called the Long War really became permanent war.

The means by which the war was pursued could not result in victory. They  could, however, completely unbalance U.S. strategy by committing massive  resources to missions not clearly connected with preventing Islamist terrorism.  It also created a situation where emergency intrusions on critical portions of  the Bill of Rights — such as the need to obtain a warrant for certain actions  — became a permanent feature. Permanent war makes for permanent temporary  measures.

The break point came, in my opinion, in about 2004. Around that time, al  Qaeda was unable to mount attacks on the United States despite multiple efforts.  The war in Afghanistan had dislodged al Qaeda and created the Karzai government.  The invasion of Iraq — whatever the rationale might have been — clearly  produced a level of resistance that the United States could not contain or could  contain only by making agreements with its enemies in Iraq. At that point, a  radical rethinking of the war had to take place. It did not.

The radical rethinking had to do not with Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather  with what to do about a permanent threat to the United States, and indeed to  many other countries, posed by the global networks of radical Islamists prepared  to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat would not go away, and it could not  be eliminated. At the same time, it did  not threaten the existence of the republic. The 9/11 attacks were atrocious,  but they did not threaten the survival of the United States in spite of the  human cost. Combating the threat required a degree of proportionality so the  fight could be maintained on an ongoing basis, without becoming the only goal of  U.S. foreign policy or domestic life. Mitigation was the only possibility; the  threat would have to be endured.

Washington found a way to achieve this balance in the past, albeit against  very different sorts of threats. The United States emerged as a great power in  the early 20th century. During that time, it fought three wars: World War I,  World War II and the Cold War, which included Korea, Vietnam and other, smaller  engagements. In World War I and World War II, the United States waited for  events to unfold, and in Europe in particular it waited until the European  powers reached a point where they could not deal with the threat of German  hegemony without American intervention. In both instances, it intervened heavily  only late in the war, at the point where the Germans had been exhausted by other  European powers. It should be remembered that the main American push in World  War II did not take place until the summer of 1944. The American strategy was to  wait and see whether the Europeans could stabilize the situation themselves,  using distance to mobilize as late as possible and intervene decisively only at  the critical moment.

The critics of this approach, particularly prior to World War II, called it  isolationism. But the United States was not isolationist; it was involved in  Asia throughout this period. Rather, it saw itself as being the actor of last  resort, capable of acting at the decisive moment with overwhelming force because  geography had given the United States the option of time and resources.

During the Cold War, the United States modified this strategy. It still  depended on allies, but it now saw itself as the first responder. Partly this  could be seen in U.S. nuclear strategy. This could also be seen in Korea and  Vietnam, where allies played subsidiary roles, but the primary effort was  American. The Cold War was fought on a different set of principles than the two  world wars.

The Cold War strategy was applied to the war against radical Islamism, in  which the United States — because of 9/11 but also because of a mindset that  could be seen in other interventions — was the first responder. Other allies  followed the United States’ lead and provided support to the degree to which  they felt comfortable. The allies could withdraw without fundamentally  undermining the war effort. The United States could not.

The approach in the U.S.-jihadist war was a complete reversal from the  approach taken in the two world wars. This was understandable given that it was  triggered by an unexpected and catastrophic event, the reponse to which flowed  from a lack of intelligence. When Japan struck Pearl Harbor, emotions were  at least as intense, but U.S. strategy in the Pacific was measured and cautious.  And the enemy’s capabilities were much better understood.

Stepping Back as Global Policeman

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win, and it  certainly cannot be the sole actor in a war waged primarily in the Eastern  Hemisphere. This is why the French  intervention in Mali is particularly interesting. France retains interests  in its former colonial empire in Africa, and Mali is at the geographic center of  these interests. To the north of Mali is Algeria, where France has significant  energy investments; to the east of Mali is Niger, where France has a significant  stake in the mining of mineral resources, particularly uranium; and to the south  of Mali is Ivory Coast, where France plays a major role in cocoa production. The  future of Mali matters to France far more than it matters to the United  States.

What is most interesting is the absence of the United States in the fight,  even if it is providing intelligence and other support, such as mobilizing  ground forces from other African countries. The United States is not acting as  if this is its fight; it is acting as if this is the fight of an ally, whom it  might help in extremis, but not in a time when U.S. assistance is  unnecessary. And if the French can’t mount an effective operation in Mali,  then little help can be given.

This changing approach is also evident in Syria, where the United States has  systematically avoided anything beyond limited  and covert assistance, and Libya, where the United States intervened after  the French and British launched an attack they could not sustain. That was, I  believe, a turning point, given the unsatisfactory outcome there. Rather than  accepting a broad commitment against radical Islamism everywhere, the United  States is allowing the burden to shift to powers that have direct interests in  these areas.

Reversing a strategy is difficult. It is uncomfortable for any power to  acknowledge that it has overreached, which the United States did both in Iraq  and Afghanistan. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that the goals set by  President George W. Bush in Iraq and Obama in Afghanistan lacked coherence. But  clearly the war has run its course, and what is difficult is also obvious. We  are not going to eliminate the threat of radical Islamism. The commitment of  force to an unattainable goal twists national strategy out of shape and changes  the fabric of domestic life. Obviously, overwatch must be in place against the  emergence of an organization like al Qaeda, with global reach, sophisticated  operatives and operational discipline. But this is very different from  responding to jihadists in Mali, where the United States has limited interests  and fewer resources.

Accepting an ongoing  threat is also difficult. Mitigating the threat of an enemy rather than  defeating the enemy outright goes against an impulse. But it is not  something alien to American strategy. The United States is involved in the  world, and it can’t follow the founders’ dictum of staying out of European  struggles. But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in  the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and  shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with  clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no  choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the  primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not  irresponsible.

The greatest danger of war is what it can do to one’s own society, changing  the obligations of citizens and reshaping their rights. The United States has  always done this during wars, but those wars would always end. Fighting a war  that cannot end reshapes domestic life permanently. A strategy that compels  engagement everywhere will exhaust a country. No empire can survive the  imperative of permanent, unwinnable warfare. It is fascinating to watch the  French deal with Mali. It is even more fascinating to watch the United States  wishing them well and mostly staying out of it. It has taken about 10 years, but  here we can see the American system stabilize itself by mitigating the threats  that can’t be eliminated and refusing to be drawn into fights it can let others  handle.

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

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Intelligence and Human Networks – Stratfor

Another article re-produced from Stratfor.

Intelligence  and Human Networks is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Intelligence and Human Networks | Stratfor

By Tristan Reed of Stratfor

Stratfor views the world through the lens of geopolitics,  the study of hard, physical constraints on man’s ability to shape reality.  Political decisions are limited by the geography in which they take place,  eliminating many of the options concocted by ideologues and making their human  decisions easier to predict. But the study of geopolitics only takes the  understanding of global affairs so far: It identifies the geographical  constraints but leaves an array of options open to human actors. So when  forecasting on a shorter time frame, analysis must go beyond geographical  constraints to more specific, temporal constraints. For this reason, predicting  the short-term activities of human actors requires an understanding of the  constraints they face in the human terrain within which they operate.

As a result, one task common to any intelligence organization is defining the  human network of a state, criminal organization, militant movement or any other  organization to better determine and understand a group’s characteristics and  abilities. A human network in this sense is a broad term used to describe the  intricate web of relations existing in an organization and within a specific  region. For anyone or any organization with interests in a given geographic  area, understanding the networks of individuals with influence in the region is  critical.

Intelligence and Analysis

People use human networks to organize the control of resources and geography.  No person alone can control anything of significance. Presidents, drug lords and  CEOs rely on people to execute their strategies and are constrained by the  capabilities and interests of the people who work for them. Identifying these  networks may be a daunting task depending on the network. For obvious reasons,  criminal organizations and militant networks strive to keep their membership  secret, and it is not always apparent who gives the orders and who carries out  the orders in a political body. To discern who’s who in a group, and therefore  whether an individual matters in a group, requires both intelligence and  analysis to make sense of the intelligence.

How intelligence is acquired depends on the resources and methods available  to an intelligence organization, while the analysis that follows differs  depending on the intent. For example, International Security Assistance Force  military operations aimed at disrupting militant networks in Afghanistan would  require the collection of informants and signals intelligence followed by  analysis to pinpoint the exact location of individuals within a network to  enable targeted operations. Simply knowing who belongs to a militant network and  their location is not enough; the value lies in the significance and  capabilities of an individual in the group. Detaining an individual who lays  improvised explosive devices on a road may result in short-term disruptions to  the target’s area of operations, but identifying and detaining a bombmaker with  exclusive experience and training will have a far greater impact.

The true value of analysis lies in understanding the significance of a  particular individual in a network. Mapping out a human network begins with the  simple question of who belongs to a particular network. Next, identify and  define relationships with other known individuals and organizations. For some,  this process takes the form of link analysis, which is a visual representation  of a network where each individual is represented in a diagram. Links between  the individuals who interact with one another are then depicted. These links  show an individual’s significance in a group and establish whether he is a lowly  scout within a transnational criminal organization who may only interact with  his paymaster. The paymaster, by contrast, could be linked to dozens of other  group members. Examining how many links within a group an individual has,  however, is just scratching the surface of understanding the network.

Every individual within a given human network has reasons to be tied to  others within the network. Understanding what unites the individuals in an  organization provides further depth of understanding. Whether it be ideology,  mutual interests, familial ties or paid services, why a relationship exists will  help determine the strength of such bonds, the motives of the network and the  limitations to what a network can accomplish. For example, when assessing the  strength of the Syrian regime, it is imperative to identify and examine the inner circle of President Bashar  al Assad. Analyzing these members can indicate which factions of the  Syrian population and which political and familial groupings support or reject  the al Assad regime. That key posts within the government are now occupied  primarily by Alawites indicates a combination of regime distrust of the Sunnis  and dwindling levels of support from even high-ranking Sunnis. Similarly,  examining the once-strong ties of inner circle members who have defected  indicates which factions no longer support the regime and points toward other  groups that might also have doubts about remaining loyal.

Rarely is there a completely isolated human network. Human relations  typically span multiple regions or even continents. Politicians can have their  own business interests, drug traffickers may have counterparts in another  country and militant groups may have the sympathy of other groups or even  members in a state’s government. There are no limits on how separate networks  may interact with one another. Understanding a group’s ties to other groups  further defines the original group’s influence. For example, a political leader  at odds with the powerful military of his state may find significant constraints  in governing (due to the limitations within the human network on figures linking  the military assets to political leaders). A drug trafficker with a law  enforcement officer on his payroll will likely find less resistance from  authorities when conducting illicit business (due to the capabilities that a  police officer would provide to the network).

The reasons for, and methods of, defining a human network will vary depending  on the intelligence organization. A nation with vast resources like the United  States has an exceptionally large focus on human networks around the world and a  full array of intelligence disciplines to gather the necessary information. At  Stratfor, our reasons to map the intricate web of human relations within an  organization differ as we look to understand the constraints that human networks  place on actors.

Challenges of Tracking Human Networks

The individuals in an organization are constantly changing. This means the  job of mapping the driving forces in an organization never ends, since relations  shift, roles change and individuals often are taken out of the picture  altogether. As a result, intelligence collectors must continually task their  intelligence assets for new information, and analysts must continually update  their organizational charts.

Logically, the more fluid the membership of an organization, the more  difficult it is for an intelligence organization — or rival organization — to  follow it. As an example, take Los Zetas, who dominate the Mexican border town  of Nuevo Laredo. The group always will have individuals in the city in charge of  running daily criminal operations, such as coordinating gunmen, drug shipments,  money laundering and retail drug sales. Within a Mexican transnational criminal  organization, the person filling this role is typically called a “plaza boss.”  Several alleged Zetas plaza bosses of Nuevo Laredo were killed or captured  during 2012 in Mexican military operations. With each kill or capture, an  organization must replace the former plaza boss. This frequent succession of  plaza bosses obviously reshapes the human network operating in Nuevo Laredo.

It is no simple matter for a collector to ask his informants about, or to  eavesdrop through surveillance, for information about the personnel changes. It  takes time for a new plaza boss to assume his new responsibilities. A new office  manager must get to know his employees and operations before making critical  decisions. Additionally, an intelligence collector’s assets may not be able to  provide updates right away. In the case of an informant, does the informant have  the same access to the new plaza boss as the former? Roles are more constant  within an organization and can be split up among individuals. Thus, a person who  had handled both gunmen and drug shipments may be replaced by two people to  break up the responsibilities. Therefore, collectors and analysts must seek to  understand the roles of the new plaza boss and whether he has the same influence  as the prior one.

What We Do

Understanding that the players within organizations change frequently, but  that the roles and constraints of an organization transform far more slowly, is  key to how Stratfor approaches human networks. For the leader of a nation, the  geopolitical imperatives of the nation serve as impersonal forces directing the  decisions of a rational individual. For a criminal or insurgent leader, there is  only so much that can be done while attempting to avoid notice by law  enforcement and the military, and the organization’s imperatives will likely  remain in place. In determining the constraints and imperatives, we can better  identify the significance and courses of actions of an organization without  necessarily knowing the details about the individuals serving specific  roles.

Particularly with more clandestine human networks, we continually examine the  external effects of known personnel changes. For example, how has the death of a  Taliban leader in Pakistan affected the operations of the Tehrik-i-Taliban  Pakistan as a whole, such as in the case of the Jan. 3 death  of Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan? Nazir commanded a  relatively benign faction of the Pakistani Taliban that kept more aggressive,  anti-government factions out of South Waziristan. His removal, and the nature of  his removal, could invite militants waging an active fight against the Pakistani  government to return to South Waziristan. Ultimately, Nazir was a distinct  figure in the Pakistani militant network due to his alliance with Islamabad.  While his removal won’t change the fact that militants will thrive on the  Pakistani-Afghan border (which geography dictates), it does marginally tilt the  balance away from Islamabad and toward the militants.

With the example of Los  Zetas in Nuevo Laredo, we know Nuevo Laredo is a critical location for the  transnational criminal organization. As a border town with one of the  highest volumes of cross-border commercial shipping to the United States, the  city serves as one of the principal sources of revenue for Zetas drug  traffickers. For this reason, Los Zetas will certainly continue to replace  figures who are removed by military and law enforcement.

Using this known behavior and the imperatives, we can learn about Los Zetas  elsewhere in Mexico: By observing the group at a broader geographic level, we  can deduce the significance of a capture or death in a specific locale. If the  losses of personnel in Nuevo Laredo have had a significant impact on the  organization, operations would likely suffer in other geographic areas as the  group accommodates its losses in Nuevo Laredo.

In forecasting the political, economic or security climate of a geographic  region, understanding human networks must be incorporated into any analysis.  Areas such as Mexico and Syria have geographic elements that define conflicts.  Mexico’s location between the cocaine producers of the northern Andes and  cocaine consumers in the United States ensures that groups will profit off the cocaine flow from south  to north. The Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental divide  trafficking corridors between the east and west coasts of Mexico. But geography  alone can’t be used to predict how groups will organize and compete with each  other within those trafficking corridors. Predicting the spread and scope of  violence depends on knowledge of the human network and of who controls the  resources and terrain. Similarly, the geographic significance of the Levant to  Iran and Iraq determines the importance of Syria as an access point to the  Mediterranean, but that alone doesn’t determine the future of al Assad’s regime.  Understanding who his most trusted confidants are, what their relationships are  based on and watching their moves enables us to filter the constant news of  death and destruction coming out of Syria and to focus on the individuals who  directly support al Assad and determine his immediate fate.

Inasmuch as humans can overcome geography, they can do so through  organizations that control terrain and resources. Understanding the nature of  those organizations and how they control those assets requires knowledge of the  human network.

Read more:  Intelligence and Human Networks | Stratfor

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The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power – Stratfor

This article from George Friedman of Stratfor is a follow up to his recent one on Europe’s current problems, especially unemployment.

The  Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power is republished with permission  of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer, Stratfor,

Last week I wrote about the crisis of unemployment in Europe. I  received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core  problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem,  asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s  official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the  United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in  Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States  does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number  is. Europe might.

At the same time, I would agree that the United  States faces a potentially significant but longer-term geopolitical problem  deriving from economic trends. The threat to the United States is the persistent  decline in the middle class’ standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the  social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it  continues, poses a threat to American power.

The Crisis of the American Middle Class

The median household income of Americans in 2011 was $49,103. Adjusted for  inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000  less than it was in 2000. Take-home income is a bit less than $40,000 when  Social Security and state and federal taxes are included. That means a monthly  income, per household, of about $3,300. It is urgent to bear in mind that half  of all American households earn less than this. It is also vital to consider not  the difference between 1990 and 2011, but the difference between the 1950s and  1960s and the 21st century. This is where the difference in the meaning of  middle class becomes most apparent.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the median income allowed you to live with a single  earner — normally the husband, with the wife typically working as  homemaker — and roughly three children. It permitted the purchase of modest  tract housing, one late model car and an older one. It allowed a driving  vacation somewhere and, with care, some savings as well. I know this because my  family was lower-middle class, and this is how we lived, and I know many others  in my generation who had the same background. It was not an easy life and many  luxuries were denied us, but it wasn’t a bad life at all.

Someone earning the median income today might just pull this off,  but it wouldn’t be easy. Assuming that he did not have college loans to pay off  but did have two car loans to pay totaling $700 a month, and that he could buy  food, clothing and cover his utilities for $1,200 a month, he would have $1,400  a month for mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance, plus some funds for  fixing the air conditioner and dishwasher. At a 5 percent mortgage rate, that  would allow him to buy a house in the $200,000 range. He would get a refund back  on his taxes from deductions but that would go to pay credit card bills he had  from Christmas presents and emergencies. It could be done, but not  easily and with great difficulty in major metropolitan areas. And if his  employer didn’t cover health insurance, that $4,000-5,000 for three or four  people would severely limit his expenses. And of course, he would have to have  $20,000-40,000 for a down payment and closing costs on his home. There would be  little else left over for a week at the seashore with the kids.

And this is for the median. Those below him — half of all households —  would be shut out of what is considered middle-class life, with the house, the  car and the other associated amenities. Those amenities shift upward on the  scale for people with at least $70,000 in income. The basics might be available  at the median level, given favorable individual circumstance, but below that  life becomes surprisingly meager, even in the range of the middle class and  certainly what used to be called the lower-middle class.

The Expectation of Upward Mobility

I should pause and mention that this was one of the fundamental causes of the 2007-2008 subprime lending  crisis. People below the median took out loans with deferred interest with  the expectation that their incomes would continue the rise that was traditional  since World War II. The caricature of the borrower as irresponsible misses the  point. The expectation of rising real incomes was built into the American  culture, and many assumed based on that that the rise would resume in five  years. When it didn’t they were trapped, but given history, they were not making  an irresponsible assumption.

American  history was always filled with the assumption that upward mobility was  possible. The Midwest and West opened land that could be exploited, and the  massive industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries opened  opportunities. There was a systemic expectation of upward mobility built into  American culture and reality.

The Great Depression was a shock to the system, and it wasn’t solved by the  New Deal, nor even by World War II alone. The next drive for upward mobility  came from post-war programs for veterans, of whom there were more than 10  million. These programs were instrumental in creating post-industrial America,  by creating a class of suburban professionals. There were three programs that  were critical:

  1. The GI Bill, which allowed veterans to go to college after the war, becoming  professionals frequently several notches above their parents.
  2. The part of the GI Bill that provided federally guaranteed mortgages to  veterans, allowing low and no down payment mortgages and low interest rates to  graduates of publicly funded universities.
  3. The federally funded Interstate Highway System, which made access to land  close to but outside of cities easier, enabling both the dispersal of  populations on inexpensive land (which made single-family houses possible) and,  later, the dispersal of business to the suburbs.

There were undoubtedly many other things that contributed to this, but these  three not only reshaped America but also created a new dimension to the upward  mobility that was built into American life from the beginning. Moreover, these  programs were all directed toward veterans, to whom it was acknowledged a debt  was due, or were created for military reasons (the Interstate Highway System was  funded to enable the rapid movement of troops from coast to coast, which during  World War II was found to be impossible). As a result, there was consensus  around the moral propriety of the programs.

The subprime fiasco was rooted in the failure to understand that the  foundations of middle class life were not under temporary pressure but something  more fundamental. Where a single earner could support a middle class family in  the generation after World War II, it now took at least two earners.  That meant that the rise of the double-income family corresponded with the  decline of the middle class. The lower you go on the income scale, the more  likely you are to be a single mother. That shift away from social pressure for  two parent homes was certainly part of the problem.

Re-engineering the Corporation

But there was, I think, the crisis of the modern corporation. Corporations  provided long-term employment to the middle class. It was not unusual to spend  your entire life working for one. Working for a corporation, you received yearly  pay increases, either as a union or non-union worker. The middle class had both  job security and rising income, along with retirement and other benefits. Over  the course of time, the culture of the corporation diverged from the realities,  as corporate productivity lagged behind costs and the corporations became more  and more dysfunctional and ultimately unsupportable. In addition, the  corporations ceased focusing on doing one thing well and instead became  conglomerates, with a management frequently unable to keep up with the  complexity of multiple lines of business.

For these and many other reasons, the corporation became increasingly  inefficient, and in the terms of the 1980s, they had to be re-engineered —  which meant taken apart, pared down, refined and refocused. And the  re-engineering of the corporation, designed to make them agile, meant that there  was a permanent revolution in business. Everything was being reinvented. Huge  amounts of money, managed by people whose specialty was re-engineering  companies, were deployed. The choice was between total failure and radical  change. From the point of view of the individual worker, this frequently meant  the same thing: unemployment. From the view of the economy, it meant the  creation of value whether through breaking up companies, closing some of them or  sending jobs overseas. It was designed to increase the total efficiency, and it  worked for the most part.

This is where the disjuncture occurred. From the point of view of the  investor, they had saved the corporation from total meltdown by redesigning it.  From the point of view of the workers, some retained the jobs that they would  have lost, while others lost the jobs they would have lost anyway. But the  important thing is not the subjective bitterness of those who lost their jobs,  but something more complex.

As the permanent corporate jobs declined, more people were starting over.  Some of them were starting over every few years as the agile corporation grew  more efficient and needed fewer employees. That meant that if they got new jobs  it would not be at the munificent corporate pay rate but at near entry-level  rates in the small companies that were now the growth engine. As these companies  failed, were bought or shifted direction, they would lose their jobs and start  over again. Wages didn’t rise for them and for long periods they might be  unemployed, never to get a job again in their now obsolete fields, and certainly  not working at a company for the next 20 years.

The restructuring of inefficient companies did create substantial value, but  that value did not flow to the now laid-off workers. Some might flow to the  remaining workers, but much of it went to the engineers who restructured the  companies and the investors they represented. Statistics reveal that, since 1947  (when the data was first compiled), corporate profits as a percentage of gross  domestic product are now at their highest level, while wages as a percentage of  GDP are now at their lowest level. It was not a question of making the economy  more efficient — it did do that — it was a question of where the value  accumulated. The upper segment of the wage curve and the investors continued to  make money. The middle class divided into a segment that entered the  upper-middle class, while another faction sank into the lower-middle class.

American society on the whole was never egalitarian. It always accepted that  there would be substantial differences in wages and wealth. Indeed, progress was  in some ways driven by a desire to emulate the wealthy. There was also the  expectation that while others received far more, the entire wealth structure  would rise in tandem. It was also understood that, because of skill or luck,  others would lose.

What we are facing now is a structural shift, in which the middle class’  center, not because of laziness or stupidity, is shifting downward in terms of  standard of living. It is a structural shift that is rooted in social change  (the breakdown of the conventional family) and economic change (the decline of  traditional corporations and the creation of corporate agility that places  individual workers at a massive disadvantage).

The inherent crisis rests in an increasingly efficient economy and a  population that can’t consume what is produced because it can’t afford the  products. This has happened numerous times in history, but the United States,  excepting the Great Depression, was the counterexample.

Obviously, this is a massive political debate, save that political debates  identify problems without clarifying them. In political debates, someone must be  blamed. In reality, these processes are beyond even the government’s ability to  control. On one hand, the traditional corporation was beneficial to the workers  until it collapsed under the burden of its costs. On the other hand, the  efficiencies created threaten to undermine consumption by weakening the  effective demand among half of society.

The Long-Term Threat

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is  lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising  tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and  there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time  soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk. The problem is that social  stability has been built around this assumption — not on the assumption that  everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit  from growing productivity and efficiency.

If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or  losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United  States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has  accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have  the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core  value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of  its geopolitical power.

The left would argue that the solution is for laws to transfer wealth from  the rich to the middle class. That would increase consumption but, depending on  the scope, would threaten the amount of capital available to investment by the  transfer itself and by eliminating incentives to invest. You can’t invest what  you don’t have, and you won’t accept the risk of investment if the payoff is  transferred away from you.

The agility of the American corporation is critical. The right will argue  that allowing the free  market to function will fix the problem. The free market doesn’t  guarantee social outcomes, merely economic ones. In other words, it may give  more efficiency on the whole and grow the economy as a whole, but by itself it  doesn’t guarantee how wealth is distributed. The left cannot be indifferent to  the historical consequences of extreme redistribution of wealth. The right  cannot be indifferent to the political consequences of a middle-class life  undermined, nor can it be indifferent to half the population’s inability to buy  the products and services that businesses sell.

The most significant actions made by governments tend to be unintentional.  The GI Bill was designed to limit unemployment among returning serviceman; it  inadvertently created a professional class of college graduates. The VA loan was  designed to stimulate the construction industry; it created the basis for  suburban home ownership. The Interstate Highway System was meant to move troops  rapidly in the event of war; it created a new pattern of land use that was  suburbia.

It is unclear how the private sector can deal with the problem of pressure on  the middle class. Government programs frequently fail to fulfill even minimal  intentions while squandering scarce resources. The United States has been a  fortunate country, with solutions frequently emerging in unexpected ways.

It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its  global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can  expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And  at this point it isn’t frightened but angry, believing that if only its own  solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing  that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the  magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk  — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before.

People who are smarter and luckier than I am will have to craft the solution.  I am simply pointing out the potential consequences of the problem and the  inadequacy of all the ideas I have seen so far.

Read more:  The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor

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