Category Archives: Current affairs

War and national security in the 21st century.

USAF Deploys B52 and B2 Strategic Bombers to UK

Three USAF B52s and two B2 bombers have been deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom. Fairford is currently a standby airfield, with no aircraft permanently assigned to it, and is the only US airbase in Europe capable of operating strategic bombers. Its facilities include a long runway with an unrestricted load bearing capacity and two climate controlled hangars specially designed to take B2s.

This has been described as being a long planned training exercise, but it is difficult to see the first deployment of these aircraft in Europe since the 2003 Iraq War as being unrelated to the rising tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine. The B2s that bombed Libyan airfield in 2011 as part of the enforcement of the UN no-fly zone flew from the USA, with the help of in-flight tankers.

This BBC article includes a video from a reporter on board a B52.

Fairford was one of a global network of Trans-Oceanic Abort Landing sites for the Space Shuttle in friendly countries, which would have been used had a fault with a Shuttle prevented it returning to its US base. None of them were ever needed.

The Royal International Air Tattoo, one of the largest airshows in the world, is held annually at Fairford, with this year’s show on 11-13 July. As the US bombers are to stay at Fairford for a month, it will be interesting to see if they participate in it.

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The Iraq War – BBC2

On 29 May 2013 BBC2 broadcast the first of a three part series on The Iraq War, billed as being ‘The inside story of the war in Iraq’. The description of the first episode, titled ‘Regime Change’, from the BBC website says that:

The people at the top of the CIA and Saddam’s foreign minister describe just how the US and Britain got it so wrong about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.

Tony Blair recounts how he flew to President Bush’s private retreat at Camp David to go head to head with Vice President Dick Cheney. Colin Powell explains how he came to make his disastrous presentation to the United Nations. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes how he – and even President Bush himself – tried to persuade Tony Blair that to join in the invasion was political suicide.

As well as Cheney, Powell, Blair, Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, interviewees included more junior British, French and US officials; Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Leader, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Kurdish Region and Massoud Barzani, Leader Kurdistan Democratic Party; and Iraqis including Salim Jomaili  of the Secret Service, Republican Guard General Raad Hamdani, Foreign Secretary Naji Sabri, UN Ambassador Mohammed Douri and General Hussam Amin, Iraqi liaison to UN weapons inspectors;

Jomaili said that, just after 9/11, the USA asked Iraq, via what was described as ‘a trusted emissary, to help in the War on Terror against Al Qaeda. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz agreed, but President Saddam Hussein argued that UN sanctions against Iraq were also terrorism, and had killed far more than died on 9/11. Jomaili said that USA thought that Iraq was playing games and dropped its request. He also argued that Saddam’s regime was opposed to religious extremists, so did not support Al Qaeda.

After the Afghan Taleban were deposed in early 2002 Cheney turned his attention to what he thought was the next likely source of terror: Iraq. He asked CIA if it was possible to organise a coup. Luis Rueda, the CIA’s Chief of Iraq Operations, explained in the programme that he told Cheney that this was impossible because Saddam had crushed all internal opposition.

The USA therefore turned to the Kurds for intelligence. They had helped the USA in the past, but had suffered as a consequence. They said that it was impossible to remove the regime without external help, and would not be left stranded again.

The USA feared that Saddam would supply Al-Qaeda with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). His army had already used chemical weapons against both Iran and his internal opponents.

In the UK Blair supported the USA, but faced domestic problems. Alastair Campbell, his Head of Communications, said that the head of the Secret Intelligence Service had returned from a trip to the USA believing that war with Iraq was a matter of when, not if. Straw thought that there were two issues: to support the US desire for regime change or just to force Saddam to comply with UN resolutions? Blair thought that the separation was unreal, as Saddam would not comply. Straw pointed out that the UK considered that going to war just to change the regime was illegal.

In Iraq, Hamdani warned Saddam that there was a real risk of war, and that Iraqi weapons were obsolete. He risked his life by trying to point out these home truths to Saddam. However, Saddam, whilst dismissing his fears, took no action against him.

Powell was worried that Bush was being pushed into war; all his briefings were on military operations. Powell thought that the USA needed allies, so convinced Bush to seek new a UN Security Council resolution. Cheney was unhappy; he thought that Saddam was good at deception, and made a public speech criticising the idea of weapons inspectors.

Powell, lacking US allies, looked to the UK, meeting Straw to try to form a coalition. The UK regarded war without another UN resolution as being illegal, and could not have obtained a Parliamentary majority for it.

Blair thought that the UK had to be clear to the USA that it was a firm ally, not a fair weather friend, but would have been in an impossible position if Bush had supported Cheney. However, the President opted for a UN resolution.

Amin said that Saddam thought that the USA and UK would never be satisfied so played for time. Most governments thought that Saddam was lying when he denied having WMD. He had kept some after the Gulf War because he feared an attack by Iran, but later had them destroyed as he was afraid that they would be found. All paperwork relating to them was also destroyed, in case it was later found.

The CIA conducted a global search for evidence about WMD. At one point it thought wrongly that Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri wanted to defect; see the blog entry on The Spies Who Fooled the World, a previous BBC documentary, for more on this part of the story.

In the UK opposition to the war and demands for more information were rising. Blair presented a dossier prepared by the intelligence services to Parliament; it included the infamous and now discredited claim that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. Blair admitted that he now wishes that he had just published the intelligence reports.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution  giving Iraq 30 days to prove the absence of WMD unanimously. A 12,000 word Iraqi report was not enough for the USA, according to Stephen Hadley, the  Deputy National Security Adviser.

Bush asked the CIA for the intelligence case for war, and was told by CIA Director George Tenet, who did not appear in the programme, that it was a ‘slam dunk.’ The US case was to be presented to the UN by Powell. He complained that he lacked back up for the assertions made, and was given only the WMD case, not the human rights or terrorism ones. However, Bush had already made up his mind.

One apparently key piece of evidence was a recorded conversation in which Hamdani appeared to tell a subordinate to hide his units’ chemical weapons. Hamdani said that he was only making sure there was no trace of old chemical launchers for the UN to find.

There were huge anti-war demonstrations in 60 countries one weekend in February, including one of a million people in London. Blair needed a second UN Security Council resolution, but Cheney thought that this was a sign of weakness. Hadley said that Bush thought that it was important to go the extra mile for an ally.

The French, according to de Villepin thought that there was not enough evidence to go to war. President Jacques Chirac met Russian President Vladimir Putin and de Villepin met Powell, who said to him ‘don’t underestimate our determination.’ Chirac announced soon afterwards that France would veto the resolution.

The Labour Party whips estimated that half of their MPs would vote against was or abstain without a second resolution. Hadley said that Bush would have preferred the UK dropping out of the coalition to Blair having to resign. However, Blair said that he would prefer to have quit as PM than to have backed down; see the BBC website for an extract from the programme.

The Labour leadership managed to persuade two-thirds of their MPs to back war, enough the vote for war to be passed in the House of Commons with Conservative support. Straw adopted the old British policy of blaming the French; he told Labour MPs that the USA and UK had been forced into war by the French veto as a Security Council Resolution backed by the threat of war would have forced Saddam to stand down.

Three of Saddam’s security team were spying for CIA. They reported that he was at palace on banks of Tigris as war was about to start, giving the USA an opportunity to decapitate the enemy and perhaps win without serious fighting. There was a nightmare that it was disinformation, and some other target such a school would be hit. Cheney recommended taking the chance, and Bush decided to strike as soon as the deadline had expired. Initial reports said that a body resembling Saddam had been taken out of the rubble, but it was not him.

As war was about to start, Saddam told the Republican Guard to go to Palestine to liberate Jerusalem from Israel after they had defeated the USA; ‘a fantasy, a dream’ according to Hamdani. He asked Saddam’s son Qusay if Iraq did have WMD. He was worried that chemical weapons might blow back onto his own troops, but was told ‘don’t worry, we don’t.’

The programme is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 19 June. The second episode next week recounts how the USA and UK won the war, but lost the peace.

There were a number of co-producers, who will presumably show the programme in their markets: National Geographic, Canal+, NHK, ABC, SVT, NRK, RDI/Radio-Canada, VPRO, DRTV, TVP.

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The Gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers is a documentary film about Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, made by Dror Moreh. It consisted of interviews with the six living former heads of Shin Bet, interspersed with archive film and some CGI graphics, and told the organisation’s story since 1967. Until then the main threats to Israel were external, so Mossad, the foreign intelligence service was more important than Shin Bet.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after the 6 Day War in 1967 meant that it faced a security threat from territory that it controlled, so Shin Bet became the more important of the two intelligence services.

The film is divided into seven segments, which give it a roughly chronological order, but also discuss various themes and moral issues that have arisen since 1967, including political direction, torture, targeted assassinations and collateral damage.

The six participants are Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and  Yuval Diskin.

The seven segments are:

No Strategy, Just Tactics:

This covers the initial stages of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel had no strategy for the future of the occupied territories; everything revolved round short-term tactics aimed at reducing terrorism.

These succeeded in cutting the number of attacks hugely, but did nothing to produce a long-term solution, although some Israelis, including Avraham Shalom, wanted a Palestinian state even then.

In order to carry out a census of the occupied territories, Israeli soldiers were taught a small number of relevant Arabic phrases, including ‘We want to count you.’ Unfortunately, a pronunciation error mean that many Israelis actually said that ‘We want to castrate you.’ Shin Bet subsequently set up a very rigorous programme of Arabic lessons for its personnel.

Forget About Morality:

This deals with the hijacking of the 300 bus in 1984. The four hijackers were killed, but it subsequently emerged that two had been captured alive, badly beaten and then killed. The film attributed this to the Israeli Army, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published documents that blame Shalom and Shin Bet.

One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter:

This covers the peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO that culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Opposition to them in both Palestine and Israel resulted in the growth of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and terrorist acts by Israelis.

Our Own Flesh and Blood:

This dealt with terrorism by Israelis who opposed the Oslo Accords. Shin Bet investigations resulted in the arrest and conviction of many of them, but most were released after serving only part of their sentences. On 4 November 1995  Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli.

Victory is to See You Suffer:

The title of this segment comes from a comment made by a Palestinian to Ami Ayalon during Israeli-Palestinian talks during the Second Intifada. It means that the Palestinians would regard it as a victory if they could make life for the Israelis as bad as it was for themselves.

Collateral Damage:

This covered the targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, and the risk that innocent civilians would also be killed. At one point Shin Bet discovered that the senior command of Hamas would be meeting in a particular building. The Israeli Air Force could have dropped a one ton bomb on it, killing all of them, but also some innocent civilians. The politicians insisted that only a quarter ton bomb should be dropped. This reduced the risk of killing innocents, but meant that the Hamas leaders would be killed only if they were in the upper floor of the two storey building; they were not and survived.

The Old Man at the End of the Corridor:

This came from a belief held by Ami Ayalon when he was a child on a kibbutz that Israel was run by a wise man (David Ben-Gurion) who sat in an office behind at the end of a long corridor and made decisions after thinking things through carefully. When he entered the government, he found the corridor, but there was no door at the end of it.

In this segment the six men reflected on Shin Bet, its activities and the implications for Israel. They all thought that it was necessary for Israel to talk to its enemies, and did not seem to have been impressed by the politicians that they had worked for, apart from Rabin; he was described as understanding security issues so well that they did not have to be explained to him.

A fear was expressed that Israel may end up winning all the battles but losing the war because of stubbornness. The occupation has embittered the occupied and brutalised the occupiers. Avraham Shalom suggested that Israel is treating the Palestinians as the Germans treated the non-Jewish subjects of the countries that they occupied in WWII.

A very powerful film. All six men came across well, speaking openly and honestly. They were aware of the problems that Israel’s actions had created, and feared that its strategy was flawed, but had been in positions where they could only carry out the strategy laid down from above.

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North Korea Undercover – BBC Panorama

On Monday 15 April 2012 the BBC broadcast a documentary in its Panorama series featuring an undercover report on North Korea from John Sweeney. The programme was controversial before it was broadcast because Sweeney, posing as a professor, joined a party of LSE students who were on an eight day tour of North Korea.

The students were told that the party would include a journalist, but at least some of them thought that this meant a single print journalist, rather than a three person TV crew. Some of the students have complained, claiming that the BBC put their safety at risk, and that they have received threatening emails from North Korea. The programme did obscure the identities of some members of the party.

The LSE and other academics have attacked the programme, alleging that the affair may damage their reputation for independence and transparency. See the websites of the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC for more details of the controversy.

UK viewers can view the programme online via the I-Player. Panorama documentaries remain available for 12 months on the I-Player rather than the normal one week.

The most interesting part of the programme turned out to be a series of comments from Western experts and North Korean defectors filmed elsewhere, rather than the undercover film. The programme showed what Sweeney described as a ‘landscape bleak beyond words’, but did not add a great deal to our knowledge of North Korea because the tourists were closely supervised by two guides.

The tour featured numerous power cuts, including one when the party was visiting a factory that made electricity generators. They could not go further than the visitor’s centre because the factory has switched over to making military equipment because of the threat of war.

Other visits included a bottling plant where no bottling was taking place and a collective farm that lacked fields, crops and animals. In the words of The Independent’s TV critic, ‘North Korea is so poor that it can’t even build a convincing Potemkin village.’ For part of the tour, they stayed at a spa hotel that was surrounded with barbed wire.

One afternoon the party visited a hospital that had some impressive medical equipment, but no patients. It was explained that they are treated in the morning, and work or carry out social activities in the afternoon. The tourists could not meet the patients without their permission, and could not obtain their permission without meeting them,

The BBC crew did manage to take some photos of signs of poverty witnessed from the tour bus, despite being told not to do so by one of the tour guides. They included a women doing her washing in an icy river, people scavenging in mud and a market that appeared to lack any produce.

There were some interesting snippets from the tour. Posters of Marx and Lenin had disappeared from Pyongyang over the previous year, suggesting a focus on Nationalism rather than Communism.

There are now a million mobile phones in North Korea; they are not supposed to be used for international calls, but Sweeney got a South Korean signal on his i-phone when near the border.

A bank was being built next to the party’s Pyongyang hotel by a joint venture with a Chinese bank, showing continued Chinese investment.

The party visited the De Militarised Zone between the North and South on a day when North Korean TV was stepping up its threatening rhetoric against the South and the USA. There were no South Korean guards at the Joint Security Area, which Sweeney said was unusual. Perhaps they had been withdrawn to avoid an incident that might escalate?

Overall, however, the film from inside North Korea added nothing to a previous BBC documentary that was made openly a couple of years ago. The most interesting parts were the brief interviews with three Western experts and, especially, three North Korean defectors.

Professor Brian Myers of Donseo University said that the North Koreans were not planning a nuclear war, but one could come about due to some disastrous miscalculation. A higher proportion of population is in uniform than was the case in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy before WWII. He argued that it is a far right, ultra Nationalist state, not a Communist one.

John Everard, the UK Ambassador to North Korea in 2006-8, describes it as being a  ‘deeply racially biased’ society. He said that Kim Jong Il was an admirer of Hitler and copied him, eg North Korean rallies are modelled on the Nuremberg ones. He commented that ordinary North Korean people would admit to him that their country was poor and backward, but blame this on outside pressures. He pointed out that the growth in the use of mobile phones means that news can now spread round the country far more quickly than in the past.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Security Studies, explained that Kim Il Sung, still head of state 19 years after his death, is regarded as a ‘kind of god.’

The best part of the programme was the brief interviews with three of the 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. Sweeney could have avoided the controversy and made a better programme by staying in the South and showing more of these.

Ji Seong Ho said that saying the wrong thing would mean being sent to a political prison camp; ‘disagreement means death.’ There was a famine in 1990s after North Korea lost of support from the USSR. He lost a leg and a hand after he fell under train whilst trying to stealing coal to pay for food. His grandmother and neighbours died of starvation, and he saw lots of corpses in cities at alleyways, markets and at railway stations. Two years ago the UN estimated 6m North Koreans (25% of population) needed urgent food aid.

A female doctor  who declined to be interviewed, presumably because she still has family in the North, said that the people of the North do not rebel because they are brainwashed from an early age. Doctors who asked for more money for medicines would have been killed regardless of their ranking.

Defector Jung Gwang Il was formerly an inmate of one of North Korea’s concentration camp, Camp 15. He said that the dead were not buried in winter because of the hard ground, but were left in a warehouse until April, by when the corpses were decomposing. They were then buried, 70-80 bodies per hole. Defectors say that the concentration camps getting bigger under Kim Jong Un’s regime. The programme showed brief footage of the Yodok Camp, which is available on You Tube.

Sweeney’s conclusion is that Kim Jong Un is an untested leader, who feels that he must threaten war to establish his position, but could take it too far and cause a war.

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Royal Navy Too Small?

A recent article in Warships: International Fleet Review, written by Francis Beaufort, its political correspondent, argued that the Royal Navy risks losing critical mass. A pdf of the article can be downloaded from the UK National Defence Association’s website.

The strength of the RN, measured in ships and people, has fallen by two-thirds since the end of the Cold War; in 2004-5 it was about half its Cold War strength.

In 1982, it had two carriers, two assault ships, four ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), 12 nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN), six diesel powered submarines (SSK), 15 destroyers and 46 frigates.

It now has no aircraft carriers, although two are under construction, two helicopter carriers, 2 assault/command ships, three landing ships, four SSBNs, five SSNs in full service with two on sea trials, five destroyers in full service with two more coming into service and 13 frigates.

The number of sailors and marines was 73,000 in 1982 and 36,000 in 2004; there are now only 29,000.

The modern ships are far more capable than their predecessors, but can only be in one place at a time, making it hard for the RN to cover all its responsibilities. Beaufort points out that there is a rule of thumb that only a third of a navy’s warships will be available at any time.

Britain is an island, dependent on overseas trade, and with global responsibilities. We live in times of austerity, but the RN is now at a level where it cannot be cut further, and probably should be expanded, or else its number of tasks must be reduced.

Still, it does not look as if the Argentinian navy is any threat; the mothballed destroyer ARA Santisima Trinidad capsized in harbour earlier this year. Click here for a report and picture.

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The Spies Who Fooled the World – BBC

On 18 March 2013, the BBC broadcast a documentary called The Spies Who Fooled the World as part of its Panorama current affairs series. The spies in question were those whose claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were used by the UK and US governments to justify the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago. Other sources that showed that Iraq did not have WMD were rejected because their intelligence did not fit the views of the UK and US governments.

The programme was presented by Peter Taylor, who has made many programmes about terrorism and espionage, including Modern Spies last year.

The most important source for the existence of Iraq WMD was Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, code-named Curveball, an Iraqi who claimed political asylum in Germany in 1999. He claimed to be a chemical engineer who had worked at an agricultural seed plant. According to him, mobile laboratories capable of producing biological and chemical weapons were based there.

August Hanning, then Director of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND), and Joschka Fischer, then German Foreign Minister, told the programme that the Germans were sceptical about al-Janabi’s claims and had cut their links with him by the start of 2001.

For example, satellite photos showed that an articulated lorry could not get out of the warehouse that he said the mobile labs operated from. A friend and former boss of al-Janabi described him as a congenital liar. Al-Janabi admitted on the programme that he made up his claims.

After 9/11, however, President George W. Bush erroneously linked Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda. Curveball’s intelligence was too useful to the US case to dismiss it. There were some doubts within the CIA and MI6 about him, but his claims were accepted. The programme quoted an MI6 report as saying that:

 Elements of [his] behaviour strike us as typical of individuals we would normally assess as fabricators [but we are] inclined to believe that a significant part of [Curveball’s] reporting is true.

Further intelligence came from an Iraqi defector, Major Muhammad Harith, who claimed that the mobile labs were his idea and were mounted on seven Renault trucks. The Americans became suspicious of his story because it was elaborate and unbelievable. He was branded as a fabricator in mid 2002, but his claims remained on record.

Further intelligence appeared to show that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Rocco Martino, who had dealings with the Italian and other intelligence services, provided Elisabetta Burba, a journalist who appeared in the programme, with documents that purported to show that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from Niger. An Iraqi ambassador had visited Niger in 1999, but most of these papers were crude forgeries. Martino’s family said that he was too ill to comment.

An interview with the late Dr Brian Jones, a WMD expert at British Defence Intelligence, was shown in which he said that Saddam had sought nuclear weapons, but there was no suggestion that he had acquired them or was close to doing so. However, the alleged attempt remained on UK and US files.

In April 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Bush at his ranch in Texas and agreed to support military action against Iraqi WMD if the UN route had been exhausted. In July, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, told Blair that war with Iraq was seen as being inevitable in Washington as information and intelligence was being fixed round the policy. Dearlove was invited to appear on the programme, but said that he did not want to comment on the subject until the current Chilcot Inquiry into the war has concluded. Blair was too busy to participate.

Pierre Brochand, then Director of the French Foreign Intelligence Service (DGSE), said that intelligence was used to disguise a war of choice as a war of necessity.

In July 2002, Blair was told by Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, that public opinion was ‘fragile’ and a ‘Rolls-Royce’ information campaign was required to convince the British public of the necessity for war.

MI6 received three new pieces of information whilst preparing  a dossier on WMD that would be published on 24 September.

Iraqi WMD could be launched within 45 minutes. This came from the Iraqi National Accord, a group of Iraqi exiles based in Jordan. According to Dr Ayad Allawi of the INA, the source was an Iraqi artillery Colonel, who was assuming that boxes delivered to his unit contained biological or chemical weapons without knowing for certain. His claim that they could be deployed within 45 minutes referred to short range battlefield weapons, but the report applied it to longer range strategic missiles.

The other two new sources were too late to actually be included in the dossier, but reinforced its case. The first was a spy with access to the production of chemical and biological agents. The other was a spy called Red River, who produced hearsay evidence of mobile chemical labs, but made no claim connecting them to WMD.

Blair regarded the dossier as making it beyond doubt that Saddam had WMD. Lord Butler, who headed the first British inquiry into WMD, said that Blair did not lie, but misled himself. General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff at the time,  said that ‘what appeared to be gold in terms of intelligence turned out to be fool’s gold,
because it looked like gold, but it wasn’t.’  Butler and Jackson both argued that Blair was not a liar, but genuinely thought that Saddam had WMD.

The Bush Administration wanted to use Curveball’s evidence to make their case. August Hanning of the BND sent a cable to George Tenet, Director of the CIA, warning that this intelligence was uncorroborated. The CIA claims that it never left the desk of Tyler Drumheller, then head of its European section; Drumheller stated in the programme that he had passed it on.

In early 2003, two pieces of intelligence that claimed that Iraq did not have WMD came to light. French intelligence had a key intermediary, an Arab journalist who knew several Iraqi ministers, including the Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri. . They passed him onto Bill Murray, the CIA’s Paris station chief. The Arab wanted $1m for his information, but Murray beat him down to $200,000, including expenses. The expenses included a new suit for Sabri; he was to wear it when making a speech to the UN in order to prove that the intermediary was genuine.

Murray said that Sabri told the CIA via the intermediary that Saddam was interested in acquiring WMD, but then had only a few chemical weapons left over from the 1990s. Sabri did not appear on the programme, but issued a denial that he had provided information to the CIA. The intermediary was invited to participate, but did not do so because the BBC refused to pay him the €10,000 that he wanted in return.

Murray said that his report on Sabri’s testimony was used selectively. He argued that very bad intelligence reached the leadership quickly, whilst better intelligence did not make it.

The other source was Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, head of Iraqi intelligence. He met an MI6 officer in Jordan, telling him that Iraq had no WMD. MI6 thought that both these pieces of intelligence were dis-information, designed to  mislead. Tahir is the most senior member of Saddam’s regime to still be at liberty.

On 5 February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell put forward the case for Iraq having WMD. Joschka Fischer presided over the meeting. In the programme, he said that Powell claimed things that he could not be certain of to be facts.

No WMD were found after the war. Red River, the MI6 spy, failed a lie detector test. The 45 minute claim was dropped. In April 2004 the CIA and MI6 met Curveball and declared him to be a fabricator. Tenet resigned from the CIA a week later. Curveball admitted on the programme that the US/UK coalition went to war on a lie.

Overall, it is clear that the war was launched on faulty intelligence. At best, it may be said that the US and UK governments started with a view about Saddam and WMD and rejected intelligence that did not fit with this preconceived notion. All evidence has to be considered, not just that which confirms what one wants to hear.

For viewers in the UK, the programme is available on the I-Player from this link, which says that it is available until 18 March 2014, far longer than programmes normally stay on the I-Player. It was made jointly with ZDF of Germany.

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Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the successful US attempt to find and kill Osama bin Laden; I am using the most common spelling of his first name, but there are different ways of transliterating Arabic names into English. The US intelligence services called him Usama bin Laden or Ladin , and he is referred to as UBL throughout the film.

The film starts with the last messages left by some of the victims of 9/11. It then shows the CIA’s attempts to track down bin Laden, culminating in his death at the hands of US Navy SEALs at Abbotabad on 2 May 2011.

The main protagonist is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA analyst who is obsessed with the hunt for bin Laden. She is a fictional character, although it is unclear whether she is based on a single CIA agent, as The New York Review of Books states, or is a composite of several, as the makers of Manhunt, a documentary treatment of the story, claim.

Unlike many fictional characters with an obsession (eg Agent Mulder in The X-Files), Maya does not appear to have a personal stake in the case. Rather, she appears to be simply utterly absorbed in her job, which is to find bin Laden. She does not seem to have any life outside of her work. Even Carrie Mathison, the obsessive and bi-polar CIA agent from the TV series Homeland, with whom Maya has been compared,  visited her father, sister and nieces and had a sex life.

Zero Dark Thirty is an entertaining film, which deserved its five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Chastain, but it was fair that even better films and performances beat it in these categories, leaving it with only a joint win for Sound Editing.

The film has caused a number of controversies. It begins with one: the film-makers did not ask permission from the families of the dead to use the recordings of the last phone calls made by victims of 9/11 that are played over the opening credits.

Another is that shows the CIA obtaining vital information from torture. It has been claimed, most notably in a letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), that this intelligence actually came from other sources. Sen. McCain, captured in the Vietnam War, can give advocates of the use of torture the unanswerable reply that it did not work on him.

Michael Morell, the Acting CIA Director, distanced his agency from claims that it had co-operated closely with the film-makers in a statement that said that:

Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has just decided to drop its inquiry into how much help the CIA gave the film-makers.

The release of the film was delayed until after the US Presidential Election because it was feared that it might boost support for President Obama, since he ordered the mission that killed bin Laden. However, the film asserted that waterboarding, introduced by the Bush Administration, but banned by Obama, was a key element in finding bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Neither President nor any members of their Cabinets are portrayed by an actor in the film. The most senior officials to appear are the CIA Director (James Gandolfini) and the National Security Adviser (Stephen Dillane). Each is described by his job title rather than name in the film; the incumbents were Leon Panetta and Tom Donilon.

Overall, this is a good film, but it is marred by the rudeness shown to the families of the 9/11 victims whose last messages are broadcast without permission, and by its ambiguous attitude to torture. Not showing it would have been a whitewash, but the film shows it producing useful intelligence. The Guardian quotes Bigelow as telling the New York Film Critics Circle, who had just given her their Best Director award that:

I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices; no author could ever write about them; and no film-maker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.

The trouble is that the difference between depiction and endorsement will be lost on some, who will see torture producing the evidence that led the good guys to get the bad guy, when in reality it did not.

Incidentally, the zero dark is US military code for midnight, so zero dark thirty means 0030 am, the time at which the SEALs attacked bin Laden’s compound.

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Stratfor

Over the last three months, I have been republishing a number of articles from Stratfor, a US company that describes itself as ‘a global intelligence company that specializes in Web publishing and  client solutions.’ These articles have not had many hits, and I have decided that I would rather concentrate on posting things that I have written myself.

Anybody who wants to continue reading Stratfor’s reports can subscribe from this link. Enter your email in the box in the right hand column labelled ‘Sign Up for Free’ to receive the two weekly emails that I have been republishing, One is on Geopolitics and the other is about Security. You can also read them on their website, from the link labelled FREE.

Subscribers to the free reports receive regular emails inviting them to subscribe to their paid services, generally at a significant discount to the list price. I do not subscribe to these, so cannot comment on their quality.

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Soft Targets Back in Focus – Stratfor

Soft Targets  Back in Focus is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

From time to time, I will sit down to write a series of analyses on a  particular topic, such as the fundamentals of terrorism series last  February. Other times, unrelated events in different parts of the world are  tied together by analytical threads, naturally becoming a series. This is  what has happened with the last three weekly security analyses — a common  analytical narrative has risen to connect them.

First, we discussed how the Jan. 16 attack  against the Tigantourine natural gas facility near Ain Amenas,  Algeria, would result in increased security at energy facilities  in the region. Second, we discussed foreign  interventions in Libya and Syria and how they have regional or even  global consequences that can persist for years. Finally, last week  we discussed how the robust,  layered security at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara served to thwart a  suicide bombing.

Together, these topics spotlight the heightened and persistent terrorist  threat in North Africa as well as Turkey and the Levant. They also demonstrate  that militants in those regions will be able to acquire weapons with ease. But  perhaps the most important lesson from them is that as diplomatic missions are  withdrawn or downsized and as security is increased at embassies and energy  facilities, the threat is going to once again shift toward softer targets.

Soft Targets

Obviously, individuals desiring to launch a terrorist attack seek to strike  the highest-profile, most symbolic target possible. If it is well known,  the target can magnify the  terror, especially when the operation grabs the attention of international  media. Such extensive exposure not only allows people around the globe to  be informed minute by minute about unfolding events, but it also permits them to  become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased  exposure also ensures that the audience affected by the operation becomes far  larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of the attack. The attack  on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador  Christopher Stevens led to months of media coverage that has included televised  congressional hearings and fierce partisan and bureaucratic squabbles in  the media. It was the terrorist equivalent of winning the lottery.

However, in the wake of terrorist attacks, increased situational awareness  and security measures make successful attacks difficult to replicate. Targets  become more difficult to attack — what we refer to as hard targets. When this  happens, attackers are forced to either escalate the size and force used in  their attack, identify a vulnerability they can exploit or risk  failure.

In the August 1998 attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,  Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, al Qaeda planners turned to the first  option: a larger attack. They attempted to use large truck bombs to  overcome the embassies’ layered security. The embassies had decent  perimeter security but lacked enough distance between the street and the  buildings to protect them from a large blast. In both attacks, the attackers  also tried unsuccessfully to get the bomb-laden trucks through perimeter  security vehicle checkpoints to detonate them closer to the embassy  buildings.

After those bombings, security enhancements made most diplomatic  facilities more difficult to attack, leading militant groups to turn  their attention to hotels. A strike on an international hotel in a  major city can make almost the same kind of statement against the West as a  strike on an embassy. Hotels are often full of Western business travelers,  diplomats, intelligence officers and, not insignificantly, members of the media.  This has made hotels target-rich environments for militants seeking to kill  Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate  the extreme security of a hard target like a modern embassy.

But increased security is not the only factor that leads those wishing to  conduct a terrorist attack to gravitate toward softer targets. For the better  part of a decade, we have chronicled how  the global jihadist movement has devolved from an organizational model  based on centralized leadership and focused global goals to a more amorphous  model based on regional franchises with local goals and strong grassroots  support. For the most part, these regional franchises lack the training and  funding of the al Qaeda core and are therefore less capable. This means  franchise groups are often unable to attack hard targets and tend to focus on  softer targets — such as hotels or the U.S. ambassador while he is staying at a  poorly protected office in Benghazi rather than at his residence in Tripoli.

Changing Threats in North Africa

As hotels in places like Amman and Jakarta became harder to attack with large  vehicle bombs, attackers began to smuggle  in smaller devices to bypass the increased security. There was also a trend  in which attackers hit restaurants where Westerners congregated rather than the  more secure hotels.

The same dynamic will likely apply today in the Sahel. We believe  that the attack at the Tigantourine natural gas facility in Algeria was greatly  aided by the complacency of the security forces. The attackers did not  demonstrate any sort of advanced terrorist tactics or tradecraft. It would be  very hard to replicate the attack on another energy facility in the  region today due to increases in awareness and security. The  increase in security will be compounded by the fact that al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb and its jihadist brethren in the Sahel lack sophisticated  terrorist capabilities and have lost their bases in northern Mali.  This means they will be hard-pressed to conduct a successful attack against a  hard target.

Furthermore, having lost substantial quantities of men and materiel, and with  French and African forces potentially interdicting their lucrative smuggling  routes, these jihadist groups will be looking to refill their coffers.  Kidnapping is a longstanding way for militant groups in the region to resolve  precisely these issues. Although they have lost control of the towns they  captured in northern Mali, these groups will continue to pose a  threat of kidnapping over a wide swath of North Africa.

Turkey and Lebanon

While the jihadist militants in Syria are currently fixated on attacking the  Syrian regime, there is nonetheless a non-jihadist threat in Turkey — and  perhaps Lebanon — that emanates from the Syrian intelligence and its proxy  groups in the region. However, the Feb. 1 attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara demonstrated the limitations of the capabilities of one of  those proxies, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

Carrying on the operational legacy of its parent organization, Devrimci Sol,  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front aspires to conduct spectacular  attacks, but its attacks frequently fizzle or fail. Successfully striking a  hardened target such as the U.S. Embassy is beyond the group’s capability. In  fact, the group frequently botches attacks against softer targets, as in the  attack against an American fast food chain outlet in May 2012 that  failed when the explosive device malfunctioned.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s limited tactical  capability supports the theory that the attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara was commissioned by the Syrian regime. The group has even  failed in suicide bombings against Turkish police stations with far  less security; it knew it was attacking something beyond its reach.  But at the same time, the group’s limited capability and the failure of the  attack against the U.S. Embassy will likely result in a shift to softer targets  if the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front was acting at Syria’s  behest and the Syrians have asked for additional anti-American attacks.

As noted last week, Devrimci Sol conducted dozens of attacks against U.S. and  NATO targets in Turkey during late 1990 and early 1991 at the behest of Saddam  Hussein. The majority of these attacks were directed against soft targets such  as U.S. corporate offices, nongovernmental organizations, hotels and  restaurants. We believe these same targets are in jeopardy of attack by  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front now.

Syria maintains a number of proxy militants in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. Hezbollah has its own  calculations and may not be as willing as Syria’s smaller proxy groups  to act on Syria’s behalf. Hezbollah maintains a far more sophisticated militant  capability than these small groups and is able to attack hard targets, unlike  the smaller groups. Therefore, if the Syrians commission a terrorist  attack in Lebanon and Hezbollah does not help them, the attacks their proxy  groups will carry out will be quite limited — and will again focus on soft  targets.

For the most part, soft targets are soft by their very nature. It  is not only impractical to employ embassy-like security at a fast food  restaurant, but it is inordinately expensive — too expensive to be economically  feasible for a business. Still, there are some simple and practical security  measures that can be taken to make them slightly more secure and hopefully cause  anyone planning an attack to divert their operation toward an even  softer target.

Additionally, individuals living in or traveling to these places can and  should practice good situational  awareness, review their personal  contingency plans and mentally prepare  to respond to any crisis.

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

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The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy – Stratfor

The  Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy | Stratfor

By Lauren Goodrich and Marc Lanthemann

The future of Russia’s ability to remain a global energy supplier and the  strength the Russian energy sector gives the Kremlin are increasingly in  question. After a decade of robust energy exports and revenues, Russia is  cutting natural gas prices to Europe while revenue projections for its energy  behemoth, Gazprom, are declining starting this year.

Russia holds the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas and  continually alternates with Saudi Arabia as the top oil producer. The country  supplies a third of Europe’s oil and natural gas and is starting to export more  to the energy-hungry  East Asian markets. The energy sector is far more than a commercial asset  for Moscow; it has been one  of the pillars of Russia’s stabilization and increasing strength for more  than a century. The Kremlin has designated energy security as the primary issue  for Russia’s national security, especially since recent changes in global and  domestic trends have cast doubts on the energy sector’s continuing strength.

Throughout Russian history, the country’s energy sector periodically has  strengthened and weakened. Managing this cycle has been a centerpiece of  Russia’s domestic and foreign policy since czarist times. This historical burden  now rests on Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Russia’s Imperatives and the Energy Factor

Russia is an  inherently vulnerable country, surrounded by other great powers and  possessing no easily defensible borders. In addition, Russia is a massive,  mostly inhospitable territory populated by diverse ethnic groups that  historically have been at odds with Moscow’s centralized authority. This leaves  Russia with a clear set of imperatives to hold together as a country and  establish itself as a regional power. First, Russia must consolidate its society  under one authority. Second, it must expand its power across its immediate  neighborhood to create buffers against other powers. (The creation of the Soviet  Union is the clearest example of this imperative in action.) Finally, it must  leverage its natural resources to achieve a balance with the great powers beyond  its periphery.

Russia has used a variety of tools throughout history to achieve these  imperatives, ranging from agricultural exports to pure military  conquest and intimidation. Starting in the late 1800s, Russia added energy to  the list of vital commodities it could use to achieve its central strategic  goals. By the 1950s, Russia’s energy sector had become one of the major pillars  of its economic and political strength.

The revenues from oil and natural gas exports show how the energy sector  empowered the Kremlin to consolidate the country. Energy export  revenues for the Russian Empire began flowing into government coffers  in the late 1800s, with oil export revenues making up 7 percent of the export  earnings. These revenues rose to 14 percent in the late 1920s during the early  stages of the Soviet Union, and by the 1950s accounted for half of Soviet export  earnings. Currently, energy revenues make up half of the  government’s budget. This capital influx was and continues to be  instrumental in helping Russia build the military and industrial basis needed to  maintain its status as a regional — if not global — power. However, as the  Russian governments became dependent on energy, the revenues also became a large  vulnerability.

Beyond export revenues, the energy sector has contributed to the creation of  a domestically stable and industrialized state. Russia’s  domestic energy consumption is very high due to extremely cold weather for  most of the year, but despite inefficiencies within the energy sector  and the cost of producing energy, the country’s domestic reserves have  enabled Moscow to provide its citizens and the industries that employ them with  low energy prices.

The energy sector also contributes to Russia’s ability to expand its  influence to its immediate neighbors. Moscow’s use of energy as leverage in the  buffer states differs from country to country and ranges from controlling  regional energy production (as it previously did in the Azerbaijani and Kazakh  oil fields) to subsidizing cheap energy supplies to the countries and  controlling the energy transport infrastructure. Russia has used similar  strategies to shape relationships beyond the former Soviet states. For instance,  Russia is one of Europe’s two main energy suppliers and is the only European  supplier with large reserves of oil and natural gas and historically cheap  prices. Russia’s physical connectivity with Europe and ability to undercut any  competitor have served as the basis of many of Moscow’s relationships in  Europe.

Evolution of Russian Energy Strategies

Energy’s usefulness as a means of achieving Russia’s three main imperatives  has altered over time because Russia has had to change its strategies depending  on shifts in domestic or international circumstances. Moscow’s strength lies in  its flexibility in managing its energy sector.

The importance of Russian energy was established in the late 1800s, when the  monarchy saw great potential for the Russian Empire if it could develop this  sector on a large scale. However, the empire had neither the technology nor the  capital to start up an indigenous energy industry. As a solution, the monarchy  eased its foreign investment restrictions, inviting European and U.S. firms to  develop the Baku and Volga oil fields. This brought about a brief period of  warmer relations between the Russian Empire and many Western partners,  particularly the United Kingdom, France and the United States. All parties soon  realized that the only way to make the Russian oil business profitable despite  the high costs associated with the country’s harsh and vast geography was to  transform Russia into a massive producer. By the turn of the century, the  Russian Empire was producing 31 percent of global oil exports.

As the importance of the Russian Empire’s energy sector grew, it became clear  that Russia’s internal stability greatly affected the sector. The Bolsheviks  used the energy sector in their attempts to overthrow the monarchy in the early  1900s. The oil-producing regions were one of the primary hubs in which the  Bolsheviks operated because energy was one of the few sectors with organized  workers. In addition, the Bolsheviks used the oil rail networks to distribute  propaganda across the country and abroad. In 1904, when the Russian Empire  cracked down on an uprising in St.  Petersburg, mostly Bolshevik protesters set the Baku oil fields  on fire. This cut Russia’s oil exports by two-thirds, forcing Moscow and the  foreign markets to realize oil exports’ great vulnerability to Russian domestic  stability.

Russia’s modern energy strategies began forming after World War II.  With the Soviet Union left standing as one of two global hegemons towering over  a divided Europe, Moscow saw no barriers to achieving dominance in the global  energy field. Between the 1950s and 1960s, Soviet oil output had doubled, making  the Soviet Union once again the second-largest oil producer in the world and  primary supplier to both Eastern and Western Europe. Revenues from oil  exports started to make up nearly half of Soviet export income.

Because the Soviet Union was producing oil en masse and the Soviet  system kept labor costs low, Russia was able to sell its oil at prices  almost 50 percent lower than oil from the Middle East. The subsidization of  oil to the Soviet bloc and then to Western European countries helped Moscow  undercut Western regimes and strengthen its position in its own periphery  — a strategy that the CIA dubbed the Soviet Economic Offensive. For the  Soviets, this was not about making money (although they were making money) as  much as it was about shaping a sphere of influence and undermining the West.  This strategy came at a cost, since Moscow was not bringing in as much revenue  as it could and was producing oil inefficiently, rapidly depleting its  fields.

In the 1970s, the price of oil skyrocketed due to a series of crises mostly  in the Middle East. At the same time, Russia was already feeling the strain of  sustaining the massive Soviet Union. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s regime was  left with a choice: use the high global prices as a reason to raise prices in  Eastern Europe and benefit the Soviet economy, or continue subsidizing the  Eastern bloc in order to keep it beholden to Moscow and not push it to start  thinking about other energy sources. It was a choice between two  imperatives: Soviet national stability and holding the buffer zone. In the end,  Moscow chose to protect its own interests and in 1975 raised the price of  oil for its customers, allowing for further increases based on global  market prices. By 1976, oil prices in the Eastern bloc had nearly doubled,  remaining below global prices but rising high enough to force some countries in  the bloc to take out loans.

The Soviet focus on maintaining high energy revenues continued through the  mid-1980s, when these revenues accounted for nearly all of the Soviet Union’s  hard currency inflows. But the Soviets were dealt a double blow in the mid-1980s  when the price of oil collapsed and the West imposed an embargo on Soviet oil,  prompting Saudi Arabia to flood the oil markets. Moreover, the Soviet Union was  falling far behind the West in technology, particularly in energy and  agriculture. In response, starting in 1985, the Soviet Union moved closer to a  market-based energy economy, raising prices for the Eastern bloc, requiring hard  currencies for payment and allowing foreign firms to re-enter the energy  sector.

But Russian strategy shifts were not deep and timely enough to prevent the  collapse of the Soviet Union. In the decade following the fall of the Soviet  bloc, the Russian energy industry was in disarray. The energy liberalization  that started under Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s was taken to an extreme under  Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. As a result, production fell by half and the Russian  energy sector was divided between foreign groups and the emerging Russian  oligarch class.

This changed under Vladimir Putin in 2000. One of the first items on Putin’s  agenda to help stabilize the country was to consolidate the energy sector under  state control. This meant radically reversing the liberal policies from the two  decades before. The government effectively nationalized the majority of the  energy sector under three state behemoths: Gazprom,  Rosneft and Transneft. The Kremlin became more aggressive in negotiating supply  contracts with the former Soviet states and Europe, locking them into large  volumes at extraordinarily high prices because these customers had no  alternative energy supplies. The Kremlin also began cutting energy supplies to  certain markets — blaming troublesome transit states such as Ukraine — in  order to shape other political negotiations.

Though Moscow’s energy strategy became fairly aggressive, it helped bring  about a stronger and more stable Russia. Russian energy revenues soared due to  high global oil prices and the high natural gas prices it charged in Europe.  Russia had excess funds to pump into its political, social, economic and  military sectors. Energy politics also helped Russia leverage its influence in  its former backyard and forced Europe to step back from countering Russia’s  resurgence. Of course, the financial crises that swept Europe and Russia in  2008 reminded Russia of its need for its biggest energy clients when oil prices  dropped and demand began declining.

Challenges to Maintaining Russian Energy

Russia’s top concern is its vulnerability to fluctuations in the price of  energy. With half of the Russian budget coming from energy revenues (of that, 80  percent is from oil and 20 percent comes from natural gas), the government could  be crippled should energy prices fall. The Kremlin has already decreased its  budget projections for oil prices to $93 per barrel instead of $119 — though  even at that price, the government is playing a game of chance. Stratfor is not  in the business of forecasting oil prices, but historical patterns show that  major international crises and fluctuations in global consumption and production  patterns repeatedly have had sufficient impact on oil prices and on Moscow’s  revenues to destabilize the country.

Natural gas export revenues are also currently in question. With alternative  natural gas supplies coming online for Russia’s  largest consumer, Europe, the Kremlin has been forced to lower its prices in  recent months. This year, Gazprom expects to give European consumers  $4.7 billion — approximately 10 percent of Gazprom’s net revenues — in rebates  due to price cuts.

In its current configuration, Russia’s energy sector is under strain. The  consolidation of the sector mostly under two large state firms had many benefits  for the Kremlin, but after a decade of consolidation the disadvantages are  piling up. With little competition for Russia’s natural gas giant, Gazprom, the  firm is lagging in technology and is considered unfriendly to outside  investment. Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, recently began evolving into a  larger monopoly like Gazprom, which could lead it to fall into a similar trap.  With future energy projects in Russia requiring more advanced technology (due to  their location and environment) and more capital, both Gazprom and Rosneft need  modernization and foreign investment.

Corruption is also a major factor, with varying estimates of 20 to 40 percent  of Gazprom’s revenues lost to either corrupt or inefficient practices. Rosneft  has similar problems. This loss would be sustainable with Moscow’s previous high  energy revenues, but it will not be sustainable in the future should energy  prices fall or the maintenance and expansion of the energy sector become more  expensive. The Kremlin is probing Gazprom, although with a culture of corruption  rampant throughout Russian history there is little the Kremlin will be able to  do to eliminate wrongdoing within the natural gas firm.

Moreover, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is decreasing. The natural  gas shortages experienced throughout Europe during the Russian-Ukrainian  crises of 2006 and 2009 were a stark reminder of how vulnerable  European nations were because of their dependence on Russian natural gas  exports. Both unilaterally and through the European Union, European countries  began developing strategies that would allow them to mitigate not only Europe’s  vulnerability to disputes between Moscow and intermediary transit states, but  also its general dependence on energy from Russia.

The accelerated development of new and updated liquefied  natural gas import facilities is one such effort. This will give certain  countries — Lithuania and Poland, most notably — the ability to import natural  gas from suppliers around the globe and bypass Russia’s traditional lever:  physical connectivity. This is particularly significant in light of the  accelerated development of several unconventional natural gas plays in the  world, particularly the shale reserves in the United States. The development of  a pipeline project that would bring non-Russian Caspian natural gas to the  European market is another attempt — albeit less successful so far — to  decrease European dependence on Russian natural gas.

Additionally, a set of EU-wide policies, including the Third  Energy Package, has begun giving EU member nations the political and legal  tools to mitigate Gazprom’s dominance in their respective natural gas supply  chains. This common framework also allows European nations to present a more  unified front in challenging certain business practices they believe are  monopolistic — the latest example being the EU Commission probe into Gazprom’s  pricing strategy in Central Europe. This, coupled with the EU-funded efforts to  physically interconnect the natural gas grids of EU members in Central Europe,  has made it increasingly difficult for Russia to use natural gas pricing as a  foreign policy tool. This is a major change in the way Moscow has dealt with the  region for the past decade, when it rewarded closer ties with Russia with low  gas prices (as with Belarus) and increased rates for those who defied it (the  Baltics).

Finally, Russia faces the simple yet grave possibility that the escalating  financial and political crisis in Europe will continue to reduce the Continent’s  energy consumption, or at least preclude any growth in consumption in the next  decade.

Russia’s Next Move

The Putin administration is well aware of the challenges facing the Russian  energy sector. Russia’s attempts in the past decade to shift away from  dependence on energy exports by focusing on industrial development have not been  particularly successful and keep the country tied to the fate of its energy  sector. Russia’s strategy of using its energy exports as both a foreign  policy tool and a revenue generator is contradictory at times: To use energy in  foreign policy, Moscow must be able to lower or raise prices and threaten to cut  off supplies, which is anathema to the revenue-generating aspect.

Global and regional circumstances have changed to the point that Moscow has  had to prioritize one of the two uses of its energy industry — and it has  unequivocally decided to maintain its revenue-generating capability. The Kremlin  has begun crafting a set of policies designed to adjust the country to the  changes that will come in the next two decades.

First, Russia is addressing the very damaging uncertainty surrounding its  relationship with key transit states that traditionally allowed it to export  energy to Europe. The construction of the Ust-Luga oil terminal on the Baltic  Sea allows Russia to largely bypass the Belarus pipeline system and ship  crude and oil products directly to its consumers. Similarly, the construction of  the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea — and eventually its  southern counterpart, South  Stream, through the Black Sea — will allow Russian natural gas to bypass  the Ukrainian and Belarusian transit systems if necessary. These two  pipelines primarily will ensure natural gas deliveries to the major European  consumer markets in Germany and Italy, with which Russia seeks to maintain  long-term strategic partnerships.

By allowing Russia to guarantee deliveries to its major European customers,  the bypass systems ensure Moscow’s vital energy revenues. This strategy of  future energy export flexibility will also progressively reduce the leverage  Minsk and Kiev can exert in warding off Moscow’s attempts at consolidating  Belarus and Kiev as vassal buffer states — one of the few foreign policy goals  Moscow is still intent on pursuing through energy strategy.

Moreover, Moscow has adapted its energy strategy with European customers amid  growing diversification and liberalization efforts. Gazprom has begun expanding  the natural gas discounts formerly reserved for strategic partners such as  Germany or Italy. The Kremlin knows that its only hope of maintaining natural  gas revenues in the face of a potential global shale boom is to lock its  customers into price-competitive, long-term contracts. Moscow will continue  showing that it can offer European consumers guaranteed high volumes and  low-cost deliveries that producers relying on liquefied natural gas shipping for  transport can seldom afford.

Finally, Russia is focusing significant attention and funds on developing  connections to the growing East Asian energy markets, diversifying its export  portfolio should challenges in the European market continue intensifying. One  aspect common to all the strategies Russia is set to pursue for the next decade  is the high capital needed to complete them; the Eastern  Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline alone is set to cost nearly $15  billion. Despite the effects of the financial crisis in 2009, Russia still has  vast capital reserves earmarked for these large-scale projects, but these funds  are not infinite.

The Kremlin appears keenly aware of the challenges that Russia will face in  the next two decades as another energy cycle draws to an end. Unlike  Brezhnev and Gorbachev, Putin has proven capable of enacting effective  policy and strategy changes in the Russian energy sphere. While Russia’s  dependence on high oil prices continues to worry Moscow, Putin has so far  managed to respond proactively to the other external shifts in energy  consumption and production patterns — particularly those affecting the European  natural gas market. However, the long-term sustainability of the model  Russia is moving toward remains doubtful.

Read more:  The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy | Stratfor

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