When Kremlin Trolls Attack

February 23, 2015

Cold War II meets the social media age.

The XX Committee

The issue of online trolls doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been getting some mainstream media attention, finally. The reality that Russia buys, or at least rents, trolls by the battalion to harass, intimidate and make life unpleasant for anybody who opposes Moscow policy, while employing aggressive agitprop to further Putinist propaganda, isn’t exactly news, but it’s nevertheless welcome to see mainstream outlets doing some digging into what’s going on.

I’ve dealt with more than my share of Kremlin trolls ever since the Edward Snowden story broke in June 2013. As a major spokesman for the anti-Snowden viewpoint, as well as the only former NSA counterintelligence officer who’s talked publicly about this case at length, I’ve gotten my share of grief and then some from online Pals of Putin, with their usual modus operandi: smears, lies, slurs, and threats.

Some of these Kremlin clowns…

View original post 547 more words

Advertisements

Okay, which one of you guys bombed Libya?

August 19, 2014

map libya

And how come I wasn’t invited?

Reports The New York Times:

Unidentified warplanes on Monday bombed a small arms depot and other locations in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, that are controlled by Islamist-aligned militias, suggesting that a foreign state had intervened in the escalating battle for control of the city.

At least six people were killed, The Associated Press reported. The origin of the planes remained a mystery.

The airstrikes were beyond the capacity of the limited Libyan Air Force, and Libyan authorities said the planes had come from a foreign state. The United States, France, Italy and Egypt all denied responsibility.

“The United States was not involved whatsoever in these events,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

But the targets indicated the intent of the strikes. Although the month-old conflict in Tripoli is largely a contest for power between rival coalitions of cities and tribes, one side is considered to be allied with the forces of political Islam, while the other portrays itself as fighting an Islamist takeover. The strikes on Monday all hit the Islamist side.

Frankly, it could have been anyone, because almost everyone has reason to drop ordnance on these refugees from a medieval lunatic asylum: the US might be trying to support its clients in the rump Libyan government; the Europeans might have gotten word about a planned terrorist strike in their countries; the Egyptians  might have learned that high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood were hiding in the area. There are any number of possible reasons, and every single one of the actors named would of course deny doing it.

But I’m really curious to know who did. And why.

via Legal Insurrection


North Korea planning war with nukes, cyber-attacks? Not likely, but…

April 18, 2013

It sounds insane, but is North Korea planning a lightning war to reunify the peninsula and present both Washington and Beijing with a fait accompli? Bill Gertz of the Washington Times (1) reports that US analysts are concerned:

U.S. intelligence officials assessing North Korea’s recent bellicose statements are increasingly concerned that Kim Jong-un could use his limited nuclear arsenal as part of offensive military attack that would be calculated to improve the prospects for reunifying the country rather suffering a collapse of his regime.

According to officials familiar with unclassified assessments, the North Korean leader and his military hampered by economic sanctions and a declining conventional military force remain paranoid about a U.S. military offensive.

Reportedly, the regime in Pyongyang is also worried that the Chinese might be willing to replace the Kim dynasty and its backers with more pliable minions, presumably to remove a problem for their foreign relations, since China wants to be seen as a stable power on the world stage,   not as the allies of a country that regularly threatens regional peace.

But, given the disparity of power between North Korea on the one hand, and the US and its South Korean allies on the other, how would this war be conducted? Gertz, again:

The North Koreans are calling their strategy “the spirit of the offensive.” It calls for decisive, surprise attacks carried out very rapidly.

The strategy also calls for a four-front war against South Korea and the United States involving strategic missiles with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to destroy U.S. and allied military bases. It would launch conventional military strikes through the demilitarized zone and into South Korea. Special operations commandos would mount rear-guard attacks. Cyberwarfare would take down critical infrastructure.

A nuclear strike itself might involve missile strikes, or even special forces with small suitcase-sized “dirty bombs.”

It’s not a scenario I consider very likely, for a couple of reasons. First, as China analyst Gordon Chang points out, while the Chinese government isn’t all that thrilled with their “friends” in Beijing, the military, an increasingly dominant and assertive faction in Chinese politics. Noting reports of increased Chinese military activity near their border with North Korea, Chang argues that it is possible this is in support of the Kim regime, not a warning to it:

Why would Beijing back the world’s most ruthless regime? The answer lies in China’s fraying political system, which is allowing generals and admirals to cement control over policymaking.

Chinese flag officers gained influence last year as feuding civilians sought military support for their bids for promotion as the Communist Party retired Fourth Generation leaders, led by Hu Jintao, and replaced them with the Fifth, under the command of Xi Jinping. The People’s Liberation Army, which may now be the most powerful faction in the Party, has traditionally maintained its pro-Pyongyang views, and it is apparently using its enhanced standing to push Beijing closer to Pyongyang.

The rise of the military has had consequences. For instance, the PLA has sold the North Koreans at least six mobile launchers for their new KN-08 missile, which can hit the U.S. These launchers substantially increase Pyongyang’s ability to wage a nuclear war and are the primary reason the Obama administration decided last month to go ahead with the 14 missile interceptors in Alaska.

Today, in the Chinese capital there are many academics and Foreign Ministry professionals who know that supporting North Korea is not in China’s long-term interest. Yet where it counts — at the top of the political system — there is no consensus to change long-held policies supporting the Kim family regime.

So the “fear of a Chinese coup” theory looks less compelling. (2)

The other reason I don’t find the analysts’ concerns to be cause (yet) for alarm is that, to be blunt, a blitzkrieg-style assault using WMDs is a sure path to suicide for Kim and his cronies. Killing American troops with nuclear weapons, for example, or blowing off a bomb in Seoul, would generate unbearable pressure on Barack Obama to retaliate — there would simply be no way for him to resist. Likewise with the demand to take out the Pyongyang regime once and for all, though Chinese pressure might be enough to stave off conquest and reunification with Seoul, as opposed to regime change.

The problem, of course, is that the North Korean regime and the thinking of Kim Jong-Un is almost a black box to the outside world, its workings a mystery. What if they believe their own propaganda and think they can pull it off? Nations with far more extensive contact with the outside world have badly miscalculated before: just ask Hitler how his declaration of war on the US worked out.

So, while I don’t think the scenario Gertz outlined is anywhere near likely –I assume the North Koreans are obnoxious and obstreperous extortionists, but still rational actors when it comes to their own survival– it is illustrative of the worrisome possibilities that have to be kept in mind, because our window into Pyongyang is so small and opaque.

Footnotes:
(1) Bear in mind that, while Gertz is a solid reporter, the Times is owned by a faction of the virulently anti-North Korean Unification Church. If we’re going to acknowledge the biases of liberal papers like the New York Times, we should also stipulate those for publications generally on our side, too.
(2) It is possible that the Chinese moves are in support of a North Korean attack, but that would mean the most aggressive faction of the military has taken control, and I’ve seen no sign of that. So they may be showing support for Kim, but not that much.

via Real Clear Defense

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Benghazi Consulate Massacre: a word of caution about those emails

October 25, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about emails sent from Libya to the State Department and the White House, among others, indicating that an al Qaeda subsidiary, Ansar al Sharia, had taken credit for the assault on our consulate that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. These emails seemed to confirm what many have suspected all along: that the White House knew quickly the attack had nothing to do with an obscure video, that they knew who had really perpetrated it, and that they were lying to the American people to cover up their incompetence and to protect Obama’s reelection chances.

While I still think that’s largely true, last night Daveed Gartenstein-Ross pointed followers to an article containing an observation by Anthony Zelin that makes the “the White House knew within two hours” narrative much less certain:

However, an examination of the known Facebook and Twitter accounts of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi reveals no such claim of responsibility. Aaron Zelin, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tracks dozens of jihadist websites and archives much of what they say. He told CNN he was unaware of any such claim having been posted on the official Facebook page or Twitter feed of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi.

Zelin, who said his RSS feed sends him any new statement from the group, provided CNN with a copy of that feed. It shows no Facebook update between September 8 and September 12, when a posting late that afternoon first referenced the attack. Zelin notes that the posting referred to a news conference the group had held earlier that day in Benghazi in which it denied any role in the assault on the consulate, while sympathizing with the attackers.

This is an important point: these groups are not shy about claiming credit when they strike at the infidels (that’s us); not only is attacking us an act of religious piety that, in their view, is something to be proud of, but bragging about it also boosts the prestige of their group. Yet they first said nothing, then denied involvement.

The article continues by describing the difficulties of obtaining solid information in a place as chaotic as Libya:

In the hours following such incidents, it is not unusual for “spot reports” from agencies and overseas posts to pour in to the State Department. They typically include intercepts, what’s picked up on social media, witness accounts and what’s being said by local officials. They often contain raw, unfiltered information that is then analyzed for clues, patterns and contradictions.

In the case of the Benghazi attack, there were plenty of contradictions. Such situations are frequently chaotic, with claim and counter-claim by witnesses unsure of what happened when, according to U.S. officials. Building a complete picture without access to first-hand-accounts and little visual evidence can be a major challenge to government experts working from thousands of miles away.

So too have been the attempts to pin down who represents Ansar al-Shariah and their movements on the night of the attack.

Wings of Ansar al-Sharia, which means “partisans” or “supporters of Islamic law,” are based not only in Benghazi but in the Libyan town of Derna, east of Benghazi. The group’s leaders in Derna are thought to include Abu Sufyan bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.

A different Ansar al-Sharia is affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and budding franchises are said to exist in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

In other words, with groups as decentralized as al Qaeda and its affiliates, the leadership in one place might take false credit, while that in another might deny  it altogether, while a third, wholly unrelated group that happens to have the same name might (or might not) be the real perpetrators. (In fact, there is some indication al Qaeda jihadis from Iraq were part of the attack.) Thus the emails from Tripoli are not necessarily as damning as they may seem.

So, while I’m reasonably certain that this was an organized al Qaeda hit and not just a “flash mob with mortars,” I’m withdrawing my specific contention from yesterday that Obama had to have known within two hours that this was a terrorist hit and who did it — for now, until we get better information.

I am not, however, withdrawing or walking-back or wavering in my belief that the administration knew at some point early on that there was no anti-video demonstration and that this might well have been an al Qaeda attack. The evidence is too strong to believe otherwise (such as from drone surveillance during the fight). It appears much more likely, indeed probable, that they desperately latched onto any rumor that would allow them to claim it was someone else’s fault — an obscure film producer in California, for example. And then they stuck with it and lied to us for weeks afterward.

Forget about exactly when they knew: that they knew at all -and Obama and company had to have known- and continued to blow smoke in our faces in order to avoid responsibility is what we need to remember on Election Day.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)