Three sisters, nine children, one dangerous journey to the heart of ISIS. What is the lure of the caliphate?

Hassan Hassan writes: A year after the establishment of the so-called caliphate by Islamic State, western governments are struggling for strategies to challenge sympathy among their citizens towards the militants. Foreigners continue to migrate to the territory in spite of substantial military, security and PR efforts and after Isis’s widely publicised military defeats in recent months.

And last week the process took a sinister new turn: three British sisters from Bradford left their husbands and travelled to Syria, taking with them their nine children, to live under Isis. Seven hundred Britons are now estimated to have made the difficult, dangerous and, to many, incomprehensible journey. Such incidents are hard to anticipate and to deal with and they arguably help Isis to bolster its claims of legitimacy and relevance.

A British official with a senior position in the effort to challenge the appeal of Isis to British Muslims told me that lessons were being drawn from the previous successes of al-Qaida. But this attitude, which is widespread, is one of the biggest mistakes officials and specialists make about the appeal of Isis. To apply knowledge about al-Qaida to understanding Isis is to build on previous failures – not least because al-Qaida still exists, though it is overshadowed by a more successful organisation. But more significantly, Isis bears greater resemblance to populist Islamist movements than to al-Qaida, notwithstanding their ideological proximity. Whereas al-Qaida is elitist and detached from ordinary Muslims, Isis tends to be more vernacular in the way it addresses its audience and their grievances and aspirations. It also appeals to a far wider demographic than those willing to join or publicly support its cause. David Cameron said as much on Friday when he warned of the dangers posed by members of communities and families that “quietly condone” the ideology of Isis.

Since the group’s rise last year, I have talked to dozens of members in Syria and Iraq. What emerges strongly is the expressed belief of many that Isis can be persuasive, liberating and empowering. Some members I interviewed echoed recent statements by British Muslims who joined the group. One of those is Abdelaziz Kuwan, a Bahraini teenager who rose through the Isis ranks to become a security official in charge of three towns in eastern Syria. I spoke to him over many months before he was shot dead in October 2014. In one conversation, he said: “I walk in the streets [of Bahrain] and I feel imprisoned. I feel tied up … This world means nothing to me. I want to be free.” His statement is eerily reminiscent of what Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born British national better known as “Jihadi John”, once wrote in an email: “I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.” [Continue reading…]

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Climate aid key to Paris deal, says UK energy and climate minister

The Guardian reports: Climate aid to developing countries is likely to be the biggest sticking point hindering a global deal at the UN climate talks in Paris later this year, according to the UK’s energy and climate secretary.

Amber Rudd, who will lead the UK’s negotiating team, said that creating a meaningful financial package for developing countries is “absolutely essential” for brokering an agreement.

She affirmed the UK’s commitment to meeting the global goal of making $100bn (£65bn) a year available by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Rudd said: “I think the most challenging element of getting a deal in Paris is demonstrating that we have corralled sufficient climate finance. I’m very involved with making sure we work with other governments to make sure that the [$100bn] commitment is in place so that we can give countries the confidence to sign up to the Paris deal in order to get the growth they need to take people out of poverty. Having evidence of that and being able to show we can mobilise it from 2020 is absolutely essential to getting a deal.” [Continue reading…]

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Exposure – Jihad: A British Story

Deeyah Khan writes: In Exposure – Jihad: A British Story, I investigate the roots of Islamic extremism in the UK, speaking to many reformed extremists as well as ordinary young Muslims to answer the burning question of why some young British Muslims join fanatical jihadi cults like ISIS. Why is the message of extremism and jihadism appealing to young Muslims in the UK and Europe? [Continue reading…]

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Snowden leak: Governments’ hostile reaction fuelled public’s distrust of spies

The Guardian reports: The hostile reaction of the British and US governments to the Snowden disclosures of mass surveillance only served to heighten public suspicion of the work of the intelligence agencies, according to an international conference of senior intelligence and security figures.

The recently published official account of a Ditchley Foundation conference last month says one of the event’s main conclusions was that greater transparency about the activities and capabilities of the security services would be essential if their credibility was to be preserved and enhanced around the world.

The account of the conference chaired by Sir John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, was published on Friday and makes clear the foundation recognised the widespread public unease following the revelations and that the conditions of data collection about individuals and who has access to it are legitimate areas of concern. [Continue reading…]

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UK under pressure to respond to latest Edward Snowden claims

The Guardian reports: Downing Street and the Home Office are being challenged to answer in public claims that Russia and China have broken into the secret cache of Edward Snowden files and that British agents have had to be withdrawn from live operations as a consequence.

The reports first appeared in the Sunday Times, which quoted anonymous senior officials in No 10, the Home Office and security services. The BBC also quoted an anonymous senior government source, who said agents had to be moved because Moscow gained access to classified information that reveals how they operate.

Privacy campaigners questioned the timing of the report, coming days after a 373-page report by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, which was commissioned by David Cameron. Anderson was highly critical of the existing system of oversight of the surveillance agencies and set out a series of recommendations for reform. [Continue reading…]

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David Vine: The forgotten costs of war in the Middle East

I’m sure that you’ve heard about the three bare-bones “staging outposts” or, in the lingo of the trade, “cooperative security locations” that the U.S. Marines have established in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon. We’re talking about personnel from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, a unit at present garrisoned at Morón, Spain.  It would, however, like to have some bases — though that’s not a word in use at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees all such expansion — ready to receive them in a future in which anything might happen in an Africa exploding with new or expanding terror outfits.

Really? You haven’t noticed anything on the subject? Admittedly, the story wasn’t on the nightly news, nor did it make the front page of your local paper, or undoubtedly its inside pages either, but honestly it was right there in plain sight in Military Times! Of course, three largely unoccupied cooperative security locations in countries that aren’t exactly on the tip of the American tongue would be easy enough to miss under the best of circumstances, but what about the other eight “staging facilities” that AFRICOM now admits to having established across Africa. The command had previously denied that it had any “bases” on the continent other than the ever-expanding one it established in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the horn of Africa and into which it has already sunk three-quarters of a billion dollars with at least $1.2 billion in upgrades still to go. However, AFRICOM’S commander, General David Rodriguez, now proudly insists that the 11 bare-bones outposts will leave U.S. forces “within four hours of all the high-risk, high-threat [diplomatic] posts” on the continent.

Really, you didn’t hear a peep about those bases either, even though Stars and Stripes had the story front and center?

Hmmm, that might be truly strange if anyone in this country (outside the Pentagon) paid the slightest attention to the issue of U.S. global garrisons. Of course they don’t.  They never have, which should qualify as one of the great mysteries of American life and yet somehow doesn’t. U.S. bases abroad are just about never in the news. Few are the journalists who write stories about them, though they often spend time on them. Pundits rarely discuss them. Candidates don’t debate them. Editorialists don’t write about them. These days, who even remembers the 505 (!) bases, ranging from tiny combat outposts to small American towns (with most of the amenities of home), that the U.S. built, maintained, and then abandoned in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 to the tune of tens of billions of dollars — before, that is, American trainers and other personnel were sent back to a few of them in 2014-2015 for Iraq War 3.0? Almost no one, including a Congress generally eager to cut funds on just about anything, discusses the costs of preserving the hundreds and hundreds of bases of every size and shape that the Pentagon maintains globally in a fashion that is historically unprecedented.  Back in 2012, TomDispatch regular David Vine estimated that those costs ran to about $170 billion a year, conservatively speaking, and since 9/11 had added up to a total of perhaps a couple of trillion dollars.

If you don’t get the way this country has garrisoned the planet, if you never notice its empire of bases, there is no way to grasp its imperial nature, which perhaps is the point. And of course, if you haven’t taken any of this in, as is likely if you’re a red-blooded American, then you probably have no idea that this country has sunk billions of dollars into a single base on a single island, Diego Garcia, lost in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean but crucial to America’s Middle Eastern conflicts. This also means you don’t know that the Pentagon, in an act of cruelty of the first order, demanded that a whole people be exiled from their country, their lives, everything that mattered to them, everything that rootedness means in this world, so that the base could be built, staffed, and used in America’s endless wars in the Greater Middle East without any onlookers whatsoever.

It’s a grim tale you probably won’t have heard (even if you read Military Times or Stars and Stripes). David Vine is that rarest of Americans who has found himself riveted by what Chalmers Johnson once called America’s Baseworld. He’s written about it vividly in Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, a book Andrew Bacevich has termed “a devastating critique” and that’s due out this August. No one knows more about Diego Garcia and the fate of its people than Vine does. (He wrote a previous book on the subject, Island of Shame.) So take a moment to cast your eyes to the distant edge of America’s empire of bases and briefly consider some of the other costs of this country’s mania for garrisoning the world. Tom Engelhardt

The truth about Diego Garcia
And 50 years of fiction about an American military base
By David Vine

First, they tried to shoot the dogs. Next, they tried to poison them with strychnine. When both failed as efficient killing methods, British government agents and U.S. Navy personnel used raw meat to lure the pets into a sealed shed. Locking them inside, they gassed the howling animals with exhaust piped in from U.S. military vehicles. Then, setting coconut husks ablaze, they burned the dogs’ carcasses as their owners were left to watch and ponder their own fate.

The truth about the U.S. military base on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is often hard to believe. It would be easy enough to confuse the real story with fictional accounts of the island found in the Transformers movies, on the television series 24, and in Internet conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

[Read more…]

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The myth of Magna Carta seems to matter more than the reality

Tom Ginsburg writes: Magna Carta, on which King John placed his seal 800 years ago today, is synonymous in the English-speaking world with fundamental rights and the rule of law. It’s been celebrated, and appropriated, by everyone from Tea Party members to Jay Z, who called his latest album “Magna Carta Holy Grail.”

But its fame rests on several myths. First, it wasn’t effective. In fact, it was a failure. John was a weak king who had squandered the royal fortune on a fruitless war with France. Continually raising taxes to pay for his European adventures, he provoked a revolt by his barons, who forced him to sign the charter. But John repudiated the document immediately, and the barons sought to replace him. John avoided that fate by dying.

The next year, his young son reissued Magna Carta, without some of the clauses. It was reissued several times more in the 13th century — the 1297 version is the one on display in the National Archives and embodied in English law. But the original version hardly constrained the monarch. [Continue reading…]

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British police carrying guns almost never use them

The Washington Post reports: To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.

Then there is the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally, there is the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.

“They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,” Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman said.

Yet, in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years. [Continue reading…]

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UK intelligence agencies should keep mass surveillance powers, report says

The Guardian reports: UK intelligence agencies should be allowed to retain controversial intrusive powers to gather bulk communications data but ministers should be stripped of their powers to authorise surveillance warrants, according to a major report on British data law.

The 373-page report published on Thursday – A Question of Trust, by David Anderson QC – calls for government to adopt “a clean-slate” approach in legislating later this year on surveillance and interception by GCHQ and other intelligence agencies.

However, Downing Street hinted that David Cameron was unlikely to accept one of his key recommendations: shifting the power to agree to warrants from home and foreign secretaries to a proposed new judicial commissioner. [Continue reading…]

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Extremist activity: don’t even think about it in the UK pre-crime state

By Maria W. Norris, London School of Economics and Political Science

The UK government has announced plans to bring in a new extremism bill in yet another attempt to strengthen its counter-terrorism powers. If enacted, the bill will join dozens of other pieces of legislation aimed in the same direction.

This latest addition to the already swollen terrorism statute book takes the UK further down a dangerous path, giving the government power to punish citizens even before they commit a crime.

It is hard to imagine that just 15 years ago, the UK did not have a single permanent piece of terrorism legislation. The threat of the IRA was handled with temporary provisions that were renewed each year, rather than with permanent measures.

The government powers that have accumulated since then have a direct effect on the presumption of innocence – a fundamental legal principle. Most terrorism powers now essentially distribute punishment before someone has even been charged – let alone convicted of a terrorism offence.

The new extremism bill seems to be made up primarily of such administrative measures. It includes banning orders and employment checks aimed at enabling companies to look into whether a potential employee is considered an extremist. The UK does not currently have a working definition of extremism so there is no consensus on what activities, attitudes and beliefs could lead to someone to be labelled an extremist.

Significantly, the new bill includes the creation of extremism disruption orders. These would give the police powers to apply to the high court to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. Those activities might include the risk of public disorder, harassment, alarm, distress or creating “a threat to the functioning of democracy”.

This is particularly concerning due to its vagueness. What exactly is a threat to the functioning of democracy? Not voting, or encouraging people not to vote, as comedian Russell Brand did in the run up to the 2015 election undermine the democratic process – is that enough for Brand to be subject to such measures?

These powers, dubbed extremism ASBOs by some, were first proposed last March, but were vetoed by the Liberal Democrats. The idea is to “stop extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values” but by criminalising belief and behaviour without the need for a trial, these powers mark another step towards making the UK a pre-crime society.

[Read more…]

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Jihadi threat requires move into ‘private space’ of UK Muslims, says police chief

The Guardian reports: Islamist propaganda is so potent it is influencing children as young as five and should be countered with intensified monitoring to detect the earliest signs of anti-western sentiment, Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief has warned.

Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty said children aged five had voiced opposition to marking Christmas, branding it as “haram” – forbidden by Islam. He also warned that there was no end in sight to the parade of British Muslims, some 700 so far, being lured from their bedrooms to Syria by Islamic State (Isis) propaganda.

In an interview with the Guardian, Chishty said there was now a need for “a move into the private space” of Muslims to spot views that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier. He said this could be shown by subtle changes in behaviour, such as shunning certain shops, citing the example of Marks & Spencer, which could be because the store is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned. [Continue reading…]

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Government appears helpless as hundreds of young Britons click through to jihad

By Natasha Underhill, Nottingham Trent University

We have been hearing for some time now that hundreds of mainly young people have left the UK and found their way to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. Headlines about young schoolgirls with excellent exam results and bright prospects sneaking across the border from Turkey, or the cold brutality of “Jihadi John” as a representative of Britain’s IS executioners have made for chilling reading.

While the media obsesses about the individual stories behind these defections, the UK government – like those in Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, as well as a number of northern African states – are desperately seeking a strategy to combat the lure of recruitment to jihad.

Overall, the police have noted that more than 700 potential terrorist suspects have travelled to Syria over the past year.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard reported recently that a record 338 people were arrested for terror-related activities in the UK in the year to march 2015 – almost one per day. This represents a dramatic increase of 33% on the 254 who were arrested in 2013/14 – a shocking statistic. Close analysis of those 338 arrests, shows that more than half were arrested in relation to their activities in Syria. Almost eight in ten of these suspects arrested were British nationals.

[Read more…]

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Intelligence officers in UK given immunity from hacking laws, tribunal told

The Guardian reports: GCHQ staff, intelligence officers and police have been given immunity from prosecution for hacking into computers, laptops and mobile phones under legislative changes that were never fully debated by parliament, a tribunal has been told.

The unnoticed rewriting of a key clause of the Computer Misuse Act has exempted law enforcement officials from the prohibition on breaking into other people’s laptops, databases, mobile phones or digital systems. It came into force in May.

The amended clause 10, entitled somewhat misleadingly “Savings”, is designed to prevent officers from committing a crime when they remotely access computers of suspected criminals. It is not known what category of offences are covered.

The act is primarily deployed to provide legal cover for domestic investigations. It is thought that individual warrants are not being obtained to justify each inquiry. Different legislation – section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act, nicknamed the “James Bond clause” – is believed to permit activities abroad that would otherwise be illegal. [Continue reading…]

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GCHQ openly recruiting hackers as British government seeks more surveillance powers

Forbes: Now that the Conservative Party has secured a majority government in the UK, it’s pushing ahead with plans to expand the surveillance state with the Communications Data Bill, also known as Snooper’s Charter, which would require communications providers from BT to Facebook to maintain records of customers’ internet activity, text messages and voice calls for a year. This may have emboldened GCHQ, the British spy agency and chief NSA partner, which has, for the first time, openly called for applicants to fill the role of Computer Network Operations Specialists, also known as nation-state funded hackers.

According to a job ad for a Computer Network Operations Specialist, a student or graduate will have to have, or soon have, “a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree incorporating ethical hacking, digital forensics or information security”.

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Election may set U.K. on path to a split, isolation

The Washington Post reports: After unexpected political charisma and cunning propelled him to another term as Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron will now need every ounce of those skills to avoid going down in history with an altogether different title: founding father of Little England.

A result that maintained the status quo at 10 Downing Street masked the dramatic transformations roiling Britain, ones that threaten to leave this country more isolated than at any time in its modern history.

Thursday’s election may become just the first in a trilogy of rapid-fire votes that set this island adrift from Europe, divide it in half along ancient lines of national identity and ultimately leave behind a rump state of ever-diminishing value to its American allies.

“Yesterday was V-E Day, when the United Kingdom was celebrating its finest hour. Seventy years later, it could be contemplating the beginning of its end in its current form,” said David Torrance, a British political analyst and author. “The next five years will be a twin debate about two unions — the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

The questions of whether Britain stays whole and whether it remains in Europe are deeply entangled, with the outcome of one expected to heavily influence the other. [Continue reading…]

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Democracy doesn’t stop at the election – and Britain’s is broken

By Colin Crouch, University of Warwick

It’s only after an election is over that real politics begins. The polls themselves are designed to preserve almost perfect equality among citizens in the electoral process.

But that’s just the formal side of democracy. Election campaigns have become almost liturgical, heavily choreographed events. And what takes place during the rest of the five years is the informal side – a much rougher affair, with no gestures towards equality at all.

The contrast between the two parts of politics has been stretched to breaking point as campaigns become ever more artificial, while inequalities of wealth and income grow more extreme and play an ever greater political role.

That rising inequality is creating economic and social problems is now widely understood, but there’s been far less discussion of the threats it poses to democracy. The issue really comes into focus when we recognise these differences between the formal and informal sides of democracy, and the very different ways in which they treat inequality.

In the electoral process, we quite rightly insist on important principles of perfect equality. We stick to one citizen, one vote and punish those who try to cheat, hold the parties’ broadcast presentations to strict fairness rules, ban party materials from polling stations, and closely limit individual candidates’ spending.

But democracy isn’t just about voting. It’s about campaigning, discussing, lobbying and imposing pressure – things that go on all the time, not just during elections. This is the informal part of the political system, and if it did not exist we could hardly say we lived in a democracy.

The problem is that these parts of our democracy offer no guarantee at all of equality among citizens.

[Read more…]

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David Cameron has become Benjamin Netanyahu’s most vocal international backer

Peter Oborne writes: Mr Cameron’s views on foreign policy, and in particular the Middle East, are completely different to those he used to hold 10 or 15 years ago.

Back then he was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of the term. He was sceptical of foreign adventures and pretty well immune to popular clamours.

He only voted with reluctance for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, he permitted William Hague, his foreign affairs spokesman, to describe Israeli conduct as “disproportionate,” a sentiment which led to open revolt among some pro-Israeli supporters of the Conservative Party.

Today David Cameron is a neoconservative. Along with President Sarkozy of France, he led the way in the Western intervention in Libya four years ago. Eighteen months ago he wanted to intervene militarily against President Assad, and was only deterred by a parliamentary vote.

One mark of neoconservatism is uncritical support for the state of Israel. Mr Cameron has become the most vocal international backer of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Cameron has gone out of his way to repeatedly defend the conduct of Israeli forces during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year.

Mr Cameron regularly seeks advice from Tony Blair. Mr Blair was one of the circle of advisors urging David Cameron to bomb Libya. In foreign policy terms, David Cameron should indeed be seen as a protege of the former prime minister. Both men have been steadfast supporters of the Gulf dictatorships and of Netanyahu’s Israel, and both men are unbendingly hostile to democratic movements within Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

David Cameron has protected Tony Blair. Had Mr Cameron wanted, he could have insisted on the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, which is expected to contain damning criticisms of Mr Blair.

This investigation was meant to publish its conclusions within 18 months of the British withdrawal from Iraq in 2007: it is disgraceful that eight years later, Sir John Chilcot is still at work.

Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron also promised an investigation into the very serious allegations that Britain was complicit in torture and extraordinary rendition during the Blair premiership. Instead the investigation has been suppressed.

So what happened to the foreign policy realist I used to talk to a decade and more ago? I believe that part of the explanation lies in David Cameron’s near total lack of knowledge of the world beyond Britain when he was elected prime minister. Beyond beach holidays in the Mediterranean it was negligible.

This ignorance created a vacuum which has been filled by the small, well-knit and very powerful clique of neoconservatives who surround the prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s election quake has opened chasms David Cameron will struggle to bridge

Jonathan Freedland writes: In his victory speech outside Downing street, David Cameron reaffirmed his promise to stage a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That will happen before the end of 2017, which means a two-year-long campaign to get Britain out of the EU is under way now.

Those who marvelled at the power of last year’s plebiscite on Scottish independence to stir the deepest questions of identity and belonging should brace themselves. Just such a debate is coming to the entire UK, one that will rouse profound and unresolved questions. What is Britain’s place in the world? Where do we really belong? Are we one of many – or do we stand alone?

The party that was set to lead the case for “in” has been crushed: the Liberal Democrats will not bring much firepower to this coming contest. It will require a huge effort of will for Labour to regroup and marshal its resources for such an epochal fight. Meanwhile, Ukip – heartened by the nearly 4m votes and 12.6% share it won on Thursday, even if that translated into just a single seat – will be hungry for the battle of its life.

There is no date on the calendar for the other union struggle, but it is coming too – a contest over the union that binds the four nations of these islands. A party committed to Scottish independence is now Westminster’s third-largest, a nationalist force in parliament unseen for a century. The success of the SNP is the transformative, historic event of the 2015 election. The question now is not so much whether Scotland will break away from the UK, but rather what would have to happen to make a country that has voted en masse for a nationalist party not leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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