Mueller And Why The Delay

Some interesting sleights-of-hand in what I take to be a White House riposte to my Daily Beast article last week authored with colleague Shane Harris. The riposte is carried in the Washington Post. The thrust of our piece was that the administration received from British sources by the and of the first week of June positive identification on the whereabouts of American and British hostages held by the Islamic State. By late May there were three possible locations for the captives — all in or around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants in northern Syria.

Our sources — a mixture of British and White House officials and private security contractors as well as family members and friends of American hostages James Foley, Steve Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — confirm that positive identification of the location the captives were being held at had been passed on to the administration by June 6. The thrust of our article was that, and I quote the opening paragraph of the story, “The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service.”

The foreign service in question was British intelligence.

Officials — including deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — seem at great pains in the Post piece to insist that Obama signed off on the rescue mission within about 24 hours when presented with a final operational plan. But the question remains, why if the administration received the crucial information by June 6 did they wait until July 4 to launch the rescue, by which time the captives had been moved. There is no denial carried in the Post article about when the administration received intelligence about the location.

And in our Daily Beast article, we don’t suggest the hold up was with the President but his officials. I quote: “But a U.S. official said that inside the White House, Obama’s senior national-security advisers were not willing to base a raid on intelligence developed by a foreign service. ‘The issue was that they didn’t trust it, and they wanted to develop and mature the intelligence, because it wasn’t our own,’ said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing sensitive hostage-rescue efforts. ‘They got the information. They just didn’t trust it. And they did sit on it, there’s no doubt about that,’ the official said.”

Dithering Again?

My latest piece co-authored with Daily Beast colleague Shane Harris has prompted a storm of comments. We explore claims that the Obama administration delayed last summer acting on intelligence received about the location of Western captives held by ISIS.

The opening paragraphs:

“The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service, U.S. and British officials told The Daily Beast.

British officials, as well as private security contractors, said they were frustrated by Washington’s hesitance to give the go-ahead for a rescue attempt, which eventually was carried out on July 4, 2014, by which time the hostages had been moved. The following month, ISIS began beheading its American and British prisoners in a series of grisly Internet videos”

You can read the full report here.

Worth noting the speed with which Israeli acted back in 1976 to mount a mission to rescue hostages held at Entebbe. The Air France passenger jet was seized by Palestinian militants on June 27; the rescue operation was launched July 6.

Ghost of Chamberlin: Munich Revisited

A rift is growing between Washington and Berlin over how to handle Vladimir Putin and his stoking of pro-Moscow separatism in the Donbas region of east Ukraine. Despite the denials of Secretary of State John Kerry, the split is becoming more obvious with each passing conference — or gathering for peace talks.The Munich security conference has exposed the divergence.

While Obama officials are playing it all down, senior US lawmakers aren’t so reticent. “History shows us that dictators will always take more if you let them,” says Sen. John McCain, comparing Angela Merkel and François Hollande’s talks with Vladimir Putin to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

A useful take on the conference can be found here at the Daily Telegraph.

The split dramatizes the recent remark by Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck: “Germans and Americans appear to live on different planets.”

American Oil Worker Dead as Egyptian Jihadists Turn to ISIS

“Formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (roughly, Champions of Jerusalem), the group now calling itself Sinai Province announced the slaying on a Twitter account and posted images of oil worker William Henderson’s passport and identification cards. It did not say how the slaying was carried out….

The Sinai-based jihadi group claiming responsibility for the oil worker’s murder has grown increasingly proficient carrying out attacks and sophisticated selecting targets based on their “strategic value.” It has conducted scores of attacks since the July 2013 ouster by the Egyptian armed forces of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and with each blast or shooting the group has been expanding its theater of operations. Originally it was a low-level insurgency mainly confined to the Sinai Peninsula . but recently it has been hitting at high-profile targets and foreigners elsewhere in the country—including right in the heart of Cairo.”

You can read my full report here at the Daily Beast

The Unraveling of Obama Syria Policy

“Only two days ago, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Syrian rebels, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, explained confidently that the U.S. would help to train and equip Western-backed fighters to become a credible force that would compel the Assad regime to negotiate a political deal and end the four-year-long civil war.

Yeah. Right. The Obama administration’s plans have little or nothing to do with what is unfolding all too rapidly on the ground: Rebel brigades are demoralized, disintegrating, and fighting among themselves.”

Read full dispatch here at the Daily Beast

Terror-Bonding or Cynical Manipulation?

My take last night on a new twist in the cynical media operations of the so-called caliphate with a hostage ‘reporting’ from the embattled town of Kobani on Syria’s border.

“British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted by jihadists alongside American journalist James Foley, was featured in a new propaganda video posted Monday night reporting from inside the besieged town of Kobani. He scornfully rejects Western media coverage of the battle for the Syrian border town, saying the militants of the Islamic State are not on the retreat and are now just mopping up…

The video then homes in on a healthy-looking Cantlie, who is dressed in black—like an ISIS fighter—in contrast to the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner he was seen wearing in five episodes of jihadist propaganda films called ‘Lend Me Your Ears.’ His hair has grown out and his skin color is less pale, suggesting that the previous videos were shot several weeks ago, around the time ISIS beheaded Foley and another American reporter, Steven Sotloff.

In the “Lend Me Your Ears” series, the British freelance photojournalist emphasizes that he is a prisoner of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and doesn’t know whether he will live or die. But in Monday night’s five-and-a-half minute clip, titled “Inside Ayn al-Islam” (the Arabic name for Kobani is Ayn al-Arab), the 43-year-old Cantlie makes no reference to his captivity, raising questions about whether he has crossed the line and is now a willing propagandist for the jihadists behind the camera.”

You can read the full article here.

I quote also a British security official saying: “The video is troubling. Was this filmed under duress? Volunteered and suggested? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Does it cross a line? Is he playing them?”

And Aleppo?

From my Daily Beast dispatch this weekend:

“A battle is taking shape that could decide the fate of the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating ISIS, and it’s not around the Kurdish town of Kobani. It’s for the future of the second biggest city in Syria, ancient Aleppo, besieged on three sides by the forces of the tyrant Bashar Assad and the murderous zealots of the so-called Islamic State holding part of the other side.

For the relatively moderate Syrian militias to whom the Obama administration already is funneling arms, the neighborhoods of Aleppo where they still hold ground are a last redoubt inside the country. And in the next few hours or days their last supply line to the outside very likely will be cut.”

You can read the full report here.

Can We Afford Such Success?

Gaziantep

According to The Hill newspaper, the White House says its war on ISIS is succeeding: hate to see what failing would look like.

Let’s do a quick rundown: ISIS is advancing in Iraq’s Anbar province, they are close to taking Baghdad airport or at least are in range to bomb it; they are launching suicide bombing runs on the capital; for all the favorable Western press the Pesh (and Iraqis) have made no serious advances since the Mosul Dam; the Iraqi army (which we spent a fortune on) remains in disarray; Kobani is holding on by dint of an extraordinary stand by YPG fighters; the Turkish-Kurdish peace process is on the brink of collapse; Assad is taking advantage; the Syrian rebels are demoralized and ignored; the Syrians feel they are being sacrificed, which they are. Did I leave anything out?

Battle Of The Bugs

Donetsk

Fun piece by Daisy Sindelar on how some pro-Kyiv Ukrainians are nicknaming Russian separatists in the east “koloradi”, or Colorado beetles, for their orange-and-black stripes. The separatists have followed their Crimean counterparts and adopted the orange-and-black St. George ribbon as their symbol.

The ribbon is associated with World War II and worn by veterans on Russian military holidays. And as far as pro-Russians are concerned the wearing of the ribbon now is appropriate – they argue that in east Ukraine they are fighting western Ukrainian fascists and followers of World War II Nazi collaborator Stephen Bandera.

The Colorado beetle is thought to have found its way to central Europe during the 1940s having been brought in accidentally on transport ships – paranoid as ever, the Soviets after the war suggested this had been a dastardly plot by the West to ravage Soviet agriculture.

A Moscow analyst is suggesting that Russian propagandists shouldn’t get worked up about the dubbing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine “koloradi”, suggesting they should use light-touch irony to respond by calling Ukrainian ultranationalists from the Right Sector, who favor red-and-black colors, “klop-soldatki”, or firebugs.

Here We Go Again

Reading today’s Daily Telegraph on the David Miranda detention and it is easy to be cast back to other misguided UK government efforts to stop leaks and block embarrassing information from seeing the light of day.

It is taking on digital echoes of the Peter Wright affair when the UK government and the security services opened themselves up to derision with farcical efforts to block the publication of Wright’s book detailing MI6 and MI5 dirty tricks, illegal surveillance and a plot to bring down the Wilson government. They couldn’t stop publication abroad and it was easy to purchase the book.

National security was claimed as the issue too back then but it quickly became clear what was at stake was the reputation of the British security services.

Now we have a Prime Minister sanctioning the destruction of hard drives held by the Guardian newspaper containing the material former NSA contractor Edward Snowden stole — as if that will stop the information leaking out. As the Guardian made clear they have duplicates and presumably Greenwald and Snowden do, too, (probably so have the Russians and Chinese by now!).  Possibly the NSA should destroy their hard drives as the information is so sensitive – after all Snowden has demonstrated the puzzle palace’s own computer system isn’t secure.

And then the Telegraph gets a UK government source today hazarding absurdly that David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Greenwald, was detained for his own good as he was carrying sensitive documents and could have been kidnapped by terrorists. Is security at Heathrow Airport so bad?

Presumably the Snowden material does contain information useful to terrorists but the information is also useful for the British and American publics to gauge what is being done in the name of the “war on terror” and for them to assess whether the politicians and the security services have got the balance right between security and civil liberties. Clearly President Obama doesn’t think so with the tweaks and the inquiry he has ordered. But then, of course, he would have done that without the Snowden revelations. Really?