Thursday, November 29, 2007

Saudi King Proposes Land for Peace - in 1973

The people at the U.S. National Archives have a great sense of timing. Yesterday, the same day the Annapolis peace conference ended, they opened a sampling of newly-declassified items from the Nixon administration, one of which is a 1973 cable from the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia reporting on a meeting with King Faisal during which he (1) promised to stop funding Fatah terrorism, and (2) pressed the U.S. to force Israel to withdraw from Arab territories - not further specified - in order to bring peace to the Middle East.

The Washington Post has a story on it today: "A March 1973 State Department cable released yesterday by the National Archives recounts a promise by Saudi Arabia's King Faisal that terrorist threats to U.S. interests could be resolved as soon as Washington pressed Israel to withdraw from territory it had seized." And so, the peace process is back today to the same place it was at in 1973. I guess it's like clothing fashions; everything comes back into style if you wait long enough.

You can see the (somewhat blurry) cable at the Nixon Presidential Library website [here]. The important part is in paragraph eight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rocket Attacks on Israel Take a One-Day Break During Annapolis Talks

Today's Washington Times carried a profile of Abu Haroon, a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip, and accompanied him as he and a few of his fellow militants fired rockets at the long-suffering Israeli town of Sderot on Monday of this week.

Here's a link to the story: For militants, Gaza violence a way of life, and here's some background on Sderot, from a post back in September: Back to School, HAMAS Style.

Two interesting points stood out to me. First, these guys were not from HAMAS, but from the comparatively 'moderate' Fatah (whose leader was at the Annapolis peace conference while Abu Haroon, et al, were lighting their fuses). Second, they were coordinating their attacks with the peace conference. According to Abu Haroon: "We have orders not to fire any rockets on Tuesday because of the Annapolis summit, but we can resume normal activities after the summit ends."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trying Hard to Keep a Straight Face

Today's story about a terrorist convoy that was intercepted by the Iraqi Army at a checkpoint twelve miles north of Baghdad is being treated as off-beat news, but it's actually a fairly serious example of improved internal security.

You may have seen the New York Post headline ("BRIDE AND BOOM - TRANNY TERRORIST UN-VEILED IN IRAQ"), and the less sensational CNN headline ("Official: Bride, Groom Stopped in Iraq Actually Terror Suspects").

The New York Post story has by far the better description: "Upon inspecting the convoy, soldiers found stubbly-faced terrorist Haider al-Bahadli decked out in a traditional, princess-neck, embroidered bridal dress and veil, and clutching a spray of demure white flowers."

CNN's story, in its mainstream-media deadpan prose, added the following news: "Bahadli was wanted on terror-related charges, as was his groom, Abbas al-Dobbi, the official said."

I'm going to rise above the predictable, juvenile, cheap-shot jokes about this incident. I'll merely note that if you want to join me in congratulating the happy couple, I have opened a gift registry for them at Blood Bath and Beyond.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Annapolis Peace Talks: "What is the Conflict About?"

That great Orientalist Bernard Lewis has an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today concerning the Annapolis peace talks. He states the central problem of all peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a nutshell:

"What is the conflict about? There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence."

"If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist."

"If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose -- to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being."

Here's a link to the WSJ website, and, since the WSJ requires a subscription, here's another link where you can read the opinion piece on the down-low.

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 25 to December 1

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. The most interesting event, in retrospect, was the bombing of Korean Air flight 858 by North Korean agents. Not only was it the worst terrorist attack ever against South Korea - killing 115 persons - but the attack was carried out using liquid explosives, which makes it tactically unique. The attack occurred way back in 1987, long before the current ban on carrying liquids or gels onto airliners, and also before Ramzi Yousef failed in his 1994 attempt to bring down an airliner with liquid explosives in a trial run for his "Bojinka" plot to attack multiple flights simultaneously.

Why was the 1987 attempt successful, and Yousef's a failure? Probably because the North Koreans used much more powerful explosives: about 350 grams of C-4 plastic explosive (concealed in a radio) and about 700 milliliters of liquid PLX explosive (concealed in a liquor bottle). The C-4 was presumably a booster used to detonate the somewhat less sensitive main charge of PLX. The PLX alone was powerful enough to do catastrophic damage to an airframe. Check out this Youtube video showing the effects of 700 mls of PLX attached to a tree trunk.

According to documents found on Yousef's computer and presented in evidence at his trial (here's a PDF version), he had planned to use bottles of contact lens solution filled with nitroglycerin, plus Casio digital watches as timers and two 9-volt batteries as a power source. Assuming he used about the same in his trial run, his explosive charge just wasn't big enough to ensure destruction of an airliner in flight.

Yousef's thinking was way ahead of the curve in one respect. The 9/11 Commission's report said that he also had prepared dolls wearing clothes containing nitrocellulose, an explosive compound. Explosive-bearing clothing would really raise the stakes for airport security screening; presumably, it would mandate that everything going on board first be screened with an explosives trace detector. So the next time you're at an airport and (like me) you're cursing the take-off-your-shoes-and-belt procedure, just be thankful that you're allowed to wear clothes at all.

November 25

1984 (Portugal)
– The U.S. embassy was struck by four mortar rounds fired by the 25 April Movement. The Movement, a Marxist group, was commemorating the ninth anniversary of a failed coup attempt by the Portuguese Communist Party against the military government. There was no significant damage to the embassy.

November 26

2000 (Israel/Syria/Lebanon)
– A Hezbollah bomb attack killed one Israeli solider and wounded two others near Shaba Farms. The Farms are a small disputed area located at the junction of Israel, Syria and Lebanon, consisting of 14 farms on 10 square kilometers. Israel withdrew from the area in May of 2000 in accordance with UN Resolution 425, and the final status of the territory remains to be settled by negotiations between Israel and Syria (according to the UN, which determined in 2000 that the Farms belong to Syria). Hezbollah has kept the land status in dispute by pressing a Lebanese claim to the Farms, and therefore retains a pretext to attack Israel.

November 27

1975 (United Kingdom)
– BBC television presenter Ross McWhirter, an outspoken critic of the IRA, was shot to death outside his London home shortly after he had offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of IRA bombers. The IRA unit that killed McWhirter, and had also carried out dozens of other attacks in London throughout 1975, was arrested two weeks later after a six-day siege of their barricaded flat. Hugh Doherty, Martin O'Connell, Eddie Butler and Harry Duggan were charged with 10 murders and 20 bombings and jailed for life in February 1977. They were freed in April 1999 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.

November 28

2002 (Kenya)
– An Israeli Arkia charter airliner leaving Mombassa’s airport and a resort hotel occupied largely by Israeli vacationers were attacked simultaneously by al-Qaeda. The airliner, carrying 261 passengers, was evidently targeted with two shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles shortly after takeoff, but was undamaged and continued to Israel. Ten minutes later, a jeep was driven into the lobby of the Paradise Hotel and detonated in a suicide-bomb attack, killing 13 employees and two guests. When the airliner’s Captain realized the plane had been attacked he opted not to make an emergency landing, and flew 2,000 miles directly to Israel.

November 29

1987 (Andaman Sea near Burma)
– Korea Air flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea while en route to Bangkok via Baghdad and Abu Dhabi. All 115 persons aboard were killed. Officials in the United Arab Emirates and in South Korea quickly identified two suspects in the bombing, a man and a woman who had quickly deplaned from KA 858 in Abu Dhabi and then immediately transited to Bahrain. When authorities in Bahrain detained them, both bit into cyanide capsules that had been concealed inside cigarettes.

Kim Sung Il, age 70, died almost instantly, but the other agent, 26-year-old Kim Hyon Hui, survived and was extradited to South Korea. In January, 1988, Ms. Kim announced at a press conference that both she and her partner were North Korean agents, and said that they had left two explosive devices in an overhead luggage rack.

November 30

1989 (Germany)
–Alfred Herrhausen, President of the Deutsche Bank, was assassinated by the Red Army Faction (RAF) shortly after leaving his home. He was being chauffeured to work in his armored Mercedes, with bodyguards in both lead and follow vehicles, when the RAF triggered an innovative roadside bomb that fired a 20 kilo (44 pound) explosive charge hidden in a school bag on a bike parked next to the road that Herrhausen would travel. The bomb’s trigger was connected to a light-activated switch that was tripped when Herrhausen’s limo broke the beam of light. The bomb was carefully located so that the blast could be focused on the car’s rear passenger area where Herrhausen was sitting.

In September, 1999, Austrian police killed RAF member Horst Ludwig-Mayer and arrested his accomplice, Andrea Klump, who had evidently been involved in the Herrhausen ambush. Klump faced charges in connection with that and other RAF attacks, including one against a NATO installation in Spain in 1988, and the bombing of a train in Hungary that carried Jewish refugees from the USSR en route to Israel under the terms of the Jackson-Vanik Agreement.

On trial in Germany, Andrea Klump confessed to the attempted bombing in Spain and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Klump also confessed to involvement in the 1991 Hungary bombing, stating that she was aware of the operation prior to its execution but denied direct involvement in it. However, police found DNA evidence that Klump had stayed in Budapest around the time of the bombing, and in 2004 Klump was sentenced by a court in Stuttgart to a further 12 years in prison.

December 1

2001 (Israel) – Two HAMAS suicide bombers detonated explosives in a shopping mall, killing eleven persons and wounding 120. This double suicide bombing occurred at the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem at 11:30 PM on a Saturday night, a peak hour for traffic in the area. The Ben-Yehuda mall is a popular area filled with shops, bars and cafes, so the timing of the attack maximized the number of casualties.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The FBI Cries (Lone) Wolf

Who remembers the Aesop fable about the boy who cried wolf? The moral of that old story still applies, even in these modern times when the boy is likely to cry something that sounds more impressive, such as that he is "picking up increasing levels of wolf chatter."

An example is today's highly publicized warning from the FBI and DHS regarding the Annapolis Peace Conference. They want local law enforcement agencies to know they have no credible information that “extremist organizations” based in Maryland have targeted the Annapolis Peace Conference or nearby Islamic or Jewish sites for disruption or a terrorist attack,“[n]onetheless, DHS does not discount the threat of the lone-wolf terrorists, including individuals radicalized by homegrown extremist groups or Internet content.” A spokeswoman adds that the FBI and DHS “have no intelligence reports indicating a possible threat to the Annapolis Peace Conference (APC); nevertheless, with the media coverage and the sensitive issues involved, the possibility of a terrorist attack against such a prominent event remains.”

I love that adverbial hedging of bets: "nonetheless" and "nevertheless." They have nothing to warn about, but they want to warn you anyway just because, well, you can never tell what might happen. Of course, there is an obvious bureaucratic purpose to these non-assessment assessments. If there is any possibility, however slight, that the FBI and DHS might one day be criticized for their failure to produce an actually useful threat assessment, then they need to cover their corporate asses by pointing to an all-purpose 'hey, anything could happen in this crazy world' type of warning.

These non-warning warnings do more harm than good, in my opinion, considering that the FBI and DHS routinely issue them before all major events and for all significant anniversaries and national occasions. They have become the Hallmark cards of the security world, just as inane and omnipresent, but without the pretty pictures. The cumulative effect of all these pointless warnings is to discredit the whole idea of threat advisories. If you have nothing to warn about, it would be better to remain silent until you do.

As Aesop could have told them, the agency that makes a habit of crying wolf is not believed even on that rare occasion when it happens to be telling the truth.

Will Crab Cakes at Annapolis Peace Talks Signal a Pro-Arab Tilt?

When Dipnote, the State Department's Blog, asked the public a Question of the Week about the up-coming Middle East Peace Conference [What Tangible Results are Necessary for the Annapolis Conference to be Deemed a Success?] it got a snarky reply from Ronald in New York, whose Ten-Point Plan for Success is:

1 - 40 seats occupied.
2 - No verbal or physical violence.
3 - Saudi support for Israeli/Palestinian agreement.
4 - Everyone has a copy of the "Roadmap"
5 - Sponsorship by Garmin or Tom-Tom.
6 - Crabcakes on the menu.
7 - No Hezbollah or Hamas disruptions.
8 - President attends full conference.
9 - No "Oil for Peace" deals.
10 - Separate checks.

Those are all worthy goals, but it was the crab cakes criterion that grabbed my attention. I know that I would certainly want to have crab cakes if I found myself in Annapolis, but has Ronald thought through the diplomatic implications of offering crab cakes at a Middle Eastern Peace Conference??

The Associated Press has, and it ran a story today on the Kosher and Halal complications of menu-planning for the summit conference. The Arab delegates will have a big culinary advantage over their Israeli counterparts, it seems.

"Crab cakes and oysters are halal," said Dr. Muhammad Chaudry, president of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America. "All types of seafood are OK," as long as they're not prepared with alcohol, he said.

The Israelis should be so lucky. "I have no idea what they're going to eat," said Rabbi Ari J. Goldstein of Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform synagogue in nearby Arnold, Md. "They can either buy their stuff at Trader Joe's and borrow someone's kitchen ... or they can just go vegetarian, which is what they're probably going to do."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 18 to 24

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. Three of them were attacks on diplomatic office buildings: the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad (in 1995), the British consulate in Istanbul (2003), and the U.S. embassy in Islamabad (1979).

The attack on the U.S. embassy in Islamabad has the most complicated story. It was a mob attack involving several thousand Pakistanis, many of them students from a university located near the embassy, who were instigated to storm the embassy by statements from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini blaming the United States for the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca (even though Saudi Arabian authorities had announced that no westerners were involved in the Mecca incident). The attack on the embassy occured two weeks after the U.S. embassy in Tehran had been seized by student revolutionaries inspired by the Ayatollah, and its diplomats held hostage, so tensions were already high.

All embassies must ultimately rely on their host governments for protection against mob attacks; the big question is whether the host government will be able and willing to respond in time. Pakistan's government was able to muster a response force after about one hour, but by then the attackers were already inside the embassy office building and starting fires. A Pakistani Army helicopter hovered over the burning chancery (photo above, left) to get a sense of the situation, and, as reported by Steve Coll in Ghost Wars ["We're Going to Die Here"], the commander aboard the helo believed no one in the chancery could have survived. President Zia was unwilling to intervene simply to recover dead bodies, and he decided instead to let the mob wear itself out, which it did after about five hours.

Fortunately, the 90-some embassy employees and visitors were not dead but had survived the siege inside the chancery’s safe haven [a protected area that serves as a final refuge during attacks]. During the siege the attackers were trying to get through the safe haven door, and firing down through air ducts on the roof, and the building was burning so hotly that the carpet in the safe haven caught fire. The safe haven held up so long only because it had been designed to withstand exactly that sort of attack, and was equipped with emergency power, ventilation, and escape hatches. One of the survivors in the safe haven was Time magazine's New Delhi Bureau Chief, whose first-person account was carried in Time's December 3rd, 1979, edition.

Lessons learned from mob attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tehran and Islamabad (and in Tripoli, Libya, which was stormed and burned on December 2nd, 1979, also due to false accusations of U.S. involvement in the Mecca seizure) led to a U.S. State Department review of overseas security measures, and during the 1980s protective items such as safe havens were incorporated into mandatory worldwide embassy security standards.

November 19

1995 (Pakistan) – The Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was destroyed and sixteen persons killed in a suicide car bomb attack. The bomb was so large that it damaged buildings within a half-mile radius, including the Japanese and Indonesian Embassies, the Canadian High Commission, the UK housing compound and Grindlays Bank. Al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group or IG), Egyptian Jihad Group, and the International Justice Group all claimed responsibility for the bombing. The attackers breached the embassy’s perimeter gate with a small explosive charge and attacked the gate guards before driving the vehicle-borne bomb toward the chancery.

November 20

2003 (Turkey)
– The British consulate and a British-owned bank in Istanbul were destroyed with simultaneous car bomb attacks, killing 32 persons and wounding 450. British Consul-General Roger Short was among at least 14 people killed at the consulate. The bank headquarters overlooked a crowded shopping center that was filled with customers at the time the bomb went off. Turkish authorities said the attackers were linked to al-Qaeda.

In February, 2004, a total of 69 people were charged in connection with both bombings, as well as two earlier synagogue bombings. The alleged head of the al-Qaeda faction in Turkey, Habib Akdas, was among nine key indicted suspects who were at large outside Turkey. In September, 2004, Akdas was reported killed in Iraq by U.S. troops.

2000 (Israel/Gaza) – An Israeli school bus was targeted with a roadside bomb, killing two children and wounding ten.

November 21

2000 (Spain)
– The Basque ETA assassinated a former Spanish Minister of Health, Ernest Lluch. Lluch, 63, had served from 1982 to 1986 under former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez. He was ambushed him at the basement car park in the building where he lived.

1994 (India) – A powerful bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the Connaught Place shopping area in New Delhi injuring 22 persons including two Dutch citizens, one South African and one Norwegian. Both the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, a Kashmiri Muslim separatist group, and the Khalistan Liberation Tiger Force, a Sikh separatist group, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

1920 (Ireland) – More than 30 persons were killed in Dublin in a cycle of terrorist attacks and official retaliations during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). The day began with the assassination of 14 British agents or their informants by the IRA. Later that afternoon, British forces opened fire on the crowd at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park in north Dublin, causing the deaths of 14 civilians. That evening there were scattered shootings in the city, and three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle were killed by their British captors under suspicious circumstances.

The excesses of the British local auxiliaries, the Black and Tans, much of it implicitly sanctioned, helped turn Irish public opinion against the British. The killings of spectators and players at Croke Park made international headlines and damaged British credibility over the long run. [The Croke Park massacre was depicted somewhat inaccurately in the 1996 movie Michael Collins. A British armored car did open fire as shown in the movie, but it did not, as depicted, enter the playing field.]

November 22

1979 (Pakistan)
– False reports of U.S. involvement in the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, led to a mob attack on the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and smaller attacks on the American School in Islamabad and the U.S. consulate in Karachi. At the embassy, several thousand Pakistanis overran local police and swarmed into and over the chancery, eventually setting the building on fire. Six persons were killed during the incident: one was an embassy Marine Security Guard who was shot when he went to the chancery roof to monitor the crowd, a second embassy staffer - an Army Warrant Officer - was killed inside his residence on the compound, two local Pakistani embassy employees were also killed, as were two of the attackers.

The Marine Security Guard who died on the roof was Cpl. Steven Crowley, age 19, who had been assigned to Islamabad three months earlier.

1989 (Lebanon) – The President of Lebanon, Rene Moawad, was assassinated in West Beirut. Moawad, a Maronite Christian noted for his moderate political views, had served as President for only 17 days before he was killed. He was elected by the National Assembly after the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war. Seventeen days later, as he was returning from Lebanon's Independence Day celebrations, a 500-pound bomb that had been placed in a parked car at the side of the road detonated next to Moawad's motorcade, killing him and 23 others. No investigation into the murder has ever been carried out.

November 23

1985 (Malta)
– An Egyptian airliner was hijacked by the Abu Nidal Group (ANG) and forced to land in Malta. Sixty passengers were killed there when authorities attempted a hostage rescue. One hijacker survived the assault, a Palestinian member of the ANG named Omar Rezaq. He was tried in Malta, sentenced to 25 years, and released after only seven. He subsequently traveled to Nigeria where he was handed over to U.S. authorities. In 1996, a U.S. court sentenced Rezaq to life imprisonment for air piracy.

November 24

2000 (India) – Muslim militants of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba attacked a bus, killing ten persons – six Hindus and four Sikhs.

2006 (Iraq) – A series of car bombings and mortar attacks took place in Sadr City, a Shite area in Iraq, during a thirty-minute period in the afternoon, killing at least 215 people and injured 257 others. This was the single deadliest sectarian attack since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The attacks occurred while residents were commemorating the life of Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the Shite leader who was killed by the regime of Saddam Hussein in February 1999.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sworn Statement by Blackwater Shooter Leaked to News Media

ABC News is running a story about the 9/16 shooting incident in Baghdad based on a statement given by "Paul," a turret gunner in the Blackwater convoy, to State Department officials two days after the incident: "A guard from the US security firm Blackwater says his motorcade came under fire and that he feared for his life in a deadly shootout in Iraq, ABC television reported on Wednesday."

ABC even posted a copy of Paul's statement.

There has been no mention of this matter so far on the Blackwater Facts Blog, which I interpret as meaning that the leaked statement either didn't come from "Paul" or, if it did, it wasn't coordinated with the other Blackwater employees under investigation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rosslyn Landmark is Doomed by Development

I'm sure I speak for all of my fellow bureaucrats who work in the several State office annexes in Rosslyn, Virginia, when I mourn the impending demolition of the Orleans House (photo at left). That place is the last landmark still standing of the old, low-rent, somewhat sleazy, pre-office tower days of this neighborhood in which I've worked for most of the past 20 years.

It's being squeezed out by development, which I suppose is inevitable - after all, the two 30-story office and condo towers that will replace it will tremendously expand the Arlington tax base. But where will a bureaucrat be able to get a $5.95 prime rib lunch, or loiter over a really excellent salad bar, once the old place is gone?

What you gain in economic development, architectural merit, structural soundness, and general cleanliness with these new office towers, you lose in character. It's enough to make me turn into a historic preservationist.

Another Satisified Customer at Gitmo

I posted once before about two captured jihadis from Tunis who regretted leaving U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay to be returned to their home country. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of yet another Gitmo prisoner, this one an Algerian, who prefers to stay in the U.S. prison. See the BBC story here: "An inmate of Guantanamo Bay who spends 22 hours each day in an isolation cell is fighting for the right to stay in the notorious internment camp."

Who knew Gitmo would be so popular? If this keeps up, maybe we should charge rent.

Bad News for Blackwater; FBI Concludes the 9/16 Shooting Was Unjustified

"Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case."

It doesn't look good for Blackwater, according to today's New York Times story. The full report hasn't leaked yet, but that will come.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 11 to 18

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. Unlike any of my other weekly summaries, this one begins on a happy note: the death of Yasser Arafat, who passed away three years ago today in a Paris hospital. Regretfully, he did not die by violence but by natural causes.

The third anniversary of his death was marked by the opening of a fabulous mausoleum in Ramallah, the West Bank. The place is an architectural jewel, small - only eleven meters square - yet it cost $1.75 million. A museum is to follow next year, costing millions more. Since the Palestinian Authority has almost no income except for foreign aid, this lavish display comes at the expense of the impoverished Palestinian masses, and that makes it a truly fitting tribute to a corrupt tyrant like Yasser Arafat.

Arafat was surely one of the most ironic figures of modern times. He was the prototypical terrorist of the 20th century, but he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize [something the Nobel Committee never awarded to Gandhi, BTW]. He was perceived as the leader of a victimized nation, but he spent most of his life creating new ways to victimize others, including the Munich Olympic massacre, the Achille Lauro ship-jacking, the Khartoum embassy seizure, and the Ma'alot school massacre, not to mention his role in creating civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon. He was the chief executive of a mendicant nation that subsists entirely on foreign charity, but he stole a large fortune in pilfered aid money. The final irony was that he died of natural causes; if there were any justice, someone would have popped a cap in his ass even while he was on his deathbed in that Paris hospital just so that he would die as he lived – violently.

November 11

2005 (France) - President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, passed away five days after lapsing into a coma.

November 12

1997 (Pakistan)
– Islamic militants ambushed a U.S. oil company vehicle en route from the Sheraton Hotel and the Union Texas Petroleum office, killing four U.S. citizen passengers and their Pakistani driver. The attack was in retaliation for the conviction of Mir Amal Kasi by a U.S. jury on murder charges two days earlier. The attackers followed the unarmored employee shuttle station wagon to a point where it was stopped by congested traffic, then two assailants fired into it with automatic rifles; this was the same pattern that had been followed in a 1995 attack on a shuttle van from the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

The Islami Inqilabi Council, or Islamic Revolutionary Council, claimed responsibility in a call to the U.S. Consulate. In a letter to Pakistani newspapers, the Aimal Khufia Action Committee also claimed responsibility.

November 13

1995 (Saudi Arabia)
– A car bomb placed outside the Office of the Program Manager/Saudi Arabian National Guard (a U.S. assistance project) in Riyadh killed seven persons, five of them U.S. citizens, and wounded more than 40. Two Saudi opposition groups took responsibility for the attack: the Tigers of the Gulf and the Islamic Movement for Change.

November 14

2002 (United States)
– Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani who had been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of two CIA employees in 1993, was executed in a Virginia prison. Kasi had ambushed his victims when they were stopped in traffic on the highway outside CIA headquarters; the spot was familiar to Kasi since he had worked for the Excel Courier Service and sometimes delivered packages to the CIA headquarters. He fled to Pakistan after the murders, and was seized there four years later by U.S. authorities.

Mir Aimal Kasi was the son of a wealthy Pakistani construction contractor and a member of the Pashtun tribe. He earned a master's degree in English literature from Baluchistam University in Quetta. His funeral was attended by tens of thousands of mourners. It was held in a packed football stadium following a two-hour cortege procession through Quetta.

November 15

1983 (Greece)
– U.S. Navy Captain George Tsantes, chief of the naval section of the Joint U.S. Military Aid Group, Greece (JUSMAGG), was assassinated by the November 17 organization. Captain Tsantes was driving from his home in Kifissia, a northern suburb of Athens, to his office in the U.S. embassy when two men on a Vespa motor scooter came alongside his car while it was stopped at a red light and a gunman killed both Tsantes and his Greek driver, Nikos Veloutsos, with a .45-cal. pistol.

Tsantes was the first American to be killed by terrorists in Athens since Dec. 23, 1975, when CIA Station Chief Richard Welch was shot when returning to his home. Ballistics tests showed that Tsantes had been shot with the same pistol used to kill Welch. Hours after the shooting a call to the Greek daily newspaper Elefterotypia claimed responsibility for the killing on behalf of the 17th November Revolutionary Organization. The Tsantes slaying was evidently timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Polytechnic rebellion that led to the creation of the 17 November Movement. In July, 2003, Greek authorities arrested Nikos Papanastasiou, 50, and charged him with complicity in the killing of Captain Tsantes and his driver, among others.

2003 (Turkey) – Two synagogues in Istanbul, the Beth Israel and Neve Shalom, were attacked with car bombs and destroyed. A total of 27 persons, most of them Turkish Muslims, were killed and over 300 others wounded. A Turkish militant group, the IBDA-C, initially responsibility, but five days later, after two more truck bombs had destroyed the British Consulate and a bank in Istanbul, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for all four attacks.
Turkish authorities charged 72 people with involvement in the bombings including one, Loa’I Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who had already been tried in absentia in Jordan for his part, along with Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a failed poison gas attack in 2002.

November 17

1997 (Egypt) – An attack by the Al-Gama’at al-Islamiya in Luxor killed 77 persons. In the deadliest terrorist attack ever committed in Egypt, six gunmen entered the Hatsheput Temple in Luxor and for 30 minutes methodically shot and knifed tourists trapped inside the Temple's alcoves. Fifty-eight foreign tourists were murdered, along with several Egyptian police officers and tour guides. The gunmen then commandeered an empty tour bus and fled the scene, but Egyptian security forces intercepted them and killed all six.

1973 (Greece) – A student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic was put down by riot police, killing 34 and wounding 800. The 17 November Revolutionary Movement took its name from this incident. The uprising was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta that had taken power in 1967. The uprising began on November 14 and was crushed in the early morning hours of the November 17 when a tank crashed through the gate of the Polytechnic campus.

November 18

2000 (Philippines)
– A bomb attack in Carmen and a simultaneous grenade attack in Isulan killed one and wounded five persons. The Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) was suspected

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Can't the Foreign Service Get Some Love?

Popular interest in the Great Foreign Service Rebellion of 2007 hasn't waned yet. Raucous contempt for those wussy diplomats seems to be that rare bi-partisan thing that unites Americans of all political leanings. As a Civil - not Foreign - Service employee at State, I'm just an interested observer.

Here's a link to a letter posted on Dipnote from a U.S. Foreign Service Officer serving in Iraq. He addresses his State Department colleagues on the highly overwrought subject of involuntary (or "directed") assignments. It's the most sensible public response that I've seen on this matter.

Also of interest is this dissection of a typically confused news report on the subject of directed assignments. It's posted by Consul-at-Arms, a former solider turned Foreign Service Officer (and, incidentally, someone with whom TSB has shared a cubicle a couple of times over the years).

Monday, November 5, 2007

This Week in the History of Terrorism, November 4 to 10

Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. Although it was far from the most important, one event that really struck me was the conviction on November 7, 1990, of three radical left-wing American women, members of the Weather Underground Organization, for a variety of bombings directed at the U.S. government.

Note the date of the conviction: 1990. Those feisty ladies were still going strong two decades after the rest of the '60s generation had put away their bongs and gotten jobs. Also note that one of the trio, Linda Evans (photo above), had her sentence commuted in 2001 by President Clinton, one of her fellow '60s radicals who later went, more or less, straight. The following year, Linda received a grant from the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute in recognition of her inspiring work in the field of political organizing.

Today, Linda carries on the fight against American imperialism from her post at the Center for Third World Organizing, in Oakland, California, where she is "focusing on leadership skills development for ex-offender activists and working to improve re-entry services for people coming out of prison." Who says there are no second acts in American lives?

November 4

1979 (Iran)
-The Iran hostage crisis began when student proxies of the new Iranian regime of Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 63 diplomats and 3 other U.S. citizens hostage for 14 months. The United States launched a rescue operation which failed and caused the death of eight U.S. troops. The hostages were held for the next 444 days. The crisis was eventually resolved by the Algiers Accords, under which the U.S. released Iranian assets frozen after the fall of the Shah and made other concessions.

1995 (Israel) -Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a 25-year old Israeli student, Yigal Amir, who opposed Rabin's signing of the Oslo Accords. The attack took place as Rabin was leaving a rally promoting the Oslo peace process at Tel Aviv's Kings of Israel Square (now renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square). Yigal Amir is currently serving a life sentence for murder plus 14 years for conspiracy.

November 5

1605 (Britain)
– The great- great- great- grandfather of all modern terrorist acts was foiled when a plot to blow up Parliament during its opening session was discovered. Had the plot succeeded it would been perhaps the most spectacular act of terrorism of all time, decapitating the entire British ruling class – King James I, his ministers and court, legislators of all factions, and religious authorities – at one stroke. The tactic employed was to hide barrels of gunpowder – an advanced explosive in 1605 – in the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster and detonate them when the opening ceremony commenced.

The plot was launched by a small circle of dissident Catholics in response to the state’s suppression of Catholicism, and the plotters expected the act to initiate a country-wide uprising which they hoped would be supported by Spain (then Britain’s primary great power rival) and end with the installation of King James’s daughter (whose mother, Queen Anne, was Catholic) as head of state.

The Gunpowder Plot is remembered in British folklore through nursery rhymes and songs, Guy Fawkes Night bonfires, and such. Shakespeare’s Macbeth (first performed in 1606) is full of references to the Plot. Interest has increased sharply in recent years; Antonia Frasers’s history of the Plot and its aftermath, Faith and Treason, was re-issued in 2005, and the Plot also inspired Alan Moore’s dystopian graphic novel “V for Vendetta” and the 2006 movie of the same name.

November 6

2001 (Spain)
- A roadside bomb detonated during rush hour traffic in Madrid wounded 100 persons. Basque ETA was suspected.

November 7

1985 (Colombia) – The Marxist revolutionary group M-19 assaulted the Supreme Court building in Bogota and seized hostages. Shortly afterwards, a recording was delivered to a radio station saying that the M-19 group had taken over the building in the name of peace and social justice, and the M-19 members demanded via telephone that President Belisario Betancur come to the Palace of Justice to stand trial before them. The incident ended 30 hours later when units of the Colombian military and security forces stormed the building and killed all the guerrillas. A total of over 100 persons were killed. During the first hours of the siege, a fire had broken out and burned numerous court records, including the files of every drug trafficker extradition case.

1983 (United States) – A small bomb exploded in the U.S. Capitol’s North wing at 10:58 PM, a time when the adjacent halls were virtually deserted. It had been hidden under a bench at the eastern end of a corridor. Minutes before the blast, a caller claiming to represent the "Armed Resistance Unit" had warned the Capitol switchboard that a bomb had been placed near the Chamber in retaliation for recent U.S. military involvement in Grenada and Lebanon. No one was injured, and damages were estimated at $250,000. After the incident the Capitol tightened security measures, closing some areas to the public and adding an ID badge system plus metal detectors to building entrances.

In 1990, a Federal court convicted three members of the “Resistance Conspiracy” of this bombing plus others at Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard. Of the three, Marilyn Buck is still in prison, Laura Whitehorn has been released, and Linda Evans had her sentence commuted by President Clinton on the day he left, January 20, 2001. In 2004, Evans was awarded a George Soros grant for her political activism.

November 8

1987 (United Kingdom) – A bomb planted by the PIRA killed thirteen persons attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Enniskillen, a city whose close proximity to the border with the Irish Republic made it a frequent target for the PIRA. The device went off without warning at 10:45 AM outside the town's cenotaph, where people had gathered to pay their respects to the war dead. Enniskillen is a town with a long military tradition and it lost many residents killed in the First and Second World Wars. The bombing provoked a huge backlash by both the British and Irish publics, and it came to be seen as a major tactical error by the PIRA. In 1997, Sin Fein leader Gerry Adams apologized for the bombing.

November 9

2005 (Jordan) – Three near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks against hotels in Amman killed more than 50 and injured 110. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” claimed responsibility. One bomb exploded in a ballroom at the Radisson SAS where a wedding reception was taking place, killing 38 people. The bombs were worn in wrap-around belts and contained 10 pounds of RDX explosive covered with ball bearings. A second would-be bomber at the Radisson, the wife of the one who detonated in the ballroom, failed to trigger her bomb, and was captured.

2005 (Iraq) – A 38-year old Belgian woman, Miriel Degauque, a convert to Islam, conducted a suicide carbomb attack against a U.S. military convoy traveling south of Baghdad. She was the only person killed. Belgian authorities determined that Degauque had married a Muslim immigrant and subsequently became radical in her religious views. The couple went to Iraq to join the Iraqi insurgency. Degauque's husband failed to detonate his explosive belt in the convoy attack, but was killed in a separate incident. The death of Muriel Degauque (1967 – 2005) has focused European attention on the security issues raised by native citizens who adopt radical Islamic beliefs.

2003 (Saudi Arabia) – A residential compound in Riyadh near the Diplomatic Quarter was attacked with a large carbomb, killing 18 persons and injuring 122. Al Qaeda elements are suspected. Nearly all the victims were all Arabs, many of them workers from Egypt and Lebanon. This, plus the fact that the attack occurred during Ramadan, resulted in a popular backlash in Saudi Arabia against Al Qaeda.

November 10

2000 (Spain) – Five suspected ETA members of the Vizcaya Commando were arrested in Bilbao.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hell No, We Won't (All) Go!

You've no doubt seen the media coverage of the State Department's 'townhall meeting' to discuss Department plans for some involuntary assignments to Iraq. The money quote was provided by a senior Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Jack Croddy (photo above), who appears to have been cast as La Passionaria of the Great Foreign Service Rebellion of 2007:

"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," Mr Croddy said."I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?"You know that at any other [country] in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point."

Predictably, it was the "potential death sentence" phrase that got all the attention, and has led to endless and repetitive denunciations from internet-land of all those State Department pussies who fear to go to Baghdad. From what I've seen, there is a right/left split in the exact terms of those denunciations, with the right-wing bloggers most often calling diplomats unpatriotic civilians, wimps, and Clinton administration hold-overs, and their left-wing counterparts usually calling them Neo-Con chickenhawks.

Just FYI, the chances of a diplomat being killed during a tour in Iraq are approximately 1 in 500, since about 1,500 State Department employees have served in Iraq since 2003 and three of them have been killed [a ratio of 1:500]. By comparison, about 500,000 troops have been deployed to Iraq since 2003 and about 4000 of them were killed, or one in 125 [1:125]. That proves it is more dangerous to be a troop than a diplomat, as one would expect, but it's not exactly safe to be a diplomat, either.

Chances of death aside, it was Mr. Croddy's comment about how 'any other embassy would be closed' that I found much more significant. I suspect that really gets to the heart of the very genuine Foreign Service reluctance about the enterprise in Iraq. The fact is that there really isn't much, if any, diplomatic work to do when hunkered down in the Green Zone. This Time magazine piece gets it right:

"The most demoralizing aspect of the violence may not be the physical risk, but rather the isolation and sense of futility the violence engenders. Most diplomats leave the Green Zone only rarely, and never simply to socialize with ordinary Iraqis or explore the city."

Today's diplomats experience more than their fair share of hazardous duty stations. Someone who came into the Foreign Service in 1971, as Mr. Croddy did, has seen the embassy environment drastically changed by mob take-overs starting in 1979 (Tehran, Tripoli and Islamabad), suicide carbombers starting in 1982 (Kuwait, and Beirut twice), and more or less constant assassinations, riots, hostage-taking, wars, and civil disturbances. That's on top of the traditional embassy threats of violent crime and disease.

Most Americans have an out-dated and ridiculously glamorized image of embassies and diplomats. The first embassy I ever visited was Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the aftermath of a military coup. I was fresh out the U.S. Army at the time, and the embassy compared very unfavorably to any Army base I had ever experienced. It was a shock to my TV-and-movie derived image of the plush diplomatic life. Since then, I've visited about 45 embassies (some of them even worse than Haiti!) and have had a ring-side seat from which to observe the Foreign Service both abroad and in Washington. I completely reject the idea that diplomats are unwilling to serve in unpleasant or dangerous places.

So, how many Iraq positions have to be filled? The news media has done a terrible job of reporting the basic facts of this story. State isn't drafting diplomats wholesale, and it doesn't lack volunteers for Baghdad or the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Here are the facts: there are about 260 diplomatic positions in Iraq now, all filled with volunteers; Ambassador Crocker has asked for an additional 48 positions to be created in the next few months, 15 of them in Baghdad and 33 in the PRTs. State has notified 250 officers that they are prime candidates for filling those 48 positions, and that they will consider directed assignments if enough officers don't volunteer. As of Friday, 15 officers have already volunteered. In short, there is no crisis here.

You can read all about it at this State Department press conference.

The Rules of Palestinian Politics

Courtesy of the Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin, here are the rules of Palestinian politics. There are ten, but the first three are key:

(1) Palestinians cannot stop other Palestinians from attacking Israel. To do so would be betraying the cause, becoming Israel's lackey.

(2) He who is most militant is always right. Extremism equals heroism. This is one reason why Fatah has such a difficult time competing with Hamas. It cannot denounce these rivals for being too intransigent. Suicide bombers along with those who manage them are role models, not misled individuals, much less evil ones.

(3) More violence is good and a "victory" if it inflicts casualties or damage on Israel. Other than ritual denunciations for the foreign media, these are matters for pride, with the implication being that they advance the cause rather than sabotage it.

You can't beat that for a concise explanation of why the forthcoming U.S.-brokered peace talks in Annapolis will be yet another futile exercise of going through the motions. I suppose we're doing it for the sake of Western sensibilities, and maybe for some perceived benefit to U.S. public diplomacy in the Islamic world, but realists on all sides surely understand going in that the "peace process" is still all process and no peace.