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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Multi-billion dollar arms trade fueling conflicts in the Middle East

Amid increased tensions in the region, Saudi Arabia has become world's largest arms importer spending $6.5bl

The military arms trade, which rose for a sixth straight year in 2014 with imports rising from $56 billion to $64.4 billion, has helped in fueling conflict in the Middle East, warned security experts.

A study conducted in March by IHS Jane’s Global Defense Trade Report and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) found that the Middle East is the biggest regional market for arms importation, with "$110 billion in opportunities in coming decade," according to the author of the report, Ben Moores

The biggest beneficiary of the strong Middle Eastern market continues to be the United States, with $8.4 billion in arms exports in 2014.

Middle Eastern countries are expected to spend an estimated $18bn in 2015 up from $12bn in 2014, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt and Iraq, being the top buyers. 

Among the weaponry being purchased are fighter jets, armored vehicles, drones, helicopters and advanced missiles. Iraq has already the United States of arms deliveries including F-16 fighter jets in the fight against IS militants and France is in talks with the UAE over a deal where the Gulf state will purchase Rafale fighter jets.

"This is definitely unprecedented,” stated Moores. "You’re seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you’ve got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop."

The New York Times reported that US Congress has already been notified by top defense industry officials that additional requests for US-made arms by Arab states which have joined the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt.

Tobias Borck of the Royal United Services Institute told The Guardian that large amount of western weapons being bought by the Gulf states may have led to Russia lifting a ban on selling Iran with sophisticated S-300 air defense missile systems, which will likely increase the tension in the region, which already has conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula.

Borck stated that "there is already instability in the region on several levels. You have instability in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. There is instability between Iran and the Gulf states. What is important now is how the massive expansion of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar will be seen as posing a clear threat to Iran."

Iran is the biggest rival to the Sunni Gulf states, which include all of the top weapons purchasers.

Amid increased tensions in the region, Saudi Arabia became the world's largest arms importer spending $6.5 billion on arms, rising 54 percent compared to last year.

"Growth in Saudi Arabia has been dramatic and, based on previous orders, these numbers are not going to slow down," said Moores. Imports are expected to rise to $9.8 billion this year, an increase of 52 percent, the report stated.

"It’s crazy," The Guardian quoted Moores as saying. "The one Canadian deal alone – to supply Saudi Arabia with light armored vehicles – will account for 20% of the military vehicles sold globally in years covered by the contract. And this is just the thin edge of the wedge. Saudi has booked enough arms imports in 24 months for them to be worth $10bn a year."

David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said that Saudi Arabia is building up its weapons supply amid increased tensions in the region.

Tobias Borck of the Royal United Services Institute stated that "[The] Saudi-led military operations in Yemen [are] the latest manifestation of Arab interventionism, a trend that has been gaining momentum in the Middle East since the uprisings of the Arab spring." Adding that "Middle Eastern countries appear to be increasingly willing to use their armed forces to protect and pursue their interests in crisis zones across the region."

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi also voiced his concern about Saudi's military interventions last week.

"The dangerous thing is we don’t know what the Saudis want to do after [their intervention in Yemen]. Is Iraq within their radar? That’s very, very dangerous. The idea that you intervene in another state unprovoked just for regional ambition is wrong. Saddam has done it before. See what it has done to the country.”

Omar Ashour, an expert on Middle East security issues at Exeter University told The Guardian that "the increases in arms sales are bound to be extremely destabilizing. At the moment most of the interventions have been against softer targets – Saudi Arabia targeting guerrillas in Yemen; Egypt against Bedouin in Sinai; or strikes against ragtag armies in Libya.

"But if the ‘soft’ keeps being hit hard they won’t remain soft. They will find their own patrons and proxies and hit back and it will lead to a vicious cycle."

Moores added a final warning in his March report, "we’ve all been waiting for the storm in the Middle East."

The British government has chosen Europe’s largest arms manufacturer as its preferred sponsor of an under-performing school in northwestern England, prompting criticism by anti-arms trade activists.
The UK-based BAE Systems, which made £15.4 billion in profits last year, is set to take over Furness Academy in Barrow, Cumbria, in September by setting up a trust to run the school under its submarine-building plant based in the town, SchooWeek journal reported Friday.
This is while Sam Robinson, university coordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), described the decision as “deeply worrying.”
“The idea [BAE] could soon be playing a significant role in running one of our schools is deeply worrying,” added Robinson.
He further said, “It … gives them direct access to potential future employees and often allows them to influence the curriculum to suit their employment needs.”
According to the report, BAE previously tried to donate £400,000 to the academy in 2007, when the major corporation was under probe for corrupt dealings. The firm is responsible for the construction of nuclear submarines that are used in the nation’s controversial Trident program.
Robinson also pointed out that the move means the school would be governed on “profits from selling arms to some of the world’s most oppressive dictators.”
The company sells weapons to some Arab countries including the Persian Gulf kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
According to the report, however, Mallen Baker, a strategic adviser for corporate social responsibility, stated that it was quite normal for local firms to invest in local education and, despite BAE’s arms dealings, it is simply investing in the future of the town.
The report further adds that a number of Britain’s other university technical colleges (UTCs) have also partnered with military and arms corporations.
BAE is also listed as a partner at Humber UTC in Scunthorpe, where it will work to design and deliver projects for students.
The weapons maker is also one of the partner companies at Medway UTC in Chatham, Kent, specializing in construction and engineering.
According to the school’s website, BAE will support the design of its curriculum and will be involved in the school’s governance as well.

Europe's biggest arms maker to run UK schools Apr 25, 2015

Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.
“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.
The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.
Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.
The “signatures” at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts associate with terrorist behavior – in practice, a gathering of men, teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In 2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers “three guys doing jumping jacks” a signature of terrorist training.
Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business – only the real cost is shielded from the public.
An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor even how they define legally critical terms like “combatant”, terrorist “affiliate” or “leader”. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands of people.
The National Security Agency has a complementary term to describe the effects of its mass surveillance on the world’s emailstextsphone recordswebcams,gaming and all other forms of communication: “incidental collection”. Incidental collection is all of the untold trillions of communications data NSA and its partners hoover up that have nothing to do with terrorism or espionage. That collection may not be, strictly speaking, intentional – those communications are not NSA’s “targets” – but it is neither accidental nor, by the logic of bulk surveillance, avoidable.
Similarly, civilian deaths in signature strikes do not operate quite like the “collateral damage” familiar from earlier wars. It is one thing for US bombs and missiles to miss their targets or to hit facilities that, at the time of the strike, no longer have their targets in them. It is another for them to hit targets absent prior confirmation that the target is an enemy as a matter of policy.
“It is a different kind of use of the drone, and it raises issues that are important,” said Glenn Carle, a former CIA interrogator, who added that he is not categorically opposed to drone strikes.
“I know how the institution [the CIA] functions. For all the errors I’ve spoken about, people are as responsible and serious as humans can be.”
Yet the secrecy around the strikes permits self-interested officials to misrepresent them.
“By targeting an individual terrorist or a small number of terrorists with ordnance that can be adapted to avoid harming others in the immediate vicinity, it is hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft,” John Brennan, who is now director of the CIA, said in a landmark 2012 speech.
But the disclosure of the hostage deaths in January demonstrates that neither an individual terrorist nor a small number of terrorists are necessarily the target of any given strike. Instead, the target can be a facility, transport or other proxy associated with suspected terrorists. (For that matter, the size of the ordnance is relatively small – Hellfire missiles weigh about 100lb – because Predator and Reaper drones are designed to be disposable airframes that can’t hold large payloads.) “Targeted”, in the drone context, is a term that conceals more than it explains.
Schiff’s reaction condensed the root argument of the administration’s drone advocates: it’s this or nothing. The Obama administration considers the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible choice of killing people without knowing who they are.
The proposed intelligence budget of the US for the next year is $53.9bn. The NSA and CIA argue that as much of the world’s communications as possible must be collected and clandestine killing operations must be subsequently conducted, or else Americans will die. But according to one of the lead congressional overseers of the drone strikes, expecting the US not to kill people until it knows that they are in fact US enemies – the expectation every platoon leader and sergeant places on every private and corporal – would represent “the end of these types of counterterrorism operations”.
Schiff is hardly alone within intelligence oversight circles. The default position of congressional overseers, a small slice of Congress empanelled to see secret evidence, is to defend the people they nominally review, even when faced with examples of official duplicity.
During Brennan’s February 2013 confirmation hearing, the Senate intelligence committee laced into the nominee with complaints of how the CIA he sought to lead was lying and obstructing the panel’s investigation into agency torture. Yet then-chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, added a defense of drone strikes predicated on how the CIA had assured her in private briefings that the strikes were now so precise they only killed “single digits”- worth of civilians annually.
After the hearing, a reporter asked Feinstein why she believed the CIA would lie to her about torture and not about drone strikes.
That’s a good question, actually,” she responded, after a pause.
A solemn White House pledged on Thursday to review its drone strike rules. Yet its record casts doubt on anything changing. Obama declared two years ago that he would launch drone strikes only when he had “near certainty” that the “terrorist target is present” and civilians were not. That did not stop the January signature strike that killed Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto.
No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined: not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a federal judgeship.
Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama’s overwhelming focus on counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor, subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.
The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida’s local affiliate. A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.
“One can make a very strong argument that the costs outweigh the benefits. But it’s not simple,” said Glenn Carle.
The view through the soda-straw camera carried in the drone’s belly obscures much of the real picture.

Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine with no accountability Spencer Ackerman 25 April 2015

L’uccisione di Warren Weinstein e Giovanni Lo Porto è il primo errore ammesso dal presidente Barack Obama nella conduzione della guerra dei droni. 

Da quando si è insediato alla Casa Bianca, nel gennaio 2009, Obama ha trasformato i droni nell’arma prescelta della caccia ai terroristi portando il numero di attacchi dalle poche di decine ereditate dal predecessore George W. Bush a centinaia l’anno.  


La scelta degli obiettivi avviene attraverso un metodo che l’attuale capo della Cia, John Brennan, rese pubblico in occasione della campagna per la rielezione di Obama nel 2012: i servizi di intelligence redigono una “Kill List” che viene sottoposta al presidente, che decide chi viene eliminato. 

Ciò significa che il presidente degli Stati Uniti ha una responsabilità, personale e diretta, nell’autorizzazione ad uccidere che, di volta in volta, viene assegnata alla Cia per colpire l’obiettivo prescelto. 

In questo caso l’errore, da Obama ammesso subito, chiama in causa il metodo di operare dei droni a cui finora veniva attribuita la capacità di colpire con precisione il terrorista di turno.  


Nel raid ai confini fra Pakistan ed Afghanistan sono stati uccisi due jihadisti americani, Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn, ma non è chiaro chi fosse il vero obiettivo. 

Quale che sia stata la ragione, e la dinamica, dell’attacco i droni hanno mancato di verificare la presenza nelle vicinanze del punto di impatto di persone non obiettivo del blitz: questo è l’errore compiuto ed ha a che vedere con le verifiche elettroniche che l’intelligence è obbligata ad effettuare prima di dare luce verde al lancio di missili sul bersaglio. 

È da qui che partirà l’indagine interna, di Pentagono e Cia, per appurare cosa è avvenuto al fine di evitare il ripetersi di tali drammatici errori. 

Ma in attesa che l’inchiesta si compia, la verità con cui l’amministrazione Obama si trova a fare i conti è che neanche la guerra con i droni può dirsi perfetta, indenne da errori. 

La guerra dei droni e la “kill list” di Obama MAURIZIO MOLINARI 23/04/2015

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