Kermit the spook and the making of the modern Middle East

Intelligence agency efforts have often gone badly awry

BY JONATHAN MANTHORPE, VANCOUVER SUN
Andre Gerolymatos looks at the  fumbling efforts of British and American intelligence agencies to  manipulate the Middle East.

Andre Gerolymatos looks at the fumbling efforts of British and American intelligence agencies to manipulate the MiddleEast.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Castles Made of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage and Intervention in theMiddle East

By Andre Gerolymatos

Thomas Dunne Books, 330 Pages, $26.99

– – –

There’s always an assumption that foreign correspondents are spies, in large part because the job has so often been used as convenient cover by various intelligence agencies.

So, I was not surprised at the reaction a while ago when I was putting some pointed questions to the most senior aide to a prime minister.

He moved in close, looked me firmly in the eyes and said: “Are you a spy?”

Then, after a moment’s cold stare he answered his own question. “No, you’re too clever for that.”

It was a nice compliment, but it also pointed at an important truth, especially when coming from a man whose daily job was to help his prime minister to decide courses of action based on information coming down a number of pipelines, including from his country’s intelligence agencies.

Despite the hype of Hollywood, successful novelists and the popular proclivity to believe conspiracy theories, the role of intelligence agencies in any sensible administration is strictly limited.

That’s because their information is often capable of multiple interpretations and of questionable value.

Their analysis of information from public sources is usually no better or worse than that of anyone else.

Information from secret sources can be very useful for immediate situations. An excellent example is the pointers that led to the uncovering last month of the two printer ink cartridges converted into bombs and sent by an al-Qaida operative in Yemen to synagogues in Chicago.

But as a guide to long-term strategic foreign policy-making, only a very foolish head of government would use information and analysis from national spy organizations as the dominant factor in judgments. Unfortunately, there are some leaders who do just that.

Just as frail is the usefulness of intelligence agencies and espionage operations as instruments of foreign policy. There is little record of success for covert actions or campaigns of duplicity and subversion by the America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Britain’s MI6, the old Soviet Union’s KGB, China’s Ministry of State Security or any other of the world’s spy agencies.

In his new book, Castles Made of Sand, Simon Fraser University history professor Andre Gerolymatos looks at the fumbling and often counter-productive efforts by Britain’s intelligence agencies and Washington’s CIA to manipulate events in the Middle East.

In researching this book, Gerolymatos has clearly expended a huge amount of time and effort — strained, it is suggested in his notes on sources, with a lot of frustration — using freedom of information legislation to get access to previously classified documents.

The result is an often fascinating account of the American and British interventions in the Middle East after the collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Gerolymatos tracks the efforts of the many British intelligence officers — T.E. Lawrence and the creator of Iraq, Gertrude Bell, among them — to stir up the Arab revolt against the Turks in 1914-18 and then London’s complicity with the French to divide the postwar Middle East into spheres of influence. The French took Lebanon and Syria and the British most of the rest.

But from the start, Gerolymatos contends, the British in particular and later the Americans made the mistake of trying to use religious leaders and Islamic fundamentalism as agents to control or defeat the rise of Arab nationalism.

With this thread, Gerolymatos tracks British and American support for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt 50 years ago as a counter to the Arab nationalist President Gamal Abdel Nasser to the rise of al-Qaida and the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The links arguing that MI6 and the CIA have prime responsibility for the rise of militant Islam are not always convincing.

But sometimes they are.

The ousting of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 in a coup engineered by the CIA’s Middle East specialist and grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt, is perhaps the best example.

The installation of the regime of terminally deluded Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi by the CIA inevitably led to the 1979 “Islamic Revolution” of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Iran’s deplorable internal and external politics today.

This story follows a well-trodden path and Gerolymatos, probably sensibly, doesn’t spend too much time on it.

This book is at its best when Gerolymatos stays away from trying to make a case for this or that defining influence on historical events and instead just tells the stories that his copious research has turned up.

There’s a fascinating chapter, which in some ways sits uneasily in the broader context of the book, on the ambivalent relationship between the British and the Jews intent on the creation of Israel.

Another compelling tale is the story of the CIA funnelling captured German members of the Nazi SS and Gestapo into programs to train Egyptian security forces, and even the radical Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s.

Jonathan Manthorpe is The Sun’s international affairs columnist.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Is Muslim Brotherhood a threat to Egyptian democracy?

Is Muslim Brotherhood a threat to Egyptian democracy?

By David A. Ridenour

One person, one vote, one time doesn’t make a country democratic. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election promised for later this year, one election may be all Egyptians ever see.

Former President Jimmy Carter assures us that the Brotherhood need not be feared because it will be “subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and democracy.”

I’m not comforted by words from a man known for his spectacular foreign policy miscalculations. Surely, he also believed democratic forces would prevail in Iran and Nicaragua when he allowed U.S. allies in both countries to be overthrown by fanatics in 1979.

Popular uprisings can be hijacked by organized and committed ideologues.

The ideologue-filled Brotherhood is Egypt’s best organized political group. Its objectives are incompatible with democracy, as it seeks an Islamic empire and to govern by Sharia law. In 2008, Muhammad Madhi Akef, then-Brotherhood Supreme Guide, said his organization supports democracy, but only the “right kind … one that honors Sharia.”

Whenever democracy and Sharia law conflict, the Brotherhood eschews democracy. Its Palestinian branch, Hamas, says in its charter: “Any procedure in contradiction of Islamic Sharia … is null and void.”

Although the Muslim Brotherhood claims to have renounced violence, its words and deeds suggest otherwise. One of its most infamous members, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is in U.S. federal prison for, among other things, planning with Libya to assassinate Saudi King Abdullah when he was crown prince.

The Brotherhood was also implicated in the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. Sadat was killed by members of the Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, after Brotherhood-linked Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh” who would later be convicted for planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, issued a fatwa ordering that Sadat be killed.

When Sadat died, so too did much of Egypt’s democratic progress.

Yusuf al-Quaradawi, arguably the Brotherhood’s most influential cleric, has repeatedly called for violence, saying homosexuals should be stoned and Israeli children murdered, lest they grow up to become soldiers.

Muhammad Mahdi Akef, who made international headlines a few years ago by labeling the Nazi holocaust a myth, said the Brotherhood “…will send fighters to join the resistance in Iraq and Palestine,” if permitted to do so by the Egyptian government. Now, the Brotherhood is closer than ever to taking over Egypt’s government and the power to grant itself permission to send its fighters to Iraq — fighters who could kill Americans.

The organization’s current Supreme Guide, Muhammad Badie, said just last October that Islamists must raise a “jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.” How the Muslim Brotherhood would behave should it assume power in Egypt is no mystery. Consider how it’s governed in Gaza.

After winning a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, Hamas took, according to Human Rights Watch, “extraordinary steps to control, intimidate, punish and at times eliminate their internal rivals.” Last year, the group charged Hamas with “egregious crimes” for ordering attacks on Israeli civilians.

Believing the Brotherhood to be a peaceful, democratic, civic organization reminds me of what Samuel Johnson said about remarriage: The triumph of hope over experience.

David A. Ridenour is vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Stinking Brits!

HMS Cumberland in Benghazi - not the only British "boots on the ground"HMS Cumberland in Benghazi – not the only British “boots on the ground”

The Foreign Office has announced that it is sending 10 ‘mentors’ to beef up the embryonic British presence in eastern Libya. Mentors? That’s the word used by the centre to describe what are in fact military advisers being sent in to help the rebels. The Government says it’s all well within the terms of UN Resolution 1973, and they are not a “fighting force”. They are there to advise on helping civilians, not on military training. The Telegraph reported recently the view inside the MoD that the rebels, while lacking nothing in enthusiasm, coudn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. Without outside help in arms and possibly international back-up they will not be able to accomplish what everyone wants – getting rid of Col Gaddafi. With the Libyan effort bogged down, Gaddafi still in place, and no sign of any momentum to force him out, it is no wonder that those allies still committed to this adventure are looking for ways to help the rebels get on with the job. Italy is talking of sending military help. David Cameron and his ministers have tied themselves in knots to avoid ruling out military help. And now we have it. The Prime Minister will have to face unavoidable charges that this is mission creep, and it will be tempting to recall how John F Kennedy started with military ‘advisers’ in Vietnam.

This is William Hague’s statement:  “The United Kingdom is strongly committed to the effective implementation of the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. With the Libyan people still faced with continuing attacks by Gaddafi’s forces, the need to protect civilians in Libya is our highest priority. UNSCR 1973 authorises member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from Gaddafi.

“The UK’s substantial and early military contribution to the enforcement of UNSCR 1973 has helped saved the lives of thousands of civilians threatened by Gaddafi’s murderous regime. As the scale of the humanitarian crisis has grown, so has the urgency of increasing our efforts to defend civilians against the attack from Gaddafi forces.”

Mr Hague added: “This deployment is fully within the terms of UNSCR 1973, both in respect of civilian protection and its provision expressly ruling out a foreign occupation force on Libyan soil. Consistent with our obligations under that resolution, our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition’s fighting forces. Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the NTC’s military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice.”

American Reich Dictates Terms For Afghan Surrender of Sovereignty

[The longer we occupy Afghanistan, the more we reveal the true nature of the ravenous American Beast.  We are neo-Nazis, plain and simple.  The sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we can get on with total world domination.  Our corruption of the world extends even into the English language, by semantic distortions of basic definitions of words like “permanent” and “peace.”  That Clinton bitch can merrily proclaim that we do not desire permanent bases along the strategic Afghan oil corridor, since she is only speaking about the next 25 years, not forever.  If there were even one honest government left in the world, they would resist this aggression, whatever the costs–but the whole world has been corrupted with soon to be worthless US dollars, meaning that every govt has a stake in a successful American/Nazi aggression.  Imagine that.]

Talks on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan After Pullout Unnerve Region

By ROD NORDLAND

KABUL, Afghanistan — First, American officials were talking about July 2011 as the date to begin the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then, the Americans and their NATO allies began to talk about transition, gradually handing over control of the war to the Afghans until finally pulling out in 2014. Now, however, the talk is all about what happens after 2014.

Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

American soldiers played video games at Kandahar Airfield. The United States will begin drawing down its forces in July.

Afghanistan and the United States are in the midst of negotiating what they are calling a Strategic Partnership Declaration for beyond 2014.

Critics, including many of Afghanistan’s neighbors, call it the Permanent Bases Agreement — or, in a more cynical vein, Great Game 3.0, drawing a comparison with the ill-fated British and Russian rivalry in the region during the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is without doubt a delicate process, and one that comes at a critical time. Afghan officials have expressed concern that the negotiations could scuttle peace talks with the Taliban, now in their early stages, because the insurgents have insisted that foreign forces must leave the country before they will deal. That they are already talking is an indication they are willing to compromise on the timing of a withdrawal — but it is hard to imagine Taliban acceptance of a lasting American presence here.

Formal talks on a long-term agreement began last month under Marc Grossman, the official who has replaced Richard C. Holbrookethe diplomat who died in December, as the Obama administration’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a delegation visited Kabul under the direction of Frank Ruggiero, a State Department official who ran the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team until last year.

The reaction regionally was immediate. The Iranian interior minister made a rushed visit to Kabul, followed shortly by the national security advisers of India and Russia.

The Russians, though generally supportive of NATO’s role in Afghanistan, were alarmed at the prospect of a long-term Western presence.

“The Russian side supports the development of Afghanistan by its own forces in all areas — security, economic, political — only by its own forces, especially after 2014,” said Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser at the Russian Embassy here. “How is transition possible with these bases?”

American officials have hastened to assure Russia and other neighbors about their intentions after 2014. Mr. Grossman made a visit late last month to Moscow to do so. And officials from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on down have insisted that any presence after 2014 would not mean permanent bases.

It is a “long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech to the Asia Society on Feb. 18.

“In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding, “We do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country.”

The Russians, however, have complained that any talk of a foreign troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 violates international understandings, including one made in a joint statement by President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev on June 24 supporting a neutral status for Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have acknowledged, however, that the talks do countenance some sort of long-term bases after 2014, if only for the purpose of continued training of Afghan troops. “What we’re discussing is a long-term strategic framework agreement,” said Ashraf Ghani, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai who is one of the Afghan negotiators. “The U.S. has many 10- to 25-year-long agreements, a wide range of agreements.”

“The important thing now is that the sense of abandonment that was in the air last year is gone now,” he said.

One person’s long-term base is another’s permanent base, however — and in the region many people took Mrs. Clinton’s assurances as proof that the United States was not leaving, whatever the bases are called.

“A 10- or 20-years agreement can be prolonged at any time,” Mr. Anikeev said. “And we have no guarantee they’re not permanent.”

“The Americans have not been honest about this, even among themselves,” said Mullah Attullah Lodin, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, which is charged with leading reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. “One says we are not building bases, another says we are building them, and it’s very confusing.”

The big concern, he said, was that if any such agreement were reached, it would make it that much harder to enter into serious peace talks with the Taliban. “That is the first thing the Taliban demand is the withdrawal of foreign troops,” Mullah Lodin said.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the national security adviser to Mr. Karzai, disagreed. “Reconciliation and a strategic relationship, they are not contradictory to one another. We have the same goals, peace and stability in Afghanistan, and elimination of sanctuaries and bases for terrorism, that is for the common good.”

Despite such worries, American and Afghan officials are negotiating on an accelerated timetable, with the Americans hoping to come to an agreement by July, when the first withdrawals of some American troops are to start, diplomats say.

“The Afghans are very worried about after 2014,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic delicacies. “They’re trying to extract from the West as much as they can now.”

Mr. Ghani said that Afghan officials were hoping to win agreement on the transfer of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which dispense aid from the United States and NATO countries directly to projects in the Afghan countryside, to Afghan government control. In general, the Afghans want to see more aid money funneled through their government, and they also want to see a reduced presence of the United Nations.

Then there is the issue of how the Afghans will be able to pay for their greatly enlarged police and military, which by some estimates will require $10 billion a year to sustain come 2014 — 10 times the Afghan government’s annual tax revenues.

“The whole mindset is to get as much as possible in the course of the next couple years,” the European diplomat said. “They really understand that they won’t get as much as they used to get, and they’re desperate to get as much as they can.”

One regional diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for similar reasons, said the Americans were equally concerned to keep a long-term or permanent foothold in Afghanistan for their own interests as well.

“There was a time when the Americans were struggling to find one base in Central Asia,” he said. “Here is a place where they can have all the bases they want, and Afghanistan is a place between two potential nuclear Islamic powers, Iran and Pakistan.”

“There are forces of reaction who are itching to fire the starting gun on Great Game 3.0, and the insurgents will try to exploit this,” said Mark Sedwill, the NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, in a recent speech.

Reaching accord among the diplomats on a Strategic Partnership Declaration will only be a first step. Mr. Karzai has already said any such agreement would have to be put to a nationwide loya jirga, a tribal assembly that acts as referendum on important issues.

“In general, people in Afghanistan are against foreign forces,” Mullah Lodin, the negotiator, said. “I don’t think the loya jirga will ever support foreign forces in the country.”

Mr. Spanta recognized the difficulty. “We have to convince the Afghan people there is something for us in this,” he said.

France had right to halt migrant trains from Italy – EU

[The hypocrisy of the French knows no bounds.  They are doing everything in their power to reclaim colonial possessions in Africa under the pretense of “humanitarian intervention,” yet they will not tolerate “Africans” in French society. SEE: Camp of the Saints]

France had right to halt migrant trains from Italy – EU

North African migrants wait at the train station in Ventimiglia, Italy (18 April 2011) The Italian government insists the migrants have the proper paperwork to enter France

France acted within its rights when it halted trains carrying North African migrants crossing its border from Italy, the European Commission says.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said French officials had cited “public order reasons”.

An EU spokesman also said France was not obliged to grant entry to people with the temporary residency permits given to some migrants by Italy.

Italy complained that the move violated EU rules on the free right to travel.

For those legally living in the 25 countries in the Schengen Area – to which France and Italy belong – no travel documents are required.

‘Strong protest’

Earlier on Monday, the French interior ministry said the rail link between Menton, France and Ventimiglia, Italy, was operating normally.

It said there had been an “isolated problem” caused by hundreds of activists on one train planning an “undeclared demonstration” in France, and posing a problem to public order that was temporary in nature.

“At no time was there a… closing of the border between France and Italy,” spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said.

He estimated that up to 10 trains may have been affected by the disruption, five on each side of the France-Italy border.

The statement came after the Italian ambassador in Paris was instructed by Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to lodge a “strong protest” of the blocking of the trains. The ambassador called the move “illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles”.

While Mr Frattini acknowledged that the activists might have given them a cause of concern, he insisted it was not a “sufficient reason to justify sealing one of the most heavily used and sensitive European borders”.

The migrants had the proper paperwork to enter France, he added.

Italy has been giving temporary residence permits to many of the 26,000 Tunisians who have entered the country illegally to escape the unrest in the region in recent weeks, overwhelming refugee centres. Many have ties to France, and Italy says they should be able to travel there.

A boat carrying 600 migrants arrives in the port of Lampedusa on April 8, 2011 Large numbers of North African migrants have been landing on Italian shores

France has said it will grant entry to migrants holding the permits only if they can demonstrate that they can support themselves financially.

At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Ms Malmstroem said she had received a letter from France explaining the “temporary” disruption was the result of “public order reasons”.

“It may be that this is not covered by the Schengen border code rules. But it would seem that they had the right to do this,” she said.

EU spokesman Michele Cercone also said the residence permits were not visas, and France was under no obligation to admit people having neither EU visas nor EU passports.