A Cautionary Tale
The Arab Spring intelligence failure holds a warning for U.S. policymakers on Iran and elsewhere.
This hasn’t ended well.
By James S. RobbinsMay 26, 2015 | 3:45 p.m. EDT+ More
The U.S. government’s vast apparatus for data collection touches every aspect of human activity. But how can a system that seemingly has the capability to know absolutely everything still get major events so wrong?
A new book by former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell detailed one such case. Morell revealed that not only did the intelligence community fail to predict the advent of the series of popular uprisings starting in 2011 known as the “Arab Spring,” but also believed that the movement would “damage al-Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative.”
The basic problem was that the Obama administration defined the challenge in the Middle East as generic “violent extremism” and refused to acknowledge that the challenge of Islamic radicalism per se. Consequently, the State Department praised the 2012 electoral victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, asserting that the increasing influence of such radical groups was helpful because “people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” By this thinking, a win for nonviolent extremism was ipso facto a defeat for terrorism. One senior State Department official saidthe elections meant “the war on terror is over.”
Three years later, we can see what a romantic notion this all was. Terrorism is more widespread in the Middle East than ever, and Egypt’s military ejected the Muslim Brotherhood from power. “The Arab Spring was a boon to Islamic extremists across both the Middle East and North Africa,” Morell said, and “from a counterterrorism perspective, the Arab Spring had turned to winter.”
The CIA should have paid attention to what the terrorists were saying. Extremist movements are opportunistic and value disruptive political change, particularly when it dislodges authoritarian governments that have been their longtime enemies. A letter written by Osama bin Laden in April 2011, and captured during the raid on his compound in Abbottabad a week later, showed the terror leader wasthrilled with the prospects of the Arab Spring. “What we are witnessing these days of consecutive revolutions is a great and glorious event,” he wrote. Bin Laden believed it was “the beginning of a new era for the whole [Muslim] nation” and “the most important events that the nation has witnessed for centuries.”
Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, publicly said that al-Qaida was happy to see the downfall of Egyptian military rule whether by the ballot or the bullet, and claimed credit for the Arab Spring as a logical consequence of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. From their point of view, the Arab Spring was pushing the Mideast toward hard-line rule by Sharia law, which was al-Qaida’s strategic objective. The American view that this somehow constituted defeat seemed strange.
Many people assume that the process of developing intelligence is purely objective and fact-based. However, the vast amounts of information the government collects must be sifted and evaluated by analysts who bring their own perspectives and assumptions. These products are reviewed by upper-level policymakers, many of whom are political appointees who have their own priorities. Bringing bad news is not often one of them. The narrative of the Arab Spring as a great popular uprising, throwing off the shackles of authoritarian rule and peacefully achieving the dream of political Islam, was a much more attractive storyline going into the 2012 election than predicting a future of terror-fueled chaos.
The Arab Spring intelligence failure is a cautionary tale when approaching other issues requiring objective assessments, such as Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons, Russia’s next moves in Eastern Europe or China’s expansion in the Pacific. It illustrates how policymakers can be in a position to command virtually unlimited information and yet know so very little.
Grand Mufti, Saudi’s Top Islamic Leader: Islamic State And Al-Qaeda Are ‘Enemy Number One Of Islam’
Posted: 08/19/2014 7:44 am EDT Updated: 10/19/2014 5:59 am EDT
RIYADH, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheik Abdulaziz Al al-Sheik, the highest religious authority in the country, said on Tuesday the militant groups Islamic State and al Qaeda were “enemy number one of Islam” and not in any way part of the faith.
Although the mufti and other senior Saudi clerics have condemned Islamic State, al Qaeda and other groups before, the timing of Al al-Sheik’s statement is significant given the gains by militants in Iraq.
“Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims,” he said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
He later compared them to the Kharijite movement in early Islam, which assassinated the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali for making compromises to a rival Muslim faction, and has been seen as heretical by most subsequent Muslim sects.
Saudi Arabia follows the ultra conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam but sees Islamist militants, who staged attacks in the kingdom last decade, as posing a threat to its own stability.
Although senior Wahhabi clerics endorse execution by beheading for offenses that include apostasy, adultery and sorcery, oppose women driving or working and describe Shi’ites as heretics, they differ from al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in opposing violent revolt.
Riyadh has been a main supporter of rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but has funneled arms and money away from Islamic State and al Qaeda towards other opposition groups.
Wahhabi clerics, who hold senior government positions and lend the ruling al-Saud Islamic legitimacy, oversee a massive religious infrastructure paid for by the state and are sometimes dismissed by militants as being in the government’s pocket.
Thousands of young Saudis are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join rebel and militant groups, spurring concern within the authorities that they may eventually launch attacks on their own government.
Saudi Arabia labeled Islamic State, al Qaeda, Nusra Front and other groups as “terrorist” in March and imposed long prison terms for offering them public support or giving them moral or material aid.
Early this month King Abdullah made a speech attacking militant groups that used Islamic justifications, and urged Muslim scholars and leaders to fight against them.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams)
ISIS burn woman alive for refusing to take part in ‘extreme sex act’, reveals UN official, as the Islamist fighters’ sadism becomes even more depraved
- ISIS committing horrific sex crimes against girls, United Nations has found
- ‘They are sold naked to Islamic State leaders and soldiers at slave markets’
- Terror group is targeting young girls from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community
- It has previously abducted hundreds of Yazidis from across northern Iraq
PUBLISHED: 02:00 EST, 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:20 EST, 26 May 2015
A woman was burned alive by depraved Islamic State militants after she refused to take part in an ‘extreme sex act’, a United Nations official has revealed.
Hundreds of women have been kidnapped by jihadi fighters who send the ‘prettiest virgins’ to slave markets in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where they are sold as sexual objects to the highest bidder.
Many are stripped naked and forced to undergo virginity tests before being sent to the twisted auctions, the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has said.
Zainab Bangura discovered the gruesome extent of crimes against young women – particularly from Iraq’s Yazidi minority community – after collecting information from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
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Abducted: A United Nations investigation discovered Islamic State is committing horrendous sex crimes on young women – particularly from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community (pictured in April being freed by ISIS after almost a year of captivity)
Abused: One of the 200 Yazidi girls taken hostage last June (not pictured) said she was ‘sexually abused by no fewer than ten men’
She said: ‘They (ISIS) commit rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and other acts of extreme brutality.
‘We heard one case of a 20-year-old girl who was burned alive because she refused to perform an extreme sex act. We learned of many other sadistic sexual acts.’
ISIS has carried out ‘systematic sexual crimes’ against Yazidi women and girls after kidnapping over 200 of them from their homes in northern Iraq last August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
Those considered the most beautiful are then sent to Islamic State’s adopted capital where they are sold naked, the UN envoy now claims.
They are first offered to the leaders of the depraved organisation, followed by the Emirs, and finally the soldiers.
Each buyer usually takes three or four girls and keeps them for a few months before they grow tired of them and sell them again, she told Middle East Eye.
IS ‘were looking for women and they took them for themselves’
Depravity: The captured girls are first offered to ISIS leaders, then its Emirs, followed by the fighters, United Nation’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura (pictured) claims
She added: ‘We heard of one girl who was traded 22 times and of a Takfiri leader who had written his name on the girl’s hand to show that she was his ‘property’.
‘Tens of thousands of the ISIS members expect that they will [get] women to [marry] following their recruitment.’
She said the extremists banned the girls from using headscarves after some girls used them to hang themselves.
The city of Raqqa – where the girls are supposedly being taken and violated – was adopted by Islamic State as its capital city.
ISIS has released several gruesome images and videos from the city which show armed militants parading the streets, public executions and the extremists’ all-female brigade which enforces its strict interpretation of Sharia Law.
But not all kidnapped girls are taken to the heart of Islamic State’s brutal regime. In early April, more than 200 Yazidi women, children and elderly were released near Kirkuk after being taken hostage last June.
Heart of darkness: UN’s envoy claims ISIS is taking girls to its adopted capital in Raqqa (pictured), Syria, where the militants have carried out many beheadings (pictured)
Brutal: Raqqa is patrolled by Islamic State’s fearsome all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade (pictured) who violently impose the group’s twisted interpretation of Sharia Law
Aid workers reported that among them was a pregnant nine-year-old girl who suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of ISIS militants in northern Iraq. She claimed to have been ‘sexually abused by no fewer than ten men’.
Hundreds of women and girls were also abducted by ISIS last year after the militants seized the Iraqi city of Sinjar which is mainly populated by Yazidi people.
And another Yazidi girl who was snatched from her family near Mosul described how ISIS stormed her town and took girls as young as 10 to become sex slaves.
Nineteen-year-old Hanan told CNN she was regularly beaten and taken to a warehouse where hundreds of women were lined up and hand picked by the extremists.
There she met a fellow Yazidi girl who said she was held hostage, handcuffed and raped by ISIS fighters.
Women’s Rights Director at HRW has claimed ‘ISIS forces committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against Yazidi women and girls.’
Liesl Gerntholtz added: ‘Those fortunate enough to have escaped need to be treated for the unimaginable trauma they endured.’
Isis releases first video from inside Palmyra showing ancient ruins as yet unharmed
Experts say footage represents a ‘taunt’ to the world
Tuesday 26 May 2015
Isis has released the first video from inside the ancient city of Palmyra since it fell under militant control, in what has been described as a “taunt” at the international community.
The footage, uploaded to YouTube by the official media arm of the so-called “Islamic State”, appears to show the 2,000-year-old ruins of the Unesco World Heritage Site largely undamaged.
There is background noise but no voiceover or stylised introduction characteristic of many Isis media releases. The video shows a number of different angles on the ruins, as well as a brief glimpse of life under Isis in the nearby modern Syrian city of Tadmur.
The fate of the ruins, considered to be among the finest and best-preserved antiquities in the whole of the Middle East, has received international attention after Isis took the area from President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces last week.
Speaking to confirm what appears to be shown in the video, Syria’s antiquities chief said on Tuesday afternoon that “the historic city is fine”, but warned that Isis could start blowing up the ruins at any time.
Citing local contacts on the ground, the Damascus-based expert said: “There is no damage so far.”
Charlie Winter, a researcher with the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, said the release of the video showed Isis was “responsive to international media coverage of its advances”, and added: “If it looks like Isis propagandists are taunting the international community with this Palmyra video, it’s because they are.”
Isis has reportedly massacred around 400 people since capturing the city in full on the night of Wednesday, 20 May.
The city, situated on a crossroads to the cities of Damascus and Homs, was a key military gain for extremists and came in the same week as the seizure of Ramadi in neighbouring Iraq.
Most experts say it is likely the Unesco site, described as one of the “most important cultural centres of the ancient world”, will become the latest target in Isis’ bid to destroy all non-Muslim artefacts, historic or otherwise, which the group regards as idolatrous.
Warning over Islamic radicalisation in England’s prisons
By Sima KotechaToday programme
- 7 April 2015
Staff shortages are making it harder to tackle Islamic radicalisation in England’s prisons, the former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office has warned.
Chris Phillips said shortages meant extremists were not properly monitored, enabling them to recruit others.
A parliamentary report has said jail safety was compromised by staff cuts.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling rejected the claim and said a “very careful watch” was kept on the issue.
“Prison overcrowding is at virtually its lowest level for a decade, and we have increased spending on measures to prevent radicalisation,” he said.
“We will never be complacent about the issue.”
Mr Grayling said he had found “no evidence” that Mr Phillips’ claim was correct, adding that the former detective chief inspector had left the civil service four years ago.
There are more than 12,000 Muslims in jails across England and Wales and thelatest official data shows that more than 100 Muslims are in jail for terrorism offences in Great Britain.
The worry particularly concerns converts to Islam, as research from the former chief inspector of prisons, Dame Anne Owers, suggests they are more vulnerable to extremism.
But her report also said suspicion of Muslim prisoners could be both unfair and counter-productive, fuelling resentment and causing even more trouble.
‘Haystack of extremists’
Mr Phillips, who used to lead the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a police unit that works closely with the government on its counter-terrorism strategy, said: “What we have actually is a prison population that’s growing.
“We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.
“But of course we’ve got less people to go and look for them as well so it’s a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with.”
Home Secretary Theresa May rejected the claim that staff shortages were hindering efforts to stop Islamic radicalisation in prisons, adding that the government was looking at “and continue to look at” preventative measures.
Mrs May has already said she wants new “extremism officer” roles in prisons to deal with radicalisation.
And the government has said all high-security jails have units who work with the security services to root out extremism. It also said there were faith-based interventions, led by a team of expert imams.
An ex-prisoner’s view
Ex-prisoner John Shelly said: “Over the last few years there’s been a real sort of noticeable change of people becoming radicalised and getting themselves involved in violent situations – and being coerced into doing that by some of what you might call the more prominent Muslims that are inside for various offences.”
He spent time in more than 40 jails including HMP Whitemoor, a prison with a large Muslim population. Last year, chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick saidsome of its inmates who had been convicted of terrorism offences were trying to influence and pressurise others.
Mr Shelly, who was released from prison a few months ago after serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery, said prisoners would often “join the extremists” because they were promised protection.
He claims to have seen prisoners plotting acts of terror as well as endorsing groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
He said: “Extremism – it’s grown and grown by the day and they’ve found themselves in a situation where they can’t separate anyone because wherever they separate them to, they’re just mixing them with other people who have the same view and same sort of message.”
Mr Phillips said: “The answer is to get into the prisons and to make sure the most susceptible people are kept away from those that might turn those into extremists and, at this moment, we cannot even keep drugs out of prison, we can’t keep mobile phones out of prison, so clearly there is not enough staff to do that.”
Muslim former prisoner Hassan said he had been unfairly discriminated against, however.
“I was inside for 14 years, and a lot of people became Muslim through me,” he said. “You’re looked at as, ‘Oh, a lot of people are becoming Muslim because of this man, he must be recruiting,’ and it’s far, far from the truth. They think you’re a radical or a fundamentalist.”
Stephen O’Connell, president of the Prison Governors’ Association, told the BBC that the threat from radicalisation in prisons was “real” but he said he was not aware that it had got any worse over the last year because of staffing changes.
“I understand the correlation between staff numbers and prisoner numbers but when it comes to dealing with extremists, we are talking about a small number of prisoners with some very dedicated resources to actually managing those,” he said.
The Justice Select Committee recently criticised the government for cutting the number of prison officers by almost 30%, a reduction of 12,530 staff, between 31 March 2010 and 30 June 2014.
The committee’s report also said the prisoner-to-staff ratio rose from 3.8 in September 2010 to 4.9 in September 2014.
It claims that this has led to a significant deterioration in safety – with fewer staff to monitor inmates.
And former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf recently said that Britain was heading for a crisis within prisons because of overcrowding and staff shortages.
The government denies that.
But the explosive mix of radicalisation, fear over discrimination and staffing pressures could spell even greater trouble inside the country’s jails.
The latest prison population statistics from the Ministry of Justice show there were 85,681 people in jail in the week ending 27 March, up from 85,252 in the same period last year.