The Fake Terror Threat Used To Justify Bombing Syria

The Fake Terror Threat Used To Justify Bombing Syria

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain
The Intercept
September 28, 2014

Featured photo - The Fake Terror Threat Used To Justify Bombing Syria

As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

The unveiling of this new group was performed in a September 13 article by the Associated Press, who cited unnamed U.S. officials to warn of this new shadowy, worse-than-ISIS terror group:

While the Islamic State group [ISIS] is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria — a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe — poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.

At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.

But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say. Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

AP warned Americans that “the fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights.” It explained that although ISIS has received most of the attention, the Khorasan Group “is considered the more immediate threat.”

The genesis of the name was itself scary: “Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.” AP depicted the U.S. officials who were feeding them the narrative as engaging in some sort of act of brave, unauthorized truth-telling: “Many U.S. officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”

On the morning of September 18, CBS News broadcast a segment that is as pure war propaganda as it gets: directly linking the soon-to-arrive U.S. bombing campaign in Syria to the need to protect Americans from being exploded in civilian jets by Khorasan. With ominous voice tones, the host narrated:

This morning we are learning of a new and growing terror threat coming out of Syria. It’s an Al Qaeda cell you probably never heard of. Nearly everything about them is classified. Bob Orr is in Washington with new information on a group some consider more  dangerous than ISIS.

Orr then announced that while ISIS is “dominating headlines and terrorist propaganda,” Orr’s “sources” warn of “a more immediate threat to the U.S. Homeland.” As Orr spoke, CBS flashed alternating video showing scary Muslims in Syria and innocent westerners waiting in line at airports, as he intoned that U.S. officials have ordered “enhanced screening” for “hidden explosives.” This is all coming, Orr explained, from  ”an emerging threat in Syria” where “hardened terrorists” are building “hard to detect bombs.”

The U.S. government, Orr explained, is trying to keep this all a secret; they won’t even mention the group’s name in public out of security concerns! But Orr was there to reveal the truth, as his “sources confirm the Al Qaeda cell goes by the name Khorasan.” And they’re “developing fresh plots to attack U.S. aviation.”

Later that day, Obama administration officials began publicly touting the group, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned starkly: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.” Then followed an avalanche of uncritical media reports detailing this Supreme Threat, excitingly citing anonymous officials as though they had uncovered a big secret the government was trying to conceal.

On September 20, The New York Times devoted a long article to strongly hyping the Khorasan Group. Headlined “U.S. Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS,” the article began by announcing that U.S. officials believe a different group other than ISIS “posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.” Specifically:

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.

Again, the threat they posed reached all the way to the U.S.: “Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives.”

This Khorasan-attacking-Americans alarm spread quickly and explosively in the landscape of U.S. national security reporting. The Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake warned on September 23 — the day after the first U.S. bombs fell in Syria — that “American analysts had pieced together detailed information on a pending attack from an outfit that informally called itself ‘the Khorasan Group’ to use hard-to-detect explosives on American and European airliners.” He added even more ominously: “The planning from the Khorasan Group … suggests at least an aspiration to launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001″ (days later, Lake, along with Josh Rogin, actually claimed that “Iran has long been harboring senior al Qaeda, al Nusra, and so-called Khorasan Group leaders as part of its complicated strategy to influence the region”).

On the day of the bombing campaign, NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted this:

That tweet linked to an NBC Nightly News report in which anchor Brian Williams introduced Khorasan with a graphic declaring it “The New Enemy,” and Engel went on to explain that the group is “considered a threat to the U.S. because, U.S. intelligence officials say, it wants to bring down airplanes with explosives.”

Once the bombing campaign was underway, ISIS — the original theme of the attack — largely faded into the background, as Obama officials and media allies aggressively touted attacks on Khorasan leaders and the disruption of its American-targeting plots. On the first day of the bombing, The Washington Post announced that “the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.” It explained:

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

The same day, CNN claimed that “among the targets of U.S. strikes across Syria early Tuesday was the Khorasan Group.” The bombing campaign in Syria was thus magically transformed into an act of pure self-defense, given that ”the group was actively plotting against a U.S. homeland target and Western targets, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Tuesday.” The bevy of anonymous sources cited by CNN had a hard time keep their stories straight:

The official said the group posed an “imminent” threat. Another U.S. official later said the threat was not imminent in the sense that there were no known targets or attacks expected in the next few weeks.

The plots were believed to be in an advanced stage, the second U.S. official said. There were indications that the militants had obtained materials and were working on new improvised explosive devices that would be hard to detect, including common hand-held electronic devices and airplane carry-on items such as toiletries.

Nonetheless, what was clear was that this group had to be bombed in Syria to save American lives, as the terrorist group even planned to conceal explosive devices in toothpaste or flammable clothing as a means to target U.S. airliners. The day following the first bombings, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed: “We hit them last night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.”

CNN’s supremely stenographic Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, went on air as videos of shiny new American fighter jets and the Syria bombing were shown and explained that this was all necessary to stop a Khorasan attack very close to being carried out against the west:

What we are hearing from a senior US official is the reason they struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group — of Al Qaeda veterans — was in the stages of planning an attack against the US homeland and/or an attack against a target in Europe, and the information indicated Khorasan was well on its way — perhaps in its final stages — of planning that attack.

All of that laid the fear-producing groundwork for President Obama to claim self-defense when he announced the bombing campaign on September 23 with this boast: “Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

The very next day, a Pentagon official claimed a U.S. airstrike killed “the Khorasan leader,” and just a few days after that, U.S. media outlets celebrated what they said was the admission by jihadi social media accounts that “the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan group was killed in a U.S. air strike in Syria.”

But once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized. Foreign Policy‘s Shane Harris, with two other writers, was one of the first to question whether the “threat” was anywhere near what it had been depicted to be:

But according to the top U.S. counterterrorism official, as well as Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the United States. Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability either, even if it’s working to develop it.

“Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy.

On September 25, The New York Times — just days after hyping the Khorasan threat to the homeland — wrote that “the group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the paper of record began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to the homeland:

American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.

Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).

Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian — the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September — published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined “U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:

Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.

James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .

Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”

Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.

Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S. government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting:

Indeed, a Nexis search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.

There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from….All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” As The Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorosan … had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it.”

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.””

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets — eager, as always, to justify American wars — spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. government was trying not to talk about all of this — too secret! — but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only when it’s impotent.


| Leave a comment

How Former Treasury Officials and the UAE Are Manipulating American Journalists

How Former Treasury Officials and the UAE Are Manipulating American Journalists

By Glenn Greenwald
The Intercept
September 25, 2014

The tiny and very rich Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar has become a hostile target for two nations with significant influence in the U.S.: Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is furious over Qatar’s support for Palestinians generally and (allegedly) Hamas specifically, while the UAE is upset that Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (UAE supports the leaders of the military coup) and that Qatar funds Islamist rebels in Libya (UAE supports forces aligned with Ghadaffi (see update below)).

This animosity has resulted in a new campaign in the west to demonize the Qataris as the key supporter of terrorism. The Israelis have chosen the direct approach of publicly accusing their new enemy in Doha of being terrorist supporters, while the UAE has opted for a more covert strategy: paying millions of dollars to a U.S. lobbying firm – composed of former high-ranking Treasury officials from both parties – to plant anti-Qatar stories with American journalists. That more subtle tactic has been remarkably successful, and shines important light on how easily political narratives in U.S. media discourse can be literally purchased.

This murky anti-Qatar campaign was first referenced by New York Times article two weeks ago by David Kirkpatrick, which reported that “an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel” is seeking to depict Doha as “a godfather to terrorists everywhere” (Qatar vehemently denies the accusation). One critical component of that campaign was mentioned in passing:

The United Arab Emirates have retained an American consulting firm, Camstoll Group, staffed by several former United States Treasury Department officials. Its public disclosure forms, filed as a registered foreign agent, showed a pattern of conversations with journalists who subsequently wrote articles critical of Qatar’s role in terrorist fund-raising.

How that process worked is fascinating, and its efficacy demonstrates how American public perceptions and media reports are manipulated with little difficulty.

The Camstoll Group was formed on November 26, 2012. Its key figures are all former senior Treasury Department officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations whose responsibilities included managing the U.S. government’s relationships with Persian Gulf regimes and Israel, as well as managing policies relating to funding of designated terrorist groups. Most have backgrounds as neoconservative activists. Two of the Camstoll principals, prior to their Treasury jobs, worked with one of the country’s most extremist neocon anti-Muslim activists, Steve Emerson.

Camstoll’s founder, CEO and sole owner, Matthew Epstein, was a Treasury Department official from 2003 through 2010, a run that included a position as the department’s Financial Attaché to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. A 2007 diplomatic cable leaked by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks details Epstein’s meetings with high-level Abu Dhabi representatives as they plotted to cut off Iran’s financial and banking transactions. Those cables reveal multiple high-level meetings between Epstein in his capacity as a Treasury official and high-level officials of the Emirates, officials who are now paying his company millions of dollars to act as its agent inside the U.S.

Prior to his Treasury appointment by the Bush administration, Epstein was a neoconservative activist, writing articles for National Review and working with Emerson’s aggressively anti-Muslim Investigative Project (Epstein’s published resume omits his work with Emerson). His pre-Treasury work for Emerson’s group, obsessed with The Muslim Threat Within, presaged Peter King’s 2011 anti-Muslim witch hunts.

In 2003, for instance, Epstein told the U.S. Senate that “large sections of the institutional Islamic leadership in America do not support U.S. counterterrorism policy” and that “the radicalization of the Islamic political leadership in the United States has developed parallel to the radicalization of the Islamic leadership worldwide, sharing a conspiratorial view that Muslims in the United States are being persecuted on the basis of their religion and an acceptance that violence in the name of Islam is justified.” He declared: “the rise of militant Islamic leadership in the United States requires particular attention if we are to succeed in the War on Terror.”

Camstoll’s Managing Director, Howard Mendelsohn, was Acting Assistant Secretary of Treasury, where he also had ample policy responsibilities involving the Emirates; a 2010 WikiLeaks cable details how he “met with senior officials from the UAE’s State Security Department (SSD) and Dubai’s General Department of State Security (GDSS)” to coordinate disruption of Taliban financing. Another Managing Director, Benjamin Schmidt, worked with Epstein at Emerson’s Investigative Project before his own appointment to Treasury; a 2009 diplomatic cable shows him working with Israel on controlling financing to Palestinians. A Camstoll director, Benjamin Davis, was the Treasury Department’s Financial Attaché in Jerusalem.

On December 2, 2012 – less than a week after Camstoll was incorporated – it entered into a lucrative, open-ended consulting contract with an entity wholly owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Outlook Energy Investments, LLC (its Emir, the President of UAE, is pictured above). A week later, Camstoll registered as a foreign agent working on behalf of the Emirate. The consultancy agreement calls for Camstoll to be paid a monthly fee of $400,000, wired each month into a Camstoll account. Two weeks after it was formed, Camstoll was paid by the Emirates entity a retainer fee of $4.3 million, and then another $3.2 million in 2013.

In other words, a senior Treasury official responsible for U.S. policy toward the Emirates leaves the U.S. government and forms a new lobbying company, which is then instantly paid millions of dollars by the very same country for which he was responsible, all to use his influence, access and contacts for its advantage. The UAE spends more than any other country in the world to influence U.S. policy and shape domestic debate, and it pays former high-level government officials who worked with it – such as Epstein and his company – to carry out its agenda within the U.S.

What did Camstoll do for these millions of dollars? They spent enormous of amounts of time cajoling friendly reporters to plant anti-Qatar stories, and they largely succeeded. Their strategy was clear: target neocon/pro-Israel writers such as the Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake, Free Beacon‘s Alana Goodman, Iran-contra convict Elliott Abrams, The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, and American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin – all eager to promote the Qatar-funds-terrorists line being pushed by Israel. They also targeted establishment media figures such as CNN’s Erin Burnett, Reuters’ Mark Hosenball, and The Washington Post‘s Joby Warrick.

In the latter half of 2013, Camstoll reported 15 separate contacts with Lake, all on behalf of UAE’s agenda; in the month of December alone, there were 10 separate contacts with Goodman. They also spoke multiple times with Warrick. At the same time, they were speaking on behalf of their Emirates client with their former colleagues who were still working as high-level Treasury officials, including Kate Bauer, the Treasury Department’s Emirates-based Financial Attaché, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Danny McGlynn.

In the first half of 2014, as the Emirates attack on Qatar intensified, Camstoll spoke multiple times with Lake, Hosenball, and Erin Burnett’s CNN show “Out Front,” and had conversations with Goodman and the NYT‘s David Kirkpatrick. They continued to meet with high-level Treasury officials as well, including Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser (highlights added):
comstall-fara-docThis work paid dividends for the UAE. In June, when the Obama administration announced a plan to release Guantanamo detainees to Qatar, Lake published a widely cited Daily Beast article depicting Qatar as friends of the terrorists; it quoted anonymous officials as claiming that “many wealthy individuals in Qatar are raising money for jihadists in Syria every day” and “we also know that we have sent detainees to them before, and their security services have magically lost track of them.” Lake himself pronounced that “Qatar’s track record is troubling” and that “the emirate is a good place to raise money for terrorist organizations.”

He then went on Fox News and said that “there still is a major issue with just terrorist financing in Qatar” and that in Doha there are “individuals who are roaming free who have raised a lot of money for al Qaeda, Hamas and other groups like that.”

Meanwhile, CNN sent Burnett to Doha where she broadcast a “special report” entitled: “Is Qatar a haven for terror funding”? CNN touted it as “an in-depth look into the people funding Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-linked groups, including ISIS.” She began her report by noting that “the terror group ISIS is committing atrocities in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki blames Saudi Arabia and Qatar for providing ISIS militants with money and weapons.” She then put on a source, former Bush deputy national security adviser and Treasury official Juan Zarate, to say that “Qatar is at the center of this. Qatar has now taken its place in the lead of countries that are supporting al Qaeda and al Qaeda-related groups.”

On camera, Burnett asked her source: “So how high up in the government in Qatar does the support for Islamic extremism for these al Qaeda-linked groups go?” The answer: “Well, these are decisions made at the top. So Qatar operates as a monarchy. Its officials, its activities follow the orders of the government. And to the extent that there’s a policy of supporting extremists in the region, that’s a policy that comes from the top.” She then brought on the GOP Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, and asked whether he agrees that “money out of Qatar could end up being used to fuel the ambition, the dream, of attacks against the United States directly,” and he quickly said he did.

Camstoll’s work with the Post‘s Warrick also proved quite productive. Camstoll spoke with Warrick on December 17, 2013. The very next day, the Post reporter published an article stating that “private Qatar-based charities have taken a more prominent role in recent weeks in raising cash and supplies for Islamist extremists in Syria, according to current and former U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.”

Camstoll representatives spoke again with Warrick on December 20 and December 21. The day after, he published another more accusatory article citing “increasing U.S. concern about the role of Qatari individuals and charities in supporting extreme elements within Syria’s rebel alliance” and linking the Qatari royal family to a professor and U.S. foreign policy critic alleged by the U.S. government to be ”working secretly as a financier for al-Qaeda.”

As one of his sources, Warrick in the first of his articles cited “a former U.S. official who specialized in tracking Gulf-based jihadist movements and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because much of his work for the government was classified.” That perfectly describes several Camstoll Group members, though Warrick did not respond to questions from The Intercept about whether this anonymous source was indeed a paid agent of the UAE working at Camstoll.

Also on Camstoll’s list of journalistic contacts was Kirkpatrick, who produced the article in the NYT two weeks ago headlined “Qatar’s Support of Islamists Alienates Allies Near and Far.” It noted that Qatar “has tacitly consented to open fund-raising” for Al Qaeda affiliates.

But unlike all the other reports helpfully produced by Camstoll’s journalistic allies, Kirkpatrick expressly described, and cast skeptical light on, the concerted campaign to focus on Qatar, not only mentioning Camstoll’s behind-the-scenes work but also reporting that “Qatar is finding itself under withering attack by an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel, which have all sought to portray it as a godfather to terrorists everywhere.” Kirkpatrick also noted that “some in Washington have accused it of directly supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” a claim he called “implausible and unsubstantiated.”

In response to questions from The Intercept about Camstoll’s role in his reporting, Lake refused to answer any questions, stating: “I don’t talk about how I do my reporting. I meet with many representatives and officials of foreign governments in the course of my job.” (So many journalists pride themselves on demanding transparency and accountability from others while adopting a posture of absolute secrecy for their own work that would make even a Pentagon spokesperson blush: “I don’t talk about how I do my reporting”). Goodman similarly said: “as I’m sure you understand, I can’t discuss my private conversations with contacts.” Camstoll’s contacts with Goodman and Hosenball appear to have produced no identifiable reports. Camstoll, Warwick, and Hosenball all provided no response to questions from The Intercept.

The point here is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists. Nor is it a reflection on any inappropriate conduct by the journalists, who are taking information from wherever they can get it (although one would certainly hope that, as Kirkpatrick did, they would make clear what the agenda and paid campaign behind this narrative is).

The point is that this coordinated media attack on Qatar – using highly paid former U.S. officials and their media allies – is simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel, the Saudis and others to advance their agendas. Kirkpatrick explained: ”propelling the barrage of accusations against Qatar is a regional contest for power in which competing Persian Gulf monarchies have backed opposing proxies in contested places like Gaza, Libya and especially Egypt.” As political science professor As’ad AbuKhalil wrote this week about conflicts in Syria and beyond, “the two Wahhabi regimes [Saudi Arabia and Qatar] are fighting over many issues but they both wish to speak on behalf of political Islam.”

What’s misleading isn’t the claim that Qatar funds extremists but that they do so more than other U.S. allies in the region (a narrative implanted at exactly the time Qatar has become a key target of Israel and the Emirates). Indeed, some of Qatar’s accusers here do the same to at least the same extent, and in the case of the Saudis, far more so. As Kirkpatrick noted: “Qatar is hardly the only gulf monarchy to allow open fund-raising by sheikhs that the United States government has linked to Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front: Sheikh Ajmi and most of the others are based in Kuwait and readily tap donors in Saudi Arabia, sometimes even making their pitches on Saudi- and Kuwaiti-owned television networks.”

One U.S. government cable from 2009, also published by WikiLeaks, identified Saudi Arabia, not Qatar, as the greatest danger in this regard:

Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.

The writer of that cable complained that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

Prior to his appointment as a Treasury official – and before he began working as a paid agent of the UAE to finger Qatar as the key threat – Camstoll’s founder and CEO, Epstein, himself fingered Saudis as the key financiers of Al Qaeda and anti-American terrorism. His 2003 Senate testimony included this statement: “the Saudi Wahhabists have bankrolled a series of Islamic institutions in the United States that actively seek to undermine U.S. counterterrorism policy at home and abroad”; he added: “in the United States, the Saudi Wahhabis regularly subsidize the organizations and individuals adhering to the militant ideology espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood and its murderous offshoots Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, all three of which are designated terrorist.”

While the 2009 cable claimed claimed that ”Qatar’s overall level of CT cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region,” it said this was “out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.” But the cable also identified other U.S. allies in the region as key conduits for terrorist financing, stating, for instance, that “Al-Qa’ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point.” It also heavily implicated the Emirates themselves: ”UAE-based donors have provided financial support to a variety of terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups, including Hamas.”

One of the most critical points illustrated by all of this tawdry influence-peddling is the alignment driving so much of US policy in that region. The key principals of Camstoll have hard-core neoconservative backgrounds. Here they are working hand in hand with neocon journalists to publicly trash a new enemy of Israel, in service of the agenda of Gulf dictators. This is the bizarre neocon/Israel/Gulf-dictator coalition now driving not only U.S. policy but, increasingly, U.S. discourse as well.

Margot Williams and Andrew Fishman contributed additional reporting

Photo: Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidency Press Office/AP)

UPDATE [Fri.]: It’s obviously ancillary to the article, but several people have raised valid objections about the claim here that the forces in Libya now being supported by the UAE are accurately characterized as Gadaffi loyalists, arguing that the UAE supported anti-Gadaffi rebels during the NATO intervention and many they now support are still opposed to Gadaffi loyalists. The evidence for the original reference is found in articles such as this one, describing how those UAE-supported factions are fighting with “many pro-Gaddafi prisoners” who have been released. But those raising the question are right that the description is an over-simplification about the groups fighting in Libya who are supported by the UAE. The important point is that Qatar and the UAE are supporting different factions, but it’s more complex than the phrase “supports forces aligned with Ghadaff” suggested.

UPDATE II [Fri.]: Prior to publication of this article, Lake categorically refused to talk about his reporting in response to questions from The Intercept (“I don’t talk about how I do my reporting”)He has now apparently changed his mind, claiming today on Twitter:

I spoke to no camstoll officials for this piece … as @ggreenwald implies in his piece.

Lake does not deny the more-than-a-dozen contacts with Camstoll, nor, when asked, would he deny that he spoke with them about Qatari funding of or support for terrorism prior to his article (indeed, he expressly said he is not denying that). Nor has he contested any of the specific claims actually made here. Everyone should review the evidence presented – both here and in Kirkpatrick’s original NYT article – and decide for themselves what it shows.

| Leave a comment

Australia’s Prime Minister Gives a Master Class in Exploiting Terrorism Fears to Seize New Powers

Australia’s Prime Minister Gives a Master Class in Exploiting Terrorism Fears to Seize New Powers

By Glenn Greenwald
The Intercept
September 22, 2014

If you’re an Australian citizen, you have a greater chance of being killed by the following causes than you do by a terrorist attack: slipping in the bathtub and hitting your head; contracting a lethal intestinal illness from the next dinner you eat at a restaurant; being struck by lightning. In the post-9/11 era, there has been no terrorist attack carried out on Australian soil: not one. The attack that most affected Australians was the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali which killed 88 of its citizens; that was 12 years ago.

Despite all that, Australia’s political class is in the midst of an increasingly unhinged fear-mongering orgy over terrorism. The campaign has two prongs: ISIS (needless to say: it’s now an all-purpose, global source of fear-manufacturing), and the weekend arrest of 15 people on charges that they planned to behead an unknown, random individual based on exhortations from an Australian member of ISIS.

The Australian government wasted no time at all exploiting this event to demand “broad new security powers to combat what it says is a rising threat from militant Islamists.” Even by the warped standards of the West’s 9/11 era liberty abridgments, these powers are extreme, including making it “a crime for an Australian citizen to travel to any area overseas once the government has declared it off limits.” Already pending in that country is a proposal by the attorney general to make it a criminal offense ”punishable by five years in jail for ‘any person who disclosed information relating to ‘special intelligence operations’”; the bill is clearly intended to outright criminalize WikiLeaks-and-Snowden-type reporting, and the government thus expressly refuses to exempt journalists.

This morning, Australia’s Liberal Party Prime Minister Tony Abbott (pictured above), delivered a speech to the nation’s parliament that is a perfect distillation of the key post-9/11 pathologies of western democracies. It was a master class in how politicians shamelessly exploit terrorism fears to seize greater power.

Abbott assumed the grave demeanor and resolute tone that politicians in these situations don to convince others that they’re the modern incarnation of Winston Churchill: purposeful, unyielding, and courageously ready for the fight. He depicted his fight as one of Pure Good v. Pure Evil, and vehemently denied that his nation’s 10-year support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq plays any role whatsoever in animosity toward his country in that region (perish the thought!) (“It’s our acceptance that people can live and worship in the way they choose that bothers them, not our foreign policy”). And, most impressively, he just came right out and candidly acknowledged his real purpose: to exploit the emotions surrounding the terrorist arrests to erode liberty and increase state power, telling citizens that they will die if they do not meekly acquiesce:

Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we’re used to, and more inconvenience than we’d like.

Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.

There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protections for others.

After all, the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to walk the streets unharmed and to sleep safe in our beds at night.

With those scary premises in place, the prime minister proceeded to rattle off a laundry list of new legal powers and restraints on freedom that he craves. It begins with “creating new offences that are harder to beat on a technicality”, which he said is “a small price to pay for saving lives.” It includes brand new crimes and detention powers (“Legislation to create new terrorist offences and to extend existing powers to monitor or to detain terror suspects will be introduced this week”). There’s also this: “it will be an offence to be in a designated area, for example Raqqa in Syria, without a good reason.”

His Christmas list also (of course) entails vastly increased spending on security (“the government committed an additional $630 million to the Australian Federal Police, Customs and Border Protection, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Office of National Assessments…biometric screening will start to be introduced at international airports within 12 months”). And the government—already a member of the sprawling Five Eyes spying alliance—will vest itself with greater surveillance powers (“as well, legislation requiring telecommunications providers to keep the metadata they already create and to continue to make it available to police and security agencies will be introduced soon”).

The ease with which terrorism is exploited by western governments—a full 13 years after 9/11—is stunning. Americans now overwhelmingly favor military action against a group which, three months ago, almost none of them even knew existed, notwithstanding clear government admissions that the group poses no threat to the “homeland.” When I was in New Zealand last week for a national debate over mass surveillance, the frequency with which the government and its supporters invoked the scary specter of the Muslim Terrorist to justify all of that was remarkable: It’s New Zealand. And now the Liberal Party’s prime minister in Australia barely bats an eye as he overtly squeezes every drop of fear he can to justify a wide array of new powers and spending splurges in the name of a risk that, mathematically speaking, is trivial to the average citizen.

Political leaders love nothing more than when populations are put in fear of external threats. In that regard, these western leaders share exactly the same goal as ISIS: to terrorize their nation’s citizens by grossly exaggerating its power and reach. Any museum exhibit on the degradation of western behavior in the post-9/11 era would be well-advised to put Abbott’s full speech on the wall, as it illustrates the fear-mongering games and propagandistic tactics that have led to all of that.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

UPDATE: A reader writes with an important clarification, supported by various media accounts:

Just one clarification on your article about the Australian ‘anti terror’ raids.

You said that 15 people were arrested. In fact, 15 people were detained under ‘preventative detention’ laws. But only one person has been charged under any terrorism related offence. A further 3 have been charged under non terrorism related offences.

This despite the fact that the ‘threat’ was so high that the raids involved over 800 police.

A grand total of one person has been charged with terrorism-related crimes—one—and that has triggered a major fear campaign and a slew of legislative demands designed to dismantle basic legal protections. It is, indeed, a microcosm of a core disease of the 9/11 era.

Along those lines, The Guardian just reported that “a sweeping suppression order will prevent reporting of controversial preventative detention orders used in last week’s counter-terrorism operations indefinitely.” That “means details of the order will remain secret until a New South Wales supreme court judge rules otherwise.” Amazingly, “the judge’s ruling is so broad that a supreme court spokesman says even his name cannot be reported.” Like the US for the weeks, months, and even years after 9/11, Australia’s political system appears completely inebriated with hysteria, fear and power-hunger completely out of proportion to the ostensible risk to be addressed.

| Leave a comment

New Zealand Launched Mass Surveillance Project While Publicly Denying It

New Zealand Launched Mass Surveillance Project While Publicly Denying It

By Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher
The Intercept
September 15, 2014

AUCKLAND, New Zealand—The New Zealand spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement a mass metadata surveillance system even as top government officials publicly insisted no such program was being planned and would not be legally permitted.

Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the government worked in secret to exploit a new internet surveillance law enacted in the wake of revelations of illegal domestic spying to initiate a new metadata collection program that appeared designed to collect information about the communications of New Zealanders. Those actions are in direct conflict with the assurances given to the public by Prime Minister John Key (pictured above), who said the law was merely designed to fix “an ambiguous legal framework” by expressly allowing the agency to do what it had done for years, that it “isn’t and will never be wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” and the law “isn’t a revolution in the way New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations.”

Snowden, in a post for The Intercept published today, accused Prime Minster Key of fundamentally misleading the public about GCSB’s role in mass surveillance. “The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false,” the former NSA analyst wrote. “The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”

Snowden explained that “at the NSA, I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called ‘X KEYSCORE.”” He further detailed that “the GCSB provides mass surveillance data into XKEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB facility in Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact.”

Top secret documents provided by the whistleblower demonstrate that the GCSB, with ongoing NSA cooperation, implemented Phase I of the mass surveillance program code-named “Speargun” at some point in 2012 or early 2013. “Speargun” involved the covert installation of “cable access” equipment, which appears to refer to surveillance of the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable. This cable carries the vast majority of internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and mass collection from it would mark the greatest expansion of GCSB spying activities in decades.

Upon completion of the first stage, Speargun moved to Phase II, under which “metadata probes” were to be inserted into those cables. The NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for “mid-2013.” Surveillance probes of this sort are commonly used by NSA and their partners to tap into huge flows of information from communication cables in real time, enabling them to extract the dates, times, senders, and recipients of emails, phone calls, and the like. The technique is almost by definition a form of mass surveillance; metadata is relatively useless for intelligence purposes without a massive amount of similar data to analyze it against and trace connections through.

The NSA declined to comment for this story. A GCSB spokesperson would only say: “We don’t comment on matters that may or may not be operational.”

Over the weekend, in anticipation of this report, Key admitted for the first time that the GCSB did plan a program of mass surveillance aimed at his own citizens, but claimed that he ultimately rejected the program before implementation. Yesterday, after The Intercept sought comment from the NSA, the Prime Minister told reporters in Auckland that this reporting was referring merely to “a proposed widespread cyber protection programme that never got off the ground.” He vowed to declassify documents confirming his decision.

But the documents indicate that Speargun was not just an idea that stalled at the discussion stage. It was a system GCSB actively worked to implement. One top secret 2012 NSA document states: “Project Speargun underway.” Another top secret NSA document discussing the activities of its surveillance partners reports, under the heading “New Zealand,” that “Partner cable access program achieves Phase I.”

Critically, the NSA documents note in more than one place that completion of Speargun was impeded by one obstacle: The need to enact a new spying law that would allow the GCSB, for the first time, to spy on its own citizens as well as legal residents of the country. As one NSA planning document put it, completion of Speargun was “awaiting new GCSB Act expected July 2013.”

That legislation arose after it was revealed in 2012 that the GCSB illegally surveilled the communications of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, a legal resident of New Zealand. New Zealand law at the time forbade the GCSB from using its surveillance apparatus against citizens or legal residents. That illegal GCSB surveillance of Dotcom was followed by a massive military-style police raid by New Zealand authorities on his home in connection with Dotcom’s criminal prosecution in the United States for copyright violations.

A subsequent government investigation found that the GCSB not only illegally spied on Dotcom but also dozens of other citizens and legal residents. The deputy director of GCSB resigned. The government’s response to these revelations was to refuse to prosecute those who ordered the illegal spying and, instead, to propose a new law that would allow domestic electronic surveillance.

That proposal was intensely controversial, prompting large public protests and a concerted campaign against the law. One news broadcaster called it “one of the most polarizing pieces of legislation in recent times.” It was of sufficient interest to the NSA that in March 2013, the director of Prime Minister Key’s Intelligence Coordination Group traveled to NSA headquarters to offer an update on the legislation.

To assuage the public, Key and other top officials repeatedly insisted that the real purpose of the law was merely to provide oversight and to clarify that targeted domestic surveillance which had long been carried out by the agency was legal. Key categorically denied that the law would allow mass metadata collection on the New Zealand public: “There have been claims this Bill offers no protection of metadata and allows for wholesale collection of metadata without a warrant. None of that is true.”

Key told the public that the new law would not permit mass, warrantless metadata surveillance: “So when the GCSB wants to access metadata, it is treated with the same level of seriousness and protection as if the GCSB was accessing the actual content of a communication. And there are protections around that.”

In response to Key’s claims, legal experts extensively documented that the new law would indeed provide ”a major increase in the overall role and powers of the GCSB” and would allow the “very broad ‘wholesale’ powers” which Key denied. Yet the Key government, and the prime minister himself, steadfastly insisted that the law permits no mass surveillance. At one point, Key even promised to resign if it were found that the GCSB were engaging in mass surveillance.

Based on Key’s assurances, the New Zealand Parliament narrowly voted to enact the new law on August 21 of last year, by a vote of 61-59. Immediately prior to passage, Key acknowledged that the new law has “‘alarmed’ some people but blame[d] the Government’s opponents for stoking their fears” and again “rejected that by writing into law what the GCSB had already been doing meant an extension of its powers.”

But in high-level discussions between the Key government and the NSA, the new law was clearly viewed as the crucial means to empower the GCSB to engage in metadata surveillance. On more than one occasion, the NSA noted internally that Project Speargun, in the process of being implemented, could not and would not be completed until the new law was enacted. The NSA apparently viewed that new law as providing exactly the powers that Key repeatedly and publicly denied it would vest.

New Zealand’s national election will be held on September 20. Over the last several weeks, Key has been embroiled in a scandal that saw a top minister resign, after independent journalist Nicky Hager published a book, Dirty Politics, documenting ties between Key officials and a right-wing blogger known for attacking public figures and showing that Key officials declassified information for political purposes.

Revelations of illegal GCSB spying prompted the creation of the anti-surveillance Internet Party, which formed an alliance with the left-wing, indigenous Mana Party and is predicted to win several seats in Parliament. The party is funded by Dotcom, and has organized a “Moment of Truth” event for this Monday to discuss revelations of surveillance and other secret government actions. (Disclosure: Glenn Greenwald, one of the authors of this story, is scheduled to speak at that event pursuant to an invitation from the Internet Party, which paid his travel expenses to attend and agreed to donate a speaking fee to a designated charity.)

The disclosure that the GCSB plotted a program of mass surveillance based on this new law is likely to raise further questions about the ethics and credibility of the Key government. The new surveillance planning took place at high levels of the government, and expressly intended to use the new surveillance law as its basis even as Key himself insisted that the law provided no such authority.

Photo: Rob Griffith/AP

Additional reporting provided by Andrew Fishman


| Leave a comment

The U.S. Government’s Secret Plans to Spy for American Corporations

The U.S. Government’s Secret Plans to Spy for American Corporations

By Glenn Greenwald
The Intercept
September 5, 2014

Throughout the last year, the U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that it does not engage in economic and industrial espionage, in an effort to distinguish its own spying from China’s infiltrations of Google, Nortel, and other corporate targets. So critical is this denial to the U.S. government that last August, an NSA spokesperson emailed The Washington Post to say (emphasis in original): “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

After that categorical statement to the Post, the NSA was caught spying on plainly financial targets such as the Brazilian oil giant Petrobraseconomic summitsinternational credit card and banking systems; the EU antitrust commissioner investigating Google, Microsoft, and Intel; and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In response, the U.S. modified its denial to acknowledge that it does engage in economic spying, but unlike China, the spying is never done to benefit American corporations.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for instance, responded to the Petrobras revelations by claiming: “It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters…. What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of—or give intelligence we collect to—U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

But a secret 2009 report issued by Clapper’s own office explicitly contemplates doing exactly that. The document, the 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review—provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—is a fascinating window into the mindset of America’s spies as they identify future threats to the U.S. and lay out the actions the U.S. intelligence community should take in response. It anticipates a series of potential scenarios the U.S. may face in 2025, from a “China/Russia/India/Iran centered bloc [that] challenges U.S. supremacy” to a world in which “identity-based groups supplant nation-states,” and games out how the U.S. intelligence community should operate in those alternative futures—the idea being to assess “the most challenging issues [the U.S.] could face beyond the standard planning cycle.”

One of the principal threats raised in the report is a scenario “in which the United States’ technological and innovative edge slips”— in particular, “that the technological capacity of foreign multinational corporations could outstrip that of U.S. corporations.” Such a development, the report says “could put the United States at a growing—and potentially permanent—disadvantage in crucial areas such as energy, nanotechnology, medicine, and information technology.”

How could U.S. intelligence agencies solve that problem? The report recommends “a multi-pronged, systematic effort to gather open source and proprietary information through overt means, clandestine penetration (through physical and cyber means), and counterintelligence” (emphasis added). In particular, the DNI’s report envisions “cyber operations” to penetrate “covert centers of innovation” such as R&D facilities.


In a graphic describing an “illustrative example,” the report heralds “technology acquisition by all means.” Some of the planning relates to foreign superiority in surveillance technology, but other parts are explicitly concerned with using cyber-espionage to bolster the competitive advantage of U.S. corporations. The report thus envisions a scenario in which companies from India and Russia work together to develop technological innovation, and the U.S. intelligence community then “conducts cyber operations” against “research facilities” in those countries, acquires their proprietary data, and then “assesses whether and how its findings would be useful to U.S. industry” (click on image to enlarge):

The document doesn’t describe any previous industrial espionage, a fact the DNI’s office emphasized in responding to questions from The InterceptA spokesman, Jeffrey Anchukaitis, insisted in an email that “the United States—unlike our adversaries—does not steal proprietary corporate information to further private American companies’ bottom lines,” and that “the Intelligence Community regularly engages in analytic exercises to identify potential future global environments, and how the IC could help the United States Government respond.” The report, he said, “is not intended to be, and is not, a reflection of current policy or operations.”

Yet the report describes itself as “an essential long-term piece, looking out between 10 and 20 years” designed to enable ”the IC [to] best posture itself to meet the range of challenges it may face.” Whatever else is true, one thing is unmistakable: the report blithely acknowledges that stealing secrets to help American corporations secure competitive advantage is an acceptable future role for U.S. intelligence agencies.

In May, the U.S. Justice Department indicted five Chinese government employees on charges that they spied on U.S. companies. At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder said the spying took place “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China,” and “this is a tactic that the U.S. government categorically denounces.”

But the following day, The New York Times detailed numerous episodes of American economic spying that seemed quite similar. Harvard Law School professor and former Bush Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith wrote that the accusations in the indictment sound “a lot like the kind of cyber-snooping on firms that the United States does.” But U.S. officials continued to insist that using surveillance capabilities to bestow economic advantage for the benefit of a country’s corporations is wrong, immoral, and illegal.

Yet this 2009 report advocates doing exactly that in the event that ”that the technological capacity of foreign multinational corporations outstrip[s] that of U.S. corporations.” Using covert cyber operations to pilfer “proprietary information” and then determining how it ”would be useful to U.S. industry” is precisely what the U.S. government has been vehemently insisting it does not do, even though for years it has officially prepared to do precisely that.

| Leave a comment

Facebook killer called Ello gets the timing right

Facebook killer called Ello gets the timing right

By Therese Poletti
September 26, 2014

There has been a lot of chatter on social media this week about a new social network called Ello, which is getting buzz for its anti-Facebook Inc. stance. But is the start-up, which accepts no advertising and does no data mining, ready for prime time?

Ello has apparently been gaining such a huge influx of new users that its servers were having problems in the past two days, despite the requirement that you need an invitation to join. As Ello tells users who visit its simple, clean, black-and-white site: It has a “manifesto.”

“Your social network is owned by advertisers,” reads Ello’s “about” page. “Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. … We believe there is a better way.”

The network was launched earlier this year and is still in beta mode, so the uptick had initially been slow, according to Betabeat, a blog covering New York tech companies. Ello’s main creator, Paul Budnitz, told Betabeat that there have been 4,000 sign-ups an hour to the site this week. A second story posted Thursday said that number had risen almost seven-fold. In the past few days, people have even begun selling invites to Ello on eBay EBAY, +8.05% On Thursday, there were 33 invitations to join Ello for sale, at prices ranging from $5 to $500.

‘Facebook is at a critical moment where entire segments of its audience are all looking to jump ship.’

Christopher-Ian Reichel, user-experience executive in New York

Budnitz, who is also the founder of Budnitz Bicycles, which makes fast, light, retro-style bicycles, said in an email to MarketWatch that the genesis of Ello was that “we just wanted to create a social network for ourselves.” He declined to say how many people are trying out Ello. “It’s a lot!” he wrote.

There are seven co-creators listed on the website, including two graphic artists and software developers.

Many attribute the sudden surge of Ello users to a new policy at Facebook FB, -0.15% which is cracking down on users who don’t go by their real name or name that is “associated with a government ID.” That has caused a firestorm among artists, musicians and the LGBT community, who use stage names or pseudonyms as part of their profession or as a way of protecting themselves.

Budnitz, who is also Ello’s chief executive officer, said the young company has funding, but he declined to say who its investors are or how much it’s received. It is currently operating in multiple locations, with Budnitz based in Vermont, and also working part time in New York. His partners are in Colorado.

“I don’t know if it’s going to ever be ‘the next big thing,’ but it is definitely in the right place at the right time,” said Christopher-Ian Reichel, a user-experience executive in New York. “And Facebook is at a critical moment where entire segments of its audience are all looking to jump ship.”

Reichel said Ello is “still buggy and somewhat empty, and people are still joining.”

That is for sure. On Facebook, the buzz about people joining Ello has been especially noticeable in the past few days, especially among artists and performers I know. My friend Sara Klotz de Aguilar, a musician based in Oakland, said she wasn’t sure how Ello would make money, but she would be willing to pay a monthly rate to promote upcoming gigs for her band, Sara & Swingtime.

“What nobody can explain is how they will pay for it without ads or data mining,” Klotz de Aguilar said in an email. “Frankly, I would be thrilled to pay a subscription per month if I could have unlimited contacts and be able to promote to a wide audience without paying extra, and not to mention how Facebook doesn’t even deliver if you do pay to promote.”

Budnitz declined to explain how Ello plans to make money. “Yes, it’s a for-profit company,” he told me. “Otherwise it could never survive.”

Betabeat describes Ello as a cross between Tumblr and Facebook, with a pared-down interface. After I received an invitation to join, I have not found many people I know. The network seems to be slowly getting populated, but like most social networks, your feed is as empty or as full as your contacts. Many of the posts I found are photos or art work, with very little or no text.

“Ello is clean and simple and let[s] us connect with our friends and see awesome stuff, without feeling manipulated by a big system that was making social networking no fun,” Budnitz said in the email.

Ello said it does collect some data on its users. “This information helps us understand how people are using Ello, so we can make Ello better,” the company says on its website. “For example, if we create a feature that everybody is using, we want to know about that.”

Whether Ello will become just another unsuccessful attempt to compete with Facebook, such as Apple’s AAPL, +0.79%  iTunes Ping or the struggling Google+ GOOG, -0.23% is a big question. After all, Facebook’s market value just exceeded a staggering $200 billion.

| Leave a comment

Power of Siberia – Solution for Problems Faced by the Far East

Power of Siberia – Solution for Problems Faced by the Far East

Konstantin Penzev
New Eastern Outlook
September 13, 2014

On September 1, President Vladimir Putin launched the construction of the eastern section of the Russian gas transmission system (GTS) connecting the West Siberian GTS with the Sakhalin branch. Thus, after 2018 almost all of the economically important territory of the Russian Federation will be covered by a network of main gas pipelines. This is indeed excellent news. One cannot but recall the words of Vladimir Lenin on the universal electrification of Russia as the most important task for the Soviet authorities. President Putin will complete the gasification of the country and provide it with new incentives for economic development. The Russian president announced: “This project will provide an opportunity not only to export Russian gas, but also to develop the gasification of the eastern regions in our own country, including the Far East and Eastern Siberia.”

From now on the Far East will be connected to Greater Russia not only by a network of railways, but also by a network of highways (construction completed recently) and by powerful energy lines (gas and electric lines).

During the first stage of constructing “Power of Siberia”, the “Yakutia-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok” branch will be constructed, during the second stage the “Power of Siberia” will be connected to the Irkutsk center for gas separation and gas processing, based on the premises of one of the largest chemical plants. The total length of the gas pipeline will be about 4000km (Yakutia-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok – about 3200km; the Irkutsk region-Yakutia – about 800km), total capacity equals 61 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per annum. The GTS route of “Power of Siberia” will be constructed along the highway of the ESPO pipeline. This will permit to minimize infrastructure and energy costs. The resource base of the project will be the Chayandinskoye field.

The export branch of the “Power of Siberia” pipeline will depart for China in the area of ​​Blagoveshchensk. From Blagoveshchensk the branch connecting “Power of Siberia” with the Sakhalin-Vladivostok GTS will pass through Birobidzhan. A high-power LNG plant is planned to be built near Vladivostok. The first line with a capacity of 5 million tons per year should enter into operation in 2018, and the total design capacity of the plant will be 15 million tons per year.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) has a number of potential advantages, especially in terms of export to countries where gas pipelines, for one reason or another, cannot be extended. For instance, Japan meets its demand for natural gas almost entirely due to LNG (97%). The country receives LNG from producers in the Pacific region (Australia, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia) and also from the Middle East (Oman, Qatar and the UAE).

The second largest importer of LNG in East Asia and the third country in terms of terminal capacity is South Korea. Major suppliers include Qatar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Oman.

India could also become a potential consumer, there are two terminals in the country: Dahej (capacity – 9 billion cubic meters per year, Petronet) and Hazira (capacity – 4 billion cubic meters per year, Total/Shell). Taiwan also imports LNG and in 2005 the island nation concluded a 25-year contract with the Qatari based project RasGas 2 (3 million tons per year). Recently Thailand has also started to import LNG. In the near future, several other countries in the Asia-Pacific region could start to import LNG including New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore among others.

According to the International Energy Agency, demand for natural gas by 2035 will grow by 48%, which would put it in second place after crude oil in the global energy market. The LNG sector could become a major direction for world trade in the gas production sphere. A confirmation of this statement is the volume of gas trading, which during the past 10 years has increased by 45%; LNG trade has more than doubled. Shell Corporation predicts an increase in the share of LNG from 10% today to 15% of global gas supply by 2030. Transportation of liquefied gas is beginning to compete with gas pipelines at distances of more than 2500km. This will allow to expand the geography of LNG.

At present the only existing LNG plant in Russia is Sakhalin-2 with a total capacity of 9.6 million tons per year. In various stages of implementation are several large-scale projects such as Vladivostok LNG, Baltic LNG, Yamal LNG, Pechora LNG and several others. However, before 2019 the new volumes of LNG from Russia will not appear on the world market. In the short term the most important plant is Vladivostok LNG, as well as the ROSNEFT project where the total LNG volume has already been contracted.

What are the reasons for the sustainable global growth in gas demand? J.P. Morgan analysts have highlighted a number of prevailing factors:

  - the desire of countries to diversify fuel sources for energy safety;

  - the departure from the use of non-ecological coal;

  - the negative attitude of a large part of the population to nuclear power plants.

The largest LNG exporting countries are: Qatar – 49bcm, Malaysia – 30bcm, Indonesia – 26bcm, Australia – 24bcm, Algeria – 21bcm, Trinidad and Tobago – 20bcm. The main importers of LNG are: Japan – 86bcm, South Korea – 35bcm, Spain – 28bcm, France – 16bcm , USA – 15bcm, India – 13bcm and China which has had gas pipelines joined from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

As a result of concluding the recent pipeline contract with China, Russia reduces its dependence on gas supplies to Europe. On the other hand, the enhancement of diversification of gas production in the LNG direction allows Russia to open up new energy markets and thus to further increase the stability of the country’s economy. Such things are not done instantly, and they can in no way be counted out.

Gazprom’s strategy should be acknowledged as being the most effective. Plans are not going to end with the eastward direction leading to China alone which accounts for an enormous market capacity; however, it is still only one country. Gazprom is planning the development of another branch in Primorsky Krai, in the direction of the sea in order to ensure sufficient resources for LNG production capacity. In the long term this implies the delivery of LNG to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India and other countries.

Konstantin Penzev, historian and writer, commentator for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

| Leave a comment