Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kurdish independence - the time is now

In 1967 the nation of Israel was facing invasion from every direction. The Egyptian led United Arab Republic had united the entire Middle East with promises of destroying Israel.

Much was at stake. The most obvious being the welfare of the State of Israel. Just as important however was the hegemony of Nasser’s UAR and what he had planned for all of Arabia. Nasser was also fully in bed with the Soviet Union. A middle east under the control of the UAR was a middle east under the control of the USSR.

The tiny nation of Israel provided the perfect regional power check to multiple enemies. Despite their size they were able to counter Nasser’s Arab socialist plans and ultimately Soviet designs and aspirations for the entire Middle East.

2014 Kurdistan has the opportunity to become 1967 Israel. Israel provided a power check to the UAR and socialism while also countering Soviet interests. Kurdistan has the opportunity to counter militant Islamists, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Why are we not pushing for Kurdistan to claim self determination? Why are we not capitalizing on the historic cooperation between the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds at the defense of Kobane? The Syrian/Iraqi border in the North is already non existent. Now is the time for the Kurds to take what is theirs.

What’s standing in the way? Iran and Turkey have been using the Kurds as leverage against each other for quite some time. Before we get into that let’s take a look at the Kurdish players involved in both Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq - Iraq has a federalized system of government. Each region assumes governmental responsibilities for their territory but are ultimately subservient to Baghdad. Baghdad also handles all international affairs.
The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) is the governing body of Kurdistan. It has two main political parties that dominate the government. The KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). The Peshmerga are the national defense force of Kurdistan...the army. They’re under the direct control of the KRG.

In Syria - The PYD (Democratic Union Party) is the dominant Kurdish governing force in Kurdish Syria. Their power grew during the Syrian civil war. As Assad struggled to contain the Sunni rebels in the south the PYD seized control of Kurdish lands in the North. The YPG (People’s Protection Units) is the PYD’s defense force...their army.
The PYD, and by extension the YPG, is an affiliate of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The PKK is a militant group that has been engaged in armed conflict with Turkey. They’re also designated as a terrorist group.

Looking at all of those political divisions spread across multiple countries it’s easy to see how the Kurds are manipulated and divided. The PUK in Iraq was actually first started in Damascus, Syria. Hafiz al-Assad personally supported both the PUK and the PKK. It’s of no surprise at all that Iran has a relationship with both the PUK and PKK. They use that relationship as leverage against Turkey. To counter that the Turks have cultivated a strong relationship with the KDP in Iraq. They in turn use that relationship to pressure both Iran and Iraq. This foreign coercion needs to be stopped.

If the United States and the west truly want to change the region for the better they need to pursue a strategy that actually makes sense. A strategy that doesn’t involve arming or training our enemies. We don’t have to choose between evils. Why are we training Iraqis and arming “moderate” rebels in Syria? Increasing the capability of the Iraqi army helps Iran. Arming the Islamists in Syria increases the likelihood that radical groups will get more sophisticated weaponry. Iran gains on one end and anarchy looms on the other.

There is no outside military solution here. The only strategy should be to redirect United States influence toward encouraging full Kurdish independence. Once that happens we can deal with the Kurds directly. Supplying them with arms, training, and economic support. An independent Kurdistan with the full backing of the United States government could provide the regional power check in 2014 that Israel provided in 1967.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Edward Snowden - Russian disinformation tool

The NSA Director of Technology Lonny Anderson was in Australia recently. The secret meeting held with Australian Intelligence was allegedly to discuss more leaks coming soon from Edward Snowden.

I'm not not going to get into why Snowden did what he did in the beginning nor am I going to give my opinion on whether I agree with his actions or not. The outing of the Prism program was huge. Again whether you agree with Snowden or not, his actions affected policy both domestically and internationally.
First of all, we need to talk about how classified information is handled in the United States. The highest clearance you can achieve is called Top Secret SCI. The SCI stands for Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. Classified information at the Top Secret level is compartmentalized. It's filtered to those that have the need to know. TS SCI isn't a master key to the government's classified vaults. It's more like a hall pass to access the areas that your authorized to be in.

Edward Snowden had access to whatever he was working on at the time he was employed by the NSA. He had information regarding the Prism program and for whatever reason (political, ideological, monetary, etc) he released that information to the public. That was credible. However, the claims of his "leaks" following the Prism revelation are getting crazier and crazier. Remember how classified information works. It's compartmentalized. It's a hall pass not a master key. There's a limit to what he had access to.

Snowden released the Prism information from Hong Kong and then went straight to Moscow. He's still there. All the additional leaks after he left Hong Kong have been while in exile in Moscow.

Let's call a spade a spade. No matter what Edward Snowden started out as he's now something completely different. He's a Russian disinformation tool.

What is the Russian government today? Has it really changed since the Czar or Soviet eras? It's gone from one autocracy to the next. All that has changed is the ideology behind the Despot. The KGB acted much like an autonomous mini government within the larger Soviet State. Not only did they master the art of disinformation globally they did it domestically as well. They practically wrote the book on modern day disinformation practices. The same architects of KGB intelligence practices during the Soviet era are now the rulers and policy makers of the modern day Russian Federation. There is around 6,000 former KGB that hold current government positions. The former Soviet "autonomous mini government" now runs Russia overtly.

It's was no surprise at all that the Russian government welcomed Snowden with open arms. However, his value to the Russians isn't in his NSA/Prism knowledge. His greater value lies in his perceived credibility to the world. Why?

Snowden's intelligence leaks were most likely drained when he outed Prism. However, the media fire storm that followed gave him immediate street cred. This fit perfectly inside the old KGB disinformation model. Disinformation in counter intelligence circles is more than what you might be thinking. It's information intended to deceive that comes from a trusted source. 

Example: If the FSB tells the world that the Australian Intelliegence services had tapped the Indonesian President's phone...not many would believe it. However, if it's released as a Snowden "leak"...media firestorm.

The above example actually happened. The result was a catastrophe in Australian/Indonesian relations.

Some of the information that will come out via "Snowden leaks" may be true, but that's how disinformation works. Mix in a little truth along with the false. As it stands today, no one knows the difference. From now on consider everything that's released via Snowden to be politically tied to the Russian Federation. He's nothing more than a pawn in a larger game.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What's Putin's next move - The Russian Playbook

Russian military units began pouring into Eastern Ukraine this past weekend. No longer trying to hide or be covert. Russian war equipment theatrically paraded across the border with their unit designators on display for all to see. It’s no coincidence that a small army of reporters and tweeters were on site to witness the entire show.
russianunits Luhansk1.jpgrussianunitsLuhansk4.jpg
They weren’t even trying to hide it. They might as well have been passing in review in the middle of Red Square.

This isn’t surprising at all. In fact it’s a textbook move by Vladimir Putin. A textbook the Russians have been following since the Soviet Union fell in 1991. When the USSR fell there were two main strategic priorities the Russian’s were concerned about. The first and most important was Ukraine which is Russia’s gateway to Western Europe. Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said the following regarding Ukraine’s importance to Russia:

“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”

The second was Georgia which is Russia’s gateway to the oil and warm waters of the Middle East. Russia has had aspirations to extend into the Middle East ever since the Stalin days. Both Ukraine and Georgia are the two geographic pivots necessary for Russia to become an empire.

The Soviet Union officially dissolved on Christmas day 1991. The leadership of the new Russian Federation identified their two main priorities and assessed risks. The Soviets had devoted much to Ukraine over the years. The result of which was a heavily entrenched political support base. Ukraine and Belarus along with Russia became the founding members of the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Georgia however was another matter. The Russians knew that the Georgian political elite were ready to turn to NATO. To counter this they flamed ethnic fires with two ethnic groups within Georgia. Ossetians in the North and Abkhazians in the North West.

The conflict began as simple protests but it quickly escalated. Ossetians and Abkhazians began attacking Georgian government buildings with home made weapons and hunting rifles. Pretty soon the separatists began getting weapon supplies from Russia. The conflicts came to a close with Russia brokering a cease fire that left Georgia fractured. Two autonomous regions emerged - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

If this sounds familiar to you….it should be. If you played the news broadcasts of Ukraine today side by side with those from Georgia in 1992 you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The tactics used are near identical. Remember when the Russian separatists shot down Malaysian commercial flight MH17? That exact same scenario happened in Abkhazia in 1993. Only in Georgia the separatists shot down more than one commercial plane.

The process the Russians followed in Georgia is strikingly similar to present day Ukraine. Moscow helps to force a stalemate by supplying the separatists with arms. Once that stalemate happens they help broker a ceasefire.There’s usually a caveat in that ceasefire that states that the Russian military guarantees the peace and will intervene if it’s broken. The end result is an autonomous region within the country that is loyal to Russia.

Fast forward to 2004. Ukraine was on the verge of their “Orange Revolution”. Like the Georgians in 1992 the Ukrainians now looked to the West rather than to Moscow. The uprisings forced a recount in the their ongoing presidential election and the heavily Russian supported Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.

The Orange Revolution would spread to both Belarus and Russia herself. Russia had to do something….

Russia had already laid the foundation for their response back in Georgia in 1992. In 2008 “color revolutions” had spread from Ukraine to Belarus and Russia. For seemingly no reason at all the autonomous region of South Ossetia began shelling various Georgian positions. Georgia counter attacked and closed in on South Ossetia. On cue Russia invaded into Georgia backed up by Abkhazian forces from the North West. The conflict would later end again via a Russian brokered cease fire.
The message was clear - the Soviet Union may be gone but the Russians are still in control. The Georgian conflict sent ripples of fear all over the former Soviet Bloc. The “color revolutions” died out and Ukraine began to slide back under Russia’s thumb.

Ukrainians now in 2014 see themselves as the Georgians of 2008. Russia following their textbook has positioned Kiev to have to make the same decisions Tbilisi made in 2008. If the autonomous regions in Eastern Ukraine begin shelling Ukrainian positions, like the South Ossetians did, Ukraine will have to react with caution and restraint. If they over react Russia will use that to send another message and will fully invade Eastern Ukraine.

What happens next?

I really think that the Ukrainian revolution of 2014 was something the Russians didn’t expect to happen. They assumed they’d always be able to manipulate Ukraine using their political and economic stranglehold they enjoyed in Kiev. However, when Yanukovych’s regime was ousted Putin was forced to escalate the timeline. 2008 Georgia was brought to 2014 Ukraine. If Ukraine continues their push to integrate into the EU and forge a relationship with NATO Russia will push the autonomous regions in Eastern Ukraine to begin shelling Ukrainian positions….a la South Ossetia 2008. Moscow will wait and gauge their reaction.

If Georgia continues their goals of joining NATO Russia WILL annex either Abkhazia, South Ossetia or both. They’ll most probably annex Abkhazia and dangle South Ossetia as a future warning.

Georgia and Ukraine represent Russia’s primary targets, but keep in mind the effect all this will have on the rest of the region. Places such as Moldova, Belarus and even Russia’s own populace will be watching.

Moscow is following a geopolitical playbook using plays they’ve already ran. Realizing and understanding this is key to predicting what they want and what they’re willing to do in the future.