Friday, February 27, 2009

North Korea Testing Radar Ahead of Missile Launch

Nuclear-armed North Korea is testing radar and other monitoring equipment in preparation for a provocative, long-range missile test.

There is increased activity at the Musudan-ri launch facility as Pyongyang makes final preparations to test a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam and reaching all the way to Alaska.

Death Toll Rises in Bangladesh Mutiny

Tanks rolled unchallenged into the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles Friday as government officials, soldiers and police began surveying a scene of carnage in the wake of a two-day mutiny that may have left more 100 people dead, mostly Army officers.

Security forces have arrested about 300 members of the paramilitary border guard, which revolted.

The situation remains tense with emotions running high in the army over the loss of so many officers.

The Army is trying to account for missing officers feared killed by rebel border guards during the two-day mutiny that began at the Dhaka headquarters of the paramilitary force.

A survivor told reporters he witnessed the deaths of many of his fellow Army officers when 2,000 border guards opened fire on their commanders. The Lieutenant Colonel, Syed Kamruzzaman, says among the dead are the chief of the Bangladesh Rifles, Major General Shakil Ahmed.

Bodies Dumped in Sewers

Some of the uniformed bodies have been found dumped in sewers outside the guards' barracks. Several civilians are also reported to be among the dead.

During the mutiny, some of the guards said the uprising was triggered by the Army leadership ignoring their grievances. The paramilitary force has long resented that its leadership comes from the Army, not its own ranks. There have been complaints of officers skimming funds while the relatively meager salaries of the guards have not keep pace with soaring food prices.

The rebels put down their weapons after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina negotiated with them and made a nationally televised appeal Thursday, saying in exchange for surrender she would address their concerns and grant amnesty to mutineers.

But with details emerging of the massacre that took place at the Bangladesh Rifles' headquarters, retired major general A.N.M Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute for Peace and Security Studies, expects the perpetrators to face justice.

"The figures could go as high as 100 to 120 [killed]," he said. "Besides, there has been extensive looting, burnings of buildings inside, alleged instances of physical abuse and rape. … I don't really think that this should be pardoned."

The paramilitary force, which has tens of thousands of soldiers in more than 60 posts nationwide, is primarily tasked with patrolling Bangladesh's four-thousand kilometer-long border with India. But it is also used as an auxiliary force to assist the army and police during times of unrest.

Retired General Muniruzzaman, a former presidential chief of staff, says the command structure of the Bangladesh Rifles, known as the BDR, has been destroyed by the mutiny.

"This is a major challenge that the government will have to face now. Because, as of today, I understand our borders are unguarded," he said. "Most of the battalions located on the borders are not performing their duties. Complete chain of command of the BDR has been physically wiped out."

The BDR has 40,000 soldiers. It traces it roots to the late 18th century when it was formed by colonial British rulers. It has a heroic legacy in modern Bangladesh because most of its troops revolted against their Pakistani masters during the 1971 war of independence.

Since independence, Bangladesh has seen a series of violent military takeovers and attempted coups.

Tokyo Firms May Have Helped NK Missile Program

Amid mounting concern over a pending North Korean missile launch, Japanese police searched a Tokyo trading firm suspected of exporting equipment to the rogue nation that could be used to make missiles.

Police raided the Toko Boeki trading company and other firms in Tokyo for allegedly exporting magnetic measuring equipment used in making missiles through a Southeast Asian country.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Defector: Right-Wing Germans Plot Fourth Reich

Foreign Confidential....

A former board member of the German National Democratic Party said the group is a neo-Nazi organization that hopes to set up a "Fourth Reich."

Uwe Luthardt told the British newspaper The Telegraph that he joined because he wanted to do something for Germany but found that the NDP was more interested in "Greater Germany."

He found that other party members were interested in seizing Silesia from Poland.

Many of the members are more interested in drinking and fighting than politics, he said.

"Many have an IQ close to my shoe size. Most of them are simply failures: failed pupils, people who dropped out of school or their apprenticeships, alcoholics that can't find a foothold anywhere else, thugs," he said. "But every local organization has three to five men who don't have criminal records. They're the ones sent to face the press or man information stands."

He said the organization provides guidance on how to behave in public, avoiding open references to the Nazis. Two major sources of funds are gifts from old Nazis still living in South America and income from skinhead concerts.

Comment: China Encouraging North Korea and Iran

China is doing nothing to prevent its nuclear-armed vassal, Stalinist/Kimist North Korea, from launching a long-range missile capable of hitting Alaska.

Nor is China doing anything to stop Islamist Iran from developing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

On the contrary; China is quietly encouraging the two rogues.

Reason: Beijing sees both of them as buffers and proxies to combat and erode U.S. influence in the Middle East and Northeast Asia.

- Andre Pachter

Ten More Madoffs?

Dateline USA....

Wall Street is rife with rumors that the Securities and Exchange Commission has identified at least 10 more Madoff Ponzi schemes, including one that is even bigger than Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion scam.

The collapse of so many additional fraudulent hedge funds could "take the wheels off the global financial system," according to one well informed analyst.

North Korea Intends to Fire Missile Over Japan

North Korea intends to launch a Taepodong-2 missile across Japan--and dangerously close to the United States.

The U.S. is prepared to shoot down the missile.

Pyongyang is aware of this; threats to attack U.S. troops in South Korea are likely to follow a U.S. intercept.

Also likely: a new, North Korean nuclear bomb test.

All of which will provide the North's Islamist ally, Iran, with more time to develop its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Axis of Evil is alive and well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mexico's Long Arm of the Lawless

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

In our last article, we discussed the impact that crime, and specifically kidnapping, has been having on Mexican citizens and foreigners visiting or living in Mexico. We pointed out that there is almost no area of Mexico immune from the crime and violence. As if on cue, on the night of Feb. 21 a group of heavily armed men threw two grenades at a police building in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, wounding at least five people. Zihuatanejo is a normally quiet beach resort just north of Acapulco; the attack has caused the town’s entire police force to go on strike. (Police strikes, or threats of strikes, are not uncommon in Mexico.)

Mexican police have regularly been targeted by drug cartels, with police officials even having been forced to seek safety in the United States, but such incidents have occurred most frequently in areas of high cartel activity like Veracruz state or Palomas. The Zihuatanejo incident is proof of the pervasiveness of violence in Mexico, and demonstrates the impact that such violence quickly can have on an area generally considered safe.

Significantly, the impact of violent Mexican criminals stretches far beyond Mexico itself. In recent weeks, Mexican criminals have been involved in killings in Argentina, Peru and Guatemala, and Mexican criminals have been arrested as far away as Italy and Spain. Their impact — and the extreme violence they embrace — is therefore not limited to Mexico or even just to Latin America. For some years now, Stratfor has discussed the threat that Mexican cartel violence could spread to the United States, and we have chronicled the spread of such violence to the U.S.-Mexican border and beyond.

Traditionally, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations had focused largely on the transfer of narcotics through Mexico. Once the South American cartels encountered serious problems bringing narcotics directly into the United States, they began to focus more on transporting the narcotics to Mexico. From that point, the Mexican cartels transported them north and then handed them off to U.S. street gangs and other organizations, which handled much of the narcotics distribution inside the United States. In recent years, however, these Mexican groups have grown in power and have begun to take greater control of the entire narcotics-trafficking supply chain.

With greater control comes greater profitability as the percentages demanded by middlemen are cut out. The Mexican cartels have worked to have a greater presence in Central and South America, and now import from South America into Mexico an increasing percentage of the products they sell. They are also diversifying their routes and have gone global; they now even traffic their wares to Europe. At the same time, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations also have increased their distribution operations inside the United States to expand their profits even further. As these Mexican organizations continue to spread beyond the border areas, their profits and power will extend even further — and they will bring their culture of violence to new areas.

Burned in Phoenix

The spillover of violence from Mexico began some time ago in border towns like Laredo and El Paso in Texas, where merchants and wealthy families face extortion and kidnapping threats from Mexican gangs, and where drug dealers who refuse to pay “taxes” to Mexican cartel bosses are gunned down. But now, the threat posed by Mexican criminals is beginning to spread north from the U.S.-Mexican border. One location that has felt this expanding threat most acutely is Phoenix, some 185 miles north of the border. Some sensational cases have highlighted the increased threat in Phoenix, such as a June 2008 armed assault in which a group of heavily armed cartel gunmen dressed like a Phoenix Police Department tactical team fired more than 100 rounds into a residence during the targeted killing of a Jamaican drug dealer who had double-crossed a Mexican cartel. We have also observed cartel-related violence in places like Dallas and Austin, Texas. But Phoenix has been the hardest hit.

Narcotics smuggling and drug-related assassinations are not the only thing the Mexican criminals have brought to Phoenix. Other criminal gangs have been heavily involved in human smuggling, arms smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Due to the confluence of these Mexican criminal gangs, Phoenix has now become the kidnapping-for-ransom capital of the United States. According to a Phoenix Police Department source, the department received 368 kidnapping reports last year. As we discussed last week, kidnapping is a highly underreported crime in places such as Mexico, making it very difficult to measure accurately. Based upon experience with kidnapping statistics in other parts of the world — specifically Latin America — it would not be unreasonable to assume that there were at least as many unreported kidnappings in Phoenix as there are reported kidnappings.

At present, the kidnapping environment in the United States is very different from that of Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. In those countries, kidnapping runs rampant and has become a well-developed industry with a substantial established infrastructure. Police corruption and incompetence ensures that kidnappers are rarely caught or successfully prosecuted.

A variety of motives can lie behind kidnappings. In the United States, crime statistics demonstrate that motives such as sexual exploitation, custody disputes and short-term kidnapping for robbery have far surpassed the number of reported kidnappings conducted for ransom. In places like Mexico, kidnapping for ransom is much more common.

The FBI handles kidnapping investigations in the United States. It has developed highly sophisticated teams of agents and resources to devote to investigating this type of crime. Local police departments are also far more proficient and professional in the United States than in Mexico. Because of the advanced capabilities of law enforcement in the United States, the overwhelming majority of criminals involved in kidnapping-for-ransom cases reported to police — between 95 percent and 98 percent — are caught and convicted. There are also stiff federal penalties for kidnapping. Because of this, kidnapping for ransom has become a relatively rare crime in the United States.

Most kidnapping for ransom that does happen in the United States occurs within immigrant communities. In these cases, the perpetrators and victims belong to the same immigrant group (e.g., Chinese Triad gangs kidnapping the families of Chinese businesspeople, or Haitian criminals kidnapping Haitian immigrants) — which is what is happening in Phoenix. The vast majority of the 368 known kidnapping victims in Phoenix are Mexican and Central American immigrants who are being victimized by Mexican or Mexican-American criminals.

The problem in Phoenix involves two main types of kidnapping. One is the abduction of drug dealers or their children, the other is the abduction of illegal aliens.

Drug-related kidnappings often are not strict kidnappings for ransom per se. Instead, they are intended to force the drug dealer to repay a debt to the drug trafficking organization that ordered the kidnapping.

Nondrug-related kidnappings are very different from traditional kidnappings in Mexico or the United States, in which a high-value target is abducted and held for a large ransom. Instead, some of the gangs operating in Phoenix are basing their business model on volume, and are willing to hold a large number of victims for a much smaller individual pay out. Reports have emerged of kidnapping gangs in Phoenix carjacking entire vans full of illegal immigrants away from the coyote smuggling them into the United States. The kidnappers then transport the illegal immigrants to a safe house, where they are held captive in squalid conditions — and often tortured or sexually assaulted with a family member listening in on the phone — to coerce the victims’ family members in the United States or Mexico to pay the ransom for their release. There are also reports of the gangs picking up vehicles full of victims at day labor sites and then transporting them to the kidnap ping safe house rather than to the purported work site.

Drug-related kidnappings are less frequent than the nondrug-related abduction of illegal immigrants, but in both types of abductions, the victims are not likely to seek police assistance due to their immigration status or their involvement in illegal activity. This strongly suggests the kidnapping problem greatly exceeds the number of cases reported to police.

Implications for the United States

The kidnapping gangs in Phoenix that target illegal immigrants have found their chosen crime to be lucrative and relatively risk-free. If the flow of illegal immigrants had continued at high levels, there is very little doubt the kidnappers’ operations would have continued as they have for the past few years. The current economic downturn, however, means the flow of illegal immigrants has begun to slow — and by some accounts has even begun to reverse. (Reports suggest many Mexicans are returning home after being unable to find jobs in the United States.)

This reduction in the pool of targets means that we might be fast approaching a point where these groups, which have become accustomed to kidnapping as a source of easy money — and their primary source of income — might be forced to change their method of operating to make a living. While some might pursue other types of criminal activity, some might well decide to diversify their pool of victims. Watching for this shift in targeting is of critical importance. Were some of these gangs to begin targeting U.S. citizens rather than just criminals or illegal immigrants, a tremendous panic would ensue, along with demands to catch the perpetrators.

Such a shift would bring a huge amount of law enforcement pressure onto the kidnapping gangs, to include the FBI. While the FBI is fairly hard-pressed for resources given its heavy counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence and white-collar crime caseload, it almost certainly would be able to reassign the resources needed to respond to such kidnappings in the face of publicity and a public outcry. Such a law enforcement effort could neutralize these gangs fairly quickly, but probably not quickly enough to prevent any victims from being abducted or harmed.

Since criminal groups are not comprised of fools alone, at least some of these groups will realize that targeting soccer moms will bring an avalanche of law enforcement attention upon them. Therefore, it is very likely that if kidnapping targets become harder to find in Phoenix — or if the law enforcement environment becomes too hostile due to the growing realization of this problem — then the groups may shift geography rather than targeting criteria. In such a scenario, professional kidnapping gangs from Phoenix might migrate to other locations with large communities of Latin American illegal immigrants to victimize. Some of these locations could be relatively close to the Mexican border like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego or Los Angeles, though they could also include locations farther inland like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or even the communities around meat and poultry packing plants in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. Such a migration of ethn ic criminals would not be unprecedented: Chinese Triad groups from New York for some time have traveled elsewhere on the East Coast, like Atlanta, to engage in extortion and kidnapping against Chinese businessmen there.

The issue of Mexican drug-traffic organizations kidnapping in the United States merits careful attention, especially since criminal gangs in other areas of the country could start imitating the tactics of the Phoenix gangs.

The above article was provided by Stratfor, the global intelligence news service.

Islamists Gaining in Balkans

Foreign Confidential....

As predicted by this blog, America's intervention in the Balkans has gone horribly wrong.
Radical Muslim imams and nationalist politicians from all camps are threatening Sarajevo's multicultural legacy. With the help of Arab benefactors, the deeply devout are acquiring new recruits. In the "Jerusalem of the Balkans," Islamists are on the rise.

The obliteration of Israel is heralded in a torrent of words. "Zionist terrorists," the imam thunders from the glass-enclosed pulpit at the end of the mosque. "Animals in human form" have transformed the Gaza Strip into a "concentration camp," and this marks "the beginning of the end" for the Jewish pseudo-state.

Over 4,000 faithful are listening to the religious service in the King Fahd Mosque, named after the late Saudi Arabian monarch King Fahd Bin Abd al-Asis Al Saud. The women sit separately, screened off in the left wing of the building. It is the day of the Khutbah, the great Friday sermon, and the city where the imam has predicted Israel's demise lies some 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) northwest of Gaza.

It is a city in the heart of Europe: Sarajevo.
Click here to read the entire story.

Iranian Centrifuges Increase to 6,000

Foreign Confidential....

Islamist Iran is advancing steadily toward its goal--mass production of nuclear weapons.

The mullahocracy's nuclear chief said today that Iran has increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 6,000--a dramatic increase.

Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said "good news" regarding Iran's nuclear plan will be announced on April 9.

No further details were provided regarding the expected announcement.

According to Aghazadeh, Iran will install a total of 50,000 centrifuges in the central city of Natanz in the next five years, assuming it will be able to overcome technical problems that have been delaying its progress.

In November, Iran said it had 5,000 centrifuges running at its enrichment plant in Natanz.

Uranium enriched to a low level is used as fuel in a reactor. Further enrichment makes it useful for nuclear weapons.

Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make at least one atom bomb, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (and China Confidential analysts).

Today's news parallels further developments in Iranian missile technology. Iran is using a space program as a cover to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

MUST-VIEW VIDEO FLASHBACK: Click below and listen carefully....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dreaming of a World Without America, Iran and N. Korea Use Space as Cover to Develop Nuclear ICBMs

North Korea and Iran are both using space programs as covers for developing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The two Axis of Evil powers have radically different political systems and outlooks; but they have a common vision--a world without America.

And they aim to use nuclear weapons, if necessary, to make their dreams come true.

Their tactics vary, of course. While Iran has actually launched a satellite into orbit, North Korea has no intention of doing so. Its insistence that it has a right to launch a so-called scientific satellite is an obvious ploy to avoid U.N. sanctions and a possible U.S. attempt to shoot down its missiles.

Missile Test is Imminent

China Confidential analysts say a North Korean missile launch is imminent.

Our experts predict the Stalinist/Kimist regime will fire a long-range Taepodong-2 missile--capable of hitting U.S. bases in Guam and the state of Alaska--and falsely announce that the missile is carrying a satellite.

The North has lied like this before. In 1998, it tested a Taepodong-1 missile under cover of launching a "Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite." U.S. space authorities were unable to find it in orbit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Maoist Rebels Rule India-Nepal Region

Maoist rebels killed a village headman in India after ransacking villages on the country's border with Nepal. He was the 12th village headman to be shot in the region in the past five years.

The Maoists, known as Naxalites, have created a strong base in as many as 50 villages in districts bordering Nepal.

The open border allowis for free movement of people between Nepal and India.

The guerrillas travel back and forth from India to Nepal, often disguised as businessmen, villagers and travellers.

Internal Divisions Hamper Chinese Stimulus Plan

By Rodger Baker and Jennifer Richmond

Due in large part to fears of dire consequences if nothing were done to tackle the economic crisis, China rushed through a 4 trillion yuan (US$586 billion) economic stimulus package in November 2008. The plan cobbled together existing and new initiatives focused on massive infrastructure development projects (designed, among other things, to soak up surplus steel, cement and labor capacity), tax cuts, green energy programs, and rural development.

Ever since the package was passed in November, Beijing has recited the mantra of the need to shift China’s economy from its heavy dependence on exports to one more driven by domestic consumption. But now that the sense of immediate crisis has passed, the stimulus policies are being rethought — and in an unusual development for China, they are being vigorously debated in the Chinese media.

Debating the Stimulus Package

In a country where media restrictions are tightening and private commentary on government officials and actions in blogs and online forums is being curtailed, it is quite remarkable that major Chinese newspaper editorials are taking the lead in questioning aspects of the stimulus package.

The question of stimulating rural consumption versus focusing the stimulus on the more economically active coastal regions has been the subject of particularly fierce debate. Some editorials have argued that encouraging rural consumption at a time of higher unemployment is building a bigger problem for the future. This argument maintains that rural laborers — particularly migrant workers — earn only a small amount of money, and that while having them spend their meager savings now might keep gross domestic product up in the short term, it will drain the laborers’ reserves and create a bigger social problem down the road. Others argue that the migrant and rural populations are underdeveloped and incapable of sustained spending, and that pumping stimulus yuan into the countryside is a misallocation of mo ney that could be better spent supporting the urban middle class, in theory creating jobs through increased middle-class consumption of services.

The lack of restrictions on these types of discussions suggests that the debate is occurring with government approval, in a reflection of debates within the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the government itself. Despite debate in the Chinese press, Beijing continues to present a unified public face on the handling of the economic crisis, regardless of internal factional debates. Maintaining Party control remains the primary goal of Party officials; even if they disagree over policies, they recognize the importance of showing that the Party remains in charge.

But, as the dueling editorial pages reveal, the Party is not unified in its assessment of the economic crisis or the recovery program. The show of unity masks a power struggle raging between competing interests within the Party. In many ways, this is not a new struggle; there are always officials jockeying for power for themselves and for their protégés. But the depth of the economic crisis in China and the rising fears of social unrest — not only from the migrant laborers, but also from militants or separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang and from “hostile forces” like the Falun Gong, pro-Democracy advocates and foreign intelligence services — have added urgency to long-standing debates over economic and social policies.

In China, decision-making falls to the president and the premier, currently Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao respectively. They do not wield the power of past leaders like Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping, however, and instead are much more reliant on balancing competing interests than on dictating policy.

Party and Government Factions

Hu and Wen face numerous factions among the Chinese elite. Many officials are considered parts of several different factional affiliations based on age, background, education or family heritage. Boiled down, the struggle over the stimulus plan pits two competing views of the core of the Chinese economy. One sees economic strength and social stability centered on China’s massive rural population, while another sees China’s strength and future in the coastal urban areas, in manufacturing and global trade.

Two key figures in the Standing Committee of the Politburo (the center of political power in China), Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, highlight this struggle. These two are considered the core of the fifth-generation leadership, and have been tapped to succeed Hu and Wen as China’s next leaders. They also represent radically different backgrounds.

Li is a protege of Hu and rose from the China Youth League, where Hu has built a strong support base. Li represents a newer generation of Chinese leaders, educated in economics and trained in less-developed provinces. (Li held key positions in Henan and Liaoning provinces.) Xi, on the other hand, is a “princeling.” The son of a former vice premier, he trained as an engineer and served primarily in the coastal export-oriented areas, including Hebei, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai.

In a way, Li and Xi represent different proposals for China’s economic recovery and future. Li is a stronger supporter of the recentralization of economic control sought by Hu, a weakening of the regional economic power bases, and a focus on consolidating Chinese industry in a centrally planned manner while spending government money on rural development and urbanization of China’s interior. Xi represents the view followed by former President Jiang Zemin and descended from the policies of Deng. Under that view, economic activity and growth should be encouraged and largely freed from central direction, and if the coastal provinces grow first and faster, that is just fine; eventually the money, technology and employment will move inland.

Inland vs. the Coast

In many ways, these two views reflect long-standing economic arguments in China — namely, the constant struggle to balance the coastal trade-based economy and the interior agriculture-dominated economy. The former is smaller but wealthier, with stronger ties abroad — and therefore more political power to lobby for preferential treatment. The latter is much larger, but more isolated from the international community — and in Chinese history, frequently the source of instability and revolt in times of stress. These tensions have contributed to the decline of dynasties in centuries past, opening the space for foreign interference in Chinese internal politics. China’s leaders are well aware of the constant stresses between rural and coastal China, but maintaining a balance has been an ongoing struggle.

Throughout Chinese history, there is a repeating pattern of dynastic rise and decline. Dynasties start strong and powerful, usually through conquest. They then consolidate power and exert strong control from the center. But due to the sheer size of China’s territory and population, maintaining central control requires the steady expansion of a bureaucracy that spreads from the center through the various administrative divisions down to the local villages. Over time, the bureaucracy itself begins to usurp power, as its serves as the collector of taxes, distributor of government funds and local arbiter of policy and rights. And as the bureaucracy grows stronger, the center weakens.

Regional differences in population, tax base and economic models start to fragment the bureaucracy, leading to economic (and at times military) fiefdoms. This triggers a strong response from the center as it tries to regain control. Following a period of instability, which often involves foreign interference and/or intervention, a new center is formed, once again exerting strong centralized authority.

This cycle played out in the mid-1600s, as the Ming Dynasty fell into decline and the Manchus (who took on the moniker Qing) swept in to create a new centralized authority. It played out again as the Qing Dynasty declined in the latter half of the 1800s and ultimately was replaced — after an extended period of instability — by the CPC in 1949, ushering in another period of strong centralized control. Once again, a more powerful regional bureaucracy is testing that centralized control.

The economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970s led to a three-decade decline of central authority, as economic decision-making and power devolved to the regional and local leadership and the export-oriented coastal provinces became the center of economic activity and power in China. Attempts by the central government to regain some authority over the direction of coastal authorities were repeatedly ignored (or worse), but so long as there was growth in China and relative social stability, this was tolerated.

With Hu’s rise to power, however, there was a new push from the center to rein in the worst of excesses by the coastal leaders and business interests and refocus attention on China’s rural population, which was growing increasingly disenfranchised due to the widening urban-rural economic gap. In 2007 and early 2008, Hu finally gained traction with his economic policies. The Chinese government subsequently sought to slow an overheating economy while focusing on the consolidation of industry and the establishment of “superministries” at the center to coordinate economic activity. It also intended to put inland rural interests on par with — if not above — coastal urban interests. When the superministries were formed in 2008, however, it became apparent that Hu was not omnipotent. Resistance to his plans was abundantly evident, illustrating the power of the entrenched bureaucratic interests.

Economic Crisis and the Stimulus Plan

The economic program of recentralization and the attempt to slow the overheating economy came to a screeching halt in July 2008, as skyrocketing commodity prices fueled inflation and strained government budgets. The first victim was China’s yuan policy. The steady, relatively predictable appreciation of the yuan came to a stop. Its value stagnated, and there is now pressure for a slight depreciation to encourage exports. But as Beijing began shaping its economic stimulus package, it became clear that the program would be a mix of policies, representing differing factions seeking to secure their own interests in the recovery plan.

The emerging program, then, revealed conflicting interests and policies. Money and incentives were offered to feed the low-skill export industry (located primarily in the southeastern coastal provinces) as well as to encourage a shift in production from the coast to the interior. A drive was initiated to reduce redundancies, particularly in heavy industries, and at the same time funding was increased to keep those often-bloated industrial sectors afloat. Overall, the stimulus represents a collection of competing initiatives, reflecting the differences among the factions. Entrenched princelings simply want to keep money moving and employment levels up in anticipation of a resurgence in global consumption and the revitalization of the export-based economic growth path. Meanwhile, the rur al faction seeks to accelerate economic restructuring, reduce dependence on the export-oriented coastal provinces, and move economic activity and attention to the vastly underdeveloped interior.

Higher unemployment among the rural labor force is “proving” each faction’s case. To the princelings, it shows the importance of the export sector in maintaining social stability and economic growth. To the rural faction, it emphasizes the dangers of overreliance on a thin coastal strip of cheap, low-skill labor and a widening wealth gap.

Fighting it Out in the Media

With conflicting paths now running in tandem, competing Party officials are seeking traction and support for their programs without showing division within the core Party apparatus by turning to a traditional method: the media and editorials. During the Cultural Revolution, which itself was a violent debate about the fundamental economic policies of the People’s Republic of China, the Party core appeared united, despite major divisions. The debate played out not in the halls of the National People’s Congress or in press statements, but instead in big-character posters plastered around Beijing and other cities, promoting competing policies and criticizing others.

In modern China, big posters are a thing of the past, replaced by newspaper editorials. While the Party center appears united in this time of economic crisis, the divisions are seen more acutely in the competing editorials published in state and local newspapers and on influential blogs and Web discussion forums. It is here that the depth of competition and debate so well hidden among the members of the Politburo can be seen, and it is here that it becomes clear the Chinese are no more united in their policy approach than the leaders of more democratic countries, where policy debates are more public.

The current political crisis has certainly not reached the levels of the Cultural Revolution, and China no longer has a Mao — or even a Deng — to serve as a single pole around which to wage factional struggles. The current leadership is much more attuned to the need to cooperate and compromise — and even Mao’s methods would often include opportunities for “wayward” officials to come around and cooperate with Mao’s plans. But a recognition of the need to cooperate, and an agreement that the first priority is maintenance of the Party as the sole core of Chinese power (followed closely by the need to maintain social stability to ensure the primary goal), doesn’t guarantee that things can’t get out of control.

The sudden halt to various economic initiatives in July 2008 showed just how critical the emerging crisis was. If commodity prices had not started slacking off a month later, the political crisis in Beijing might have gotten much more intense. Despite competition, the various factions want the Party to remain in power as the sole authority, but their disagreements on how to do this become much clearer during a crisis. Currently, it is the question of China’s migrant labor force and the potential for social unrest that is both keeping the Party center united and causing the most confrontation over the best-path policies to be pur sued. If the economic stimulus package fails to do its job, or if external factors leave China lagging and social problems rising, the internal party fighting could once again grow intense.

At present, there is a sense among China’s leaders that this crisis is manageable. If their attitude once again shifts to abject fear, the question may be less about how to compromise on economic strategy than how to stop a competing faction from bringing ruin to Party and country through ill-thought-out policies. Compromise is acceptable when it means the survival of the Party, but if one faction views the actions of another as fundamentally detrimental to the authority and strength of the Party, then a more active and decisive struggle becomes the ideal choice. After all, it is better to remove a gangrenous limb than to allow the infection to spread and kill the whole organism.

That crisis is not now upon China’s leaders, but things nearly reached that level last summer. There were numerous rumors from Beijing that Wen, who is responsible for China’s economic policies, was going to be sacked — an extreme move given his popularity with the common Chinese. This was staved off or delayed by the fortuitous timing of the rest of the global economic contraction, which brought commodity prices down. For now, China’s leaders will continue issuing competing and occasionally contradictory policies, and just as vigorously debating them through the nation’s editorials. The government is struggling with resolving the current economic crisis, as well as with the fundamental question of just what a new Chinese economy will look like. And that question goes deeper than money: It goes to the very role of the CPC in China’s system.

The above report was provided by Stratfor, the global intelligence news service.

Hezbollah Expanding Across Western Hemisphere

Foreign Confidential....

Intelligence experts say clerical fascist (Islamist) Hezbollah has established a formidable presence in Chile, Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

Analysts report the existence of Hezbollah-run, terrorist training and indoctrination camps for adults, teenagers, and even children.

The Foreign Terrorist Organization (formal, U.S. State Department designation) also maintains cells in Canada. Moreover, Hezbollah operatives have penetrated the United States through the border with Mexico.

Iran's Religious Persecution

The following editorial reflects the views of the United States government.

More than 9 months have passed since 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran were arrested and sent to prison with no access to legal counsel. Now the Iranian government has announced the 7 have been charged with espionage.

The move is the latest in decades of repressive measures against the Baha'is, the largest non-Islamic religious minority group in Iran. Those measures include barring Baha'is from attending public universities or working in public agencies, destroying or closing Baha'i places of worship, bulldozing Baha'i cemeteries, legally confiscating Baha'i property, and killing Baha'is with impunity.

Human Rights groups and others are outraged at the latest move by the Iranian government. Amnesty International said it considers the 2 women and 5 men accused of espionage by the regime to be prisoners of conscience held because of their beliefs or peaceful activities. Amnesty International expressed concern that the charges brought against the 7 could result in their execution.

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization Freedom House condemned the Iranian government for bringing the 7 Baha'is to trial on what it called "contrived" charges, and it demanded their immediate release. Earlier this month, a group of Iranian intellectuals living outside Iran signed a letter declaring they will be silent no longer in the face of the persecution of the Baha'is in their homeland.

In a written statement, U.S. State Department Acting spokesman Robert Wood condemned the Iranian government's decision to level what he called "baseless charges of espionage" against the 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran. "The accusations against them," Wood said, "are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha'i in Iran."

"Thirty other Baha'i," noted Wood, "remain imprisoned in Iran solely on the basis of their religious belief."

Wood also expressed concern about other religious minorities who continue to be targeted by the government simply for what they believe. He cited the case of 3 Christians arrested in Tehran last month, as well as several members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, followers of Sufism, who were arrested on Kish Island in January.

Wood said the U.S. joins the international community in urging the Iranian authorities "to release all religious minorities who are currently in detention for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Source: VOA

Mexican Governor Says He Was Not Shooting Target

Foreign Confidential....

The anarchy on America's doorstep appears to be intensifying.

As if to insult the intelligence of just about everyone, the governor of Mexico's most violent state said he was not the target of gunmen who opened fire on his convoy late Sunday night.

Jose Reyes Baeza Terrazas, governor of the northern state of Chihuahua, was uninjured when gunmen in a car fired at guards who were trailing him at some distance.

One of the governor's bodyguards died in the shootout, which occurred after Baeza's three-car convoy stopped at a signal in the state capital, also called Chihuahua. Two other bodyguards and one of the assailants were wounded.

Baeza, who was in the lead car, said shots were fired "many meters" behind him and aimed only at the trailing vehicle. He said "four or five" gunmen in a compact car never got close to him or gave chase when he drove off.

Heavily armed drug gangs have increasingly challenged the government on all levels, even ambushing troops sent to battle the cartels.

Baeza called on federal officials to investigate because he said the assailants fired high-powered weapons that Mexican law says can only be used by the military.

The convoy attack came two days after the police chief of Ciudad Juarez, the biggest city in Chihuahua, bowed to crime gang demands to resign because they threatened to kill at least one of his officers every 48 hours.

North Korea Boosting Special Forces

South Korea says North Korea is enhancing its military strength by deploying a new missile and increasing its number of light and mobile elite forces.

As analysts warn of an imminent missile test by the North, officials in Seoul say Pyongyang's military remains a "serious threat."

Senior South Korean Defense Ministry official Shin Won-sik told reporters Monday North Korea has learned lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said North Korea has boosted its special forces personnel by 50 percent since 2006, to 180,000 soldiers. In a possible conflict, he explained, those troops would focus on infiltrating South Korea quickly, to strike at U.S. and South Korean forces from behind.

The United States deploys about 28,000 military personnel here in South Korea to deter or defeat any repeat attempt of the North's 1950 invasion of the South.

Shin, who was presenting highlights of an annual South Korean defense white paper, said the point of Pyongyang's decision to boost special forces is confusion.

He said North Korea seems to want to blur the line between friend and foe in a conflict scenario. By spreading confusion, the North may believe it can compensate for its lack of advanced weaponry and other resources, Shin said.

The South Korean white paper says the North is also deploying a new kind of medium-range missile. The unnamed intermediate range ballistic missile announced on Monday has a range of about 3,000 km, putting U.S. military bases in Guam at risk. It has been deployed.

North Korea already has an extensive arsenal of medium-range missiles that can reach all of South Korea and most of Japan.

South Korea has been on high alert for several weeks, amid signs of a possibly imminent North Korean test of a long-range missile which could reach as far at the United States. A senior North Korean missile specialist with "Jane's Defense Weekly" warns the launch could be ready within days, by the looks of satellite imagery.

Escalating War of Words

North Korea is issuing more of what has become an almost daily stream of confrontational rhetoric. Pyongyang's official "Rodong Sinmun" newspaper Monday called conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak a "fascist dictator." It accuses him of pushing inter-Korean relations "to the phase of total collapse," and driving the situation "to the brink of war."

Lee ended 10 years of uncritical South Korean handouts to the impoverished North, saying future aid would be dependent on the North's progress in getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

Pandemic of Anti-Semitism Threatens World Jewry

By Abraham H. Foxman

Coming just weeks after the explosion of global anti-Semitism that followed Israel’s military action in Gaza, the timing couldn’t have been better for the London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism, held Feb. 16 and 17.

With Jewish communities around the world feeling insecure and vulnerable, with synagogues vandalized and an atmosphere of intimidation and fear permeating anti-Israel rallies, there was a sense that even though this conference had been months in the making, it was a propitious moment for deliberation and action.

Having just returned from the London meeting, where I chaired a working group on fighting anti-Semitism in the political sphere, I can say that there is at least a sliver of hope that these challenges can be met, that there is a willingness and a commitment by some in the international community who are ready to stand up and say “no” to anti-Semitism, and to put up a united front against bigotry and hatred.

More than 120 lawmakers from more than 40 nations spanning the globe came together to devise an effective framework and forge new strategies to confront anti-Semitism on a global scale.

Bleak Picture

This is the good news in an otherwise bleak picture, one that I fear is only going to get bleaker as world Diaspora Jewry faces this new threat.

Although the conference was planned months ago to deal with the growing and increasingly sophisticated manifestations of global anti-Semitism, it clearly took on much greater significance as a result of the pandemic of anti-Semitism that erupted during Israel’s Gaza offensive. As it happens, the Gaza reaction became the main focus of our discussions.

Let’s take a moment to revisit what happened in the weeks after Israel launched the Gaza offensive on Dec. 27.

It was as if the floodgates had been opened. Within days an open season had been declared on world Jewry. It started with criticism of Israel: Israel was wrong. Israel was evil. Israel was satanic and a violator of international human rights and international law. This theme quickly morphed into talk about war crimes and war tribunals.

In cities around the world, rhetoric at rallies and demonstrations against Israel reached a fever pitch with the most outrageous language imaginable and comparisons of Israelis and all Jews to Nazis, to Hitler, to swastikas. The language was unmistakable and ubiquitous -- the Star of David equals the swastika, the accusation that Gaza is the same as Auschwitz, the victims of the Holocaust are now the perpetrators of a new one. The shouts of “Jews to the Gas” -- shamelessly shouted in public, even in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- spread quickly across the Internet along with much worse expressions of hatred for Israel and Jews.

Nightmare in Caracas

Jewish communities felt pressure as never before. In Venezuela, the community of nearly 15,000 woke up to a nightmare of anti-Semitic expression aided and encouraged by President Hugo Chavez and his government, who expelled the Israeli ambassador and called on Jewish Venezuelans to renounce their allegiance to Israel. In Caracas, a synagogue was vandalized in an orgy of anti-Semitism: the Torah scrolls thrown to the floor, the walls daubed with anti-Jewish epithets and threats, the membership rolls stolen. The Venezuelan media and Web sites were filled with expressions of hatred for Israel and calls for Jews to be expelled from the country.

Venezuela was not an isolated case. Reports flooded in from Jewish communities around the world that were feeling similar pressures. European countries, including democratic, Western nations such as France, Belgium and Great Britain, witnessed an outpouring of hatred aimed at Jews. The hateful rhetoric at rallies often was followed by violence, sometimes by demonstrators, other times by unidentified perpetrators who aimed Molotov cocktails at synagogues and other visibly Jewish institutions and property.

This is why the word “pandemic” applies to what we are witnessing. Not only has it spread more widely than we have ever witnessed -- even during the second intifada, when Israel faced suicide bombings in the heart of Jerusalem, it was not this intense -- but it has metastasized with accusations of dual loyalty and Holocaust denial thrown into the mix.

This is the worst, the most intense, the most global hatred aimed at Jews in most of our memories. When was the last time we can remember Jews being beaten in the street, as happened in the United Kingdom, where 220 incidents were reported during the three weeks of Israel’s military operation, an eight-fold increase compared to the same period a year ago?

Likewise, in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Caracas, Florence, Montevideo and Paris, Jews have been beaten on the street, synagogues have been firebombed and desecrated, and Jewish institutions, businesses and homes have been attacked.

And for what reason? Because Israel, a sovereign nation, sought to defend itself from the constant barrage of Hamas missiles threatening its cities.

Today, the sense of urgency has never been greater. We are fortunate to have a commitment from some leaders, those who gathered in London and others who have taken the time to understand the nature of the threat. From this I hope will come government action to put a damper on anti-Semitism.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.

Business Interest Behind Schroeder's Iran Trip

Foreign Confidential....

German political sources say there was a business interest behind Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials.

The meetings were criticized today by a German Jewish leader and members of Schroeder’s own Social Democratic Party.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said the Holocaust is a “myth,” and called for the destruction of Israel.

Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany. Schroeder said the Holocaust was a “historical fact,” in a Feb. 21 speech in Tehran before meeting with Ahmadinejad, according to Agence France-Presse.

Iran's offer to form a nuclear consortium is acceptable and should be followed up, Schroeder said in a Saturday meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in Tehran.

Schroeder's meeting with Ahmadinejad took place behind closed doors; the atmosphere was "cool and tense," according to a Schroeder spokesperson.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On Target: China Confidential Gold/Silver Forecast

On January 27, China Confidential published its near-term forecast for gold--between $950 and $1,000 an ounce.

Silver, we said, could hit $14 an ounce.

We were right.

Gold climbed to an 11-month high in London on Friday, reaching $997 an ounce, the highest price since March 18.

Silver also gained. It rose rose as much as 3.8% to $14.57 an ounce, the highest since August. 14. The metal last traded at $14.56.

Iranian Cargo Ships Could Nuke US Cities

Foreign Confidential....

Iran plans to deploy a fleet of foreign-flagged, seemingly civilian, cargo vessels capable of attacking U.S. coastal cities with nuclear-tipped missiles fired from concealed launching systems.

The ships will be Iran's answer to U.S. nuclear submarines, analysts say--a comparatively primitive but effective deterrent to possible attack on the Islamist nation by the U.S. or Israel.

North Korea has helped Iran to develop and test the so-called Scud-in-a-bucket technology, against which, there is no known defense.

Thousands of ships approach U.S. coastal waters daily; and 75% of the U.S. public lives within 200 miles of the nation's coastline. Cargo containers could be used to conceal ballistic missile launch pads.

Working with North Korea and Venezuela

Iran has also tested detonation of a warhead atop a Shahab-3 missile at altitude--a sign that the mullahocracy could be planning an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, which would destroy all communication and computer systems and plunge the U.S. into the 19th century in a flash. Coordinated EMP attacks by Iranian and North Korean missiles could even neutralize U.S. missile systems, eliminating any chance of a U.S. counterattack.

At the same time, China Confidential has learned, Iran is working with Venezuela and, also, possibly, Communist Cuba, to develop unprecedented offensive terrorist capabilities in the Western Hemisphere, including potential biological warfare attacks on U.S. population centers.

Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, has also been mobilized. The Islamist terrorist group is believed to be planning swarming-style assaults modeled after the recent Mumbai massacre. Counterterrorism experts say there are Hezbollah suicide squads in Venezuela and maybe, also, in Mexico, a North American country on the verge of collapse.

The United States is asleep at the switch. Direct diplomacy with Iran--a Hitlerian power bent on bringing about the physical destruction of both Israel and the U.S.--plays into the hands of the enemy. Instead of preventing war, direct diplomacy is doomed to make war--on Iranian terms--inevitable.

Iran and its allies--from North Korea to the Middle East to South America--see the U.S. as weak and vulnerable, a dying but still dangerous hegemon that can be neutralized, defeated, and actually destroyed.

Russia-Iran Missile Defense Deal on Hold

Foreign Confidential....

Russia has reportedly frozen a pending sale to Iran of anti-missile defense systems.

Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, reported Feb. 18 that Anatoly Sedyukov, the Russian defense minister, informed his Iranian counterpart, Mostafa Mohammed Najjar, that the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems would not go through at least until Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama meet April 2 at a summit in London.

Israel has been pressing Russia not to make the sale, saying such a system could remove any inhibitions Iran might have about the possibilities of an Israeli strike aimed at disabling the Islamic Republic's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Russia has signed but not ratified an $800 million deal for five of the systems.

Russia is seeking guarantees from the new Obama administration that it will roll back the Bush administration's efforts to raise NATO's profile in Eastern Europe.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the S-300 missiles have a range of about 200 kilometers, about 125 miles, and can hit targets at altitudes of 27,000 meters, about 89,000 feet.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Netanyahu Determined to Stop Iran

Foreign Confidential....

Sources close to Israel's prospective Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, say he is firmly committed to stopping Iran's nuclear arms program--by any means necessary.

Netanyahu sees Iran--rather, the elimination or neutralization of the Iranian clerical fascist regime--as the key to Middle East peace, sources say. He believes that once Iran is taken out of the mix, its Islamist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, and secular ally, Syria, will fall into line or fold.

On the Normalization of Evil

Herb Denenberg's opinion piece in The Bulletin should be required reading in Washington ... and in divinity schools and newsrooms across America. He writes:

Perhaps the most serious and most dangerous problem we face is the normalization of evil. That’s the title of an essay published on Feb. 3, 2009 in the Wall Street Journal by Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, the 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by Islamofascist terrorists in Pakistan.

The title of the article, “The Normalization of Terror,” and its theme carry a devastating message, showing how the mainstream media, many of our leading universities, and people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Moyers have succeeded in transforming the most despicable, immoral, genocidal degenerates into a respectable category — freedom fighters, part of a resistance movement — even though they are using the most illegitimate, immoral, and illegal ends to achieve their political goals.

These are the real moral degenerates of our time, with the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Moyers leading the parade of evil, followed by many in our elite universities and the mainstream media. They speak in Orwellian language, turning evil into good, murder and genocide into resistance, and blowing the brains out of young children into acts of heroism. What is most disturbing about this terrible trend is that barbarism seems to be going mainstream even in America.

This is the story that Judea Pearl tells so well and so powerfully that it is a classic of the English language and a message that should be engraved on the mind and soul of every civilized person.

At the end of his powerful message to establish moral clarity in a world gone mad, Mr. Pearl writes, “Danny’s picture is hanging just in front of me, his warm smile as reassuring as ever. But I find it hard to look him straight in the eyes and say: You did not die in vain.”

Mr. Pearl says it is now seven years after the murder of his son, and then asks, “Would Danny have believed that today’s world emerged after his tragedy?

“The answer does not come easily. Danny was an optimist, a true believer in the goodness of mankind. Yet he was also a realist, and would not let idealism bend the harshness of facts.

“Neither he, nor the millions who were shocked by his murder, could have possibly predicted that seven years later his abductor, Omar Saeed Sheikh, according to several South American reports, would be planning terror acts from the safety of a Pakistani jail. Or that his murderer, Khalid Sheiky Mohammed, now in Guantanamo, would proudly boast of his murder in a military tribunal in March 2007 to the cheers of the sympathetic jihadi supporters. Or that this ideology of barbarism would be celebrated in European and American universities, fueling rally after rally for Hamas, Hezbollah and other heroes of ‘the resistance.’ Or that another kidnapped young man, Israeli Gilad Shalit, would spend his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnapers deserve international recognition.”

Judea Pearl would have thought that the murder of his son, Danny, would actually be a turning point in man’s inhumanity to man, and that the slaughter of innocents to communicate political messages would once and for all be universally condemned by civilized people and sent to the ashcan of history, where such gross barbarism is no longer tolerated, the place reserved for such atrocities as slavery, human sacrifice, and other shocking and totally discredited practices of an era long gone.

But the moral degenerates mentioned above have given these icons of evil, these most degenerate of moral degenerates, moral standing in our society and acceptance in elite circles of universities, of the media, and of political leadership. Mr. Pearl says we have reached the point where we are no longer disgusted by evil: “Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil.”
Click here to read the entire essay.

Indian Innovation Alive and Well

In spite of the global economic meltdown and terrorism, Indian innovation has not slowed down.

Edward Iwata reports from Mumbai:

A grueling 20-hour flight from Silicon Valley, India’s megacity of Slumdog Millionaire fame seems far removed from the U.S. economic meltdown. Shoppers and diners fill stores and restaurants in the upscale Phoenix Mills shopping center and the trendy SoMo (South of Bombay) neighborhood.

Ritzy hotels are filled with business people and investors betting on the economic future of India. And nearly three months after the terrorists’ attack that led to 188 deaths here, locals and tourists still flock to the imposing Gateway of India monument and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which is open but surrounded by heavy, armed security who eye every visitor – especially a foreign journalist shouldering a heavy black laptop bag.
Continue here.

Book Review: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

They were young, brilliant, and ambitious. They set out to conquer the world. Instead, the world conquered them.

From bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman comes a must-read travel book--of sorts-- in the tradition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Her riveting new memoir is a hilarious and haunting true adventure, filled with the memorable characters, psychological insights, and dazzling humor. Yet it also displays an accomplished literary eloquence and grandeur of scale that will entertain and enthrall old and new fans alike.

In 1986, fresh out of college, Susan Jane Gilman and her friend Chloe dreamed of hitting the road as modern-day female Kerouacs. Inspired by a placemat at the International House of Pancakes, they mapped out a trip circling the globe, then headed west--to China. At that point in time, the People's Republic had been open to backpackers for barely ten minutes. But Susan and Chloe relished the challenge. Having been told throughout their Ivy League schooling that they were "the future leaders of America," they were eager to boldly take on the world. Unfortunately, the world had other ideas.

Armed only with the collected works of Nietzsche, an astrology book, and more chutzpah than sense, the two quickly found themselves on an epic misadventure. As they trekked off the map into the dusty, alien streets of Communist China, they were quickly stripped of everything familiar. At turns funny, erotic, and harrowing, their journey became a string of poignant encounters with Chinese and Westerners alike. Butit soon grew sinister. The two young women found themselves trapped in their own peculiar Heart of Darkness in the middle of rural China, and what began as a giddy expedition became a real-life international thriller that transformed their lives for forever.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
is an astonishing, real-life story of hubris--and redemption--told with tremendous heart. Publishers Weekly says:
Youthfully upbeat, Gilman (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress) delivers an entertaining memoir of her ill-starred attempt to circumnavigate the globe after college graduation in 1986. Eager to embark on life but unsure exactly how to do it, the author, a New Yorker, and her fair-haired Connecticut trust-fund friend, Claire, both graduates from Brown, resolved to backpack around the world for a year and become heroines in their own epic stories. Starting in Hong Kong, the two naïve 21-year-olds, armed with Linda Goodman's Love Signs, volumes of Nietzsche and a year's supply of tampons, ran into shoals fairly immediately, freaked out by fleabag hotels, vermin, importunate fellow travelers and the debilitating effects of illness, homesickness and the sole company of each other. As they roughed it through Communist China, Claire grew increasingly paranoid and delusional, eventually bolting on a bizarre bus trip that got her picked up by the police. Gilman's amusing journey focuses tightly on these first shaky seven weeks, offering the full wallop of disorienting, in-the-moment, transformative travel adventures.

Friday, February 20, 2009

So-Called Saudi Scholar is Incredibly Stupd

Foreign Confidential....

As if to confirm that Islam is impossibly backward, a so-called Saudi scholar--meaning, an ignorant fanatic--has warned Muslims against using ethanol. Click here for the story.

North Korea and Iran Committed to US Destruction

Acting in tandem with its Islamist ally, Iran, Stalinist/Kimist North Korea plans to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying an atomic warhead--and hitting the United States.

The Taepodong-2 missile test will rattle U.S. nerves, raise international tensions, and divert attention from Iran's nuclear ICBM program.

U.S. policy-makers are basically blind to the menace. The two Axis of Evil partners are committed to the physical destruction of the U.S. and Israel.

Mexican Police Chief Surrenders to Drug Gangs

Foreign Confidential....

The situation in Mexico is going from bad to worse. A nightmare is unfolding on America's doorstep.
The police chief of one of the most violent cities on Mexico's northern border quit on Friday after drug gangs vowed to kill a police officer every 48 hours until he resigned.

Drug hitmen killed the deputy police chief in Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday and another officer on Friday and left messages on their bodies warning they would murder more officers, police said.

"Don't be mistaken, enemies of Mexico. The decision I am taking is an intelligent one of life over death," police chief Roberto Orduna told a news conference in the city, where violence has reached giddy levels.

Orduna, a former soldier, took over the municipal police in Ciudad Juarez last year. The city saw an unprecedented 1,600 people killed in drug violence in 2008 as President Felipe Calderon's army-backed war on drug gangs sparked fresh turf wars between rival cartels across the country.

Calderon has begun putting senior military staff in charge of Mexico's ill-equipped, poorly paid municipal police to try and clean up forces that are deeply infiltrated by drug cartels fighting over smuggling routes to the United States.
Continue here.

Imperialist Iran Bolder than Ever

Foreign Confidential....

Imperialist, Islamist Iran has set its sights on tiny Bahrain. Click here for the story.

And click here to read about Iran's astonishing "backroom offer" to the West to stop killing British troops in Iraq in return for a free pass on nuclear development.

Netanyahu Asked to Form Government

Foreign Confidential....

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday invited Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government.

After hearing from Peres, Netanyahu, who leads the Likud Party, immediately invited Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party, and Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party, to form a national unity government.

Such a government would help Netanyahu hew to a centrist foreign policy and sustain peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

Barak and Livni have said they favor going into the opposition.

Kadima scored the most seats, 28, in the Feb. 10 elections, but Netanyahu has the backing of enough right-wing parties to surpass the 60 seat mark and create a governing coalition.

UPDATE: Netanyahu named Iran as Israel's main threat after accepting the task of forming a new government.

"Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence," he said at a ceremony at President Peres's official residence.

Netanyahu added: "The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north. For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges. The responsibility we face is to achieve security for our country, peace with our neighbours and unity among us."


Thursday, February 19, 2009

UN Confirms Iran Has Enough Uranium for A-Bomb

Foreign Confidential....

The International Atomic Energy Agency--nuclear watchdog of the United Nations--today confirmed what China Confidential has been reporting for many months: Iran has enough enriched uranium to make at least one atomic bomb.

China Confidential also predicted that news of an Iranian nuclear breakthrough would be made public this month.

Direct diplomacy with Iran is a dead end. The Islamist nation is committed to an imperialist foreign policy--in the classical realist sense of the term--which means that it cannot be appeased. Intentions are key. At a minimum, Iran intends to destroy Israel, dominate the Middle East, and drive the United States--its arch enemy--out of the region.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rifles, Grenades Commonplace in Mexico's Third War

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Mexico has pretty much always been a rough-and-tumble place. In recent years, however, the security environment has deteriorated rapidly, and parts of the country have become incredibly violent. It is now common to see military weaponry such as fragmentation grenades and assault rifles used almost daily in attacks.

In fact, just last week we noted two separate strings of grenade attacks directed against police in Durango and Michoacan states. In the Michoacan incident, police in Uruapan and Lazaro Cardenas were targeted by three grenade attacks during a 12-hour period. Then on Feb. 17, a major firefight occurred just across the border from the United States in Reynosa, when Mexican authorities attempted to apprehend several armed men seen riding in a vehicle. The men fled to a nearby residence and engaged the pursuing police with gunfire, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). After the incident, in which five cartel gunmen were killed and several gunmen, cops, soldiers and civilians were wounded, aut horities recovered a 60 mm mortar, five RPG rounds and two fragmentation grenades.

Three Concurrent Wars

Make no mistake, considering the military weapons now being used in Mexico and the number of deaths involved, the country is in the middle of a war. In fact, there are actually three concurrent wars being waged in Mexico involving the Mexican drug cartels. The first is the battle being waged among the various Mexican drug cartels seeking control over lucrative smuggling corridors, called plazas. One such battleground is Ciudad Juarez, which provides access to the Interstate 10, Interstate 20 and Interstate 25 corridors inside the United States. The second battle is being fought between the various cartels and the Mexican government forces who are seeking to interrupt smuggling operations, curb violence and bring the cartel members to justice.

Then there is a third war being waged in Mexico, though because of its nature it is a bit more subdued. It does not get the same degree of international media attention generated by the running gun battles and grenade and RPG attacks. However, it is no less real, and in many ways it is more dangerous to innocent civilians (as well as foreign tourists and business travelers) than the pitched battles between the cartels and the Mexican government. This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs.

The Criminal Front

There are many different shapes and sizes of criminal gangs in Mexico. While many of them are in some way related to the drug cartels, others have various types of connections to law enforcement — indeed, some criminal groups are composed of active and retired cops. These various types of criminal gangs target civilians in a number of ways, including, robbery, burglary, carjacking, extortion, fraud and counterfeiting. But of all the crimes committed by these gangs, perhaps the one that creates the most widespread psychological and emotional damage is kidnapping, which also is one of the most underreported crimes. There is no accurate figure for the number of kidnappings that occur in Mexico each year. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and anecdotal accounts and, in the end, can produce only best-guess estimates. Despite this lack of hard data, however, there is little doubt — based even on the low end of these estimates & #8212; that Mexico has become the kidnapping capital of the world.

One of the difficult things about studying kidnapping in Mexico is that the crime not only is widespread, affecting almost every corner of the country, but also is executed by a wide range of actors who possess varying levels of professionalism — and very different motives. At one end of the spectrum are the high-end kidnapping gangs that abduct high-net-worth individuals and demand ransoms in the millions of dollars. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks such as collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family and establishing and guarding the safe houses.

At the other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally less professional than the high-end gangs and often will hold a victim for only a short time. In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his or her checking account, or to receive a small ransom of perhaps several hundred or a few thousand dollars from the family. This type of opportunistic kidnapping is often referred to as an “express kidnapping”. Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit. Other times, if an express kidnapping gang dis covers it has grabbed a high-value target by accident, the gang will hold the victim longer and demand a much higher ransom. Occasionally, these express kidnapping groups will even “sell” a high-value victim to a more professional kidnapping gang.

Between these extremes there is a wide range of groups that fall somewhere in the middle. These are the groups that might target a bank vice president or branch manager rather than the bank’s CEO, or that might kidnap the owner of a restaurant or other small business rather than a wealthy industrialist. The presence of such a broad spectrum of kidnapping groups ensures that almost no segment of the population is immune from the kidnapping threat. In recent years, the sheer magnitude of the threat in Mexico and the fear it generates has led to a crime called virtual kidnapping. In a virtual kidnapping, the victim is not really kidnapped. Instead, the criminals seek to convince a target’s family that a kidnapping has occurred, and then use threats and psychological pressure to force the family to pay a quick ransom. Although virtua l kidnapping has been around for several years, unwitting families continue to fall for the scam, which is a source of easy money. Some virtual kidnappings have even been conducted by criminals using telephones inside prisons.

As noted above, the motives for kidnapping vary. Many of the kidnappings that occur in Mexico are not conducted for ransom. Often the drug cartels will kidnap members of rival gangs or government officials in order to torture and execute them. This torture is conducted to extract information, intimidate rivals and, apparently in some cases, just to have a little fun. The bodies of such victims are frequently found beheaded or otherwise mutilated. Other times, cartel gunmen will kidnap drug dealers who are tardy in payments or who refuse to pay the “tax” required to operate in the cartel’s area of control.

Of course, cartel gunmen do not kidnap only their rivals or cops. As the cartel wars have heated up, and as drug revenues have dropped due to interference from rival cartels or the government, many cartels have resorted to kidnapping for ransom to supplement their cash flow. Perhaps the most widely known group that is engaging in this is the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), also known as the Tijuana Cartel. The AFO has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, its smuggling operations dramatically impacted by the efforts of the U.S. and Mexican governments, as well as by attacks from other cartels and from an internal power struggle. Because of a steep decrease in smuggling revenues, the group has turned to kidnapping and extortion in order to raise the funds necessary to keep itself alive and to return to prominence as a smuggl ing organization.

In the Line of Fire

There is very little chance the Mexican government will be able to establish integrity in its law enforcement agencies, or bring law and order to large portions of the country, any time soon. Official corruption and ineptitude are endemic in Mexico, which means that Mexican citizens and visiting foreigners will have to face the threat of kidnapping for the foreseeable future. We believe that for civilians and visiting foreigners, the threat of kidnapping exceeds the threat of being hit by a stray bullet from a cartel firefight. Indeed, things are deteriorating so badly that even professional kidnapping negotiators, once seen as the key to a guaranteed payout, are now being kidnapped themselves. In an even more incredible twist of irony, anti-kidnapping authorities are being abducted and executed.

This environment — and the concerns it has sparked — has provided huge financial opportunities for the private security industry in Mexico. Armored car sales have gone through the roof, as have the number of uniformed guards and executive protection personnel. In fact, the demand for personnel is so acute that security companies are scrambling to find candidates. Such a scramble presents a host of obvious problems, ranging from lack of qualifications to insufficient vetting. In addition to old-fashioned security services, new security-technology companies are also cashing in on the environment of fear, but even high-tech tracking devices can have significant drawbacks and shortcomings.

For many people, armored cars and armed bodyguards can provide a false sense of security, and technology can become a deadly crutch that promotes complacency and actually increases vulnerability. Physical security measures are not enough. The presence of armed bodyguards — or armed guards combined with armored vehicles — does not provide absolute security. This is especially true in Mexico, where large teams of gunmen regularly conduct crimes using military ordnance. Frankly, there are very few executive protection details in the world that have the training and armament to withstand an assault by dozens of attackers armed with assault rifles and RPGs. Private security guards are frequently overwhelmed by Mexican crimi nals and either killed or forced to flee for their own safety. As we noted in May 2008 after the assassination of Edgar Millan Gomez, acting head of the Mexican Federal Police and the highest-ranking federal cop in Mexico, physical security measures must be supplemented by situational awareness, countersurveillance and protective intelligence.

Criminals look for and exploit vulnerabilities. Their chances for success increase greatly if they are allowed to conduct surveillance at will and are given the opportunity to thoroughly assess the protective security program. We have seen several cases in Mexico in which the criminals even chose to attack despite security measures. In such cases, criminals attack with adequate resources to overcome existing security. For example, if there are protective agents, the attackers will plan to neutralize them first. If there is an armored vehicle, they will find ways to defeat the armor or grab the target when he or she is outside the vehicle. Because of this, criminals must not be allowed to conduct surveillance at will.

Like many crimes, kidnapping is a process. There are certain steps that must be taken to conduct a kidnapping and certain times during the process when those executing it are vulnerable to detection. While these steps may be condensed and accomplished quite quickly in an ad hoc express kidnapping, they are nonetheless followed. In fact, because of the particular steps involved in conducting a kidnapping, the process is not unlike that followed to execute a terrorist attack. The common steps are target selection, planning, deployment, attack, escape and exploitation.

Like the perpetrators of a terrorist attack, those conducting a kidnapping are most vulnerable to detection when they are conducting surveillance — before they are ready to deploy and conduct their attack. As we’ve noted several times in past analyses, one of the secrets of countersurveillance is that most criminals are not very good at conducting surveillance. The primary reason they succeed is that no one is looking for them.

Of course, kidnappers are also very obvious once they launch their attack, pull their weapons and perhaps even begin to shoot. By this time, however, it might very well be too late to escape their attack. They will have selected their attack site and employed the forces they believe they need to complete the operation. While the kidnappers could botch their operation and the target could escape unscathed, it is simply not practical to pin one’s hopes on that possibility. It is clearly better to spot the kidnappers early and avoid their trap before it is sprung and the guns come out.

We have seen many instances of people in Mexico with armed security being kidnapped, and we believe we will likely see more cases of this in the coming months. This trend is due not only to the presence of highly armed and aggressive criminals and the low quality of some security personnel, but also to people placing their trust solely in reactive physical security. Ignoring the very real value of critical, proactive measures such as situational awareness, countersurveillance and protective intelligence can be a fatal mistake.

The above article was provided by Stratfor, the global intelligence news service.