Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

U.S. citizens among hostages seized in Algeria as France battles Islamists in neighboring Mali

January 16, 2013

Washington Post
 Edward Cody, Debbi Wilgoren and Craig Whitlock,

PARIS — Islamist guerrillas seized a number of hostages, including Americans, in a brazen attack early Wednesday on a remote gas-production facility in Algeria, and the United States vowed to take all necessary steps to deal with what it called a “terrorist act.”

Algeria’s official news agency said two people were killed, including a British national, and six were wounded, two of them foreigners, in the attack by what authorities described as a homegrown Algerian terrorist group. There were conflicting accounts of the number of people taken hostage. The agency, Algerie Presse Service, said Algerian troops quickly surrounded the site.

In Rome, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said U.S. officials believe that Americans are among the hostages in Algeria but that they are still trying to determine how many.

“By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” he told reporters after meeting with Italian leaders Wednesday as part of a week-long European trip. “It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others…. I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”

Panetta said it remained unclear whether the hostage-takers are connected to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that France is fighting in northern Mali.

“I do know that terrorists are terrorists, and terrorists take these kinds of actions,” he added. “We’ve witnessed their behavior in a number of occasions where they have total disregard for innocent men and women. This appears to be that kind of situation.”

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack and said 41 hostages were seized, seven of them Americans.

However, Algerie Presse Service (APS) said “a little more than 20 foreign nationals” were captured. It said the hostages were from Norway, Britain, the United States, France and Japan. The captors released Algerian workers in small groups, the agency said.

The assailants arrived in three vehicles and first attacked a bus that was taking foreign workers from the gas-production facility to a local airport, APS said. One foreigner was killed in that attack, and the militants then took over part of the facility and seized hostages, it said.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the attackers were Algerian “terrorists” and vowed that authorities would not negotiate with them.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its airspace to send warplanes to neighboring Mali, where French forces have been conducting airstrikes and support operations since last week to aid Malian troops in their battle against Islamist insurgents.

“Algeria’s participation in the war on the side of France betrays the blood of the Algerian martyrs who fell in the fight against the French occupation,” a spokesman for the Masked Brigade, an arm of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, told Mauritania’s Nouakchott News Agency.

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BREAKING: 7 foreigners kidnapped in Algeria

January 16, 2013

The Independant
LAMINE CHIKHI
Jan 16, 2013

Islamist militants attacked a gas production field in southern Algeria today, kidnapping at least seven foreigners and killing a French national, local and company officials said.

An al-Qa’ida-linked group operating in the Sahara said it had carried out the raid on the In Amenas facility, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported.

The field, located close to the border with Libya, is operated by a joint venture including BP, Norwegian oil firm Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.

Five Japanese nationals working for the Japanese engineering firm JCG Corp were kidnapped as well as a French national, local officials said. An Irishman was also seized, the Irish government said.

A French national was killed in the attack, a local source said, but it was unclear if the victim was the same person who had been kidnapped.

The foreigners were taken from In Amenas in the morning. Algerian troops had mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and had also surrounded the workers’ camp at Tiguentourine, a local source said.

Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military intervention against al-Qa’ida-linked Islamist rebels in Mali, although officials have yet to make a link between today’s attack and the conflict in Algeria’s southern neighbour.

ANI, which has regular direct contact with Islamists, said that fighters under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar were holding the foreigners seized from the gas field.

Belmokhtar for years commanded al-Qa’ida fighters in the Sahara before setting up his own armed Islamist group late last year after an apparent fallout with other militant leaders.

BP confirmed there had been a “security incident” at the In Amenas field but could give no more details.

Statoil, a minority shareholder in the venture, said it was notified of the incident this morning but could not say if any of its fewer than 20 employees were affected.

Statoil described the incident as serious and called it an emergency situation.

BP said the field was approximately 825 miles from the capital, Algiers.

The five Japanese work for the engineering firm JGC Corporation, Jiji news agency reported, quoting company officials. JGC has a deal with Sonatrach-BP-Statoil Association for work in gas production at In Amenas.

In Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it was gathering information on the situation but could not comment. French Foreign Ministry officials also said they had no immediate comment and were trying to verify the reports.

Panetta: Pentagon may provide ‘limited logistical support’ to French in Mali

January 15, 2013

Washington Post
Craig Whitlock
Jan 16, 2013

LISBON – The Pentagon may become involved in military operations against Islamist rebels in the West African country of Mali by providing airlift and “limited logistical support” to French troops fighting there, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday.
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“We have a responsibility to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are,” Panetta told reporters as he began a weeklong trip to Europe. “We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia, and we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa, in Mali.”U.S. defense officials said they were reviewing requests for assistance from France, which sent troops to Mali on Friday in an urgent attempt to prevent Islamist rebels and other guerrillas from overrunning the ragtag Malian army. Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels have gained control of the northern half of the country over the past year, enabling al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa to function unimpeded in a swath of territory the size of Texas.Panetta declined to provide further details about what kind of military assistance the Pentagon might bring to the conflict, but said one option under consideration would be to deploy transport aircraft that move French troops or equipment.The Obama administration has previously ruled out placing “U.S. boots on the ground” in Mali. Officials traveling with Panetta declined to comment when asked if U.S. transport aircraft might actually land in Mali to help the French, or if the territory remained off limits.The United States, France, the United Nations Security Council and several African countries have been working for months on a joint plan to intervene militarily in Mali, one of the poorest and most remote countries in the world.

The planning, however, has been undermined by strategic disagreements, a lack of firm commitments to send troops and Mali’s internal political dysfunctions. The country’s democratically elected president was toppled last March in a coup led by a rogue Army captain who had received military training in the United States. Factionalism has worsened since then as Islamist fighters have tightened their grip on the northern half of the country.

Another complication is that the United States is prohibited by law from providing direct military assistance to the Malian government because of the coup. The Pentagon had to shut down training and aid programs in Mali last year and remove virtually all military personnel.

The U.S. military already has been sharing intelligence about the Mali rebels with France, an exchange that will continue, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. The official said the Pentagon was also considering whether to deploy tanker aircraft to Africa to provide mid-air refueling for French warplanes.

The United States has conducted surveillance over Mali for years with satellites, high-altitude Global Hawk drones based in Europe and small PC-12 turboprop planes based in Burkina Faso, on Mali’s southern border.

Flying armed Reaper or Predator drones over Mali is not an immediate option, however; the Pentagon lacks a base in the region for those aircraft.

The turmoil in Mali was triggered, in part, by a flood of fighters and weaponry arriving from Libya after that country’s civil war erupted. When Libyan ruler Col. Moammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011 – thanks largely to a NATO-led military intervention — many mercenaries and Tuareg rebels who had supported him crossed the Sahara to return to Mali, further stressing the already weak government there.

Asked if the NATO’s involvement in Libya was partly to blame for the unrest in Mali, Panetta did not answer directly but said that al-Qaeda factions have demonstrated an ability to adapt by moving to new regions.

“With the turmoil in Mali, they found it convenient to use that situation to gain some traction there,” he told reporters on his plane while flying to Europe. “There’s no question as you confront them in Yemen, in Somalia, in Libya that they’ll ultimately try to relocate. The fact is, we’ve made a commitment that al-Qaeda is not going to find any place to hide.”

Panetta is scheduled to meet with NATO allies this week in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Britain in what he said is “likely” is last international trip as defense secretary. President Obama has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed him.

RELATED: La Folie Solami: Black Hawk Down… Part Deux

Mali Mayhem: ‘French post-colonial ambition to spark African anger’

January 15, 2013

Northern Mali was captured by Islamist militants nine months ago; the international community has been debating since then over what action should be taken. The conflict escalated last week when France launched its air assault to “maintain stability in the region.” Eric Margolis, an award-winning columnist who’s extensively covered conflicts in Africa, believes president Hollande is sensitive to France’s role as a former colonial power in Mali.

La Folie Solami: Black Hawk Down… Part Deux

January 14, 2013

Peter SterryPeter Sterry
21st Century Wire
Jan 15, 2013

When it comes to post-modern military embarrassments and gallant non-events, Somalia often comes to mind. Then again, so do the French.

So it’s a wonder why the newly hand-picked head of state in Paris thought it pertinent to tread down that dirty African road which almost always ends in tears.

Ridley Scott’s box-office hit, Blackhawk Down, did rather well despite it’s obvious post-Desert Storm propagandising, custom-designed to get Americans angry about being losers on the world military stage – a true turning point (and traumatic viewing I’m told by my American friends) in US attitudes which no doubt helped to stoke the imperial madness of King George II of Texas, as he led America’s shameless effort into his father’s New American Century. But even with Scott being fed the brief from the Pentagon’s official film producer-in-residence, Jerry Bruckenheimer, most people with intimate knowledge of the actual event will tell you that the film was still a romantic portrayal of a totally shambolic and horrific misadventure.

MIA: Fench spook has gone missing (notice the ‘intel center’ logo on the video – could be staged).

Indeed, the first Somali Follie marked the last time that Washington would ever bother all that much with collateral damage, or putting soldiers in the line of fire – let alone considering an actual Hollywood-style rescue. No, those are left exclusively to the likes of Bruckenheimer. It’s not that there are any brave soldiers left, it’s just become way too risky and even more messy. Any future ops would be stage-managed, and deploy scorched earth policies etc, so as to leave no witnesses in case the op went bad…

Forget about Seal Team 6 and the infamous Bin Laden Raid – that wasn’t  (Obama still can’t find the photos and video of the terror kingpin who according to multiple official admissions, died between 2001 and 2002), Washington will just send in the Drones to either level, or vaporise any moving animal within the blast zone. This technique has proved to work particularly well for weddings and funerals in Pakistan over the last half decade. The worst thing that can happen in this new unmanned military paradigm is that the US Army’s 22 year old play station expert in holed-up Nevada CENTCOM gets a head ache and accidentally crashes his drone into the side of a hill in Baluchistan. But I digress…

Hollande: Does he look like a hardcore military planner?

Busy attacking his country’s upper tier with a 70% tax bracket, the somewhat receding French President Francois Hollande hasn’t been in power more than a few months… and he’s already challenging Sarkozy for the most hated man in France award. In short, he’s gone and done what any unpopular French President would do, and that’s going into some godforsaken destabilised former colonial African hell-hole to steel a bit of globalist glory.

So the French played the African Double Dip Lottery – going for a shady Somalian rescue, and also attempting to throw their weight around in  Mali’s latest civil war, losing at least one commando, a helicopter and its pilot on the same day – and lost both times – for now, at least.

A Bad Day for Hollande

Hollande lost men in both operations – which in itself is tragic – particularly for the families of the men lost, but he also managed to lose the French secret agent hostage – or so the French papers say. 

Both operations ended as heroic failures. All in all, not a good day in military terms, and hard to believe the French public would back two epic failures like this. So what really happened on the day? Let’s break it down…

The French commando  operation in Somalia went horribly south following a fire fight with the latest Islamist Lenfant terrible, al-Shabab.

The secret agent-cum-hostage was identified by his cover name, ‘Denis Allex’, and is presumed to be dead – although the al-Shabab insist he is still alive and happily eating toasties and drinking his long-life milk from a box carton.

Sadly for Hollande and France, at least one French commando is reported to have gone missing during the operation.

Something smells very staged about this French agent – and I for one wouldn’t be surprised if the CIA were somehow involved at some stage in the hostage screen play – this, judging by the Intel Center logo embossed in the upper righthand corner in the hostage video. The CIA/Pentagon’s ‘media agency’, Intel Center is on record as manufacturing fake Osama bin Laden videos.

Meanwhile, deep in Mali, a French pilot was killed when rebels shot down his helicopter during a sortie.

Obama enjoying a fresh croissant after this past week’s joint failure with France in Somalia.

And what’s worse… we now find out that Hollande called Obama at the eleventh hour to ‘help out’.

According to today’s Washington Post, Obama was forced to admit his involvement with Hollande’s Blackhawk Down… Part Deux:

“In a letter to Congress, President Obama said U.S. combat aircraft “provided limited technical support” to French forces late Friday as they attempted to rescue a French spy who had been held captive for more than three years…

… Obama said the U.S. warplanes “briefly” entered Somali airspace but did not open fire and departed Somalia by 8 p.m. Friday, Washington time. He said he approved the mission but gave no other details.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, said the combat aircraft were based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a small country on Somalia’s northwestern border.”

Mind you, with America’s dodgy track record in Somalia, why would the French ask them to help out rescuing their now not-so-secret agent (who is arguably still missing, so not officially dead yet)?

Vive Le AFRICOM!

Here’s a question which no one has asked yet: what on earth are French Secret Service agents doing running around in Somalia in the first place?

The US has AFRICOM so one would expect Washington to have ample spooks on the ground in all over Africa – in their manic drive to evict the Chinese from the Dark Continent. Pourquoi France? Non! French military excursions are normally confined to the Magreb. Somalia is traditionally a US and British patch.

At first glance this may look like a gallic cock-up, but look a bit closer to see how the Somali raid fits into a much bigger puzzle.

In Mali also, both the British and US militaries ran modules of this Operation in support of the French. Britain provided the use of its planes to transport troops, while the US supplied logistical support, including communications and transport.

It’s well known that the US have designs on countries like Mali, Uganda and others. So it appears that the US are now using the French (and the British) to fight their new proxy wars in Africa. What were Hollande or the French multi-nation corporations promised by Washington? Land? Mali’s utilities? A nuclear power plant contract?

This latest French hand-holding exercise in Africa simply reinforces the rolling trend currently among the allied NATO member states – a plethora of joint military pacts and exercises, where various countries are tasked perform certain compartmentalised tasks within a much larger strategic operation. This new method of neo-colonial intervention is effectively the initial steps towards the formation of a One World Combat Force, or Army, performing what is essentially a World Police function. In reality, what NATO allies are really doing is farming out the job of securing western transnational corporate interests in Africa.

Our advice to Hollande is simple: play to your strengths next time. French elites would be none the wiser to airlift two tons of halal fromage (Chevre and a few large wheels of Camembert should do) and a twelve cases of your most excellent Beaujolais nouveau – a gift to those Al Shababs to soften them up before you hit them with the Ricarde.

Sadly, however, Hollande was left to do the only thing he could – a ‘full American’, which is code for killing many Muslims overseas – including civilians and children. This, he will quickly discover, can score some cheap political points back at home, and just like a weak Roman Emperor, it will make him look ‘strong’… temporarily. Hence, today we hear that very thing has actually happened – French Rafale fighter jets are said to have “pounded insurgent training camps, arms and oil depots” yesterday in Mali, but with some collateral damage – at least 11 civilians including three children.

“Mali is now at the mercy of the French army,” said one official in Bamako.

The French are learning fast – kill, and kill often. It’s worked for the US for the last decade, and still no one seems to mind back at home.

That’s what you can expect – from your new One World Army.

….

France fails to free intelligence agent held in Somalia; Paris sends more troops to Mali

January 14, 2013

PARIS — As France reinforced its intervention forces in Mali with additional aircraft and soldiers, Frenc commandos launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa in a vain attempt to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

The unsuccessful overnight rescue attempt, in the Somali town of Bulomarer, was separate from President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamist guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months.

But both operations seemed to propel France into a position of new prominence in Western efforts to prevent Islamist terrorist groups from establishing themselves — as they did in Afghanistan and Somalia — in countries without solid state institutions that could become launchpads for attacks on European or U.S. interests in Africa or elsewhere around the world.

The failed rescue in Somalia, which cost France the lives of at least two people, dramatized the dangers facing the French military as it takes on the Islamist groups in hostile regions of northern Africa where they have taken root. The Mali-based extremists, for instance, hold seven French hostages and threatened retaliation for Hollande’s willingness to dispatch French soldiers to help restore Malian state authority.

Four French hostages captured in September 2010 at a northern Niger uranium mine and two abducted in northern Mali in November 2010 are held by the region’s main Islamist group, the mainly Algerian al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A seventh French citizen was taken into custody two months ago on the Mali-Nigeria border by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an AQMI spinoff.

Some of their families have questioned Hollande’s resolution to support the government in Mali, fearing it could lead to the execution of their loved ones. But Hollande has consistently replied that the threat of international military action was the best means of pressure on the hostage takers.

Failure in Somalia

The Somalia rescue operation was designed to liberate Denis Allex, the official identity of an agent of the French intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Allex and a colleague were abducted by Somali Islamists in July 2009, soon after the pair, posing as journalists, checked into a hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

In fact, reports at the time said, they were assigned by the DGSE to train the close protection squad of Somalia’s beleaguered transitional government as part of a French military aid program. Allex’s colleague escaped his captors a month later, but Allex remained in the Islamists’ hands in what the Defense Ministry described as “inhumane conditions.”

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that “everything indicates” Allex was killed by his captors as DGSE commandos assaulted his place of imprisonment at Bulomarer, an Islamist-controlled town about 70 miles southwest of Mogadishu.

Washington Post
Edward Cody

 

One World Army: UN Wants Drones Over Congo to ‘Keep The Peace’

January 11, 2013

African mission plea for more firepower after being humiliated by rebel advance in DRC

Daniel Howden
The Independent
Jan 13, 2013

The United Nations is considering using unmanned drones in its peacekeeping operations for the first time, as it seeks to strengthen its forces in eastern Congo.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is pushing for the deployment of drones in a diplomatic battle in New York that could have far-reaching implications for the future of international peacekeeping.

The proposal to use the unarmed intelligence-gathering drones has the backing of council members the US, UK and France but faces opposition from China and Russia. Rwanda, which holds one of the council’s rotating seats, and is accused of meddling in its larger neighbour, is also determined to block the move.

Monusco, the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the largest of its kind, was humiliated last year after first vowing to prevent armed rebels from taking the regional capital before standing aside and allowing them to march into Goma.

The M23 rebels routed the Congolese national army, despite its support from UN forces. Rwanda allegedly lent direct military support to the rebel offensive, according to a report by a UN group of experts.

Congo analyst Jason Stearns said drones could be a “technical fix” to one of the key problems: “monitoring meddling by neighbouring countries and gathering information about security developments in the vast interior of the country.”

The UN’s peacekeeping head, Herve Ladsous, has been pushing for the organisation’s creaking and poorly supplied missions to be modernised and has threatened to name and shame under-performing troop contingents. This week, he told the Security Council that the Congo mission needed more helicopters, night-vision equipment, river units and drones.

Rwanda has opposed the move, saying it does not want Africa to become a laboratory for foreign intelligence devices. Olivier Nduhungirehe, a Rwandan diplomat at the UN, said his country would oppose the use of drones, calling for further assessment of how they would be used: “We express reservations about the introduction of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to peacekeeping operations when the issues that go along with it are still being discussed,” he told the state-owned media in Rwanda.

The government in Kigali has repeatedly denied allegations that it commands the M23 rebels and rejected evidence from UN experts. The use of UAVs in Congo’s remote border areas would settle the argument and make it impossible for large-scale supply operations to be kept secret.

The UN, which has 17,000 troops and 1,400 police deployed in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country at an annual cost of $1.5bn, has been considering drones since 2009, when it asked the US for the technology and was refused. The cost of UAVs has fallen dramatically in the past five years and the Pentagon has lost its monopoly on the technology with countries from Belgium to Pakistan manufacturing them.

The first UN drone deployment faces significant opposition from veto-wielding China and Russia who have concerns over the security of the intelligence gathered.

Read more

Chris Hedges on Obama’s NDAA: ‘The Final Battle’

December 27, 2012

Chris Hedges
Truth Dig
Dec 27, 2012

Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pushed through the Senate an amendment to the 2013 version of the NDAA. The amendment, although deeply flawed, at least made a symbolic attempt to restore the right to due process and trial by jury. A House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, removed the amendment from the bill last week.

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement issued by her office. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The House approved the $633 billion NDAA for 2013 in a 315-107 vote late Thursday night. It will now go before the Senate. Several opponents of the NDAA in the House, including Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., cited Congress’ refusal to guarantee due process and trial by jury to all citizens as his reason for voting against the bill. He wrote in a statement after the vote that “American citizens may fear being arrested and indefinitely detained by the military without knowing what they have done wrong.”

The Feinstein-Lee amendment was woefully inadequate. It was probably proposed mainly for its public relations value, but nonetheless it resisted the concerted assault on our rights and sought to calm nervous voters objecting to the destruction of the rule of law. The amendment failed to emphatically state that citizens could never be placed in military custody. Rather, it said citizens could not be placed in indefinite military custody without “trial.” But this could have been a trial by military tribunals. Citizens, under the amendment, could have been barred from receiving due process in a civil court. Still, it was better than nothing. And now we have nothing.

“Congressional moves concerning the NDAA make it clear that Congress as a whole has no stomach for the protection of civil liberties,” said attorney Bruce Afran, who along with attorney Carl Mayer has brought the lawsuit against President Obama in which we are attempting to block Section 1021(b)(2).

The only hero so far in this story is U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District Court of New York. Forrest in September accepted all of our challenges to the law. She issued a permanent injunction invalidating Section 1021(b)(2). Government lawyers asked Forrest for a “stay pending appeal”—meaning the law would go back into effect until the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in the case. She refused. The government then went directly to the Court of Appeals and asked it for a temporary stay while promising not to detain the plaintiffs or other U.S. citizens under the provision. The Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in January, granted the government’s request for a temporary stay. The law went back into effect. If the Court of Appeals upholds Forrest’s ruling, the case will most likely be before the Supreme Court within weeks.

“President Obama should never have appealed this watershed civil rights ruling,” Mayer said. “But now that he has, the fight may well go all the way to the Supreme Court. At stake is whether America will slide more toward authoritarianism or whether the judicial branch of government will stem the decade-long erosion of our civil liberties. Since 9/11 Americans have been systematically stripped of their freedoms: Their phone calls are monitored under [George W.] Bush and Obama’s warrantless wiretapping program, they are videotaped relentlessly in public places, there are drones over American soil and the police control protesters and dissenters with paramilitary gear and tactics. As long as Obama and the leadership of both parties want the military to police our streets, we will fight. This is unacceptable, un-American and unconstitutional.”

Read more here

The Quality of Washington’s Plan to Drag Iran Into a Third World War

December 27, 2012

Fraternity Boy gone wrong: where did Patrick Clawson harvest all of his neo-conservative ideas?

21st Century Wire

They’re like school kids playing war games.

Listen to this supposedly qualified academic talking head, Patrick Clawson of the influential neo-con think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Studies – muse on about what underhanded stunts the US could hope for in kicking off WW3 in Iran.

Shameful, yet, someone is paying this guy good money to degraded American credibility abroad.

This is the quality of the garbage currently spewing out of most prestigious Washington think tanks. Clearly, they have lost touch with reality and should be treated as extensions of the international criminal class.

Q: How many other psychopaths are currently nibbling away at our liberties in these so-called ‘think tanks’?

….

The ‘Great Filter’ Theory: That Humans Have Already Conquered Threat of Extinction

December 22, 2012

George Dvorsky
io9.com
Dec 22, 0212

It’s difficult to not be pessimistic when considering humanity’s future prospects. Many people would agree that it’s more likely than not that we’ll eventually do ourselves in.

And in fact, some astrobiologists theorize that all advanced civilizations hit the same insurmountable developmental wall we have. They call it the Great Filter. It’s a notion that’s often invoked to explain why we’ve never been visited by extraterrestrials.

But there is another possible reason for the celestial silence. Yes, the Great Filter exists, but we’ve already passed it. Here’s what this would mean.

Before we can get to the Great Filter hypothesis we have to appreciate what the Fermi Paradox is telling us.

The Fermi Paradox and the Great Silence

The so-called “Great Silence” is the contradictory and counter-intuitive observation that we have yet to see any evidence for the existence of aliens. The size and age of the Universe suggests that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) ought to exist — but this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.

Despite much of what popular culture and sci-fi would lead us to believe, the fact that we haven’t been visited by ETIs is disturbing. Our galaxy is so ancient that it could have been colonized hundreds, if not thousands, of times over by now. Even the most conservative estimates show that we should have already made contact either directly or indirectly (such as from dormant Bracewell communication probes).

Some skeptics dismiss the Fermi Paradox by suggesting that ETI’s have come and gone, or that they wouldn’t find us interesting.

Unfortunately, most solutions to the FP don’t hold for a number of reasons, including the realization that a colonization wave of superintelligent aliens would likely rework the fabric of all life in the cosmos (e.g. uplifting), or that these solutions are sociological in nature (i.e. they lack scientific rigor and don’t necessarily apply to the actions of all advanced civilizations; all it would take is just one to think and behave differently — what astrobiologists refer to as the non-exclusivity problem).

There have been many attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox, including the herculean attempt by Stephen Webb in his book, Fifty Solutions to Fermi’s Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life.

But one solution stands out from the others, mostly on account of its brute elegance: The Great Filter.

The Great Filter

Conceived in 1998 by Robin Hanson, the GF is the disturbing suggestion that there is some kind of absurdly difficult step in the evolution of life — one that precludes it from becoming interstellar.

And like the immutable laws of the universe, the GF is a stumbling block that holds true across the board; if it applies here on Earth, it applies everywhere.

Many look upon the GF as evidence that we’ll destroy ourselves in the future. The basic idea is that every civilization destroys itself before developing space-faring technologies. Hence the empty cosmos. Given our own trajectory and the ominous presence of apocalyptic weapons, this scenario certainly seems plausible. We’re not even close to going interstellar, yet we’re certainly capable of self-annihilation.

But that doesn’t mean this interpretation of the GF is the correct one. Rather, it’s quite possible that human civilization has already passed the Great Filter. Should this be the case, it would be exceptionally good news. Assuming there’s no other filter awaiting us in the future, it means we might be the first and only intelligent civilization in the Milky Way.

It’s a possibility, however, that demands explanation. If the filter is behind us, what was it? And how did we manage to get past it? Interestingly, there are some excellent candidates.

Rare Earth

First and foremost there’s the Rare Earth Hypothesis (REH), the suggestion that the emergence of life was extremely improbable for a confluence of reasons. The theory essentially suggests that we hit the jackpot here on Earth.

This argument, which was first articulated by geologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald E. Brownlee, turns the whole Copernican Principle on its head. Instead of saying that we’re nothing special or unique, the REH implies the exact opposite — that we are freakishly special and unique. What we see here on Earth in this solar system and in this part of the Galaxy may be a remarkable convergence of highly unlikely factors — factors that have resulted in a perfect storm of conditions suitable for the emergence of complex life.

It’s important to note that Ward and Brownlee are not implying that it’s one or two conditions that can explain habitability, but rather an entire array of happy accidents. For example, stars might have to be of the right kind (including adequate metallicity and safe distance from dangerous celestial objects), and planets must be in a stable orbit with a large moon. Other factors include the presence of gas giants, plate tectonics, and many others.

But even with all the right conditions, life was by no means guaranteed. It’s quite possible that the Great Filter involved the next set of steps: the emergence of life and its ongoing evolution.

The improbability of life

Indeed, in addition to all the cosmological and chemical prerequisites for life, there were at least three critical stages that could all be considered candidates for the Great Filter: (1) the emergence of reproductive molecules (abiogenesis and the emergence of RNA), (2) simple single-celled life (prokaryotes), and (3) complex single-celled life (eukaryotes).

Chemists and biologists are still not entirely sure how the first self-replicating molecules came into existence. Unlike its big brother, DNA, RNA is a single-stranded molecule that has a much shorter chain of nucleotides. Moreover, it usually needs DNA to reproduce itself — which would have been a problem given the absence of DNA in those early days.

That said, scientists know that RNA is capable of reproducing through autocatalysis. It does this by storing information similar to DNA, which allows it to become its own catalyst (a ribosome). This so-called RNA World Modelsuggests that RNA can function as both a gene and an enzyme — a pre-DNA configuration that eventually became the basis for all life.

Given that we’ve never detected life elsewhere, it’s difficult to know how difficult this initial step was. But that said, this form of life emerged super-early in the Earth’s history — about a billion years after its formation, and immediately after the cooling of rocks and the emergence of oceans.

But what we do know is that the next few steps — the leap from single-celled life to complex single-celled life — was exceedingly difficult, if not highly improbable. The process of copying a genetic molecule is extremely complex, involving the perfect configuration of proteins and other cellular components.

Here’s how it likely happened: Once a self-replicating molecule emerged, the presence of RNA allowed for the formation of protobionts, a theoretic precursor to prokaryotic cells. These tightly bound bundles of organic molecules contained RNA within their membranes — which could have evolved into proper prokaryotic cells.

And here’s where it gets interesting. After the formation of prokaryotes — about 3.5 billion years ago — nothing changed in the biological landscape for the next 1.8 billion years. Life in this primitive form was completely stuck. Imagine that — no evolution for almost two billion years. It was only after the endosymbiosis of multiple prokaryotes that complex single-cell life finally emerged — a change that was by no means guaranteed, and possibly unlikely.

And it’s this highly improbable step, say some scientists, that’s the Great Filter. Everything that happened afterward is a complete bonus.

Now that said, there may have been other filters as well. These could include the emergence of terrestrial organisms, hominids, and various civilizational stages, like the transition from stone age culture to agricultural to industrial. But unlike the first primordial stages already discussed, these are porous filters and not terribly unlikely.

More filters ahead?

So, if the GF is behind us, it would do much to explain the Fermi Paradox and the absence of extraterrestrial influence on the cosmos. Should that be the case, we may very well have a bright future ahead of us. The Milky Way Galaxy is literally ours for the taking, our future completely open-ended.

But before we jump to conclusions, it’s only fair to point out that we’re not out of the woods yet. There could very well be another GF in the future — one just as stingy as the filters of our past. The universe, while giving the appearance of bio-friendliness, may in reality be extremely hostile to intelligent life.