Monday, 16 April 2012

US-trained Terrorist Group plants Stuxnet Malware

By Nile Bowie

The international community has eased its condemnation of Iran following recent negotiations between Tehran and six other nations in Istanbul, Turkey. While the participating parties agreed to further discussions on May 23, 2012 in Baghdad, both Israel and the West have given no indication of easing the strict regime of sanctions imposed on Tehran. Following claims of the Iranian leadership that it pursues civil nuclear capabilities to generate electricity and fuel for medical reactors (allowing Tehran to divert its primary oil reserves to export markets) [1], Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a religious prohibition on nuclear weapons in Iran [2]. During recent discussions, Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili emphasized Iran’s right to a civil nuclear program, as guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [3]. Although Tel Aviv possess between 75 to 400 nuclear warheads, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak insists that all of Iran’s uranium enriched to 20% be moved to a "trusted" neighboring country [4].

While both CIA chief David H. Petraeus and US National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. concede that no credible evidence exists to accuse Iran of constructing a nuclear weapon [5], the brazen criminality of intelligence operations against Iran’s civil nuclear program remain deeply troubling. ISSSource has recently confirmed that the individuals responsible for planting the Stuxnet computer worm used to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz were members of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) [6], a US State Department-listed terrorist organization (#29) [7]. MEK was founded in 1965 as a Marxist Islamic mass political movement aimed at agitating the monarchy of the US-backed Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The group initially sided with revolutionary clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but eventually turned away from the regime during a power struggle that resulted in the group waging urban guerilla warfare against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1981.

The organization was later given refuge by Saddam Hussein and mounted attacks on Iran from within Iraqi territory, killing an estimated 17,000 Iranian nationals in the process [8]. MEK exists as the main component of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a “coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups and personalities,” calling itself a "parliament-in-exile” seeking to “establish a democratic, secular and coalition government” in Iran [9]. Although the group has been credited with the assassination of high profile US military personnel [10] following the Islamic Revolution on multiple occasions [11], The New Yorker reports that members of Mujahideen-e-Khalq were trained in communications, cryptography, small-unit tactics and weaponry by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a base in Nevada starting in 2005 [12]. JSOC instructed MEK operatives on how to penetrate major Iranian communications systems, allowing the group to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran for the purpose of sharing them with American intelligence.

Following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Army has twice attempted to enter Camp Ashraf, a “refugee camp” where the militant wing of MEK (consisting of approximately 3,200 personnel) resided under external security protection of the US military up until 2009 [13]. With the full support of the US Embassy in Iraq and the State Department, UN special representative in Iraq Martin Kobler has organized efforts to relocate MEK insurgents to a former US military base near the Baghdad airport, amusingly titled, Camp Liberty” – to avoid violent clashes between the MEK and the Shiite-led Iraqi government [14]. The group has long received material assistance from Israel, who assisted the organization with broadcasting into Iran from their political base in Paris, while the MEK and NCRI have reportedly provided the United States with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, which publicly revealed the existence of the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility in 2002 [15].

While senior figures in the Council on Foreign Relations describe MEK as a "cult-like organization" with "totalitarian tendencies,” [16] a cabal of elder statesmen such as former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley K. Clark, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former 9/11 Commission Chairman Lee Hamilton were paid $20,000 to $30,000 per engagement to endorse the removal of the Mujahideen-e Khalq from the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations [17]. NCRI head Maryam Rajavi, now based in Paris and endorsed by statesmen from the United States and European Union, is famously quoted saying, "Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards," during Saddam Hussein’s massacre of Iraqi Kurds in 1991 [18]. Despite the documented cases of atrocities committed by MEK forces, the Council of the European Union removed the group from the EU list of terrorist organizations in 2009; NCRI spokesperson Shahin Gobadi offered, "All we want is democratic elections in Iran," in a press statement to mark the event [19].

Although current and former US officials agree Iran is years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead and has no secret uranium-enrichment site outside the purview of UN nuclear inspections [20], recent revelations connecting MEK with the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed several hundred centrifuges in Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility constitutes an act of deliberate and unparalleled sabotage. Stuxnet remains the most sophisticated malware discovered thus far, the virus targets Siemens’ Simatic WinCC Step7 software, which controls industrial systems such as nuclear power plants and electrical grids from a Microsoft Windows-based PC. The virus exploits security gaps referred to as zero-day vulnerabilities, to attack specific targets. Prior to its discovery, Stuxnet was previously undetected and remained unidentified by anti-virus software, as the malware was designed to appear as legitimate software to Microsoft Windows. Upon delivery of the Stuxnet payload, the malware manipulated the operating speed of centrifuges spinning nuclear fuel to create distortions that deliberately damaged the machines, while giving the impression of normal activities to the monitoring operator and disabling their emergency controls.

ISSSource has cited current and former US intelligence officials, who confirm the Stuxnet virus was planted at Natanz nuclear facility by a saboteur believed to be a member of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq [21]. By delivering the malicious payload via USB memory stick, the group was able to damage at least 1,000 centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility [22]. MEK has also been accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists [23] and triggering an explosion that destroyed an underground site near the town of Khorramabad in western Iran that housed most of Tehran's Shehab-3 medium-range missiles [24]. NBC News reports that Israel provided financing, training and arms to members of Mujahideen-e Khalq, who are responsible for killing five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 using motorcycle-borne assailants often attaching small magnetic bombs to the exterior of the victims’ cars [25]. The New York Times reports that former US President George W. Bush authorized covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s Natanz facility, after deflecting an Israeli request to shower specialized bunker-busting bombs on the facility in 2009 [26].

Due to the intricate nature of Stuxnet coding, security experts confirm its creation must the “work of a national government agency” [27]. Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert who dismantled Stuxnet credited Israel and the United States with writing the malicious software designed to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program [28]. Considering that Stuxnet targeted Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) used in industrial plants to automate industrial operations, the malware designers required detailed knowledge of the programming language written for PLC components to successively subvert them [29]. It remains significant that the German electrical engineering company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States in 2008 to identify vulnerabilities in the computer controllers identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities [30]. Intelligence experts concede that testing of the Stuxnet virus was conducted in the Dimona complex located in Israel’s Negev desert, the site of Israel’s rarely acknowledged nuclear arms program [31].

When asked about the Stuxnet worm in a press conference, current White House WMD Coordinator Gary Samore boasted, “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated” [32]. While former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Hans Blix challenges the IAEA’s own reports on Iran’s nuclear activities (accusing the agency of relying on unverified intelligence from the US and Israel) [33], former director of US nuclear weapons production programs, Clinton Bastin, has sent an open letter to President Obama regarding the status of Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons [34]. Bastin reiterates in his letter to the President, “The ultimate product of Iran's gas centrifuge facilities would be highly enriched uranium hexafluoride, a gas that cannot be used to make a weapon. Converting the gas to metal, fabricating components and assembling them with high explosives using dangerous and difficult technology that has never been used in Iran would take many years after a diversion of three tons of low enriched uranium gas from fully safeguarded inventories. The resulting weapon, if intended for delivery by missile, would have a yield equivalent to that of a kiloton of conventional high explosives” [35].

The theatrics of the US and Israel in their condemnation of Iran’s nuclear power program have come at a heavy price for the Iranian people, who have been subjected to sanctions, assassinations, condemnation and sabotage. The United States has produced more than 70,000 nuclear weapons between 1951 and 1998 [36], while Israel possess a nuclear weapons stockpile ranging from 75 to 400 warheads [37]. The current legal international framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right to conduct peaceful nuclear energy programs; the deliberate provocations of the United States and Israel acting through intelligence groups such as Mossad and the CIA constitute the most genuine contempt toward international law, security and the value of a single human life. The mainstream media have worked to indoctrinate the population of the English-speaking world with an exploited and romanticized version of the Iranian theocracy’s ideological ambitions to wage “unprovoked terror,” while figures such as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi publically renounce nuclear weapons [38].

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or the People’s Mujahedin of Iran is an organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians since its inception. If the US and Israel launched a war against Iran, aggressor nations would likely recognize the touted “parliament-in-exile”, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, as the nation’s legitimate government. The US State Department's own website (which features Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as Foreign Terrorist Organization #29) indicates that “It is unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide ‘material support or resources’ to a designated FTO” [39]. As the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq continually seek removal from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations [40], the group’s unpardonable offenses must not be lost to the annuls of history. While NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi would prefer to masquerade as a “pro-democracy” figure, the responsible parties of the international community must rightfully condemn the actions taken by her organization and its affiliates.

The Stuxnet virus was engineered with Iran’s nuclear program in mind, as 60% of global Stuxnet cases appear within Iran [41]. US intelligence sources indicate that American and Israeli officials are working to finalize a new Stuxnet worm, referred to as ‘Duqu’ [42]; Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Russia’s Kaspersky Lab examined drivers used in Stuxnet and Duqu and concluded a single team most likely designed both worms, based on their interaction with the surrounding malware code [43]. Duqu malware similarly exploits Microsoft Windows systems using a zero-day vulnerability and is partially written in an advanced and previously unknown programming language, comprised of a variety of software components capable of executing information theft capabilities highly related to Iran’s nuclear program. Duqu has the capacity to steal digital certificates to help future viruses appear as secure software [44]. Duqu’s replication methods inside target networks remain unknown, however due to its modular structure, a special payload could theoretically be used in further cyber-physical attacks [45]. As the world begins to wage warfare in currency markets and programming code, the demand has never been greater for a new international legal framework to rightfully penalize covert provocateurs for manipulating economic structures and engaging in acts of sabotage.

[1] Iran's Nuclear Program (Nuclear Talks, 2012), The New York Times, April 9, 2012
[3] Iran, world powers agree to further nuclear talks, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2012
[4] Barak doubts sanctions will halt Iran's nuke drive, The Jerusalem Post, April 7, 2012
[5] U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb, The New York Times, February 24, 2012
[6] Stuxnet Loaded by Iran Double Agents, ISSSource, April 11, 2012
[7] Foreign Terrorist Organizations, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, Janurary 27, 2012
[9] About the National Council of Resistance of Iran, The National Council of Resistance of Iran, 2010
[10] Massacre at Camp Ashraf: Implications for U.S. Policy, Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 7, 2011
[11] Iran vows capture of officers’ killers, The Free Lance-Star, May 22, 1975
[12] Our Men in Iran? The New Yorker, April 6, 2012
[13] Former U.S. base opened to Iranian terrorist group, Foreign Policy, February 7, 2012
[14] Are the MEK’s U.S. friends its worst enemies? Foreign Policy, March 8, 2012
[15] Iran nuclear leaks 'linked to Israel', Asia Times, June 5, 2009
[16] Massacre at Camp Ashraf: Implications for U.S. Policy, Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 7, 2011
[18] The Cult of Rajavi, The New York Times, July 13, 2003
[19] EU ministers drop Iran group from terror list, EUobserver, Janurary 26, 2009
[21] Stuxnet Loaded by Iran Double Agents, ISSSource, April 11, 2012
[22] Did Stuxnet Take Out 1,000 Centrifuges at the Natanz Enrichment Plant? Institute for Science and International Security, December 22, 2010
[23] Report: U.S. Officials Tie Controversial Iranian Exile Group To Scientist Assassinations, Center for American Progress Action Fund, February 9, 2012
[24] Triple Blast at Secret Iranian Military Installation, Virtual Jerusalem, October 15, 2010
[26] U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site, The New York Times, Janurary 10, 2009
[27] Stuxnet worm is the 'work of a national government agency', The Guardian, September 24, 2010
[29] Code clues point to Stuxnet maker, BBC, November 19, 2010
[30] Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay, The New York Times, Janurary 15, 2011
[31] Ibid
[32] Ibid
[34] Iran has a Nuclear Power, Not a Weapons Program, 21st Century & Technology, December 2, 2011
[36] 50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons, Brookings Institute, August 1998
[37] Nuclear Weapons - Israel, Federation of American Scientists, January 8, 2007
[38] Iran: We do not want nuclear weapons, The Washington Post, April 13, 2012
[39] Foreign Terrorist Organizations, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, Janurary 27, 2012
[42] Stuxnet, Duqu Link Grows Stronger, ISSSource, January 3, 2012
[43] Ibid

Nile Bowie is an independent writer and photojournalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; he regularly contributes to Tony Cartalucci's Land Destroyer Report and Professor Michel Chossudovsky's Global Research Twitter: @NileBowie  

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Nigeria: Fertile Ground for Balkanization

By Nile Bowie

While the Sahel security crisis continues to deteriorate following Tuareg rebels’ declaration of an independent state in Mali’s troubled northern territory [1], recent events in Nigeria indicate a potential for increased regional instability. Boko Haram, a Salafist organization seeking to overthrow the secular administration of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, has recently killed 38 civilians in a suicide car bomb targeting nearby churches holding Easter services in the northern city of Kaduna [2]. As part of an ongoing campaign of sectarian violence, the group has strived to implement sharia law through the establishment of an Islamic State in northern Nigeria [3]. The group’s belligerent acts of violence claimed more than 500 lives during 2011 [4], prompting President Jonathan to call the current security crisis more dire than that experienced during 1967’s Biafran civil war, adding that jihadi sympathizers have successfully infiltrated his government and security agencies [5].

The group has claimed responsibility for the August 2011 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja [6], and its adoption of sophisticated tactics indicate that Boko Haram is receiving arms and training from abroad. Mainstream outlets can now be seen readying public opinion for an increased presence in Africa under the Right to Protect Doctrine (R2P) by warning of increased terrorist attacks in Europe, following shifts in Islamist activity away from Iraq and Afghanistan, to the "ungoverned spaces" of the Sahel [7]. While the ongoing War on Terror provides the needed justification for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to expand its base of operations throughout the Sahel and the troubled regions of east and central Africa, the modus operandi of Boko Haram indicates foreign nurturing in numerous mediums.

The Nigerian Tribune has reported that Boko Haram receives funding from different groups from Saudi Arabia and the UK, specifically from the Al-Muntada Trust Fund, headquartered in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia’s Islamic World Society [8]. During an interview conducted by Al-Jazeera with Abu Mousab Abdel Wadoud, the AQIM leader states that Algeria-based organizations have provided arms to Nigeria's Boko Haram movement "to defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders" [9]. It remains highly documented that members of Al-Qaeda (AQIM) and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who fought among the Libyan rebels directly received arms [10] and logistical support [11] from NATO bloc countries during the Libyan conflict in 2011. While top AFRICOM General Carter Ham claims terrorist networks pose a "real challenge" to the United States [13], warning of the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and the stock of chemical weapons they obtained after raiding Gaddafi’s weapons bunker [12], the confirmed reports accusing the US of arming and training Islamist terrorist groups remain safely neglected in official Pentagon press statements.

While NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis openly acknowledged the presence of Al-Qaeda fighters among Libya’s rebels [14], the New Yorker has recently confirmed that the US has trained members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq in Nevada [15], a US State Department listed terrorist organization (#29) [16] responsible for the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists [17]. As the UN warns that weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and explosives from Libya may reach Boko Haram [18], armed Tuareg fighters in northern Mali have been seen operating in army issue Toyota Hi-Lux technical trucks [19], armed with mortars, machine guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons originally belonging to the LIFG, al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan rebels [20]. UN reports also disclose that Boko Haram members from Nigeria and Chad had received training at Al-Qaeda camps in Mali in 2011 [21].

Nigerian recruits were reportedly trained in an earlier incarnation of AQIM, referred to as the Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la PrĂ©dication et le Combat (GSPC) [22], and superficial aspects of Boko Haram’s operations reflect Nigeria’s 1982 Maitatsine uprisings, a fundamentalism movement countering perceived government oppression [23]. As sectarian violence continues unimpeded, the prospects for a civil war between Nigeria’s economically dominant Christians in the South and marginalized Muslims in the North remains ever present. Although most Nigerians find themselves less divided by religious differences and more victimized by the nations notoriously corrupt political institutions, outside forces funding Boko Haram’s deplorable campaign of violence are bent on exploiting tension between Nigeria’s two largest religious groups.

A divided and warring Nigeria ultimately serves the interests of the United States as cited by Zbigniew Brzezinski, top adviser to Barack Obama and leading US foreign policy theoretician. Brzezinski, who co-founded the Trilateral Commission and openly credits himself with the creation of the Afghan Mujahideen [24], has influenced policy that encourages the division of existing nation-states by the succession and emergence of microstates, based on all cultural, ethnic and religious peculiarities. Author and historian Dr. Webster G. Tarpley writes, “For Africa, Brzezinski recommends the so-called ‘micro-nationalities’ concept, which means that national boundaries established in the 19th century should be swept aside in favor of a crazy quilt of petty tribal entities, each one so small that it could not hope to resist even a medium-sized oil multinational” [25].

Following the mass exodus of Chinese business interests during the Libyan conflict, a shattered Nigeria would ultimately create conditions where China’s growing cooperation with Abuja can be challenged and ultimately, disrupted. China has provided extensive economic, military and political support to Nigeria, an important source of oil and petroleum for Beijing. In addition to sponsoring Nigeria for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council [26], China has invested in Africa’s booming telecommunications market by building and launching a geostationary commercial satellite, owned by Nigeria and operated in Abuja, [27] as a gesture of increased partnership between the two nations. In 2010, China and Nigeria signed a $23 billion deal to construct three fuel refineries in Nigeria, adding an extra 750,000 barrels per day of domestic refining capacity [28].

While Algerian intelligence confirms a direct link between Boko Haram and western-financed AQIM [29], Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa claims to have visited Mecca with Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, where the group received financial and technical support from Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia (AQAP) [30]. While US officials acknowledge the presence of Al-Qaeda within the militant Syrian opposition [31], the Saudi Arabian Monarchy and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have created a multimillion-dollar fund to pay salaries to members of the rebel Free Syrian Army, to encourage soldiers to defect from the Syrian military and join opposition ranks [32], as part of an ongoing regime change program. A recently released subcommittee report issued by the United States Department of Homeland Security entitled “Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland” [33] further indicates the long-term objectives of counter terrorism operations in the region. The document reiterates the importance of sensitive resources within the Niger Delta region, and calls for using extrajudicial assassinations and unmanned aerial drone bombardments to combat the growing threat of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

The United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania conducted a series of African war game scenarios in preparation for the Pentagon’s expansion of AFRICOM under the Obama Administration. One scenario tested the US Africa Command’s capacity to respond to a disintegrating Nigeria on the verge of collapse amidst civil war, by sending 20,000 US troops to battle vying rebel factions seeking to control the Niger Delta oil fields [34]. At a press conference at the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, former AFRICOM Commander, General William Ward stated that AFRICOM would operate under the theatre-goal of “combating terrorism” to prioritize the issue of America’s growing dependence on African oil [35]. At an AFRICOM Conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller openly declared the guiding principle of AFRICOM is to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”, before citing China’s increasing presence in the region as challenging to American interests [36].

In 2007, US State Department advisor Dr. J. Peter Pham commented on AFRICOM’s strategic objectives of "protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance, a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment." [37] As covertly supporting terrorist organizations to achieve foreign policy aims appears to be the commanding prerequisite of foreign policy operations under the Obama Administration, Boko Haram exists as a separate arm of the US destabilization apparatus, aimed at shattering Africa’s most populous nation and biggest potential market. As Russia and China continue to assert themselves in the UNSC against calls to intervene on behalf of Syria’s militant opposition, the international community must adequately investigate the sources responsible for orchestrating insurgent activity in the Sahel and reprimand those parties accordingly.


[4] Nigeria stunned by Kano attacks that killed more than 150, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2012

[7] Mali's coup matters in London, too, The Guardian, April 3, 2012
[8] Boko Haram’s funding traced to UK, S/Arabia, The Nigerian Tribune, February 13, 2012
[10] France defends arms airlift to Libyan rebels, Reuters, June 30, 2011
[11] Surveillance and Coordination With NATO Aided Rebels, The New York Times, August 21, 2011
[13] Statement of General Carter Ham U.S. Army Commander, United States Africa Command, AFRICOM, February 29, 2012
[14] Libya: al-Qaeda among Libya rebels, Nato chief fears, The Telegraph, March 29, 2011
[15] Our Men in Iran? The New Yorker, April 6, 2012
[16] Foreign Terrorist Organizations, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, Janurary 27, 2012
[17] 'US operated deep in Iran, trained assassins', YNET News, April 8, 2012
[19] Arab Spring Bleeds Deeper into Africa, Asia Times March 24, 2012
[22] An Interview With Abdelmalek Droukdal, The New York Times, July 1, 2008
[23] Is Nigeria al-Qaeda’s new frontier? Geneva Centre for Security Policy, March 20, 2012
[24] How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen, Counterpunch, January 15, 1998
[25] Obama: The Postmodern Coup: Making of a Manchurian Candidate, Dr. Webster Griffin Tarpley, Progressive Press, 2008
[26] UN Security Council: China Backs Nigeria, AllAfrica, October 29, 2004
[27] China Builds And Launches A Satellite For Nigeria, The Washington Post, May 14, 2007
[29] Algeria says Nigeria's Boko Haram tied to al Qaeda, Reuters, November 13, 2011 
[31] Al-Qaeda infiltrating Syrian opposition, U.S. officials say, The Washington Post, February 17, 2012
[32] Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries to fund Free Syrian Army, The China Post, April 2, 2012
[33] Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland, United States Department of Homeland Security, 2011
[35] Ibid
[36] Ibid
[25] China and the Congo Wars: AFRICOM. America's New Military Command, Centre for Research on Globalization, November 26, 2008

Nile Bowie is an independent writer and photojournalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; he regularly contributes to Tony Cartalucci's Land Destroyer Report and Professor Michel Chossudovsky's Global Research Twitter: @NileBowie  

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Tension ahead of Pyongyang Missile Test

By Nile Bowie

As China declares fresh warnings of retaliation against any strike on Iran [1], the regime in Pyongyang shows no signs of aborting its upcoming controversial satellite launch, scheduled to take place on April 12th through to April 16th. The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will be launched southward from the Sohae satellite launch station in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province, using a long-range Unha-3 rocket; North Korean officials assured the international community that it would "strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes." [2] As Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak insinuate that Pyongyang’s upcoming satellite launch is a pretext to expand a program of nuclear terrorism [3], North Korea has invited the space agencies of eight countries, including Japan, the United States, China and Russia, and the European Space Agency to observe the launch [4].

While North Korea attempts to assure the transparency of its space program to the international community, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have both declined the invitation from Pyongyang [5]. Additionally, Japan has announced the extension of unilateral sanctions on North Korea for another year [6], including a trade freeze and visa ban, while the US has announced a suspension of 240,000 tones of food aid to North Korea, reportedly allocated for children and pregnant women [7]. While the feasibility of the proposed $850 million satellite launch is questionable given North Korea’s economic instability in recent times [8], the Washington consensus has used UN Resolution 1874 to impede what may rightfully be a peaceful technological investment to monitor the country's crops and natural resources, in a move to prevent further food insecurity.

UN Resolution 1874 was passed unanimously following the underground detonation of a nuclear device conducted on May 25th, 2009 in North Korea, imposing further economic sanctions on the country and authorizing UN member states to inspect North Korean cargo and destroy any materials suspected to be involved with the Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program [9]. While the 2009 test produced seismic activity measured at magnitude 4.7 [10], the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO) announcement that no radionuclides had been detected following Pyongyang’s test makes it difficult to prove that nuclear technology was in fact used at all [11]. Following a 2004 visit to North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear facility, US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker testified before US Congress that he saw no evidence of a nuclear bomb [12]; after visiting the facility again in November 2010, Hecker acknowledged the system’s increased capability, however noting that the experimental light-water reactor he was shown was still in the early stages of construction [13].

The accusations of North Korea’s ill-intentioned nuclear program appear highly suspect when tracing back the routes of technology it is accused of possessing. In 1994, the Swiss multinational giant Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) was awarded a $200 million contract with the North Korean government to install two light water nuclear power stations on the nation’s east coast following a deal with the US to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program [14]. Donald Rumsfeld, one of the Bush administration's most vocal opponents to North Korea, presided over the contract with Pyongyang when he was an executive director of ABB [15]. Although the US State Department claimed that the light water reactors could not be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington disputed the claims of the US Government, offering, “These reactors are like all reactors, they have the potential to make weapons. So you might end up supplying the worst nuclear violator with the means to acquire the very weapons we’re trying to prevent it acquiring.” [16] In 2002, the Bush Administration released $95 million US taxpayer dollars to begin construction of Pyongyang’s light water reactors, as part of the Agreed Framework [17].

The upcoming satellite test follows the failed launch of the Kwangmyongsong-2, which had fallen into the Pacific Ocean in April 2009 [18]. Mirroring the present day scenario, the United States, South Korea and Japan then accused the launch of being an opportunity to test technology that could be used in the future to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile [19]. Following a Presidential Statement issued by the United Nations Security Council condemning the launch [20], North Korea withdrew from the Six Party Talks [21], claiming that the UNSC infringed its right to peaceful space exploration embodied in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 [22]. The upcoming launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite coincides with the 100th anniversary of North Korea’s founding deity, Kim il-Sung. Both Japan [23] and South Korea [24] have vowed to intercept the Unha-3 rocket using AEGIS warships if it flies over the country’s territories. Pyongyang insists the launch does not violate any UN resolutions, following a Foreign Ministry spokesman who assured the international community that “North Korea will never give up the launch of a satellite for peaceful purposes." [25] 

The double standards imposed on North Korea remain ever apparent, as the international community remains silent as South Korea expands its arsenal of advanced military technology in an effort to become the world’s seventh largest arm exporter [26]. South Korea intends to import 60 fighter jets from Boeing with an enormous budget of $7.3 billion [27] and has recently agreed to an American Bunker Buster explosives arms agreement valued at $71 million [28], while North Korean ballistic technology appears to be constructed from components of Soviet origin suspected to be largely obsolete; analysts such as David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists' point out that the engines on the North’s Unha-2 launcher are based on Soviet technology developed in 1964 [29]. Upon closer examination, the threat on the Korean Peninsula is not as one-sided as the Washington consensus claims.

Following Pyongyang’s announcement in February assuring its readiness for “total war” with South Korea and the United States during joint war drills conducted near North Korea’s border and territorial waters [30], the isolated nation has yet again warned against the interception of its missile, “Nobody should dare encroach upon the sky above Pyongyang, sacred capital of the DPRK, and they are gravely mistaken if they think they can survive after attacking Pyongyang. Whoever intrudes into the territorial air and seas even an inch under any pretext and intercepts the DPRK satellite or collects its debris will meet immediate, resolute and merciless punishment by the DPRK” [31]. Furthermore, Pyongyang has accused Obama of exploiting instability on the Korean Peninsula to strengthen his re-election campaign, citing the Korean threat as a pretext to allow the US Congress to mandate further executive expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, despite the Pentagon’s serious budget shortage [32].

By allowing international experts to observe the planned launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, Pyongyang’s attempt to legitimize its peaceful intentions should be acknowledged. Although the Obama administration would like to appear as if they are in command of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, their actions indicate the limited leverage they have to affect the situation. The threat of North Korea has proven itself to be a valuable pretext for the continued presence of US military personnel in both South Korea and Japan. The US has worked to further marginalize North Korea to contain China, as construction begins for a controversial $970 million joint military base on South Korea’s Jeju Island [33], which would host up to 20 American and South Korean warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers once completed in 2014.

Washington’s decision to suspend food aid to North Korea ultimately works against its objectives of weakening the regime, as many citizens would further rely on Pyongyang’s food distribution system – irrespective to the moral argument of barring nutritional necessities to a nation that has previously experienced famine and cases of cannibalism [34]. An influx of foreign currency has ensured Pyongyang’s stability under its new leadership as China secures contracts to extract North Korea’s vast natural resources such as iron ore and coal, roughly valued at $6.1 trillion as of 2008 [35]. The US will continue to exploit the new regime’s eagerness to prove itself to the populace, as reports issued by the Council on Foreign Relations indicate its long-term program. The 2009 document entitled “Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea” [36] advocates a military contingency plan involving the stationing of up to 460,000 foreign soldiers into a post-regime North Korea to its capture nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. The document also highlights the need to form a compliant transitional government acquiescent to market liberalization and privatization. As the potential for debilitating conflict on the Korean Peninsula remains ever present, the international community must approach Pyongyang with increased diplomacy and embrace its attempts at transparency in whichever medium.

[5] Ibid
[9] Resolution 1874 (2009), United Nations, June 12, 2009
[10] Earthquake Details: Magnitude 4.7 - NORTH KOREA, United States Geological Survey, May 28, 2009
[12] Visit to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center in North Korea, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California, January 21, 2004
[13] North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex: A Report by Siegfried S. Hecker, Center for International Security and Cooperation, University of Stanford, November 20, 2010
[14] Rumsfeld was on ABB board during deal with North Korea, Swissinfo, February 24, 2003
[16] US grants N Korea nuclear funds, BBC, April 23, 2012
[17] Ibid
[18] North Korea space launch 'fails', BBC, April 5, 2009
[19] Obama Condemns North Korea Launch, Calls for Nuclear Free World, Voice of American News, April 5, 2009
[20] Statement by the President of the Security Council, United Nations, April 13, 2009
[21] DPRK Foreign Ministry Vehemently Refutes UNSC's "Presidential Statement", Korean Central News Agency, April 14, 2009
[23] Japan issues destroy order as NK rocket launch looms, Russia Today, March 31, 2012
[24] S. Korea threatens to gun down North’s rocket, Russia Today, March 26, 2012
[25] N. Korea: We will never give up satellite launch, Russia Today, March 27, 2012
[26] Drifting apart? The U.S. - ROK alliance at risk, The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, March 2009
[29] A post-launch examination of the Unha-2, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 29, 2009
[31] Interception of Satellite Would Be Regarded as Act of War: CPRK Spokesman, Korean Central News Agency, April 5, 2012
[33] Island’s Naval Base Stirs Opposition in South Korea, The New York Times, August 18, 2011
[35] South losing race for the North’s resources, Korea JoongAng Daily, January 18, 2011
[36] Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea, The Council on Foreign Relations, January 2009

Nile Bowie is an independent writer and photojournalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; he regularly contributes to Tony Cartalucci's Land Destroyer Report and Professor Michel Chossudovsky's Global Research Twitter: @NileBowie  

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mineral Resources behind US push to Africa

Originally posted as an exclusive report for End the Lie Independent News

As public interest in African affairs briefly found a place in mainstream talking points following a controversial viral video campaign about Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), both the United States and the African Union are mobilizing military forces to Central Africa to counter further threats to civilian safety posed by the group. Following the US deployment of one hundred military personnel to Uganda in 2011, the African Union has deployed a 5,000-solider brigade to LRA affected areas, tasked with pursuing the group and its leader, Joseph Kony [1]. In the United States, a new bill co-authored by U.S. Representative Edward Royce has been introduced to the Congress calling for the further expansion of regional military forces into the nations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and the newly formed South Sudan [2].

Although the Lord’s Resistance Army has been accused of recruiting child soldiers and conducting crimes against humanity throughout its two-decade campaign for greater autonomy against the Ugandan government, the group is presently comprised of less than four hundred soldiers [3] and remains a questionable threat. Meanwhile, China’s deepening economic engagement in Africa and its crucial role in developing the mining and industrial sectors of several nations is reportedly creating "deep nervousness" in the West, according to David Shinn, former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia [4]. As the Obama administration claims to welcome the peaceful rise of China on the world stage, recent policy shifts toward an increased US military presence in several alleged LRA hotspots threaten deepening Chinese commercial activity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, widely considered the world’s most resource rich nation [5].

As China maintains its record of consistently strong economic performance, Washington is crusading against China's export restrictions on minerals that are crucial components in the production of consumer electronics such as flat-screen televisions, smart phones, laptop batteries, and a host of other products. As the United States, European Union and Japan project international pressure on the World Trade Organization and the World Bank to block financing for China’s extensive mining projects [6], US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s irresponsible accusations of China perpetuating a creeping “new colonialism” of the African continent remain rather telling [7]. As China is predicted to formally emerge as the world’s largest economy in 2016 [8], the successful aggregation of African resources remains a key component to its ongoing rivalry with the United States.

The villainous branding of Joseph Kony may well be deserved, however it cannot be overstated that the LRA threat is wholly misrepresented in recent pro-intervention US legislation. The vast majority of LRA attacks have reportedly taken place in the north-eastern Bangadi region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, located on the foot of a tri-border expanse between the Central African Republic and South Sudan. However, the small number of deaths reported by official sources in recent times relies on unconfirmed reports where LRA activity is “presumed” and “suspected” [9]. Considering the Congo’s extreme instability after decades of foreign invasion, falsely crediting the LRA with the region’s longstanding cases of violence for political gain becomes relatively simple for those looking to gain enormous contracts for Congolese resources.

In a 2010 white paper entitled “Critical Raw Materials for the EU,” the European Commission cites the immediate need for reserve supplies of tantalum, cobalt, niobium, and tungsten among others [10]; the US Department of Energy 2010 white paper “Critical Mineral Strategy” also acknowledged the strategic importance of these key components [11]. In 1980, Pentagon experts acknowledged dire shortages of cobalt, titanium, chromium, tantalum, beryllium, and nickel, eluding that rebel insurgencies in the Congo inflated the cost of such materials [12]. Additionally, the US Congressional Budget Office’s 1982 report “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral” notes that cobalt alloys are critical to the aerospace and weapons industries and that 64% of the world’s cobalt reserves lay in the Katanga Copper Belt, running from southeastern Congo into northern Zambia [13].

During the Congo Wars of the 1996 to 2003, the United States provided training and arms to Tutsi Rwandan and Ugandan militias who later invaded the Congo’s mineral rich eastern provinces to pursue extremist Hutu militias following the Rwandan genocide. Although over six million deaths were attributed to the conflict in the Congo [14], findings of the United Nations suggest that neighboring regimes in Ugandan, Rwanda and Burundi benefitted immensely from illegally harvested conflict minerals, later sold to various multinational corporations for use in consumer goods [15]. The US defense industry relies on high quality metallic alloys indigenous to the region, used primarily in the construction of high-performance jet engines. The sole piece of legislation authored by President Obama during his time as a Senator was S.B. 2125, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006; Section 201(6) of the bill specifically calls for the protection of natural resources in the troubled regions of eastern Congo [16].

The Congo maintains the second lowest GDP per capita despite having an estimated $24 trillion in untapped raw minerals deposits [17]; it holds more than 30% of the world's diamond reserves [18] and 80% of the world's coltan [19], the majority of which is exported to China for processing into electronic-grade tantalum powder and wiring [20]. The control of strategic resources in the eastern Congo is a vital element of the ongoing US-China rivalry, as Chinese commercial activities in the DRC continue to increase in the fields of mining and telecommunications. The Congo exported $1.4 billion worth of cobalt to China between 2007 and 2008 [21], while the majority of Congolese raw materials like cobalt, copper ore and a variety of hard woods are exported to China for further processing [22]; 90% of the processing plants in resource rich southeastern Katanga province are owned by Chinese nationals [23].

In 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) blocked a trade deal between a consortium of Chinese companies, who were granted the rights to mining operations in Katanga in exchange for US$6 billion in infrastructure investments, including the construction of two hospitals, four universities and a hydroelectric power project. The framework of the deal allocated an additional $3 million to develop cobalt and copper mining operations in Katanga, but the IMF argued that the agreement between China and the DRC violated the foreign debt relief program for so-called HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) nations [24]. The marginalization of China by financial regulatory bodies is a strong indication of its throttling rivalry with American and European corporate communities, many of who fear being diluted in China’s increasing economic orbit.

While subtle economic warfare rages between partnered superpowers, the increasing western military presence in the Congo is part of a larger program to expand AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, through a proposed archipelago of American military bases in the region. In 2007, US State Department advisor Dr. J. Peter Pham offered the following on AFRICOM and its strategic objectives of "protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance, a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment" [25]. The push into Africa has more to do with destabilizing the deeply troubled Democratic Republic of the Congo and capturing its strategic reserves of cobalt, tantalum, gold and diamonds. More accurately, the US is poised to employ a scorched-earth policy by creating dangerous war-like conditions in the Congo, prompting the mass exodus of Chinese investors. Similarly to the Libyan conflict, the Chinese returned after the fall of Gaddafi to find a proxy government only willing to do business with the western nations who helped it into power [26]. The European Union’s recently offered contribution of $12 million to joint military operations against the ailing Lord’s Resistance Army suggests signs of a coming resource war in Central Africa [27].


[1] 5,000-strong brigade to hunt down Joseph Kony, Russia Today, March 24, 2012

[2] McGovern Royce Res Spotlights Kony and LRA, Edward Royce Official Website, March 16, 2012

[3] US Troops Deploy to Fight Lord's Resistance Army, Voice of America News, October 18, 2011

[4] Is the West losing out to China in Africa?, CNN, September 9, 2011

[5] Mining Companies Could See Big Profits in Congo, The OTC Investor, October 26, 2010

[6] Obama announces WTO case against China over rare earths, CNN, March 13, 2011

[7] Hillary Clinton Warns Africa Of 'New Colonialism', Huffington Post, June 11, 2011

[8] 2016: when China overtakes the US, The Guardian, April 27, 2011

[9] LRA Crisis Tracker, Invisible Children & Resolve, 2012

[10] Critical raw materials for the EU, European Commission, 2010

[11] Critical Minerals Strategy, US Department of Energy, 2010

[12] U.S. Strategic Cobalt Reserve Perilously Low, Pentagon Says The Pittsburgh Press, Sep 7, 1980

[13] Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral, Congressional Budget Office, September 1982

[14] Six million dead in Congo's war, Caritas Internationalis, 2011

[15] Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations, April 12, 2011

[16] S. 2125 (109th): Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006,, Dec 22, 2006

[17] DR Congo's $24 trillion fortune., The Free Library, February 1, 2009

[18] DR Congo poll crucial for Africa, BBC, November 16, 2006

[19] Congo's Coltan rush, BBC, August 1, 2001

[20] China and Congo's coltan connection, Project 2049 Institute, 2009

[21] China's Emerging Role in Africa, FOI Swedish Defense Research Agency, 2009

[22] Chinese Companies in the Extractive Industries of Gabon & the DRC: Perceptions of Transparency, Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Stellenbosch, August 2009

[23] China Lets Child Workers Die Digging in Congo Mines for Copper, Bloomberg, July 22, 2008

[24] African Voices, Global Choices: Impact on Human Rights, The New England School of Law
Boston, March 15, 2008

[25] China and the Congo Wars: AFRICOM. America's New Military Command, Centre for Research on Globalization, November 26, 2008

[26] Gaddafi demise leads to questions over contracts, Russia Today, October 20, 2011

[27] EU earmarks €9m for joint military operation against LRA, Sudan Tribune, March 25, 2012

Nile Bowie is an independent writer and photojournalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; he regularly contributes to Tony Cartalucci's Land Destroyer Report and Professor Michel Chossudovsky's Global Research Twitter: @NileBowie