Thursday, October 31, 2013

Polio Spreads in Syria; plus BBC audio - NSA Overreach and Public Overreaction

A Dread Disease Spreads in Syria
by Christopher Dickey Oct 30, 2013 12:51 PM EDT
Bio-terrorism by accident? Radical foreign jihadists allied with al Qaeda may be bringing polio with them into the war-ravaged country without even knowing it.

BBC Radio "World Have Your Say," 28 October 2013
Is there anything wrong with spying on your allies?
International attention has turned towards America as leaked documents reveal their National Security agency has secretly monitored countries and International leaders across the world. And more than a million people in Kenya have signed a petition after a group of men accused of gang raping a teenager, were ordered to cut grass as a punishment. The case caused national outrage and now campaigners are calling for police to accept that rape is not a misdemeanour, it is a serious crime.

(NOTE: This podcast only available for 7 days after first broadcast, so must be downloaded before November 4.)

DON'T MISS: Shadowland Flashbacks -- The columns we were writing a decade ago before, during and after the American-led invasion of Iraq. Updated daily.

Follow my articles on @csdickey and my photos @6ideas

Monday, October 28, 2013

Watch It While You Still Can: "Wolves at Westgate" Redux - The Inside Story report is offline, but KTN TV in Kenya has another report up. The video is even more graphic.

This 18-minute report from KTN raises many of the same issues as "Inside Story: Wolves at Westgate," which I posted earlier this month: Did the Al-Shabaab terrorists escape? Did a senior army officer die in a shootout between police and the military? Did the military loot the mall?

As Margot Kiser has reported from Kenya, the authorities are talking about prosecuting the journalists.

Egypt's Vendettas; Subversive Soap Operas; and flashes from the past

In Egypt's Countryside, Vendettas Between Police and Islamists Simmer
by Mike Giglio, Christopher Dickey Oct 28, 2013 5:45 AM EDT
The old blood feud between Egypt's Islamists and the security forces runs deep. And until it ends, the country may never have peace.

The World's Most Subversive Soap Operas
by Christopher Dickey Oct 27, 2013 5:45 AM EDT
From telenovelas about Latin America's missing girls to a series on conflict resolution in wartorn lands, soap operas are surreptitious agents of social change in the developing world. By Christopher Dickey.

Flashback to 2005: A Mysterious Death on Route Irish, Baghdad

Follow my articles on @csdickey and my photos @6ideas
For recaps follow-ups and footnotes, see The Shadowland Journal:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Soap Operas for Social Change Around the World

First, take a look at this story on The Daily Beast:

The World’s Most Subversive Soap Operas

From telenovelas about Latin America’s missing girls to a series on conflict resolution in wartorn lands, soap operas are surreptitious agents of social change in the developing world. By Christopher Dickey.

Then look at some of these videos:

"The Team" in Nepal, with beautiful Recha Sharma:

"The Team" in Yemen (with a no-nonsense woman coach):

And this moving scene between mother and son -- she a victim of rape, he the child born of it -- in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flashback: A Mysterious Death on Route Irish, Baghdad, 2005

Since the Newsweek archives are still inaccessible or lost, I will continue to post some of the pieces I have on my hard drive, just for the record. These two deal with a tragic event -- actually, several tragic events -- on the airport road in Baghdad in 2005.

Reality Checkpoints
Why did U.S. Soldiers shoot at the car carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena? Here’s the most likely scenario.

By Christopher Dickey
11 March 2005, Newsweek Online

            “I was terrified by checkpoints,” remembers Giandomenico Picco, who was the United Nations’ key hostage negotiator in Lebanon when so many Americans, Britons and Frenchmen were abducted there in the 1980s by factions of Hizbullah. In order to talk to the hostage takers, Picco would allow himself to be blindfolded and driven through back streets, following circuitous routes over uncertain political terrain in a land divided among feuding militias and occupied here and there by soldiers sent from Damascus. “There were Syrian checkpoints, there were god-knows-who checkpoints,” says Picco, pausing at the recollection. “Yes, I was afraid. Things can go wrong. Things do go wrong.”
            That’s what happened with Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena at an American checkpoint in Iraq last Friday night. She had been held for a month by a little known group of insurgents. She had pleaded pitifully for her life on videotape. After delicate negotiations and, according to the Italian press, a payment of several million dollars, the kidnappers finally released her. But on the road to Baghdad airport, U.S. troops opened fire on her car. Sgrena was wounded and the Italian intelligence officer who had negotiated her freedom, Nicola Calipari, was killed. Yes, things could go wrong, and they did.
            A lot of passionate and ill-founded accusations have been made since then, including some by Sgrena. Is it possible the Americans meant to shoot at her? Could they have wanted to teach a lesson to the Italians for paying ransom? If you’re conspiracy minded, you could dine out on that tale for a long time. But here’s the most likely scenario, based on what we know so far:
            Baghdad airport is right on the edge of town. The road there is short (roughly the same as from the White House to Reagan National). But it’s just about the most dangerous highway in the country. The American troops who patrol it come under fire all the time, and anyone who drives it risks attack by snipers, roadside explosives, and occasional suicide bombers. Last Friday night, the American soldiers on patrol had reason to be even more alert than usual. Somebody special was going to be using the road: U.S. ambassador and intelligence-czar-designate John D. Negroponte. That’s why the American soldiers on the road threw up a checkpoint where the highway is usually open, an embassy official in Baghdad tells me. They were ready to stop any suicide driver who might target the ambassador’s convoy.
            Calipari, Sgrena, and another Italian agent who was driving the little Toyota, knew nothing about Negroponte’s travel plans. But they had spent enough time in Iraq to know they were only a few hundred yards from the concrete barriers at Checkpoint 1, normally the first place you stop. After you’ve come through the hairiest stretch of that airport highway, Checkpoint 1 feels like home free, the first moment of real safety. They might even have accelerated to get there a little more quickly.
            Although Calipari had made calls to Italian officials to let them know he was on his way with Sgrena, it’s doubtful word had reached the roving American patrol that had staked out the airport highway on a stretch that’s usually unguarded. So, as the soldiers saw the Toyota coming at them, how much of a warning did they give?  How fast was the car traveling? Did the Americans there make hand signals, flash lights, and fire warning shots in a reasonable sequence before they opened up on the car – or did everything happen pretty much at once? Investigators will be looking into those questions for months to come. But on that road at 8:30 at night, when you have an unexpected car and an unexpected checkpoint, it’s a good bet somebody’s going to die. Things can go wrong, and will.
            Picco and I were talking this morning in the corridors of a summit conference on “Democracy, Terrorism and Security” convened in Madrid to mark the first anniversary of the terrible train bombings that took 191 lives last year. There are a lot of smart people here with good ideas about how to address  terrorist threats, both global and local. But Picco’s experience is especially valuable right now, because his particular contacts were with Hizbullah at the height of its terrorist rampage.
            Yesterday this “Party of God” showed its full strength as a political organization in the streets of Beirut. It turned out hundreds of thousands of supporters – by some estimates a million. The entire population of Lebanon is only about 4 milllion. Defying President Bush, who’s insisting that Syria beat a long overdue retreat from Lebanon, one message of the multitude was adamantly pro-Damascus, but that was not all. Hizbullah is still looking to define itself as the premier political party in the country.
            The speech by leader Hassan Nasrallah was not terroristic, it was essentially nationalistic, although there are a lot of gray areas between this group’s violent means and its political goals. “I was reminded of the language that the rank and file and Nasrallah himself would use when I met with them over the years,” said Picco, “this emphasis on their Lebanese character was always present. When I say rank and file, I mean even my ‘handlers’ in the car when I was blindfolded.”
            Hizbullah has come a long way since then, and in this new era of democratic euphoria sweeping the Middle East, yesterday’s demos pose a special problem for American policy. Hizbullah may be a terrorist group. It may be the last gun-toting militia in Lebanon, targeted for disarmament by the same U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 that demands Syrian withdrawal. But it’s now obvious that Hizbullah actually has achieved its goal to become Lebanon’s biggest and best organized political party. If there are free and fair elections in May, which is what Washington says it wants, what happens if Hizbullah wins?
            It’s tempting to see Lebanon’s polls as a checkpoint on the big political map. You’re expecting to see one thing, then you see another. Things can go wrong. Things do go wrong.

Body Counts
The Pentagon secretly keeps track of many grim statistic in Iraq, and the numbers are not encouraging.           

By Christopher Dickey
12 May 2005, Newsweek Online

The morning news from Iraq today brought fresh chronicles of slaughter. Yes, even more than usual. American troops are waging an offensive they call Operation Matador in a remote stretch of desert near the Syrian border, while suicide bombs are going off in Iraq’s towns and cities, including the capital. Who’s winning? Who’s losing? Who knows?
The military and political future of Iraq remains so uncertain that the Pentagon in recent months has gone back to the Vietnam-era practice of citing body counts as measures of success.  We’re told, for instance, that “as many as 100” insurgent fighters have been killed by the Matador forces. But of course that’s just a guesstimate, while the toll on the Americans and their Iraqi allies is all too concrete. Today alone, the insurgents managed to kill more than 60 would-be Iraqi military recruits and civilian bystanders in urban Iraq. The Americans are drawing lines in the sand, it would seem, while Tikrit and Baghdad are bathed in blood. Meanwhile, the total number of American dead in this war is now more than 1,600. And the Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. troops? Well, we’ll get back to that.
If there’s good news, it’s that while the Pentagon may obscure this grim reality in public presentations, it doesn’t seem to be kidding itself, as it did in Vietnam.  An accidentally declassified Pentagon report about a killing on the road to Baghdad Airport at the beginning of March shows quite clearly how much worse the overall situation is than the Bush administration would like us, or even its allies in the Coalition Forces, to believe.
“The U.S. considers all of Iraq a combat zone,” says the report, which was wrapped up at the end of April, three months after the elections that were supposed to have turned the tide in this conflict. “From July 2004 to late March 2005,” says the document, “there were 15,527 attacks against Coalition Forces throughout Iraq.” Then comes one of several paragraphs marked S//NF (secret, not for foreign distribution): “From 1 November 2004 to 12 March 2005 there were 3306 attacks in the Baghdad area. Of these, 2400 were directed against Coalition Forces.” In a span of four and a half months, which included the election turning point, that’s not only a hell of a lot of hits in the capital city, it’s just pure hell.
The report in question was prepared at the direction of the Multi-National Corps commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, to answer questions about a now-infamous incident on the night of March 4. Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena had just been released by the hostage-takers who’d held her for a month, and she was on her way to Baghdad airport with Nicola Calipari, a  major-general in the Italian intelligence service who had negotiated her freedom. At a U.S. roadblock on an access ramp leading to the airport highway, U.S. troops opened fire, wounding Sgrena and killing Calipari.
The sequence of events outlined in the report, which recommends “no disciplinary action be taken against any soldier involved in the incident,” was generally the way you might have figured at the time. “On that road at 8:30 at night,” as I wrote then, “when you have an unexpected car and an unexpected checkpoint, it’s a good bet somebody’s going to die.” The situation was made all the worse because the guys at the roadblock had only expected to be there about 15 or 20 minutes. Their mission was to close the road so John D. Negroponte, then the ambassador and now the U.S. intelligence supremo, could be driven more safely to an appointment near the airport. But the weather was so miserable, his staff couldn’t decide whether he’d be able to return to Baghdad in a chopper or go back in a car. While they dithered, tension mounted out on the rain-swept highway. The troops had been in position an hour when the Italians’ car came sweeping around the on-ramp.
Sgrena, and many others who are automatically suspicious of U.S. actions and motivations, continues to believe there may have been some sort of conspiracy or cover-up involved. Meanwhile the Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi certainly doesn’t want to have to admit that the shroud of secrecy surrounding the hostage negotiations – perhaps because a ransom was involved – put Calipari and Sgrena at such risk. According to the American report, an Army captain assigned as an aide-de-camp to the ranking Italian general in Iraq was the only American official who had any idea what Calipari was up to as he went off to meet with the kidnappers and free Sgrena. “It is best if no one knows,” the Italian general told the American captain. Certainly no one at the roadblock knew, the report says, and the rest is history.
After long delays, the American report was posted on the Web at the end of April with classified sections blacked out. But those sections could be restored, as it happened, with just a couple of mouse clicks that revealed all the S//NF material, including the names of every soldier at the checkpoint and the second Italian secret agent driving the car.
Under the heading “Atmospherics,” the author lays out the reasons the soldiers at the checkpoint were getting so jumpy – even though they acted according to the rules of engagement and within regulations. Everyone knows the 12-kilometer road from downtown Baghdad to the airport is dangerous. Here’s how dangerous: “(S//NF) Between 1 November 2004 and 12 March 2005, there were 135 attacks or hostile incidents that occurred along Route Irish,” as the military calls the airport highway. That’s about one attack per day during those months, by the Pentagon’s calculations, or, looking at it another way, 11.25 attacks per mile. There were nine “complex attacks” combining, say, the explosion of a roadside bomb along with small arms fire and mortars; there were 19 explosive devices found, three hand grenades, seven “indirect fire attacks” 19 roadside explosions, 14 rocket propelled grenades, 15 car bombs, and four other kinds of attacks. Investigators into the March 4 shooting had a grenade thrown at them when they tried to visit the scene. (Sgrena has suggested in some interviews that she was on a special road for VIPs when she was shot. In fact there’s only one highway to the airport, and this, sad to say, is it.)
Suicide bombs are the biggest threat. “The enemy is very skillful at inconspicuously packing large amounts of explosives into a vehicle,” says the report. “When moving, these [car bombs] are practically impossible to identify until it is too late.” The number of suicide attacks has been increasing steadily, including some using “multiple vehicles.” “Suicide [car bombs] are typically used against convoys, Coalition Force patrols, or Coalition checkpoints where they can achieve maximum damage,” says the report. “Such vehicles will rapidly approach the vehicle from the rear and attempt to get in between convoy vehicles before detonating.” The week of the March 4 shooting, 17 suicide bombs had gone off in Iraq, averaging 23 people killed per detonation. That average will be higher now.
As I write this, I can’t help but think about my friend Marla Ruzicka , who was killed on the airport road on April 16 while trying to pass a convoy, reportedly at just the moment when a suicide bomber struck. Because Marla’s passion was for helping people who’d suffered from the war, and because she had to deal with the military frequently to do that, she was sure that the same officials who kept such detailed numbers about everything else in the Iraq conflict had to be keeping a record somewhere of the civilians they killed and wounded. They always maintained they did not. But just before she died, Marla wrote a report with a partial number she said she’d received from U.S. military sources: 29 civilians killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad alone during firefights between U.S. troops and insurgents over the course of five weeks before April 5. Estimates of the total number of Iraqi civilian casualties in this war, calculated by reporters and human rights groups, have ranged from about 10,000 to the much-less-plausible 100,000. Does the Pentagon know? If so, it should tell.
In the meantime, without a doubt, the body counts will continue.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sorry Europe, The Second Oldest Profession is Here to Stay, plus France24 video

Sorry Europe, We're Still Spying
by Christopher Dickey October 25, 2013 01:00 PM EDT
European leaders are outraged at the NSA program but the spying will continue, says Christopher Dickey.

France24 Video: The World this Week - 25 October 2013
National dialogue getting underway in Tunisia to head off popular discontent, Obama has some explaining to do as it's revealed the NSA has spied on more than 30 world leaders and French football go on strike against higher taxes, all that and more on this week's show.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Calling Captain Crunch" - Beirut, Bombings, and Memory

I just published a column about the 30-year anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon.

A decade ago, just after the invasion of Iraq, I published this column about the 20-year anniversary of the blowing up of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. I would like to include a link to the piece in the Newsweek archives, but for the moment they appear to have disappeared in the transition from one owner of the magazine to another.

Shadowland: Calling Captain Crunch

How Aftershocks From The Bombing Of The U.S. Embassy In Lebanon 20 Years Ago Are Being Felt In Iraq Today

By Christopher Dickey | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Apr 17, 2003

I'd like to talk to Captain Crunch, if anybody knows where he is. Last I heard, he was on the graveyard shift, working as a cop in California. But I figure he'd have some things to tell us about Iraq as massive victory gives way to messy occupation.

He was in Nam with the Marines. And Central America for the CIA. And Lebanon in 1983, after that adventure turned so bad. The people who call him Crunch, the very few people, are ones who remember him from there.

It will be 20 years ago tomorrow that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown up, a footnote for the public, but a watershed in the secret history of the Middle East. More than 50 people were killed, including 17 Americans. At the time (what sheltered lives we led back then!) it was the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated against the United States, and the first suicide bombing. Eight of the dead Americans were with the CIA, and Crunch was sent by the Agency to figure out what the hell happened. By the time the investigation was terminated it had cost him his job, his reputation and put him on the road to the graveyard shift.

Some good books have touched on the embassy bombing. David Ignatius's worldly-wise first novel, "Agents of Innocence," ex-CIA agent Bob Baer's best-selling "See No Evil" and Ted Gup's "The Book of Honor," which describes the way a new kind of terror encroached on old illusions. "After that day in April 1983, the term 'diplomatic immunity' had a different, almost anachronistic ring," Gup writes. "The violence of the world would no longer stop at the embassy door or respect the lives of those engaged in representing nations ... No amount of protection could fend off a terrorist willing to sacrifice his own life to take the lives of others. It was often observed that the United States had to be vigilant all the time, but the terrorist only had to get lucky once." (Six months later, another suicide bomber blew up the U.S. Marines barracks near Beirut airport, killing 241. And four months after that, the Americans pulled out of Lebanon for good.)

Yet none of those books told Crunch's story, and from what I know of it, it's a tale with plenty of relevance today. Because the same players who hated us in Lebanon are at work in Iraq--Syrians, Iranians, Muslim zealots and cynical foreign-intelligence services--and they could target us there, too. That's one reason the Bush administration is sending out so many warnings just now, especially to Damascus. Forget the issues you hear about on the news. Everybody out here--at least every old timer who remembers the disintegration of Lebanon, the invasion by Israel, the introduction of American troops and the way they were slaughtered--understands the implicit message behind all these new threats from Washington: "Don't even think about doing to us in Baghdad what you did to us in Beirut."

But who really was the enemy 20 years ago? And who is the enemy now? That's the hardest thing of all things to know, because the Mideast is not a place where you're "either with us or against us." "Your friends are just as unreliable as your enemies," says Robert Dillon, who was the U.S. ambassador when the embassy was blown. Everything is situational, and Bob Baer got it just about right when he said, "The Middle East is a place wired to obscure the truth."

When I first came to the region in 1985, just two years after the bombing, I had this notion that if you gathered enough string on the Beirut bombing you could actually start to make some sense of the Middle East's many violent mysteries. But the more string I've gathered, the more tangled it's become.

My idea was to eventually write a book modeled loosely on Thornton Wilder's novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." It would start with one terrible moment and discover how a small group of people came to be in that place at that time. In this case, spies and soldiers, diplomats and terrorists. So I interviewed old Agency hands, and families, and witnesses and survivors, tracing the lives and the careers of the dead. One of those killed was Bob Ames, a former college basketball star who played for the good fathers at LaSalle, converted to Catholicism, married the daughter of a Navy officer and joined the CIA. He was, quite literally, All-American. And yet he was the secret connection between the CIA and the most bloodstained factions of the PLO at a time when, officially, there was no connection at all.

Another was Jim Lewis, a Green Beret who served in Vietnam and joined the Agency there, then stayed behind when the rest of America's troops were pulled out. When the south fell, he was captured and thrown in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" at Sontay. Because of his cover as a consular officer, he doesn't figure in most histories of the conflict. But he was the last known American prisoner of war to be released by the Vietnamese. When he married, he chose a Vietnamese woman as his wife. And on that same early afternoon in April 1983, she was working in the Beirut Station with him. They are buried now, head to head, in Arlington Cemetery.

I talked to the family of the Marine who was vaporized at the door of the embassy. And to the woman who was taken for dead when she was first dragged from the rubble. I saw, many times, the political officer who survived, and became an ambassador, but who always kept the same Iwo Jima Memorial calendar on his wall that he had in Beirut on the day of the bombing. You can still make out the faint outlines of his splattered blood on the page. He's now working on the New Iraq. I wonder if he has that calendar with him in Baghdad.

And I talked to many, many Lebanese--soldiers, bagmen, spymasters and informers--from that country's infinitely intricate world of shadows. They are the kind of men who will tell you with complete nonchalance that a car bomb is easy to make, the difficult thing is to prepare the driver. Or that torture is a tricky thing, because "if the subject is telling the truth, how do you know?"

But it wasn't until after I learned some of the details of Crunch's case that the death threats were directed at me.

Here are the broad outlines:

There was a suspect who died in a Lebanese prison, tortured to death. Crunch testified he wasn't there when it happened. Wasn't even in Lebanon. But Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey tried to blame him, and forced him out. Not, of course, because Casey cared about the dead suspect, or the methods used to make him confess, but because Casey wanted to distance himself and his agency from the whole affair. It had gotten too sordid, too complicated, even for the CIA. The threads leading from the blast site incriminated too many governments. Because Elias Nimr, the man who died, was not just another bomber. He appears to have been a double-, a triple-, a geometric-multiple-agent. He was a Christian Lebanese intelligence chief who was trained by the Israelis but allegedly worked secretly for the Syrians as paymaster for agents from Iran. Where did his loyalties really lie? Who knew about the embassy bombing? And did they know in advance? Every answer was a problem. And still is.

"Nobody wants to know about this," said one of Nimr's buddies in the Lebanese Forces. The speaker was one of the men who took part in the 1982 massacres of Palestinian women and children refugees at Sabra and Shatila, a militiaman who waded through blood for years, and made money at it. He owned a little restaurant in Paris when I met him. "If you ask these questions in Lebanon, you will be killed," he said, looking me in the eye. "And nobody will know who did it. And nobody will care."

Wherever I mentioned the name of the dead suspect, whether interviewing an ex-president of Lebanon or one of the State Department's top men or the agent and analyst who handled the Lebanon file for Israel, the name of Elias Nimr put a sudden chill on the conversation. And they would get up and leave the room, then return. Or make a sudden phone call. Or order coffee. They knew who he was. And the name made them nervous.

In July 1985, a Lebanese investigating magistrate blamed Nimr for the embassy bombing. But some of Nimr's old colleagues say he was just a victim of bloody interservice rivalries among Lebanon's covert warlords and had nothing to do with the case. And Bob Baer dismisses the Lebanese investigation as "a dog's breakfast of unsupported and politically motivated accusations." He says "no one paid any attention to it." Baer himself concluded, in his last months at the Agency, that "Iran ordered it and a Fatah network [part of Yasir Arafat's organization] carried it out," letting the Syrians off the hook.

The most difficult questions, however, are not just about who ordered the operation, but about who knew what, and when. Those have never been answered with any certainty, and now they probably never will be. The lingering mystery around the bombing implicated everyone, so no one really wants to clear it up. Of the six men who were arrested by the Lebanese, Nimr died under interrogation and the five others eventually were released by the Syrians, who've run all of Lebanon since 1990 with tacit U.S. approval.

In a sense, Crunch was lucky he was forced out of the Agency when he was. The CIA station chief who oversaw the investigation when he left was William Buckley, who was kidnapped and tortured to death by some of the same men who may have been linked to the bombing. At least Crunch got out alive.

Maybe it's still true that "nobody wants to know about this." Certainly it's a complicated past. But then, we've just entered a very complicated future. So Crunch, if you're out there, give me a call. I think we've got a lot to talk about.


Post Script: 

I have indeed been in touch with Crunch since this column was written. His name is Keith Hall and he came out of the shadows to participate in various projects, among them a video called "Heroes Under Fire: Captain Crunch," for which this is a trailer.

In the meantime, Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird has written a book about Bob Ames, The Good Spy, to be published next Spring. I am sure it will be worth reading.

What We Didn't Learn from the Beirut Bombing 30 Years Ago

We Learned Nothing
by Christopher Dickey October 23, 2013 06:27 AM EDT
30 years after the Beirut bombing killed 241 members of the U.S. military, Christopher Dickey says we have learned nothing.

Terrorism Is the Enemy of God
by Christopher Dickey October 22, 2013 05:45 AM EDT
Could the death of two Christian schoolgirls stem the tide of violence in Egypt? Christopher Dickey reports on the killings and a hopeful precedent from Egypt's past.


Audio: Does the US spy on all its friends? Now, it's France's turn to complain
An interview with PRI's The World, 21 October 2013

Of Interest: Wolves at Westgate - a stunning special report by KTN TV in Kenya about the attack on the Nairobi mall in September.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wolves at Westgate: A stunning special report on Nairobi mall attack from KTN TV in Kenya

This special hour-long report that aired over the weekend makes a compelling case that the four terrorists who carried out the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi a month ago may well have escaped that same night, and the so-called "siege" of the following days was, first, the result of conflicts between the Kenyan police and military -- including a shootout -- and then cover for looting by Kenyan troops. All this is corroborated circumstantially but persuasively by analysis of the surveillance videos.

The footage shows the way scores of bystanders were evacuated through a store room at the Nakumatt supermarket. Then, hours later, it shows the four killers calmly drinking water, chatting and saying prayers. One exits through the same door. Then one tilts the surveillance camera toward the ceiling. And that's the last that's seen of them.

The terrorists themselves are identified in this report citing "security sources." But the IDs conflict with other recent reports, including those focusing on a Norwegian of Somali descent named Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow. The KTN documentary names the man seen in the videos wearing a  black shirt or jacket, the presumed leader of the operation, as a supposed Sudanese national called Abu Bara al-Sudani.  Another killer is named as Omar Naban, a Somali national. The third is said to be Kataab al Qeni, an "Al-Qaeda trained Somali national." And finally, Omer al-Mogadish, a United States citizen of Somali descent. (Spellings are phonetic, based on the video. Al-Sudani and Al-Mogadish both sound like noms de guerre.)

CCTV from a branch of Barclay's Bank in Nairobi, taken earlier in September, shows a man identified as Abdikadir Haret Mohamed, who withdrew money to buy a car for the terrorists and purchased telephone SIM cards that they used, and which they left in the car when they went into the mall. One of Abdikadir's phones was linked to a woman named Suleika Hussein, who was arrested on her way to Mombasa after the attack. But there is no sign that any woman was involved in the actual assault.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Norway Connection to the Nairobi Mall Attack, and a short video clip of a surreal interview with a former hostage in Syria.

Nairobi Mall Attack: Al Shabaab's Scandinavian Connection
By Christopher Dickey, Oct 19, 2013 3:30 PM EDT
The first suspect in last month's terror attack at a Nairobi shopping mall comes from Norway – and may be linked to Al-Qaeda. Christopher Dickey reports.
A brief video clip from my 10 October 2013 interview
Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie, who was recently held captive in Syria for 81 days, recounts the surreal story of being forced to teach a Hawaiian-swimsuit-clad local militia leader how to swim. 'I was holding him like a baby for an hour,' says Alpeyrie, 'but by the end he could swim.'

Teaching a Syrian Warlord to Swim ... Literally

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recent stories on Murder, Prizes, Heroes, Hostages, Mullahs, and Monarchies

Murder Most Rare
by Christopher Dickey October 16, 2013 11:59 AM EDT
New York's homicide rate is at a record low. So why are the cops being treated as villains? Christopher Dickey talks to police chief Ray Kelly.

The Nobel Prize Goes to Who?
by Christopher Dickey October 11, 2013 08:33 AM EDT
The Nobel committee unexpectedly handed the award to an anti–chemical weapons group....

What Makes a Hero?
by Christopher Dickey October 10, 2013 07:45 PM EDT
Is heroism defined on the battlefield, the home front—or in everyday life? Christopher Dickey reports from the Hero Summit on three different leaders' definitions of a hero.

Abducted in Syria: My conversation with Jonathan Alpeyrie about 81 days as a hostage, the rebels he met, and swimming lessons ... October 10, 2013

Khamenei Eyes U.S. Shutdown
by Christopher Dickey October 06, 2013 09:22 AM EDT
Hardline Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may be a problem for Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Congress is an even bigger one, saysChristopher Dickey.

The Last Arab Safe Haven
by Christopher Dickey October 05, 2013 12:05 AM EDT
The kingdom is the safest place in a dangerous neighborhood—but for how long?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reading from The Complete Poems of James Dickey

Christopher Dickey (photo), Ward Briggs and Ron Rash read from The Complete Poems of James Dickeyat the Southern Festival of Books over the weekend.

Humanities Tennessee made an audio recording of the reading, which we hope to share with you soon.

Monday, October 07, 2013

For Lewis King: The Last of the Deliverance Generation

These lines may not have been written about Edward Lewis King, Jr., nor for him, but they are of him, I think. Without him, James Dickey might never have found the river, might never have gone on the night hunt:

I stand in my own coming sleep,
A tall spirit ready to wind
LIke a ball of bright thread the wild river
All night around the still form
That shall lie exposed in the open,
Sustained at the heart of the danger
I have passed in the thickets this night
Which shall keep me safe till I wake
   And rise, and fall away.

Rest in peace, Lewis, the last of the generation of Deliverance, who died on September 12, in Sautee, Georgia.!/20588644/1

Recent articles: Khamenei and Congress--Which is the biggest obstacle to nuke negotiations?; Jordan -- The Last Safe Haven; Roma Worries in France; Obama Policy -- Make Threats, Not War

Khamenei Eyes U.S. Shutdown
by Christopher Dickey October 06, 2013 09:22 AM EDT
Hardline Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may be a problem for Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Congress is an even bigger one, says Christopher Dickey.

The Last Arab Safe Haven
by Christopher Dickey October 05, 2013 12:05 AM EDT
The kingdom is the safest place in a dangerous neighborhood—but for how long?

Gypsies: Tramps and Thieves?
by Christopher Dickey, Alice Guilhamon October 04, 2013 05:45 AM EDT
The ugly debate over what to do about these transplants from Eastern Europe has divided a nation still grappling with its behavior during the Holocaust.

Obama's War By Other Means
by Christopher Dickey September 28, 2013 11:09 AM EDT
The historic phone call with Iran's president shows the threat of military action accomplishes a lot – as long as you don't use it.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Better Angels and Killer Angels: The Tea Party's Secessionist Roots

The Tea Party's "rule or ruin" fanaticism is remarkably familiar to those of us who've studied the years leading up to the American Civil War. Lloyd Green has written an informative piece about the secessionist roots of today's demagogues on The Daily Beast. I first touched on it in a column I wrote for Newsweek Online three years ago, which still seems relevant. I am posting the text here because Newsweek's archives are in transition. But it should also be available here.

Better Angels and Killer Angels 
By Christopher Dickey
President Barack Obama loves to quote the lyrical closing lines of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, calling on “the better angels of our nature” to overcome partisan hatreds and political divisions. Obama cited those words in his own inaugural proclamationand rested his hand on Lincoln’s Bible when he took the oath of office. He has come back to those angels again and again ever since. A search of Google and the White House Web site turns up half a dozen examples. He used the phrase to eulogize Ted Kennedy, to chide a would-be Quran burner in Florida, and to say goodbye to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Obama, it seems, sees better angels just about everywhere. Even as he traveled in India this week he talked about his efforts to live up to the example of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and, yes, Abraham Lincoln.
But in light of today’s real-world politics, Obama should think a little harder about the context in which Lincoln summoned those better angels on March 4, 1861. Led by South Carolina (now home to Sen. Jim DeMint), seven of 33 states had already seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy at that point. Only days before Lincoln took office, he had to sneak into Washington in the lonely hours before dawn because of an assassination plot. The month after his inauguration, the South fired on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War in earnest.
If, in the end, Lincoln did manage to hold the Union together, it was not because of the better angels of human nature, but because he finally found the killer angels among his generals who could, and did, and at enormous cost, crush the secessionists.
These basic facts about a moment of history that Obama obviously holds dear are worth going over again right now because, in fact, the secessionists of 1860 are the ideological forebears of the Tea Party movement today. No, the United States is not on the verge of another violent breakup, not close at all, even if Tea Party icons like Gov. Rick Perry in Texas or some of Sarah Palin’s friends and relatives in Alaskamay toy with the notion of secession. But there is in American politics today a discourse of such cupidity, bigotry, and self-delusion about the role of government that it would have been familiar to anyone following the rhetoric of the Southern “fire-eaters” pushing the country toward a conflagration 150 years ago.
As Douglas R. Egerton points out in his fascinating new history, Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War, the radical secessionists were willing to do just about anything, including destroy their own national party, in order to get their way. “They planned to ruin so they could rule,” writes Egerton.
The rhetoric in 1860, as now, was essentially about throwing off the burden of federal authority, getting rid of the tariffs and taxes Washington imposed, and protecting private property from the depredations of central government. There was one essential difference back then, of course: the private property in question in 1860 was human. But the fire-eaters of the Old South never put the emphasis on “human,” they always put it on “property,” and they pointed to their (white man’s) rights enshrined in Article I, Article IV, and the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which declared no person can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” If this meant, perversely, that human chattel who were not considered persons could be torn away from their families, beaten, raped, and killed at the whim of their owners, and often were, that was less important to the secessionists than a strict interpretation of America’s founding document. They might have talked about states’ rights and the right to liberty, and many did then, as many do now, but the core freedom defended by those activists of 1860 was the freedom to enslave black people and to spread their racist system of forced labor across the continent.
What is striking about Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address is that he actually accepted much of this argument. While appealing to the better angels of human nature, he openly compromised with the worst instincts of society and reached out to offer reconciliation with the most violent political currents in American life. He did not speak out against slavery where it existed, only against its spread. Then he called on those better angels to hold the Union together. It didn’t work.
But Lincoln had an ally then of a kind that Obama could use now. Lincoln’s old rival from Illinois, Stephen Douglas, whose party had been split by the fire-eaters and whom Lincoln defeated at the polls, became a wise and vital friend. In the months between the inauguration and Douglas’s early death in June 1861, the “little giant,” as he was known, spent many long hours talking to Lincoln about how best to preserve the Union—and compromise wasn’t part of the picture.
When word of the attack on Sumter reached Washington, Douglas immediately went to the White House, where he found Lincoln alone at his desk. As Egerton writes, Lincoln confided that he planned to call up 75,000 volunteers to fight for the Union. “Make it 200,000,” Douglas shot back. He spent the few remaining weeks of his life rallying his supporters to back the federal government, calling for the recapture of Sumter and the earliest possible invasion of the Confederate states. “You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men as I do,” he told Lincoln.
What both of those great politicians understood by then was that there may be better angels in the nature of some people, but there are others who are willing to weaken, even destroy a nation to serve their own self-righteous self-interest, and they will do it in the name of the Constitution. If Obama hasn’t learned that yet, perhaps it’s time he did.
Christopher Dickey’s history of diplomacy and espionage in the Civil War era will be published in 2015. He is also the author most recently of Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—The NYPDchosen by The New York Times as a notable book of 2009.