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By Conn Hallinan
The recent decision by the Hague-based International Court of Justice
that the Chagos Islands — with its huge U.S. military base at Diego
Garcia — are being illegally occupied by the United Kingdom (UK) has the
potential to upend the strategic plans of a dozen regional capitals,
ranging from Beijing to Riyadh.
For a tiny speck of land measuring only 38 miles in length, Diego
Garcia casts a long shadow. Sometimes called Washington’s “unsinkable
aircraft carrier,” planes and warships based on the island played an
essential role in the first and second Gulf wars, the invasion of
Afghanistan, and the war in Libya. Its strategic location between Africa
and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India gives the U.S. access to
the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the vast Indian Ocean. No
oil tanker, no warship, no aircraft can move without its knowledge.
Most Americans have never heard of Diego Garcia for a good reason: No
journalist has been allowed there for more than 30 years, and the
Pentagon keeps the base wrapped in a cocoon of national security.
Indeed, the UK leased the base to the Americans in 1966 without
informing either the British Parliament or the U.S. Congress.
The February 25 Court decision has put a dent in all that by deciding
that Great Britain violated United Nations Resolution 1514 prohibiting
the division of colonies before independence. The UK broke the Chagos
Islands off from Mauritius, a former colony on the southeast coast of
Africa that Britain decolonized in 1968. At the time, Mauritius
objected, reluctantly agreeing only after Britain threatened to withdraw
its offer of independence.
The Court ruled 13-1 that the UK had engaged in a “wrongful act” and must decolonize the Chagos “as rapidly as possible.”
While the ruling is only “advisory,” it comes at a time when the U.S.
and its allies are confronting or sanctioning countries for supposedly
illegal occupations — Russia in the Crimea and China in the South China
The suit was brought by Mauritius and some of the 1,500 Chagos
islanders who were forcibly removed from the archipelago in 1973. The
Americans, calling it “sanitizing” the islands, moved the Chagossians more than 1,000 miles to Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they’ve languished in poverty ever since.
Diego Garcia is the lynchpin for U.S. strategy in the region. With
its enormous runways, it can handle B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers, and huge
C-5M, C-17, and C-130 military cargo planes. The lagoon has been
transformed into a naval harbor that can handle an aircraft carrier. The
U.S. has built a city — replete with fast food outlets, bars, golf
courses and bowling alleys — that hosts some 3,000 to 5,000 military
personnel and civilian contractors.
What you can’t find are any native Chagossians.
The Indian Ocean has become a major theater of competition between
India, the U.S., and Japan on one side, and the growing presence of
China on the other. Tensions have flared between India and China over
the Maldives and Sri Lanka, specifically China’s efforts to use ports on
those island nations. India recently joined with Japan and the U.S. in a
war game — Malabar 18 — that modeled shutting down the strategic
Malacca Straits between Sumatra and Malaysia, through which some 80
percent of China’s energy supplies pass each year.
A portion of the exercise involved anti-submarine warfare aimed at
detecting Chinese submarines moving from the South China Sea into the
Indian Ocean. To Beijing, those submarines are essential for protecting
the ring of Chinese-friendly ports that run from southern China to Port
Sudan on the east coast of Africa. Much of China’s oil and gas supplies
are vulnerable, because they transit the narrow Mandeb Strait that
guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Strait of Hormuz that
oversees access to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The U.S. 5th Fleet controls both straits.
Tensions in the region have increased since the Trump administration
shifted the focus of U.S. national security from terrorism to “major
power competition” — that is, China and Russia. The U.S. accuses China
of muscling its way into the Indian Ocean by taking over ports, like
Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan that are capable of
hosting Chinese warships.
India, which has its own issues with China dating back to their 1962
border war, is ramping up its anti-submarine forces and building up its
deep-water navy. New Delhi also recently added a long-range Agni-V
missile that’s designed to strike deep into China, and the right-wing
government of Narendra Mori is increasingly chummy with the American
military. The Americans even changed their regional military
organization from “Pacific Command” to “Indo-Pacific Command” in
deference to New Delhi.
The term for these Chinese friendly ports —”string of pearls” — was
coined by Pentagon contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and, as such, should
be taken with a grain of salt. China is indeed trying to secure its
energy supplies and also sees the ports as part of its worldwide Road
and Belt Initiative trade strategy. But assuming the “pearls” have a
military role, akin to 19th century colonial coaling stations, is a stretch. Most the ports would be indefensible if a war broke out.
Diego Garcia is central to the U.S. war in Somalia, its air attacks
in Iraq and Syria, and its control of the Persian Gulf, and would be
essential in any conflict with Iran. If the current hostility by Saudi
Arabia, Israel, and the U.S. toward Iran actually translates into war,
the island will quite literally be an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
Given the strategic centrality of Diego Garcia, it’s hard to imagine
the US giving it up — or rather, the British withdrawing their agreement
with Washington and de-colonizing the Chagos Islands. In 2016, London
extended the Americans’ lease for 20 years.
Mauritius wants the Chagos back, but at this point doesn’t object to
the base. It certainly wants a bigger rent check and the right
eventually to take the island group back.
It also wants more control over what goes on at Diego Garcia. For
instance, the British government admitted that the Americans were using
the island to transit “extraordinary renditions,” people seized during
the Afghan and Iraq wars between 2002 and 2003, many of whom were
tortured. Torture is a violation of international law.
As for the Chagossians, they want to go back.
Diego Garcia is immensely important for U.S. military and
intelligence operations in the region, but it’s just one of some 800
American military bases on every continent except Antarctica. Those
bases form a worldwide network that allows the U.S. military to deploy
advisors and Special Forces in some 177 countries across the globe. Those forces create tensions that can turn dangerous at a moment’s notice.
For instance, there are currently U.S. military personal in virtually
every country surrounding Russia: Norway, Poland, Hungary, Kosovo,
Romania, Turkey, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, and
Bulgaria. Added to that is the Mediterranean’s 6th Fleet, which
regularly sends warships into the Black Sea.
Much the same can be said for China. U.S. military forces are
deployed in South Korea, Japan, and Australia, plus numerous islands in
the Pacific. The American 7th fleet, based in Hawaii and Yokohama, is the Navy’s largest.
In late March, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships transited the Taiwan
Straits, which, while international waters, the Chinese consider an
unnecessary provocation. British ships have also sailed close to
Chinese-occupied reefs and islands in the South China Sea.
The fight to de-colonize the Chagos Islands will now move to the UN
General Assembly. In the end, Britain may ignore the General Assembly
and the Court, but it will be hard pressed to make a credible case for
doing so. How Great Britain can argue for international law in the
Crimea and South China Sea, while ignoring the International Court of
Justice on the Chagos, will require some fancy footwork.
In the meantime, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth calls the
Court decision “historic,” and one that will eventually allow the 6,000
native Chagossians and their descendants “to return home.”
By George W. Croner*
(FPRI) — Last week, while testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, William Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and the executive official who sits at the apex of the national security pyramid in terms of approving applications for foreign intelligence electronic surveillance in the United States, said he would scrutinize the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including whether “‘spying’ conducted by American intelligence agencies on the campaign’s associates had been properly carried out.”
Saying that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr promised to look into “the genesis and the conduct” of the FBI inquiry. “I think spying did occur,” Mr. Barr said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.”
Not surprisingly, Barr’s biggest advocate in encouraging such “exploration” appears to be his boss, the President of the United States who, within hours, one-upped Barr by insisting that “[t]here was absolutely spying into my campaign … I’ll go a step further, It was my opinion it was illegal spying unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
Yes, government spying on a political campaign is a “big deal;” so, one might think that someone as experienced as Barr with the fractious scene and nuanced speech of Washington politics might have chosen his words a bit more carefully. After all, the Attorney General’s continued opacity on the content of the Mueller Report and how much of that report anyone other than his inner circle at the Department of Justice might see tends to undermine, at least for now, his every statement on any of the events regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.
While Barr sought to mitigate the broader implications of his contention of “spying” by saying that he was not saying “improper surveillance occurred,” there was certainly no indication that his decision to lob this verbal accusation was intended to convey a belief that any and all surveillance employed was proper.
Given Barr’s apparent indifference towards casting aspersions at the FBI and, by implication given the record-to-date of this administration’s treatment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, that Community as a whole, it seems especially prudent to provide an abbreviated recounting of what is known about the FBI counterintelligence investigation that focused, at least in part, on contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. More or less chronologically, these are the most salient revelations that have been reported:
Trump was “briefed and warned” at the session about potential espionage threats from Russia, two former law enforcement officials familiar with the sessions told NBC News. A source close to the White House has said their position is that Trump was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians. However, according to public reports, by the time of the warning in late July or August 2016, at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to Russia. There is no public evidence that the campaign reported any of that to the FBI.
A full appreciation for the import of this factual recounting is best achieved by assessing it in conjunction with the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community as reflected in the Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian election interference issued by the Director of National Intelligence in January 2017. Again, without repeating the ICA’s content at length, its key judgments were:
Measured against this imposing
background of facts and intelligence analysis, and assuming that his
extemporaneous remarks purportedly embodied some level of prior
reflection, it is difficult to understand, and disturbing to consider,
what source(s) of information the Attorney General thought warranted
such an incendiary judgment about the conduct of this particular
The Carter Page FISA applications seem to be the most obvious target of Barr’s impromptu references to “spying” and “surveillance.” This is highly unfortunate for, aside from a certain coterie of conservative lawyers and Fox News zealots, those applications have been dissected by many legal scholars and have been widely accepted as properly approved by the FISC. Nonetheless, Barr’s ill-considered comments are certain to reopen debate on the most controversial element of those Carter Page FISA applications: the infamous “Steele Dossier.” The cabal of conspiracy theorists, energized by their beloved Fox News pundits, will now surely insist that their demonization of that Dossier has found new support from the country’s top law enforcement officer. In doing so, they will undoubtedly continue to misdirect their attention, and the attention of all those willing to be misled, to the raunchiest elements of that Dossier rather than focusing on the particular parts of the Dossier that address the activities of Carter Page—the only parts relevant to the FISC’s evaluation of whether there were sufficient facts upon which to find probable cause to approve the surveillance of Page.
As almost anyone with a passing interest in the counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference now knows, Christopher Steele was a former MI-6 agent working as a private investigator whose services, at the time the Dossier was compiled, had been retained by Fusion GPS to seek out information for the Clinton campaign that could be used to discredit the Trump campaign, an initiative begun in the 2016 primary season by Republicans opposed to a Trump candidacy. Steele’s efforts are recorded in a series of 17 memoranda (collectively, the “Dossier”), each titled as a “Company Intelligence Report” and serialized as “2016/xxx.”
Steele appears as “Source #1” in the
Page FISA applications, and the FBI told the FISC that Steele had been
“approached by an identified U.S. person [Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS]
who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm [Perkins Coie] had
hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate
#1’s [Trump’s] ties to Russia.” The FBI also told the FISC that it
“speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for
information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign”
adding that “[n]otwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the
research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s
previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided
reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s reporting
hereon to be credible.”
Of the 17 memoranda in the Steele
dossier, Carter Page is mentioned in only eight, and one of those was
drafted in December 2016—months after the Page surveillance was first
approved by the FISC. Summarized here are the Steele Dossier’s
references to Carter Page in the six dossier memoranda prepared prior to
the initial October 2016 FISA application.
Page was assuredly in Moscow in July 2016, and the trip had been approved by the Trump campaign. While he denied meeting with Sechin, in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Page admitted meeting with one of Sechin’s subordinates, Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, the huge Russian energy conglomerate over which Sechin reigns. Page also denied meeting with Divyekin, but, in that same November 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, admitted he had met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. In a July 2016 email to Trump campaign staffers, Page described that meeting with Dvorkovich as a “private conversation” and, in another July 2016 email to Trump campaign officials, also commented on the “incredible insights and outreach received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”
As is well known,
Manafort was, at one time, manager of the Trump campaign, and Page was a
“foreign policy advisor” to the campaign. Whether or not Manafort
specifically used Page as an “intermediary,” Page did meet with Russian
officials and discuss matters of interest to the Trump campaign.
Stein, Page, and Flynn all traveled to Moscow within a period of several months extending from late-2015 into 2016. Whether the Kremlin financed all, or any, of those trips has not been established.
release of the hacked DNC emails is well-documented. Whether Page had
any role in the strategy behind the WikiLeaks action has not been
As noted earlier,
Page denies meeting with Sechin, but, during his testimony before the
House Intelligence Committee, admitted meeting with a Sechin
subordinate, Andrey Baranov.
before the House Intelligence Committee confirmed meetings with Andrey
Baranov and Arkady Dvorkovich, and, as noted in the discussion of Steele
report 2016/094, his contemporaneous emails to the Trump campaign in
July 2016 alluded to “incredible insights and outreach received from a
few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential
administration [in Moscow].”
Admittedly, there is much more in the
Steele dossier than what is discussed here about Carter Page—and,
concededly, some of it is quite salacious and all of the prurient
content is unverified—at least publicly unverified since what is beneath
the redacted parts of the Page FISA applications remains unknown. But,
examining what the Dossier says about the activities of Carter Page
reveals truthful details about a July 2016 trip to Moscow where Page
did, in fact, meet with senior Russian officials purportedly on the very
topics about which Page spoke of in his public comments made in Moscow.
Page can deny meeting the individuals specifically identified in the
Dossier, but he has admitted to meetings with other Russian officials
while in Moscow in July 2016 and has documented those meetings in
communications sent to members of the Trump campaign.
Frequently overlooked, or ignored, in the discussion of the Carter Page FISA applications, is what the FBI knew about Carter Page aside from the Steele Dossier. Again, considerably more could be, and probably is, lurking beneath the multitude of redactions, but, by the time of the initial Carter Page FISA application in October 2016, the FBI knew: (1) that Page lived in Russia for 3 years (from 2004-2007) where he served as an adviser on “key transactions” involving PAO Gazprom and RAO UES; (2) that Page had been recruited by Russian intelligence agents in 2013 who commented on his willingness to “take on everything” and his “enthusiasm” in assisting the Russians while noting his eagerness to earn “lots of money” from his Russian contacts; (3) that, in August 2013, Page had identified himself as “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin;” (4) that shortly after joining the Trump campaign as an advisor, Page had been identified in the national press as an “out-and-out Putinite” with “a direct financial interest in ending American sanctions against Gazprom;” (5) that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, while serving as a member of the Trump campaign, and delivered a speech harshly critical of U.S. “Russian policy” and the Obama administration’s position on Russian activities in the Ukraine; and (6) that while in Moscow for his speech, Page met with Russian officials and, shortly thereafter, the Trump campaign successfully lobbied against any Republican support for providing lethal aid to the Ukrainians. Further, two emails written by Page while in Moscow in July 2016, and sent to other Trump campaign officials, recount that Page had a “private conversation” with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and commented on the “incredible insights and outreach received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” All of this was known to the FBI, without any mention of anything contained in the Steele Dossier—the origins of which the FBI disclosed to the FISC in a footnote that extends for over a page in each FISA application.
As acknowledged earlier, vast amounts of the hundreds of pages comprising the Carter Page FISA applications remain redacted and publicly unavailable. If Barr has seen more of those applications than is available to the public, or otherwise has insights into their content generally unknown to the public, he gave no such indication in his comments. If he was referring to other information known to him that supports the conclusion that there were investigative or surveillance “improprieties,” he did not elaborate. To the contrary, his subsequent comments to the Senate subcommittee allowed that he was “not saying that that improper surveillance occurred” but that “I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.”
Given what is
known about the Carter Page applications, it is difficult to imagine
language less considerate of the morale of the FBI or more likely to
play into the ongoing conspiracy theories surrounding the 2016 election
generated by both the president himself and his Fox News enthusiasts.
Part of the Attorney General’s portfolio is to promote public confidence
in the rule of law and the efficacy of the nation’s law enforcement
institutions. Barr’s performance achieved the exact opposite. If Barr
had internally pursued inquiries designed to satisfy himself as to
doubts or concerns that he harbored about any feature of the FBI
investigation, he was both entitled and, as Attorney General, arguably
duty-bound, to do so. However, his accusatory public comments, replete
with the loaded use of the descriptive term “spying” which conjures all
manner of negative connotations, was an exercise in both poor judgment
and questionable leadership. Regardless of his belated attempts to walk
back some, and qualify other, of his comments, he has created a mess
entirely of his own making, and assured that his handling of the Mueller
Report will be scrutinized by many with ever greater suspicion.
The Attorney General’s comments seem to assure that any determination that there were improprieties in this FBI counterintelligence investigation will be broadly disseminated; one can only trust that, should his promised “inquiry” conclude that the “spying” was, in Barr’s words, “adequately predicated,” then that determination will be equally well-publicized. The Attorney General now owes the Intelligence Community no less.
*About the author: George W. Croner, a Senior Fellow at FPRI, previously served as principal litigation counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the National Security Agency. He is also a retired director and shareholder of the law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., where he remains Of Counsel, and is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
Source: This article was published by FPRI
 Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.
 Michael Balsamo, “Trump: U.S. illegally spied on campaign,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 2019.
 I have recounted a good deal of this chronology in earlier articles published at fpri.org. See, e.g., The Carter Page FISA Applications: Much Risk to FISA, Little New Insight, But a Rebuff to the Nunes Narrative, FPRI E-Notes, July 23, 2018; Fact and Denial: Trump’s Inexplicable Refutation of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Conclusion of Russian Election Interference, FPRI E-Notes, July 18, 2018.
 Ken Dilanian, Julia Ainsley and Carol Lee, “FBI Warned Trump in 2016 Russians Would Try to Infiltrate His Campaign,” NBCNews, December 18, 2017, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwjAubO6vMvhAhXGVN8KHYgwBWkQFjAAegQIAhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcnews.com%2Fnews%2Fus-news%2Ffbi-warned-trump-2016-russians-would-try-infiltrate-his-campaign-n830596&usg=AOvVaw3h9qg8n3LPlW929-ci3Taz.
 Manu Raju, “GOP at a loss over Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks,” CNNPolitics, April 12, 2019, https://www.google.com/urla=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=15&ved=2ahUKEwi1kbiuvsvhAhUCmuAKHYi4BpUQFjAOegQIAxAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2019%2F04%2F11%2Fpolitics%2Frepublican-reaction-trump-wikileaks%2Findex.html&usg=AOvVaw161-W8Ph1Gl2PTg7bex5zz.
 Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections (UNCLAS) (the “ICA”), January 6, 2017 at 1. Available at https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf.
 I discuss the Intelligence Community Assessment and other reporting on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election in greater detail in Fact and Denial: Trump’s Inexplicable Refutation of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Conclusion of Russian Election Interference, FPRI E-Notes, July 18, 2018. https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/07/fact-and-denial-trumps-inexplicable-refutation-of-the-u-s-intelligence-communitys-conclusion-of-russian-election-interference/
 ICA at ii. The ICA reports that “[w]e have high confidence in these judgments.” Id.
 Certainly, The New York Times drew that immediate conclusion, commenting that: “Republicans in Congress have questioned the legality of that warrant because it used unverified Democrat-funded opposition research compiled into a dossier by Christopher Steele.” Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.
 See, e.g., Culper Rule of Law Series: Judge John Bates (available on Lawfare Podcasts) https://www.lawfareblog.com/lawfare-podcast-culper-partners-rule-law-series-judge-john-bates. Judge Bates, a former chief judge of the FISC speaking of the Carter Page FISA applications, states, inter alia, “I will note and note with some force that I have seen nothing that indicates that the court was misled, that the Department of Justice or the intelligence community made misrepresentations to the court. . . . And not only have I seen nothing that would indicate that, I have heard nothing that persuasively makes that case.”
These views largely reflect those that I have voiced in earlier articles on the Page FISA applications. See OutFoxed: The Vulpine Network Keeps Swinging and Missing at the Carter Page FISA Applications, FPRI E-Notes, August 16, 2019, https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/08/outfoxed-the-vulpine-network-keeps-swinging-and-missing-at-the-carter-page-fisa-applications/.
The Carter Page FISA Applications: Much Risk to FISA, Little New Insight, But a Rebuff to the Nunes Narrative,
FPRI E-Notes, July 23, 2018,
 Most of this discussion of the Steele Dossier is drawn from my earlier analysis of that Dossier, and the Carter Page FiSA applications, in OutFoxed: The Vulpine Network Keeps Swinging and Missing at the Carter Page FISA Applications, FPRI E-Notes, August 16, 2018. Nothing that has occurred or been revealed since I wrote OutFoxed in August 2018 suggests that any part of this analysis of the Dossier’s reporting on Carter Page is erroneous. Indeed, a December 2018 review of the Steele Dossier contrasting its content to what had been revealed in indictments arising from the Mueller investigation produced the conclusion that: “As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far.” Sarah Grant and Chuck Rosenberg, “The Steele Dossier: A Retrospective,” Lawfare, December 14, 2018.
 Artin Afkhami, “A Timeline of Carter Page’s Contacts with Russia,” Slate, November 7, 2017.
 Testimony of Carter Page, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, November 2, 2017.
 Stein and Flynn sat at Putin’s table in Moscow in December 2015 at the dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary for Russian television station “RT.” “RT,” as it turns out, was identified in the ICA as a principal conduit of Russian disinformation disseminated as part of Russia’s interference efforts with the 2016 election.
 Notably, Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI counterintelligence chief who is now an NBC News contributor, has commented that, considering what the FBI knew about Page’s activities, it would have been “malpractice” for the Bureau not to investigate.
 Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.
Given the history of India-Israel ties, not much will change regardless of the government in power in New Delhi.
By Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is a whisker away
from becoming prime minister for the fifth time, a record no Israeli
politician has ever achieved. It was not a cakewalk and his opponent,
Benny Gantz, a former army chief and the leader of the Blue and White
Alliance, and a former army chief, put up a creditable challenge winning
almost an equal number of seats in the 120-member Knesset, the Israeli
Parliament. What will tilt the balance in favour of Netanyahu’s
right-wing Likud Party are the other right-wing and ultra-orthodox
Jewish parties that are allied with the Likud. These allies are likely
to give the Likud coalition the majority in the Knesset with 65 seats.
In Israel, no one party has ever got a majority in the Knesset and all
governments since Israel’s independence in 1948 have been coalitions.
the charge on Twitter in congratulating Netanyahu were Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump. “My dear friend
Bibi, Congratulations! You are a great friend of India, and I look
forward to continuing to work with you to take our bilateral partnership
to new heights,” Modi said. Netanyahu also tweeted that President Trump
had telephoned to convey his congratulations. Echoing Modi’s “Sabka
Saath, Sabka Vikas”, Netanyahu claimed in his victory speech that he
will be the prime minister for all citizens regardless of their
political affiliation or their religion.
fought the election on his time-tested platform of security and being
the flag-bearer of protecting Israel from internal and external threats.
On the campaign trail he accused his opponent of allying with Israeli
Arab parties and preparing to create an independent Palestinian State.
With a helping hand from President Trump, Netanyahu also flaunted his
foreign policy success. Trump permitted the shifting of the United
States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move criticised by the
international community as against United Nations Security Council
resolutions. Just before the election, Trump also stated that the US
would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights,
giving Netanyahu another boost. This again led to international
criticism but both the Trump administration and Israel brushed it off.
peace in the region has been set back by the Netanyahu government but
blame must also be shared by the Palestinian leadership, divided between
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)/Palestinian Authority in
the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza. Between Trump and Netanyahu, we
may well see a proposal for a new peace plan, backed by important Arab
states, which have slowly drifted towards Israel in their anxiety to get
the upper hand in their regional struggle for supremacy with Iran. Not
too many details of this plan are available but speculation has it that
it will fall short of the “two-state solution” with pre-war 1967 borders
for Israel and Palestine, as per the UN resolutions.
has already declared that he plans to annex the Jewish settlements in
the West Bank, a move which will also directly challenge international
opinion and UN resolutions. There is little hope that Israel will
respect international opinion as long as the US backs the country. Saeb
Erakat, secretary-general of the PLO has commented bitterly that Israeli
voters have elected Netanyahu to continue the endless occupation of the
It may not be all
smooth sailing for Netanyahu. In February this year, the Israeli
attorney general decided to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and
breach of trust in three cases. Netanyahu is accused of accepting
expensive gifts from businessmen and handing out favours to media in
return for favourable publicity. These cases will now become active
after the election. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. If he is
charged in court, the Israeli supreme court may direct him to resign.
This Damocles’ sword could be a potential game changer.
India, Modi’s tweet indicates continuity in bilateral ties which have
been strengthened under the National Democratic Alliance government.
India has successfully navigated its relationships with all countries in
West Asia, insulating ties with individual countries and de-hyphenating
Israel from Palestine. Israel will continue to remain a strong defence
and technology partner for India. Given the history of India-Israel
ties, not much will change regardless of which government is in power in
This article originally appeared in Hindustan Times.
The European Commission said it welcomes Monday’s decision by the EU Council to adopt the negotiating directives for trade talks with the United States, thus continuing to deliver on the implementation of the Joint Statement agreed by Presidents Juncker and Trump in July 2018.
European Union Member States gave the Commission the green light to start formal negotiations with the U.S. on two agreements, one on conformity assessment, and the other on eliminating tariffs on industrial products. This is just three months after the European Commission had put forward the mandates and in line with the conclusions of the March European Council, during which EU leaders called for a “rapid implementation of all elements of the U.S.-EU Joint Statement of 25 July 2018”.
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The European Union is delivering on what President Trump and I have agreed on 25 July 2018. We want a win-win situation on trade, beneficial for both the EU and the U.S. Notably we want to slash tariffs on industrial products as this could lead to an additional increase in EU and U.S. exports worth around €26 billion. The European Union and the United States have one of the most important economic relationships in the world. We want to further strengthen trade between us based on the positive spirit of last July.”
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said: “This is a welcome decision that will help ease trade tensions. We are now ready to start formal talks for these two targeted agreements that will bring tangible benefits for people and economies on both sides of the Atlantic. I am convinced that breaking down barriers to trade between us can be win-win.”
The directives for the negotiations cover two potential agreements with the U.S.:
In line with the directives agreed by EU governments, the Commission
will further examine the potential economic, environmental and social
impacts of the agreement, taking into account the commitments of the EU
in international agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate
change. This assessment, as well as the negotiating process itself, will
be conducted in regular dialogue with the European Parliament, Member
States, civil society and all relevant stakeholders, in line with the
European Commission’s commitment to transparency. As part of its
engagement for an inclusive trade policy, the Commission is currently
running a public consultation on voluntary regulatory cooperation.
An economic analysis undertaken by the European Commission already indicates that an EU-U.S. agreement on eliminating tariffs on industrial goods would increase EU exports to the U.S. by 8% and U.S. exports to the EU by 9% by 2033. This corresponds to additional gains of €27 billion and €26 billion in EU and U.S. exports respectively.
As a direct result of President Juncker’s meeting with President
Trump on 25 July 2018, and the Joint Statement agreed by both sides, no
new tariffs were imposed, including on cars and car parts, and the EU
and the U.S. are working to eliminate all existing industrial tariffs
and improve cooperation.
Since July 2018, the EU and the U.S. have been working via the
EU-U.S. Executive Working Group to implement the actions agreed in the
In January 2019, the Commission presented to Member States proposals
for negotiating mandates to remove industrial tariffs and facilitate
conformity assessments with the United States. Today’s decision
finalises this approval process.
As regards other aspects of the Joint Statement, the United States is
now Europe’s main soya beans supplier and will soon be able to expand
its market further, following the decision by the European Commission to
launch the process for authorising the use of U.S. soya beans for
biofuels. The European Commission will release the latest figures
tomorrow. Recent figures have also shown a steep rise in shipments of
liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. in October and November 2018.
The EU has also identified a number of areas where voluntary cooperation
on regulatory issues with the U.S. could yield quick and substantial
This must be the season for treason. In the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, President Trump gave a lesson on American justice to the visiting South Korean …
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Subtle, hidden and everyday acts of resistance and defiance by people
with limited resources could have an impact on markets in societies
where state and religion is all-powerful.
These are the key findings of a new study, led by the University of
Portsmouth, which shows consumers and individuals can help markets to
evolve in societies where they cannot freely and openly participate in
The research, published in the Journal of Business Research,
found specific forms of behaviour that helped individuals resist strict
rules and structures, which in some cases led to the relaxation of
rules and different markets emerging.
The researchers studied the Iranian female fashion clothing market,
in which women are subject to strict state and religious control. The
hijab is compulsory; failure to wear one in public can result in
financial fines, police interrogation and even arrest.
The fashion clothing market in Iran is embedded within a strict
state-controlled market that doesn’t allow lay people with few resources
or power to participate in the shaping of that market. Yet despite
facing a massive imbalance of power, women are able to engage in some
subtle, mundane and at times hidden activities that help to shape that
While the state’s demand for modesty governs the market, it is the
demand from consumers, designers, retailers and activists that drives
the production, promotion, distribution and consumption of alternative
Dr Mahsa Ghaffari, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Sales at the
University of Portsmouth and lead author of the study, said: “Our
research shows the importance of consumers and individuals in forming
and reforming the rules and structures dictated by society. This can
lead to different markets rather than individuals being passive and
merely following the set rules without any input and modification based
on their wills and desires.”
A number (23 in total) of consumers, designers, retailers and social
activists were interviewed and three techniques were identified that
individuals undertook in their everyday lives to circumvent the state
rules and discipline they faced.
The first was ambidextrous practices, which involves finding ways
around constraints while avoiding confrontation with authorities. For
example, individuals would select places and times when morality police
officers were not present to practice their own desired clothing
choices, such as some restaurants in the elite areas of country’s
For retailers, ambidexterity means diversifying the range of clothes
they offer and ‘hide and seek’ tactics of hiding fashionable clothes
when authorities come to inspect their premises.
The second practice is secure networks. The presence of the state
has significant impact on the dynamics of the fashion market. To avoid
confrontation with authorities, designers and fashion entrepreneurs are
promoting their fashion in secrecy outside the policing gaze of the
state. They often shared their catalogues only with a network of
trusted consumers and organise private modelling shows in their
Stealthy defiance is the third technique. The researchers found
collective forms of defiance albeit in a disguised form, such as
educating women on their rights, connecting like-minded people on online
and offline platforms, and devising subtle strategies where people use
hijab to protest against compulsory hijab, to enable people with less
resources to change the conservative and religious prescription of the
government. One such social movement is White Wednesdays, where
participants protest the compulsory wearing of the hijab by wearing
Dr Ghaffari said: “These techniques reveal how less resourceful
individuals practice their wills and resist the rules to the extent that
it leads to a relaxation of rules and, in some cases, overturning the
rules. Also, we show how less resourceful individuals in a society,
which is not conducive to change, can engage with certain practices to
resist and modify the rules. For instance, nowadays the morality police
in Iran cannot arrest so called ‘bad hijab’ people. Also, we have now an
institution for fashion clothing under the remit of ministry of Culture
and Islamic guidance in Iran where fashion designers can get license
for their works instead of having underground boutiques and fashion
Spain has approved three national strategies on aerospace, civil protection and cyber security, with the consensus of the regional governments and contributions from experts from private enterprise and the business world in each of the three fields.
Speaking at the approval, made at a meeting of the National Security Council last Friday, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez highlighted the importance of the matters contained in these strategies, such as aerospace security, “because they define Spain’s position on the governance of two key spaces for our security: air space and outer space”.
Sánchez also stressed the importance for Spain of a National Civil Protection Strategy, for the first time ever, which seeks to reduce the risk of disasters and provide a comprehensive plan to tackle them.
As regards cyber security, Sánchez argued that “this is an important priority, since we are speaking about preserving the rights and liberties of our citizens, the defense of Spain and the transformation of our digital society, which is so necessary to make progress, for innovation and for industrial development”.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Fernando
Grande-Marlaska, presented a report on the security of electoral
processes under way deriving from the European Commission recommendation
to guarantee physical security and the security of information,
networks and systems in electoral processes that are being held in
different EU countries.
Furthermore, there is a multitude of
unprecedented overlapping electoral processes being held in Spain in
2019. Accordingly, the Ministry of Home Affairs has established a series
of measures, both on operational and preventive coordination and action
in order to place all the capabilities of the public authorities at the
service of citizens, to which end the Coordination Network for Security
in Electoral Processes has been set up, which seeks to guarantee the
development of electoral processes, safeguard personal details, cater
for the risk of cyber attacks and combat fake news.
Fernando Grande-Marlaska also presented the National Civil Protection Strategy which, in contrast to others, derives from Spain’s own experience and its disaster management model. This is the first strategy approved in Spain under the provisions of the National System for Civil Protection Act 2015 and the 2017 National Security Strategy. It seeks to reduce the risk of disasters and to provide a comprehensive plan to tackle them whenever people’s lives or health, State assets, the environment or economic development are at risk.
These risks include, inter alia, wildfires, flooding, adverse meteorological phenomena, risks of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or of a technological origin which, on occasions, may have a knock-on effect and although of relatively little probability or likelihood of occurring, may have a serious impact.
The Secretary for National Security and Director of the Presidency of the Government Office, Iván Redondo, was tasked with presenting the National Aerospace Security Strategy, which is one of the most original in the world.
Few countries have a security strategy that
focuses on the control of outer space and fewer still have similar
documents that join together, in a single strategy, the analysis of
security contingencies in both air space and outer space.
Both air space and outer space, which are open
and without visible borders, connect the world and allow for the free
movement of people, goods, services, information and ideas. Their
military, economic, industrial and communication implications explain
why the development of this National Aerospace Security Strategy
presents such a key step. The strategy contains the main threats in this
field: armed conflicts, terrorist actions, espionage, cyber threats,
the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the growing use of
unmanned aircraft for illegal purposes. It also defines the measures to
combat, reduce and neutralise these threats.
The Director of the National Intelligence Centre,
General Félix Sanz Roldán, presented the 2019 National Cyber Security
Strategy, which updates the 2013 strategy, and tackles new challenges
that have arisen in this field which is in permanent flux due to
technological developments. This strategy also provides for the creation
of a new National Cyber Security Forum, which combines collaboration
between the public and private sectors.
A former top FBI official has said special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report could offer enough evidence to allow Congress to launch impeachment proceedings …
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Education of children is one of the ambitious goals for sustainable development as a way to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters. Yet, a new study by a University of Maryland researcher published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that exposure to extreme heat and precipitation in prenatal and early childhood years in countries of the global tropics could make it harder for children to attain secondary school education, even for better-off households.
University of Maryland researcher Heather Randell, lead author who
conducted the synthesis study as a postdoctoral fellow at the National
Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, and co-author Clark Gray, of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that climatic
conditions affect education attainment adversely in multiple ways. In
Southeast Asia, which historically has high heat and humidity, exposure
to higher-than-average temperatures during prenatal and early childhood
has a harmful effect on schooling and is associated with fewer years of
attending school. In West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia,
greater rainfall in early life is associated with higher levels of
education. In Central America and the Caribbean, children who
experienced more than typical rainfall had the lowest predicted
Surprisingly, children from the most educated households were not
cushioned from the climate effects, and they experienced the greatest
penalties when they felt hotter and drier conditions in early life.
In the study, Randell and Gray investigated the links between
extreme temperature and precipitation in early life and educational
attainment in 29 countries in the global tropics. The research has
implications for determining vulnerability to climate change and
“If climate change undermines educational attainment, this may have a
compounding effect on underdevelopment that over time magnifies the
direct impacts of climate change,” the authors write. “As the effects of
climate change intensify, children in the tropics will face additional
barriers to education.” The authors expected that children from better
educated households would fare better, but found instead that climate
change could erode the development and education gains in the tropics,
even for better-off households, who have the most to lose as their
advantages wear away.
Randell explained that as children in the tropics feel the
intensifying effects of climate change, they will face additional
barriers to education and this is more evidence of the varied social
impacts of climate change. Policies to safeguard children in these
exposed populations, for example making sure pregnant women and young
children can get relief from high heat and humidity, or providing heat
or drought tolerant crop varieties, could limit long term impacts of
climate change, Randell explained.
“While these results may not be directly related to schools, they
are important factors in early life that affect a kid’s school
trajectory,” said Randell. “People rarely think about how kids’
education is directly linked to climate. But this is really important
given the extent that climate change is impacting extreme weather
events. We need to better understand what gains in education are
possible, and how climate change can act as a barrier to achieving the
Sustainable Development Goals. We have to take climate into account,
plan for it, and design policies to create more resilient populations
given that we know climate impacts are going to be worse in the next
Randell and Gray’s PNAS paper builds on their earlier study
published in 2016 in Global Environmental Change that found how climate
variability competes with schooling in Ethiopia and could lower
adaptive capacity for generations.
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists has issued a series of findings and recommendations on the safety of using dispersal agents in oil spill clean-up efforts in a report published this month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.
By measuring the level of a leading dispersal agent, dioctyl sodium
sulfosuccinate, in sea life following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill
in the Gulf of Mexico, the team was able to establish how long the
chemical lingers and what health effects it has on various organisms.
The scientists found the risks associated with using DOSS were minimal,
the team found that in areas where oil concentrations in water were more
than 100 milligrams per liter did increase the toxicity, though they
noted oil concentrations are typically much lower than that in most
Terry Hazen, the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National
Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Environmental Biotechnology, who is
known for his work on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts,
co-authored the report.
“One of the biggest concerns in cleanup efforts is the effect the
spill has on people’s health and livelihood,” Terry Hazen, University of
Tennessee faculty a University of Tennessee said. “It’s not just that
oil itself is harmful and potentially even flammable, but you have to be
careful what kind of chemicals you expose crews to while trying to
clean or contain the oil.”
The researchers also discovered that the testing methodology used
after spills is typically so varied that it is hard to draw broad
conclusions when comparing different spills.
To combat this, the team recommends the creation of some form of
standardized testing that would enable data to be correlated from one
spill to the next.
By Peter Welby*
The way the Houthis are viewed in the West never ceases to amaze me. We
seem incapable of learning from previous mistakes: Rebels are not good
simply because they are apparently the underdog.
If one wants to know whether rebels should be supported, analyze what
they say about matters unrelated to war. Hold them accountable for the
way they treat those under their rule. Find out where they come from and
what they want. Above all, don’t just look at what they publish for
external consumption, but also what they say to their own people.
By these measures, if you care about human suffering, you shouldn’t support the Houthis.
The Houthis don’t try to hide their true nature, which is revealed in
their core slogan: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, a
curse upon the Jews and victory to Islam.”
It is hardly surprising that a European hard-left filled with
anti-Semites who despise the US should find fellow travelers here. But,
sadly, that is not the only support the Houthis have in the West. At
least one prominent British Conservative MP appears to believe that the
Houthis are, in fact, the legitimate government of Yemen, and should be
recognized as such.
The essential problem is twofold: First, the war in Yemen is (to quote
the one-time UK leader Neville Chamberlain in a somewhat different
context) “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know
nothing.” The Houthis are extremists, but it is not a group that
particularly threatens the UK. Iran’s proxies are focused on terrorism
closer to home.
Second, as far as many in the West understand the war, it is fought
between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is not regarded as a civil war being
fought with outside support. And for many, particularly on the left,
opposition to Saudi Arabia is such that those who fight the Kingdom must
be regarded as good.
The battle remains to convince those with such simplistic views of the conflict to see its reality.
The Houthi movement that Al-Houthi heads is a family affair. It was
founded by his brother, Hussain, but the crucial figure in understanding
it is Badreddin Al-Houthi, his father, who died in 2010. Badreddin was a
Zaydi scholar who studied under Majd Al-Din Al-Muayyadi, the prominent
scholar appointed Grand Mufti of the Hijaz for Zaydi Muslims by King
When both Badreddin Al-Houthi (1926) and Al-Muayyadi (1913) were born,
North Yemen was ruled by a 1,100-year imamate of Zaydi Muslim sayyids —
descendants of the Prophet. During the Nasserite republican revolution
of 1962, Al-Muayyadi supported the royalist side, which lost. But he
soon came to terms with the new reality and began to apply his
scholarship to the issue of shart Al-Batnayn, the Zaydi
religious-political principle that the only legitimate rule should be by
a sayyid. He eventually came to the conclusion that this principle
didn’t apply in the modern political reality.
By contrast, his former student came to the view that where there was not a suitably qualified sayyid, then government could be held by non-sayyids. But this was second best.
This remains the view of the Houthi movement. The difficulty is that the
Al-Houthi family are sayyids. They have never said publicly whether
they regard themselves as suitably qualified to rule — but as they are
ruling the territories they control, it is safe to say that they regard
themselves as restoring legitimate rule to the sayyids.
There is another significant element of Zaydi doctrine that is crucial
in understanding — and in defeating — the Houthi rebellion. That is the
principle of resistance to oppression and the pursuit of justice.
Houthi claims that they launched their coup in 2014 to restore justice
ring false. To start with, Houthi representatives were part of the
transitional process, easily the greatest democratic exercise in Yemeni
history. They did not achieve all that they wanted, but they were not
But it is how they have ruled their territory that shows the greatest
flaw in their claim. As recent reports have noted, the Houthis have long
obstructed deliveries of aid unless there are “donations” to the Houthi
cause. They recruit children to fight, use human shields, and fire
rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas both within Yemen and in
Saudi Arabia. They launch attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. They break
agreements made in pursuit of peace — because the only peace they will
accept is total victory.
It is time that the West takes Yemen seriously. And that means taking
the Houthis seriously. They don’t pretend to be anything other than
religious extremists seeking an idealized state — a state that
Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi would rule.
• Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs,
specializing in the Arab world. He is based in London, and has lived in
Egypt and Yemen.
In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
an international research team, led from Uppsala University, discovered
kin relationships among Stone Age individuals buried in megalithic
tombs on Ireland and in Sweden. The kin relations can be traced for more
than ten generations and suggests that megaliths were graves for
kindred groups in Stone Age northwestern Europe.
Agriculture spread with migrants from the Fertile Crescent into
Europe around 9,000 BCE, reaching northwestern Europe by 4,000 BCE.
Starting around 4,500 BCE, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic
monuments, particularly for funerary practices, emerged along the
Atlantic façade. These constructions have been enigmatic to the
scientific community, and the origin and social structure of the groups
that erected them has remained largely unknown. The international team
sequenced and analysed the genomes from the human remains of 24
individuals from five megalithic burial sites, encompassing the
widespread tradition of megalithic construction in northern and western
The team collected human remains of 24 individuals from megaliths on
Ireland, in Scotland and the Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden. The
remains were radiocarbon-dated to between 3,800 and 2,600 BCE. DNA was
extracted from bones and teeth for genome sequencing. The team compared
the genomic data to the genetic variation of Stone Age groups and
individuals from other parts of Europe. The individuals in the megaliths
were closely related to Neolithic farmers in northern and western
Europe, and also to some groups in Iberia, but less related to farmer
groups in central Europe.
The team found an overrepresentation of males compared to females in the megalith tombs on the British Isles.
“We found paternal continuity through time, including the same
Y-chromosome haplotypes reoccurring over and over again,” says
archaeogeneticist Helena Malmström of Uppsala University and co-first
author. “However, female kindred members were not excluded from the
megalith burials as three of the six kinship relationships in these
megaliths involved females.”
The genetic data show close kin relationships among the individuals
buried within the megaliths. A likely parent-offspring relation was
discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site
and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange, about 2 km distance away from each other.
“This came as a surprise. It appears as these Neolithic societies were
tightly knit with very close kin relations across burial sites,” says
population-geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto of Uppsala University and
The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea is
embedded in an area with mostly hunter-gathers at the time. “The people
buried in the Ansarve tomb are remarkably different on a genetic level
compared to the contemporaneous individuals excavated from
hunter-gather-contexts, showing that the burial tradition in this
megalithic tomb, which lasted for over 700 years, was performed by
distinct groups with roots in the European Neolithic expansion,” says
archaeogeneticist Magdalena Fraser of Uppsala University and co-first
“That we find distinct paternal lineages among the people in the
megaliths, an overrepresentation of males in some tombs, and the clear
kindred relationships point to towards the individuals being part of a
patrilineal segment of the society rather than representing a random
sample from a larger Neolithic farmer community,” says Mattias
Jakobsson, population-geneticist at Uppsala University and senior author
of the study.
“Our study demonstrates the potential in archaeogenetics to not only
reveal large-scale migrations, but also inform about Stone Age
societies and the role of particular phenomena in those times such as
the megalith phenomena,” says Federico Sanchez-Quinto.
“The patterns that we observe could be unique to the Primrose,
Carrowmore, and Ansarve burials, and future studies of other megaliths
are needed to tell whether this is a general pattern for megalith
burials,” says osteoarchaeologist Jan Storå of Stockholm University.
Using the unique capabilities of telescopes specialised on cosmic gamma rays, scientists have measured the smallest apparent size of a star on the night sky to date. The measurements with the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) reveal the diameters of a giant star 2674 light-years away and of a sun-like star at a distance of 700 light-years.
The study establishes a new method for astronomers to determine the size of stars, as the international team led by Tarek Hassan from DESY and Michael Daniel from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) reports in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Almost any star in the sky is too far away to be resolved by even
the best optical telescopes. To overcome this limitation, the scientists
used an optical phenomenon called diffraction to measure the star’s
diameter. This effect illustrates the wave nature of light, and occurs
when an object, such as an asteroid, passes in front of a star. “The
incredibly faint shadows of asteroids pass over us everyday,” explained
Hassan. “But the rim of their shadow isn’t perfectly sharp. Instead,
wrinkles of light surround the central shadow, like water ripples.” This
is a general optical phenomenon called a diffraction pattern and can be
reproduced in any school lab with a laser hitting a sharp edge.
The researchers used the fact that the shape of the pattern can
reveal the angular size of the light source. However, different from the
school lab, the diffraction pattern of a star occulted by an asteroid
is very hard to measure. “These asteroid occultations are hard to
predict,” said Daniel. “And the only chance to catch the diffraction
pattern is to make very fast snapshots when the shadow sweeps across the
telescope.” Astronomers have measured the angular size of stars this
way that were occulted by the moon. This method works right down to
angular diameters of about one milliarcsecond, which is about the
apparent size of a two-cent coin atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris as seen
from New York.
However, not many stars in the sky are that “big”. To resolve even
smaller angular diameters, the team employed Cherenkov telescopes. These
instruments normally watch out for the extremely short and faint bluish
glow that high-energy particles and gamma rays from the cosmos produce
when they encounter and race through Earth’s atmosphere. Cherenkov
telescopes do not produce the best optical images. But thanks to their
huge mirror surface, usually segmented in hexagons like a fly’s eye,
they are extremely sensitive to fast variations of light, including
Using the four large VERITAS telescopes at the Fred Lawrence Whipple
Observatory in Arizona, the team could clearly detect the diffraction
pattern of the star TYC 5517-227-1 sweep past as it was occulted by the
60-kilometre asteroid Imprinetta on 22 February 2018. The VERITAS
telescopes allowed to take 300 snapshots every second. From these data,
the brightness profile of the diffraction pattern could be reconstructed
with high accuracy, resulting in an angular, or apparent, diameter of
the star of 0.125 milliarcseconds. Together with its distance of 2674
light-years, this means the star’s true diameter is eleven times that of
our sun. Interestingly, this result categorises the star whose class
was ambiguous before as a red giant star.
The researchers repeated the feat three months later on 22 May 2018,
when asteroid Penelope with a diameter of 88 kilometres occulted the
star TYC 278-748-1. The measurements resulted in an angular size of
0.094 milliarcseconds and a true diameter of 2.17 times that of our sun.
This time the team could compare the diameter to an earlier estimate
based on other characteristics of the star that had placed its diameter
at 2.173 times the solar diameter – an excellent match, although the
earlier estimate was not based on a direct measurement.
“This is the smallest angular size of a star ever measured
directly,” Daniel emphasised. “Profiling asteroid occultations of stars
with Cherenkov telescopes delivers a ten times better resolution than
the standard lunar occultation method. Also, it is at least twice as
sharp as available interferometric size measurements.” The uncertainty
of these measurements are about ten per cent, as the authors write. “We
expect this can be notably improved by optimising the set-up, for
example narrowing the wavelength of the colours recorded,” said Daniel.
Since different wavelengths are diffracted differently, the pattern is
smeared out if too many colours are recorded at the same time.
“Our pilot study establishes a new method to determine the true
diameter of stars,” Hassan summarised. The scientists estimate that
suitable telescopes could view more than one asteroid occultation per
week. “Since the same star looks smaller the farther away it is, moving
to smaller angular diameters also means extending the observation
range,” explained Hassan. “We estimate that our method can analyse stars
up to ten times as far away as the standard lunar occultation method
allows. All together, the technique can deliver enough data for
By M.A. Athul*
On March 30, 2019, a former
District Council member, identified as Seliam Wangsa, who was
campaigning for a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, Honchun
Ngandam, was killed by suspected militants at Nginu village in the
Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh. Ngandam is the BJP candidate for
the Arunachal Pradesh East parliamentary seat.
On March 29, 2019, suspected cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) shot dead Jaley Anna, a National People’s Party (NPP) worker, at Kheti village in the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh.
Seven-phase general elections
are in the process across the country, scheduled to be over by May 19,
with counting of votes scheduled on May 23. Polling in eight States of
the Northeast is scheduled in three phases, between April 11 and May 19.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), these are the only two incidents of killing reported from the region in the current year (data till April 11, 2019). During the corresponding period of 2018, such fatalities stood at 22 (seven civilians, five Security Force (SF) personnel and 10 militants. Through 2018, there was 71 such fatalities (18 civilians, 15 SF personnel and 38 militants). In comparison, 2017 witnessed 107 fatalities (35 civilians, 13 SF personnel and 58 militants). Significantly, overall fatalities, on year on year basis, have witnessed declining trend since 2015. There were a total of 469 fatalities (243 civilians, 22 SF personnel and 204 militants) in 2014; 278 (63 civilians, 49 SF personnel and 163 militants) in 2015; and 168 (63 civilians, 20 SF personnel and 85 militants) in 2016.
fatalities (71) recorded in the Northeast in 2018 were the lowest since
1992. At peak, the Northeast registered 1,696 fatalities (946 civilians,
151 SF personnel and 599 militants) in 2000.
Civilian fatalities declined
for the fourth consecutive year and stood at 18, in 2018, the lowest in
this category since 1992. The previous low of 34 civilian fatalities was
recorded in 2017. At peak, the Northeast recorded 946 civilian
fatalities in 2000.
Though the SFs managed to
maintain a positive kill ratio in 2018 as well, a trend well-established
since 2000, the ratio declined from 1:4.46 in 2017 to 1:2.53 in 2018.
SFs, however, arrested 605
insurgents in 2018 in addition to 726 insurgents in 2017. Mounting
pressure also led to the surrender of 48 insurgents, in addition to the
131 in 2017. 2019 has already recorded 162 arrests and 19 surrenders
(data till April 11, 2019).
Incidentally, except for Arunachal Pradesh, all the other six insurgency affected states – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura
– registered a declining trend in fatalities. Arunachal Pradesh saw 14
fatalities (one civilian, two SF personnel and 11 militants) in 2018, as
compared to six fatalities (all militants) in 2017. Although the State
has no indigenous militant movement, groups operating in Nagaland and
Assam uses its territories to transit to Myanmar, and some Nagaland
based groups have established operational capabilities in Naga inhabited
areas of the State as well. Tripura has only recorded one
insurgency-related fatality since 2015, in year 2017. Mizoram last
recorded an insurgency-related fatality in 2015 (three fatalities in one
incident). The eighth State in the Northeast, Sikkim, has always
remained insurgency free.
Unsurprisingly, other parameters of violence in the region also recorded remarkable improvement.
For instance, the number of
major incidents (each involving three fatalities or more) continued to
decline, with only five incidents (resulting in 18 fatalities) reported
in 2018. In 2017, the region had seen six major incidents resulting in
24 fatalities. There were 10 such incidents in 2016, resulting in 50
fatalities. No such incident has been reported in 2019, thus far.
Incidents of killing also saw a significant drop, with 52 such incidents, as compared to 73 in 2017 and 107 in 2016.
Varied factors, particularly the loss of safe havens in Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar,
have played a significant role in the decline of the insurgencies in
the Northeast. In the latest incident of such cooperation, Tatmadaw
(the Myanmar Army) targeted camps of Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs)
based in Myanmar. At least 20 Indian insurgents were killed in the
operations between February 17 and March 2. The operations also resulted in
the surrender of at least 11 militants. In a significant surrender, the
‘foreign secretary’ of the National Democratic Front of
Bodoland-Saraigowra (NDFB-S), Evangel Narjary aka Ne Esera, surrendered in the Mon District of Nagaland on March 24, 2019, along with his bodyguard.
Meanwhile, peace talks with
various insurgent groups continued through 2018, impacting directly on
the levels of violence in the region. According to the SATP database,
only 12 insurgent groups were found involved in incidents of killing in
the entire Northeast through 2018. These groups included NSCN-IM,
NSCN-Unification (NSCN-U), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Coordination Committee (CorCom), NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Dimasa National Army (DNA), NDFB-S, Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), Hmar Peoples Convention-Democracy (HPC-D) and United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I). It is pertinent to recall here that Northeast had over 125 active insurgent groups, at different times, since the Naga insurgency began in 1956.
Worryingly, the Naga insurgency
remains unresolved. On March 13, 2019, NSCN-IM reiterated its demand of
a separate flag and constitution. V. Horam a member of the NSCN-IM
steering committee stated,
|They (Government) can’t flee from the Framework Agreement, where the issues of shared sovereignty are clearly mentioned. We will start negotiation from the Framework Agreement and its development with the next government. It’s not our issue to think on about the Lok Sabha (lower house of Indian Parliament) polls. It’s their election, not ours.|
Separately, on March 22, 2019
NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah reiterated the demand of a
‘greater Nagaland’ declaring, “There has to be a national flag, not
symbolic cultural flag, and own constitution”.
These statements clearly demonstrate that the Union Government’s claims in 2015, while signing the Framework Agreement, and on several occasions thereafter, that the Naga insurgency is all but over, is misleading.
Indeed, a report by a Rajya Sabha panel, submitted to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on February 7, 2019, observed,
|The Committee, keeping in view the historical dynamics of insurgency, wishes to remind the Government that the most important aspect of any agreement with insurgents is the adequate rehabilitation and settlement programme for the cadres of the insurgent outfits. NSCN-IM, being the largest group in the entire region, would have thousands of cadres who must be adequately settled to make the agreement successful and to prevent the emergence of any splinter groups… the Government should, nevertheless, stay prepared for any scenario that may emerge in the aftermath of this agreement, and keep security forces on the alert.|
The Committee also urged GoI to
conclude the Naga peace talks, which started more than two decades ago,
and come to an agreement with stakeholders soon:
|The Committee apprehends that any further delay may harm the progress achieved during the last few years. The Committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the Government should conclude the peace talks, at the earliest, based on a broad understanding over the most contentious issues.|
Signficantly, the region saw multiple and widespread agitations and tendency to increasing polarisation through
2018 and thereafter. One of the primary issues was the Citizenship
Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016, (subsequently introduced as the Citizenship
Amendment Bill, 2019) which was passed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of India’s Parliament) on January 8, 2019. The Bill was not presented to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Parliament) owing to tremendous pressure by the people across States in the region. The agitations even jeopardised ongoing peace talks with the ULFA-Pro Talks Faction (ULFA-PTF), with the group’s leader Mrinal Hazarika stating,
|We will never allow the passing of the Bill. If the Bill is passed, Assam must be ready to revisit the era of 1983. The Government must be ready to face massacre-like situations.|
The insurgent violence in the Northeast, which was primarily founded on ethno-nationalist sentiments, has seen a continuous downward trajectory, creating opportunities to bring a lasting peace in the region. However, the gains which have been painstakingly consolidated by the security agencies, are being put at risk due to the myopic and polarizing policies of the political dispensations – at respective State as well as the Central level – with transient and narrow electoral calculations trumping the national interest. Such opportunistic and vote bank driven policies are likely feed ethno-nationalistic and separatist sentiments and narratives in the region, and have the potential to ramp up insurgent ideologies and identity-based agitations and movements.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
“Your honour, I represent the United States government”. The Westminster Magistrates Court had been left with little doubt by the opening words of the legal team marshalled against the face of WikiLeaks. Julian Assange was being targeted by the imperium itself, an effort now only garnished by the issue of skipping bail in 2012. Would the case on his extradition to the US centre on the matter of free speech and the vital scrutinising role of the press?
Thomas Jefferson, who had his moments of venomous tetchiness against the press outlets of his day, was clear about the role of the fourth estate. A government with newspapers rather than without, he argued to Edward Carrington in 1787, was fundamental so long as “every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” To Thomas Cooper, he would write in November 1802 reflecting that the press was “the only tocsin of a nation. [When it] is completely silenced… all means of a general effort [are] taken away.” The press provided the greatest of counterweights against oppressive tendencies, being the “only security” available.
Not so, now. The fourth estate has been subjected to a withering. The State has become canny about the nature of the hack profession, providing incentives, attempting to obtain favourable coverage, and, above all, avoiding dramatic reforms where necessary. An outfit like WikiLeaks is a rebuke to such efforts, to the hypocrisy of decent appearances, as it is to those in a profession long in tooth and, often, short in substance.
It has logically followed that WikiLeaks, the enemy of the closed press corps and an entity keen to remove the high priests of censorship, must be devalued and re-labelled. This has entailed efforts to delegitimise Assange and WikiLeaks as those of a rogue enterprise somehow detached from the broader issue of political reportage. In this, traditional media outlets and the security establishment have accommodated each other; the State needs secrets, even if they rot the institutional apparatus; exposing abuses of power should be delicate, measured and calm. Scandals and embarrassments can be kept to a minimum, and the political system can continue in habitual, barely accountable darkness.
The indictment against Assange is the clearest statement of this strategy. It insists on shifting the focus from publication and press freedoms, which would pit the legal wits of the prosecution against the First Amendment, to the means information is obtained. Unscrupulous method, not damning substance, counts. In this case, it is computer intrusion laced with the noxious addition of conspiracy, a criminal concept vague, flexible and advantageous to the prosecution. The other side of the bargain was, the document alleges, Chelsea Manning, who thereby gathered the “classified information related to the national defense of the United States” pursuant to a pass word cracking pact, relaying it to WikiLeaks to “publicly disseminate the information on its website.”
A delighted Hillary Clinton, as she has always done with Assange, revelled in the prosecutorial brief, approving of an approach she could scant improve upon. At a New York speaking event, with husband Bill also in attendance, she suggested that journalism and Assange were matters to disentangle, if not divorce altogether. “It is clear from the indictment that came out that it’s not about punishing journalism, it’s about assisting the hacking of the military computer to steal information from the US government”. Call it something else, and the problem goes away. “The bottom line is that he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it’s been charged.”
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin went one better than Clinton on John Berman’s New Day on CNN, doing away with any niceties, or impediments, British justice might pose to extradition efforts. “We’re going to extradite him. It will be really good to get him back on United States soil. So now he’s our property and we can get the facts and truth from him.” The Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Mark Warner has similarly given the hurry on to British courts to “quickly transfer” Assange in an effort to finally give him “the justice he deserves”. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who obviously thinks the Constitution is irrelevant in this whole affair, simply wants red tooth in claw revenge for Assange’s “meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government”. To Schumer, the issue of a security breach seems less important than avenging the lost Democratic cause against Donald Trump.
Media coverage of Assange’s efforts over the years have often centred on the tension between the mind blowing “scoop” and the pilfering “hack”. Scoop Assange is to be praised; Hack Assange is to be feared and reviled. The paper aristocrats such as The Washington Post and The New York Times have blown hot and cold on the subject. One study from 2014 in the Newspaper Research Journal, in assessing publications run in the two over the course of the Cablegate affair, showed a rejection on the part of The Grey Lady of WikiLeaks as a journalistic outfit, with the Post taking a different view.
The fault lines are now sharper than ever. Assange’s arrest has done much to out the security establishment gloaters. Their tactic is one of personalising character and defects, as if that ever made a difference to the relevance of an idea. Michael Weiss, writing for The Atlantic, is characteristically obscene, and does everything to live up to the national security establishment he praises. Assange was a man who “reportedly smeared faeces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers”. As he was pulled out of the Ecuadorean embassy he looked “very inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole.”
This grotesque exercise of equivalence – Assange the cartoonish beardo on par with a murderous dictator – has been supplemented by a general air of mockery, some of it more venal than others. Such behaviour has always been music to those who believe in the sanctity of the state. Guy Rundle of Crikey noted the same tendency of many a hack who had gathered outside the court to cover Assange’s trial. Their behaviour, in mocking Assange the man rather than Assange the publisher, “essentially validated every critique of mainstream media that WikiLeaks has ever made: that the profession is full of natural psychopaths, who spruik cynicism and call it even-handedness, who speak power to truth, who wilfully mistake the adrenaline rush of the micro-scoop and the petty scandal for genuine contestation.”
In this war of language, the treatment of Assange can only be seen as one thing: an act of muzzling a publisher framed as a computer security breach. In so doing, it criminalises the very act of investigate journalism, the sort that actually exposes abuses of power rather than meekly accommodating them.