In February 1979, police in south-eastern Australia arrested six people. The suspects were members of the Croatian nationalist scene that agitated against Communist Jugoslavija and they had planned to commit a series of attacks against symbols of Marshal Tito’s regime that could have killed hundreds of Australians. Except they hadn’t, as Hamish McDonald, a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, shows in Framed (2012). Despite the “Croatian Six” being convicted for terrorism and spending a decade in prison, the reality of what had happened was nearly the exact opposite—and at least some powerful people in the Australian government knew or suspected as much from the get-go. Continue reading
To even pose the question is, for most of us, to be already well-advanced down the road of madness that leads to saying the U.S. federal government murdered President John F. Kennedy. Dr. David Kaiser’s The Road to Dallas (2008) rejects such vast conspiracy theories, as it does the notion of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer. Kaiser instead argues for a more limited conspiracy, led by the mob bosses of mid-20th century America, and originating in the grey-zone where that world met the Cuban exile community and the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to bring down Fidel Castro. Continue reading
In less than a week, it will be the seventeenth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s “Plane’s Operation”, the assault on the United States. It is a vertiginous enough reflection that many of us have been alive more years since 11 September 2001 than before it, and positively alarming that many of those who will soon move into the government, media, and other leading societal institutions will have been born after an event that still shapes so much of the international scene. As Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan put it in The Eleventh Day: The Ultimate Account of 9/11 (2011), we are left with “the brief name ‘9/11’,” the context and meaning stripped away all this time later. The book is a useful overview of an event that should always be to some degree fresh in mind, though it is not without its problems in its analytical sections. Continue reading
Operation TIMBER SYCAMORE, the formally-covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has, since approximately 2012, ostensibly provided support to vetted Syrian rebel units fighting against Bashar al-Asad’s regime. This program, begun by President Barack Obama, was never raised to a level that could alter the course of Syria’s conflict in favour of the opposition, and indeed one of its most concrete effects was denying certain categories of heavy weapons to the rebellion. While providing subsistence to some rebels, the program was mostly a political instrument, shielding Obama from criticism as he tilted U.S. policy in Asad’s favour by empowering his patron, Iran. President Donald Trump abandoned even this fig-leaf of opposition to Asad in July 2017, announcing the end of the program, a termination that went into effect last month. Continue reading
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
The Turkish government has gotten more and more deeply involved in Syria since the uprising began in 2011. But Turkey now finds its original aim, namely the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, unattainable, creating tensions with the Syrian armed opposition, its primary lever inside Syria, and there are considerable problems stabilizing the zone of Syria that came under Turkish occupation after Ankara’s direct intervention in 2016. The defeat of Turkey’s primary objective has been accompanied by the rise of further problems, notably the exacerbation of its longest-standing internal security threat, that posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan – PKK), and the generation of new internal threats, from the Islamic State (IS) and potentially from al-Qaeda-linked groups. The options for solving these problems are constrained and unpalatable. Continue reading