JAMES CROMITIE WAS A MAN of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once said.

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine, Cromitie had lots of worries—convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real big,” he’d say. “I just feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood asked.

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.


Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?” he offered. “Two Stingers, rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed Hussain, and he was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a franchise model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry out attacks in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference announcing another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see our charts page and searchable database.)
Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.)
In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded—making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.
Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented a man caught in a 2004 sting involving New York’s Herald Square subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly is willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna Six, an alleged terror cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say, ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 2010 speech to Muslim lawyers and civil rights activists. President Obama’s Department of Justice has announced sting-related prosecutions at an even faster clip than the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since January 2009. With the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous conflict, the FBI doesn’t have an exit strategy.

LOCATED DEEP IN A WOODED area on a Marine Corps base west of Interstate 95—a setting familiar from Silence of the Lambs—is the sandstone fortress of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This building, erected under J. Edgar Hoover, is where to this day every FBI special agent is trained.

J. Stephen Tidwell graduated from the academy in 1981 and over the years rose to executive assistant director, one of the 10 highest positions in the FBI; in 2008, he coauthored the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG (PDF), the manual for what agents and informants can and cannot do.

A former Texas cop, Tidwell is a barrel-chested man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He’s led some of the FBI’s highest-profile investigations, including the DC sniper case and the probe of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

On a cloudy spring afternoon, Tidwell, dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, drove me in his black Ford F-350 through Hogan’s Alley—a 10-acre Potemkin village with houses, bars, stores, and a hotel. Agents learning the craft role-play stings, busts, and bank robberies here, and inside jokes and pop-culture references litter the place (which itself gets its name from a 19th-century comic strip). At one end of the town is the Biograph Theater, named for the Chicago movie house where FBI agents gunned down John Dillinger in 1934. (“See,” Tidwell says. “The FBI has a sense of humor.”)

Inside the academy, a more somber tone prevails. Plaques everywhere honor agents who have been killed on the job. Tidwell takes me to one that commemorates John O’Neill, who became chief of the bureau’s then-tiny counterterrorism section in 1995. For years before retiring from the FBI, O’Neill warned of Al Qaeda’s increasing threat, to no avail. In late August 2001, he left the bureau to take a job as head of security for the World Trade Center, where he died 19 days later at the hands of the enemy he’d told the FBI it should fear. The agents he had trained would end up reshaping the bureau’s counterterrorism operations.

Before 9/11, FBI agents considered chasing terrorists an undesirable career path, and their training did not distinguish between Islamic terror tactics and those employed by groups like the Irish Republican Army. “A bombing case is a bombing case,” Dale Watson, who was the FBI’s counterterrorism chief on 9/11, said in a December 2004 deposition. The FBI also did not train agents in Arabic or require most of them to learn about radical Islam. “I don’t necessarily think you have to know everything about the Ku Klux Klan to investigate a church bombing,” Watson said. The FBI had only one Arabic speaker in New York City and fewer than 10 nationwide.

But shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush called FBI Director Robert Mueller to Camp David. His message: never again. And so Mueller committed to turn the FBI into a counterintelligence organization rivaling Britain’s MI5 in its capacity for surveillance and clandestine activity. Federal law enforcement went from a focus on fighting crime to preventing crime; instead of accountants and lawyers cracking crime syndicates, the bureau would focus on Jack Bauer-style operators disrupting terror groups.

To help run the counterterrorism section, Mueller drafted Arthur Cummings, a former Navy SEAL who’d investigated the first World Trade Center bombing. Cummings pressed agents to focus not only on their immediate target, but also on the extended web of people linked to the target. “We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to become an operator, and we want to catch them when they step over that line to operator,” Cummings says. “Sometimes, that step takes 10 years. Other times, it takes 10 minutes.” The FBI’s goal is to create a hostile environment for terrorist recruiters and operators—by raising the risk of even the smallest step toward violent action. It’s a form of deterrence, an adaptation of the “broken windows” theory used to fight urban crime. Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there hasn’t been a successful large-scale attack against the United States since 9/11. But what can’t be answered—as many former and current FBI agents acknowledge—is how many of the bureau’s targets would have taken the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.

SO HOW DID THE FBI BUILD its informant network? It began by asking where US Muslims lived. Four years after 9/11, the bureau brought in a CIA expert on intelligence-gathering methods named Phil Mudd. His tool of choice was a data-mining system using commercially available information, as well as government data such as immigration records, to pinpoint the demographics of specific ethnic and religious communities—say, Iranians in Beverly Hills or Pakistanis in the DC suburbs.

The FBI officially denies that the program, known as Domain Management, works this way—its purpose, the bureau says, is simply to help allocate resources according to threats. But FBI agents told me that with counterterrorism as the bureau’s top priority, agents often look for those threats in Muslim communities—and Domain Management allows them to quickly understand those communities’ makeup. One high-ranking former FBI official jokingly referred to it as “Battlefield Management.”

Some FBI veterans criticized the program as unproductive and intrusive—one told Mudd during a high-level meeting that he’d pushed the bureau to “the dark side.” That tension has its roots in the stark difference between the FBI and the CIA: While the latter is free to operate internationally without regard to constitutional rights, the FBI must respect those rights in domestic investigations, and Mudd’s critics saw the idea of targeting Americans based on their ethnicity and religion as a step too far.

A guide to counterterrorism jargon.

1001: Known as the “Al Capone,” Title 18, Section 1001 of the federal criminal code covers the crime of lying to federal agents. Just as the government prosecuted Capone for tax violations, it has frequently used 1001 against terrorism defendants whose crimes or affiliations it couldn’t prove in court.
Agent provocateur: An informant or undercover operative who incites a target to take unlawful action; the phrase originally described strikebreakers trying to provoke violence.

Assessment: The term for a 72-hour investigation—which may include surveillance—that FBI agents can launch without having a predicate (see below).

COINTELPRO: From 1956 to 1971, the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program attempted to infiltrate and sometimes harass domestic political groups, from the Ku Klux Klan to the National Lawyers Guild and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

DIOG: The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, a 258-page FBI manual for undercover operations and the use of informants. Recently revised to allow agents to look for information—including going through someone’s trash—about a person who is not formally being investigated, sometimes to flip them as an informant.

Domain Management: An FBI data-mining and analysis program used to map US communities along ethnic and religious lines.

Hip pocket: An unregistered informant who provides information and tips to FBI agents but whose information is not used in court.

Joint Terrorism Task Force: A partnership among federal and local law enforcement agencies; through it, for example, FBI agents can join forces with immigration agents to put the squeeze on someone to become an informant.

Material support: Providing help to a designated foreign terrorist organization. This can include money, lodging, training, documents, weapons, and personnel—including oneself, and including joining a terrorist cell dreamed up by the FBI.

Operator: Someone who wants to be a terrorist; in the FBI’s view, sympathizers become operators.

Predicate: Information clearly suggesting that an individual is involved in unlawful activity; it’s required for the FBI to start an investigation.

Nonetheless, Domain Management quickly became the foundation for the FBI’s counterterrorism dragnet. Using the demographic data, field agents were directed to target specific communities to recruit informants. Some agents were assigned to the task full time. And across the bureau, agents’ annual performance evaluations are now based in part on their recruiting efforts.

People cooperate with law enforcement for fairly simple reasons: ego, patriotism, money, or coercion. The FBI’s recruitment has relied heavily on the latter. One tried-and-true method is to flip someone facing criminal charges. But since 9/11 the FBI has also relied heavily on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with which it has worked closely as part of increased interagency coordination. A typical scenario will play out like this: An FBI agent trying to get someone to cooperate will look for evidence that the person has immigration troubles. If they do, he can ask ICE to begin or expedite deportation proceedings. If the immigrant then chooses to cooperate, the FBI will tell the court that he is a valuable asset, averting deportation.

Sometimes, the target of this kind of push is the one person in a mosque who will know everyone’s business—the imam. Two Islamic religious leaders, Foad Farahi in Miami and Sheikh Tarek Saleh in New York City, are currently fighting deportation proceedings that, they claim, began after they refused to become FBI assets. The Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center has filed similar complaints on behalf of seven other Muslims with the Department of Homeland Security.

Once someone has signed on as an informant, the first assignment is often a fishing expedition. Informants have said in court testimony that FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a specific target or “predicate”—the term of art for the reason why someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent.

“The FBI is now telling agents they can go into houses of worship without probable cause,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “That raises serious constitutional issues.”

Tidwell himself will soon have to defend these practices in court—he’s among those named in a class-action lawsuit (PDF) over an informant’s allegation that the FBI used him to spy on a number of mosques in Southern California.

That informant, Craig Monteilh, is a convicted felon who made his money ripping off cocaine dealers before becoming an asset for the Drug Enforcement Administration and later the FBI. A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Monteilh has been a particularly versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, and a Sicilian drug trafficker. He says when the FBI sent him into mosques (posing as a French-Syrian Muslim), he was told to act as a decoy for any radicals who might seek to convert him—and to look for information to help flip congregants as informants, such as immigration status, extramarital relationships, criminal activities, and drug use. “Blackmail is the ultimate goal,” Monteilh says.

Officially, the FBI denies it blackmails informants. “We are prohibited from using threats or coercion,” says Kathleen Wright, an FBI spokeswoman. (She acknowledges that the bureau has prevented helpful informants from being deported.)

FBI veterans say reality is different from the official line. “We could go to a source and say, ‘We know you’re having an affair. If you work with us, we won’t tell your wife,'” says a former top FBI counterterrorism official. “Would we actually call the wife if the source doesn’t cooperate? Not always. You do get into ethics here—is this the right thing to do?—but legally this isn’t a question. If you obtained the information legally, then you can use it however you want.”

But eventually, Monteilh’s operation imploded in spectacular fashion. In December 2007, police in Irvine, California, charged him with bilking two women out of $157,000 as part of an alleged human growth hormone scam. Monteilh has maintained it was actually part of an FBI investigation, and that agents instructed him to plead guilty to a grand-theft charge and serve eight months so as not to blow his cover. The FBI would “clean up” the charge later, Monteilh says he was told. That didn’t happen, and Monteilh has alleged in court filings that the government put him in danger by letting fellow inmates know that he was an informant. (FBI agents told me the bureau wouldn’t advise an informant to plead guilty to a state criminal charge; instead, agents would work with local prosecutors to delay or dismiss the charge.)

The class-action suit, filed by the ACLU, alleges that Tidwell, then the bureau’s Los Angeles-based assistant director, signed off on Monteilh’s operation. And Tidwell says he’s eager to defend the bureau in court. “There is not the blanket suspicion of the Muslim community that they think there is,” Tidwell says. “We’re just looking for the bad guys. Anything the FBI does is going to be interpreted as monitoring Muslims. I would tell [critics]: ‘Do you really think I have the time and money to monitor all the mosques and Arab American organizations? We don’t. And I don’t want to.'”

SHADY INFORMANTS, OF COURSE, are as old as the FBI; one saying in the bureau is, “To catch the devil, you have to go to hell.” Another is, “The only problem worse than having an informant is not having an informant.” Back in the ’80s, the FBI made a cottage industry of drug stings—a source of countless Hollywood plots, often involving briefcases full of cocaine and Miami as the backdrop.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that one of the earliest known terrorism stings also unfolded in Miami, though it wasn’t launched by the FBI. Instead the protagonist was a Canadian bodyguard and, as a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper put it in 2002, “a 340-pound man with a fondness for firearms and strippers.” He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune and hung around a police supply store on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, north of Miami.

Howard Gilbert aspired to be a CIA agent but lacked pertinent experience. So to pad his résumé, he hatched a plan to infiltrate a mosque in the suburb of Pembroke Pines by posing as a Muslim convert named Saif Allah. He told congregants that he was a former Marine and a security expert, and one night in late 2000, he gave a speech about the plight of Palestinians.

“That was truly the night that launched me into the terrorist umbrella of South Florida,” Gilbert would later brag to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nineteen-year-old congregant Imran Mandhai, stirred by the oration, approached Gilbert and asked if he could provide him weapons and training. Gilbert, who had been providing information to the FBI, contacted his handlers and asked for more money to work on the case. (He later claimed that the bureau had paid him $6,000.) But he ultimately couldn’t deliver—the target had sensed something fishy about his new friend.

The bureau also brought in Elie Assaad, a seasoned informant originally from Lebanon. He told Mandhai that he was an associate of Osama bin Laden tasked with establishing a training camp in the United States. Gilbert suggested attacking electrical substations in South Florida, and Assaad offered to provide a weapon. FBI agents then arrested Mandhai; he pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. It was a model of what would become the bureau’s primary counterterrorism M.O.—identifying a target, offering a plot, and then pouncing.


“These guys were homeless types,” one former FBI official says about the alleged Sears Tower plotters. “And yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?” Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

Gilbert himself didn’t get to bask in his glory; he never worked for the FBI again and died in 2004. Assaad, for his part, ran into some trouble when his pregnant wife called 911. She said Assaad had beaten and choked her to the point that she became afraid for her unborn baby; he was arrested, but in the end his wife refused to press charges.

The jail stint didn’t keep Assaad from working for the FBI on what would turn out to be perhaps the most high-profile terrorism bust of the post-9/11 era. In 2005, the bureau got a tip from an informant about a group of alleged terrorists in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The targets were seven men—some African American, others Haitian—who called themselves the “Seas of David” and ascribed to religious beliefs that blended Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The men were martial-arts enthusiasts who operated out of a dilapidated warehouse, where they also taught classes for local kids. The Seas of David’s leader was Narseal Batiste, the son of a Louisiana preacher, father of four, and a former Guardian Angel.

In response to the informant’s tip, the FBI had him wear a wire during meetings with the men, but he wasn’t able to engage them in conversations about terrorist plots. So he introduced the group to Assaad, now playing an Al Qaeda operative. At the informant’s request, Batiste took photographs of the FBI office in North Miami Beach and was caught on tape discussing a notion to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago. Assaad led Batiste, and later the other men, in swearing an oath to Al Qaeda, though the ceremony (recorded and entered into evidence at trial) bore a certain “Who’s on First?” flavor:

“God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact,” Assaad said as he and Batiste sat in his car. “Repeat after me.”

“Okay. Allah’s pledge is upon you.”

“No, you have to repeat exactly. God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact. You have to repeat.”

“Well, I can’t say Allah?” Batiste asked.

“Yeah, but this is an English version because Allah, you can say whatever you want, but—”

“Okay. Of course.”


“Allah’s pledge is upon me. And so is his compact,” Batiste said, adding: “That means his angels, right?”

“Uh, huh. To commit myself,” Assaad continued.

“To commit myself.”


“Brother,” Batiste repeated.

“Uh. That’s, uh, what’s your, uh, what’s your name, brother?”

“Ah, Brother Naz.”

“Okay. To commit myself,” the informant repeated.

“To commit myself.”



“You’re not—you have to say your name!” Assaad cried.

“Naz. Naz.”

“Uh. To commit myself. I am Brother Naz. You can say, ‘To commit myself.'”

“To commit myself, Brother Naz.”

Things went smoothly until Assaad got to a reference to being “protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directive of Al Qaeda.”

Here Batiste stopped. “And to…what is the directive of?”

“Directive of Al Qaeda,” the informant answered.

“So now let me ask you this part here. That means that Al Qaeda will be over us?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Assaad said. “It’s an alliance.”

“Oh. Well…” Batiste said, sounding resigned.

“It’s an alliance, but it’s like a commitment, by, uh, like, we respect your rules. You respect our rules,” Assaad explained.

“Uh, huh,” Batiste mumbled.

“And to the directive of Al Qaeda,” Assaad said, waiting for Batiste to repeat.

“Okay, can I say an alliance?” Batiste asked. “And to the alliance of Al Qaeda?”

“Of the alliance, of the directive—” Assaad said, catching himself. “You know what you can say? And to the directive and the alliance of Al Qaeda.”

“Okay, directive and alliance of Al Qaeda,” Batiste said.

“Okay,” the informant said. “Now officially you have commitment and we have alliance between each other. And welcome, Brother Naz, to Al Qaeda.”

Or not. Ultimately, the undercover recordings made by Assaad suggest that Batiste, who had a failing drywall business and had trouble making the rent for the warehouse, was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend. After first asking the informant for $50,000, Batiste is recorded in conversation after conversation asking how soon he’ll have the cash.

“Let me ask you a question,” he says in one exchange. “Once I give you an account number, how long do you think it’s gonna take to get me something in?”

“So you is scratching my back, [I’m] scratching your back—we’re like this,” Assaad dodged.

“Right,” Batiste said.

The money never materialized. Neither did any specific terrorist plot. Nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged (PDF) Batiste and his cohorts—whom the media dubbed the Liberty City Seven—with conspiracy to support terrorism, destroy buildings, and levy war against the US government. Perhaps the key piece of evidence was the video of Assaad’s Al Qaeda “oath.” Assaad was reportedly paid $85,000 for his work on the case; the other informant got $21,000.

James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, was hired to review the Liberty City case as a consultant for the defense. In his opinion, the informant simply picked low-hanging fruit. “These guys couldn’t find their way down the end of the street,” Wedick says. “They were homeless types. And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only cared about the money. When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

Indeed, the Department of Justice had a difficult time winning convictions in the Liberty City case. In three separate trials, juries deadlocked on most of the charges, eventually acquitting one of the defendants (charges against another were dropped) and convicting five of crimes that landed them in prison for between 7 to 13 years. When it was all over, Assaad told ABC News’ Brian Ross that he had a special sense for terrorists: “God gave me a certain gift.”

But he didn’t have a gift for sensing trouble. After the Liberty City case, Assaad moved on to Texas and founded a low-rent modeling agency. In March, when police tried to pull him over, he led them in a chase through El Paso (with his female passenger jumping out at one point), hit a cop with his car, and ended up rolling his SUV on the freeway. Reached by phone, Assaad declined to comment. He’s saving his story, he says, for a book he’s pitching to publishers.

NOT ALL OF THE MORE THAN 500 terrorism prosecutions reviewed in this investigation are so action-movie ready. But many do have an element of mystery. For example, though recorded conversations are often a key element of prosecutions, in many sting cases the FBI didn’t record large portions of the investigation, particularly during initial encounters or at key junctures during the sting. When those conversations come up in court, the FBI and prosecutors will instead rely on the account of an informant with a performance bonus on the line.


Mohamed Osman Mohamud was an 18-year old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he’d like to “help the brothers.” Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting. Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

One of the most egregious examples of a missing recording involves a convoluted tale that begins in the early morning hours of November 1, 2009, with a date-rape allegation on the campus of Oregon State University. Following a Halloween party, 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-born US citizen, went home with another student. The next morning, the woman reported to police that she believed she had been drugged.

Campus police brought Mohamud in for questioning and a polygraph test; FBI agents, who for reasons that have not been disclosed had been keeping an eye on the teen for about a month, were also there. Mohamud claimed that the sex was consensual, and a drug test given to his accuser eventually came back negative.

During the interrogation, OSU police asked Mohamud if a search of his laptop would indicate that he’d researched date-rape drugs. He said it wouldn’t and gave them permission to examine his hard drive. Police copied its entire contents and turned the data over to the FBI—which discovered, it later alleged in court documents, that Mohamud had emailed someone in northwest Pakistan talking about jihad.

Soon after his run-in with police, Mohamud began to receive emails from “Bill Smith,” a self-described terrorist who encouraged him to “help the brothers.” “Bill,” an FBI agent, arranged for Mohamud to meet one of his associates in a Portland hotel room. There, Mohamud told the agents that he’d been thinking of jihad since age 15. When asked what he might want to attack, Mohamud suggested the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The agents set Mohamud up with a van that he thought was filled with explosives. On November 26, 2010, Mohamud and one of the agents drove the van to Portland’s Pioneer Square, and Mohamud dialed the phone to trigger the explosion. Nothing. He dialed again. Suddenly FBI agents appeared and dragged him away as he kicked and yelled, “Allahu akbar!” Prosecutors charged him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; his trial is pending.

The Portland case has been held up as an example of how FBI stings can make a terrorist where there might have been only an angry loser. “This is a kid who, it can be reasonably inferred, barely had the capacity to put his shoes on in the morning,” Wedick says.

But Tidwell, the retired FBI official, says Mohamud was exactly the kind of person the FBI needs to flush out. “That kid was pretty specific about what he wanted to do,” he says. “What would you do in response? Wait for him to figure it out himself? If you’ll notice, most of these folks [targeted in stings] plead guilty. They don’t say, ‘I’ve been entrapped,’ or, ‘I was immature.'” That’s true—though it’s also true that defendants and their attorneys know that the odds of succeeding at trial are vanishingly small. Nearly two-thirds of all terrorism prosecutions since 9/11 have ended in guilty pleas, and experts hypothesize that it’s difficult for such defendants to get a fair trial. “The plots people are accused of being part of—attacking subway systems or trying to bomb a building—are so frightening that they can overwhelm a jury,” notes David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who has studied these types of cases.

BUT THE MOHAMUD STORY WASN’T quite over—it would end up changing the course of another case on the opposite side of the country. In Maryland, rookie FBI agent Keith Bender had been working a sting against 21-year-old Antonio Martinez, a recent convert to Islam who’d posted inflammatory comments on Facebook (“The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah”). An FBI informant had befriended Martinez and, in recorded conversations, they talked about attacking a military recruiting station.

Just as the sting was building to its climax, Martinez saw news reports about the Mohamud case, and how there was an undercover operative involved. He worried: Was he, too, being lured into a sting? He called his supposed terrorist contact: “I’m not falling for no BS,” he told him.

Faced with the risk of losing the target, the informant—whose name is not revealed in court records—met with Martinez and pulled him back into the plot. But while the informant had recorded numerous previous meetings with Martinez, no recording was made for this key conversation; in affidavits, the FBI blamed a technical glitch. Two weeks later, on December 8, 2010, Martinez parked what he thought was a car bomb in front of a recruitment center and was arrested when he tried to detonate it.

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, concedes that missing recordings in terrorism stings seem suspicious. But, she says, it’s more common than you might think: “I can’t tell you how many times I had FBI agents in front of me and I yelled, ‘You have hundreds of hours of recordings, but you didn’t record this meeting.’ Sometimes, I admit, they might not record something intentionally”—for fear, she says, that the target will notice. “But more often than not, it’s a technical issue.”

Wedick, the former FBI agent, is less forgiving. “With the technology the FBI now has access to—these small devices that no one would ever suspect are recorders or transmitters—there’s no excuse not to tape interactions between the informant and the target,” he says. “So why in many of these terrorism stings are meetings not recorded? Because it’s convenient for the FBI not to record.”

SO WHAT REALLY HAPPENS AS AN informant works his target, sometimes over a period of years, and eases him over the line? For the answer to that, consider once more the case of James Cromitie, the Walmart stocker with a hatred of Jews. Cromitie was the ringleader in the much-publicized Bronx synagogue bombing plot that went to trial last year. But a closer look at the record reveals that while Cromitie was no one’s idea of a nice guy, whatever leadership existed in the plot emanated from his sharply dressed, smooth-talking friend Maqsood, a.k.a. FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the FBI’s more successful counterterrorism informants. (See our timeline of Hussain’s career as an informant.) He’d originally come to the bureau’s attention when he was busted in a DMV scam that charged test takers $300 to $500 for a license. Having “worked off” those charges, he’d transitioned from indentured informant to paid snitch, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would start conversations with strangers about jihad. “I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI,” Hussain said during Cromitie’s trial. Most of the mosque’s congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a wealthy businessman and always arrived in one of his four luxury cars—a Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs—made plenty of friends. But after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he had not identified a single actual target.

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain clearly had Cromitie’s number. “Allah didn’t bring you here to work for Walmart,” he told him at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could “con the corn from the cob,” had a history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw and heard things that weren’t there and had twice tried to commit suicide. He told tall tales, most of them entirely untrue—like the one about how his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four months of their relationship isn’t known, because the FBI did not record those conversations. Based on later conversations, it’s clear that Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target, all expenses paid by the FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped pay Cromitie’s rent. He offered to buy him a barbershop. Finally, he asked Cromitie to recruit others and help him bomb synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A hidden camera was trained on the living room.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Cromitie told the informant.

“Who? I—”

“Think about it before you speak,” Cromitie interrupted.

“If there is American soldiers, I don’t care,” Hussain said, trying a fresh angle.

“Hold up,” Cromitie agreed. “If it’s American soldiers, I don’t even care.”

“If it’s kids, I care,” Hussain said. “If it’s women, I care.”

“I care. That’s what I’m worried about. And I’m going to tell you, I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.”


“I would take ‘em down, I don’t even care. ‘Cause I know they are the ones.”

“We have the equipment to do it.”

“See, see, I’m not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I’m worried about is my safety,” Cromitie said.

“Oh, yeah, safety comes first.”

“I want to get in and I want to get out.”

“Trust me,” Hussain assured.

At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain would admit that he created the—in his word—”impression” that Cromitie would make a lot of money by bombing synagogues.

“I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he once told Cromitie when the target seemed hesitant. “What can I tell you?” (Asked about the exchange in court, Hussain said that “$250,000″ was simply a code word for the bombing plot—a code word, he admitted, that only he knew.)

But whether for ideology or money, Cromitie did recruit three others, and they did take photographs of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh as well as of synagogues in the Bronx. On May 20, 2009, Hussain drove Cromitie to the Bronx, where Cromitie put what he believed were bombs inside cars he thought had been parked by Hussain’s coconspirators. Once all the dummy bombs were placed, Cromitie headed back to the getaway car—Hussain was in the driver’s seat—and then a SWAT team surrounded the car.

At trial, Cromitie told the judge: “I am not a violent person. I’ve never been a terrorist, and I never will be. I got myself into this stupid mess. I know I said a lot of stupid stuff.” He was sentenced to 25 years.

For his trouble, the FBI paid Hussain $96,000. Then he moved on to another case, another mosque, somewhere in the United States.

For this project, Mother Jones partnered with the University of California-Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, headed by Lowell Bergman, where Trevor Aaronson was an investigative fellow. The Fund for Investigative Journalism also provided support for Aaronson’s reporting. Lauren Ellis and Hamed Aleaziz contributed additional research.

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in this article: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

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Report: Boko Haram Has Claimed More Than 1,000 Lives in 2015

by Priyanka Boghani

Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 civilians in 2015, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch finding that the pace of attacks by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group is up when compared to the same period a year ago.

“Boko Haram fighters have deliberately attacked villages and committed mass killings and abductions as their attacks have spread from northeast Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger since February,” according to the report, published on Thursday.

The rights organization was able to interview civilians fleeing Boko Haram attacks across the northeast of the country, where the extremist group has seized control of several towns and villages.

“Each week that passes we learn of more brutal Boko Haram abuses against civilians,” said Mausi Segun, a Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Almost 1 million Nigerians have been forced to leave their homes since Boko Haram began its insurgency in 2009, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 3,750 civilians died in 2014 alone. Those who survive and are captured by Boko Haram are often forcibly conscripted into its ranks if they are male, or raped, forced into marriage, converted to Islam or made to suffer other abuses if they are female.

Human Rights Watch also provided new details on efforts to beat back Boko Haram. As FRONTLINE reported last fall in Hunting Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces have operated alongside brutal civilian militias in the fight against the organization. Both the militias and members of Nigeria’s security forces have been accused of carrying out human rights abuses while hunting for Boko Haram fighters among the civilian population.

“People are afraid of the military and security forces as much as they are afraid of the insurgents,” Shehu Sani, the president of the Civil Rights Congress, a coalition of over 30 human rights groups in Nigeria, told FRONTLINE last fall. “Innocent people bare the brunt of this insurgency and counterinsurgency,” said Sani.

The Human Rights Watch report documented an incident in December 2014 during which Nigerian soldiers attacked a village and burned most of it down, leaving at least five civilians dead. Residents of the village told the rights group that there were no Boko Haram members or fighters in the village when the army attacked.

Nigerian authorities told Human Rights Watch they were unaware of the incident but would investigate the claims.

“The increased military effort has not made the situation for civilians in northeastern Nigeria any less desperate,” according to Segun of Human Rights Watch.

The report comes just ahead of Nigerian elections, scheduled to take place Saturday. They were originally scheduled for February, but were postponed amid security fears caused by the escalating Boko Haram insurgency. Several African nations including neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger deployed troops to help the Nigerian army fight Boko Haram.

On Friday, a day before the elections, the Nigerian army announced that it had retaken the town of Gwoza, believed to be the headquarters of Boko Haram. The army said Boko Haram fighters had been driven from nearly all the territory they held, though no independent media had verified their statement.

Related Film: Hunting Boko Haram
FRONTLINE investigates Nigeria’s efforts to “Bring Back Our Girls” and fight Boko Haram. Watch Parts 1 and 2 below.

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A Q&A on the partitioning of Iraq, and what’s likely next (August 6, 2014)

The Sunni extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has waged a violent campaign in recent months, capturing large areas of territory in both countries. In June, the group declared itself a new Islamist caliphate, or formal Islamic state, and proclaimed leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. Experts worry about what the rise of the Jihadist group will mean for the future of Iraq, for the stability of the region, and for United States security.

Political scientist Harith Hasan al-Qarawee studies state-society relations, political transitions, and identity politics in Iraq and the Middle East. The 2014-2015 Robert G. James Scholar at Risk Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, he is working on a book titled “Transnational Sectarianism: State’s Disintegration and Sunni-Shia Divide in the Middle East.”

The Gazette recently spoke with al-Qarawee about the rise of ISIS.

GAZETTE: Can you describe ISIS in relationship to al-Qaeda?

AL-QARAWEE: ISIS is the latest incarnation of a group called Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, or the organization of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was formed in 2004. The group, although it declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, was a highly independent body that had organizational and ideological differences from al-Qaeda. The group adopted a very fundamentalist and exclusionary interpretation of Islam, saw itself as the only “victorious sect” in Islam, and considered Shias [Shiites, who constitute 55-60 percent of Iraqis] deviants and legitimate targets of its attacks. The group and its subsequent incarnations were shaped by the nature of conflict in Iraq that took an increasingly sectarian characteristic. Unlike al-Qaeda that prioritized the conflict with the West, ISIS deemed conflict with Shias central to its success because it sought to create a territorial state of its own. If al-Qaeda was an outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan, ISIS is an outcome of conflicts and states’ failures in Iraq and the Levant.

GAZETTE: What does the rise of ISIS mean for Iraq? What does it mean for the West? Is ISIS a greater threat to United States security than al-Qaeda?

AL-QARAWEE: The rise of ISIS in Iraq means that once again we are facing the failure of [the] post-colonial state in the region. Post-Saddam [Hussein] Iraq, which was supposed to become a model of democracy and inclusivity, ended up as a fragile state strongly weakened by ethnic and sectarian divides. That has something to do with both the pillars on which the current regime was established and the failed policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, to understand the roots of problem, we need to examine the unsuccessful processes of nation-building in the region. These processes have failed partly because of the exclusionary politics that characterized the behavior of all regimes that ruled Iraq, including the current one.

Now, ISIS’s focus is on building its own state and consolidating its power in the areas it managed to control. Therefore, most of the fighting it has engaged in was against others who are contesting this control, and I expect this will be the case in the near future. However, as a Jihadist organization claiming to represent the true Islamic Khilafat, its project will not stop at the current borders and it will continue seeking to expand its territory, which will lead to a more direct clash with the U.S. and Western interests. As the conflict continues, ISIS might have its own internal disagreements about the future, and I expect two kinds of disputes:

First, a dispute with local populations and the more indigenous groups that have their distinct concerns and priorities other than the strict interpretation of Sharia law, and this dispute is already in place in Syria and some parts of Iraq.

The second conflict will be within the organization between its Iraqi wing that might prioritize the “sectarian conflict” with Shias and issues related to communal identity, and the global wing that adopts the ideology of jihad and looks beyond Iraq.

GAZETTE: Do you think Iraq will split along sectarian lines, Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish? What would that kind of division mean for the United States?

AL-QARAWEE: Iraq is already splitting along these lines as the Shia-dominated government loses control over Sunni areas. Apparently, neither the U.S. nor most regional powers benefit from Iraq’s disintegration because it is a formula for the creation of three fragile semi-states. This division will mean long struggles within and between the emerging entities, while regional powers such as Iran and Turkey seek to subordinate some of them. This is already happening, as the Shia groups are increasingly seeking support and protection from Iran, while Kurdistan is increasingly dependent on Turkey. Sunni areas will keep witnessing long fighting between ISIS and other groups, not to mention the fact that they will be impoverished because, unlike the south and Kurdistan, they do not have their own resources. If the U.S. recognizes that an action [is] needed to prevent this scenario, then it needs to engage more proactively and support new arrangements that help sharing and decentralizing power and leading a collective action against ISIS. Iraq needs a new compact that the Iraqi elite alone cannot reach. There is also a need to involve other regional powers in a collective action based on facing ISIS and at the same time a commitment to bridge the sectarian gap in the whole region.

GAZETTE: You have said that you think the political transformation that Iraq needs in the near term is unlikely. Why?

AL-QARAWEE: For those following Iraq’s news, it is obvious that, one, the current system is broken, and, two, Iraqi politicians drive a slow machine that cannot anticipate developments on the ground. Iraq lacks state-builders, which is exactly what we need today. The current crisis requires competent and confident leaders who have a clear vision and the will to make genuine concessions. Unfortunately, the current debate in Iraq is more about personalities than about institutions, and it has not elaborated any serious solutions for problems the country is facing.

GAZETTE: What will the future hold for Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq? Can he form a new government that will be successful? If not, can anyone on the current political scene succeed in doing so?

AL-QARAWEE: Here, I have two things to say.

First, if Maliki manages to stay in power, things will only get worse. Maliki is a divisive figure in a time that requires more unity … who lacks any strategic vision for the country and has already shown authoritarian tendencies. His policies are more about his own survival than about building a state and broadening the legitimacy of his government. He belongs to a political culture that views state-building through traditional exclusionary tools such as centralization, consolidating personal power, and patronage.

Second, while Maliki is a problem, he is not the only problem. Iraq suffers two chronic problems that need to be addressed.

One, sectarianism has become entrenched within the system, and therefore made it difficult for any political actor to gain influence and build constituency without resorting to identity politics. We need to change the paradigm of Iraq from a country of ethnicities and sects into one based on citizenship politics. This can happen by changing the electoral law and make major amendments to the constitution.

Two, Iraq depends highly on oil resources that represent about 95 percent of its governmental budget. Rentier states (which rely strongly on natural resources to thrive) tend to empower the elite and weaken civil society, which is what had happened in Iraq under the Saddam regime and is being repeated today. While it is idealistic to talk about the diversification of Iraq’s economy in the foreseeable future, there is a need to make major changes in the way oil wealth is managed. Decentralization will help prevent the accumulation of revenues in the hands of those who control the central government. But then we need to develop that further to make sure it will not create authoritarian elites in the regions.

GAZETTE: Can Maliki, or someone else, form a coalition government that includes the Sunnis, making them less likely to turn to ISIS?

AL-QARAWEE: The problem here is multifaceted. It is not impossible for any prime minister to give executive positions in his cabinet for Sunni politicians; in fact, this was the case under Maliki’s two terms. The problem is the belief that only by gaining executive positions, a community can feel included. This formula of distributing governmental positions among conflicting parties actually led to creating ineffective governments that lack unity and turn state’s institutions into fiefdoms of conflicting parties. This is exactly what made Maliki popular among Iraqi Shias, because his program focused on forming a majority government rather than apportioning cabinet positions among political parties. Iraq needs decentralization rather than building a grand central government. In addition, Sunni political elites are facing today an existential crisis after ISIS has driven most of its members outside their constituencies. So, assuming that ISIS will be forced out of the cities it is controlling now, there will be a need to recognize who are the genuine representatives of Sunni communities. I think a change within the Sunni political spectrum is inevitable.

GAZETTE: What does the rise of ISIS mean for women in Syria and Iraq?

AL-QARAWEE: More strict measures and marginalization. These groups consider women objects and deny them any existence as social actors. It is important to recognize that Islamic fundamentalism is a powerful ideology in these societies and it has “indoctrinated” many women to accept their lower social status. As the groups consolidate their control in these areas, they follow a very strict version of Sharia law, while trying to strengthen their cultural hegemony through tools of socialization. Today, the situation of women in the Arab world, and areas of conflict in particular, is clear evidence of the failure in the traditional approaches of modernization and development. In sociological terms, ISIS is the outcome of this failure, and its ideology represents a regression from any previous achievements. This is important to highlight in order to clarify that military means only cannot secure victory against ISIS and its like.

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Ensuring Mobile Transaction Security Through Identification, Authenticity and Trustworthiness

Security Intelligence

Using a personal mobile device for financial transactions exposes enterprises to risks that most cannot detect and prevent. This is mainly due to the inability to transform traditional access services to adapt to the mobile threat landscape while maintaining a delivery speed that can compete with their peers and is expected by their clients.

The transformation of application delivery approaches always introduces new vulnerabilities, but mobile transaction security demands a new perspective. Since app response time is a key indicator of mobile app competitiveness, design processes are pushing executable functions to the device itself, which exposes new exploit vectors to the attacker. Previous discussions have focused on protecting internal networks from malware hosted on enterprise mobile devices, so this article will consider the threat from the perspective of delivering consumer transactional apps.

Federal Reserve banks across the globe are simultaneously pushing for real-time payment processing. This pushes additional responsibilities on fraud teams to detect and prevent credit card and ATM fraud in near-real time. Remediation processes that banks relied on to recover fraudulent fund transfers in the past are being removed, so they must determine how best to detect fraud that is occurring at the time of the transaction. Such a mandate puts a premium on having intelligent fraud detection systems in place across the full breadth of consumer access services. Fraud detection is now required to adapt at Internet speed to threats present in traditional Internet and mobile access channels. With the accelerated use of mobile for online transactions, transaction processing through the Internet must be adapted and, in some cases, transformed.

Authenticity of the App
It is typical for security vendors to introduce mobile app protection as an extension of enterprise vulnerability scanning techniques. However, a larger percentage of functionality is embedded within the mobile app so it can interact directly with features of the device itself. Features such as geographic location, token storage mechanisms and fingerprint readers can be used within a mobile app. Such an approach has taken a level of protection that traditional Internet browsers provided, and this aspect is easily overlooked by service delivery teams. Leakage of the app functionality to a malicious individual reveals intelligence about how the app itself is designed and operates at runtime. This exposes the internal workings of the app code and enables an attacker to access, modify, rebuild and deploy without the transaction service being aware. Addressing this risk requires an approach that ensures that cannot be modified.

Trustworthiness of the Device
This mobile app code must support a broad range of devices, each running potentially different operating environments. This results in the app being exposed to a broad range of potential vulnerabilities across the support devices. Although Apple provides regular, consistent updates for the Apple device ecosystem, the same can’t be said for Google’s Android. This fragmentation creates an opportunity for attackers to target operating systems running on devices where known vulnerabilities remain unpatched. Even with Apple devices, it is well known that owners jailbreak their devices so they can run unverified app code or access traditionally locked-down device capabilities. Therefore, a device’s trustworthiness must always be questioned. The ability to assert the trustworthiness of a device is vital for addressing mobile transaction security concerns.

Identification of the User
Finally, there is the identification of the user. In the Internet age, the industry was unable to satisfy the need for risk-based authentication assurance policies that reflected a real-time transaction being performed. This is largely due to the lack of options provided by browser-based solutions. However, mobile device capabilities expose features that enable stronger authentication patterns that appease customer usage preferences. Binding a user through a known single password to a previously registered device is becoming a widely accepted baseline for low-value mobile transaction security policies. At the lowest level of assurance, the user of a registered app (without presenting the single password) can grant basic read-only access to financial data. This design approach has provided a significant improvement in user satisfaction for enterprises that have delivered graduated authenticated capabilities to enable swipe-for-balance and PIN-based authentication mechanisms for higher-level access.

Enterprises that provide mobile transaction security need protection mechanisms in place that consider these three key aspects. Before allowing access or transactional execution, authorization decision processes must be adequate enough to counter the threats represented not simply by one of these vectors, but the combination of all three. A risk-based methodology for acting upon unscrupulous behavior is required at runtime.

Mobile Transaction Security Offerings
The following are three well-defined cybersecurity domains that must be integrated together to provide a framework for implementing end-to-end mobile transaction security:

Access Management: A set of services that, among other capabilities, provide authentication and user context-based decisions for Web and RESTful Web services. When used with the aforementioned capabilities, products in this domain must provide the risk-based framework for authorizing users on devices using particular app code to perform transactions. It must provide this capability along with a set of industry-standard authentication mechanisms for authenticating users.
Fraud Protection: Fraud protection services ensure the status of the connecting device is known. This includes the identification of an individual device and attributes of the device, such as jailbroken, rooted, malware infection status, installation of rogue applications and the use of root-hiding tools. It provides quantitative, risk-based trustworthiness metrics that reflect the device’s operating state.
Application Security: Application protection wraps the app code to ensure executable code authenticity — i.e., the app being used on the device has not been tampered with.
When combined with secure data transit and flows, the question of whether a user should be able to perform a transaction using code running on a particular device can be made with confidence. Without one piece of the puzzle, enterprises simply can’t have the confidence to proceed without avoiding risk.

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Cybersecurity Legislation Could Be on the Congressional Menu

In his State of the Union address in late January, US President Barack Obama proposed a package of legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity measures and enforcement against cybercriminals. In particular, the proposed cybersecurity legislation calls on firms to provide information on security breaches to the Department of Homeland Security and allows prosecution for the sale of botnets used in cybercrime as well as court action against denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

With both houses of Congress in the hands of the Republicans, legislative proposals can expect close scrutiny. Some aspects of information policy, from government cyber surveillance to net neutrality, are controversial subjects on Capitol Hill. However, amid a rising tide of cybercrime, including high-profile attacks on businesses, the prospects of bipartisan support for cybersecurity legislation are substantial.

Prominent Attacks Help Set the Stage
According to The New York Times, Obama’s cybersecurity proposals were sparked by recent cyberattacks that have rocked both the business and government sectors. These attacks have also demonstrated that the lines between cybercrime and cyberwar are increasingly blurring.

As Obama told congressional leaders at a White House meeting, the attacks indicate “how much more work we need to do, both public and private sector, to strengthen our cybersecurity to make sure that families’ bank accounts are safe, to make sure that our public infrastructure is safe.”

Protection for Firms, Prosecution for Cybercriminals
The proposed legislative package includes measures calling on victimized firms to be more forthcoming about security breaches. For providing the Department of Homeland Security with such information as Internet addresses and routing protocols, firms would be given targeted liability protection as long as they took measures to protect the personal information of consumers.

Additionally, the White House proposal would criminalize the sale of botnets — networks of computers controlled by furtively installed malware — used to perpetrate hacks. The courts would also receive authority to shut down sites responsible for DoS attacks and other types of fraudulent cyberactivity.

Threats Could Generate Bipartisan Support for Cybersecurity Legislation
With a Democratic president and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, proposals from the White House can expect tough scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are often skeptical of measures that might affect businesses. Political furnaces are further stoked by the 2016 presidential election, for which both parties are already gearing up. However, as noted by Britain’s BBC News, the prospects for bipartisan action on cybersecurity legislation may be increasingly favorable.

The risks to firms from advanced threats and other forms of cyberattacks have generated a growing consensus within the business community that broader action is needed on the cybersecurity front. Enterprises can no longer effectively protect themselves in isolation — security partnerships, including public-private alliances, have become a necessity.

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US Government to Establish Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center

Security Intelligence

The U.S. government announced in February the establishment of a new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC) to analyze all cyberthreats for U.S. policymakers, including foreign cyberthreats and threats against U.S. interests.

According to a spokesperson from the U.S. government, this new center is necessary because there is a need for a single government agency to provide coordinated cyberthreat intelligence assessments and share information in a timely manner in the face of spiraling cybersecurity incidents and breaches, including a number of very large and high-profile breaches in recent months.

What Will the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center Do?
The CTIIC will work alongside the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF) and U.S. Cyber Command to form an integrated capability for protecting the country from cyberthreats. These intelligence centers were established as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

The CTIIC has been established to help find, research and mitigate threats. However, it is not an operational center and is not authorized to collect intelligence or conduct intelligence operations, direct investigations, manage incident response efforts or directly engage with private entities. Instead, it will support the NCCIC in its network defense and incident response activities; the NCIJTF in coordinating, integrating and sharing information related to cyberthreat investigations within the United States; and the U.S. Cyber Command in defending the country from significant cyberattacks. The CTIIC will support these centers and other federal departments and agencies by providing the necessary intelligence to undertake their activities.

The CTIIC is also expected to form part of the interagency Cyber Response Group, to support the National Security Council and to work with all agencies and departments that are charged with cybersecurity functions within the U.S. government.

Public Response
Some criticism has been levied at the U.S. government, questioning whether the new center is necessary, since many government departments are charged with cybersecurity. However, the government has countered these concerns by saying that rather than overlapping with existing agencies, the CTIIC fills a current gap by providing the ability to rapidly communicate mission-critical intelligence to other agencies. In order to do this, it is tasked with overseeing the development of intelligence-sharing capabilities among federal agencies, including systems and standards, and integrating intelligence from other agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the creation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center acknowledges that past efforts to tackle cyberthreats were not altogether successful. It claims recent breaches have exposed significant gaps in the way information is shared and have forced the U.S. government to take additional steps to close those gaps. It is also necessary to have one central group that can determine which information can be shared with the private sector so that the government can warn both private companies and the public about possible incidents and attacks.

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Islam Abduganievich Karimov

Islam Karimov is the president of Uzbekistan. President Karimov and the close circle of insiders that holds power in Uzbekistan believe themselves to be encircled by threats from within and without. Uzbekistan has faced real terrorist threats from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), whose members have reportedly found refuge in the border areas of Pakistan. In this worldview, political and economic liberalism are sources of instability and vectors of foreign influence, both of which Karimov has sought to contain and control.

Karimov has served in the Uzbek Communist Party throughout his political career. In 1989, he became First Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party. In 1990, the Uzbek Supreme Soviet elected him to the newly created post of President, and he also became a member of the Soviet Communist Party Politburo. In December 1991, Karimov was popularly elected President with 86% of the vote against Erk Party candidate Mohammed Solikh.

A referendum held in 1995 extended his term until 2000 when he won the presidential elections unopposed with 91.9% of the vote. In 2002 he again managed to secure support in a referendum for an extension of the presidential term – from five to seven years. This measure came into effect after the 2005 presidential vote. After the parliament extended the presidential term to 7 years, President Karimov was re-elected in December 2007 with 88.1% of the vote. In December 2011, the Oliy Majlis (parliament) adopted amendments to the constitution which again reduced the presidential term to 5 years. However, this will not affect President Karimov’s current term, which is set to finish in 2014.

Karimov has shown himself to be a savvy politician over many years of maneuvering to stay on top of the Uzbek government. His public rhetoric usually suggests that he wants to be remembered as the father of his country, a great president who presided over the foundation of strong institutions while keeping his country safe and stable. It also seems that he is not content merely to govern his little corner of the globe – he truly seems to crave international legitimacy. Yet he has avoided building a cult of personality. Many regional observers have commented on Karimov’s apparent sense of rivalry with Kazakh President Nazarbayev, who enjoys greater respect on the world stage.

Karimov took a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition. The few western observers who monitored elections condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and pointed out that all the candidates support the president. Karimov has been accused of using the perceived threat of Islamic militancy to justify his style of leadership. Some analysts suggest that the wave of bombings and shootings in March 2004 is evidence that this policy backfired. Observers point out that the combination of ruthless repression and poor living standards provides fertile breeding ground for violent resistance in a volatile region.

Karimov remains the ultimate arbiter in Uzbek political life, yet in many ways by 2009 the post-Karimov period was already beginning. Increasingly, there were signs that the bureaucracy is atrophying, unable to make or implement basic decisions and policies. This seemed to reflect the slow disengagement of the seventy-one-year-old Karimov from the day-to-day management of the government, which has left the lower levels without the presidential guidance that has driven this government for the past two decades. Uncertain of the president’s wishes and weaned in a climate of near absolutism, Karimov’s minions are left in the unfamiliar position of having to manage issues without the security of presidential approval. The result was bureaucratic sclerosis.

It is improbable that a presidential succession in Tashkent will result in a dramatic change in the character of Uzbek political life in the short term, but there could nonetheless be significant changes around the margins that would take this society in a more positive direction over the long term.

Islam Abduganievich Karimov was born on January 30 1938 in the central Uzbek town of Samarkand into a family of civil servants. He is Uzbek by nationality and is an economist by profession. He finished the Central Asian Polytechnic and the Tashkent Institute of national economy, receiving degrees as an engineer-mechanic and economist. He began work in 1960 at Tashselmash. From 1961-66 he worked as an engineer, a leading engineer-constructor at the Chkalov Tashkent aviation production complex.

In 1966 he started work at the State planning office of the UzSSR where he worked as chief specialist and later as first deputy chairman of the State planning office. In 1983 I. Karimov was appointed Minister of finance of the UzSSR, in 1986 – deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the UzSSR and chairman of the State planning office. In 1986-89 he was first secretary of the Kashkadarya provincial party committee. From June 1989 – first secretary of the Central committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. On March 24, 1990, he was elected President of the Uzbek SSR. On August 31, 1991, he declared the independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

On December 29, 1991 he was elected President of the Republic of Uzbekistan in multi-candidate elections. On March 26, 1995, in accordance with a national referendum, his period in office was extended to 2000. On January 9, 2000, in elections that included choice, Islam Abduganievich Karimov was reelected as head of state. On December 23, 2007, in elections that included choice, Islam Abduganievich Karimov was reelected as head of state.

For his outstanding contribution to education in Uzbekistan, creation of a state based on democratic laws, guarantee of civil peace and national accord, and for courage, I. Karimov was awarded the title Hero of Uzbekistan and the awards Mustakillik (Independence) and Amir Temur. He has received awards from foreign states and international organizations. He is a full member of the Academy of sciences of Uzbekistan. For his contribution to economics, science, and education he was awarded honorary doctorates from 9 foreign institutions.

He is the initiator and leader of historic transformations in the country. He has directly contributed to:

  • a program of independent development of the country, and the Constitution;
  • a program of state and social construction, reform of administration, both central and locally;
  • a model of economic development based on five principles: de-ideologization of the economy, supremacy of laws, step-by-step reform, state regulation during the transition period and strong social policy;
  • reform of the armed forces, border forces;

Islam Karimov is married, with two daughters and five grandchildren. His wife T.A. Karimova is an economist and scientific worker. Both Karimov daughters hdld diplomatic postings outside of Uzbekistan — Gulnora in Geneva, and Lola at UNESCO in Paris. Due to squabbles over business interests, Gulnora is reportedly estranged from her younger sister Lola. Gulnora is also viewed as much closer to her father than Lola.

Karimov’s oldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova has always been very visible on Uzbekistan’s political and cultural stage, and some local observers believe that she is the being groomed as the president’s successor. If she (or any other hand-picked candidate) makes a bid for the presidential office with Karimov’s blessing, then Karimov could take up a post in the Senate while maintaining some power and influence in the country. It seems unlikely that President Karimov will voluntarily retire from Uzbek politics unless his health prevents him from further activity – and so far, there are no clear signs that his health is failing.

Zeromax Gmbh (Zeromax) is a privately- owned, Swiss-registered company that operates in Uzbekistan through a series of joint ventures and investments in the oil and gas, mining, agriculture, textile, logistics and banking sectors. The company keeps a tight lid on all financial and ownership information. It is widely believed, however, that the company is controlled by Gulnara Karimova and a small number of Uzbek business people. Through its close government connections, Zeromax has positioned itself as a key player in Uzbekistan’s highly lucrative natural resource sector and continues to expand into other areas of the Uzbek economy. Zeromax controls a large stake in many of the key sectors of the Uzbek economy, including its gas, oil, and gold extraction industries. Zeromax generates a significant percentage of the ruling family’s annual income. In addition, the Karimov family reportedly holds large bank accounts in both Europe and the United States.

Karimova has actively tried to develop a relationship with the West, in order to further boost her ties to senior U.S. Government officials. She met with former President Bill Clinton in Europe at a charity fund to combat AIDS, and hoped that a connection with him would allow her to establish good relations with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In late 2008 Gulnora Karimova was appointed as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations Mission in Geneva. Karimova had served as Deputy Foreign Minister for International Cooperation in the Cultural and Humanitarian Spheres. Karimova’s new position as Uzbek permrep to the UN in Geneva puts her much closer to the Switzerland-based Zeromax corporation, which provided much of the Karimov family’s wealth, but probably did little to enhance her political standing at home. Despite speculation over the years that President Karimov may be grooming Gulnora to succeed him, the decision to send Karimova to Geneva may reflect a desire to secure the family’s finances and enhance its prospects for future safety and security if conditions in Uzbekistan turn against the Karimov family, rather than to provide her with another stepping stone in her political career. Karimova has given little indication of her long-term political plans, but the Karimov family has made many enemies; the fear and loathing that many alienated businessmen in Uzbekistan have for her suggests that her life in a post-Karimov Uzbekistan would be less than secure.

The state of New Jersey issued a warrant out for her arrest after she fled the United States with her children in 2001 following a messy divorce and custody battle from her first husband, an American citizen who was later awarded custody of the children. As a result, Karimova was unable to travel to the United States or Europe without fear of arrest. Karimova’s appointment was an attempt to provide her with diplomatic cover so that she may be able to travel freely once again to Europe, and possibly even to the United States, to inspect her family’s finances.

A mafia chieftain and Karimova help businessmen to secure government tenders and job applicants to “buy” government jobs. Crime boss Salim Abduvaliyev puts bidders for tenders in touch with an Iranian businessman holding British citizenship, who submits the paperwork to First Daughter Gulnora Karimova for approval. Salim worked with the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs responsible for personnel issues to arrange government jobs, agreeing on a price and then adding his own fee before selling the position. Salim has reportedly sold a wide range of Government positions, including regional Hokim, police chief, and Ministry of Internal Affairs jobs.

Karimova, 41, had been shielded by diplomatic immunity until July 2013, when she was removed from her position as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva. wiss prosecutors said they’re investigating Gulnara Karimova on suspicion of money laundering. In a statement on 12 March 2014, the office said the criminal probe expanded to include Karimova in the fall of 2013. The statement linked the probe to “alleged illegal acts taking place in the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan.” It said some 660 million euros ($915 million) of suspected Uzbek assets had been seized by Swiss authorities.

Gulnara Karimova and her 15-year old daughter Iman have been under house arrest since 17 February 2014. Karimova had been seen as a possible successor to her 75-year-old father. She had long managed to combine politics with a career as a pop star, fashion designer, and the head of charitable funds, but suffered a spectacular fall from power. Her Uzbek media empire, including several television channels, had been shut down and more than a dozen boutiques selling Western clothes in Tashkent that are believed to belong to her or her business partners had been closed on allegations of tax evasion and other charges.

Her star appeared to officially fall on 08 September 2014 when a woman identified as “Karimova G.” was named by the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office as a suspect in a graft case. The assumption was that it can be no other than the 42-year-old Karimova, who was believed to be under house arrest in Tashkent.

Other potential candidates to replace Karimov, who had ruled independent Uzbekistan for nearly a quarter-century are Shavkat Mirziyaev/Mirziyoyev, who has been prime minister for a decade, Rustam Inoyatov, the head of Uzbekistan’s feared National Security Service, and Rustam Azimov, who serves as first deputy prime minister and finance minister.

In late March 2013 there were rumors that Karimov had suffered a heart attack on March 19, soon after he was shown on state television dancing and ringing in the Islamic new year at a Norouz celebration in Tashkent. Karimov’s younger daughter, Lola, was reported to have suddenly returned to Uzbekistan from her home in Switzerland. Karimov’s elder daughter, Gulnara Karimova, issued more colorful denials, using her Twitter account to reject suggestions of her father’s ill health. All eyes were on the Uzbek parliament, which was due to meet for a joint session on 28 March 22013 — an event that traditionally opens with a speech by Karimov. President Karimov was reported to have met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov at the Oqsaroy on 27 March 2013. State-run Yoshlar’s evening news program showed Karimov hosting Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov at his Oksaroy residence. This wasn’t the first time the Uzbek president was rumored to be in ill health.

Whether or not Karimov is planning for his succession, he does seem to be planning for his legacy. His public rhetoric usually suggests that he wants to be remembered as the father of his country, a great president who presided over the foundation of strong institutions while keeping his country safe and stable. His handlers seem to be cultivating this image more and more of late. It also seems that he is not content merely to govern his little corner of the globe-he truly seems to crave international legitimacy. Yet he has avoided building a cult of personality. Many regional observers have commented on Karimov’s apparent sense of rivalry with Kazakh President Nazarbayev, who enjoys greater respect on the world stage. It seems unlikely that President Karimov will voluntarily retire from Uzbek politics unless his health prevents him from further activity

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US Army National Guard soldier, cousin arrested for conspiring to support ISIS


A member of the United States Army National Guard and his cousin have been arrested and charged with planning to provide material support to the Islamic State. Facebook chats with an undercover FBI agent led to the arrest.

The US Department of Justice announced on Thursday that two residents of Aurora, Illinois were arrested on Wednesday evening and charged with one count each of conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

National Guard Specialist Hasan Edmonds, 22, was arrested Wednesday at Chicago’s Midway International Airport, where authorities say he planned to fly to Cairo, Egypt in order to join the group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, or ISIL). His cousin, 29-year-old Jonas Edmonds, was arrested inside his Aurora, IL home that same evening.

Both men are expected in court on Thursday afternoon, according to a statement released on Thursday by the Justice Dept.

A criminal complaint filed by federal authorities against the men alleges that the cousins had devised a plan in which the younger of the two would travel overseas “for the purpose of waging violence on behalf of ISIL,” according to the DOJ.

Hasan Edmonds is a current member of the Illinois Army National Guard, the statement said, and had planned to use his military training to assist the ongoing operation waged by the Islamic State.

“In addition, they plotted to attack members of our military within the United States. Disturbingly, one of the defendants currently wears the same uniform of those they allegedly planned to attack,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin said in a statement.

If convicted, the men face a maximum of 15 years in prison and a quarter-million-dollar fine each.

Undercover FBI agent engaged in Facebook conversations
According to the complaint unsealed this week, authorities began investigating the men in late 2014. Soon after, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation acting in an undercover capacity sent a friend request to Hasan Edmonds on Facebook and began engaging him in conversation about the Arabic language. The topic then switched to that of Islam, and the two began discussing the faith further over a different online service.

On or around January 24, according to the complaint, Hasan Edmonds messaged the FBI agent and said it was his “duty” to support ISIS or to become a martyr in doing as much.

“[I]’d rather struggle and strive hard in the cause of Allah rather than sit back and live a ‘comfortable life,’” Edmonds allegedly said.“…The State has been established and it is our duty to heed the call.”

Read more
FBI accuses Air Force vet of planning to join ISIS

According to the FBI, Edmonds admitted to the agent that he was already a member of the American “kafir,” or “infidel” army, but had no intention of finishing his service with the US.

“I wish only to serve in the army of Allah alongside my true brothers,” he supposedly said. In subsequent conversations that month, according to the FBI, Edmonds discussed attacking police stations and courts. On February 2, he allegedly told the agent that his cousin, Jonas, was willing to conduct an attack on America’s borders.

By March, Hasan Edmonds and the undercover agent were discussing possible ways of traveling to the Middle East to join ISIS, according to the FBI. Meanwhile, the same agent had begun engaging the cousin, Jonas, about possibly relocating and “indicated that resources would be available” if he promised to travel for the sake of fighting alongside the militants.

A second undercover agent soon entered the mix, according to the complaint, and met with Jonas Edmonds on March 3. Those two began discussing arrangements to bring Hasan Edmonds to Islamic State territory, and airfare was purchased on March 13 from Chicago to Cairo.

“We will pursue and prosecute with vigor those who support ISIL and its agenda of ruthless violence,” US Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois said in Wednesday’s statement. “Anyone who threatens to harm our citizens and allies, whether abroad or here at home, will face the full force of justice.”

Thursday’s news comes less than two weeks after the DOJ unsealed a criminal complaint against another member of the US military, 47-year-old Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh of Neptune, NJ. According to authorities, Pugh had planned to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

READ MORE: //pdf.yt/d/wPrp5_49YWou9tWE/embed

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Muslim leaders demand destruction of Christian churches



Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah – the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia – called for the destruction of Christian churches currently located in the Arabian Peninsula. Speaking on March 17, the Muslim religious leader said that it is absolutely necessary and required by Islamic law. He is the highest religious authority in the Sunni Muslim kingdom. He also serves as the head of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Fatwas are religious findings that may include the death penalty for Muslims and non-Muslims for breaking Islamic law.

In February, Osama Al-Munawer, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, announced plans for legislation that would call for removing of churches in the oil-rich country, according to the Arabian Businesses news site. However, Al-Munawer later clarified that the law would only apply to new churches, while old ones would be allowed to stay erect.

Commenting on the finding by Sheikh Abdullah, Rev. Alexander Lucie-Smith – a Catholic theologian and consulting editor of the UK-based Catholic Herald – wrote “The Vatican has no diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as it cannot have diplomatic relations with any state that does not recognise freedom of religion. I am an official Catholic theologian, though my fatwas never quite get the attention I feel they deserve. The Mufti has repeated himself, and so will I. The West should show it is serious about human rights and disrupt diplomatic and cultural relations with the Saudis. This is a moral necessity. Until we do so, we are exposed as hypocrites.”

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How to Fix the Syrian Mess

By Seyed Hossein Mousavian

Six easy steps to solve the Syria crisis.

The bloody conflict in Syria since early 2011—whether we call it a civil war or by any other name—has brought in its wake actual disaster with vast destruction of the country and its infrastructure and over 200,000 dead, 6.7 million internally displaced, 3.8 million refugees and 13 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Staffan de Mistura, the third in a series of United Nations envoys tasked to find a solution for the Syrian conflict, has introduced an “action plan” aimed to make 2015 the year in which movement toward a political settlement of the conflict takes place.

“One is the need to focus on the real threat of terrorism as defined by the resolutions of the Security Council. Second is to reduce violence…three, through the reduction of violence, try to reach as many people as possible in Syria and outside Syria who have been suffering due to this ongoing conflict; and through that, hopefully facilitate it and use that as a building block in the direction of a political solution,” the Special Envoy pointed out.

After meeting the Syrian president, the UN special envoy confirmed that he has received a commitment from the Syrian government to suspend airstrikes and artillery shelling on the city of Aleppo for six weeks to allow the UN plan to succeed. However, realism and pragmatism is essential in order to resolve Syrian crisis, and some relevant actors have to swallow their pride and correct their past mistakes.

As the first and the foremost sign of realism, the UN special envoy described President Bashar al-Assad “as a crucial part of the solution to end the Syrian conflict.”

Signs of such realism can be seen in the U.S. policy as well as the Syrian moderate opposition, even if quite belatedly. With regards to the latter, the Syrian opposition seems to be going an obvious distance away from the earlier “Assad must go” or “Bomb Assad” mantra.

Similarly, President Joe Biden’s words back in October were telling: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria… Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were so determined to take down Assad that in a sense they started a ‘proxy Sunni-Shia war’ by pouring ‘hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons towards anyone who would fight against Assad’…the outcome of such a policy now is more visible.”

The second factor is to recognize the fact that the real threat is not Bashar Assad but the Islamic State. “The collapse of the Assad regime would be the worst possible outcome for American interests—depriving Syria of its remaining state institutions and creating more space for the Islamic State and other extremists to spread mayhem,” a recent study by the RAND Corporation, which does research for the U.S. government, noted. In the last year, the situation in Syria has changed quickly and dramatically. Fighting Assad has practically helped the Islamic State gain control of about half of Syria and one third of Iraq, while the rebels America and its regional allies support have become weaker and weaker. The UN special envoy has correctly spoken of “the need to focus on the real threat of terrorism.”

But this change of heart hasn’t yet developed into a well-thought overall approach and policy; other actors and quarters in the United States still seem bent on pushing the military option and arming the violent opposition forces in Syria. “To Defeat [the] Islamic State, Remove Assad,” wrote GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

The simple fact of the matter is that simultaneously pursuing contradictory policies will not help end this protracted bloody conflict. This much is clear to all the parties involved in the Syrian mess—whether regional or supra-regional. Therefore, the third factor is that nobody is in a position to take it all in the Syrian gamble. Everybody has to bend and settle for the middle ground.

The fourth factor, one has to admit, is that efforts to end the conflict cannot be undertaken by any of the concerned or involved parties, in the region and beyond. But, the best efforts of the UN cannot be expected to bear fruit unless and until the needed political will—and a grand strategy—emerges in all the capitals involved to overcome past illusions and put their minds and energy, in some sort of coordinated work, to steer the situation away from further flaring up and towards gradual pacification.

As things stand, and given the factors that pushed the previous efforts and initiatives, including Geneva I and II, to failure, success of the new plan proposed by UN special envoy depends on a much larger political orchestration. As I see it, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5) and the five relevant regional players—Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia/ GCC and Egypt (R5)—should adopt a fresh look and approach to the Syrian crisis. Overall, agreement on the following steps could pave the way for an exit from the current deadly impasse.

There are six steps that must be taken.
Step 1: Agreement on general, reasonable principles such as: 1) Preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Syria; 2) Preserving Syrian state institutions, including the army and the civil service; 3) Engaging all Syrian stakeholders in the political process; 4) Exploring the middle ground through boosting moderates; 5) Ending safe havens for terrorists in Syria; 6) Ending the provision of arms and finances to the violent opposition;7) Ensuring the rights of minorities; 8) Enhancing humanitarian assistances; 9) Working for a power sharing system; and 10) Exploring a practicable formula for peaceful political transition.

Step 2: The formation of a broad-based forum comprised of moderate, non-violent opposition groups and the government.

Step 3: The declaration of a ceasefire to be monitored by international observers.

Step 4: The expansion of badly needed humanitarian assistance.

Step 5: The implementation of the above agreements and steps through the formation of a transitional governing body.

Step 6: UN-organized and supervised free elections.

With ISIS as everybody’s common enemy—ISIS needs to be contained and defeated as effectively and expeditiously as possible—all parties involved should join hands to bring the Syrian mess to an end. This would deal the ISIS a devastating blow.

A wide range of political analysts and pundits, Americans and others, have been pointing to an important missing element in the bigger picture: some sort of U.S.-Iran entente—both of whom are players in the Syrian drama, albeit in their own ways. This could become a reality with the much-anticipated nuclear deal, which, fingers crossed, looks more promising than before.

Political resolve in both capitals should make a mutually-acceptable and reasonable deal a reality: the sooner, the better. Such a positive development, notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of its varied host of ill-wishers, could also help shape a more realistic, more balanced U.S. policy towards the Middle East—which will, by any reckoning, better serve everybody’s long-term interests.

Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators. His latest book, Iran and the United States: An Insider’s view on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace was released in May 2014.

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