The Battle for Fallujah (Has Once Again) Begun!


Earlier today, which is already tomorrow in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announced that Iraqi Forces (regular Iraqi Army and [most likely the National] Police, as well as irregular forces from the sectarian and tribal militias) had begun their operations to retake Fallujah. From the Iraqi perspective, specifically the Iraqi leadership’s perspective, this is necessary to take the remaining Islamic State pressure off of Baghdad. This is because Baghdad as the seat of government is the core of Iraq for the Iraqi leadership, whether it makes strategic, operational, or tactical sense.

What should be of great concern to everyone is whether the fate of Fallujah is similar to that of Ramadi. The Iraqis retook it, but it was reduced to rubble. And as Major Mohammed Hussein, a member of the counter-terrorism battalion that was first into Ramadi at the start of the offensive remarked: “All they (Islamic State) leave is rubble. You can’t do anything with rubble.” Islamic State has, apparently, mined and wired explosives throughout Fallujah as they did in Ramadi and there is a large civilian population trapped within the city and behind the enemy lines. The Iraqi’s have conducted an Information Operation informing these civilians to fly white flags from their buildings so they won’t be targeted by the Iraqi Forces. Unfortunately if they do so they will be targeted by the Islamic State Forces for collaboration.

Here’s what Ramadi looks like now:

isisramadidestructionap16116413304064 **ramadiisiscratersap16116413160960**

* Image from Voice of America.

** Images found here.

They Are Who We Thought They Were, Part Deux

The CIA really, really doesn’t want us to know just how badly it can f**k up:

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.


Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident. [Via the esteemable Charles Pierce.]

As the aforementioned Mr. Pierce writes

A democracy cannot survive if its people believe they are being played for marks. It can survive for even less time if they turn out to have been right.

Shitty cops are bad enough.  Shitty secret police…


Image: Felix Nussbaum, The Secret, 1939

Sunday Evening Open Thread: Highly Suspicious

Catherine Rampell, at the Washington Post, salutes this week’s True Amurkin Terrorized, massively delaying her flight for gut-wrenching fear of… MATH:

On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

Or so dozens of unsuspecting passengers thought.

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her…

… The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code. They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact…

Deadbeat Donald Trump salutes you, Flip-Flopped Blond Woman. Math — it’s a terrorist tool!

Apart from the many & various Tools available, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up the weekend?

Open Thread: Snowden and the Unasked Questions

There’s a sub-branch of linguistics where the experts search for the words that don’t exist in a particular language — sometimes because certain subjects are considered too dangerous to speak of directly. From the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, “New study: Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying had a scary effect on free speech”:

.[I]t’s difficult to judge the effect of government-spying programs. How do you collect all the utterances that people stopped themselves from saying? How do you count all the conversations that weren’t had?

A new study provides some insight into the repercussions of the Snowden revelations, arguing that they happened so swiftly and were so high-profile that they triggered a measurable shift in the way people used the Internet.

Jonathon Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after the NSA’s spying became big news in 2013. Penney found a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned “al-Qaeda,” “car bomb” or “Taliban.”

“You want to have informed citizens,” Penney said. “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

Even though the NSA was supposed to target only foreigners, the immense scale of its operations caused many to worry that innocent Americans were getting caught in the dragnet. A Pew survey in 2015 showed that about 40 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the government was spying on their online activities.

The same survey showed that about 87 percent of American adults were aware of the Snowden news stories. Of those people, about a third said they had changed their Internet or phone habits as a result. For instance, 13 percent said they “avoided using certain terms” online; and 14 percent said they were having more conversations face to face instead of over the phone. The sudden, new knowledge about the surveillance programs had increased their concerns about their privacy.

Penney’s research, which is forthcoming in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, echoes the results of a similar study conducted last year on Google Search data. Alex Marthews, a privacy activist, and Catherine Tucker, a professor at MIT’s business school, found that Google activity for certain keywords fell after the Snowden stories were splashed on every front page. Both in the United States and in other countries, people became reluctant to search for terrorism-related words such as “dirty bomb” or “pandemic.”…

The Wikipedia data suggest that the Snowden revelations had a noticeable impact on people’s Wikipedia behaviors, says Penney. “I expected to find an immediate drop-off in June, and then people would slowly realize that nobody is going to jail for viewing Wikipedia articles, and the traffic would go back up,” he said. “I was surprised to see what looks to be a longer-term impact from the revelations.”…

Of course people will find a way around the Forbidden Terms — people always do, whether it’s Siberian nomads referring to Grandfather (Bear) or devout Jews not speaking the name of their god — but wasn’t there a time when “Watch what you say, watch what you do” was righteously mocked as un-American?

About That Libya Thing

Remember this:

So, no. Libya is not Iraq, or Afghanistan, or any other country. Libya is Libya, and while I hope Gaddafi is gone and everything works out, I still do not think we should have been involved. I don’t care if you disagree, but I think I have some good reasons why we should have stayed out of this. Reasons that go beyond “You just hate Obama” or “You are just an idiot and Obama is smarter than you” or “You can’t tell the difference between Iraq and Libya.” Hell, I’m not even getting in the way of the pom pom waving and USA foam fingers- “OBAMA GOT BIN LADEN AND NOW GADDAFI,” mainly because I can’t grok the dissonance between the following statements:

“We’re really not involved in the Libyan hostilities” and “OBAMA JUST PWNED GADDAFI USA! USA! USA!”

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then:

President Obama was deeply wary of another military venture in a Muslim country. Most of his senior advisers were telling him to stay out. Still, he dispatched Mrs. Clinton to sound out Mr. Jibril, a leader of the Libyan opposition. Their late-night meeting on March 14, 2011, would be the first chance for a top American official to get a sense of whom, exactly, the United States was being asked to support.


Libya’s descent into chaos began with a rushed decision to go to war, made in what one top official called a “shadow of uncertainty” as to Colonel Qaddafi’s intentions. The mission inexorably evolved even as Mrs. Clinton foresaw some of the hazards of toppling another Middle Eastern strongman. She pressed for a secret American program that supplied arms to rebel militias, an effort never before confirmed.

Only after Colonel Qaddafi fell and what one American diplomat called “the endorphins of revolution” faded did it become clear that Libya’s new leaders were unequal to the task of unifying the country, and that the elections Mrs. Clinton and President Obama pointed to as proof of success only deepened Libya’s divisions.

Now Libya, with a population smaller than that of Tennessee, poses an outsize security threat to the region and beyond, calling into question whether the intervention prevented a humanitarian catastrophe or merely helped create one of a different kind.

The looting of Colonel Qaddafi’s vast weapons arsenals during the intervention has fed the Syrian civil war, empowered terrorist and criminal groups from Nigeria to Sinai, and destabilized Mali, where Islamist militants stormed a Radisson hotel in November and killed 20 people.

It was a bad idea then, it’s been proven to have been a disaster, and we are poised to nominate two people who possibly support aggressive intervention always as our policy of choice (Hillary maybe, whatever Republican definitely). That is something that should be talked about.

Also amazing is how much of the commentary here that was pro-invasion was basically ad hominem “You’re a fucking idiot who learned the wrong lessons from the Iraq war” and “Obama isn’t Bush this will go better. Ahh, partisanship. Read the archives- it’s all there for you to enjoy, just like all the ragingly stupid shit I said from 2000-2005.

Speaking of Children Killed With No Accountability


Every time we drop a bomb or launch a drone strike to achieve our big win in the war on terror du jour, we create more terrorists and lose our way as a nation just a bit more:

A group of Pakistani artists are hoping to generate “empathy” among US drone operators by placing giant posters of children meant to be seen from the air in the country’s troubled tribal regions.

The project, titled #NotABugSplat, has released a photograph, itself taken from the air with the use of a mini-helicopter drone, of a poster laid out in a field that shows the face of a girl who lost both her parents in one of the controversial strikes in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

“Bug splat” is said to be a term used by drone pilots based in the US to refer to how victims look when seen through video cameras.

“We tried to replicate as much as we could what a camera from above will see looking down,” said one of the artists of the collective, who did not wish to be named individually.

“You will see how tiny people are and they look like little bugs, we wanted to highlight the distance between what a human being looks like when they are just a little dot versus a big face.

“One hope is that it will create some empathy and introspection.”

And these kids weren’t even in a park with a toy gun, which would make them an actual legitimate target for use of force.

Charges Filed

I’m not sure how some of these charges will stick:

Enrique Marquez, who bought the assault rifles used in the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead, was arrested and charged Thursday with conspiring to conduct two terrorism attacks in 2011 and 2012.
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Federal officials charged Mr. Marquez, 24 of Riverside, Calif., with providing material support — including himself, a firearm and explosives — for crimes of terrorism; making a false statement in connection with acquisition of firearms; and immigration fraud. The federal complaint said that in addition to buying the guns, Mr. Marquez bought some of the explosive material found at the shooting rampage.

Mr. Marquez became the first person charged in connection with the shooting rampage by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, that also left 22 wounded. A longtime friend and neighbor of Mr. Farook, Mr. Marquez had been cooperating with investigators, supplying much of what the federal authorities know about the couple, who died in a shootout with the police.

“While there currently is no evidence that Mr. Marquez participated in the Dec. 2 attack or had advance knowledge of it,” a United States attorney, Eileen M. Decker, said in a statement, “his prior purchase of the firearms and ongoing failure to warn authorities about Farook’s intent to commit mass murder had fatal consequences.”

Again, IANAL, so I don’t understand how he could be charged with terrorism if he didn’t know of or plan or participate in the actual attacks. The other charges make sense, but that one does not. Maybe as more information trickles in or maybe one of you legal types can explain the statute he is supposed to have violated.