Thursday, August 30, 2012

Banking giant accused of laundering billions


Banking giant accused of laundering billions

Ex-employee in New York has 1,000 pages of customer account records

Published: 02/01/2012 at 8:39 PM
author-image by Jerome R. CorsiEmail | Archive
Jerome R. Corsi, a Harvard Ph.D., is a WND senior staff reporter. He has authored many books, including No. 1 N.Y. Times best-sellers "The Obama Nation" and "Unfit for Command." Corsi's latest book is "Where's the REAL Birth Certificate?"More ↓

NEW YORK – A former employee of HSBC in New York has 1,000 pages of customer account records he claims are evidence of an international money-laundering scheme involving hundreds of billions of dollars by the global banking giant, which reportedly is under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee.

John Cruz has delivered to WND customer account records he says he pulled from the HSBC computer system before he was fired. Cruz was terminated Feb. 17, 2010, after two years at HSBC for “poor performance,” but he contends he was let go because senior management didn’t want to him to pursue his personal investigation.

Asked for comment, HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman issued a statement to WND.

“We support efforts to protect the integrity of the financial system, and our commitment to AML (anti-money laundering) includes rigorous internal processes and a close working partnership with regulators and law enforcement,” the statement said.

One of the largest banks in the world, London-based HSBC has about 7,500 offices in more than 80 countries and territories in Europe, North and South America, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa.

In his position as an account relationship manager, Cruz worked in the HSBC southern New York region, which accounts for about 50 percent of HSBC’s North American revenue. He was assigned to work with several branch managers to identify accounts in which HSBC might introduce additional banking services.

Cruz told WND he has “firsthand knowledge and proof of how HSBC transferred billions of dollars through accounts linked to companies that did not exist.”

“I had poor job performance because the portfolio of HSBC accounts I was given to work ended up being 90 percent fictitious and fraudulent accounts,” he said. “How could I expand HSBC bank relations with fraudulent accounts that were created to be used for illegal money laundering?”

Meanwhile, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has begun probing money-laundering activity at HSBC, according to a Reuters report last week, with the intention of scheduling hearings in the spring.

Elise Bean, chief legal counsel and majority staff director for the Senate subcommittee, told WND the panel has “no comment” on any possible HSBC investigation.

Cruz came to WND with the 1,000 pages of evidence before the committee’s investigation of HSBC was reported.

He previously brought his complaint to Jeremy Scileppi, bureau chief of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office on Long Island.

“Scileppi was no more interested in hearing what I had to say than was the HSBC senior bank management,” Cruz said. “I got stonewalled. That’s when I decided to write a book.”

Titled “World Banking World Fraud: Using Your Identity,” the book was published Oct. 7, 2011.

Scileppi and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office did not respond to a WND request to confirm Cruz’s claim.

Cruz said that in the two years he worked for HSBC, he eventually discovered that money laundering was being carried out not only by branch managers but also by senior officers of the bank, both within the U.S. and internationally.

“From what I saw, I came to suspect HSBC had become the Mexican drug cartels’ bank of choice,” he said.

The customer account records suggest identity theft was used to capture legitimate Social Security numbers and create bogus retail and commercial bank accounts through which HSBC employees could deposit and withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars on a daily basis, apparently without the knowledge of the identity-theft victims.

Cruz said he ultimately was fired after his supervisors made numerous attempts to discourage him from pursuing his personal investigation.

“When I began bringing to the attention of my supervisors suspicious activity in accounts that needed to be reported to legal authorities, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I was told to shut up,” he said.

His job required him to access the HSBC computer system to find accounts to contact and visit in person.

“I was shocked to find accounts through which millions of dollars were being deposited and withdrawn without any apparent business activity being conducted,” he said. “Then when I went to visit the business, I found nothing – shell companies, vacant offices with no furniture, or no such business whatsoever at the address listed on the account records.”

Cruz said he never imagined that keeping his job at HSBC would mean turning a blind eye to criminal behavior.

“I always thought that if you ran a bank, you would keep away from customers with fake names,” he said. “Instead, what I found at HSBC were thousands of accounts established for phantom businesses that had apparently only thousands of dollars of claimed business each year, but millions of dollars flowing into and out of the accounts every month.”

One of Cruz’s first calls on an HSBC customer required a drive east on the Long Island Expressway to visit a small insurance company. But the phone number turned out to be disconnected, and the tax ID number corresponded with another HSBC customer from Yonkers who had recently closed his account with the bank.

Another business Cruz visited, near the Brentwood Station on the Long Island Rail Way off Suffolk Avenue, turned out to be an abandoned building that evidently had not been occupied in some time. It had broken windows, and weeds pushed up through the cracked cement in the parking lot.

WND has contacted HSBC customers identified in the account records. They appeared to fall into several distinct categories, including former customers of the bank who claim to have closed their accounts and people with no HSBC account history who were independently victims of identity theft related to credit card use.

In all cases WND investigated, the Social Security numbers used to open the HSBC accounts were legitimate and connected to the person in whose name the retail or commercial bank account was opened.

In most cases, WND found the phone numbers listed with the HSBC accounts to be disconnected or assigned to new users who claimed no knowledge of the accounts.

Countering Workplace Violence


Countering Workplace Violence
August 30, 2012 | 0900 GMT


By Scott Stewart

On the morning of Aug. 24, Jeffrey Johnson returned to his former place of work, Hazan Import Corp., and waited on the street outside the building. Johnson, who was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, blended into the crowd of people on the street who were rushing to work that morning. As one of Hazan Import's executives, Stephen Ercolino, approached the building, Johnson drew a pistol from his bag and gunned Ercolino down with no warning, making Ercolino a victim of workplace violence. Media reports suggest that Johnson and Ercolino had been involved in several confrontations, at least one of which became physical, and that Johnson held Ercolino responsible for his being laid off. Each of the men had also reportedly filed police reports claiming the other had threatened him.

Violence in the workplace is a serious security problem in the United States and elsewhere, although it is not nearly as widespread as the media coverage suggests. On average, there are around 500 workplace homicides per year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 518 workplace homicides, and only 12 percent were conducted by a co-worker or former co-worker. This means that while workplace violence incidents tend to get a lot of media attention -- even more so when an incident occurs near the Empire State Building, like the Johnson incident -- they are not common.

Still, while not all that common, incidents of workplace violence are serious. They are also, in most cases, preventable.
Incident Profiles

Threats or other indicators, like Johnson's previous confrontations with Ercolino, almost always precede a workplace homicide involving a co-worker. In workplace violence cases, it is very unusual for a person to just snap and go on a shooting rampage. Almost every case of workplace violence is planned, and the perpetrator intentionally targets a specific individual -- usually a supervisor, human resources manager or co-worker -- whom he believes is responsible for his plight. (We say "he" here because while women are sometimes involved in workplace violence, such incidents are predominately conducted by men.)

In most cases of workplace violence, the violent outburst is driven by factors that build up over a long period of time, rather than by sudden, traumatic events. Failed romantic relationships or marriages, stress from financial problems, lack of job advancement and perceived (or actual) injustice at the hands of a co-worker or superior are all factors that have led to violent incidents in the workplace.

The Johnson case fits very closely into the model described above. Confrontations between Johnson and Ercolino had reportedly taken place for about a year before the attack, so there was an obvious buildup. This was also a premeditated attack targeting a specific individual, and the perpetrator was male.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 22 percent of co-worker-related workplace homicides involve former employees, like Johnson, while approximately 43 percent involve current employees. This means that while there are many examples of workplace violence involving fired employees, such incidents are almost twice as likely to be committed by a current employee than by an employee who was terminated. In other words, workplace violence is not only a concern for companies in the process of letting an employee go; it should be an everyday concern for all companies.
Incident Indicators

As with school shootings, it is rare for a case of workplace violence to happen in which the shooter does not exhibit warning signs of the impending attack. In many past workplace violence cases, the perpetrators clearly presented warning signs, and in several cases, investigations later found that those warning signs were downplayed or outright ignored. Although the investigation of the Johnson shooting is not yet complete, it would not be surprising if it is determined that Johnson gave indications of his intent to kill Ercolino to friends, family members and former co-workers and that these warning signs went unheeded.

Warning signs that an employee or former employee is at risk for committing an act of workplace violence can include sudden changes in behavior, decreased productivity, uncharacteristic problems with tardiness and attendance or withdrawal from one's circle of friends. The theft or sabotage of employer or co-worker property is another sign, as is the sudden display of negative traits such as irritation, snapping at or abusing co-workers or even a sudden disregard for personal hygiene.

Perhaps the most indicative signs of impending violence are talk about suicide or the expression of actual or veiled threats. If co-workers or supervisors feel afraid of a person, even when the reason for that fear cannot be clearly articulated, that is also a significant warning sign (and has been noted in several past incidents). Another indication is when an employee suddenly begins carrying a gun to work and shows it to co-workers.

Since the police and corporate security departments are not omnipresent, they require other people within the company to be their eyes and ears and alert them to the potential for workplace violence. Co-workers and first-line managers generally know when the man in the cubicle next to them has suddenly become really creepy and talks about killing the boss or when the woman down the hall is being stalked by her obsessively jealous ex-boyfriend in accounting.

Companies that are serious about preventing workplace violence should establish clear workplace violence policies -- and ensure they are widely communicated and strictly followed. Any and all threats of violence expressed by employees must be taken seriously, even those that appear innocuous at first. Employees, managers and human resources personnel must be educated about workplace violence and should be encouraged to report all threats or other overt signs immediately. Most important, supervisors and human resources managers must be cognizant of the other, more subtle warning signs -- and be encouraged to take them seriously. Clearly, in such a situation, a false alarm is better than no alarm at all.
A Proactive Stance

One dangerous perception common in many companies is that workplace violence is the corporate security department's problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most corporate security departments are bare-bones operations, and they are quite often among the first departments to be cut when companies face tough economic times. Most corporate security departments focus on physical security, loss prevention and theft of company property. With their limited staff and large responsibilities, they have very little ability to learn what is going on with the angry guy sitting in that middle cubicle on the third floor. Even in companies with dedicated executive protection teams charged with covering senior company officials, those teams are largely focused on the outside threat. They pay far more attention to protecting the CEO during a trip to Mexico or India than during a walk through the company cafeteria. Senior company executives also often seem to believe there is no internal threat -- not in their company -- but this is clearly not the case.

With corporate security departments having limited manpower, it is not uncommon for companies to attempt to augment or replace human security officers. However, while items like closed-circuit television cameras are very good aids for investigating things like theft after the fact, they are rarely useful in preventing such incidents from occurring. This same principle applies to incidents of workplace violence, where physical security systems rarely help stop a workplace violence incident and instead can act as a psychological crutch that induces a false sense of security or even complacency.

This is not to say that physical security measures should not be employed or that companies should not use technology to help them establish proper access control measures. However, such measures should be viewed as supplemental to the company's main line of defense: its employees.

As noted above, employees have regular access to far more people and places than corporate security can ever hope to have, no matter how many officers and cameras the security department employs. When employees take ownership of their company's security and are educated and encouraged to practice situational awareness, they can form an alert and robust network of trip wires that can identify a person who does not belong in their area or when one of their colleagues is showing warning signs of workplace violence. In light of this, communication is vital -- not only communication coming from the workforce to the management and the security team, but also going the other way. If an employee is terminated, access control officers and co-workers need to be informed so they know that the person is no longer permitted in the workplace.

Remember that current employees account for 43 percent of workplace violence incidents involving co-workers. Even if a company has state-of-the-art physical security systems, current employees can normally walk right through them. Additionally, former employees who are familiar with the systems can find ways to bypass them. These insiders know the security systems and procedures in place and are often also aware of gaps in the system. They know which side door gets propped open with a trash can when employees take their midmorning smoke break or how to "tailgate" and get in through gates or doors controlled by card readers.

Brute force has also proved effective in overcoming technology. In some past shootings, intruders have forced employees to open doors at gunpoint, shot employees and taken their building passes to gain access to the rest of the facility or simply shot the security guard at the main access point. Someone with determination and intent can overcome most access controls. Because of this, effective security programs must be proactive by looking for threats rather than reactive and initiating a response only once an attack has begun to unfold. One very effective way to achieve a proactive stance is to use a combination of surveillance detection and protective intelligence as a critical element of a facility's (or executive protection detail's) security plan.

Protective intelligence teams can coordinate with managers, human resources professionals, mental health professionals and law enforcement to identify, investigate and flag potential perpetrators of workplace violence before an attack occurs. Additionally, surveillance detection teams, which are proactive by their very nature, can help by noticing out-of-place behavior occurring in parking lots and outside of entrances -- places a uniformed guard sitting inside the facility has very limited ability to monitor. By focusing on behavior and demeanor, surveillance detection teams can frequently pick out angry or mentally disturbed individuals before they can get to the building. When combined with an educated and alert workforce, these proactive measures can help provide protection that no technological system can match.

Editor's note: This report has been updated to more accurately reflect data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Read more: Countering Workplace Violence | Stratfor

The Day the Feds Seized My Food

Dear Mark,

In the eyes of the government, I'm probably considered a criminal. All because I had the audacity to seek out wholesome, nutrient-dense, naturally prepared food. It all started six years ago, when one of my children got sick, and conventional medicine had nothing to offer him. Nothing. Despite taking him to some of the best hospitals and doctors in the region, nobody had any answers. And meanwhile, I watched my 9-year old suffer in pain day after day after day. It went on for over a year. Some days he could barely get out of bed.

Out of desperation, I threw out every processed food in the house, every food with unpronounceable ingredients, and we started buying real, whole, unprocessed foods. A friend introduced me to a co-op that brought food into the state from an Amish farm about 100 miles away. And as we changed our family's diet, over the course of about three months, our son was restored to good health.

Farmer Dan was a huge blessing to our family. We loved his eggs, his meat, his raw milk, cheese... but we especially loved his yogurt and his sauerkraut. That sauerkraut. I still dream about it! My mouth is watering just thinking about it..... It was a totally different food than the stuff you can buy in the store.

Raw Milk

Then, in 2011, disaster struck. In the dark of night, federal agents raided Farmer Dan's farm and began legal proceedings to shut him down. Farmer Dan held out for awhile, but the government's muscle was too much for him. He finally conceded defeat and threw in the towel. No more raw milk. No more homemade cheese. No more yogurt, no more sauerkraut.

It was over. The day the Feds raided Farmer Dan's farm, they effectively took food right out of my family's mouth.

After we lost access to those healing home-crafted, fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt, I searched high and low for other sources. It's been like playing a reverse version of whack-a-mole ever since. It seems that as soon as I find a source for these delicious fermented foods, one bureaucratic agency or another tells the purveyors that they have to comply with so many burdensome regulations that one of two things happens. The regulations either make it far too expensive for a small producer to stay in business, or the food is pasteurized to kill all the living enzymes and good bacteria. In other words... no artisanal fermented foods, at least not a supply we can rely on.


It's maddening, to say the least.

You have to wonder... just what are the food police afraid of? Because it sure isn't about "food safety." After all, fermented foods have been around since the dawn of agriculture. Archeological evidence of fermented beverages is found all over the globe -- in the Caucasus mountains 8000 years ago, in Babylon and Persia 7000 years ago, in Egypt 5000 years ago, and in pre-Colombian Mexico 4000 years ago. The Egyptians have been eating sourdough bread for 2500 years, and fermented milk was a staple in Babylon 5000 years ago.

Many cultures today still eat raw, fermented foods on a daily basis... and the people who do are much healthier than the average American who does not. [MM: There’s your real answer!!! Big Pharma through bribery owns the FDA. Healthy people don’t need doctors, hospitals, unnecessary surgeries or poisonous MEDs, so by keeping us purposely ill they, over a lifetime, make trillions of dollars by keeping us sick and other words they “make a killing”!!!] The Japanese don't let a day pass without eating miso, fermented soy sauce, and pickles. In Africa, fermented grain porridges are part of the daily fare. Soured, fermented milk is a staple in Indian meals. For Koreans, it's homemade kimchi. Even the French have their crème fraiche and wine.

And yet, the powers-that-be don't want us to have access to them. About two or three years ago, federal, state, and local governments began a coordinated effort to stamp out production of artisanal foods like the ones we enjoyed. Our supplier, Farmer Dan, was one of the casualties, as are many local producers who are just trying to offer healthy, wholesome food on a small scale.

In July of 2010, and again in August of 2011, a private food co-op in California was raided by federal agents, including fully armed SWAT teams. Three individuals were arrested, and thousands of dollars worth of healthy foods were confiscated. The case is still ongoing today.

RP Freedom

For 30 years, Morningland Dairy in Missouri produced artisanal cheeses. In those three decades, there was never a single reported illness caused by the cheese. But in August of 2010, federal and state authorities accused the dairy of selling contaminated cheese. The FDA claimed the cheese was "an acute, life-threatening hazard to health." The cheese inventory was confiscated, and ordered destroyed. The dairy has ceased production, but is still fighting in court.

In October of 2011, as guests arrived for a Farm to Fork Dinner hosted by Quail Hollow Farm, a CSA in Nevada, state health inspectors arrived... and ordered the destruction of the freshly and professionally prepared food. Hosts and guests were threatened with police action if they did not comply.

Scenes like this are becoming all too common across the nation. Consumers who are desperate to take back control of their health by eating only the highest quality food are finding obstacles thrown in their path by the food police.

How to Outsmart the Food Police

Incidents like the ones described above are precisely the reason I decided it was time to learn how to make fermented foods myself. And just in time, Solutions From Science provided exactly the right resource. In keeping with their many other resources for the self-reliant citizen, they have just released a step-by-step guide called Fermentation Factor.

If you want to discover the time-tested secrets to making your own artisanal fermented foods -- legally and privately in your own home -- click here now for details.


Eileen, Team Member
Solutions From Science

P.S. Even though the government for some reason hates this stuff when it's sold on the open market, it's still perfectly legal to make it yourself... at least, at this writing. If SWAT teams can raid a private food co-op for making healthy food available to its members... or force farmers to pour bleach on food from their own farm... they probably have the wherewithal to censor Fermentation Factor, too. So in case they decide to do just that, get your copy now. Click here to order.

Bush not in Tampa, but his ideas are

8/29/2012 5:00 AM
Bush not in Tampa, but his ideas are
By Froma Harrop

The name of George W. Bush graces no chair at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The 43rd president left behind monumental deficits and an economy in tatters. Republicans hold him responsible for the party’s straying from its alleged small-government ethic. They want the public to forget the man.

Thing is, the man wasn’t the problem. His (??) plan was the problem. And there is very little in the “new” Republican proposals that would change the plan. It’s more tax cuts targeting the well-to-do, a bigger defense budget and less regulation. The one place Republicans suggest real change is in Medicare. Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, proposes a Medicare voucher system that would save money by making sure that taxpayer subsidies don’t keep pace with projected health care costs.

There are less radical ways to curb soaring Medicare costs, but Ryan’s idea does deserve half a credit for courage. It doesn’t get a full credit for two reasons. One is it would not impose the voucher system on anyone 55 or older — that is, for those who are really paying attention. The second reason is that it privatizes the hard conversations on what Medicare should offer, discussions the public should be having with their government. What privatizing coverage does is move the tough calls to insurance company executive suites, where the profit motive strongly favors denying care.

Another part of the Bush plan is a continued demonizing of government regulation. In the Bush years, weakened regulation led to billions being stolen in Iraq. It let Wall Street do as it pleased, including speculate with money backed by taxpayer guarantees. Lax regulations created the housing bubble: Government looked the other way as hucksters roped otherwise prudent Americans into abusive mortgage terms. Many foolish regulations no doubt fester and need the ax, but the Republicans’ generalized hostility to the very concept of setting ground rules shows a party that learned little from the Bush fiasco.

It is unclear why folks demanding smaller government also want more defense spending. [SOL: In preporation for their war against Israel's "enemy" Iran.] Ronald Reagan and Bush pushed for larger Pentagon budgets, as do Romney and Ryan today. The 2012 candidates would do us a service by explaining their case for bigger military budgets. David Stockman, a former Reagan budget director and critic of the Republican lust for military spending, recently noted that the defense budget today (after inflation) is almost double what it was when President Eisenhower left office and America faced a genuine Soviet nuclear threat.

Ryan styles himself the paragon of restored fiscal rectitude, but during the Bush years he voted for two unfunded wars, the Medicare drug benefit (entirely paid for with borrowed money) plus enormous tax cuts. We should note that a few principled Republicans opposed the tax cuts as fiscally reckless and the drug benefit as an expensive expansion of government. Not Paul Ryan, and also not House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, another self-proclaimed “young gun.”

The Bush tax cuts drained the Treasury of money needed to pay for what the Republicans wanted, never mind the Democrats. Ryan now calls for even more tax cuts with the proviso that they be partly offset by closing loopholes. Broadening the tax base is not a bad idea, but Ryan’s plan fails to impress because it does not specify what loopholes would go. How about doing away with the big popular deductions, like those for health coverage or mortgage interest? Ryan’s lips are sealed.

So while the Tampa convention hosts no George W. Bush, it has his plan. More defense spending. Less regulation. More tax cuts for the upper incomes. As another famous Republican might have said: Here we go again.

[SOL: Bush was simply the puppet since it was those behind the scenes that controlled everything (domestic and foreign policy) so there will be NO CHANGE because these same Neocons are still in CONTROL of the Republican Party.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Malaysia’s Internet Blackout: Politicisation of Online Activism?

RSIS presents the following commentary Malaysia’s Internet Blackout: Politicisation of Online Activism? by Damien D. Cheong and Yeap Su Yin. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at

No. 163/2012 dated 29 August 2012

Malaysia’s Internet Blackout:
Politicisation of Online Activism?

By Damien D. Cheong and Yeap Su Yin


The Internet Blackout Day in Malaysia last fortnight has caused the Najib administration to re-evaluate recent amendments to the Evidence Act. While this outcome may be interpreted as a success for online activism in the country, would a similar outcome have been achieved if the campaign had not been supported by the major Opposition parties?


AN INTERNET Blackout Day was declared in Malaysia on 14 August, 2012. This was in protest against Section 114A of the recently-amended Evidence Act, which enables the authorities to act firmly against individuals who post defamatory, inflammatory and/or seditious content on the Internet.

The law not only holds the user/blogger potentially accountable for the offending post(s), but also any individual or organisation connected to the objectionable website or blog such as a person who: (a) owns, administers or edits the website; (b) is registered with the network service provider; and (c) is in custody or control of the computer at the time the offence was committed.

Curtailing Internet freedom through Section 114A?

These new amendments have alarmed many netizens and civil society groups because of the legislation’s wide scope and the heavy onus placed on the accused to prove his/her innocence. Expectedly, many individuals have interpreted these amendments as an attempt by the Malaysian government to stifle internet freedom. The Stop 114A campaign was spearheaded by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a civil society group, but it soon attracted support from several prominent civil society organisations, bloggers and Opposition parties.

In the wake of Internet Blackout Day, the Najib administration promised to re-evaluate Section 114A, with the Prime Minister assuring the public that “Whatever we do, we must put the people first”. While this outcome may be interpreted as a success for online activism in Malaysia, the question this raises is whether such online activism can truly create an impact on its own, or whether it needs support from Opposition parties and political notables to do so.

“Bitroots” activism in Malaysia

The Internet Blackout Day was inspired by a similar campaign launched earlier this year in the United States. This was organised to protest the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), two bills aimed at curbing internet piracy by targeting foreign websites that commit or facilitate intellectual property theft. The bills would have given US authorities the right to compel US companies such as internet service providers, credit card companies and online advertisers to cut off ties with such websites.

While lawmakers expected both bills to be passed effortlessly through the US Congress, they encountered massive resistance from activists as well as major players in the IT industry. Google, Wikipedia and Reddit for example, blacked-out their websites on 18 January, 2012 in support of Internet Blackout Day. The strong support for the blackouts convinced many law-makers who had initially supported the anti-piracy bills to withdraw their support. This subsequently forced Congress to delay plans to enact the bills into law.

Online activism had suddenly become very powerful. As Larry Downes from Forbes Magazine, observed: (It was) “the introduction of the Washington establishment to “bitroots” activism, arising from a community of ordinary internet users that have used technology as tools to promote their cause”.

In contrast, the CIJ’s Internet Blackout Day in Malaysia did not attract enthusiastic support from industry players but gained backing from political heavyweights. These notables included Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (Parti Keadilan Rakyat [PKR]) and Lim Kit Siang, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) as well as blogger Marina Mahathir, daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. While it did have support from other civil society organisations as well as some private sector companies, the involvement of these notables, and the awareness and additional support they were able to generate, created momentum to sustain the CIJ’s campaign.

The Opposition parties, too, were politically advantaged by supporting the CIJ’s Internet Blackout Day. This was because they could: (a) portray themselves as being in sync with the people and the people’s wishes; (b) underscore their role as an effective check on the Government; (c) distinguish themselves ideologically and administratively from the ruling coalition; (d) emphasise their willingness to champion the people’s rights as well as what rights/values the party represented; and (e) increase their visibility. All these are important considerations for the Opposition with the general election expected to be called very soon.

Prudently, the Opposition parties (PKR and DAP) did not hijack the campaign but united in support of it. A united opposition is often well-perceived by the voters, and helps with possible coalition formation in the aftermath of elections.


Although online activism is seemingly gaining prominence in Malaysia, it does not appear to be taking the form of “bitroots” activism. This is where “the online community” struggles against “the establishment” as in the US case. The prominence of the Opposition parties in the CIJ’s campaign suggests that online activism, while initiated by ordinary individuals, is sustained by support from the major political parties, and hence, likely to be politicised in the end.

As there is much political capital to be gained from championing certain causes, Opposition parties might begin to align themselves more with interest groups and activists. They could also hijack existing causes or tacitly instigate groups to advocate and mobilise around specific causes.

In light of this possible eventuality, the incumbent Barisan Nasional coalition could find itself in a possible face-off with an emerging political combination of bitroots activists and the political opposition. Dealing effectively with this highly potent combination may well prove to be the most important challenge for the Malaysian government ahead of the next polls.

Damien D. Cheong is a Research Fellow and Yeap Su Yin an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

The Geography of Iranian Power by Robert D. Kaplan


The Geography of Iranian Power by Robert D. Kaplan
August 29, 2012 | 0900 GMT


By Robert D. Kaplan

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Robert D. Kaplan's new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, which will be released Sept. 11.

The most important facts about Iran go unstated because they are so obvious. Any glance at a map would tell us what they are. And these facts explain how regime change or evolution in Tehran -- when, not if, it comes -- will dramatically alter geopolitics from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

Virtually all of the Greater Middle East's oil and natural gas lies either in the Persian Gulf or the Caspian Sea regions. Just as shipping lanes radiate from the Persian Gulf, pipelines will increasingly radiate from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, China and the Indian Ocean. The only country that straddles both energy-producing areas is Iran, stretching as it does from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf. In a raw materials' sense, Iran is the Greater Middle East's universal joint.

The Persian Gulf possesses by some accounts 55 percent of the world's crude oil reserves, and Iran dominates the whole Gulf, from the Shatt al-Arab on the Iraqi border to the Strait of Hormuz 990 kilometers (615 miles) away. Because of its bays, inlets, coves and islands -- excellent places for hiding suicide, tanker-ramming speed boats -- Iran's coastline inside the Strait of Hormuz is 1,356 nautical miles; the next longest, that of the United Arab Emirates, is only 733 nautical miles. Iran also has 480 kilometers of Arabian Sea frontage, including the port of Chabahar near the Pakistani border. This makes Iran vital to providing warm water, Indian Ocean access to the landlocked Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Iranian coast of the Caspian in the far north, wreathed by thickly forested mountains, stretches for nearly 650 kilometers from Astara in the west, on the border with former Soviet Azerbaijan, around to Bandar-e Torkaman in the east, by the border with natural gas-rich Turkmenistan.

A look at the relief map shows something more. The broad back of the Zagros Mountains sweeps down through Iran from Anatolia in the northwest to Balochistan in the southeast. To the west of the Zagros range, the roads are all open to Iraq. When the British area specialist and travel writer Freya Stark explored Lorestan in Iran's Zagros Mountains in the early 1930s, she naturally based herself out of Baghdad, not out of Tehran. To the east and northeast, the roads are open to Khorasan and the Kara Kum (Black Sand) and Kizyl Kum (Red Sand) deserts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, respectively. For just as Iran straddles the rich energy fields of both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, it also straddles the Middle East proper and Central Asia. No Arab country can make that claim (just as no Arab country sits astride two energy-producing areas). In fact, the Mongol invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of people at a minimum and destroyed the qanat irrigation system, was that much more severe precisely because of Iran's Central Asian prospect.

Iranian influence in the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia is potentially vast. Whereas Azerbaijan on Iran's northwestern border contains roughly 8 million Azeri Turks, there are twice that number in Iran's neighboring provinces of Azerbaijan and Tehran. The Azeris were cofounders of the first Iranian polity since the seventh century rise of Islam. The first Shiite Shah of Iran (Ismail in 1501) was an Azeri Turk. There are important Azeri businessmen and ayatollahs in Iran, including current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. The point is that whereas Iran's influence to the west in nearby Turkey and the Arab world has been well established by the media, its influence to the north and east is equally profound; and if the future brings less repressive regimes both in Iran and in the southern, Islamic tier of the former Soviet Union, Iran's influence could deepen still with more cultural and political interactions.

There is, too, what British historian Michael Axworthy calls the "Idea of Iran," which, as he explains, is as much about culture and language as about race and territory.1 Iran, he means, is a civilizational attractor, much like ancient Greece and China were, pulling other peoples and languages into its linguistic orbit: the essence of soft power, in other words. Dari, Tajik, Urdu, Pashtu, Hindi, Bengali and Iraqi Arabic are all either variants of Persian, or significantly influenced by it. That is, one can travel from Baghdad in Iraq to Dhaka in Bangladesh and remain inside a Persian cultural realm.

Iran, furthermore, is not some 20th century contrivance of family and religious ideology like Saudi Arabia, bracketed as the Saudi state is by arbitrary borders. Iran corresponds almost completely with the Iranian plateau -- "the Castile of the Near East," in Princeton historian Peter Brown's phrase -- even as the dynamism of its civilization reaches far beyond it. The Persian Empire, even as it besieged Greece, "uncoiled, like a dragon's tail ... as far as the Oxus, Afghanistan and the Indus valley," writes Brown.2 W. Barthold, the great Russian geographer of the turn of the 20th century, concurs, situating Greater Iran between the Euphrates and the Indus and identifying the Kurds and Afghans as essentially Iranian peoples.3

Of the ancient peoples of the Near East, only the Hebrews and the Iranians "have texts and cultural traditions that have survived to modern times," writes the linguist Nicholas Ostler.4 Persian (Farsi) was not replaced by Arabic, like so many other tongues, and is in the same form today as it was in the 11th century, even as it has adopted the Arabic script. Iran has a far more venerable record as a nation-state and urbane civilization than most places in the Arab world and all the places in the Fertile Crescent, including Mesopotamia and Palestine. There is nothing artificial about Iran, in other words: The very competing power centers within its clerical regime indicate a greater level of institutionalization than almost anywhere in the region save for Israel, Egypt and Turkey.

Greater Iran began back in 700 B.C. with the Medes, an ancient Iranian people who established, with the help of the Scythians, an independent state in northwestern Iran. By 600 B.C., this empire reached from central Anatolia to the Hindu Kush (Turkey to Afghanistan), as well as south to the Persian Gulf. In 549 B.C., Cyrus (the Great), a prince from the Persian house of Achaemenes, captured the Median capital of Ecbatana (Hamadan) in western Iran and went on a further bout of conquest. The map of the Achaemenid Empire, governed from Persepolis (near Shiraz) in southern Iran, shows antique Persia at its apex, from the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. It stretched from Thrace and Macedonia in the northwest, and from Libya and Egypt in the southwest, all the way to the Punjab in the east; and from the Transcaucasus and the Caspian and Aral seas in the north to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south. No empire up to that point in world history had matched it. Persia was the world's first superpower, and Iranian leaders in our era -- both the late shah and the ayatollahs -- have inculcated this history in their bones. Its pan-Islamism notwithstanding, the current ruling elite is all about Iranian nationalism.

The Parthians manifested the best of the Iranian genius -- which was ultimately about tolerance of the cultures over which they ruled, allowing them a benign suzerainty. Headquartered in the northeastern Iranian region of Khorasan and the adjacent Kara Kum and speaking an Iranian language, the Parthians ruled between the third century B.C. and the third century A.D., generally from Syria and Iraq to central Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Armenia and Turkmenistan. Thus, rather than the Bosporus-to-Indus or the Nile-to-Oxus scope of Achaemenid Persia, the Parthian Empire constitutes a more realistic vision of a Greater Iran for the 21st century. And this is not necessarily bad. For the Parthian Empire was extremely decentralized, a zone of strong influence rather than of outright control, which leaned heavily on art, architecture and administrative practices inherited from the Greeks. As for the Iran of today, it is no secret that the clerical regime is formidable, but demographic, economic and political forces are equally dynamic, and key segments of the population are restive. So do not discount the possibility of a new regime in Iran and a consequently benign Iranian empire yet to come.

The medieval record both cartographically and linguistically follows from the ancient one, though in more subtle ways. In the eighth century the political locus of the Arab world shifted eastward from Syria to Mesopotamia -- that is, from the Umayyad caliphs to the Abbasid ones -- signaling, in effect, the rise of Iran. (The second caliph, Omar bin al-Khattab, during whose reign the Islamic armies conquered the Sassanids, adopted the Persian system of administration called the Diwan.) The Abbasid Caliphate at its zenith in the middle of the ninth century ruled from Tunisia eastward to Pakistan, and from the Caucasus and Central Asia southward to the Persian Gulf. Its capital was the new city of Baghdad, close upon the old Sassanid Persian capital of Ctesiphon; and Persian bureaucratic practices, which added whole new layers of hierarchy, undergirded this new imperium. The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad became more a symbol of an Iranian despotism than of an Arab sheikhdom. Some historians have labeled the Abbasid Caliphate the equivalent of the "cultural reconquest" of the Middle East by the Persians under the guise of Arab rulers.5 The Abbasids succumbed to Persian practices just as the Umayyads, closer to Asia Minor, had succumbed to Byzantine ones. "Persian titles, Persian wines and wives, Persian mistresses, Persian songs, as well as Persian ideas and thoughts, won the day," writes the historian Philip K. Hitti.6 "In the western imagination," writes Peter Brown, "the Islamic [Abbasid] empire stands as the quintessence of an oriental power. Islam owed this crucial orientation neither to Muhammad nor to the adaptable conquerors of the seventh century, but to the massive resurgence of eastern, Persian traditions in the eighth and ninth centuries.7"

As for Shiism, it is very much a component of this Iranian cultural dynamism -- despite the culturally bleak and oppressive aura projected by the ruling Shiite clergy in these dark times in Tehran. While the arrival of the Mahdi in the form of the hidden Twelfth Imam means the end of injustice, and thus acts as a spur to radical activism, little else in Shiism necessarily inclines the clergy to play an overt political role; Shiism even has a quietest strain that acquiesces to the powers that be and that is frequently informed by Sufism.8 Witness the example set by Iraq's leading cleric of recent years, Ayatollah Ali Sistani (of Iranian heritage), who only at pivotal moments makes a plea for political conciliation from behind the scenes. Precisely because of the symbiotic relationship between Iraq and Iran throughout history, with its basis in geography, it is entirely possible that in a post-revolutionary Iran, Iranians will look more toward the Shiite holy cities of An Najaf and Karbala in Iraq for spiritual direction than toward their own holy city of Qom. It is even possible that Qom will adopt the quietism of An Najaf and Karbala. This is despite the profound differences between Shia of Arab descent and those of Persian descent.

The French scholar Olivier Roy tells us that Shiism is historically an Arab phenomenon that came late to Iran but that eventually led to the establishment of a clerical hierarchy for taking power. Shiism was further strengthened by the tradition of a strong and bureaucratic state that Iran has enjoyed since antiquity, relative to those of the Arab world, and that is, as we know, partly a gift of the spatial coherence of the Iranian plateau. The Safavids brought Shiism to Iran in the 16th century. Their name comes from their own militant Sufi order, the Safaviyeh, which had originally been Sunni. The Safavids were merely one of a number of horse-borne brotherhoods of mixed Turkish, Azeri, Georgian and Persian origin in the late 15th century that occupied the mountainous plateau region between the Black and Caspian seas, where eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus and northwestern Iran come together. In order to build a stable state on the Farsi-speaking Iranian plateau, these new sovereigns of eclectic linguistic and geographical origin adopted Twelver Shiism as the state religion, which awaits the return of the Twelfth Imam, a direct descendant of Mohammed, who is not dead but in occlusion.9 The Safavid Empire at its zenith stretched thereabouts from Anatolia and Syria-Mesopotamia to central Afghanistan and Pakistan -- yet another variant of Greater Iran through history. Shiism was an agent of Iran's congealment as a modern nation-state, even as the Iranianization of non-Persian Shiite and Sunni minorities during the 16th century also helped in this regard.10 Iran might have been a great state and nation since antiquity, but the Safavids with their insertion of Shiism onto the Iranian plateau retooled Iran for the modern era.

Indeed, revolutionary Iran of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is a fitting expression of this powerful and singular legacy. Of course, the rise of the ayatollahs has been a lowering event in the sense of the violence done to -- and I do not mean to exaggerate -- the voluptuous, sophisticated and intellectually stimulating traditions of the Iranian past. (Persia -- "that land of poets and roses!" exclaims the introductory epistle of James J. Morier's The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan.11) But comparison, it is famously said, is the beginning of all serious scholarship. And compared to the upheavals and revolutions in the Arab world during the early and middle phases of the Cold War, the regime ushered in by the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution was striking in its élan and modernity. The truth is, and this is something that goes directly back to the Achaemenids of antiquity, everything about the Iranian past and present is of a high quality, whether it is the dynamism of its empires from Cyrus the Great to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Who can deny the sheer Iranian talent for running militant networks in Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, which is, after all, an aspect of imperial rule!); or the political thought and writings of its Shiite clergy; or the complex efficiency of the bureaucracy and security services in cracking down on dissidents. Tehran's revolutionary order constitutes a richly developed governmental structure with a diffusion of power centers; it is not a crude one-man thugocracy like the kind Saddam Hussein ran in neighboring Arab Iraq.

Again, what makes the clerical regime in Iran so effective in the pursuit of its interests, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, is its merger with the Iranian state, which itself is the product of history and geography. The Green Movement, which emerged in the course of massive anti-regime demonstrations following the disputed elections of 2009, is very much like the regime it seeks to topple. The Greens were greatly sophisticated by the standards of the region (at least until the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia two years later), and thus another demonstration of the Iranian genius. The Greens constituted a world-class democracy movement, having mastered the latest means in communications technology -- Twitter, Facebook, text messaging -- to advance their organizational throw weight and having adopted a potent mixture of nationalism and universal moral values to advance their cause. It took all the means of repression of the Iranian state, subtle and not, to drive the Greens underground. (In fact, the Iranian regime was far more surgical in its repression of the Greens than the Syrian regime has thus far been in its own violent attempt to silence dissent.) Were the Greens ever to take power, or to facilitate a change in the clerical regime's philosophy and foreign policy toward moderation, Iran, because of its strong state and dynamic idea, would have the means to shift the whole groundwork of the Middle East away from radicalization, providing political expression for a new bourgeoisie with middle-class values that has been quietly rising throughout the Greater Middle East, and which the American obsession with al Qaeda and radicalism obscured until the Arab Spring of 2011.12

To speak in terms of destiny is dangerous, since it implies an acceptance of fate and determinism, but clearly given Iran's geography, history and human capital, it seems likely that the Greater Middle East, and by extension, Eurasia, will be critically affected by Iran's own political evolution, for better or for worse.

The best indication that Iran has yet to fulfill such a destiny lies in what has not quite happened yet in Central Asia. Let me explain. Iran's geography, as noted, gives it frontage on Central Asia to the same extent that it has on Mesopotamia and the Middle East. But the disintegration of the Soviet Union has brought limited gains to Iran, when one takes into account the whole history of Greater Iran in the region. The very suffix "istan," used for Central and South Asian countries and which means "place," is Persian. The conduits for Islamization and civilization in Central Asia were the Persian language and culture. The language of the intelligentsia and other elites in Central Asia up through the beginning of the 20th century was one form of Persian or another. But after 1991, Shiite Azerbaijan to the northwest adopted the Latin alphabet and turned to Turkey for tutelage. As for the republics to the northeast of Iran, Sunni Uzbekistan oriented itself more toward a nationalistic than an Islamic base, for fear of its own homegrown fundamentalists -- this makes it wary of Iran. Tajikistan, Sunni but Persian-speaking, seeks a protector in Iran, but Iran is constrained for fear of making an enemy of the many Turkic-speaking Muslims elsewhere in Central Asia.13 What's more, being nomads and semi-nomads, Central Asians were rarely devout Muslims to start with, and seven decades of communism only strengthened their secularist tendencies. Having to relearn Islam, they are both put off and intimidated by clerical Iran.

Of course, there have been positive developments from the viewpoint of Tehran. Iran, as its nuclear program attests, is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Middle East (in keeping with its culture and politics), and as such has built hydroelectric projects and roads and railroads in these Central Asian countries that will one day link them all to Iran -- either directly or through Afghanistan. Moreover, a natural gas pipeline now connects southeastern Turkmenistan with northeastern Iran, bringing Turkmen natural gas to Iran's Caspian region, and thus freeing up Tehran's own natural gas production in southern Iran for export via the Persian Gulf. (This goes along with a rail link built in the 1990s connecting the two countries.) Turkmenistan has the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves and has committed its entire natural gas exports to Iran, China and Russia. Hence, the possibility arises of a Eurasian energy axis united by the crucial geography of three continental powers all for the time being opposed to Western democracy.14 Iran and Kazakhstan have built an oil pipeline connecting the two countries, with Kazakh oil being pumped to Iran's north, even as an equivalent amount of oil is shipped from Iran's south out through the Persian Gulf. Kazakhstan and Iran will also be linked by rail, providing Kazakhstan with direct access to the Gulf. A rail line may also connect mountainous Tajikistan to Iran, via Afghanistan. Iran constitutes the shortest route for all these natural resource-rich countries to reach international markets.

So imagine an Iran athwart the pipeline routes of Central Asia, along with its sub-state, terrorist empire of sorts in the Greater Middle East. But there is still a problem. Given the prestige that Shiite Iran has enjoyed in sectors of the Sunni Arab world, to say nothing of Shiite south Lebanon and Shiite Iraq -- because of the regime's implacable support for the Palestinian cause and its inherent anti-Semitism -- it is telling that this ability to attract mass support outside its borders does not similarly carry over into Central Asia. One issue is that the former Soviet republics maintain diplomatic relations with Israel and simply lack the hatred toward it that may still be ubiquitous in the Arab world, despite the initial phases of the Arab Spring. Yet, there is something larger and deeper at work, something that limits Iran's appeal not only in Central Asia but in the Arab world as well. That something is the very persistence of its suffocating clerical rule that, while impressive in a negative sense -- using Iran's strong state tradition to ingeniously crush a democratic opposition and torture and rape its own people -- has also dulled the linguistic and cosmopolitan appeal that throughout history has accounted for a Greater Iran in a cultural sense. The Technicolor is gone from the Iranian landscape under this regime and has been replaced by grainy black and white. Iran's imperial ambitions are for the time being limited by the very nature of its clerical rule.

Some years back I was in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, from whose vantage point Tehran and Mashad over the border in Iranian Khorasan have always loomed as cosmopolitan centers of commerce and pilgrimage, in stark contrast to Turkmenistan's own sparsely populated, nomadic landscape. But while trade and pipeline politics proceeded apace, Iran held no real magic, no real appeal for Muslim Turkmens, who are mainly secular and are put off by the mullahs. As extensive as Iranian influence is by virtue of its in-your-face challenge to America and Israel, I don't believe we will see the true appeal of Iran, in all its cultural glory, until the regime liberalizes or is toppled. A democratic or quasi democratic Iran, precisely because of the geographical power of the Iranian state, has the possibility to energize hundreds of millions of fellow Muslims in the Arab world and Central Asia.

Sunni Arab liberalism could be helped in its rise not only by the example of the West, or because of a democratic yet dysfunctional Iraq, but also because of the challenge thrown up by a newly liberal and historically eclectic Shiite Iran in the future. And such an Iran might do what two decades of post-Cold War Western democracy and civil society promotion have failed to -- that is, lead to a substantial prying loose of the police state restrictions in former Soviet Central Asia.

With its rich culture, vast territory and teeming and sprawling cities, Iran is, in the way of China and India, a civilization unto itself, whose future will overwhelmingly be determined by internal politics and social conditions. Unlike the Achaemenid, Sassanid, Safavid and other Iranian empires of yore, which were either benign or truly inspiring in both a moral and cultural sense, this current Iranian empire of the mind rules mostly out of fear and intimidation, through suicide bombers rather than through poets. And this both reduces its power and signals its eventual downfall.

Yet, if one were to isolate a single hinge in calculating Iran's fate, it would be Iraq. Iraq, history and geography tell us, is entwined in Iranian politics to the degree of no other foreign country. The Shiite shrines of Imam Ali (the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law) in An Najaf and the one of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Prophet) in Karbala, both in central-southern Iraq, have engendered Shiite theological communities that challenge that of Qom in Iran. Were Iraqi democracy to exhibit even a modicum of stability, the freer intellectual atmosphere of the Iraqi holy cities could eventually have a profound impact on Iranian politics. In a larger sense, a democratic Iraq can serve as an attractor force of which Iranian reformers might in the future take advantage. For as Iranians become more deeply embroiled in Iraqi politics, the very propinquity of the two nations with a long and common border might work to undermine the more repressive of the two systems. Iranian politics will become gnarled by interaction with a pluralistic, ethnically Arab Shiite society. And as the Iranian economic crisis continues to unfold, ordinary Iranians could well up in anger over hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by their government to buy influence in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. This is to say nothing of how Iranians will become increasingly hated inside Iraq as the equivalent of "Ugly Americans." Iran would like to simply leverage Iraqi Shiite parties against the Sunni ones. But that is not altogether possible, since that would narrow the radical Islamic universalism it seeks to represent in the pan-Sunni world to a sectarianism with no appeal beyond the community of Shia. Thus, Iran may be stuck trying to help form shaky Sunni-Shiite coalitions in Iraq and to keep them perennially functioning, even as Iraqis develop greater hatred for this intrusion into their domestic affairs. Without justifying the way that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was planned and executed, or rationalizing the trillions of dollars spent and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the war, in the fullness of time it might very well be that the fall of Saddam Hussein began a process that will result in the liberation of two countries; not one. Just as geography has facilitated Iran's subtle colonization of Iraqi politics, geography could also be a factor in abetting Iraq's influence upon Iran.

The prospect of peaceful regime change -- or evolution -- in Iran, despite the temporary fizzling of the Green Movement, is still greater now than in the Soviet Union during most of the Cold War. A liberated Iran, coupled with less autocratic governments in the Arab world -- governments that would be focused more on domestic issues because of their own insecurity -- would encourage a more equal, fluid balance of power between Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East, something that would help keep the region nervously preoccupied with itself and on its own internal and regional power dynamics, much more than on America and Israel.

Additionally, a more liberal regime in Tehran would inspire a broad cultural continuum worthy of the Persian empires of old, one that would not be constrained by the clerical forces of reaction.

A more liberal Iran, given the large Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen and other minorities in the north and elsewhere, may also be a far less centrally controlled Iran, with the ethnic peripheries drifting away from Tehran's orbit. Iran has often been less a state than an amorphous, multinational empire. Its true size would always be greater and smaller than any officially designated cartography. While the northwest of today's Iran is Kurdish and Azeri Turk, parts of western Afghanistan and Tajikistan are culturally and linguistically compatible with an Iranian state. It is this amorphousness, so very Parthian, that Iran could return to as the wave of Islamic extremism and the perceived legitimacy of the mullahs' regime erodes.15

1 Michael Axworthy. A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, Basic Books, New York, 2008, p. 3.

2 Brown. The World of Late Antiquity, p. 163.

3 W. Barthold, An Historical Geography of Iran, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, (1903) 1971 and 1984, pp. x-xi and 4.

4 Ostler, Empires of the Word, p. 31.

5 Axworthy, p. 78.

6 Philip K. Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1943, p. 109.

7 Brown, pp. 202-03.

8 Hiro, Inside Central Asia, p. 359.

9 Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992 and 1994, pp. 168-70.

10 Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, p. 168.

11 James Morier, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, John Murray, London, 1824, p. 5 of 1949 Cresset Press edition.

12 Vali Nasr, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, Free Press, New York, 2009.

13 Roy, p. 193.

14 M. K. Bhadrakumar, "Russia, China, Iran Energy Map," Asia Times, 2010.

15 Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Random House, New York, 1996, p. 242.

Read more: The Geography of Iranian Power by Robert D. Kaplan | Stratfor

America's New Nightmare

What happened to liberty, to the free market, and to healthy competition?
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America's New Nightmare
By Brittany Stepniak | Sunday, August 26th, 2012
Brittany Stepniak
The dollar's on the brink of collapse, our entire financial system is run by corrupt politicians and scheming banksters, and now this...
Our former existence as a nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all has been threatened by forces beyond our control.
Aren't you tired of being walked all over, of being distrustful of your government, of being fearful of your family's well-being and financial security?
What happened to liberty?
What happened to the free market and healthy competition?
Banker manipulation, totalitarianism rule, and renewed Y2K fears prevail.
Schools across our nation discuss taking away the strict grading system, using arbitrary standards instead. They're trying to chip away our children's ambition to impose a “fun-and-fair-for-all” approach to education and athletics.
Is a blissfully ignorant upbringing worth the sacrifice? Is doing away with our future generation's curiosity, desire to learn, grow, and think for themselves really the direction we're headed?
Thinking about the degree of dependency this sort of upbringing inevitability creates and enables gives me chills...
Thinking about that kind of future is enough to induce nightmares.
Allow me let you in on what's been happening in the latter portion of this year that has experts expecting something seriously detrimental is on the way...
Renowned investor George Soros has been maniacally selling his stocks and stocking up on gold. Soros recently dumped over a million shares of stock in some major banks to purchase $100 million worth of gold.
He sold approximately $50 million in stocks and acquired roughly 884,000 shares of Gold via the SPDR Gold Trust. That's nearly a $130 million value.
Why?Soros is preparing for a complete collapse of our financial system. He recognizes gold is the only true safe haven.
Central banks are also loading up on gold: China has increased gold imports by an astonishing 640% from 2011 to 2012. The World Gold Council has been documenting these exponentially increasing demand trends, which show us the amount of gold bought by other central banks soared dramatically in the second quarter of this year as well: sales increased by 137.9% from Q2 last year.
Additionally, more than $10 billion has been extracted from equity funds over the past two weeks alone. The Facebook IPO disaster (the company has lost close to half of its value since it went public with the IPO) is just a part of an ominous bigger picture.
Insiders are selling in a frenzy, getting out at the top of the market while there is still something left to be gained...
Why?They are preparing for a complete collapse of our financial system. They recognize gold is the only true safe haven.
Perhaps the most alarming charade in this elaborate scheme pertains to our own government.
On August 15, you may have read that the Social Security Administration was set to purchase 174,000 rounds of hollow point bullets to be delivered to 41 different locations across the nation. An online ammunition retailer quoted these bullets as being “a great personal defense bullet.”
First it's the Department of Homeland Security... then the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration... and now the Social Security Administration — in total, over one billion rounds of ammo purchased by various segments of the United States Government...
Why?They are preparing for a complete collapse of our financial system. They're preparing for the country to erupt in social unrest.
Maybe this collapse will take place after the coming election; maybe not.
Are you prepared?
Best wishes for a prosperous future,
Brittany Stepniak Signature
Brittany Stepniak

By Invitation, Mostly: the International Politics of the US Security Presence, China, and the South China Sea

This RSIS Working Paper issue no. 247 dated 28 August 2012 by Christopher Freise entitled By Invitation, Mostly: the International Politics of the US Security Presence, China, and the South China Sea can be accessed by clicking:

No. 247 dated 28 August 2012

By Invitation, Mostly: the International Politics of the US Security Presence, China, and the South China Sea

By Christopher Freise

Much attention has been devoted to the Obama Administration’s “Pacific Pivot” and the vocal reassertion of an upgraded security, economic, and diplomatic presence in East Asia by the United States. Commentators have ascribed various rationales to these efforts, including speculation that this is part of a “containment” strategy towards China, a reaction to the US presidential election cycle, or, more benignly, an effort to forestall concerns of American withdrawal from the region. These explanations have some elements of truth, but also fall short of fully describing or understanding the strategic rationale behind these moves.

Significantly, these public steps to assert American power in Southeast Asia have been largely welcomed by, and come at the invitation of, Southeast Asian states. This does not suggest that these states support or are participating in a “containment” policy towards China, but rather that Southeast Asian states have actively sought to ensure a continued American security presence in the face of increasing Chinese assertiveness and aggressiveness over the South China Sea. The South China Sea has therefore become a bellwether in Southeast Asia for how a more powerful China would act.

While responses have varied within ASEAN, the willingness of the United States to pursue successful diplomatic efforts through ASEAN-led venues like the East Asia Summit suggest that Chinese actions have resulted in the very thing Beijing has sought to avoid – an increasingly legitimatized American security presence within Southeast Asia. For the states of Southeast Asia, the attractiveness of the United States’ presence stems from a strategy of hedging or potential insurance should China act more aggressively in the future.

While China retains important advantages in Southeast Asia, including proximity and the allure of continued economic growth, these also remain issues that elicit some concern amongst Southeast Asian states – particularly over the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) substantial budgetary and strategic expansion. Chinese leaders face difficult decisions over the South China Sea: unable to back off its initial claims due to nationalistic sentiment or to aggressively assert its military advantage over fellow claimants due to the (invited) security presence of the United States and undoubted backlash that would certainly occur, it is forced to pursue its claims in multilateral forums in which it is outnumbered, or attempt to pressure other claimants bilaterally, a tactic that may confirm fears many Southeast Asian states have about what form a “rising China” may take in the future. China retains the most power over how the South China Sea situation will be resolved, but the present options available will likely force some compromise of China’s maximalist territorial claims within the Sea.

Click on the following link to download the working paper


Christopher Freise is a PhD candidate in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. In 2011 he was a RSIS-Macarthur visiting fellow at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He also completed a research fellowship at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in 2008 that primarily focused upon East Asian security architecture. His research interests include international security, East Asian regionalism and security architecture, the impact of domestic politics upon American foreign policy, American grand strategy, US-Indonesian relations, and Southeast Asian politics. Prior to his PhD candidature, Christopher worked in Washington, DC for the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has extensive teaching experience in a variety of subjects, including American politics, international security, and Asia-Pacific international politics at both the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. He received a BA (with Honours) in History and American Politics from the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poland's Strategy


Poland's Strategy
August 28, 2012 | 0900 GMT


By George Friedman

Polish national strategy pivots around a single, existential issue: how to preserve its national identity and independence. Located on the oft-invaded North European Plain, Poland's existence is heavily susceptible to the moves of major Eurasian powers. Therefore, Polish history has been erratic, with Poland moving from independence -- even regional dominance -- to simply disappearing from the map, surviving only in language and memory before emerging once again.

North European Plain

For some countries, geopolitics is a marginal issue. Win or lose, life goes on. But for Poland, geopolitics is an existential issue; losing begets national catastrophe. Therefore, Poland's national strategy inevitably is designed with an underlying sense of fear and desperation. Nothing in Polish history would indicate that disaster is impossible.

To begin thinking about Poland's strategy, we must consider that in the 17th century, Poland, aligned with Lithuania, was one of the major European powers. It stretched from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea, from western Ukraine into the Germanic regions. By 1795, it had ceased to exist as an independent country, divided among three emerging powers: Prussia, Russia and Austria.

Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth

It did not regain independence until after World War I -- it was created by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) -- after which it had to fight the Soviets for its existence. Poland again was brought under the power of a foreign nation when Germany invaded in 1939. Its statehood was formalized in 1945, but it was dominated by the Soviets until 1989.

Informed by its history, Poland understands that it must retain its independence and avoid foreign occupation -- an issue that transcends all others psychologically and practically. Economic, institutional and cultural issues are important, but the analysis of its position must always return to this root issue.
Poland's Elusive Security

Poland has two strategic problems. The first problem is its geography. The Carpathian Mountains and the Tatra Mountains provide some security to Poland's south. But the lands to the east, west and southwest are flat plains with only rivers that provide limited protection. This plain was the natural line of attack of great powers, including Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany.

Poland's Strategy

During the 17th century, the Germans were fragmented in the Holy Roman Empire, while Russia was still emerging as a coherent power. The North European Plain was an opportunity for Poland. Poland could establish itself on the plain. It could protect itself against a challenge from any direction. But Poland becomes extremely difficult to defend when multiple powers converge from different directions. If Poland is facing three adversaries, as it did in the late 18th century with Prussia, Russia and Austria, it is in an impossible position.

For Poland, the existence of a powerful Germany and Russia poses an existential problem, the ideal solution to which is to become a buffer that Berlin and Moscow respect. A secondary solution is an alliance with one for protection. The latter solution is extremely difficult because dependence on Russia or Germany invites the possibility of absorption or occupation. Poland's third solution is to find an outside power to guarantee its interests.

This is what Poland did in the 1930s with Britain and France. This strategy's shortcomings are obvious. First, it may not be in the interests of the security guarantor to come to Poland's assistance. Second, it may not be possible at the time of danger for them to help Poland. The value of a third-party guarantee is only in deterring attack and, failing that, in the willingness and ability to honor the commitment.

Since 1991, Poland has sought a unique solution that was not available previously: membership in multilateral organizations such as the European Union and NATO. Such memberships are meant to provide protection outside the bilateral system. Most important, these memberships bring Germany and Poland into the same political entity. Ostensibly, they guarantee Polish security and remove the potential threat of Germany.

This solution was quite effective while Russia was weak and inwardly focused. But Polish history teaches that Russian dynamics change periodically and that Poland cannot assume Russia will remain weak or benign in perpetuity. Like all nations, Poland must base its strategy on the worst-case scenario.

The solution also is problematic in that it assumes NATO and the European Union are reliable institutions. Should Russia become aggressive, NATO's ability to field a force to resist Russia would depend less on the Europeans than on the Americans. The heart of the Cold War was a struggle of influence across the North European Plain, and it involved 40 years of risk and expense. Whether the Americans are prepared to do this again is not something Poland can count on, at least in the context of NATO.

Moreover, the European Union is not a military organization; it is an economic free trade zone. As such, it has some real value to Poland in the area of economic development. That isn't trivial. But the extent to which it contains Germany is now questionable. The European Union is extremely stressed, and its future is unclear. There are scenarios under which Germany, not wanting to shoulder the cost of maintaining the European Union, may loosen its ties with the bloc and move closer to the Russians. The emergence of a Germany not intimately tied to a multinational European entity but with increasing economic ties with Russia is Poland's worst-case scenario.

Obviously, close ties with NATO and the European Union are Poland's first strategic solution, but the viability of NATO as a military force is less than clear and the future of the European Union is clouded. This is at the heart of Poland's strategic problem. When it was independent in the 20th century, Poland sought multilateral alliances to protect itself from Russia and Germany. Among these alliances was the Intermarium, an interwar concept promoted by Polish Gen. Jozef Pilsudski that called for an alignment comprising Central European countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea that together could resist Germany and Russia. The Intermarium concept never took hold, and none of these multilateral alliances has proved sufficient to address Polish concerns.
A Matter of Time

Poland has three strategies available to it. The first is to do everything it can to keep NATO and the European Union viable and Germany contained within them. Poland doesn't have the power to ensure this. The second is to create a relationship with Germany or Russia that guarantees its interests. Obviously, the ability to maintain those relationships is limited. The third strategy is to find an outside power prepared to guarantee its interests.

That power is currently the United States. But the United States, after the experiences in the Islamic world, is moving toward a more distant, balance-of-power approach to the world. This does not mean the United States is indifferent to what happens in northern Europe. The growth of Russian power and potential Russian expansionism that would upset the European balance of power obviously would not be in Washington's interest. But as the United States matures as a global power, it will allow the regional balance of power to stabilize naturally rather than intervene if the threat appears manageable.

In the 1930s, Poland's strategy was to find a guarantor as a first resort. It assumed correctly that its own military capability was insufficient to protect itself from the Germans or the Soviets, and certainly insufficient to protect itself from both. Therefore, it assumed that it would succumb to these powers without a security guarantor. Under these circumstances, no matter how much it increased its military power, Poland could not survive by itself.

The Polish analysis of the situation was not incorrect, but it missed an essential component of intervention: time. Whether an intervention on Poland's behalf consisted of an attack in the west or a direct intervention in Poland, the act of mounting such an intervention would take more time than the Polish army was able to buy in 1939.

This points to two aspects of any Polish relationship to the United States. On one hand, the collapse of Poland as Russia resurges would deprive the United States of a critical bulwark against Moscow on the North European Plain. On the other hand, intervention is inconceivable without time. The Polish military's ability to deter or delay a Russian attack sufficiently to give the United States -- and whatever European allies might have the resources and intent to join the coalition -- time to evaluate the situation, plan a response and then respond must be the key element of Polish strategy.

Poland may not be able to defend itself in perpetuity. It needs guarantors whose interests align with its own. But even if it has such guarantors, the historical experience of Poland is that it must, on its own, conduct a delaying operation of at least several months to buy time for intervention. A joint Russo-German attack, of course, simply cannot be survived, and such multifront attacks are not exceptional in Polish history. That cannot be dealt with. A single-front attack could be, but it will fall on Poland to mount it.

This is a question of economics and national will. The economic situation in Poland has improved dramatically over recent years, but building an effective force takes time and money. The Poles have time, since the Russian threat at this point is more theoretical than real, and their economy is sufficiently robust to support a significant capability.

The primary issue is national will. In the 18th century, the fall of Polish power had as much to do with internal disunity among the Polish nobility as it had to do with a multifront threat. In the interwar period, there was will to resist, but it did not always include the will to absorb the costs of defense, preferring to believe that the situation was not as dire as it was becoming. Today, the will to believe in the European Union and in NATO, rather than to recognize that nations ultimately must guarantee their own national security, is an issue for Poland to settle.

Some diplomatic moves are possible. Polish involvement in Ukraine and Belarus is strategically sound -- the two countries provide a buffer that secures Poland's eastern border. Poland likely would not win a duel with the Russians in these countries, but it is a sound maneuver in the context of a broader strategy.

Poland can readily adopt a strategy that assumes permanent alignment with Germany and permanent weakness and lack of aggressiveness of Russia. They might well be right, but it is a gamble. As the Poles know, Germany and Russia can change regimes and strategies with startling speed. A conservative strategy requires a bilateral relationship with the United States, founded on the understanding that the United States is relying on the balance of power and not the direct intervention of its own forces except as a last resort. That means that Poland must be in a position to maintain a balance of power and resist aggression, buying enough time for the United States to make decisions and deploy. The United States can secure the North European Plain well to the west of Poland and align with stronger powers to the west. A defense to the east requires Polish power, which costs a great deal of money. That money is hard to spend when the threat might never materialize.

Read more: Poland's Strategy | Stratfor