Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: terrorism

Hard questions

In the wake of any terrorist attack the first thing to do is mourn the victims and try to defy the dreary ideology of the perpetrators.

The second thing to do is to understand what went wrong. Belgium’s beleaguered security services are once again facing intense scrutiny over how such complex attacks could happen with so much advance warning. Many times already I have spoken of the failings of a country with grotesquely complex state structures and a highly dysfunctional security system. Now those failings are turning nasty as the country finds itself confronting a terrorist infrastructure that has planted deep roots in Belgian society. Only last week, the arrest in Molenbeek of Salah Abdeslam was presented by state officials as a security triumph. Instead, I asked again whether the dynamics of the arrest represented yet another proof that Belgium was a failed state. The terrorist was captured only several hundred metres from his family home and after managing to spend four months on the run.

People who are way more competent than I am have taken the issue a bit further. U.S. officials, for instance, are bashing ‘clueless’, ‘shitty’ Belgian Security Forces for being way too incompetent to handle today’s terror threat. ‘When we have to contact these people or send our guys over to talk to them, we’re essentially talking with people who are—I’m just going to put it bluntly—children. These are not pro-active, they’re don’t know what’s going on. They’re in such denial. It’s such a frightening thing to admit their country is being taken over‘. It must be said that Belgium has never had a strong intelligence culture, as it partly relied on safety support from its neighbours; and particularly from France.

In fact, the main issue with Belgian security Forces today is not the lack of infrastructures – although that, too, is a problem – but the lack of interest in coordination. “There have been several statements from intelligence chiefs saying they barely co-operate, and that’s really sad and disturbing at the same time” a senior policy adviser in security studies told the FT todayIf there’s one thing to do now it is to enhance the co-operation of intelligence agencies in Europe.” This utter incapacity is a consequence of the Belgian political establishment, which created and perpetrated such a dysfunctional system with inept chiefs of the police staying in their place in spite of an agonizing situation that was clearly going our of control. Recent figures showed that as many as 562 Belgians have fought in Iraq or Syria. At least 124 hail from Brussels. With a population of 11 million, Belgium has sent more fighters per capita than any country in Europe to the charnel house of the Syrian civil war. Something is clearly going wrong here.

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A list of people (and things) to be blamed for this situation had been published already in November last year. Among them you will find the chief of the police and several politicians. Many of these people are still in power. These are the people who deserve our blame and might give us a clue of what went wrong, an why.

22 marzo

In un momento tragico come questo è opportuno ricordare che le atrocità contro la popolazione civile belga hanno segnato alcuni dei momenti più drammatici, ma anche più nobili, della storia europea.

Quando, nell’agosto 1914, la Germania invase il Belgio neutrale, macchiandosi di massacri, molti pacifisti di altri Paesi sentirono il dovere morale di schierarsi e partire volontari. Fra questi, in Inghilterra, il laburista Clement Attlee, allora docente a LSE, che pure aveva più di trent’anni e dunque non rispettava i requisiti di arruolamento. Al celibe Attlee, tuttavia, ripugnava l’idea che uomini con moglie e figli fossero costretti a sacrificarsi al suo posto – e su questo si scontrò duramente col fratello Tom, obiettore di coscienza –. Durante il conflitto, Attlee diede prova di eroismo, venendo ferito due volte e guadagnandosi i gradi di Maggiore. Tornato in patria, decise di dedicarsi alla politica attiva, arrivando – nel 1945 – a divenire Primo Ministro, uno dei più amati e rispettati nella storia del Regno Unito.

A nessuno di noi sarà richiesto, spero, di compiere le stesse azioni di Attlee per difendere democrazia e libertà in Europa. Il suo coraggio, la sua ‘decency’ e il suo istintivo senso di giustizia potrebbero, però, essere una preziosa fonte d’ispirazione.


Old Tom

Terrorism unveiled

Boris Johnson made some comments on the Islamic State in an interview with the Sun newspaper after he visited the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil to see the Peshmerga fighters who are pushing back against the Isis insurgency in Iraq. Johnson is the current mayor of London and a Conservative candidate for a seat in the British Parliament in the next general elections, as well as a likely future leader of his party.

Johnson described men who go to fight with Islamic State as “literally wankers” who watch porn because they can’t meet women. He explained: “If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.” Johnson described British jihadis as “tortured” and “very badly adjusted in their relations with women”, something he said was a symptom of “their feeling of being a failure and that the world is against them. They are not making it with girls and so they turn to other forms of spiritual comfort – which of course is no comfort. They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong – like winners.”

Speaking on Sky News later on Friday, Johnson defended his comments, saying they weren’t “remotely controversial”. Old Tom and I would like to take the opportunity to publicly and unreservedly endorse his comments.

The wealthiest terroristic groups

Forbes Israel has ranked the 10 wealthiest terror organizations based on their annual income. Terrorist groups raise money by taking up donations from charities, government agencies, as well as through activities such as drug trafficking, robberies and extortion. According to the rank, the richest terrorist organisation today – and in history – is the Islamic State.

1. Islamic State ($2 billions)
2. Hamas ($1 billion)
3. FARC ($600 millions)
4. Hezbollah ($500 millions)
5. Taliban ($400 millions)
6. Al-Qaida($150 millions)
7. Lashkar e-Taiba ($100 millions)
8. Al-Shabaab ($100 millions)
9. Real IRA ($50 millions)
10. Boko Haram ($25 millions)

According to the estimates by the U.S. Treasury, the reason why the Islamic State is so rich is because of its oil revenues: by selling crude oil from captured oil-fields in Syria and Iraq in the black market, the Islamic State makes up to $1 billion a year.

Was Cheney right?

After Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President but before he took the oath of office, Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an exit interview to Rush Limbaugh. Under George W. Bush, Cheney was the architect, along with his legal counsel, David Addington, of a dramatic expansion of executive authority—a power grab that Obama criticized, fiercely, on the campaign trail, and promised to “reverse.” But when Limbaugh inquired about this criticism Cheney swatted it aside, saying, “My guess is that, once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place.”

What is happening on the other shore of the ocean is intriguing. This post by the New Yorker is just one out of many provocations that will ignite debate on such a broad range of issues. First about Obama’s presidency: is Obama is risking political damage that will get in the way of the rest of his term in office? Is his second term in the office going to be killed stone dead by issues of security and intelligence? thus far, all the major scandals, from Benghazi to the datagate, including the very recent cover-ups of internal investigations, have involved security services and intelligence. Also, I find it somehow fascinating that the political narrative has switched so quickly from security (between 2001 and, say, 2008) to economy (2008-2013) and now it seems we are back with security again as the most important issue on the agenda.

There is, obviously, much more than that. People may blame an administration for wire-taping calls and email, but at times they seem to forget that this is the price you have to pay if you want to fight terrorism. Surveillance and such techniques, although invasive and potentially dangerous, have prevented several terrorism attacks. But are these “modest encroachments on privacy” a fair price to pay? This, I believe, is a fascinating debate which is about terrorism, privacy, and trust in government.

And then there’s the whole discussion about transparency and use of the data. As Juliane Assange, Edward Snowden is a fascinating guy. He definitely has some charisma, doesn’t he? And, of course, he makes a point, which makes me think of Michael Focault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish). As suggested by the New Yorker, surveillance technologies are like a loaded weapon—one that may not have been misused so far, but that could be any day.