Column: the plot against Egypt

I picked a funny time to write a column about the various conspiracies that are being sprung against noble Egypt, apparently.

I wrote it a couple of days ago, before the news about Ilan Grapel, the alleged Israeli spy who was everywhere broke. It seems this guy managed to be in Tahrir, at the church arsons in Sol in March and Imbaba in May, and various other occasions. He's a real troublemaker, oh yes, and served in the IDF in Lebanon 2006 so is guaranteed to be an asshole.

There's much skepticism circulating about this story, of course: the previous regimes kept accusing people of the most unlikely of conspiracies, would quickly eke out a confession with torture, sent them to be tried by a crooked judge and then the whole affair would be quickly forgotten if they were lucky and acquitted on appeal. I remember the young Islamists who were supposed to have dangerous banned literature, according to the police, until the judge pointed out that he owned copies of the same books which were academic theological treatises. The Israeli spy who infiltrated the revolution, brought to you by the country with the Mossad sharks. It's easy to be a skeptic. 

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The case of Sami al-Hajj

I've been traveling for the last few days and have not been able to blog much. Here's a contribution to the blog by Arabist reader Paul Mutter, on the case of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj. Normal activities will resume next week. 

Sami al-Hajj, Al Jazeera Cameraman Held at Guantanamo Bay for Six Years, Detained over His “Intelligence Value” as an Al Jazeera Employee

By Paul Mutter

April 25, 2011

 

(Photo © Al Jazeera English, 2008)

Sami al-Hajj (pictured), a 42year old Sudanese man, was an Al Jazeera journalist detained by Pakistani authorities on December 15, 2001 when he and a colleague attempted to leave Afghanistan. The Pakistanis then turned him over to U.S. forces as a suspected “enemy combatant.”

He was eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he arrived on June 14, 2002. He then spent the next six years there, until he was cleared of all charges in 2008.

Al-Hajj was considered an “enemy combatant” whose “access to senior terrorist leaders demonstrates his probable connections to the al-Qaida network and other militant jihadist organizations . . . . Detainee is a member of al-Qaida who is an expert in logistics with direct ties to al-Qaida leadership.”

However, new evidence has come to light that shows the U.S. government hoped to use al-Hajj as a source of intelligence, perhaps even an informant, on Al Jazeera’s work, either to spy on the network’s operations, or to track down Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.

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Lobby of Sin

This AIPAC vs. Steve Rosen story just keeps getting better and better. First there was all the admission that viewing porn is routine in AIPAC's office, one of the most surreal passages of the long deposition now available in PDF [8MB, cache]. It all starts at page 68, but some genius has made the passage into a cartoon with cute cartoon characters and put it on YouTube.

Unfortunately it's not viewable outside the US, but click on the image below for another version.

Then there was the admission Steve Rosen, five times married, used AIPAC offices for gay hookups. Well not exactly gay actually:

The Israel lobby gone wild - Israel - Salon.com

The putative purpose of the porn line of questioning was to establish that Rosen had not comported by AIPAC's standards for employees. Less clear is why AIPAC's attorney asked the married Rosen about his sexual encounters with men found on Craigslist. From Page 68:

Q If you had browsed the web for sexual encounters with gay men while at AIPAC , would that in your opinion be a violation of the computer usage policy at AIPAC?

A First, a technical correction. I actually sought married men like myself, not gay men, or I don't know what you mean by the word "gay men," but not men who were primarily living the life that's referred to as the gay community and so on.

We also find out about Rosen's reaction when he found out he would be charged with espionage:

From: AIPAC On The Brink: And Not One Word In MSM | TPMCafe

Beyond the smut, the most shocking revelation in the court documents is when Rosen reveals that immediately upon being told by the FBI that he was in serious trouble, and being warned by AIPAC's counsel to come immediately to his office and talk to no one in advance, he immediately ran to meet with the #2 at the Israeli embassy!

And also about the generosity of major donors to AIPAC and other pro-Israel and/or Jewish organizations decided they would back the man accused of espionage (and who has pretty much admitted to passing on classified information to Israeli diplomats). 

From: AIPAC Gets Down and Dirty in Pushback vs. Defamation Suit - Forward.com:

The court documents also shed light on Rosen's attempts to support himself and his family after being fired from AIPAC. The former lobbyist, as the depositions indicate, received cash gifts from several prominent Jewish philanthropists, among them some who are also major donors to AIPAC. The list includes Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, one of AIPAC's key funders, who gave Rosen a total of $100,000; Daniel Abraham, founder of the Center for Middle East Peace, who gave Rosen, his wife and three children gifts of $5,000 to $10,000; and philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who paid off a college loan for Rosen's daughter. The list includes several other backers, including two described as "bundlers" who raised up to $200,000 for Rosen from other donors.

But of course the real scandal is how much this reveals about the way AIPAC works. The embarassment from the sexual content of the testimony is not much compared to AIPAC avoiding a full FBI investigation into the way it does business and its established practice of passing on confidential or classified information to spin for Israel. As Grant Smith writes:

As Rosen and AIPAC tussle in court over the organization’s long history of using classified national defense and economic information for the benefit of their foreign principal, Americans must begin to ask some very serious governance questions. Why won’t the mainstream media cover any aspect of the defamation suit? Shouldn’t this matter have been resolved in a bona fide criminal setting in 2009 rather than being surrendered by prosecutors under the watchful eye of Obama political appointees? Why wasn’t AIPAC itself indicted for espionage? And most important of all, why isn’t AIPAC properly registered as a foreign agent of the government with which it breaks bread (and chocolate) on Fridays?

WSJ on the Mabhouh assassination

The Wall Street Journal has a very nice long investigative piece on the investigation into the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, focusing especially on one suspect, UK citizen Christopher Lockwood, aka Yehuda Lustig, an Israeli believed to have died in Sinai in the 1973 war. It all sounds like a spy thriller.

Lockwood/Lustig, believed to be the son of early Zionist settlers in mandate-era Palestine, had a nominal British residence but traces of him exist around the Middle East. He came in and out of Dubai, prepared the ground for the assassins, and even shipped a van to Iran (possibly for a related operation, since some of the alleged killers took a ferry to Iran after Mabhouh's death.)

From the end of the article:

When investigators discovered that Mr. Lockwood was once known as Mr. Lustig, the plot appeared to thicken. Mr. Lustig's birth certificate indicated he was born in Glasgow on Feb. 23, 1948. Mr. Lustig's father was a veterinary student who had married in Palestine, then under British control.

Investigators figured he probably changed his name from Lustig to avoid suspicion while traveling in the Middle East, according to people familiar with the probe.

But Mr. Lustig's military service history—described in six Israeli memorials, including an official obituary posted on the Israeli Ministry of Defense's website—indicates the man of that name died in combat in a barrage of rocket fire in the Sinai Peninsula.

That clouded the picture—and suggests that an unknown person fraudulently used the dead soldier's identity to obtain a British passport. Investigators appear to be back at square one in figuring out who that is.

Not so sure about that conclusion. If you look at the pics the WSJ provides of Lockwood and Lustig, they could very well be the same man, 40 years apart.

Lockwood and LustigSimilar nose and eyes, same chin and lips. Maybe Lustig never died in 1973, but was simply made to disappear so he could more easily operate as an agent.

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Mossad in Algeria

Here's an odd story:

Algerian authorities have arrested an Israeli Mossad agent carrying a fake Spanish passport in the city of Hassi Messaoud near an Egyptian office providing service for oil companies, Algerian Ennahar El Djadid newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Algerian sources, the Mossad agent entered Algeria under the fake identity of a 35-year old Spanish man named Alberto Vagilo, and spent over ten days in the country prior to his arrest.

The report came a week after an Israeli citizen who went missing for several days in Algeria, who was also carrying a Spanish passport, raised suspicions that he might have been kidnapped by al-Qaida.

The man notified the Foreign Ministry that he contacted his family and that he was safe.

The Algerian paper also reported that the Mossad man received entry visas through a European embassy before traveling to the country via Barcelona.

According to the Algerian sources, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), John Pistole visited Algeria last Thursday to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli citizen, as there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Algeria.

Ennahar El Djadid went on to report that the man has a good command of Arabic, is well acquainted with the city, and even participated in the Muslim prayers in the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

There are reports elsewhere that up to six Israelis have been arrested in Algeria, and that the affair is causing an inter-regime raucus. It's all extremely strange — what would an Israeli operative be doing in Algeria, why would he be in oil-producing areas, what's the role of the Egyptian firm involved, and how come this is all happening as Algeria's state-owned oil company, Sonatrach, gets a new CEO after months of corruption investigations and apparent attempts at political destabilization? And how does it fit in the looming succession crisis over Bouteflika's success, for now, in creating a relatively strong presidency? And what does it have to do with the War on Terror in the Sahel?

The Mabhouh tapes, remixed


"Smile you're on candid camera."

Having started watching the remarkable film released by the Dubai police showing the comings and goings of Mohamed Mabhouh and his assassins on CCTVs, I quickly became bored. The problem: no sound from all these cameras. If I'm going to sit down and watch 27 minutes of surveillance footage, I need a soundtrack. But what to choose?

"Soldier of love"Let's face it, the Mabhouh assassination was almost certainly carried out by our cousins the Israelis. And what are they known for, apart from assassinations, the Dahiyeh Doctrine and its mass targeting of civilians, and of course their traditional foods like hummus and falafel?

The answer: execrable, schmaltzy pop music (remember Dana International?)

So I grabbed the Mabhouh footage and added as a soundtrack the well-known (well, in Israel) singer Eyal Golan's 1999 album, Soldier of Love. Watch the results below — it grows on you.

Click here to view or right-click to download

I think beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spy scandals, this video really shows to what extent to which all of our comings and goings are increasingly monitored. It's a little bit creepy — not just because this may be the world's first extensively taped assassination operation, but also because it leaves you with the sense that you are always being watched.

It's interesting that this assassination has gotten so much attention. Some of it, notably over the forgery of passports and identity theft, is entirely warranted. I hope the countries concerned will act strongly. But over the larger question of its impact on the conflict, we're still not sure what Mahbouh's death means. Was he an indispensable contact with the Iranians? What secrets died with him? What does it mean for Hamas, especially if reports that it was infiltrated are true? And what does it mean for its relations with Fatah if reports that former Fatah security men were involved are true? Beyond the pseudo-glamour of all this cloak-and-dagger stuff (and if you watch the tape, in fact it's hardly glamorous and the hit team looks like they're on a corporate team-building exercise), there are a lot of unanswered questions here. Not to mention, of course, what mega hit job is being planned to avenge both Mabhouh's and (for Hizbullah) Imad Mughnieyh's death... 

Now for some Mabhouh-related links:

 

Links for 10.21.09

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Nozette: Pollard, 2.0? | On the latest Israeli spy scandal in the US. ✪ "friday-lunch-club": Netanyahu refuses Kouchner's request to see Gaza's destruction ... | Gaza? What Gaza? ✪ To Earn HIs Nobel Prize, Obama Will Need a "Plan B" | Stephen M. Walt | "If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work." ✪ ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة - الصحافة | Alexandria Library's online collection of historical Egyptian newspapers, including the first issue of al-Ahram (which was founded, it must be reluctantly noted, by Lebanese.) ✪ News Analysis - Painful Mideast Truth - Force Trumps Diplomacy - NYTimes.com | Painful Media Truth: For NYT, bias always trumps journalism. Look at the language used in this piece: Palestinian violence is "very bloody" and Israel carries out "military action." Israel's plans to attack Iran are considered as legitimate. And there is a mixing of terrorism and the attacks on Israel's "legitimacy" -- i.e. the legitimacy of its landgrabs, occupations and militarism. Pure hasbara. ✪ Israel, US start major joint air defence drill - Yahoo! News |
The exercise will test the Arrow (Hetz) system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, as well as Patriot and Hawk anti-aircraft systems, media said. It will simulate the firing of long-range missiles from Israel's foes Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and towards the end it will include a "live" missile interception, reports said.
Matthew Yglesias » Bernstein on Human Rights Watch | A good retort to the latest silly attack on HRW (by one of its former chairman) "or having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country." But this just points to the problem of bias in the higher echelons of HRW - among former and current staffers. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | No Fly Zone | Nice story looking at the recent airport detentions of various kinds of activists. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Pope Shenouda: "I Support Gamal Mubarak" | What a nasty little man, and what disservice he does to his flock. I hope Copts flee the Orthodox Church en masse over this. ✪ Arab states consider joint counter-terror police unit | "Arabpol." Oh Lord Have Mercy. ✪ Egyptcarpoolers | A carpooling connecting website for Cairo. ✪ Saddam Interview | Transcripts of interviews with Saddam Hussein during his captivity in 2004.
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Boycott Etisalat - in the UAE and everywhere else

Till they apologize and guarantee they will never do anything like this again, at least: FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - BlackBerry rogue software leaves sour taste:
A bungled attempt by the United Arab Emirates’ largest telecommunications operator to install surveillance software into subscribers’ BlackBerrys has infuriated customers in the rich Gulf state, and raised global concerns over the security of smart phones. Etisalat in late June told its 145,000 BlackBerry customers to ‘upgrade’ the software on their devices by downloading a program or ‘patch’ that Etisalat claimed would improve performance, but users said it only drained the battery of the smart phones, prompting tech-savvy subscribers to investigate further. What they discovered was that the instead of improving performance, the software ‘patch’ – which included a mysterious file labelled ‘Interceptor’ – was actually spyware designed to let Etisalat capture, read and store targeted customers’ e-mails. The claim was later confirmed by Research in Motion, the Canada-based maker of the BlackBerry, which sent out a warning to subscribers in the UAE with instructions on how to remove the rogue software."
For now they are stupidly denying it. And I'd love an initiative to reveal what all Middle Eastern telecoms are doing to help governments eavesdrop (or an easy way to disable that.) MobiNil and Vodafone in Egypt, for instance, provide access to their network servers to state security.
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Links for 07.21.09 to 07.22.09

جريدة الراية -مجرد سؤال .. ماذا تريد القاهرة من دارفور المنتدى | Qatari columnist complains "what does Egypt want from Darfur?", says Egypt is trying to start a separate track for negotiations even though Qatar's track working well. The Egyptians certainly hate seeing Qatar getting busy in their near-abroad. The List: The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks | Foreign Policy | It's missing a few... will try to work on a complete list. Also not sure whether Assef Shakwat is still at the top of his game in Damascus. Facebook | Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" | Tell Facebook to correct itself. From gods to garbage dwellers | GlobalPost | On Egypt's cats. Israeli funding angers filmmaker | "ENGLISH filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government."
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The Larry Franklin story

Remember Larry Franklin, the former FBI official indicted for passing on state secrets to AIPAC members (he went to jail, they got off, then his sentence was reduced.) Well he's been giving a bunch of interviews lately: From that last link, the astonishing story of how Franklin and his lawyer Plato Cacheris were approached by someone who urged him to fake a suicide and disappear:
In an interview on Tuesday, June 20, Franklin described the incident for the first time. He was prohibited from naming the man who approached him. "It was in West Virginia. I was parking cars at the time. He came to see me at the Charles Town Race Track. He said, 'Let's go to lunch and talk about raising money for my defense.' "And we talked about all these rich people," Franklin continued. "But first I had to agree to a scheme... "I was going to go somewhere, and it was going to be arranged that I could occasionally meet my wife. It was supposed to be on a bridge." In Israel? "No," he said. "Florida." Who was the man who approached him? "Well, the guy was definitely a Zionist," Franklin said. "And he was a true believer. And like a lot of true believers, he's beyond good and evil. They're not subject to the laws the rest of us are." Like laws against murder. "I felt this isn't real. This is a set-up," Franklin said. "As I was saying to someone recently, I grew up on the streets of New York, and when you fake a suicide -- Well, if you're dead to everyone else, it's a lot easier to get rid of you." "He wouldn't be a witness," Cacheris said. "Did I let him know I took it that way?" Franklin added. "No. Did I take it that way? Internally, yes."
That's not lobbying. That's a criminal conspiracy.
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60 Minutes on the Ashraf Marwan Affair

It came to my attention that these were autoplaying some browsers, click below to see videos. Part I:
Watch CBS Videos Online Part II:
Watch CBS Videos Online Part III:
Watch CBS Videos Online As they explain on CBS, this looks mostly at whether Ashraf Marwan, one of Nasser and Sadat's closest advisors, was a double agent selling information to Israel. Not so much information on his "murder" or new evidence pointing to who might be behind it.
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Prominent Democrat Rep. sought influence for AIPAC in Rosen affair

Great story from Congressional Quarterly on a secret probe into Congresswoman Jane Harman, a Democrat with longstanding interests in intelligence issues, who promised a suspected Israeli agent involved in the Steve Rosen AIPAC scandal that she would try to intervene on AIPAC's behalf:
Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington. Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript. In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win. Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” . . . But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies. Rosen had been charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and commnicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Weissman was charged with conspiracy. AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before the events here unfolded. . . . But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened. According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times. Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program He was right. On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing. And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead. Many people want to keep it that way. . . . Harman dodged a bullet, say disgusted former officials who have pursued the AIPAC case for years. She was protected by an administration desperate for help. “It’s the deepest kind of corruption,” said a recently retired longtime national security official who was closely involved in AIPAC investigation, “which was years in the making. “It’s a story about the corruption of government — not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.”
In other words, deep infiltration of the US political system by Israel and a supine Bush administration who could not take this on because it needed the AIPAC bunch's support.
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Now not only Hizbullah, but Iranian Revolutionary Guards?

I haven't really had time to weigh in on the Hizbullah-in-Egypt scandal, but the story continues to develop with more allegations and charges made against the Hizbullah cell, including another Shorouk scoop this morning that four Iranian Revolutionary Guards were arrested by Egyptian authorities last December, apparently entering on the country using Shia Iraqi IDs and networking with Iraqi Shia refugees in Cairo. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the public prosecutor is preparing a "surprise" when more charges are formally filed, which some think will include charges against Hassan Nasrallah himself. The informed consensus among Egyptian commentators is that Hizbullah made a mistake in toying with Egypt's sovereignty, but that Egypt should not exaggerate in its response either. Most center around the accusation, confirmed by Nasrallah, that Hizbullah was setting up a logistics support network for Hamas' weapons supply line. It would be naive to assume that this is strictly all they were doing, some level of spying should also be assumed. Most commentators reject the accusation that Hizbullah was planning attacks against Israeli tourists in retaliation for the assassination of its military chief Emad Mughniyeh, although some recent information has surfaced that there may have been parallel networks operating: in addition to the ones helping Hamas, there might have also been one concentrating on the Iraqi Shia community and what one might call general purpose espionage, for instance on the Suez Canal (rather, as some newspapers have alleged, a plan to fire shoulder-launched missiles at passing ships.) Although the brouhaha over this affair will probably have the intended effect of turning part of Egyptian public opinion against Hizbullah on nationalist grounds -- and I would certainly agree that any country should be concerned about arms smuggling and espionage operations taking place -- it is also highlighting Egypt's strangehold on Hamas supply lines (financial and military) which the likes of columnists Fahmy Howeidy, the Muslim Brothers' General Guide Mahdi Akef and others are condemning. Nasrallah, in his unusual confession that Hizbullah does have operatives in Egypt, also reiterated the helping-Hamas-as-a-duty line that has some resonance here, and not just among Islamists. Perhaps more details on the accusations to date later... Update: I wanted to ask readers who are more familiar with Hizbullah than I am the following: the Egyptian press reported in the last couple of days that the name of the Hizbullah handler for their Egypt operation is called Muhammad Qabalan, alleged to be the head of intelligence for Hizbullah. And that Emad Mughniyeh's replacement as head of military operations is called Talal Hamiyeh. Anyone familiar with those names?
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