Monthly Archives: October 2015

Banks of the World: Dahabshiil

Dahabshiil outlet in Columbus, Ohio. Image from wikipedia

Dahabshiil…. is now trying to become something bigger: a bank….

Since most Somalis do not own passports (which are in any case far from secure as proofs of identity), Dahabshiil relies on the strength of the clan network. In a country where men can recite their ancestors’ names back fifteen generations, references are an effective way to prove that new customers are who they say they are. After that, their biometric information and fingerprints are stored in a Dahabshiil database, so that later transactions can be verified. Many financial transactions are filmed, in case records are needed later.

This system has fended off bureaucrats determined to believe the worst about the firm and about Somalia, says Mr Duale. But it has not completely warded off controversy. Barclays closed Dahabshiil’s London account in 2013 largely because of worries about its reputation. The British bank did not want to risk being associated with car bombs and warfare in Somalia. After an outcry, and a court case, the two firms reached a settlement—but Barclays did not reopen the account. Mr Duale is now coy about how the firm banks in the West, refusing to reveal the identity of his partners…Zakaria Hussein Ali, the local chief operations officer, explains in a broad London accent how Dahabshiil is like an 18th-century European family bank—relying on trust and careful management to get by. He says he hopes that by the end of the century, Dahabshiil will be as big as HSBC or Citigroup is now. Such grandiose ambitions show how far it has already come.

Banking in Africa: Transfer Window, Economist,  Oct. 17, at 78

Privatization of the Army: Nigeria

Nigerian troops in Somalia 1997

Private security is big business in Nigeria. The country suffers bombings in the north, sectarian violence in the centre and simmering insecurity in the oil-producing south-east. Red24, a Scottish security firm, says more than 600 people are kidnapped in the country every year, putting it among the five worst for that sort of crime…  [There are] 1,500 and 2,000 private security companies in Nigeria. Because they cannot legally carry weapons, armed units must be hired from national forces….Private companies pay the security forces handsomely. But that also encourages commanders to hire out their men. The result is a privatisation of public security, reckons Rita Abrahamsen, a professor at the University of Ottawa. In 2011 a retired deputy inspector-general estimated that up to 100,000 police officers (about a third of the country’s total) were working for “a few fortunate individuals”, and questioned what that meant for regular Nigerians. Martin Ewence, a British naval commander turned consultant, reckons that the navy in effect has “given over its maritime security responsibilities”.

In the worst cases, the private-security culture fuels conflict. Oil companies in the Niger delta have been criticised for arming Nigeria’s Joint Task Force in a bid to secure their assets. The task-force’s combination of police, army and naval personnel, whose houseboats are moored in the delta’s greasy creeks to “tax” passing barges, are accused of human-rights abuses and involvement in the theft of oil.

Private security in Nigeria: Rent-a-cop, Economist, Oct. 17, 2015, at 54

The Lurking Nuclear Waste: Idaho National Laboratory

Referring to the accident at the Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One (SL-1) at the Idaho National Laboratory. A fatal nuclear reactor accident occurred there in January 1961. The three men that were killed due to exposure to radioactivity where buried in lead coffins.

The U.S. Energy Department has canceled  in October 2015 a plan to ship to the Idaho National Laboratory spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors out of state, a controversial proposal that drew protests from two former governors and a lawsuit from one of them. Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in January 2015 expressed conditional support for two proposed deliveries of the high-level radioactive waste, saying it would raise the lab’s profile and boost the local economy around Idaho Falls, where the facility is located.

But talks between the Department of Energy (DOE) and Idaho broke down amid mounting opposition to the plan by two of Idaho’s former governors, one of whom filed a lawsuit last month seeking information he said the federal agency was concealing about the proposal.

Cecil Andrus, a Democrat who served four terms as governor, said at the time that he suspected DOE’s intent was to turn the sprawling research facility along the Snake River into a de facto nuclear dump in the absence of a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste elsewhere in the United States.  Earlier this year, Andrus and former Governor Phil Batt, a Republican, accused DOE of violating a 1995 agreement that banned such shipments to Idaho.Specifically, they said the Energy Department had not yet complied with a provision of the accord requiring removal of nuclear waste already stored at the lab to reduce impacts on an aquifer that supplies drinking water to tens of thousands of Idaho residents.

In a statement sent Friday to Idaho National Lab workers, the director, Mark Peters, said he had been informed that the state and DOE “were unable to reach an understanding that would have enabled the first of two recently discussed shipments of research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to come to INL.” [see also 2011 Memorandum of Agreement on Storage of Research Quantities of Commercial Spent Fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory]  Peters said in his statement that the spent nuclear fuel in question would be delivered instead to “another DOE facility,” though it was not made clear where the materials were now destined.

Energy Department cancels plan to ship nuclear waste to Idaho, Reuters, Oct. 23, 2015

Mining in Peru: Unstoppable

peru mining

Finance Minister Alonso Segura said in an interview in 2015 that Peru is in good shape to weather the biggest flight of capital from emerging markets in a quarter century. It has foreign exchange reserves of more than $60 billion, or about 30 percent of gross domestic product.  With 2.4 percent growth forecast this year, the Peruvian economy will still easily outperform Latin America, whose overall output the IMF expects to shrink by 0.3 percent… What Peru lacks is both strong innovation and public institutions. The World Economic Forum ranks Peru in the bottom fifth globally in both.And so it remains heavily dependent on wooing mining investment with incentives including comparatively lax regulation.  In June 2014, Peru enacted a law further easing environmental rules.

Carlos Monge, Latin America director for the New York-based nonprofit Natural Resource Governance Institute, blames that law for triggering a protest last month in which four people were killed by police bullets at a $7.4 billion Chinese-owned copper mining project.  Protest leaders complained that Las Bambas’ mine owner, China Minmetals Corp., altered the project’s plans without local consent, eliminating plans for a mineral pipeline. Instead, instead crushed ore was to be trucked through communities, increasing contamination.  In May, 2015 five people were killed as farmers in a rice-growing valley mobilized against another copper-mining project, this one Mexican-owned.  In both disputes, the government declared states of emergency and suspended civil liberties locally.  Said Monge: “More conflicts is a very possible scenario, as the government is seeking mining projects at all costs.”

Excerpts from Celebration of Peru’s economic boom comes late, Associated Press, Oct. 9, 2015

The Use of Drones in Peacekeeping Operations: South Sudan

Jamam refugee camp from the air. image from wikipedia

The U.N. Security Council is urging the use of unarmed drones in the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, but the government there says that could cause “disagreement and hostility” as a peace deal tries to take hold.  The council on October 9, 2015 adopted a U.S.-drafted resolution requesting the U.N. secretary-general to “prioritize” the deployment of remaining troops, plus military helicopters and drones. The U.N. is exploring the use of drones in a growing number of peacekeeping missions after first using them in Congo in 2013.  But deploying the drones — even getting them into South Sudan — needs government consent. “The mission requires the collaboration and cooperation from the host authorities for its operations, including air and aviation ones,” a U.N. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.  Ambassador Francis Deng told the council that requesting drones without consulting his government is “to invite controversy.”

South Sudan’s rival sides signed a peace deal in August 2015, but numerous cease-fire violations have been reported. Each side blames the other for the violations. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 civilians remain sheltered in U.N. bases throughout the country. Thousands have been killed in the conflict fueled by the rivalry between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.  The council resolution also extends the peacekeeping mission’s mandate until Dec. 15 while supporting the implementation of the peace deal. The mission has more than 12,500 uniformed personnel on the ground.

Excerpts from UN Wants Peacekeeping Drones in South Sudan, Which Objects, Associated Press, Oct. 10, 2015

Climate Change–procrastinators and their victims

KIRIBATI. image from http://climatechange.dreamhosters.com/_old/CAUSES-EFFECTS/KIRIBATI.jpg

Global carbon emissions were 58% higher in 2012 than they were in 1990. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen from just under 340 parts per million in 1980 to 400 in 2015.  To stand a fair chance of keeping warming to just 2°C by the end of the century—the goal of global climate policy—cumulative carbon emissions caused by humans must be kept under 1 trillion tonnes. Estimates vary but, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the total had hit 515 billion tonnes by 2011. Climate Interactive, a research outfit, reckons that if emissions continue on their present course around 140 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases will be released each year and temperatures could rise by 4.5°C by 2100. And even if countries fully honour their recent pledges, temperatures may still increase by 3.5°C by then.

The world is already 0.75°C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution….

Melting glacier ice, and the fact that warmer water has a larger volume, mean higher sea levels: they have already risen by roughly 20cm since 1880 and could rise another metre by 2100. That is perilous for low-lying islands and flat countries: the government of Kiribati, a cluster of tropical islands, has bought land in Fiji to move residents to in case of flooding. Giza Gaspar Martins, a diplomat from Angola who leads the world’s poorest countries in the climate talks, points out that they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. Money alone, he argues, will not fix their problems. Without steps to reduce emissions, he predicts, “there will be nothing left to adapt for.”…

For every 0.6°C rise in temperature, the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water grows by 4%, meaning storms will pour forth with greater abandon. The rains of the Indian monsoon could therefore intensify, cutting yields of cereals and pulses.

Climate change seems also to be making dry places drier, killing crops and turning forests into kindling. Forest fires in Indonesia, more likely thanks to the current El Niño weather phenomenon, could release 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, about 5% of annual emissions due to human activity, says Simon Lewis of University College London. In recent months fires have swallowed more than 2.4m hectares of American forests. Alaska suffered 80% of the damage—a particular problem because the soot released in these blazes darkens the ice, making it less able to reflect solar radiation away from the Earth.

Developments in the Arctic are worrying for other reasons, too. The region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, a trend that could start a vicious cycle. Around 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon are held in permafrost soils as frozen organic matter. If they thaw, vast amounts of methane, which is 25 times more powerful as a global-warming gas than carbon dioxide when measured over a century, will be released. One hypothesis suggests that self-reinforcing feedback between permafrost emissions and Arctic warming caused disaster before: 55m years ago temperatures jumped by 5°C in a few thousand years…

And on September 29th Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned that though measures to avoid catastrophic climate change are essential, not least for long-term financial stability, in the shorter term they could cause investors huge losses by making reserves of oil, coal and gas “literally unburnable”.

Excerpts from Climate Change: It’s Getting Hotter, Economst, Oct. 3, 2015, at 63

 

2015 Leaked Documents on US Drone War

Fire Scout Image from wikpedia

The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.
Those shortfalls stem from the remote geography of Yemen and Somalia and the limited American presence there. As a result, the U.S. military has been overly reliant on signals intelligence from computers and cellphones, and the quality of those intercepts has been limited by constraints on surveillance flights in the region.

The documents are part of a study by a Pentagon Task Force on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. They provide details about how targets were tracked for lethal missions carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, in Yemen and Somalia between January 2011 and summer 2012. When the study was circulated in 2013, the Obama administration was publicly floating the idea of moving the bulk of its drone program to the Pentagon from the CIA, and the military was eager to make the case for more bases, more drones, higher video quality, and better eavesdropping equipment.

Yet by identifying the challenges and limitations facing the military’s “find, fix, finish” operations in Somalia and Yemen — the cycle of gathering intelligence, locating, and attacking a target — the conclusions of the ISR study would seem to undermine the Obama administration’s claims of a precise and effective campaign, and lend support to critics who have questioned the quality of intelligence used in drone strikes.

One of the most glaring problems identified in the ISR study was the U.S. military’s inability to carry out full-time surveillance of its targets in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Behind this problem lies the “tyranny of distance” — a reference to the great lengths that aircraft must fly to their targets from the main U.S. air base in Djibouti, the small East African nation that borders Somalia and sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Surveillance flights are limited by fuel — and, in the case of manned aircraft, the endurance of pilots. In contrast with Iraq, where more than 80 percent of “finishing operations” were conducted within 150 kilometers of an air base, the study notes that “most objectives in Yemen are ~ 500 km away” from Djibouti and “Somalia can be over 1,000 km.” The result is that drones and planes can spend half their air time in transit, and not enough time conducting actual surveillance….

Compounding the tyranny of distance, the ISR study complained, was the fact that JSOC had too few drones in the region to meet the requirements mandated for carrying out a finishing operation.  The “sparse” available resources meant that aircraft had to “cover more potential leads — stretching coverage and leading to [surveillance] ‘blinks.’” Because multiple aircraft needed to be “massed” over one target before a strike, surveillance of other targets temporarily ceased, thus breaking the military’s ideal of a “persistent stare” or the “unblinking eye” of around-the-clock tracking.

JSOC relied on manned spy planes to fill the orbit gap over Yemen. In June 2012 there were six U-28 spy planes in operation in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,..Only in the summer of 2012, with the addition of contractor-operated drones based in Ethiopia and Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, did Somalia have the minimum number of drones commanders wanted. The number of Predator drones stationed in Djibouti doubled over the course of the study, and in 2013, the fleet was moved from the main U.S. air base, Camp Lemonnier, to another Djibouti airstrip because of overcrowding and a string of crashes.

Expanding the use of aircraft launched from ships.

JSOC already made use of Fire Scout helicopter drones and small Scan Eagle drones off the coast of Somalia, as well as “Armada Sweep,” which a 2011 document from the National Security Agency, provided by former contractor Edward Snowden, describes as a “ship-based collection system” for electronic communications data. (The NSA declined to comment on Armada Sweep.)…

The find, fix, finish cycle is known in the military as FFF, or F3. But just as critical are two other letters: E and A, for “exploit and analyze,” referring to the use of materials collected on the ground and in detainee interrogations..  F3EA became doctrine in counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s…

[But] Assassinations are intelligence dead ends.  The ISR study shows that after a “kill operation” there is typically nobody on the ground to collect written material or laptops in the target’s house, or the phone on his body, or capture suspects and ask questions. Yet collection of on-the-ground intelligence of that sort — referred to as DOMEX, for “document and media exploitation,” and TIR, for “tactical interrogation report” — is invaluable for identifying future targets.,,,[Another issue is whether the US government can rely on foreign governments for intelligence]….In 2011, for example, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that they had killed a local governor because Yemeni officials didn’t tell them he was present at a gathering of al Qaeda figures. “We think we got played,” one official said. (The Yemeni government disputed the report.)…
With limited ability to conduct raids or seize materials from targeted individuals in Yemen and Somalia, JSOC relied overwhelmingly on monitoring electronic communications to discover and ultimately locate targets.  The documents state bluntly that SIGINT is an inferior form of intelligence. Yet signals accounted for more than half the intelligence collected on targets, with much of it coming from foreign partners. The rest originated with human intelligence, primarily obtained by the CIA. “These sources,” the study notes, “are neither as timely nor as focused as tactical intelligence” from interrogations or seized materials.  Making matters worse, the documents refer to “poor” and “limited”capabilities for collecting SIGINT, implying a double bind in which kill operations were reliant on sparse amounts of inferior intelligence.

The disparity with other areas of operation was stark, as a chart contrasting cell data makes clear: In Afghanistan there were 8,900 cell data reports each month, versus 50 for Yemen and 160 for Somalia. Despite that, another chart shows SIGINT comprised more than half the data sources that went into developing targets in Somalia and Yemen in 2012.  Cellphone data was critical for finding and identifying targets, yet a chart from a Pentagon study shows that the military had far less information in Yemen and Somalia than it was accustomed to having in Afghanistan….

After locating a target, usually by his cellphone or other electronics, analysts would study video feeds from surveillance aircraft “to build near-certainty via identification of distinguishing physical characteristics.”

A British intelligence document on targeted killing in Afghanistan, which was among the Snowden files, describes a similar process of “monitoring a fixed location, and tracking any persons moving away from that location, and identifying if a similar pattern is experienced through SIGINT collect.” The document explains that “other visual indicators may be used to aid the establishment of [positive identification]” including “description of clothing” or “gait.” After a shot, according to the British document and case studies in the Pentagon’s ISR report, drones would hover to determine if their target had been hit, collecting video and evidence of whether the cellphone had been eliminated...  Yet according to the ISR study, the military faced “critical shortfalls of capabilities” in the technologies enabling that kind of precise surveillance and post-strike assessment. At the time of the study, only some of the Reaper drones had high-definition video, and most of the aircraft over the region lacked the ability to collect “dial number recognition” data.

Excerpts from Firing Blind, Intercept, the Drone Papers, Oct. 2015