Why Going Global Might End Badly
`While France and its allies sift through the mountains of evidence and try to understand what happened, it is worth looking at the benefits and risks to ISIS of going global.
Initial reports about the Paris attacks suggest a disturbing possibility: that the Islamic State (also called by its old acronym ISIS) is changing its strategy and going global. Although this might seem like a no-brainer—hasn’t it always hated America?—in reality, ISIS has long focused its energies locally and regionally. The group gained the spotlight in 2014, when it surged across Iraq and Syria, conquering swaths of territory. But it has existed with different names (al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and so on) since at least 2004. For over a decade, it has conducted guerrilla and conventional war against the Iraqi and later Syrian governments, battled the moderate Syrian opposition and Kurdish fighters, and brutalized Muslims, particularly Shia, that it deemed as enemies. It also lashed out at Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring states to exacerbate sectarianism, punish governments for opposing the group, and win over supporters. ISIS did regularly call for attacks in the West, but such operations were largely the work of lone wolves.
Sabrina De Sousa is one of nearly two-dozen CIA officers who was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced by Italian courts in absentia in 2009 for the role she allegedly played in the rendition of a radical cleric named Abu Omar. It was the first and only criminal prosecution that has ever taken place related to the CIA’s rendition program, which involved more than 100 suspected terrorists and the assistance of dozens of European countries.
But De Sousa, a dual US and Portuguese citizen, said she had nothing to do with the cleric’s abduction and has been wrongly accused. For the past decade, she has been on a global quest to clear her name. VICE News met up with De Sousa in Lisbon, Portugal–and other key figures connected to the case–for an exclusive interview about the steps she’s now taking in an effort to hold the CIA accountable for one of the most notorious counterterrorism operations in the history of the agency.
In this extra scene, Sabrina De Sousa explains how she’s used the Freedom of Information Act to help further her defense.
Watch the VICE News Interview with Michael Morell – http://bit.ly/1Nv6SMJ
VICE News filmmaker Medyan Dairieh gains exclusive access to the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, al Nusra, a jihadist group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Islamic State (IS).
Spending more than a month with al Nusra and exploring their expanding territory, Dairieh meets the highest-ranking members of the organization, who reveal their identity on screen for the first time and discuss their military doctrine.
Al Nusra, which swore allegiance to al Qaeda two years ago and is now emerging as a powerful force to rival IS in Syria, has seized several strategic towns in the northwestern province of Idlib. While it supplies water, electricity, and food to the local population, a school run by al Nusra is also grooming young boys to become the next generation of al Qaeda and preparing them for jihad.
VICE News also secures exclusive access to the frontlines of the battle for Abu Al-Duhur airport in Idlib, a major airbase held by Assad’s forces, besieged by al Nusra for two years. Aided by dust storms during the attack, the airport was the last remaining government stronghold in the region. Dozens of government soldiers were subsequently executed, according to the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Watch “The Islamic State (Full Length)” – http://bit.ly/1IwDeVY
Here in Pall Mall, Tenn., you can walk up on the front porch of the Forbus General Store, est. 1892, and still hear Alvin C. York’s rich Tennessee accent.
Every day, the older neighbors gather on the store’s front porch.
“My grandfather used to cut Sgt. Alvin York’s hair,” Richard West recalls. “He would pay a quarter. He was a big man, redheaded.”
York was a Medal of Honor winner. One of the most decorated American heroes of World War I.
At the end of the war, when he returned to his home here in the mountains of north Tennessee, all he wanted was to build a school. A school that would help his neighbors’ kids get the education he had missed.
York had only finished the third grade in a one-room school. His family needed him on the farm. But he liked to read, kept a diary, and because of the war had seen a world beyond the ridgeline: London, Paris, New York.
Pete Smith, whittling red cedar on the porch, remembers the day of Alvin York’s funeral in 1964. Important people were coming from all over the United States to pay tribute. “I was out digging potatoes and I hadn’t never seen as many helicopters, about as high as the light wires and they was 12 or 15 of them. They like to jarred me out of the tobacco patch.”
Richard West likes to tell how friendly the York family always was. “When they’d have a dinner up there, they’d be 25, 30 people show up and eat. All the neighbors would stop by and the grocery trucks would stop and deliver so they’d have plenty of food.”
Clip from the battle scene where Sgt. York kills 25 men and forces the Germans to surrender.
The 1941 Hollywood movie Sergeant York made the Tennessee farmer even more famous. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for the title role. The movie shows York coming of age in his home valley, then going off to fight the Germans in France.
On Oct. 18, 1918, advancing alone after his unit came under fire, York attacked a machine gun nest. He killed a group of German soldiers who were shooting at him and then captured 132 more.
How International Ratings Dumb Down Global Governance
When the Berlin-based group Transparency International released its annual ranking of international corruption levels in December 2014, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a blistering statement. Chinese authorities were upset that their country had sunk from 80th to 100th place on the watchdog’s influential Corruption Perceptions Index, even though Beijing was pursuing a high-profile anticorruption campaign. “As a fairly influential international organization,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “Transparency International should seriously examine the objectiveness and impartiality of its Corruption Perceptions Index.”
This wasn’t the first time Beijing had dismissed the results of an international ranking. A year earlier, it had called for the elimination of the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business Index, in which China had similarly underperformed, citing what Chinese officials described as flawed methodologies and assumptions.
China’s anger reveals just how powerful such ratings have become. Today’s ratings, produced by nongovernmental organizations and international agencies alike, score governments on nearly every aspect of a state: democracy, corruption, environmental degradation, friendliness to business, the likelihood of state collapse, the security of nuclear materials, and much more. The ratings’ customers are equally diverse. Government officials and activists refer to these indexes as measures of state performance, and international organizations and domestic bureaucracies use them as comparative benchmarks. Scholars and analysts use them to compare countries, and journalists routinely cite them as authoritative in their stories.
CNN and other media are reporting that U.S. and European intelligence suspect that ISIS or one of its affiliates used a bomb to bring down a Russian airplane over Sinai on Saturday, killing all 224 aboard. The reporting on this is early and it would be wise to withhold judgment until more information comes in, but this could be a very big deal. If confirmed, this attack would mark a major shift by the Islamic State and should force us to rethink the threat that the group poses to the world.
The caricature of ISIS is that its members are all wild-eyed fanatics bent on conquering the world, butchering, raping, and enslaving as they go. Unfortunately the caricature bears a strong resemblance to reality. But there is an important exception: While the Islamic State’s brutality is staggering, its operations have largely been limited in scope. The group seems new because Americans only really began to consider it a serious threat in 2014, after the beheading of journalist James Foley and the group’s sudden and massive incursion into Iraq. But it really began a decade before then in an earlier incarnation as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq, which emerged after the U.S. invasion in 2003. So while the group’s name has repeatedly changed and it is now led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, we have a long track record by which to judge it.
Zarqawi and his followers likewise raped, beheaded, and killed Shi’a and Sunnis suspected of supporting the American-backed Iraqi government. They too declared an Islamic government in Iraq and otherwise acted in ways painfully familiar to those who have watched the rise of ISIS the past two years. But the scope of the group’s operations for more than a decade has suggested it has been primarily focused on its local enemies: the Shi’a government of Iraq, the Alawite government of Syria, and to a lesser degree neighbors that opposed it like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Lebanon. In this fight, it primarily has used a mix of conventional and guerrilla war, with terrorist attacks designed to demoralize enemy security forces, sow unrest among its people, and foster sectarian tension. Somewhat surprisingly, despite predictions to the contrary and years of being devastated by U.S. forces in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor organizations focused on killing American soldiers in Iraq but did not prioritize international terrorism as a way of expanding the battlefield. Islamic State, meanwhile, has butchered Americans whom it captured in Syria. And it has also called for attacks in the West, but this has been done by so-called “lone wolves,” most of whom have little operational connection to the group’s core in Syria and Iraq.
Still, Baghdadi’s group has had affiliates in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and, notably, the Sinai that have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State and have had that pledge recognized. Yet these affiliates have so far largely followed their own agendas, embracing some of the Islamic State’s brutality—like when Libyan followers beheaded Christians, and the Yemeni branch attacked Shi’a mosques—but not really expanding their horizons beyond their home turf. You would not want to be an American who stumbled across their path, but they were not going to bring the war to America either. They seemed more like a local problem, with Baghdadi’s boasts that they were part of a unified caliphate sounding like grandiose rhetoric with little operational meaning.