Congressional leaders are warning international oil companies looking to invest in Iran that severe financial penalties await them if they move too soon.
The ink is barely dry on world powers' interim deal with Iran to ease sanctions in exchange for a slowdown of Tehran's nuclear program. The primary sanctions on Iran's oil business remain in place. That hasn't stopped petro-giants like Royal Dutch Shell, Italian company Eni, and Austrian oil and gas company OMV from exploring the possibility of renewing their operations in Iran. And those moves have both Democratic and Republican lawmakers livid.
"Companies examining their options for resuming business relationships with the Iranian regime are acting prematurely at best," Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Foreign Policy.
The Obama administration and its allies are struggling to find a safe place to store Syria's chemical weapons after they've been shipped out of the country, raising new questions about when the U.S. military will actually begin destroying the deadly munitions.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has set an ambitious Dec. 31 deadline for Syria to hand over the deadliest of its chemical armaments, which are supposed to be packed into roughly 150 shipping containers, driven to the Syrian port city of Latakia, loaded onto Norwegian and Danish cargo ships and then transported to a location outside of Syria. Once there, they will be transferred to an American vessel called the Cape Ray for destruction. Senior American defense officials stressed Thursday that the Cape Ray itself won't dock at Latakia and that no U.S. personnel would set foot in Syria.
That, at least, is how the plan is supposed to work in theory. In practice, the effort faces an array of technical, diplomatic, security, and financial challenges. The disposal equipment being installed onto the Cape Ray has never been tested at sea, and it's not clear that it will be capable of operating continuously for months without breaking down. The U.S. and its allies will also need to find a way of ensuring that none of the weapons are stolen or damaged on their way to the Cape Ray or during the actual destruction work. To say it will be a challenge is the grossest of understatements.
"I know we have a deadline in three weeks but the operations have not yet started," said one diplomat familiar with the U.N.'s internal discussions. "It's never going to happen."
The Obama administration's more immediate task is to find an allied government willing to allow the ship from Latakia to land at one its ports and unload the weapons before they're transferred to the Cape Ray. It would take roughly two days to load the weapons onto the American vessel, which means they'd need to be stored at the port temporarily, posing a potential security risk to the host country. Not surprisingly, it's been hard to convince a government to let a weapons-laden cargo ship unload at one of its ports. That makes it highly unlikely that the U.S. and its allies will be able to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, set by the OPCW, to remove Syria's chemical arsenal.
Washington recently informed one ally that it was considering using a port servicing a U.S. naval base in Naples, Italy. Talks are also underway with Morocco and Spain to see whether the materials could be unloaded there. Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch head of a joint mission of experts from the United Nations and the OPCW overseeing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, said she wouldn't speculate about whether the armaments would be transferred to American custody in a Mediterranean port. Pentagon officials said negotiations with foreign governments were ongoing but declined to comment on which countries could ultimately take the weapons before they were transferred to the Cape Ray.
There's also considerable uncertainty about how the materials will get to Latakia in the first place. The U.S. and other Western powers responded coolly to a Syrian request for armored vehicles and other protective equipment Damascus claimed it needed to carry out a successful operation. In a November 15 letter to the Security Council, Kaag said that Syria would have to reach out to friendly countries for assistance in securing the route. Russia, one of Syria's closest diplomatic allies, is looking into the possibility of supplying up to 200 trucks to transport the materials. A spokesman for the OPCW, Christian Chartier, said Kaag was trying to act as a "go between" to encourage other states to help Syria with its security needs.
Renewed combat along the route to the port city poses another challenge. During a recent visit to Syria, Kaag told the U.N. Security Council in a closed-door briefing, she was not able to reach Latakia by the main road from Homs -- a key hub on the chemical weapons route -- because of fighting, forcing her to travel by helicopter from Beirut.
"It's a main artery, as you know. If we cannot travel there, it's a real issue," said Kaag, who is required to travel in the region with a Romanian close protection detail. Kaag insisted that the mission was "all very manageable," but conceded she could not certain it would go smoothly.
"I'm not aware that this operation has ever been carried out in this way," she said.
Sending the chemical weapons out of Syria marks the most dangerous, and the most expensive phase of a landmark Sept. 14 pact between U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons program by the middle of 2014. (Merely destroying the waste products could cost an estimated 35 to 40 million Euros; the full cost of transporting the armaments out of Syria and destroying them is likely to be exponentially higher).
The accord -- which averted a U.S. strike against Syria in retaliation for using sarin to kill hundreds of its own civilians in late August -- has proceeded smoothly. On October, 31, Syria effectively destroyed its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plants, the OPCW confirmed.
The U.N. has said the chemical weapons should be packed for transport by Dec. 13 and then moved out of Syria altogether by Dec. 31. A senior U.S. defense official called that timeline "ambitious," but expressed confidence that it could be met. The destruction efforts would begin aboard the Cape Ray in early January.
Senior defense officials said it would take 45-90 days to turn the weapons into non-harmful waste using two of the so-called "Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems" that are being installed in the Cape Ray's cargo holds. The equipment will operate inside of a sealed tent to prevent any of the chemical agents from being accidentally dispersed while they're being turned into waste. The resulting sludge, in turn, will be brought to a commercial destruction facility elsewhere in the world and then incinerated.
Beyond the difficulty in finding a port where the weapons can be unloaded, U.N.-based diplomats say the United States has also been unable to help secure sufficient funding to hire companies to dispose of the toxic waste products.
"The U.S. or Paris can say that we need to make the deadline but will they ensure they can make it possible?" another official asked, adding that governments "have to be realistic and feasible about the deadlines they impose."
As of Nov. 30, 35 companies had submitted expressions of interest in securing a contract to collect the waste product from the United States and transfer it to a facility for incineration. But OPCW officials noted that there isn't enough money in a trust fund established for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons to put out formal requests for bids from the firms.
"What I know is that what we have by now is just not enough; it's far away from being enough," said Chartier, the organization's spokesman. "We need to be certain of our financial commitments in order to start the tender process."
For years, the U.S. government has insisted that a planned missile defense system in Europe served to protect America's allies against attacks from Iran. Now that the nuclear threat from Iran may be receding, Russia, which has always seen the system as a menace to its own security, has suggested scrapping the program. But the White House on Thursday said the missile shield, otherwise known as the European phased adaptive approach (EPAA), isn't going anywhere.
"Our plans regarding missile defense in Europe and our commitment to EPAA as the U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense remain unchanged," National Security Council spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson told The Cable.
The idea of scaling back NATO's missile defense system was floated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday following a meeting with Russian and NATO counterparts. "If the Iranian nuclear program is placed under the complete and tight control of the IAEA, the reasons that are now given for the creation of the European segment of the missile defense system will become invalid," said Lavrov.
"They've helped sell my books," Max Blumenthal said Wednesday about the critics of his controversial and newly-published book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Blumenthal was smiling before a seated audience at the New America Foundation, a prominent Washington think tank, which itself came under attack for hosting the event for Blumenthal's book. To critics, Blumenthal is an anti-Israel smear artist. The Nation's left-wing scribe Eric Alterman called his work the "‘I Hate Israel' Handbook" and labeled him a "profoundly unreliable narrator." Commentary's right-wing writer Jonathan Tobin called the book "trash" and ripped New America's president Anne-Marie Slaughter for associating her institution "with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis." In the mainstream American press, Goliath's detractors outnumber its supporters. But Blumenthal isn't bothered.
"The fact is, a balloon needs hot air to rise," he told the crowd. "I thank them on some level."
The "hot air" Blumenthal spoke of has followed him across the country as he supports his book -- a 500-page indictment of Israel's treatment of Palestinians based on four years of research and reporting in the country. To supporters, Blumenthal is an unapologetic truth-teller.
"The only worthwhile, honest discussion of Israel can come from someone who possesses two attributes: fearlessness and expertise," wrote former Guardian journalist and provocateur Glenn Greenwald in praise of Goliath. "Max Blumenthal wields both in abundance, and the result is an eye-opening and stunningly insightful book."
But praise from established Israel critics hasn't made the book tour any less rocky. Goliath has ruffled D.C.'s foreign policy establishment and reaffirmed the radioactive nature of the Israel-Palestine debate in the U.S.
In October, the conservative Florida Family Association called on members to flood the inbox of an Arizona hotel hosting an event featuring Blumenthal. "Americans who are concerned about Max Blumenthal's propaganda ... have the First Amendment Right to complain about this event," read an FFA bulletin. (The group also organized against Electronic Arts for allegations about gay stormtroopers appearing in a Star Wars video game).
In a November book event at the Dallas World Affairs Council, Blumenthal said event staffers told him that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee "called and demanded the event be shut down." A representative for AIPAC tells The Cable the charge "is not true -- completely false."
Last week, Tobin attempted to shame the New America Foundation out of hosting Wednesday's book chat. "NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach," he wrote. "By doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right."
That the book is controversial is unsurprising. With chapter titles such as "Concentration Camp" and "Night of the Broken Glass," critics charge that Blumenthal is implying an equivalence between the Jewish State and Nazi Germany. That the book would be deemed unfit for public events, however, strikes some as overly-zealous.
"If a think tank can't have a book event, we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing," Peter Bergen, the event's moderator, told The Cable. "It was a public event and if they wanted to challenge [the book], it was open to anybody who wanted to come."
Bergen characterized the controversy surrounding the book as one of style versus substance. "The critiques of your book seem to be not as much about the facts," he said during the event, "it's more about the tone in the book."
But that doesn't mean the think tank wasn't prepared for significant or even violent blowback. On Wednesday, NAF sent out an all-staff e-mail notifying employees "we are hosting an event which requires additional security." Elevators up to the event required a key swipe.
Surprisingly, Blumenthal didn't take any flack during the event's Q&A segment, which attracted a sympathetic crowd of Middle East enthusiasts who commended Blumenthal on his dedication to the topic. The kumbayas ended during the book signing when a reporter for the right-wing news site Washington Free Beacon asked Blumenthal if he was concerned about a positive review of his book by a white supremacist -- an endorsement Blumenthal did not solicit.
"I am not answering your questions or speaking to you," Blumenthal told the reporter. "I'm not speaking to you."
The Free Beacon has made the controversy surrounding the book an editorial priority, including one article centered on Blumenthal's father, a longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton confidante. "I don't consider them to be a site that wants to do anything but smear me or publish one derogatory post after another," Blumenthal told The Cable. "It just shows how desperate they are."
Though Blumenthal brushed off criticisms of his book with humor, he pushed back hard against the perceived double standard of acceptable Israel-focused discourse in Washington.
"Naftali Bennett just spoke at the Brookings Institute and there was no effort to prevent him from speaking at the premier think tank in Washington," he said, referring to Israel's economy minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. "I don't know that there necessarily should be [an effort to censor him] even though Naftali Bennett recently endorsed the decision ... to bar religious Jewish women from volunteering in hospitals after 9 p.m. for fear that they would date Arab doctors."
He went on to list the various book events in which Israel advocates protested his presence. "I'm not surprised by it," he said. "But I am impressed by anyone who stands up to this suppression as the New America Foundation has done."
New America Foundation
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expressing grave concern about the safety of international inspectors overseeing the destruction and removal of Syria's chemical weapons program -- just as the project enters its riskiest phase yet.
Ban voiced his concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, which provides fresh details on international plans for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. A copy of the letter, which had not been made public yet, was posted on the web site of a reporter from Arab language broadcaster Al Hurra. Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch* national who heads the U.N.-backed joint mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, will brief the Security Council on Wednesday on Ban's letter.
The joint mission, comprised of 15 experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and 48 U.N. personnel, is preparing the ground for the latest and most perilous phase of the operation: transporting large quantities of chemical agent through a war zone to the Syrian port of Latakia, where they will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels, and then transferred to American vessels for destruction at sea, according to diplomats.
ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images
Iran's potential rehabilitation comes at an awkward time for OPEC, the elite club of petroleum-producing states that controls the flow of oil to the world market. The cartel's dominance is already threatened by a boom in oil extracted from shale in the United States, and now the potential return of millions of barrels of Iranian oil to the market looms over Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries as they meet in Vienna this week.
While the global power shift brought on by the U.S. shale boom threatens OPEC from the outside, member countries are threatening it from the inside. Iraq, and now Iran, both want to increase production at a time when global supply is already high, raising the specter that OPEC won't be able to marshal its members into line to control prices. The end result could be lower oil prices next year, according to many analysts.
"OPEC's relevance is waning in our view," said Eric Lee, an oil analyst with Citigroup. Lee said the increased supply from non-OPEC countries has created a disruptive shift in the oil markets that reduces the cartel's control of the market.
That includes the United States, where a boom in oil and gas extracted from shale rock has changed the dynamics of the international energy market. The innovations in extraction methods that led to the boom, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, are still under scrutiny for their effects on the environment, while U.S. domestic production continues to grow. The United States produced more crude oil than it imported in November for the first time since 1995. The shift means the United States is less reliant on oil from the Middle East, which could have wide-ranging effects on global politics and markets.
This week in Vienna, Iran is laying the groundwork for a potential increase in oil production, pushing other countries to make room for Iranian oil to come back to the market in the event that a long-term deal to lift U.S. sanctions can be negotiated.
"Other OPEC countries would have to cut to make room for Iran," said Trevor Houser, partner at Rhodium Group, an economic research firm.
But it's unclear whether other countries will want to reduce production in order to make way for Iran.
"This could be a difficult moment for OPEC, a difficult year," said Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Iran is going to be very resentful of anyone saying they should hold back their increase," Clawson said.
That's the way a cartel works. When global oil production is up, the cartel imposes quotas so that an increase in supply doesn't cause the price of oil to drop. The 12 OPEC countries get together and decide to hold back some oil from the market. Each country takes the short-term setback in order to keep the price of oil up, which ultimately benefits all the countries in the club.
Though OPEC is not expected to change its policy this week in Vienna, the prospect of more Iranian oil coming into the market could mean that the cartel might have to move sooner than expected to lower quotas.
"There are two problems: Can you get agreement to reduce the quotas, and can you get countries to abide by the reduced quotas," said Houser. "I think both are going to be pretty challenging."
The struggle will be keeping everybody in line.
"The history of OPEC has been frustrated by sometimes formal agreements that never materialize in practice; many countries accept reducing their own production, but then continue to sell oil under the table," said Leonardo Maugeri, an associate of the Harvard Kennedy School and former executive of Italian oil company Eni. Maugeri said that he expects OPEC to meet again in early 2014 to settle on a new policy. If it can't, oil prices could collapse.
While some analysts have heralded the end of OPEC, others have warned that it could lead to greater volatility.
"Volatile oil prices are especially damaging because people have less ability to make decisions about what kind of car to buy and where to live based on how much oil will take up in their budget," said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy and a former senior advisor in the Obama administration.
OPEC helps dampen volatility. In addition to intervening when oil prices are falling, it also ramps up production when supply is suddenly cut, in an effort to keep prices from spiking.
"Over the last couple years the Gulf states have increased their production when there have been disruptions in, say, Libya," Richard Mallinson, a geopolitical analyst with energy markets consultancy Energy Aspects, said. Mallinson said OPEC has weathered many challenges and will likely survive this one as well.
And while Iran is warning OPEC countries this week that they may have to make room for Iranian oil, some experts think that is still wishful thinking on Iran's part.
"The Iranians have an interest in actually creating this kind of perception, and that is to lure oil companies, the big international companies, to see the potential in coming back to the Iranian market," said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst for International Crisis Group. Since Iran doesn't have lobbyists in Washington, Vaez added, Tehran is hoping to convince international oil companies to argue that sanctions should be rolled back.
Despite repeated objections from the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans are charging ahead with plans to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran.
Though some Democrats fear burning bridges with the White House, aides tell The Cable that negotiations between senators in both parties are closing in on legislation that would impose new sanctions on Tehran after six months -- the length of the preliminary nuclear deal recently hammered out in Geneva. The bill would include an option to delay the punitive action if U.S. talks on a final deal appear promising. Despite earlier reports that Republican hawks would dismiss such legislation as overly lenient, a Senate aide says that's not the case.
Like perhaps no other foreign policy issue, Iran sanctions have pitted President Obama against a sizeable portion of his own party. In the last week, powerful Democrats such as Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York have openly defied the White House and advocated for new sanctions legislation.
On Friday, the administration attempted to demonstrate support for its Geneva deal by circulating a handout of lawmakers saying positive things about the agreement. But out of 535 members of the House and Senate, the White House only collected statements from 17 lawmakers -- in a list that counted mildly supportive tweets as endorsements.
In the latest sign of Democrats' open willingness to cross the administration, Menendez accused the White House of "fear-mongering" in its claims that new sanctions legislation would kill the nuclear deal and lead to war with Iran.
"As one of the architects of the sanctions regime we've had on Iran, this is exactly the process that has brought Iran to the negotiating table," Menendez told Face the Nation on Sunday. "While we have heard naysayers in the past say, no, we shouldn't pursue those sanctions, it seems to me that prospectively looking for sanctions that are invoked six months from the date of enactment ... sends a message to Iran, as it has throughout this process, that there is a consequence if you don't strike a successful deal."
Sources say a version of that proposal is currently being hammered out between Democrats and Republicans despite White House opposition. The law would work like this: If after six months, when the current interim deal with Iran is set to expire, no deal is made, then new sanctions against Tehran will take effect. However, if at that juncture, the White House needs more time to finish negotiating a final comprehensive deal, the bill gives the administration more flexibility.
How much flexibility is precisely what Democrats and Republicans are trying to work out. "The assumption that hawks would oppose this is only true if this latitude to delay for further talks is indefinite," a Senate aide tells The Cable. "If it's like 30 days because they think a deal is imminent, not sure hawks would object to that as long as [the administration] doesn't get endless 30-day renewals for talks to drag on forever."
The big unknown in these negotiations is Senate Majority Harry Reid, who is now caught between his Democratic Caucus and President Obama.
After a new sanctions bill passed by a landslide in the House, a bipartisan group of 76 senators including Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) penned a letter advocating for a tougher stance against Iran. Importantly, the call for a harder line came after the charm offensive by the newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Where Reid stands is unclear. Prior to the Nov. 23 deal with Iran, Reid said the Senate "must be prepared" to add new sanctions in December. In a more recent appearance on the Diane Rehm Show he said members would need to talk it over. "If we need more work on this, we need to do stronger sanctions, I'm sure we will do that," he said. "So I look forward to input from both the majority and the minority."
Meanwhile, he continues to face bipartisan pressure in Congress's march to add sanctions. "It will be up to Senator Reid to decide whether we have that opportunity on the floor over the next two or three weeks or whether he's going to continue to block for the administration so that that doesn't occur," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) told Face the Nation. " I know Senator Menendez and I both will be working to try to figure out some way of ensuring that we get to the appropriate end game."
When asked if it it would veto legislation on new sanctions, administration officials have declined to comment.
The Dutch military is planning to deploy a team of dozens of military intelligence operatives in Mali in the coming weeks, part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission charged with stabilizing the terror-afflicted northern part of the country and preventing the resurgence of Islamist militants that only year ago held sway over much of the country, according to the Dutch military.
The Dutch contribution -- which will also include a team of special-forces troops and four Apache attack helicopters -- marks a rare return by a European power to a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa, where debacles from Somalia to Rwanda triggered a retreat in the late 1990s. But what is perhaps even more striking is that the U.N.'s top brass are privately acknowledging that the U.N.'s blue helmets will be engaging in the business of spying.
Since the birth of U.N. peacekeeping in Egypt's Sinai intelligence has been a dirty word in U.N. quarters, feeding suspicion among poor countries that Western spooks were secretly using the United Nations as a cover to spy on them, and giving fright to right wing Americans who fretted that U.N. storm troopers in black helicopters might swoop down to occupy the American prairie. In 1960, then U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold declined to establish a U.N. intelligence agency on the grounds that the U.N. "must have clean hands." In a sign of the enduring anxiety over big power espionage, Brazil and Germany this week pressed through a U.N. General Assembly resolution aimed at constraining massive data collection and digital eavesdropping, a move aimed at constraining the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence outfits.
But in the U.N.'s far flung peacekeeping missions intelligence is no longer a dirty word. Herve Ladsous, the U.N.'s French chief of the U.N. peacekeeping department, will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo early next month to launch the flight of two U.N. surveillance drones -- the U.N. prefers to call them Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- to keep track of potential threats from armed militias. If all goes well, these flying cameras could be introduced into peacekeeping missions in Mali, and possibly Ivory Coast and South Sudan.
The Dutch unit in Mali will operate electronic eavesdropping - or signals intelligence - operations targeting Islamic militants. But it will also engage in gathering human intelligence - low tech spying involving the cultivation of paid informants. "I would say this is precedent setting," Walter Dorn, a Canadian professor of Defense Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC), who has written extensively on U.N. intelligence gathering, told Foreign Policy. "The United Nations has been hesitant to use the word intelligence and engage in intelligence activities. But the necessity of being informed in situations where you have the fog of war, or the fog of peacekeeping, means that you have to have an accurate and timely information gathering and analysis units."
The actual threat to U.N. peacekeepers is by no means greater today than it has been in the past. So far this year, 82 U.N. blue helmets died serving in U.N. missions, fewer than half of the 173 fatalities suffered in 2010, and only a fraction of the 252 who died in 1993, when the U.N. was running high risk missions in Bosnia and Somalia. But the U.N.'s key powers, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, agree on the need to confront the rising threat to U.N. personnel by Islamic extremists.
The Islamist militant group, Al Shabab, has been targeting U.N. personnel in Mogadishu, Somalia, mounting a bold terror attack against the U.N.'s humanitarian compound in June that left eight people employed by the U.N. dead.( In that case, a U.N. intelligence unit actually received a tip that the attack would occur, but it was still unable to stop it.)
For instance, in Mali, where the U.N. is facing a challenge by Islamist insurgents, suicide bombers last month attacked a U.N. peacekeeping unit in the town of Tessalit, Mali, killing two Chadian blue helmets and a civilian.
The Malian crisis began in the beginning of 2012 when a coalition of Tuareg separatists and foreign Islamist extremists linked to Al Qaeda, reinforced by arms from the fallen former Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi's arsenals, seized control of key cities in northern Mali. Malian army officers, citing the governments' failure to adequately equip its troops in the battle against the insurgents, staged a military coup that sent the country into a state of chaos.
Fearing an Islamist offensive against the capital of Bamako, the French government launched a military offensive in January that routed the militants out of northern Mali. The French then helped organize a coalition of African countries that helped Mali drive the insurgents into retreat in the north. In July, the African troops were integrated into a new U.N. peacekeeping mission - the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stablization Mission in Mali(MINUSMA). The mission - which is headed by a Dutch politician, Bert Koenders- is serving along-side a separate French force of some 3,000 troops.
Earlier this month, the Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert announced that some 380 Dutch military personnel would serve in the U.N. mission, aiding an increasingly well-armed mission - which includes a combat-ready Chinese guard force - to restore security and stability in northern Mali. They will be headquartered in Bamako and Gao, where their primary job will be gathering, processing and analyzing intelligence. "In addition to special forces, we will deploy our sensor capability, unmanned systems and 4 Apache attack helicopters," she said. "We will be the eyes and ears of the U.N., enabling them to operate more effectively.
Jean Marie Guehenno, a French national who headed the U.N. peacekeeping department from2000 to 2008, said that the move to formally integrate intelligence gathering activities into U.N. peacekeeping missions reflects a growing recognition of the dangers facing blue helmets, particularly from an array of terrorist organizations and non-state armed militias.
"Traditionally, [U.N.] member states have been a bit reluctant to permit intelligence gathering activities because of concerns over the potential violation of a country's sovereignty," Guehenno said, noting that revelations of NSA spying has in some way reinforced those concerns. "Spying makes people nervous."
"On the other hand, there is a mounting sense that the safety and protection of troops benefits a lot from effective intelligence," he said. "It's harder for the members' states to say it's horrible to collect intelligence if you have human lives lost. So, I think the U.N. is in a stronger position to say you put us in a dangerous environment we need to cope with it and the only way to cope is to have some kind of intelligence. I'm convinced there were a few situations where peacekeepers died and their lives might have been saved with better situational awareness intelligence."
Despite the political constraints, U.N. commanders, including those serving in Hammarskjold's day, have long recognized the importance of tactical intelligence gathering in complex missions, erecting make-shift intelligence units to spy on potential enemies. In early 1961 in the Congo, the U.N. set up its first serious intelligence unit -- known as Military Information Branch - the word intelligence was "banned from the U.N. lexicon," to oversee aerial surveillance, radio intercepts, and of informants, Dorn wrote in a history of the Congo operation. The practice was largely suspended in the ensuing Cold War decades, only to resurface after the Cold War ended, giving way to a major surge in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Since the turn of the century, U.N. personnel in places like Sierra Leone and Somalia largely relied on foreign government spooks to supply them with tactical intelligence on enemy intentions. But more recently the U.N. has begun to formalize intelligence collection in missions in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where units with names like the Joint Mission Analysis Centers and Joint Operations Centers - collect information the old fashion way: through the cultivation of spies. In Port au Prince, U.N. blue helmets paid Haitian informants to expose the hideaways of famously unpopular gang leaders' in the deepest slums. Even their lovers could be relied upon to reveal the location of where they were sleeping for arrest. Informants were sometimes dressed in U.N. uniforms but with their faces covered to avoid detection.
"The U.N. was able to tap into the wide-ranging disaffection with the gangs in order to procure plenty of actionable information," Dorn wrote in a study of the U.N. mission in Haiti."Intelligence-led operations helped the United Nations to take the initiative, to control the "battle-space' and minimize the risks to both its own personnel and innocent bystanders. The mission was successful in overcoming gang rule of entire districts, but not without initial opposition from within the emission, from Haitian officials and, of course, from the gangs themselves."
Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general who served as the U.N. Secretary General's chief military advisor from 2002 to 2005, said it was a "un uphill battle" to convince the U.N. political leadership, and member states, to collect intelligence. In 2003, Cammaert urged the U.N. peacekeeping department to contract a private company to conduct aerial surveillance for a newly established mission in Liberia. Two years later, when he was reassigned as the U.N.'s eastern division commander in eastern Congo, Cammaert finally succeeded in securing funding, around $5 million, in the mission's budget to conduct aerial surveillance missions to track the movement of militias and human rights violators, including Bosco Ntganda and Laurent Nkunda. It never happened. "All the documents were cleared, but the proposal was firmly killed in DPKO[The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations] because people didn't like it,"he said.
The constraints forced him to improvise, cultivating a team of informants. "You had to be creative; I sometimes had to pay informants from my own daily subsistence allowance because we didn't have funds for that," he said. "I managed to get a number of people trust worthy people -- don't ask I how I found them - but I'd put them on a Moped and tell them to drive somewhere and come back and tell me what you saw."
Cammaert said the recent change in attitude reflected a growing recognition that U.N. peacekeepers "are dealing with a threat that is asymmetric, much more sophisticated, and much more dangerous, not only to local population but to peacekeepers was well " As a result, he said, "the word intelligence is not such a dirty word anymore."
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