TIME Aviation

France Beefs Up Security on Flights to U.S.

France Airport Security
A French soldier stands in front of the desk of American airline company 'Delta Air Lines' in Nice airport, south eastern France, July 4, 2014. Lionel Cironneau—AP

Amid terrorism concerns

France is ramping up security measures on all outgoing flights to the U.S. following terrorism warnings.

“At the request of American authorities, security measures at airports for flights bound to the United States have been increased for the summer period,” the French Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement Friday.

American authorities said Wednesday that they’re concerned al-Qaeda might be developing a new kind of bomb that could be smuggled onto planes. The Obama Administration told foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S. to increase their security measures.

The French agency warned that delays are possible and recommended all passengers flying to the U.S. arrive early. The move follows British airports agreeing to increase airport security Thursday.

France has not elaborated on the measures it intends to implement.

 

TIME Congress

Edward Snowden and the NSA Can Both Be Right

Edward Snowden NSA
US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on improving the protection of whistleblowers, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 24, 2014. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

Two reports raise the possibility that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it

The yearlong debate over the leak of National Security Agency documents by former contractor Edward Snowden has divided the world into two camps. One sees Snowden as a patriotic public servant and believes the NSA programs he revealed are unjustified threats to civil liberties. The other sees Snowden as a traitor and views the NSA programs as necessary for national security.

Two reports this week raise a third possibility: that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it.

On July 1, the independent agency charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism programs to ensure they don’t infringe on privacy and civil liberties found the core of the NSA’s Internet collection programs did neither. In a 196-page report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found both the NSA’s collection of Internet traffic from service providers, and the agency’s tapping of undersea cables, complied with the Constitution and Congress’s privacy protections for U.S. persons, and were therefore legal. It further found that the programs were valuable (two board members called them “extremely valuable”) for foreign intelligence and counterterrorism:

Presently, over a quarter of the NSA’s reports concerning international terrorism include information based in whole or in part on Section 702 collection.

On the other side of the equation, the PCLOB report comes less than a week after Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the NSA, told the New York Times that while the damage done by Snowden was real, he did not believe “the sky is falling” as a result. Earlier in June, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Washington Post that “we think that a lot of what [Snowden] looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” and that “it doesn’t look like [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

Taken together, the reports raise the possibility that the NSA programs continue to contribute to U.S. national security and that the damage done by Snowden’s leaks is offset by the public awareness of and debate about surveillance.

There are, of course, qualifiers to such a best-of-both-worlds view. For starters, the PCLOB report raised concerns about how the NSA, CIA and FBI search the data once it is collected from the Internet and recommended in some cases curtailing those searches. In January, the PCLOB found that the NSA’s telephone metadata records program was effectively illegal and should be ended. And no one can seriously look at the Snowden revelations without considering the possibility that they damaged national security. A large majority of security experts recently polled by National Journal believe the damage caused by the leaks is greater than the public value of Snowden’s revelations.

But the PCLOB said it had not seen any evidence of “bad faith or misconduct” in either the NSA’s Internet collection program or the telephone metadata program: for all the speculative fear of a dystopian future, no one has been maliciously targeted, and the programs haven’t been hijacked by a malevolent Nixonian seeking political advantage. At the same time, Snowden’s revelations have initiated a broad, bipartisan public debate over government surveillance, and he has advanced the idea that in the digital age, privacy is always in play (including the commercial collection and sale of data on virtually every household in the country, as the Federal Trade Commission recently reported).

This may all sound Panglossian, but it fits with the conclusions of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, scourge of secrecy, who believed there were many things that “should be made secret, but then released as soon as the immediate need has passed.” Standing at the threshold of the digital age in 1997, Moynihan declared:

In one direction we can reach out and touch the time when the leaders of the Soviet Union thought that the explosion at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl could be kept secret from the rest of the world. In the other direction we can see a time — already upon us — when fourteen-year-old hackers in Australia or Newfoundland can make their way into the most sensitive areas of national security or international finance. The central concern of government in the future will not be information, but analysis. We need government agencies staffed with argumentative people who can live with ambiguity and look upon secrecy as a sign of insecurity.

At the least, the new reports raise the possibility that neither side in the continuing debate over Snowden’s revelations has the absolute high ground when it comes to the defense of the public good.

TIME Uganda

U.S. Embassy Warns of Attack at Uganda’s International Airport

Airport Departure Lounge
Yongyuan Dai—Getty Images

"According to intelligence sources there is a specific threat to attack Entebbe International Airport by an unknown terrorist group today."

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda warned of a “specific threat to attack” the country’s only international airport Thursday evening.

The warning, posted to the Embassy website, says the Ugandan Police Force provided the embassy with information about a possible attack by an “unknown terrorist group” planned for between 9 and 11 p.m. local time at Entebbe International Airport, about 20 miles from the capital of Kampala.

“Individuals planning travel through the airport this evening may want to review their plans in light of this information,” the statement says.

Uganda is one of several countries, including neighboring Kenya, that have sent troops to bolster the government in Somalia. That’s put it in the sights of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, which opposes the military presence in Somalia. In 2010, an attack orchestrated by al-Shabab in Kampala killed at least 74 people. Last year, Shaaab militants stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, killing 67 people.

The statement from the Embassy also warned of the overarching terrorist threat in Uganda.

“U.S. Embassy Kampala wishes to remind U.S. citizens of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country,” the statement said. “The targets for these attacks could include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, diplomatic missions, transportation hubs, religious institutions, government offices, or public transportation.”

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

TIME National Security

Woman Arrested in Denver for Alleged Support of Jihadist Group

Her arrest comes weeks after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive in Iraq

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 7:13 a.m. E.T. on July 3

A woman in Denver was arrested for allegedly providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the designated-terrorist organization that has been seizing regions in northern Iraq over the last month.

A criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of Colorado says Shannon Maureen Conley conspired to commit an offense against the U.S., Reuters reports, and that she knew ISIS was engaged in militant activity.

The complaint said Conley met with a co-conspirator—a man, labeled in the documents as Y.M., who said he was an active member of the group—online last year and that she planned to meet him in Syria through Turkey. Conley had apparently attended training sessions for military tactics and using firearms in Texas earlier this year, the complaint added, with an aim to support fighters once she was on the ground.

[Reuters]

TIME National Security

TSA Beefing Up Security at Airports Abroad Ahead of July 4 Weekend

TSA Security
A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

TSA will amp up security ahead of travel-heavy July 4 weekend

The United States Transportation Security Administration will “implement enhanced security measures” at certain airports overseas with direct flights to the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday.

The announcement comes just ahead of the travel-heavy Fourth of July weekend. It was also made amid American concerns reported by ABC earlier this week that al-Qaeda offshoots in Yemen and Syria were developing bombs that could be used to attack commercial airliners. President Barack Obama also acknowledged Sunday that militants fighting in Syria, and more recently in Iraq, pose a threat to the U.S. because many carry Western passports.

In his statement Wednesday, Secretary Johnson did not name the airports where security will be enhanced, nor did he identify a specific terror threat. But he said the directive was in response to an “ongoing process” of assessing terrorism risks.

Johnson added that the TSA will “work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible.”

“As always, we will continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public,” Johnson said.

–Zeke J. Miller contributed reporting

TIME Middle East

Survey Shows a Growing Fear of Islamic Extremism in the Middle East

Mideast Iraq
Militants from the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria celebrate the group's declaration of an Islamic state in Fallujah, Iraq, on June 30, 2014 Associated Press

An opinion poll conducted across 14 countries with a large Muslim population shows an increased fear of Islamic extremism and a drop in support for al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizballah and Boko Haram

The threat of Islamic extremism is a growing worry among people in the Middle East, according to a new survey.

Frequent suicide bombings and the rise of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were concerns cited by many of the 14,244 people across 14 countries with large Muslim populations surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Notably, the study was conducted from April 10 to May 25 — before ISIS had even seized the Iraqi city of Mosul — and the subsequent declaration of an Islamic state straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border may have further increased these tensions.

In Lebanon, anxiety about extremism among Christians, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims rose 11 percentage points since 2013 to 92% of the population currently. Respondents in Jordan and Turkey, which both border war-torn Syria, shared similar concerns. In Jordan, these fears grew 13 percentage points to 62% in just two years.

The study also showed a drastic decline in support for Islamist groups Hamas, Hizballah, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. A sweeping majority had unfavorable opinions of al-Qaeda, particularly among Christians, Muslims and Jews in both Israel and Lebanon. The Taliban — which has a base on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is opposed by 59% of the population in Pakistan. Hizballah is also generally disliked throughout the Middle East, peaking in Egypt, Turkey and Jordan where at least 8 in 10 people were opposed.

Hamas — a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip — drew widespread aversion throughout the Middle East and even in Palestine, where 53% of the population expressed negative views. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the group was favored by 67% of the population in Palestine, but outright support has now waned to just 35%.

Suicide bombings remain a divisive subject. Although the act has lost popularity throughout the Middle East in recent years, “significant minorities of Muslims in a few countries do hold the view that it can be justified,” according to the report.

While suicide bombings have dropped throughout the Middle East, the study revealed that support in Nigeria grew by 11 percentage points since last year — although 61% of Nigerian Muslims still agree that it is not a justifiable method of defending Islam. A majority of the Nigerians surveyed also opposed Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has recently been spotlighted for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls.

TIME Terrorism

Support for Suicide Bombings Plummets In Countries Where They Happen Most

LEBANON-UNREST-BLAST-HEZBOLLAH
Mourners attend the funeral of Abdel Karim Hodroj, a 20-year-old Lebanese General Security agency inspector who was killed the previous day in an overnight suicide blast, on June 25, 2014, in Beirut.. ANWAR AMRO—AFP/Getty Images

A Pew opinion poll finds that with a few exceptions, the more people see suicide bombings, the less they like them

Support for suicide bombers in the name of Islam has dropped in countries that have endured the most suicide bombings, a recent Pew survey reports.

When asked if suicide bombings can ever be justified against civilian targets “to defend Islam from its enemies,” a growing majority responded with “rarely” or “not at all.” Even in what has historically been the strongest bastion of support for these terror tactics, the Palestinian Territories, the percentage that replied “often/sometimes” tumbled to 46% in 2014, down from a high of 70% seven years ago. Pew noted that favorable views of Hamas had also significantly declined.

In Jordan, support fell from a high of 57% in 2005, the same year a series of bomb blasts ripped through three hotels in the nation’s capital Amman, to just 15% in 2014. In Pakistan–which has been ranked the third-most “bomb-scarred” country in the world by the UK-based NGO Action on Armed Violence — support fell this year to 3%, down from a high of 41% in 2004.

There were notable exceptions to the trend. Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria saw an uptick in people who said they believed that sometimes suicide bombings could be justified against civilian targets. Overall, though, the poll suggests that in the long-run, the more people experience the devastation of suicide bombs, the less they like them.

Levels of Support for Suicide Bombing over Time

TIME Iraq

The Iraqi Government Seems Helpless to Stop ISIS’s New Caliphate

The Sunni militant group says it has created its own Islamic empire. Their hold is less than secure, but Iraq's government seems helpless

+ READ ARTICLE

With the upload of an audio recording, radical Sunni militants on June 29 declared a new Islamic caliphate, a religious superstate, stretching from eastern Iraq to the Syrian city of Aleppo. The group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is now simply the Islamic State, dropping the names of the two countries whose sovereignty it doesn’t recognize.

After weeks of laying claim to Iraqi territory, the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said on Sunday that they had everything necessary to proclaim their state. The Caliph — or leader — is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi-born ISIS leader who appears to be giving al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a run for his money. “Listen to your leader and obey him,” said al-Adnani in the online statement. “Support your state, which grows continuously.”

But despite massive Sunni discontent with the Shi‘ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a caliphate run by a Caliph whose location is unknown and whose representatives regularly order beheadings may still be too much for many Iraqis. “They put up the new rules at all the mosques,” said one resident of Mosul, an Iraqi city that has fallen to ISIS. “Now it’s no smoking, no argileh pipes, and they sent the women home from government jobs.”

Even more troubling than the strict Shari‘a law ISIS is known to enforce with public lashings and executions is the militant group’s assertion of sovereignty over the territory it controls. There are many Islamists and well-armed Sunnis within ISIS’s self-declared borders who won’t be keen to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and his black flag.

Until now, Sunni tribes and the old guard of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party have been playing along with ISIS against a common enemy: Baghdad and al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite-led government. But “there are a lot of tribes that don’t want to be part of a caliphate,” said Kenneth Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. And it may be their resistance, rather the Iraqi army, that will prove the true obstacle for ISIS. “This is exactly the thing back in 2006 when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq that got them in to trouble and helped push the Sunni tribes back into the arms of the Americans.”

But as ISIS defends its new territory, its assertion of dominance may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an increasing number of fighters join the group seen as winning on the ground. “The events of the last three weeks have really boosted ISIS’s stock among the global jihadist movement,” said Pollack. “These guys took Mosul. When was the last time al-Qaeda did anything that impressive? So if you’re some young would-be jihadi I think there is a good likelihood you’re going to choose ISIS as opposed to the old al-Qaeda.”

ISIS fighters continue to battle Iraqi government troops, particularly for the strategic northern city of Tikrit. Despite outnumbering the jihadists, the Iraqi national army has retaken little ground, and is desperately reaching out to the international community for military support. Russia was quick to deliver a small fleet of warplanes over the weekend, and U.S. advisers are already in country to support the Iraqi military.

But al-Maliki’s choice of military force rather than political negotiation is failing, and calls for him to step down here are being heard in Tehran, and even in Iraq among his Shi‘ite support base. On July 1 Iraq’s parliament will reconvene and there will be a lot of pressure on al-Maliki to make the concessions suggested by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry and British First Secretary of State William Hague when they visited Iraq recently. Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities say the current government has a sectarian agenda and the Kurds are more interested in autonomy than a new deal with Baghdad.

“We are in a new reality now, and it’s clear Iraq will never be ruled by one man, one sect, or party,” said Hiwa Osman, an analyst and writer based in Erbil. “The new Iraq is to be managed, not ruled. Managing the relationships between the various regions is the only way forward if the country wants to stay together.”

A political solution out of the parliament tomorrow is unlikely. Not only has al-Maliki shown he’s unwilling to compromise, but Osman says those Sunnis who will be sitting in the opening session on Tuesday don’t have the necessary influence in the areas of the newly declared caliphate.

“If they were really the players, they would be on the ground in Mosul, in Tikrit, in Nineveh,” said Osman. “Not in Baghdad.”

TIME Pakistan

Unbelievably, There Are Now Refugees Fleeing to Afghanistan

The Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of Pakistanis concluding that Afghanistan is just a far safer place to be right now.

+ READ ARTICLE

The Pakistani military has begun operations against Islamic insurgents in the North Waziristan region, delivering the offensive that Washington has been requesting for a decade, and sparking a massive exodus of refugees — some of whom are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the fighting.

Militants, who have long inhabited the mountainous tribal area, have found themselves the target of heavy artillery bombardment and airstrikes for the past fortnight, in what the military’s PR chief Major-General Asim Bajwa termed “the beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan.”

Reports began to surface on Thursday in the Pakistani press that ground troops had started moving into North Waziristan to clear out the insurgent forces.

Washington says militants have been using North Waziristan for years as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a terrorist insurgency against the Pakistani state.

Senior members of the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda’s central command — along with a smattering of militants from as far away as western China’s Xinjiang province and Chechnya — are believed to be holed up in the area. All are on Islamabad’s kill list.

“For the military, there’ll be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network or any other militant group,” Major-General Bajwa told reporters during a press conference in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The mountainous border dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan has been home to martial tribes for centuries. However, the presence of heavily armed insurgents and foreign jihadis is the notorious legacy of American and Saudi intelligence agencies, who used the fighters as proxy forces during the clandestine war with Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“This is famously the powder keg, which has led to everything going wrong in the region and the beginning of heavily armed militant Islam,” William Dalrymple, the historian and author of nine books on South Asia, tells TIME. “Obviously in retrospect [it’s] one of the great mistakes of American foreign policy.”

The Pakistani secret service (ISI) is alleged to have helped insurgent elements fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, using those militant groups to maintain pressure on the newly formed government in Kabul, which they believed harbored pro-Indian sensibilities.

“The Pakistan Army, or elements within ISI, always continued to support the Taliban as a way of getting rid of the Karzai government and a way of installing a pro-Pakistani Taliban regime in Kabul,” says Dalrymple.

That policy appears to have backfired. In 2007, the Pakistani Taliban launched a fresh insurgency against Islamabad that to date has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and at least 15,000 security personnel.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned last year on the promise of peace talks with the Taliban, but any hope of negotiations has been extinguished by a recent string of humiliating attacks, including a brazen assault on Karachi airport, deep in the country’s commercial hub.

The perennially stretched Pakistani state is now attempting to deal with the massive humanitarian fallout from the new offensive. In the less than two weeks of fighting, more than 450,000 people have been internally displaced. Officials estimate that the number will surpass 500,000 soon.

In a bizarre reversal of the norm, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have reportedly flooded into war-torn eastern Afghanistan to escape the fighting on the Pakistan side of the border.

“The [Afghan] government estimates there are over 60,000 thousand for now,” says Babar Baloch from U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

The exodus has also ignited fears that the polio epidemic rampant in North Waziristan for two years could spread to other parts of the region.

Meanwhile, analysts have already begun to criticize the new military campaign for not being part of a broader vision of Pakistan’s future.

“There isn’t yet a clear national strategy,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. That means “operations are going to be tactical at best.” He adds: “The civilians were not brought in at the planning stage. And they’re not prepared in any way to take over from the military once the clearing has taken place.”

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