Posts Tagged ‘propaganda’

Russia accuses U.S. of pretending to fight Islamic State in Syria, Iraq

October 10, 2017

Reuters

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Spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, Major-General Igor Konashenkov.  REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia accused the United States on Tuesday of pretending to fight Islamic State and of deliberately reducing its air strikes in Iraq to allow the group’s militants to stream into Syria to slow the Russian-backed advance of the Syrian army.

In the latest sign of rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the U.S.-led coalition had sharply reduced its air strikes in Iraq in September when Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, had started to retake Deir al-Zor Province.

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“Everyone sees that the U.S.-led coalition is pretending to fight Islamic State, above all in Iraq, but continuing to allegedly fight Islamic State in Syria actively for some reason,” said Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry.

The result, he said, had been that militants had moved in large numbers from Iraqi border areas to Deir al-Zor where they were trying to dig in on the left bank of the River Euphrates.

“The actions of the Pentagon and the coalition demand an explanation. Is their change of tack a desire to complicate as much as they can the Syrian army’s operation, backed by the Russian air force, to take back Syrian territory to the east of the Euphrates?,” asked Konashenkov.

“Or is it an artful move to drive Islamic State terrorists out of Iraq by forcing them into Syria and into the path of the Russian air force’s pinpoint bombing?”

He said Syrian troops were in the midst of trying to push Islamic State out of the city of al-Mayadin, southeast of Deir al-Zor, but that IS tried daily to reinforce its ranks there with “foreign mercenaries” pouring in from Iraq.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov

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Social media and democracy: optimism fades as fears rise — “Twitter users got more misinformation” — “Social media has always been a double-edged sword”

October 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Rob Lever | The social networks which helped enable democracy movements are also being manipulated by authoritarian regimes, researchers say

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Just a few years ago, Facebook and Twitter were hailed as tools for democracy activists, enabling movements like the Arab Spring to flourish.

Today, the tables have turned as fears grow over how social media may have been manipulated to disrupt the US election, and over how authoritarian governments are using the networks to clamp down on dissent.

The latest revelations from Facebook and Twitter, which acknowledged that Russian-backed entities used their network to spread disinformation and sow political discord, have heightened concerns about the impact of social networks on democracy.

“Both services are ripe for abuse and manipulation by all sorts of problematic people, including hostile intelligence services,” says Andrew Weisburd, a non-resident fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Alliance, a project created this year to counter what it claims are efforts by Russia undermine democracy and democratic institutions, includes US and European researchers worried about Moscow’s efforts.

“What we have seen from the Kremlin in recent years is a direct by-product of what they have done to the Russian people in order to keep (President Vladimir) Putin and his cronies in power,” Weisburd said.

Researcher Tim Chambers writes in a paper for the left-leaning New Policy Institute that the proliferation of political “bots” or automated accounts to make topics go “viral” such as those employed in 2016 are dangerous for elections and democracy

“They fake petition signatures. They skew poll results and recommendation engines,” Chambers said.

“Deceptive bots create the impression that there is grassroots, positive, sustained, human support for a certain candidate, cause, policy or idea. In doing so, they pose a real danger to the political and social fabric of our country.”

Oxford University researchers said in a June report that social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which were intended to be a platform for free expression, “have also become tools for social control” in many countries.

Governments employ large numbers of people “to generate content, direct opinion and engage with both foreign and domestic audiences,” said the report by the university’s Project on Computational Propaganda.

The researchers, who studied social media in 28 countries, concluded that “every authoritarian regime has social media campaigns targeting their own populations.”

– Bots, cyber troops –

In Turkey, for example, that has led to targeting of opposition leaders’ social media accounts so that others can launch a smear campaign.

In other countries, governments create “bots” which amplify some voices to create an artificial sense of popularity, the researchers said. Some regimes employ “cyber troops” or private contractors for this purpose.

Zeynep Tufekci, a North Carolina University sociologist who studies social networks and activist movements, said the platforms which helped enable the Arab Spring are now being used against dissenters.

“This is not necessarily Orwell’s 1984,” she writes in her 2017 book, “Twitter and Tear Gas: How Social Media Changed Protest Forever.”

“Rather than a complete totalitarianism based on fear and the blocking of information, the newer methods include demonizing online media and mobilizing armies of supporters or paid employees who muddy the online waters with misinformation, information overload, doubt, confusion, harassment, and distraction.”

– Russian ads in US –

In the United States, the disclosures by Facebook and Twitter fueled concerns that disinformation campaigns, likely from Russian entities, sought to manipulate public opinion and polarize the electorate ahead of the November election.

Twitter shared data with congressional investigators about ads from Russia Today, a television group with links to the Moscow government and which has been accused by US intelligence services of meddling in the election.

Twitter said RT spent $274,000 in 2016 on ads on its site that may have been used to try to influence the US election.

Facebook also acknowledged foreign entities linked to Russia paid to promote political messages on the leading social network, potentially violating US election laws.

The Oxford researchers said in a report Thursday that the campaign to spread “junk news” during the 2016 presidential election via Twitter appeared to target key states which could sway the Electoral College results.

The researchers said that in the days leading up to the election, “Twitter users got more misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content than professionally produced news.”

Weisburd said the social media firms are “largely immune from responsibility” in the legal sense, but that “in the court of public opinion it is a different matter, and future US legislation seems likely if they don’t address these issues in a meaningful way.”

Emily Parker, a New America Foundation Future Tense fellow and author of the book, “Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground,” cautions against idealizing or demonizing social networks.

“Social media has always been a double-edged sword,” she said.

“Citizens use it to speak truth to power, and authoritarian governments use it to spread misinformation. And yes, governments are increasing their efforts to censor the internet, but that’s because they recognize that the internet poses a threat to their control.”

by Rob Lever
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Trump Twitter tirades deepen Asia alarm over conflict risk

September 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Kelly MACNAMARA | Observers say Trump’s fondness for Twitter diplomacy is creating a situation ripe for dangerous misunderstandings as he pursues an increasingly personal row with Kim Jong-Un

SEOUL (AFP) – Donald Trump may have stumbled into dangerous new territory with tweets that North Korea interpreted as a declaration of war, alarming a region used to living on the edge but now seriously considering the possibility of conflict.Observers say the US president’s fondness for Twitter diplomacy is creating a situation ripe for dangerous misunderstandings as he pursues an increasingly personal row with Kim Jong-Un.

Trump’s tweet that the Pyongyang regime “won’t be around much longer” elicited alarm from North Korea, with its foreign minister saying the US had “declared a war”.

Although the White House dismissed this reading as “absurd”, the damage may have been done — North Korea takes a very dim view of what it perceives as threats against its leadership.

“If we get into a war it’s because of misperception,” said Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University.

“In the real world there is no need to have conflict.”

Nevertheless, tensions are surging.

Pyongyang’s missile programme has stepped up a gear with two of its most recent launches sailing over a nervous Japan.

This month it conducted its largest ever nuclear test — what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

In the wake of the nuclear test, academics in China began openly calling for a reassessment of Beijing’s long-term policy of support for North Korea.

Pyongyang has “largely ignored China’s efforts” to resolve the situation with dialogue, said Jia Qingguo of Peking University, in an article entitled “Time to prepare for the worst in North Korea”.

The commentary, the first of several from Chinese academics in what some observers see as a sharp warning to Kim, urged Beijing to consider contingency talks with Washington and Seoul.

“When war becomes a real possibility, China must be prepared,” the article said.

The more hopeful interpretation of Trump’s tweeting, said Kelly, is that Kim is not the target at all; rather it is intended to persuade China to “stop looking the other way”.

Beijing has traditionally provided an economic lifeline to its isolated neighbour, fearful of the destabilising consequences of regime collapse or conflict.

But after the latest nuclear test, it signed up to tough new sanctions, including potentially damaging restrictions on crude oil, aimed at squeezing Pyongyang.

Even so, Trump continues to poke the hornet’s nest, either unaware of, or maybe in spite of, Pyongyang’s growing outrage.

– ‘Dotard’ –

With few of the normal contacts that grease the wheels of interaction between two countries — no embassies, infrequent chances for diplomats to meet — the US and North Korea often conduct their relationship in full public view.

That this relationship has descended into playground insults — Trump is a “mentally deranged… dotard”; Kim is “Little Rocket Man” — carries risks, says Kim Hyun-Wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

“The US and North Korea don’t want to drive this to a military conflict but if this psychological warfare persists, one side could unintentionally cross the red line which will prompt the other to launch a counteraction, leading to an armed clash,” he said.

Those actions and counteractions are already starting to play out.

A hint late last week that Pyongyang might respond to Trump’s insults with an atmospheric nuclear test raises the stakes — and the chance of miscalculation — next time the regime fires a missile, say analysts.

For South Korea and Japan — both home to tens of thousands of US troops, and both likely targets of any North Korean attack — the spectre of a conflict is rattling nerves.

In densely-populated Seoul, which lies within mortar range of the heavily-fortified border, war preparations have become a familiar part of life.

Subway stations double as fallout shelters, complete with rows of gas masks, and the country conducts emergency drills to role play a North Korean attack about four times a year.

Across the water, Japan frets over not just ballistic missiles that could be carrying chemical, biological or nuclear payloads, but also about the risk of “electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) attacks” that could knock out the country’s electronics infrastructure.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who has just bagged his department a bumper budget settlement, told a press conference earlier this month that Japan thinks “it is important to enhance survivability against EMP weapons.”

The Japanese government has in place a tried-and-tested alert system — text messages, loudspeaker alerts — for when missiles are launched over the country.

However, with only minutes to react, many Japanese feel a sense of helplessness against the possibility of an attack.

In the end, says Pusan National University’s Kelly, if the rhetoric is dialled down, and Trump steps away from the keyboard, the uneasy detente that has defined northeast Asia for the last few decades could return — but with one major adjustment.

“We learned to live with Soviet, Maoist Chinese, and Pakistani nuclear weapons,” he said. “We can adapt to North Korean nukes as well.”

burs-klm/amu

by Kelly MACNAMARA

Media Ownership, Education on Agenda for Poland’s Lawmakers

September 12, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s parliament gets back to work on Tuesday following its summer break, launching what is widely expected to be a raucous autumn of political change under the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party. These are some of the main issues the party has promised to tackle:

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NATIONALIZING THE MEDIA

After communism collapsed in 1989, publishers and broadcasters from Germany and other Western countries established a dominant role in Poland and media markets elsewhere in Central Europe.

Law and Justice says the number of foreign-owned media constitute a dangerous monopoly that Western European nations would never allow. The party is working on a law that would drastically limit foreign ownership of newspapers, magazines and other news outlets. A “de-concentration” is needed “for the good of Poland and the good of citizens,” party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

Among the companies at risk are Swiss-German venture Ringier Axel Springer Media, which owns the widely read tabloid Fakt and the Polish versions of Newsweek and Forbes; German media houses Bauer Media Group, Burda and Verlagsgruppe Passau; and the American company Scripps Networks Interactive, owner of TVN, which produces independent and popular news programming. Scripps itself was recently bought by another U.S. company, Discovery.

Critics fear that Law and Justice — after turning public media into a party propaganda organ — is trying to seize control of private media to silence critical voices.

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TAKING CONTROL OF THE COURTS

Law and Justice already achieved a partial overhaul of Poland’s court system, an effort it said was needed to make the courts more efficient and remove “many pathologies” left over from communism. Opponents see a power grab as the changes give the party greater control over the courts.

So far, the party has packed the Constitutional Tribunal with its loyalists in a legally dubious way. It has also given the Justice Minister, who is also the Prosecutor General, the power to name the heads of all the ordinary courts in the country.

Further changes, however, were blocked in July by President Andrzej Duda, who was elected on the Law and Justice ticket in 2015 but has since been at odds with party leaders.

This fall both the parliament and the president are expected to present new versions of the two vetoed bills. One of the key issues at stake is whether the party will also be able to assert its control over the Supreme Court, whose responsibilities involve confirming election results.

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NEW SCHOOLS, NEW PATRIOTS

Law and Justice is promoting a reorganization of the educational system to instill greater patriotism in young Poles. The Education Ministry says it wants to encourage the values of “fatherland, nation, state,” among others. One proposed change would remove ancient Greek and Roman history from the 4th grade curriculum to focus exclusively on Polish history at that stage.

The multi-year transition also would phase out middle schools and return to a system of eight years of primary school followed by high school. Some teachers and principals fear they will lose their jobs, while critics worry the patriotic curriculum will create a more inward-looking and less tolerant mindset among Polish youth.

The party is still hammering out changes to the high-school curriculum. Many are expected to be contested.

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RELATIONS WITH EUROPEAN POWERS

As the party pushes its domestic legislative agenda, it also must manage relationships with other European powers that have become strained in recent months.

The main standoff pits Poland against the European Union. Key areas of dispute are Law and Justice’s judicial changes and approval of large-scale logging in an ancient forest. Poland’s refusal to accept any refugees under an EU-wide resettlement plan also has further inflamed the tension.

Polish leaders also have bickered with French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to stem the flow of lower-paid workers from other EU countries to France. And the government in Warsaw has threatened to bill Germany in coming months for Nazi’s destruction of Poland during World War II.

Netanyahu bans Al-Jazeera journalist from free speech event

September 7, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expel Al-Jazeera which he accuses of incitement

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned Al-Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief from attending a seminar about freedom of speech, officials said, the latest move against the broadcaster by the Israeli leader.

The Israeli government press office said late Wednesday that Netanyahu had demanded Walid Al-Omary be excluded from the conference taking place on Thursday.

The event was focused on the limits of freedom of expression.

The press office said Netanyahu reiterated his intention to close Al-Jazeera in Israel and called for “legal measures to be taken to prevent the accreditation of all Al-Jazeera journalists.”

In July Netanyahu announced plans to expel Al-Jazeera after accusing it of incitement.

Israel had also announced it would withdraw accreditation of one of the broadcaster’s journalists, Elias Karam, but he has since been given a six-month reprieve.

Amnesty International called the Israeli moves a “brazen attack on media freedom.”

Al-Jazeera, which is owned by Qatar, has also been banned by the gas-rich Gulf state’s rivals in recent months.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of fostering extremism and demanding Al-Jazeera’s closure.

Al-Jazeera has nearly 80 offices around the world and broadcasts in several languages.

It played a key role during the Arab Spring uprisings, but its detractors accuse it of supporting Islamist movements across the region.

Hong Kong radio replaces BBC with Chinese programming

September 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The city’s Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has relayed the BBC World Service live since 1978 but early morning Monday, listeners woke up to the mandarin broadcast of the China National Radio Hong Kong Edition (CNR)

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s public radio station has replaced its 24-hour BBC World Service broadcast with Chinese state-run programming, in a move the British broadcaster called “disappointing” as concerns grow over Beijing’s influence on the semi-autonomous city.Listeners woke up on Monday morning to the Mandarin-language broadcast of the China National Radio Hong Kong Edition (CNR), instead of the World Service, which had been relayed live by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) since 1978.

The BBC said it was “always disappointed when a service our listeners are used to changes” with listeners launching a petition to bring back the World Service.

RTHK has a number of different channels offering some programmes in English. The World Service was broadcast on Channel 6, which is now playing CNR.

The CNR broadcast includes news, culture and lifestyle programming mostly in Mandarin — the language most commonly spoken in mainland China.

Only some of its content is in Cantonese, which is the dominant language of Hong Kong, leading to criticism that this was another step towards the “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong.

RTHK is still running a reduced version of the World Service on a different channel, but only late at night, from 11pm to 7am.

China stands accused of tightening its grip on Hong Kong, with critics also blaming the pro-Beijing local government for acting as a puppet.

The jailing of prominent young pro-democracy activists last month and the unveiling of a controversial rail link to the mainland that would see a portion of the city come under Chinese law have worsened fears the city’s cherished freedoms are being eroded.

An online petition against the change to the World Service programming had received over 1,000 signatures by Tuesday morning.

“The removal of the BBC World Service from the airwaves makes the city feel more parochial and inward-looking,” the petition said.

Longtime resident Alex Hofford, who organised the petition, said he had nothing against the CNR broadcast but does not believe it should have come at the expense of the BBC.

“This is a sad day for Hong Kong, I’ll really miss the Beeb as I drive around Hong Kong during the day,” Hofford said.

RTHK’s head of corporate communications Amen Ng told AFP Tuesday that it was a “difficult decision” due to “limited radio frequency”.

She described the CNR broadcast as “tailor-made” for Hong Kong.

“This is a cultural exchange between mainland China and Hong Kong,” Ng added.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement designed to protect its freedoms and way of life, but there are growing concerns those rights are now under threat.

Isis: UN study finds foreign fighters in Syria ‘lack basic understanding of Islam’ — Why They Fight

August 5, 2017

Research shows economic factors and ‘lack of meaning’ in life makes warzone attractive

By Lizzie Dearden Home Affairs Correspondent

The Independent

Young men who leave their homes to fight for terrorist groups in Syria mainly come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have low levels of education and “lack any basic understanding of the true meaning of jihad or even the Islamic faith”, according to a new report.

A study for the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism found that despite claiming to protect Muslims, most of the returned fighters were “novices” in their religion and some did not know how to pray properly.

“Most saw their religion in terms of justice and injustice rather than in terms of piety and spirituality,” said the authors of the report, which was based on interviews with 43 people from 12 countries.

They found that a typical fighter “is most likely to be male, young and disadvantaged economically, educationally, and in terms of the labour market”.

“He is also more likely than not to come from a marginalised background, both socially and politically,” the reported added.

“Most were unemployed, or underemployed, and/or said that their life lacked meaning.”

Three quarters of those interviewed reached Syria but subsequently decided to leave, while others were intercepted by authorities in their own country or stopped en route.

Thousands of British Muslims gather to denounce Isis and call for ‘peaceful caliphate’

Despite an appeal to all UN member states, the authors expressed regret that only seven countries agreed to participate in the study – three from the EU and four from the Middle East and North Africa.

Professor Hamed el-Said, of Manchester Metropolitan University, and terrorism expert Richard Barrett met most of the returnees in prison or under the watchful eye of security services.

The majority of interviewed fighters, who attempted to join groups including Isis, al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and jihadi Ahrar al-Sham, came from large and dysfunctional families in deprived parts of cities where they were “isolated from mainstream social, economic and political activity”.

“Religious belief seems to have played a minimal role in the motivation of this sample,” the report found, saying economic factors had become more important as terrorist groups promised wages, homes and even wives.

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Western foreign fighters studied by the CTC by country (CTC)

The findings supported previous research using leaked Isis documents, which showed that most recruits profess to have only a “basic” knowledge of Sharia law, and warnings of a growing “crime-terror nexus” seeing violent criminals travel to Syria in the hope of “redemption”.

Following the declaration of the so-called Islamic State in 2014, the group produced a huge amount of propaganda seeking to attract Muslims with the promise of life free of supposed Western oppression, lived in comfort and peace.

Rose-tinted videos sought to present a utopian existence, showing smiling militants engaging in activities like bee-keeping, farming and even pizza-making as Western fighters used Twitter to broadcast images of palatial homes, swimming pools and expensive cars provided by the “caliphate”.

The UN report said the propaganda exerted a powerful pull on young men who feel they have little prospects at home, especially when combined with perceived grievances and a wish to protect Sunni Muslims in areas of Syria targeted by Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“For some, this sense of brotherhood was reinforced by a sense of religious obligation,” it said.

“The respondents of this survey claimed they did not go to Syria with the intention of becoming a terrorist, nor did they return with that purpose in mind.”

Despite the role of propaganda sparking a global crackdown on extremist online activity, the report found that among surveyed fighters, the internet played “a far less significant role as an independent source of radicalisation than is generally assumed, and certainly a far less significant role than real life contact”.

The authors found that would-be jihadis went online to confirm and strengthen ideas that were already taking root, adding: “The internet then played a key role in reinforcing a decision that had in part been taken already.”

Far more important was friendship circles and social networks formed around mosques, prisons, schools, universities, neighbourhoods or the workplace – a conclusion supported by the high number of known British militants who were part of radical networks or left the country with friends and relatives.

The UN report said identity politics played a key role in radicalisation, warning of “significant policy implications” arising from perceived injustice and discrimination.

It added: “Bad governance, especially disregard for the rule of law, discriminatory social policies, political exclusion of certain communities…harassment by the security authorities, and confiscation of passports or other identity documents, all contribute to feelings of despair, resentment, and animosity towards the government and provide fertile ground for the terrorist recruiter.”

Mehdi-Hassan.jpg

Mehdi Hassan, also known as Abu Dujana, is one of many British fighters who joined Isis with friends – in his case the ‘Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys’, who have all been killed (Twitter)

Although their accounts are highly unreliable, several imprisoned former Isis members have blamed the security services for their radicalisation.

Harry Sarfo, a German-born militant who grew up in the UK and joined Isis for three months in 2015, told The Independent his experience of police raids and harassment from the local community after he fell under suspicion as an extremist drove him to Syria.

“My friend kept on telling me: ‘This is what you get for being Muslim in the West, especially Germany. You are black and Muslim, your wife is covered, what do you expect? They think you are a bloody terrorist. You should go and live in the Islamic State, where every Muslims’ rights are protected. Life for you here is over,” he recalled. “At the time, everything he said made sense.”

Similar concerns have been raised about the Government’s controversial Prevent strategy, which is viewed by some to be divisive and discriminatory, while Isis itself has been attempting to capitalise on air strikes on its territory by publishing graphic images of dead children alongside calls for global terror attacks.

As Isis has been pushed back in Iraq and Syria, routes to its territories have shut down and the group’s calls have largely switched from calling on supporters to travel to the “caliphate”, to inciting attacks in their home countries across the West.

Some analysts say the failure of Isis’ state project will dent its lure to potential recruits, although the fighters in the UN’s sample found themselves “disillusioned” by the group even at its peak.

The report said they left Syria because of their “genuine disappointment in and disenfranchisement by the terrorist organisation they joined”, feeling alienated by the group and local Syrians, the deaths of friends or calls by loved ones to come home.

They authors hope  the research will help countries around the world to improve counter-extremism programmes that prevent people from considering joining Isis and other terrorist groups, as well as safely reintegrating those returning from the group’s shrinking territories.

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Harry Sarfo is imprisoned in Germany, where he is under a new investigation for taking part in a mass execution

With an estimated 25,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries travelling to Syria, concern has been mounting over a potential influx of jihadis as Isis loses territory including its de-facto capital of Raqqa.

The city is completely sealed off and under heavy bombardment by the US-led coalition, and Isis is known to kill anyone caught attempting to defect, leading analysts to expect the number of recruits managing escape to be small.

“Not all returnees present the same degree of threat,” the UN report found, warning against treating all former fighters as high risk and “thereby radicalising those who are low threat through unwarranted persecution.”

​Prof el-Said and Mr Barrett argued that some ex-terrorists could become powerful voices against the groups they once joined, adding: “Governments will need to screen their returnees to identify the more dangerous among them as well as to select credible and trustworthy individuals who could counter recruitment narratives.”

Isis is currently intensifying its efforts to discredit defectors and featured Sarfo in a recent propaganda magazine decrying “fools who strayed” and spread “lies and falsehoods”.

While returned foreign fighters have been among Europe’s deadliest terrorists, including the “super cell” that carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks – the threat from supporters of the group who have been prevented from realising their desire to travel to Syria is increasing.

London Bridge ringleader Khuram Butt, Norway church attacker Abdel-Malik Petitjean and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who shot a Canadian soldier dead outside the country’s war memorial, are among failed foreign fighters who chose to launch attacks on home soil instead.

“It is important at least not to underestimate the motivations and determination of those who failed to make it to Syria,” the report concluded.

“There is little room for complacency, but while the risk presented by returning foreign terrorist fighters is a real one, it should not be exaggerated.

“A practical, effective and proportionate response should start from a sound understanding of the root causes of the problem.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-islamic-state-foreign-fighters-syria-recruits-lack-basic-understanding-of-islam-radicalisation-a7877706.html

Russia used Facebook to try to spy on Macron campaign – sources

July 27, 2017

Reuters

By Joseph Menn

July 27, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. congressman and two other people briefed on the effort.

About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to the centrist former financier as he sought to defeat far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and other opponents in the two-round election, the sources said. Macron won in a landslide in May.

Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election. But the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported.

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Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the French election by hacking and leaking emails and documents. U.S. intelligence agencies told Reuters in May that hackers with connections to the Russian government were involved, but they did not have conclusive evidence that the Kremlin ordered the hacking.

Facebook confirmed to Reuters that it had detected spying accounts in France and deactivated them. It credited a combination of improved automated detection and stepped-up human efforts to find sophisticated attacks.

Company officials briefed congressional committee members and staff, among others, about their findings. People involved in the conversations also said the number of Facebook accounts suspended in France for promoting propaganda or spam – much of it related to the election – had climbed to 70,000, a big jump from the 30,000 account closures the company disclosed in April.

Facebook did not dispute the figure.

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Seeking Friends of Friends

The spying campaign included Russian agents posing as friends of friends of Macron associates and trying to glean personal information from them, according to the U.S. congressman and two others briefed on the matter.

Facebook employees noticed the efforts during the first round of the presidential election and traced them to tools used in the past by Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be named because they were discussing sensitive government and private intelligence.

Facebook told American officials that it did not believe the spies burrowed deep enough to get the targets to download malicious software or give away their login information, which they believe may have been the goal of the operation.

The same GRU unit, dubbed Fancy Bear or APT 28 in the cybersecurity industry, has been blamed for hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and many other political targets. The GRU did not respond to a request for comment.

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Fancy Bear

Email accounts belonging to Macron campaign officials were hacked and their contents dumped online in the final days of the runoff between Macron and Le Pen.

French law enforcement and intelligence officials have not publicly accused anyone of the campaign attacks.

Mounir Mahjoubi, who was digital director of Macron’s political movement, En Marche, and is now a junior minister for digital issues in his government, told Reuters in May that some security experts blamed the GRU specifically, though they had no proof.

Mahjoubi and En Marche declined to comment.

There are few publicly known examples of sophisticated social media spying efforts. In 2015, Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, warned that hostile powers were using LinkedIn to connect with and try to recruit government workers.

The social media and networking companies themselves rarely comment on such operations when discovered.

Facebook, facing mounting pressure from governments around the world to control “fake news’ and propaganda on the service, took a step toward openness with a report in April on what it termed “information operations.”

The bulk of that document discussed so-called influence operations, which included “amplifier” accounts that spread links to slanted or false news stories in order to influence public opinion.

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris and Jack Stubbs in Moscow.; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Ross Colvin

Xi Jinping and Putin join forces to halt North Korean crisis — “May have misjudged what is necessary to satisfy Trump”

July 5, 2017

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, meeting in Moscow, reiterate their own proposal for a freeze in North Korean missile tests and a matching one on US and South Korean military drills and for dialogue to resume

By Stuart Lau and Zhenhua Lu

The South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 4:29pm

The presidents of China and Russia called on North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programmes and also urged the US and South Korea to halt large-scale military drills, as they sought to quell rising tensions over the Korean peninsula.

 The joint call came as Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow late on Tuesday, hours after Pyongyang said it had successfully launched for the first time an intercontinental ballistic missile, and ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on Friday.

“We believe that the world is turbulent, local conflicts are emerging constantly, and issues such as the Korean peninsula problem and the Syrian question remain very complex,” Russia Today television reported Xi as saying after the meeting, the third between the two presidents this year.

Putin added his voice to the call for calm, offering the two countries’ own solution.

“We have agreed to promote our joint initiative, based on Russian step-by-step Korean settlement plan and Chinese ideas to simultaneously freeze North Korean nuclear and missile activities, and US and South Korean joint military drills,” RT quoted him as saying.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin (front) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Moscow on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

A separate joint statement by the foreign ministers of China and Russia criticised North Korea’s test launch as “unacceptable” and a grave violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The missile, a Hwasong-14, has a minimum range of 5,600km and would be capable of hitting the US state of Alaska.

The statement said that military means to solve the issue should not become an option. Instead, the UN resolutions should be fully implemented, North Korea’s reasonable concerns should be respected, and all countries should make efforts to make the resumption of dialogue possible.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin at a signing ceremony in the Kremlin during Xi’s latest visit to Moscow. Photo: AFP

The UN Security Council, of which China holds the presidency this month, will hold an emergency meeting later on Wednesday.

Beijing and Moscow also used their joint statement to call on Washington to immediately halt deployment of its THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, a move Washington has said is necessary because of the North Korean missile threat.

“It’s discouraging that the Chinese (and Russians) are still calling for ‘restraint by all sides’, despite the fact that their client state, North Korea, has cast aside all restraint and is sprinting for the finish line in demonstrating a nuclear-armed ICBM capability,” said Daniel Russel, formerly Washington’s top diplomat for East Asia, now diplomat in residence at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

US President Donald Trump meanwhile responded to the latest North Korean missile launch in a Twitter post: “Hard to believe South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

 A US missile test launch in South Korea, in response to North Korea’s firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo: AFP

Trump is set to meet Xi, as well as Putin for the first time since he assumed office, on the sidelines of the G20 summit. The US has been pressing China to do more to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition by leveraging its economic ties with the nation.

“The most important and urgent issue [between US and China] is still North Korea, and I think the Chinese have misjudged what is necessary to satisfy Trump and keep US-China on a positive, co-operative trajectory,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

China will “have to address US concerns through deeds not just words,” she said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2101359/chinese-and-russian-presidents-urge-peaceful-solution

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N. Korea Propaganda Revels in ICBM: A Look at What It Means — Plus ‘Self-Restraint’ Is Only Thing Stopping War in Korea, U.S. General Says

July 5, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — A “brilliant victory” and “thrilling” success, North Korea’s grinning leader crowed of his country’s first test of a long-range ballistic missile. The “final phase” in a confrontation with America, Kim Jong Un called it. Part of a coming stream of “‘gift packages’ to the Yankees” in the form of more weapons tests.

You can feel the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing bliss as North Korean state media revels in what it clearly sees as a historic moment — and a golden chance to boost the dictator and his military.

In some respects, the accomplishment this week is as big a deal as the breathless descriptions. But, as ever with North Korea, there are some important reasons to be skeptical.

People in the North Korean countryside still go without food. It’s still a third-world economy, with massive corruption and rampant human rights abuses. It is hated, feared, mocked and sanctioned by its neighbors. And several years of development and tests still lie ahead before its intercontinental ballistic missile — the North calls the nascent version it test-fired on Tuesday the Hwasong-14 — will actually work.

Yet despite all of this, after decades of single-minded determination, a tiny, impoverished country stands on the threshold of completing a long-coveted goal that only the United States, Russia and a handful of others have accomplished: building nuclear-armed ICBMs.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, seated, watched the launch of the missile, in an image from North Korea’s KRT.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, seated, watched the launch of the missile, in an image from North Korea’s KRT. PHOTO: /ASSOCIATED PRESS

A look at North Korea’s delighted propaganda, and what it might mean:

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“GIFT PACKAGES”

THE PROPAGANDA: “Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un,” with a “broad smile on his face,” urged his scientists to continue to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees as ever so that they would not feel weary.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: Pyongyang, with this part boast, part threat, is likely promising more missile and nuclear tests.

It’s a show of defiance, sure — such tests are banned by the U.N. — but it also reveals something important, and less flattering, about the North: More tests signal weakness.

Before it can actually back up its bluster, it needs repeated tests to build a single ICBM that can reach North America, let alone an arsenal of them.

Same goes for nuclear bombs.

Some analysts believe North Korea can arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads already. But there’s more doubt about whether Pyongyang can build a warhead that can fit on a long-range missile.

Each new test puts the North closer to its goal. But it also signals that it is not there yet.

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“BRILLIANT VICTORY”

PROPAGANDA: North Korea said that it had scored a “brilliant victory” and “great success” by launching an ICBM that can carry a “large-sized” nuclear warhead. Kim praised his scientists for “thrillingly succeeding at one try in even the test-launch of Hwasong-14 capable of striking the U.S. mainland this time.” The weapon’s guidance, stability, structural and “active-flight stages” systems were all “confirmed.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: The North did succeed, in a way, by getting the missile to fly in a highly lofted arc and splash down in the Sea of Japan. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo all confirmed this as the North’s best effort to date.

It’s also true that if not stopped, North Korea appears only a matter of years away from building a working ICBM.

But there are big reasons to doubt North Korea’s claim of complete success “at one try.”

These include whether the North has mastered the technology for a re-entry vehicle crucial for returning a warhead to the atmosphere from space so it can hit its intended target. And whether North Korea can build a warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile.

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“FINAL PHASE”

THE PROPAGANDA: Kim “stressed that the protracted showdown with the U.S. imperialists has reached its final phase, and it is the time for the (North) to demonstrate its mettle to the U.S.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: This sounds like a threat, and North Korea has, without doubt, been demonstrating its mettle for years, ignoring repeated U.S. warnings not to test nukes and missiles and threatening to strike targets in the United States.

Such propaganda helps domestically by boosting Kim Jong Un as a titan bestriding the world stage. It also causes fear in America, South Korea and Japan.

“Final phase” may also be a way of trying to keep North Korea’s elites from getting complacent as the nuclear standoff nears 30 years.

There’s a glimmer of truth in the phrase, too.

If the goal has always been a nuclear-armed ICBM, then the first smooth test of a nascent version of that weapon could indeed mark a “final phase” of sorts.

What’s less certain is whether this phase will end with violence, some sort of negotiated nuclear freeze of simply more years of frustration and North Korean weapons progress.

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‘Self-Restraint’ Is Only Thing Stopping War in Korea, U.S. General Says

SEOUL, South Korea — The top American general in South Korea said Wednesday that self-restraint was all that kept the United States and South Korea from going to war with North Korea, as the South’s defense minister indicated that the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile had the potential to reach Hawaii.

The unusually blunt warning, from Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of American troops based in Seoul, came a day after North Korea said it successfully tested the Hwasong-14, its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

Washington and its allies confirmed that the weapon was an ICBM and condemned the test as a violation of United Nations resolutions and a dangerous escalation of tensions.

Although doubt remained whether North Korea had cleared all the technical hurdles to make the Hwasong-14 a fully functional ICBM, the launching prompted the United States and South Korea to conduct a rare joint missile exercise off the east coast of South Korea on Wednesday. The drill involved firing an undisclosed number of ballistic missiles into the sea.

“Self restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” said General Brooks, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.

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