I remember when System of A Down released, “B.Y.OB.” I remember driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, tanned from a day at the beach and a belly full of surf and turf while Serge Tankian screamed, “And we all live in a fascist nation!” This was 2006. I remember thinking I liked SOAD more for their music than for their astute grasp of political philosophy. On that note, let’s jump ahead to present-day China, where 850,000 informants work the streets in Beijing alone. Biometric enrollment required for admission to scenic parks or mountains. Facial recognition done by CCTV, drones and police sunglasses. Corporatism. Gait recognition. A “social credit system” where each citizen accrues a score based on past behavior — and reaps rewards or discrimination based on it. The subjugation of an entire Muslim province. Surveillance on schoolchildren to catch cheaters, those that don’t pay attention in class, and make note of food eaten or not eaten on a daily basis. And thanks to China’s One Belt One Road initiative, it is coming to China’s de facto colonies. Expect to see this technology and this behavior increasing in Uganda, DRC, South Sudan, and even Somalia. It is already making an appearance in Zimbabwe. Now, that’s what I call fascism. What word would Serge Tankian use?
Here’s hoping you enjoyed the 4th of July, even if you think that whole American Revolution thing was a mistake.
Imagine you have two harmless ingredients which, when combined, become more powerful than VX gas. Imagine it is undetectable in most chemical security testings. Imagine it is deadly to the touch. Imagine it can absorb into any soft surface, from park benches to leather. Imagine it can remain lethal for years. The bad news is that you don’t need to imagine it — it is Novichok(or “newcomer”). The worse news is that the Russians have deployed it once in an attempt to kill double agent and UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter. This week’s news is that two innocent people in the same area have died from Novichok, leading to speculation that they came in contact with the substance. The ramifications are endless: the Russians have a fear-inducing weapon; Novichok’s benign ingredients make it ideal for travel; the Russians have a network of interested buyers, or the Russians could simply keep it for themselves — they have plenty of their own enemies, after all. All in all, this is a bad-news cocktail. Good thing that whole chemical weapon “redline” thing has gone the way of the 1980s, huh? Maybe it makes sense that the the Syrian rebels have decided the better part of valor is to meet with the Russians in attempts to appease them.
Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, the World Cup and the Red Hen consumed most of the past week’s news cycle, and the rest was spent on LeBron James, Maxine Waters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ surprise primary win. In other words, it wasn’t a real fun week for the foreign intrigue or national security minded among us. So, in the spirit of self-indulgence, I came up with the most oxygen-deprived stories of the past week or so.
I firmly believe most of the nefarious activity in the world can be traced back to Russia, China and Iran (there are good arguments about including Saudi Arabia and North Korea too, but I’ll put those aside for now). I am not trying to convince anyone about this, but it’s hard to track this stuff each week and not see the linkages. For example, the Chinese use organized crime to mess with Taiwan and Hong Kong. But then the Chinese also manipulate American small businesses to gain leverage inside our borders. Remember when the Chinese hacked the Office of Personnel Management a few years back (in what may be the most casually reported act of espionage of all time)? Now the victims are losing their identities…
[Note: This article was originally written on 1 NOV 2015. The author is finally getting around to publishing it, hoping that he’ll look really smart if it all comes true.]
“Can we really trust Turkey?”
After you’ve bored friends and family with your talk about ISIS, Iran, Russia, China, North Korea and Al-Qaeda, why would you even venture a question about Turkey? (As my wife asks me.) It’s a good question which has, unfortunately, a good answer.
Right now, Turkey is the most feasible trigger for us to go to war.
Turkey is an ally. It’s a member of NATO, it has agreed to support the US effort against ISIS and it has taken in more than 2 million Syrian refugees, which is far more than any other country. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has modernized its economy, bolstered the rights of minorities and even advanced reconciliation with the Kurds.