Monday, November 23, 2015

Investigating the killing of Osama bin Laden

By J.F. Mezo

Photo by Seth Anderson:

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 – Seymour M. Hersh’s investigative essay, ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden’ offers a clear look into the controversy surrounding the death of Al-Qaeda’s former leader. In order to build a complex picture, Hersh investigates multiple aspects of the story and relies of various sources, ranging from the official statements of the White House to allegation about the mission that resulted in bin Laden’s death.  And while the wide variety of cited sources is undoubtedly one of the main strengths of his work, the transparency of sourcing also makes it generally easy for the reader to put the pieces of the puzzle into place.
            However, Hersh also relies on anonymous sources, a practice that is generally regarded as risky by journalists, since by citing anonymous sources, the author effectively asks his audience to trust that he was thorough in his investigation, putting his credibility on the line. While it might seem like a real gamble to make, there are certain situations when the journalist has no choice but to omit the names of his sources in order to protect them – and, as most would agree, asking a government official to provide details on how taking down the most famous terrorist leader of our time was a premeditated act on the part of the American government certainly calls for precautions.
            On the other hand, Hersh does a good job at establishing his sources’ credibility, since their status or (former) position makes it entirely conceivable that they would have relevant information about the case. His main anonymous source is cited as a retired senior US intelligence official, and (while a bit less transparent) another anonymous source is revealed to be a source within the CIA, while yet another is labelled a former Seal commander. It is easy to imagine that people at such ranks would have insider information about the operation, even more so since their claims seem to be backed up by the former Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, in his memoir, Duty. Their motives for providing information, however, remain largely unclear, which leaves room for speculations .
            In his essay, Hersh also mentions a couple of readily available sources and documents that the public can access, for example the statements issued by the White House and the published personal accounts of two navy Seals who participated in the operation, contrasting them with the information provided by his sources. By doing so, he points those who wish to read about the story in even greater detail towards useful resources, which further increases his credibility.
            To sum up, while the anonymity of some of his most important sources might set the story back on certain levels, Hersh’s efforts to establish the credibility of his sources and provide the reader with the broadest possible scope inspires trust in his audience. Although using materials provided by many different sources allows him to explore multiple aspects of the story, his narration remains clear and easy to follow throughout the essay, making his piece a must-read for those studying investigative journalism.

The 5 greatest risks for 2016

By J.F. Mezo

The 5 greatest risks for 2016 are global in every possible sense. They are not only distributed in different continents and regions of the world but their effects will be far reaching, impacting not only other countries and continents but also the global economy. Although said risks are diverse in nature, nationalism and the lack of international consensus will define the undertone of the upcoming year.

Photo by GotCredit:

Political instability in Europe:

Since the financial crisis in 2008, Europe and especially the European Union have encountered difficulties not only of the financial but also of the political variety. Weak incumbents, competing interests, and the rise of nationalistic sentiments pushed the EU to the point where its structural weaknesses almost resulted in serious conflicts. The Greek crisis, the effects of Russian sanctions on certain EU members, and now the refugee crisis have all contributed to the growing internal tensions, and although in 2016 we can expect an improvement in the economic performance and investment climate of the region, the political dimension can make it difficult for businesses to operate within the EU.

What to be on the lookout for:

-       Weak popular support of the ruling party and its policies
-       Nationalistic policies, heightened sense of national identity
-       Conflicts of interest amongst EU members

The Refugee Crisis in Europe:

In 2015, Europe has seen a staggering number of refugees flowing into the continent, most of them coming from the war-torn regions of Africa and the Middle East. As the second half of 2015 clearly demonstrated, Europe was not and is still not ready to cope with the situation, and as long as a comprehensive framework is not negotiated, no meaningful progress can be expected. The refugee crisis can also become a risk to businesses operating in the region as it leads to internal political and social tensions, tensions between the locals and the immigrants, and interstate conflict (e.g. the Croatian-Hungarian hostility).

What to be on the lookout for:

-       Social and political unrest
-       Interstate tensions
-       Lack of cooperation
-       Terrorism?


Although the expansion of the Islamic State has slowed down considerably recently, ISIS has gained strong foothold in the Middle East. In spite of the joint efforts of local groups, European countries and the US, the rule of ISIS is far from over in the region. Also troubling is the fact that in order to prevent disillusioned followers from leaving the organization, ISIS is willing to adopt an increasingly hostile and aggressive ideology. As the rape of all non-Muslim women is now deemed legal and even encouraged by ISIS, female employees might be in increased danger in the Middle East. In 2016, the business world will need to monitor the situation closely and stand ready to withdraw from the region in order to protect their interests and employees.

What to be on the lookout for:

-       Violence and armed conflicts
-       Potential difficulties maintaining supply chains
-       Female employees in danger

Civil war in Syria:

The ongoing civil war in Syria will be amongst the top risks of 2016 as the disastrous political situation and the devastating armed clashes in the region will not only do further damage to the Syrian economy but will also set other, global risks into motion. One of them is the refugee crisis in Europe, as most of the refugees flowing into the continent have been arriving from Syria and its neighbouring territories. On the other hand, it can also deepen the Russia-West divide, as Russian arms export and military assistance to Syria have been amongst the most fiercely debated topics in the United Nations recently. The United States has been particularly unhappy with the Russian decision to intervene, and now that the Russian campaign in Syria started, we can expect a further cooling of US-Russian relations.

What to be on the lookout for:

-       Unfavourable business climate in Syria and between Russia and the West
-       Violence and armed clashes
-       Radical groups and ideas

South and East China Sea Armed Confrontation:

China’s increasingly aggressive policies have now pushed the Pacific region to the brink of a possibly multilateral conflict. In the South China Sea, China has warned other claimants that if they were to drill for oil in the disputed areas, they can expect Chinese retaliation. In the East China Sea, territorial debate over the Senkaku islands persists, as neither Japan, nor China is ready to compromise. The threat of escalation is present in both cases and it can lead to a disruption of trade and supply chains in the region in 2016.

What to be on the lookout for:

-       Escalation of interstate conflicts in the region
-       Possible US involvement through defence treaties (Japan, Manila)
-       Trade and supply chains disruptions

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Too good to be true? Sy Hersh and the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

By Craig Moorhead

NEW YORK - Seymour M. Hersh is one of the most prolific investigative journalists and political writers of our time. This fact is not disputed, but when writing his article "The Killing of Osama bin Laden" Hersh may have let his ambition get the better of him. In his lust to break the next big story he succumbed to temptation and compromised his investigative approach. As a result, Hersh inadvertently damaged his story's credibility with a controversial and unverifiable piece of reporting.

There are many ways to gauge the credibility of a story, such as looking at the number of sources the author uses, and asking questions about the nature of these sources. Is there a variety of sources to show that the author was thorough and complete in trying to obtain the information? Are the sources unnamed and if so does the story explain why they are not identified and how they know what they know? Hersh does well in these regards, he is very upfront about where the information is coming and his intensive effort to get to the bottom of things is well demonstrated.

However the article falls short in some other key areas. Another vital question to ask is the authority of the sources: is the author not only clear about what sources were used but is there information to help gauge their reliability? The authoritative nature of the people giving Hersh his information is made clear to the reader, these sources are current and former Pakistani government and military officials. They are of sufficient stature and responsibility that they would theoretically be privy to the information that they claim to posses. The problem is we have no way of assessing their honesty or integrity. While Hersh is so adamant that officials in the U.S. government are lying he seems blind to the obvious fact that there is just as much reason for his sources to lie as there is for those officials he accused of lying.

Understanding possible motives for why a source is willing to give you highly confidential and inflammatory information is essential to investigative reporting. Hersh all too freely offers up speciation for a motive behind the official story, Obama was in need of a 'win' and sound strategic basis to support his planed withdrawal of American forces from the Middle East. But he fails to make the same appraisal of the 'facts' of his own story.  The nagging question remains, why should we trust these sources and what did they stand to gain by contradicting the official U.S. testimony of the operation. My perception is that for every person he offers up, you can find many more who will tell you the opposite. There are countless U.S. officials who will offer the explanation that the Pakistanis, who were furious that the operation took place without being detected by them, were behind this false narrative as a way to save face. This seems just as likely a scenario as what Hersh suggests.

Documents are key elements of any investigation of this nature. In this case the documents are still classified, and we will probably never know exactly what happened. Until that changes, we are left in a battle of their word against ours. Rather than focusing on the exact details of the operation, I suggest the point to be focused on, is that the man responsible for the most devastating terrorist attack ever to occur on U.S. soil, is gone for good.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Aftermath of Bin Laden’s Death: what’s sourcing got to do with it?

By L. Boshuyzen  

Eastern Afghanistan (Jan. 14, 2002) 
Credit: U.S. Navy 

It was on the 21st of May this year, loosely four years after the United States Navy SEALS single-handedly and without informing any Pakistani officials flew into Abbottabad, took down Osama bin Laden and buried him at sea according to Islamic tradition, that Seymour M. Hersh published an article in the London Review of Books stating that much of this were “blatant lies”. Quite a bold statement—but not new for Hersh, who in 1970 won a Pulitzer Prize for his exclusive disclosure of the Vietnam War tragedy at the hamlet of My Lai and 35 years later exposed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Not unlike the articles previously mentioned, this article provoked controversy, governmental denial and accusations of ‘conspiracy theory’ but it is not sure if his most recent exposé will be included in this list of highly acclaimed articles. Not uninterestingly, all articles Hersh is most heralded for were published in the New York Times. This time round the newspaper told Hersh that his bin Laden story wasn’t quite ready for print yet –aka in need of more research, but instead of continuing the investigation that stretched over several years already Hersh published the article in  London Review of Books instead. 

And does Hersh really make statements that his sourcing leaves us to believe on a leap of faith? The tricky part is, that like all journalists Hersh also needs to make sure not to compromise his sources. And this becomes difficult—with major claims are made by anonymous sources, in this case on the USA side a retired American intelligence official’ the incentives of this source remain unclear. Also the sheer number of sources, Hersh only identifies one American, and a few Pakistani sources, are not the ample evidence that readers would like to be persuaded with. But the same scrutiny needs to be applied towards the US government, who do not offer much proof. Were Pakistani military officials informed about the mission? It is hard to refute Hersh for making this claim if we take a look at improbability that the sophisticated Pakistani secret service (ISI) and their technology wouldn’t have noticed the helicopters coming in and one crashing in the backyard. And then there’s the account of the villagers that lived near Abbottabad, claiming that the local police instructed them to stay in and not talk to any journalists. 

Still, in all of his major claims, there is a robust narrative but sourcing remains thin. He does mention Robert Gates’ memoir and refer to a few external sources. But the major claims are all shrouded by anonymity. That the ISI and not the CIA’s own intelligence provided the whereabouts of Osama takes it a step further, and would discredit the CIA of its most victorious moment of the decade. Some point to leaked documents to disprove Hersh’s statements about the CIA’s ignorance of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, and why Hersh wouldn’t have been able to substantiate his story with some documents remains an unanswered question. Especially as Hersh points exactly to this as a weak point in relation to the burial, claiming that there is no proof the traditional burial at sea even took place. What it in the end of the day all seems to come down to is trust—trust in Hersh’s legacy and intuition and trust in the fact-checkers of London Review of Books. Not only the incentives of anonymous sources should be taken into account, but also the reasons of journalists to take a certain stance. And self-evidently the same goes for the government. And when it comes to refutation of the official story, it seems that Hersh isn’t the only one who finds that the puzzle pieces didn’t fit together. Read Mahler’s take on Hersh’s piece- a thoughtful background story and critical evaluation of its sources that was published in the New York Times here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What will Trudeau’s promise of “sunny days” bring the international community?

By L. Boshuyzen

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 – After a decade of Conservative rule the Liberal Party and its leader Justin Trudeau won a decisive majority during the 42nd federal election yesterday. Canadians made it clear that, after Stephen Harper’s nine year tenure, it was time for a fresh wind—and a young one too: At 43-years-old, Trudeau is to become the second-youngest prime minister in Canada’s history. 

Speaking after his victory in Montreal, Trudeau addressed his supporters in what has become his optimistic signature style: “More than a hundred years ago a great prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier, talked about sunny ways, he knew that politics can be a positive force and that is the message Canadians sent today.”But what message will Canada be sending the international community? Whether foreign policy had much impact on the electorate is uncertain, but Trudeau quickly made it clear it would not go unnoticed in his administration.

Under the generally pro-American Harper, US-Canadian relations were often more than a little strained. First of all the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, has stalled in US courts and has not been embraced by the Obama administration. In addition to this the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal  (TPP) that would remove tariffs and other barriers from 12 Pacific Rim nations more than once produced friction – notably over Canada’s protected dairy market and fears for its privileged position within NAFTA as a supplier to the giant US auto industry.

With Trudeau taking on office US-Canadian relations might become stronger again. On Keystone, for instance, Trudeau supports the pipeline but he also made clear that he would prioritize the improved communication and coordination between the US and Canada on its route.  Nor is he a threat to the TPP accord, announced just a few weeks before the election by the outgoing Harper government. Another treaty that Canada is at the point of signing is with Europe: the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Similar to TTP, CETA would take away 99% of custom duties and other obstacles and allow business between Canada and Europe to flourish. 

Both are likely to be ratified by the new Liberal parliament, although for a variety of reasons Trudeau has said he “needed to see the fine-print” before issuing a definitive TPP statement. This is a sharp contract from the Liberals’ erstwhile allies, the New Democratic Party (NDP), whose leaders want TPP scrapped and renegotiated. With only 13% of the votes, the NDP will have little say in the ratification debate, especially in light of the Conservative’s support for the treaties.  

One area Trudeau will seek to highlight early on is his differences with Harper’s position on Muslims and Canadian society. Late in the campaign, Harper made statements about women who wear Muslim head-scarves that led some to accuse him of Islamophobia. The contrast with Trudeau in this respect is great and contributed to Harper’s loss of support before voting day. In an interview with the Nationalist, a right-leaning newspaper, a journalist asked the prime minister "What is the greatest threat is to Canada?"  Harper replied it was “Islamicism”. Trudeau, in contrast, repeatedly urged voters to “have faith in your fellow citizens, they are kind and generous, they are open and optimistic. They know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

He has followed up this rhetoric with concrete pledges to absorb more Syrian refugees than the Harper government would allow in. Trudeau promised to take in 25.000 refugees and spend an additional $100 million on humanitarian aid for Syria. He also reversed a Harper policy that slapped visa requirements on Mexicans traveling to Canada, and doubled the number of immigration applications allowed for parents and grand-parents as soon as the government assumes office.

Canadian policy will change drastically in another key area: the country’s willingness to intervene in foreign wars. While the country had its own beach (Juno) at D-Day and fought alongside US forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, in 2003 a previous Liberal government declined to support the US-led invasion of Iraq. A poll conducted by the Toronto Star revealed that 7 in 10 Canadians agreed with his decision not to join military efforts in Iraq.  Harper, in an open letter published in The Wall Street Journal before his election, declared this ‘a serious mistake’ and later, by this time Prime Minister, he admitted publicly the mistake was his. The sensitive subject of Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, Canada’s longest involvement in a war in history, brings up ambivalent sentiments amongst Canadians. Trudeau was bold enough to reference it when sharing his perspectives on Canada’s involvement in Syria: "How Canada can best help is by doing more of the kind of training of infantry troops on the ground that we developed tremendous capacities to do in Afghanistan and in other places."

A final area of change will be Canada’s environmental policy. In contrast to Harper, a climate change skeptic, Trudeau promised to attend the Global Warming Summit in Paris brining new resolutions to cut down CO2 emission, and even calls for partnership with the US and Mexico for an "ambitious North American clean energy and environmental agreement." He also has pledged to introduce new federal regulations to tighten regulation of the energy and mining industries in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Has the Time Come for a New Era of Trudeaumania?

By Adrienn Keszei

NEW YORK, Oct 21—The Liberal Party won the October 19 Canadian election with an unanticipated majority of 183 seats in parliament, vaulting them from third to first place in Parliament in the course of only one election. Their victory signals the beginning of a new era after 15 years of mostly unstable politics due to minority governments and weak majorities. The voters demonstrated their readiness for a more activist government to take immediate action and stimulate economic growth, which was a cardinal point in the party’s political campaign.

As Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is expected to take office on November 4, 2015, Canada will take a sharp turn away from long-serving Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative politics. After the exceptional political turnaround for Trudeau’s party, he will have the responsibility to make sure the government delivers on its campaign promises. He also has the additional burden of following in the footsteps of his father, Pierre Trudeau, who dominated Canadian politics for decades—inspiring a sensation called Trudeaumania—and held the post twice during the 1970s and 1980s.  

Justin Trudeau is the first child of a former Prime Minister ever to be elected to head the government. Pierre Trudeau’s government had remarkable political achievements, so the new Liberal leader, who at 43 is also the second-youngest Canadian prime minister to hold the post, is now under significant pressure to prove himself as the head of state and also as a worthy successor of his father’s political legacy, although the campaign was consciously trying to distance him from the former prime minister in order to paint him as an independent political figure.

‘Justin’, as he was often called during his campaign, used to be in the public eye as a child, but after his father left office, he lived a relatively private life, graduated from the University of British Columbia and became a teacher. However, in 1998, an unfortunate accident forced him back into the limelight; his youngest sibling, Michel, died in an avalanche in British Columbia during a skiing trip, which inspired the eldest Trudeau son to campaign for improving avalanche safety measures.

In spite of Conservative attacks on Trudeau, which dubbed him an inexperienced “pretty boy” not ready to govern a country, the prime minister-elect expressed his support for the Liberal Party from a young age and used his public status to advocate change and speak out about various issues. For instance, he inaugurated the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto with his brother Alexandre, in 2004, he was part of a public campaign against a zinc mine to protect a UN World Heritage Site, and in 2006 he was part of a rally to promote Canadian support in the fight against the Darfur crisis.  These examples of Trudeau’s previous public activities demonstrate his interest in a wide variety of issues and his willingness to take action and bring about change.

His political beginnings go back to 2007, when he was nominated in the Papineau riding. In 2008, he became a Member of Parliament, and got re-elected three years later. He was an exemplary young force within the Liberals—in 2009, he was chosen to be the party’s critic for multiculturalism and youth, and appointed a year later as critic for youth, citizenship, and immigration. Although many encouraged him to run for leadership of the Liberal Party, he declined the offer several times, citing his eagerness to focus on his young family, until in 2012 he finally declared his intention to run for leadership.

After he takes office, Canadians can expect policy changes in economic, social, and environmental policies, as well as in the country’s foreign affairs.

In his campaign Trudeau committed to stimulate the economy, which will not be an easy task, considering the present low prospects for future growth. In order to boost the economy, he plans to double the national infrastructure spending, creating a short-term deficit. He also proposed to increase taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year, in an attempt to help the less affluent by lowering the taxes for middle-class citizens.

Trudeau indicated that his government would accept 25,000 Syrian migrants by January 2016, and invest a large sum of money to improve the progress of refugee application procedures.  He is also expected to create a new line of social policies. The significance of fundamental rights in relation to religion and ethnicity will be highlighted, as indicated by the Liberals’ strong opposition regarding Harper’s previously proposed ban on public servants wearing the Muslim headscarf known as the niqab. During his campaign, Trudeau also proposed to drop visa requirements for Mexicans, reversing previous policies implemented by the Conservatives.  

Similarly to the Australian policy changes after Turnbull took office, Trudeau aims to change Canadian environmental regulations considerably, in which the Paris Climate Change Conference this December will be a turning point. He plans to reduce carbon emissions and work out strategies to support each province to achieve the new environmental goals.

A decisive change of direction is expected in Canada’s foreign affairs too, as Trudeau has often indicated his willingness to restore relations with Iran, after Harper’s government cut all ties with the country three years ago. The future prime minister also wishes to create a new strategy to battle the Islamic State, and withdraw Canada’s bombers from the conflict in the Middle East.

Trudeau, similarly to Obama in 2008, built his campaign around youth and change – even his campaign slogan, ‘Real Change Now’, alludes to that of the American president’s campaign slogans – putting huge pressure on himself. It has yet to be proven whether or not the Liberals can keep up their upward trajectory and bring about the change they promised to the Canadian people.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Threats to Global Stability 2016 - Living in Dangerous Times

by Craig Moorhead

NEW YORK - 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous years in history. As 2015 comes to a close, the world is set to enter a period of instability that has not been seen since before the World Wars. As the uni-polar system continues to fall apart and the status quo of Western supremacy is challenged, frightening possibilities open up for instability across the globe.

§  Global Terrorism
Today's political climate is several magnitudes worse than the one which spawned 9/11. Across the Islamic world, terrorist groups like the Islamic State and the Taliban are resurgent. Political will in the West to fight terrorism is dwindling, this has meant a draw down in U.S. and NATO military presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As the troops get ready to come home, the sentiment that the 'War on Terror' is over has begun to set in on the home front, when in fact: the opposite is true. If the war is indeed over it is only because we have lost. We now see this manifested in the Taliban's efforts to retake an already weak an unstable Afghanistan. Western complacency will facilitate further expansion of the Islamic State and its allies in 2016; we should be prepared for greater efforts by these groups to inspire attacks in Western countries, continually increasing in scale and scope.

§  Conflict in Eastern Europe
Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he will not go gently into the good night that the United States and its NATO allies had planned for him. The crisis in Ukraine shows no signs of resolution as 2015 winds down and Putin has effectively called NATO's bluff yet again by ramping up Russian involvement in Syria. Embroiled in an economic downturn as a result of the sanctions applied to it for meddling in Ukraine, Russia will continue to act aggressively in order to increase access to resources and economic markets in an effort to reverse its downward slide. With unconfirmed reports that Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet over the weekend, the tensions in Eastern Europe are primed to erupt at any moment. Expect more activity from Russia in the Baltic states in 2016, and in turn more action from the West to cripple Russia's economy.

§  Rise of China
2015 saw China's economic growth begin to level off, but the overall outlook is still strong. China will continue to use this to elevate is position within the international community. Chinese efforts to militarize the South China Sea will continue, destabilizing the region as other South East Asian nations scramble to react to its threatening posture. As the U.S. economy continues to struggle, and commitments in the Middle East and Europe continue to sap its military capacity; their ability to project power in the Pacific will diminish. Nations currently hosting U.S. forces may ask them to leave and instead turn to China as a regional hegemon to secure their interests.

§  Organised Criminal Activity in Mexico
With the eyes of the Western world focused elsewhere, the cartels of Mexico will continue to grow in the United States shadow. Despite being better armed, better financed, and arguably more violent than terrorist groups like the Islamic State; drug cartels like Los Zetas are largely absent from the political narrative in the West. 2015 saw these groups activities in Mexico continue to grow in kidnapping and extortion. With the Mexican government unable to turn the tide, Mexico will become more unsafe for foreigners; tourism in the region will continue to drop-off, threatening the economic stability of the government. If ignored, Mexico could descend into a Narco-State, the likes of which not seen since Pablo Escobar's Colombia.

§  Iran and the Bomb
Iran recently came to an agreement with the P5+1 regarding its nuclear program. In the face of the perceived success of this agreement, Iran maintains that this does not signal closer ties with the West and has reaffirmed its pledge to annihilate Israel. Already, the Iranians have flirted with violating the terms of the Nuclear Deal, test firing long range missiles. The influx of funds the new deal is expected to bring, combined with an uncertain situation facing the U.S. in the form of Russia and China, will open the door for Iran to act towards achieving its political objectives. Iran will expand its support for terrorism abroad through it's Quds Force, contributing to increased instability in the Middle East.