Daily Archives: August 21, 2013

Gideon Rachman

Remember the neocons? They were the powerful and controversial group of thinkers who argued that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East was the key to winning the “war on terror”. The influence of the neocons peaked during the Bush administration, when they became vocal advocates for the invasion of Iraq.

Many of the critics of the neocons always argued that all this talk of “democracy” was simply a hypocritical mask for the promotion of US or Israeli interests. So I was interested to see how leading neocon thinkers have reacted to the coup in Egypt and the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Have they kept the democratic faith, or have they gone along with the military? Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia

  • Trouble continues in emerging markets. The imminent tapering of the US Fed’s bond-buying programme against the backdrop of high levels of credit in Asia have some worried that the stage is set for another 1997-98 style financial crisis.
  • Speaking of the Fed, Larry Summers has had a lot of bad press in his run to succeed Ben Bernanke as governor of the Federal Reserve, and so “his friends from the White House years wanted to help him,” writes Zachary Goldfarb in the Washington Post, teaming up to ramp up his strategy for the “hottest political campaign in 2013.”
  • While the NSA/Snowden/Greenwald-Miranda/surveillance row rumbles on, the US department of homeland security is testing a crowd-scanning surveillance system that would automatically identify people by their faces, which has privacy advocates calling for the implementation of limitations before the technology outpaces existing legislation.
  • More EM pain: the Sapphire – the tallest addition to Istanbul’s skyline – was funded by cheap loans denominated in dollars that poured into emerging markets as major central banks engaged in quantitative easing. Now, as monetary policy tightening looms on the horizon, “Istanbul’s skyline could well be a harbinger of an emerging-market bust brought on by unpaid loans, weakening currencies, and, eventually, the possible failure of developers and banks.”

 Read more

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s revelation that his newspaper was forced by British spooks to destroy hard disks containing files provided by the contractor Edward Snowden included a fascinating detail on modern spy craft. The Guardian reported:

“In a subsequent meeting, an intelligence agency expert argued that the material was still vulnerable. He said by way of example that if there was a plastic cup in the room where the work was being carried out foreign agents could train a laser on it to pick up the vibrations of what was being said. Vibrations on windows could similarly be monitored remotely by laser.”

I’m sorry, come again?

You read that correctly. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, feared that if Russian or Chinese agents were unsuccessful in penetrating the Guardian’s computer systems, they might try to listen to journalists discussing the Snowden files by using a laser beam.

That sounds like a far-fetched plot line from the US hit TV series Homeland…

True. But laser microphone surveillance has been going on ever since the Soviets and Americans went toe-to-toe during the Cold War.

Some experts argue that intelligence services take the risk of laser audio surveillance into account when constructing their own headquarters. Read more

Roula Khalaf

Police arrest a supporter of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi at a protest camp in Cairo last week. (Getty)

Saud al-Feisal, the veteran Saudi foreign minister, delivered a strident warning to Europe and the US this week as western nations consider suspending financial assistance to Egypt’s new military-backed government.

Slamming what he said was a refusal to recognise reality, in which Islamists alone were to blame for the violence and chaos spreading in Egypt, he warned that Cairo had friends in the region who would make up any reduction in aid.

He went further, hinting at potential consequences for western relations with Saudi Arabia itself. If the “strange” international policy on Egypt continued, he said, “we will not forget … and will consider it hostile attitude towards Arab and Muslim security and stability”.

Riyadh had already shown its commitment to Egypt’s new government, rushing in after the July coup with billions of dollars of assistance. Saudi officials argue that western reluctance to embrace the new government in Cairo runs against the demands of the popular majority and encourages the Islamists’ defiance, thereby provoking more violence.

Although often indecisive, and sometimes shy, Riyadh appears to be acting on Egypt in the same resolute way it handled Bahrain two years ago. Read more