ISIS Oil Trade Full Frontal: "Raqqa's Rockefellers", Bilal Erdogan, KRG Crude, And The Israel ConnectionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 11/29/2015 09:32 -0500
"Effectively, we have been financially discriminated against for a long time. By early 2014, when we did not receive the budget, we decided we need to start thinking about independent oil sales” -- Ashti Hawrami, Kurdistan’s minister for natural resources
In June of 2014, the SCF Altai (an oil tanker) arrived at Ashkelon port. Hours later, the first shipment of Kurdish pipeline oil was being unloaded in Israel. “Securing the first sale of oil from its independent pipeline is crucial for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as it seeks greater financial independence from war-torn Iraq,” Reuters noted at the time, adding that “the new export route to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, designed to bypass Baghdad's federal pipeline system, has created a bitter dispute over oil sale rights between the central government and the Kurds.”
A week earlier, the SCF Altai received the Kurdish oil in a ship-to-ship transfer from the The United Emblem off the coast of Malta. The United Emblem loaded the crude at Ceyhan where a pipeline connects the Turkish port to Kurdistan.
The Kurds’ move to sell crude independent of Baghdad stems from a long-running budget dispute. Without delving too far into the details, Erbil is entitled to 17% of Iraqi oil revenue and in return, the KRG is supposed to transfer some 550,000 bpd to SOMO (Iraq’s state-run oil company). Almost immediately after the deal was struck late last year, Baghdad claimed the Kurds weren’t keeping up their end of the bargain and so, only a fraction of the allocated budget was sent to Erbil during the first five months of the year.
This was simply a continuation of a protracted disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad over how much of the state’s crude revenue should flow to the KRG. For its part, Iraq has threatened to sue anyone that buys independently produced Kurdish oil. For instance, when The United Kalavrvta - which left Ceyhan last June - prepared to dock in Galveston, Texas a month later, a SOMO official told Reuters that Iraq’s foreign legal team was “watching closely the movement of the vessel and [was] ready to target any potential buyer regardless of their nationality.”
You get the idea. Erbil wants a bigger piece of the pie, Baghdad doesn’t want to give it to them, and so some time ago, the KRG decided to simply cut the Iraqi government out and export crude on its own. The dispute is ongoing.
(at an Erbil oil refinery, the Kurds stand guard)
Ok, so why are we telling you this? Recall that over the past several weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time documenting Islamic State’s lucrative black market oil trade. Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin detailed the scope of the operation in meetings with his G20 colleagues. "I’ve shown photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Antalya. The very same day, the US destroyed some 116 ISIS oil trucks, an effort that was widely publicized in the Western media. In the two weeks since, Moscow and Washington have vaporized a combined 1,300 ISIS oil transport vehicles.
No one knows why it took the US 14 months to strike the convoys. The official line is that The Pentagon was concerned about “collateral damage”, but we doubt that’s the reason (for a detailed discussion of this, see here). Well now that the mainstream media have been forced to take a closer look at Islamic State’s main source of revenue (the group makes nearly a half billion a year in the illicit oil trade), we decided to take a closer look at exactly who is facilitating the transport of the stolen crude and where it ultimately ends up because you can be sure that the story you get from the major wires will be colored by a slavish tendency to avoid any and all “inconvenient” revelations. This is the fourth in a series of articles on the subject and we encourage you to review the first three:
- The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking
- Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey's President
- How Turkey Exports ISIS Oil To The World: The Scientific Evidence
On Friday we highlighted an academic study by George Kiourktsoglou and Dr Alec D Coutroubis who took a look at tanker rates at Ceyhan around siginifant oil-related events involving ISIS. Here's what the researchers found:
In their words, "it seems that whenever the Islamic State is fighting in the vicinity of an area hosting oil assets, the 13 exports from Ceyhan promptly spike. This may be attributed to an extra boost given to crude oil smuggling with the aim of immediately generating additional funds, badly needed for the supply of ammunition and military equipment."
Now you can begin to see the connection. Ceyhan is the port from which Kurdish oil (technically "illegal" to let Baghdad tell it) is transported, and as Kiourktsoglou and Coutroubis note, "the quantities of crude oil that are being exported to the terminal in Ceyhan exceed the mark of one million barrels per day and given that ISIS has never been able to trade daily more than 45,000 barrels of oil, it becomes evident that the detection of similar quantities of smuggled crude cannot take place through stock-accounting methods." In other words, if ISIS oil was being shipped from Ceyhan, it would essentially be invisible.
Here's where things get interesting. A few weeks ago, Reuters released an exclusive report detailing how Erbil hides its crude shipments from Baghdad. Here are some of the details:
Most customers were scared of touching it with Baghdad threatening to sue any buyer. Large oil companies - including Exxon Mobil and BP - have billions of dollars worth of joint projects with Baghdad.
Some buyers took tankers to Ashkelon, Israel, where it was loaded into storage facilities to be resold later to buyers in Europe. Kurdish oil was also sold offshore Malta via ship-to-ship transfers helping disguise the final buyers and thus protect them from threats from Iraqi state firm SOMO.
It was a high stakes game. A ship would dock off Malta waiting for another to arrive to take a cargo to a final destination. Sometimes two ships would be sent - one sailing off empty and another full - to complicate cargo tracking.
"Everyone suddenly became a ship tracking expert. So we had to raise our game too ... But one thing was proven correct - when oil is out, it flows," said Hawrami.
Ok, so a scheme involving ship-to-ship transfers off the coast of Malta was used to get Kurdish crude to places like Israel. "Israeli refineries and oil companies imported more than 19m barrels of Kurdish oil between the beginning of May and August 11, according to shipping data, trading sources and satellite tanker tracking," FT reported last week. "That is the equivalent of about 77 per cent of average Israeli demand, which runs at roughly 240,000 barrels per day. More than a third of all of the northern Iraqi exports, which are shipped from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, went to Israel over the period."
At this juncture, we begin to get an idea of what's going on here. Kurdish oil is already technically illegal and Turkey is happy to facilitate its trip to foreign buyers via Ceyhan. What better way for ISIS to get its own oil to market than by moving it through a port that already deals in suspect crude? Al-Araby al-Jadeed (a London-based media outlet owned by the Qatari Fadaat Media) claims to have obtained a wealth of information about the route to Ceyhan from an unnamed colonel in the Iraqi Intelligence Services. Here's their account:
The information was verified by Kurdish security officials, employees at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and an official at one of three oil companies that deal in IS-smuggled oil.
The Iraqi colonel, who along with US investigators is working on a way to stop terrorist finance streams, told al-Araby about the stages that the smuggled oil goes through from the points of extraction in Iraqi oil fields to its destination - notably including the port of Ashdod, Israel.
"After the oil is extracted and loaded, the oil tankers leave Nineveh province and head north to the city of Zakho, 88km north of Mosul," the colonel said. Zakho is a Kurdish city in Iraqi Kurdistan, right on the border with Turkey.
"After IS oil lorries arrive in Zakho - normally 70 to 100 of them at a time - they are met by oil smuggling mafias, a mix of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, in addition to some Turks and Iranians," the colonel continued.
"The person in charge of the oil shipment sells the oil to the highest bidder," the colonel added. Competition between organised gangs has reached fever pitch, and the assassination of mafia leaders has become commonplace.
The highest bidder pays between 10 and 25 percent of the oil's value in cash - US dollars - and the remainder is paid later, according to the colonel.
The drivers hand over their vehicles to other drivers who carry permits and papers to cross the border into Turkey with the shipment, the Iraqi intelligence officer said. The original drivers are given empty lorries to drive back to IS-controlled areas.
Once in Turkey, the lorries continue to the town of Silopi, where the oil is delivered to a person who goes by the aliases of Dr Farid, Hajji Farid and Uncle Farid.
Uncle Farid is an Israeli-Greek dual national in his fifties. He is usually accompanied by two strong-built men in a black Jeep Cherokee.
Once inside Turkey, IS oil is indistinguishable from oil sold by the Kurdistan Regional Government, as both are sold as "illegal", "source unknown" or "unlicensed" oil.
The companies that buy the KRG oil also buy IS-smuggled oil, according to the colonel.
Now obviously that's a remarkable degree of detail, but regardless of whether you believe in "Uncle Farid" and his black Jeep Cherokee, the main point is that there are smuggling routes into Turkey and once the oil is across the border, it might as well be Kurdish crude because after all, it's all "illegal", "unlicensed" product anyway, just as we said above.
Next, Al-Araby al-Jadeed says a handful of oil companies (which they decline to identify) ship the oil from the Turkish ports of Mersin, Dortyol and Ceyhan to Israel.
Here's the alleged route:
While the graphic shows the crude going directly from Ceyhan to Ashdod, it's worth asking whether ISIS crude is also "laundered" (as it were) through the same Malta connection utilized by those smuggling "illegal" Kurdish crude (which also ends up in Israel). We ask that because as it turns out, Bilal Erdogan owns a Maltese shipping company. "The BMZ Group, a company owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son Bilal alongside other family members, has purchased two tankers in the last two months at a total cost of $36 million," Today's Zaman reported in September. "The tankers, which will be registered to the Oil Transportation & Shipping company in October -- an affiliate of the BMZ Group set up in Malta -- were previously rented to the Palmali Denizcilik company for 10 years."
Here's a look at recent port data from Ceyhan and Ashdod via Fleetmon.com (Malta-flagged oil vessels are highlighted).Ceyhan
To be sure, all of this is circumstantial and there's all kinds of ambiguity here, but it seems entirely possible that Erdogan is knowingly trafficking in ISIS crude given what we know about Ankara's dealings with illegal Kurdish oil. Consider this from al-Monitor:
Details of the energy deals struck between Turkey and the KRG remain sketchy amid claims that Erdogan and his close circle are financially benefiting from them. According to Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the mass circulation daily Hurriyet who investigated the claims, Powertrans, the company that was granted an exclusive license to carry and trade Kurdish oil by Erdogan’s Cabinet in 2011, is run by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak. It didn’t take long for the notoriously litigious Erdogan to file defamation charges against Tanis.
Several Iraqi Kurdish officials who refused to be identified by name confirmed that Ahmet Calik, a businessman with close ties to Erdogan, had been granted the tender to carry Kurdish oil via overland by trucks to Turkey.
In other words, Erdogan is already moving illicit crude from the KRG (with whom Ankara is friendly by the way, despite the fact that they are Kurds) via a son-in-law and in large quantities. What's to say he isn't moving ISIS crude via the same networks through his son Bilal? Or perhaps through his other son Burak who Today's Zaman reminds us "also owns a fleet of ships [and] was featured in a report by the Sözcü daily in 2014 [when his] vessel Safran 1 was anchored in Israel's port of Ashdod." Here's a picture circulated on social media that purports to show Bilal Erdogan with ISIS commanders (because we do try at all times to be unbiased, we should also note that the men shown below could just be three regular guys with beards with no connection to any black flag-waving desert bandits):
Russian media claims the men are "ISIS leaders who it is [thought] participated in massacres in Syria’s Homs and Rojava, the Kurdish name for Syrian Kurdistan or Western Kurdistan."
One person who definitely thinks the Erdogans are trafficking in ISIS oil is Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi who said the following on Friday:
“All of the oil was delivered to a company that belongs to the son of Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan. This is why Turkey became anxious when Russia began delivering airstrikes against the IS infrastructure and destroyed more than 500 trucks with oil already. This really got on Erdogan and his company’s nerves. They’re importing not only oil, but wheat and historic artefacts as well."
And then there's Iraq's former National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie who posted the following to his Facebook page on Saturday:
“First and foremost, the Turks help the militants sell stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil for $20 a barrel, which is half the market price."
Meanwhile, the US is preparing for an all-out ISIS oil propaganda war. As WSJ reported on Wednesday, "the Treasury [has] accused a Syrian-born businessman, George Haswani, who his a dual Syrian-Russian citizen, of using his firm, HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., for facilitating oil trades between the Assad regime and Islamic State." Why Assad would buy oil from a group that uses the cash at its disposal to wage war against Damascus is an open question especially when one considers that Assad's closest allies (Russia and Iran) are major oil producers. Of course between all the shady middlemen and double dealing, there's really no telling.
Ultimately we'll probably never know the whole story, but what we do know (and again, most of the evidence is either circumstantial, anecdotal, of largely qualitative) seems to suggest that in addition to providing guns and money to the FSA and al-Nusra, Turkey may well be responsible for facilitating Islamic State's $400+ million per year oil enterprise. And as for end customers, consider the following bit from Al-Araby al-Jadeed:
According to a European official at an international oil company who met with al-Araby in a Gulf capital, Israel refines the oil only "once or twice" because it does not have advanced refineries. It exports the oil to Mediterranean countries - where the oil "gains a semi-legitimate status" - for $30 to $35 a barrel."The oil is sold within a day or two to a number of private companies, while the majority goes to an Italian refinery owned by one of the largest shareholders in an Italian football club [name removed] where the oil is refined and used locally," added the European oil official."Israel has in one way or another become the main marketer of IS oil. Without them, most IS-produced oil would have remained going between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even the three companies would not receive the oil if they did not have a buyer in Israel," said the industry official.
Finally, you'll note that this is all an effort to answer what we called "the most important question about ISIS that no one is asking" - namely, "who are the middlemen?" As we noted more than a week ago, "we do know who they may be: the same names that were quite prominent in the market in September when Glencore had its first, and certainly not last, near death experience: the Glencores, the Vitols, the Trafiguras, the Nobels, the Mercurias of the world." Consider that, and consider what Reuters says about the trade in illicit KRG oil: "Market sources have said several trading houses including Trafigura and Vitol have dealt with Kurdish oil. Both Trafigura and Vitol declined to comment on their role in oil sales."
Similarly, FT notes that "both Vitol and Trafigura had paid the KRG in advance for the oil, under so-called 'pre-pay' deals, helping Erbil to bridge its budget gaps."
Indeed, when Kurdistan went looking for an advisor to assist in the effort to circumvent Baghdad, the KRG chose "Murtaza Lakhani, who worked for Glencore in Iraq in the 2000s, to assist finding ships."
"He knew exactly who would and who wouldn't deal with us. He opened the doors to us and identified willing shipping companies to work with us," Ashti Hawrami (quoted above) said.
Indeed. And given everything said above about the commingling of illegal KRG crude and illicit ISIS oil shipments, it's probably a foregone conclusion that these same firms are assisting in transport arrangements for Islamic State.
Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US "Created" ISIS As A "Tool" To Overthrow Syria's President AssadSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/24/2015 15:20 -0400
From the first sudden, and quite dramatic, appearance of the fanatical Islamic group known as ISIS which was largely unheard of until a year ago, on the world's stage and which promptly replaced the worn out and tired al Qaeda as the world's terrorist bogeyman, we suggested that the "straight to beheading YouTube clip" purpose behind the Saudi Arabia-funded Islamic State was a simple one: use the Jihadists as the vehicle of choice to achieve a political goal: depose of Syria's president Assad, who for years has stood in the way of a critical Qatari natural gas pipeline, one which could dethrone Russia as Europe's dominant - and belligerent - source of energy, reaching an interim climax with the unsuccessful Mediterranean Sea military build up of 2013, which nearly resulted in quasi-world war.
The narrative and the plotline were so transparent, even Russia saw right through them. Recall from September of last year:
If the West bombs Islamic State militants in Syria without consulting Damascus, LiveLeak reports that the anti-ISIS alliance may use the occasion to launch airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Clearly comprehending that Obama's new strategy against ISIS in Syria is all about pushing the Qatar pipeline through (as was the impetus behind the 2013 intervention push), Russia is pushing back noting that the it is using ISIS as a pretext for bombing Syrian government forces and warning that "such a development would lead to a huge escalation of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa."
But it's one thing to speculate; it's something entirely different to have hard proof.
And while speculation was rife that just like the CIA-funded al Qaeda had been used as a facade by the US to achieve its own geopolitical and national interests over the past two decades, so ISIS was nothing more than al Qaeda 2.0, there was no actual evidence of just this.
That may all have changed now when a declassified secret US government document obtained by the public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.
According to investigative reporter Nafeez Ahmed in Medium, the "leaked document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of the strategy, but described this outcome as a strategic opportunity to “isolate the Syrian regime.”
And not just that: as we reported last week, now that ISIS is running around the middle east, cutting people's heads of in 1080p quality and Hollywood-quality (perhaps literally) video, the US has a credible justification to sell billions worth of modern, sophisticated weapons in the region in order to "modernize" and "replenish" the weapons of such US allies as Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iraq.
But that the US military-industrial complex is a winner every time war breaks out anywhere in the world (usually with the assistance of the CIA) is clear to everyone by now. What wasn't clear is just how the US predetermined the current course of events in the middle east.
Now, thanks to the following declassified report, we have a far better understanding of not only how current events in the middle east came to be, but what America's puppermaster role leading up to it all, was.
From Nafeez Ahmed: Secret Pentagon report reveals West saw ISIS as strategic asset Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion', originally posted in Medium.
The revelations contradict the official line of Western government on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home.
Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August 2012.
The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community.
So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.
Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria.
Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said:
“Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”
The West’s Islamists
The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies.
Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”
The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”
The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the “rise of the insurgency in Syria” has increasingly taken a “sectarian direction,” attracting diverse support from Sunni “religious and tribal powers” across the region.
In a section titled ‘The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,’ the DIA report predicts that while Assad’s regime will survive, retaining control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate “into proxy war.”
The document also recommends the creation of “safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command centre for the temporary government.”
In Libya, anti-Gaddafi rebels, most of whom were al-Qaeda affiliated militias, were protected by NATO ‘safe havens’ (aka ‘no fly zones’).
‘Supporting powers want’ ISIS entity
In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”
Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:
“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”
The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”
Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.
The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, it says, would create “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.” Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.
Such a quasi-state entity will provide:
“… a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of territory.”
The 2012 DIA document is an Intelligence Information Report (IIR), not a “finally evaluated intelligence” assessment, but its contents are vetted before distribution. The report was circulated throughout the US intelligence community, including to the State Department, Central Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, among other agencies.
In response to my questions about the strategy, the British government simply denied the Pentagon report’s startling revelations of deliberate Western sponsorship of violent extremists in Syria. A British Foreign Office spokesperson said:
“AQ and ISIL are proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK opposes all forms of terrorism. AQ, ISIL, and their affiliates pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security. We are part of a military and political coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and are working with international partners to counter the threat from AQ and other terrorist groups in that region. In Syria we have always supported those moderate opposition groups who oppose the tyranny of Assad and the brutality of the extremists.”
The DIA did not respond to request for comment.
Strategic asset for regime-change
Security analyst Shoebridge, however, who has tracked Western support for Islamist terrorists in Syria since the beginning of the war, pointed out that the secret Pentagon intelligence report exposes fatal contradictions at the heart of official pronunciations:
“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”
According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine Corps Headquarters in Battalion Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that:
“US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”
Hoff, who is managing editor of Levant Report — ?an online publication run by Texas-based educators who have direct experience of the Middle East?—?points out that the DIA document “matter-of-factly” states that the rise of such an extremist Salafist political entity in the region offers a “tool for regime change in Syria.”
The DIA intelligence report shows, he said, that the rise of ISIS only became possible in the context of the Syrian insurgency?—?“there is no mention of US troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State’s rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits.” The report demonstrates that:
“The establishment of a ‘Salafist Principality’ in Eastern Syria is ‘exactly’ what the external powers supporting the opposition want (identified as ‘the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey’) in order to weaken the Assad government.”
The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely?—?but nevertheless strategically useful?—?blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”
Critics of the US-led strategy in the region have repeatedly raised questions about the role of coalition allies in intentionally providing extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups in the drive to destabilize the Assad regime in Syria.
The conventional wisdom is that the US government did not retain sufficient oversight on the funding to anti-Assad rebel groups, which was supposed to be monitored and vetted to ensure that only ‘moderate’ groups were supported.
However, the newly declassified Pentagon report proves unambiguously that years before ISIS launched its concerted offensive against Iraq, the US intelligence community was fully aware that Islamist militants constituted the core of Syria’s sectarian insurgency.
Despite that, the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.
As Shoebridge told me, “The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion”?—?namely, the emergence of ISIS?—?“but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”
Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer who blew the whistle in the 1990s on MI6 funding of al-Qaeda to assassinate Libya’s former leader Colonel Gaddafi, similarly said of the revelations:
“This is no surprise to me. Within individual countries there are always multiple intelligence agencies with competing agendas.”
She explained that MI6’s Libya operation in 1996, which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, “happened at precisely the time when MI5 was setting up a new section to investigate al-Qaeda.”
This strategy was repeated on a grand scale in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, said Machon, where the CIA and MI6 were:
“… supporting the very same Libyan groups, resulting in a failed state, mass murder, displacement and anarchy. So the idea that elements of the American military-security complex have enabled the development of ISIS after their failed attempt to get NATO to once again ‘intervene’ is part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”
Divide and rule
Several US government officials have conceded that their closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition were funding violent extremist Islamist groups that became integral to ISIS.
US Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, admitted last year that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.
But he did not admit what this internal Pentagon document demonstrates?—?that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.
The strategy appears to fit a policy scenario identified by a recent US Army-commissioned RAND Corp report.
The report, published four years before the DIA document, called for the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”
The US would need to contain “Iranian power and influence” in the Gulf by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.” Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its Iran alliance.
The RAND report confirmed that the “divide and rule” strategy was already being deployed “to create divisions in the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical level.”
The report observed that the US was forming “temporary alliances” with al-Qaeda affiliated “nationalist insurgent groups” that have fought the US for four years in the form of “weapons and cash.” Although these nationalists “have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces,” they are now being supported to exploit “the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both parties.”
The 2012 DIA document, however, further shows that while sponsoring purportedly former al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda, Western governments were simultaneously arming al-Qaeda insurgents in Syria.
The revelation from an internal US intelligence document that the very US-led coalition supposedly fighting ‘Islamic State’ today, knowingly created ISIS in the first place, raises troubling questions about recent government efforts to justify the expansion of state anti-terror powers.
In the wake of the rise of ISIS, intrusive new measures to combat extremism including mass surveillance, the Orwellian ‘prevent duty’ and even plans to enable government censorship of broadcasters, are being pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, much of which disproportionately targets activists, journalists and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims.
Yet the new Pentagon report reveals that, contrary to Western government claims, the primary cause of the threat comes from their own deeply misguided policies of secretly sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.
Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ) is the world’s largest, richest terrorist organizations, ever. It’s a self-sustaining enterprise that runs mainly on extortion and crime networks, hostages, oil, donations… According to Martin Chulov; ISIS has grown from a ragtag band of extremists to perhaps the most cash-rich and capable terror group in the world with a $2 billion jihadist network. The scale of ISIS resources is unprecedented: A terrorist organization while ruthless, but still able to occupy large areas of territory, quickly… for example; it controls several major cities in Iraq, which it occupied in just three days, it holds parts of several other cities and continues to menace still other cities throughout Iraq and Syria: It’s quite an accomplishment… According to Michael Knights; some estimates of ISIS’s wealth are overstated, for example; the $2 billion estimate that’s been floating around is too high, but that’s not to say ISIS isn’t raking in a fair amount of cash– between $2 million and $4 million per day… ISIS is a wealthy terrorist movement or better yet an effective financial enterprise, which it run very much like a large-scale Mafia type protection rackets business across much of Iraq.
This group has fashioned a small army out of a mix of foreign and local fighters, established oil refining and trafficking operations, and even collects taxes…. Despite longstanding rumors that ISIS has foreign patrons in Gulf States such as; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, there is little evidence that it ever depended on foreign largess… While there may be some foreign money flowing to ISIS, stopping these transnational flows will not stymie the group. Whatever its international influences, ISIS raises most of its money from the territories it feeds off of, making the problem of beating back the group exceedingly difficult… According to Howard J. Shatz; ISIS raises much of its money just as a well-organized criminal gang would: It smuggles, it extorts, it skims, it fences, it kidnaps and it shakes down. Although supposedly religiously inspired, its actions are more like those of an organized criminal cult… To quote a U.S. mobster; you don’t get ahead just by being thugs but at some point you must also learn to be a racketeer as well…
ISIS’ most important revenue source is the smuggling of oil from the oil fields it controls in Syria and Iraq. It has been reported to control about a dozen oil fields along with several refineries. Estimates of revenue vary, but a range of $1 million to more than $2 million a day is reasonable… ISIS is a formidable fund-raiser. To its disadvantage, the group is also a formidable spender. It pays regular salaries to members based on family size and even has promised to maintain those payments if the member is killed or captured… It also pays rent for some members and medical expenses, maintains safe-houses and buys weapons and other equipment. As cash-based organization, it also has to guard against internal corruption, which is documented in the group’s own records… Historically, ISIS’ main outside revenue has come in small donations from local and foreign supporters… And while donations from the Gulf countries may have been welcome additions, neutralizing donations from wealthy Gulf sources will have little effect on their activities…
In the article Who finances ISIS? by Andreas Becker writes: ISIS is recognized as the richest terrorist organization in the world, ever… Iraqi officials estimate that the group now has about $2 billion in its war chest. What remains controversial is where bulk of its money comes from… Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government accuses Saudi Arabia of supporting the ISIS jihadis… According to Charles Lister; there is no publicly accessible proof that governments of any state has been involved in the creation or financing of ISIS as an organisation… Others take a different view. According to Günter Meyer; the most important source of ISIS financing to date has been support coming out of the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia but also Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates… Additional key financing sources are the oil fields of northern Syria: ISIS was able to get the oil fields under their control, where they use trucks to bring oil across the border into Turkey– oil is an important source of funding for them…
According to Charles Lister; ISIS is largely able to fund itself, and it has established local networks in their occupied territories that generate a continuing flow of money, for example; systematic extortion of small businesses as well as large companies, such as; construction firms… and if the rumors are true, even local government representatives… Also, it levies taxes in the areas that it fully controls… However, one of ISIS’ biggest financial coup so far was the looting of the central bank in Mosul, which brought them equivalent of about $429 million in cash. Additional banks in Mosul and other areas under ISIS control were also plundered… With $429 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters $600 a month for a whole year… Also, ISIS fighters looted much equipment that U.S. left for Iraq military, like; weapons, vehicles… Also, with their financial power, it’s relatively easy for ISIS to buy high-quality weapons on international armaments markets…
In the article Iraq Interrogation Reveals ISIS Has $2 Billion in Financing by Cathy Burke writes: The interrogation of a trusted messenger for ISIS, led Iraqi commanders to a treasure trove of information on the terror group and its staggering $2 billion in finances… According to officials; before Mosul, ISIS’ total cash and assets was about $875 million, then afterwards, with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, its estimated that they added another $1.5 billion to that… In less than three years, the extremists morphed from a ragtag band of militants into the most cash-rich terror group in the world, and they are accomplishing these feats all by themselves– these are very industrious people… According to some intelligence officials; there are no state actors behind ISIS– they just don’t need one…
In the article Who’s Funding ISIS? by Robert Windrem writes: There is a small but steady flow of money to ISIS from rich ‘individuals’ in the Gulf with Qataris being the biggest suppliers, according to some U.S. officials… According to one expert; these rich individuals serve as ‘angel investors’ for the most violent militants, providing ‘seed money’ that helped launch ISIS and other jihadi groups… These rich Arabs are like what ‘angel investors’ are to high-tech start-ups, except they are interested in starting up groups who want to stir up hatred: Groups like al-Nusrah and ISIS are better investments for them. The individuals act as high rollers early, providing seed money. Once the groups are on their feet, they are perfectly capable of raising funds through other means, like; kidnapping, oil smuggling, selling women into slavery… According to intelligence official; any outside funding represents a small fraction of ISIS’s total annual income… The largest source of cash now is oil smuggling along the Turkish border, with ISIS leaders willing to sell oil for as little as $25 a barrel, a quarter of the going world price. Since other previously lucrative sources, such as; kidnapping for ransom… is not as profitable as it once was.
In the article Islamic State: Where Does Jihadist Get Its Support? by Michael Stephens writes: Much has been written about the support Islamic State (ISIS) has received from donors and sympathizers, particularly in the wealthy Gulf States… Indeed the accusation I hear most from those fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria is that Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are solely responsible for the group’s existence. But the truth is more complex and needs exploring… It’s true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time… This was very common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.
Islamic State (ISIS) has put in place what appear to be beginnings of quasi-state structures – ministries, law courts, even a rudimentary taxation system… ISIS has displayed a consistent pattern since it first began to take territory in early 2013… Upon taking control of a town it quickly secures the water, flour and hydrocarbon resources of the area, centralizing distribution and thereby making local population dependent on it for survival… To understand how the Islamic State economy functions is to delve into a murky world of middlemen and shady business dealings, in which ‘loyal ideologues’ on differing sides spot business opportunities and pounce upon them… ISIS exports about 9,000 barrels of oil per day at prices ranging from about $25-$45 (£15-£27): It’s a traditional war economy… The point is that ISIS is essentially self-financing; it cannot be isolated and cut off from the world because it’s intimately tied into regional stability in a way that benefits not only itself, but also the people it controls…
In the article Where ISIS Makes Its Money by Tyler Durden writes: ISIS uses oil wealth to help finance its terror operations. Here’s how they do it… According to ‘Iraq Energy Institute’; the army of radical Islamists controls production of 30,000 barrels of oil a day in Iraq and 50,000 barrels in Syria… By selling the oil on the black market at a discounted price of $40 per barrel (compared to about $93/ barrel in free markets), ISIS takes in $3.2 million/day… According to James Phillips; oil revenue gives ISIS a solid economic base that sustains its continued expansion… The oil revenue, which amounts to nearly $100 million/month, allows ISIS to fund its military, terrorist attacks— and attract recruits from around the world… To be successful in counter-terrorism efforts, Phillips said; U.S. and its allies must push the Islamic State out of the oil fields it has captured and disrupt its ability to smuggle the oil to foreign markets…
Here’s how Phillips said the ISIS oil operation works: ISIS sells oil to consumers in territory it controls, roughly the size of Maryland, inside Syria and Iraq. The terrorist group also sells oil to network of smugglers that developed in the 1990s during Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule; that network smuggled oil out of Iraq to Turkey to avoid sanctions imposed by the UN. ISIS also reportedly sells oil, through middlemen, to Assad regime… When it comes to making a fast buck, the Middle East has no shortage of ‘strange bedfellows’ willing to do business with each other…
The growth of ISIS has been quite incredible: They are armed with– modern weapons, large fighting army, and an effective organization. All of which is bought and paid with real money supplied through a highly sophisticated funding strategy… According to Senator Rubio; ISIS’s criminal activities– robbery, extortion, and trafficking– have helped them become the best funded terrorist group in history. The wealth has helped expand their operational capacity and incentivized both local and foreign fighters to join them… ISIS has the resources, weaponry, and operational safe havens to continue to threaten the stability of the region, as well as; U.S., Europe, other nations’ national security interests…