Colored Crypto Coins Paint Sophisticated Future for #Bitcoin

Written By Danny Bradbury (@dannybradbury)
Published on June 14, 2013 at 10:00 BST

Colorful Bitcoin
Bitcoin is a useful way to exchange money, but what if you could do other things with it? If bitcoiners could use it to issue shares, bonds and IOUs, or even to create alternative currencies atop bitcoins, they could add even more value to this innovative cryptocurrency. Bitcoinx, a community wanting to “democratize finance,” is hoping to facilitate just that, with a concept called “colored coins”.

Colored coins is a concept designed to be layered on top of Bitcoin, creating a new set of information about coins being exchanged. Using colored coins, bitcoins could be “colored” with specific attributes. This effectively turns them into tokens, which can be used to represent anything.

“It’s a distributed asset management infrastructure that leverages the Bitcoin infrastructure, allowing individuals and companies to issue various asset classes,” says Ron Gross, an Israeli programmer and active member of the bitcoin community, who was involved in the early stages of the colored coins project.

“The issued assets can then be traded between users without relying on a central authority. All the relevant advantages of Bitcoin apply (your account cannot be frozen, no middleman, cheap transactions).”

In a whitepaper (still in progress) on the subject, another contributor, Meni Rosenfeld, describes a variety of applications. Colored coins can be used to represent physical assets, such as a house or car. They could stand in for financial instruments such as stocks or bonds, or even interest-bearing assets. How about an IOU? Smartcoins open the way for credit infrastructures built on Bitcoin.

colorcoin1There are challenges for colored coins, however. One came in the form of a patch to the Bitcoin protocol, announced in early April. The “anti-dust” patch, as it has become known, imposed a minimum size on any output in a bitcoin transaction. An output is a unit in a bitcoin transaction that defines the new owner, and the amount of bitcoins that he or she receives. In the new setup, any amount fewer than 5,430 satoshis (0.0000543 bitcoins) is disregarded. The developers made this patch to stop people from stuffing the blockchain with lots of microscopic transactions.

While 5,430 satoshis may seem small, colored coins works best with far more granular transactions than this. The patch was a setback for the project. “Colored coins can still work more-or-less fine even with these drawbacks, but now people say we should redesign (the) coloring scheme,” says Alex Mizrahi, who heads the colored coins project. “There are several proposals, but this is just a major slowdown.”

What would it take to get the Bitcoin community using colored coins? Much depends on whether we’re talking about native support at the protocol level, or add-on, “floating” support in bitcoin clients.

Native support will help with the performance of thin clients (client-server versions that don’t store entire copies of the blockchain), says Mizrahi. “I believe it is very unlikely. Bitcoin does not welcome new features, from what I can tell.”

He expects native colored coin support in an altcurrency before bitcoin. However, the major Scrypt-based currencies aren’t looking at it. “We may look into providing some color coin implementation directly in the Litecoin protocol, but nothing is planned right now,“ said Litecoin creator Charles Lee.

Neither is Feathercoin, another Scrypt-based altcoin based on Litecoin. Founder Peter Bushnell said that he has his hands busy at the moment, after fending off a massive 51-percent attack earlier in June. “We are busy enough right now and find ourselves at a crossroads. This is the sort of thing I would like to look into at some point later on,” he says.

colorcoin2But the creator of another SHA-256 currency – Freicoin – is very interested in a variation on colored coins. It is perhaps no wonder that Mark Friedenbach is enthusiastic about the idea. After all, he wants to rewrite the rules of usury with his currency.

Building a colored coins technology that is binary-compatible with Bitcoin will be problematic, he asserts, because of what he describes as high transaction fees. “We came up with a proposal that achieves everything that people want from colored coins. We will implement those on Freicoin, and then let Freicoin be basically the medium for exchanging credit and IOUs in the same way that Bitcoin is for exchanging hard cash.”

He says that the specification is almost finished, and that he is working to get it peer reviewed. “As soon as we deploy Freicoin assets, we’ll be hitting the scaling of Bitcoin,” says Friedenbach. He’d better prepare himself, then, as he wants his version of colored coins – called Freicoin Assets – out by Christmas.

But Bitcoin could see its own implementation in the form of a floating set of specifications that can be implemented in third-party bitcoin clients, rather than in the protocol itself. The good news is that, unlike some other services such as anonymity, colored coins don’t explicitly need integrating into the protocol, says Tamás Blummer, CEO of Bits Of Proof. His company produces an open-source, enterprise-class Bitcoin server that he says can already propagate colored coins.

“Colored coins is a logical layer above the core Bitcoin protocol,” says Blummer. “I believe that it should not need changes, only extensions.” He aims to have a color-aware wallet by the autumn, and says that a supporting infrastructure for transactions could be reality by the end of the year.

In fact, clients are already available. Mizrahi and his colleagues produced a version of the Armory client capable of handling P2P colored coin transactions in January of this year. Then, realizing that colored coins added a processing burden to an already resource-hungry client, he produced a web-based client instead: WebcoinX.

colorcoin3Part of the problem with implementing colored coins, says Mizrahi, is getting developers to work on it. Gross agrees. “Unlike Bitcoin, a clear path to monetize the colored coin infrastructure hasn’t emerged yet. So, there is relatively little incentive for people for work on colored coin projects,” he says. “As a result,, a direct competitor, has gained significant market share. solves very similar problems to colored coins.”

Like colored coins, Ripple is designed to facilitate credit structures in the world of math-based currencies. But Ripple is based on its own currency, XRP, and is also still currently controlled by a holding company, putting it in direct opposition to the decentralized ethos underpinning Bitcoin.

There are other issues. Any credit-based mechanism in colored coins would have to involve an element of trust. In colored coins, the trust would have to happen “out of band,” using a separate system.

“I believe we’ll see some infrastructure around it. Something like rating agencies, which will audit companies that issue stocks, bonds and currencies based on colored coins,” says Mizrahi. Such third-party systems would verify assets.

“Of course, it is completely decentralized, and potentially such agencies will compete with each other. We are going to offer some support for this on an ‘asset-definition’ level,” he says.

Ratings agencies? Stocks? Bonds? Futures trading? All of this begins to sound suspiciously regulatory, doesn’t it? The Bitcoin community is still in a world of pain thanks to regulatory tensions over issues such as whether an exchange is a money services business. Now, bitcoinX is proposing a decentralized way to create complex financial instruments while dispensing with those pesky anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-client (KYC) rules.

If colored coins enable people to trade bitcoins as a placeholder for anything, they could land us in a world of trouble with already nervous governments. When bitcoins and stock trading have mixed in the past, things haven’t gone well. Remember the Global Bitcoin Stock Exchange?

“Tensions are unavoidable and will be even more severe here,” agrees Blummer. “I believe that Bitcoin has to work itself up the food chain, first targeting areas like crowd-funding before we attempt to ‘attack’ clearinghouses of stocks.”

Colored coins have a long way to go, but there is significant interest in making this work. David Johnston, the executive director of altcurrency investment network BitAngels, is interested in the concept.

The will and the technology is there. If Bitcoin is to get beyond the mundanities of mining, and turn into something more sophisticated, it needs this. The question is, who will use it first? As Blummer says: “Bitcoin is cash. With colored coin, you get the rest.”

Hiding Currency In The Dark Wallet: How ISIL Is Investing In Crypto Currency. #Bitcoin.

Hiding currency in the Dark Wallet
By Jen Copestake
19 September 2014

What if the software you developed ended up being used by extremists?

Amir Taaki is one of the key programmers behind a tool which could potentially hide the identity of people using the crypto-currency Bitcoin.

Along with Cody Wilson, the man who caused headlines for creating a 3D-printed gun, he has made the Dark Wallet.

The aim of the Dark Wallet is to make transactions done with the crypto-currency Bitcoin almost impossible to trace.

The US government and European Banking authorities are looking at regulating the use of the crypto-currency, and are particularly concerned about how the Dark Wallet could be used as a money laundering tool.

Recently those fears intensified when a blog about the technology was published and shared online. It discussed how extremists such as IS could maintain an anonymous online presence.

The blog has not been verified – but it supported the idea of the extremist group’s mission in Syria and Iraq.
It provided a step-by-step instruction guide to staying anonymous online, including how to use the anonymising Tor network – one of the ways people connect to the so-called “dark web” – and virtual private networks (VPNs) that are used to help hide people’s location and identity.

The blog included an instruction manual for how to stay undercover, emphasising that the Dark Wallet could be used to “send millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin instantly from the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Ghana, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, or wherever else, right to the pockets of the Mujahideen”.

Amir Taaki
Amir Taaki believes people should be able to be private about their spending
“It is simple, easy, and we ask Allah to hasten its usage for us,” the blog read.
The software allows users to anonymise their Bitcoin transactions.

It involves “trustless mixing” a peer-to-peer technology where a transaction you make will get mixed up with someone else’s.

Stained stairs
Although tipped as a future billionaire by Forbes magazine, developer Taaki spends his time living in squats around Europe.

He’s currently in a central London squat, which was the centre of G8 protests last year. He points out the stained stairs where the protesters threw red paint bombs at police.

In a sparsely decorated large open-plan room sits a group of Taaki’s friends, fellow programmers working on the code and design of the Dark Wallet, along with an open-source journalist and a Bitcoin investor.

Sitting on the floor on one of the cushions is Peter Todd, one of the main developers of Bitcoin.

On the walls is scribbled an address to an old Silk Road site, which has now been shut down.

When questioned Taaki indicates he is comfortable with the possibility of his software being used by extremists in conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

Its apparent popularity with extremists is no concern to the Dark Wallet team
“Yeah, and in fact I shut down my Twitter account because they were shutting down IS accounts.

“I don’t think trying to censor information is the way to go.”
“You can’t stop people using technology because of your personal bias. We stand for free and open systems where anybody can participate, no matter who you are.”
Peter Todd agrees.

“I think obviously terrorists will use it and the benefits certainly outweigh the risk.

“Obviously terrorists use the internet, terrorists use freedom of speech and we’ve accepted that’s a trade-off we must make.”

Anarchic roots
It’s not a view that will sit easily with many people, but these strong libertarian ideals are driving the political side of the Bitcoin movement.
The currency is facing on one side increased calls for regulation from people who want to see Bitcoin become a mainstream payments mechanism and on the other side key developers who are trying to maintain its anarchic roots.

Dark Wallet team
The team behind Dark Wallet live in a London squat.

Current attempts at regulation in the United States include the introduction of the Bit Licence in New York – a licence to conduct business using Bitcoin – something that the Dark Wallet developers are fighting back against.
Jamie Bartlett, author of the Dark Net, has spent time with the Dark Wallet developers in their old hacklab in Calafou, Spain.

He said: “The sort of libertarian fringes of the Bitcoin movement are actually incredibly important.

“A lot of those individuals have kept true to the original spirit of Bitcoin which always was actually a political project to try to remove the power over currency and interest rates from central banks.”

For the developers of the Dark Wallet, they want their technology to be used in subversive ways, and note it could be more useful than real cash in the hands of a group like ISIL.

Freedom from scrutiny
But if transactions of Bitcoin do end up in the hands of IS fighters, it may increase the calls for further regulation from governments.

“If it comes to pass that IS are using Bitcoin or Dark Wallet, any other technology of this type then public concern and public opinion about these technologies will change dramatically,” says author Jamie Bartlett.

“Governments will start regulating far harder and public opinion will turn against the programmers as well, so their life could be made far more difficult, especially when they are so open they really don’t seem to care who uses their technology.

“This is beyond Bitcoin – these guys are really trying to change the way the whole internet works and there’s a chance they can do it.”

Dark Wallet team
The Dark Wallet team says it’s behind an “ideological movement”

For the Dark Wallet team, freedom from scrutiny comes above all other interests, and fits into what they see as a changing geopolitical landscape.
“Change is something that is inevitable – we’re talking about the rise of ideological movements,” Taaki says.
“Whether we like it or not we’re going to have to deal with this new reality and we have to work with the technology with this new reality.”

Pakistani Taliban (TTP) Breaking Up. Is This The Much Needed Chance To Further Peace Talks with TTP?

Are the Pakistani Taliban TTP Breaking Up?


BBC: A split has emerged in the Pakistani Taliban after the major Mehsud faction walked out, saying the group leaders’ tactics were “un-Islamic”. It is the first major rift in Pakistani Taliban ranks since 2007 when the umbrella group was first formed.

Analysts say the split may help advance peace talks with the government.

Tens of thousands of people have died in militant attacks in Pakistan in the last seven years, most of them claimed by the Taliban. The rift comes after over a month of infighting in which dozens of fighters from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed.

The powerful faction comprising militants from the Mehsud tribe – the core around which regional militant groups initially gravitated to form the TTP – said it was forming its own separate group called Tehrik Taliban South Waziristan. A spokesman for the new group, Azam Tariq Mehsud, told reporters the decision to part ways with the TTP was made when efforts to persuade the TTP leadership to give up practices which were “contrary to Islam” failed. “We consider the bombing of public places, extortion and kidnappings un-Islamic, and since the TTP leaders continued with these practices, we decided we should not share the responsibility,” he said.


Group ‘weakened’!
Differences within the TTP emerged when its founding leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike in 2009. They came to a head in 2013 when Mr Mehsud’s successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in another drone strike. After Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing, the leadership of the TTP passed to a non-Mehsud leader, Mullah Fazlullah, sparking internal rifts which have led to the present split.

The Pakistani government started peace talks with TTP in March, but officials say they are currently on hold because of Taliban infighting.


The Border News (TBN); An Open Letter From TTP

Taliban Senior Commander, Azam Tariqa, a Shoura Senior Member and Spokesman for the Taliban from the Southern Waziristan region of Pakistan, said via cell phone, that the Mehsud area (TTP), “the Taliban of South Waziristan are going to separate from the present TTP alliance in our area, because the present alliance has deviated from the righteous path of true Jihad”.

He said that the present TTP alliance of Pakistan’s Taliban has been overrun by unknown groups with unknown foreign support, and are now more-so a radical conspiracy group than true Mujahidin’s. Due to outside elements, TTP is now becoming the victim of sectarian preaching and violence within the group. This is causing Mujahidin’s from within the TTP alliance to become restless.

The TTP ‘Mehsud’ Chapter of Taliban says, “we have tried our best to bring this conspiracy group back on the right path of Jihad, to maintain unity among all Mujahidin’s, but this conspiracy group remains separatist and they refuse to be in any common alliance”. Under the current TTP arrangement, there are activities of extortion and robberies. The TTP Mehsud Chapter believe Islamic Jihad includes helping the helpless and stopping men who follow an un-Islamic way of life. The TTP Mehsud Chapter believe kidnappings and extortion are not virtues of Islam, nor of Jihad.

The current TTP get money from unknown outside sources, kill people, create bomb blasts injuring the innocent, and later claim those actions under fake names. The present group of TTP are also involved in negative regional propaganda against the Afghan Taliban.

Taliban Senior Commander Azam Tariqa says, “the Mujahidin who are working towards a virtuous Jihad are our brothers and we will not accept unknown foreign influence or Al-Qaeda, nor Punjabi Taliban groups within our ranks. We will follow the guidance of Afghan Taliban Amrat Islami, only”.

images12Sources: BBC, The Border News (TBN) and Edited By Kristina Dei, May 2014

South Waziristan, Pakistan


Peace Between India and Pakistan?



— Kristina Dei (@2kdei) May 28, 2014

“Let’s Remove Fears, Mistrust and Misgivings About Each Other”. –Prime Minister Sharif to India.

By Tariq Aziz

Islamabad /New Delhi, May 26(TBN):

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif joined other regional leaders on Monday in attendance for the swearing-in ceremony for Indian Prime Minister  Narendra Modi, in India. Among other regional leaders, Modi, aged 63, was sworn in by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee just ten days after leading the National Democratic Alliance to their first historic landslide win in the national parliamentary elections.

Modi, a Hindu headlining Nationalist known for his controversial role in the 2002 ‘Gurat Riots’ where hundreds of minority Muslims were brutally killed, and had been a proponent of a tougher stance on Pakistan during his recent electoral  campaign. However, he assumed a softer stance on Pakistan when it started becoming clear that he was going to be the next Prime Minister of India. In various television interviews he said he encouraged more friendly relations with India’s neighbors.

According to Indian media, Mr. Modi arrived to his inaugural ceremony dressed in a white full-sleeved Kurta, a beige Nehru jacket and a white pajama. Prime Minister Modi arrived for the event at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Presidential Office, at 6 PM, local time. Apart from Mr. Modi, a total of 45 ministers were also sworn in. The presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif at the event was considered by many to be an opportunity “to turn a new page” in Pakistan-India bilateral ties.

PM Modi (India) and PM Sharif (Pakistan)

PM Modi (India) and PM Sharif (Pakistan)

Mr. Sharif arrived smartly dressed in a charcoal grey suit, and was warmly welcomed at the Presidential Palace as he was received for the ceremony. He shook hands with outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former

President Abdul Kalam Azad, and others. Mr. Sharif was seated next to Mr. Manmohan Singh. This represented the first time historically that a leader from Pakistan attended an inauguration ceremony of an Indian leader since India’s independence in 1947.

The ceremony was also attended by leaders of The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, Nepal’s Prime Minister SushilKoirala, Nepal Tshering Tobgay, Sushil Koirala and Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Bangladesh’s Speaker, Shirin Chaudhury, represented Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, who was unable to attend.

Mr. Sharif will hold bilateral talks with Mr. Modi on Tuesday, May 27, in a bid to improve bilateral Pakistani-Indian ties. He will also meet with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee before returning to Pakistan, later in the afternoon.According to the transcript of the Prime Minister’s interview with an Indian television channel, issued by Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi, Nawaz Sharif said that his visit to India could help turn a new page in the bilateral relations between Pakistan and India, saying, “this is a chance to reach out to each other”.  He said it was a great moment as well as a great opportunity. He said both governmentshad strong mandates that could help jumpstart positive engagement for both nations.He said no two nations elsewhere had ever possessed as many cultural and traditional similarities as those which exist historically between India and Pakistan. Mr. Sharif said, “Why should we not turn our similarities into our common strengths”?The Prime Minister added that he was very much looking forward to meeting with Mr. NarendraModi.

The Prime Minister said both countries should discourage fears, mistrust and misgivings about each other, and begin working together to rid the region of the same instability and insecurity that has plagued the two nations for decades.Nawaz Sharif said he intended to carry forward the agenda of bilateral relations, from the end point where he and Vajpayee had left off in 1999.

Relations between the two nuclear armed nations have been particularly tense since the 2008 attacks on the Indian  port city of Mumbai, blamed by India on Pakistani-based militants.  The last time when bilateral relations had improved slightly were when the BJP took power, in 1998, under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Vajpayee had ridden a bus to Lahore, during Nawaz Sharif tenure, to successfully generate a signed a peace accord both countries signed, called “The Lahore Declaration”. However hope for peace in the region vanished when the two countries engaged in  the Battle of Kargil, just three months later.

Meanwhile, 151 Indian fishermen were freed from Pakistani prisons ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to New Delhi, and crossed over into Indian territory on Monday. After completing all formalities at Wagah, on the Pakistani side, the fishermen entered Indian territory at Attari, 35 km from Amritsar.

Edited by Kristina Dei


The Broadening Sphere of Political Influence By Non-State Actors via Social Media

 May, 2014


By Kristina Dei

Founding Director

Go Global Media



What are Non-State Actors?

Non State Actors (NSA)’s are folks not affiliated with government, political diplomatic institutions, or military but have the potential to influence global events via social media. They can be resources for open source intelligence (OSINT) or for socio-political upheaval. They may be social media “users” with many followers or a few ‘key’ followers. NSA users may be peer-to-peer (P2P) users or peer-to-secondary (P2S) source users, such as media. Nations are exploring the incorporation of NSA’s into national strategic dialogue to coproduce tactical national defense methodologies that reflect a more broad-spectrum interpretation of defense than current ‘old-school’ bottle-necked national defense design. Yes, there are successful departments within various federal and military agencies producing excellent open source intelligence and combating cyber issues, but these often remain disenfranchised from each other, miscommunicating information, or are unwilling to share intelligence within the same government as interagency intel. Splintered into factions between civilian defense departments, military and government agencies, the raw data is weakened by manipulation from powerful partisan think tanks, and is largely closed source data to the public. Without outside influence, these agencies risk being blindsided by their own constricting uniformity.

images3I believe there is newly an international push to change this in the West. Governments are reaching out to the general public for ideas on how to improve national strategy and dialogue on national interests worldwide, as they feel the economic reactionary interplay from lessoned influence in third world countries, in China, Russia and in the failing ongoing Nuclear negotiations with Iran. But these traditional government institutions remain steeped in traditional old-school academia whose constituents are sourced from intellectual elite with expensive educations and costly Ivy League price tags. The highly educated upper 1% of society are not representational of the majority of the worlds population- nor the costly day-to-day living cost to quality-of-life living ratio reality, nor their native nuances, nor their indigenous cultural inventions and trends. Future conflicts will derive almost fully from those underrepresented populations for that very reason- because they are underrepresented. They are vacant from the global national dialog. If net neutrality remains moderately intact and international legal precedence allows for the successful monitoring, data extraction, retention and manipulation of OSINT data, NSA’a will be important new-state actors. If governments continue to pass legislation that allow for marginal jurisprudence to the notion of legal invisibility as was just recently passed in the EU, (see the EU Commission recent legislation passed for the “Right to be Forgotten”) this will be clouded for the near term future. Governments, however, need to incorporate and implement strategic tactical advantage by and for these populations and for their data management. Agencies need to streamline mass media manipulation to create cross-cultural crowd sourcing campaigns similar to COIN, but online.

COIN; a foundation for Online OSINT Crowd Sourcing?

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded counterinsurgency methodology (COIN) via academic talent sub-contracted to the US Department of Defense (DOD) in Central America in the late 1980’s- early1990’s to develop techniques to counter rebel insurgencies. COIN was created to “counter insurgents seeking to replace the political authority of the defending authorities in a population they seek to control”. COIN’s “Push, Hold, Build” motto was to counter rebel ideology with sociably modifiable ideology incorporative to western intelligence for advantageous implementation of propaganda leading to the eradication of radical elements within single socio-economically tied groups in complex war arenas. COIN was then refined in the mid 1990’s by the US Military under guidance by General Stanley McCrystal and by General David Petraeus, implementing COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NATO’s ISAF and US joint (OIF/OEF) COIN campaigns were initially thought to be successful at winning the “hearts and minds” of locals, however the long-term prognosis of COIN is now under debate, post-withdrawal, without a significant ongoing national presence in the AF/PAK region. One example of a possibly positive “hearts and minds” campaign by @USAID, was funding social media training in Kabul, Afghanistan designed to local soft and hard media as a “journalist education program” under guidance from one of Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s former social media aids, who co-created @Impassionaf and @paiwandgah. Afghan media talent were trained in modern Social Media, soft and hard traditional media and how to most effectively impart a neutral moderate voice about Afghan affairs to the general public, how to garnish national favor in the hearts and minds of everyday mom-and-pop Afghani. Held to be an everyday source of trusted national dialogue in media. Another similar program funded by the @UN was created for successful media ‘boot camp’ training, bringing Kabul’s media talent to New York to train them in investigational journalism and traditional western media. This group later became many of todays most successful media personas in Afghanistan, and they continue to maintain a pro-Western national dialogue. This dialogue has had a major effect on the outcome of recent Afghan elections, if not the most effective public voice for the resiliency of democracy of that small nation. Social media brought the political spectrum of nation building to ‘Power of the People’ through online international accountability during Presidential candidate debates, ISAF electoral observer accountability, actions taken by the Afghan national police, of ANA, etc. With the world watching, democracy unfolded for the first time in Afghanistan’s 5,ooo year old history. Tragedy also flowed out from this land of suffering with the horrible deaths of many, but notably the deaths of @AFP and @AP reporters, which garnered international media attention and the sympathetic response of a world watching in horror.

Nations are searching for more cost effective methods to prepare for and avoid conflicts, which may become heavily non-state actor driven via social media. Recent crowd sourced movements can be seen in events that created the ‘Arab Spring’, #Euromaidan and other online movements. These crowd-sourced movements were driven by a relatively small group of tech savvy users on Twitter and Facebook as non-state actors. Think @Twitter #Hashtag driven campaigns, like @ForAfghanDem #AfghanElections, @Statedeptspox @statedept #BringBackOurGirls or @AJ #FreeAJStaff. Other example of a crowd sourced campaign is the US @WhiteHouse @POTUS national Democratic electoral campaign for the US Presidential election.

Arguably, COIN has experienced shortcomings when implemented in the Middle East and East Asia against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and radical Islam because of the assumption that the basis for conflict was land based terrorism, a point of view that excluded ideological and/or theologically inspired motivation. Unfortunately, “Push away the bad guys, keep the land, build foreign cultural values, gain regional influence” doesn’t work when the conflict isn’t about the land, the people, or the local values. The result was a strategically cumbersome, modern war in brutal, remote locations with costly resources stuck in nonviable supply routes, etc. Opponents exacerbated these challenges with exploitation of collateral damage deaths- instantly spread via peer-to-peer social media propaganda, sewing seeds for foreign fighter recruitment and global anti-west, anti-ISAF sentiment. Add native political corruption, leader fatigue and reduced funding to the mix- and long-term failure seems unavoidable. So, have we learned from our mistakes? War is no longer viable to wage as complex warfare in areas that span the globe and are not limited to geographical constraints.

Conflicts today are of ideologies. Social Media is the platform to address these challenges, and if nations adapt to social media as a cost effective tool, they can possibly gain an upper hand on miscommunications before they convert to international conflict. It is imperative that nations coordinate their highest national interests on social media and incorporate non-state actors into agile online response teams. By creating tech savvy software and hardware development teams ready to tackle online movements into trained native nuanced responses, by refocusing portions of large budgets from strategic cyber security to fund specialists in the art of cultural interpretation, intercultural communication and specialists in native idioms and native cultural knowledge of non-state actors we have better allocated resources to a higher potential outcome.

Crowd Sourced War

It can be said the global war on ideology, not theology, is information rich, “influence” dominated- social media. Yet social media contributing non-state actors may remain traditionally funded via arms deals, mid to low impact terrorism, oil sector captures, energy grid subjugation, viral computer software/hardware hacking, water resource domination, and extremist (AQAP) radicalization of swaths of resource rich but impoverished emerging regions, Africa in particular. Low cost, instant peer-to-peer first generation communication will dominant traditional diplomacy, as long as intact telecom hardware networks, power grids, satellites, etc. exist. Rapid open source peer-to-peer data will be the kinetic sphere of conflict of tomorrow. Peace will need to be more diligently incorporated into global event tides, and not the other way around where the reactionary responses by authority are secondary to the will of the people. Social Media allows governments a game changing opportunity to source data, gather and integrate information from the voice of their people, to either use that information as an advantage for the wellbeing of the people, or as a tactical tool.


Social Media is a two-way street. It’s power unconfined/uncontrollable but also moldable/changeable, permeable, modifiable and only partially block-able. This is scary – but also opportunity governments MUST capitalize on to survive. It is a tool employable by all participants, although large parts of the planet are yet to emerge in this market. To quote my grandfather, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”- the loudest voices, the most impassioned and not the most empowered will have influence over global events, be they equitable, actionable, fair, kind, educated – or not! Diplomacy of the future won’t be determined behind closed doors by seasoned academics, generals or politicians but by largely uninformed mom and pop ‘users’ in anonymous peer-to-peer comfort of mobile cell phones, computer, IPads. In mindsets worlds away, events transform as a form of entertainment. Hence it is critical for nations to develop and foster broad spectrum PR campaigns for social media to gather and integrate voices and opinions, employing every optional tool similar to COIN, but online; apps, hardware, software but also introducing a mostly under appreciated human resource, cultural anthropologists, translators, cross-cultural ambassadors who introduce and familiarize us, to the rest of us.


#eDiplomats are ideally fluent in global social norms, languages, cultures and government methodology on idea/info open source intelligence (OSINT) recruitment and propagation. Online diplomacy, which can be professional state/nation representative sponsored diplomacy converted to online representation, or by non-state unsponsored actors of any background, age or location worldwide, eDiplomacy is marked by the effort to create or sway open source information based in various global cultural expectations to native nuance and idioms translated, hence codified into substantive outcomes preferred by the eDiplomat. Users gain real world practicum in the foundational application of open source information dissemination, wherein participant membership to online user generated shaping of global events when combined into crowd sourced political pressure is a movement or #hashtag. Militaries could incorporate more academia professionals to these fields of study although academia credentialing takes a back step to real world application of technique and skill. College students, Cultural anthropologists/ social ethnologists, public relations professionals would be particularly adept at online diplomacy, but so would your basic 10 year old kid with a fresh voice, to national dialogue and overall socio-political presence in the global arena. eDiplomacy public relations (PR) represents government and military in the highest form to reach out to the world with a controlled voice of trust or perceived honesty. Examples of carefully planned political campaigning online are the digital diplomacy behind Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, or the Israel’s government/intelligence agencies, which have dedicated huge resources to OSINT social media generation and manipulation. Other nations successful at eDipomacy are, increasingly, the US and the EU members whose efforts can be contributed to the recent events in Ukraine.

Crowd Sourcing

Repressed economies lead to more disenfranchised youth, leading to more terrorism recruits and overall social upheaval. This cyclical pattern is a Pandora’s box currently successfully exploited sadly, by the bad guys. Generations of underserved youth have mass negative exposure potential on social media, but conversely is also empowering youth into involvement in political and social events as co-partners to stewardship of social movements. Empowering youth to become a part of the system, and not victims of it lessons the attraction for youth to recruitment from bad guys. Including crowd sourced voices for social good can have a very successful outcome with proper implementation harnessed with professional help for national security and interest.

Who is a Diplomat?

The loss of state-actor controlled diplomacy is the most defining issue of our generation. Governments become irrelevant if their ability to create or undermine opinions are quantified or nullified. With the increased presence of social media, ‘mom-and-pop’ users from around the world are becoming critical to national security. Uneducated, educated, reactionary and rational as they may be, they have the potential to be fantastic equalizers of the human experience. Our generational introduction of non-state actors to national affairs is as critical today as the age of industrialization was on the human condition in the last century. Educating and incorporating underrepresented voices into national security dialogue for national defense, conflict resolution and peace is the unique opportunity of our generation. We humans must embrace becoming more closely and equitably intertwined, as a large group, to survive.

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May, 2014

Anthropology in US Intelligence; How It All Works.

Anthropology in US Intelligence Activity


Written By Robert Albro, American University
Kerry Fosher, Marine Corps Intelligence Activity


The CIA is one of sixteen US intelligence organizations, which work both separately and cooperatively, and which together compose the US Intelligence Community. The CIA engages in research, development, and deployment of high-leverage technology for intelligence purposes. The main coordinating agency of US government intelligence, the CIA is an independent agency comparable to the Congressional Research Service that works outside of the departments of the executive branch. The CIA is composed of a total of nine directorates and/or autonomous offices within the organizational structure of the agency, and also houses a variety of topical and multidisciplinary research centers. Most generally, the CIA coordinates the intelligence activities of government departments and agencies; collects, correlates, and evaluates intelligence information relating to national security; and makes recommendations to the National Security Council within the Office of the President and to the Department of Defense. This usually includes information and analysis of foreign governments, corporations and persons, all in the interest of national security. As a secondary priority this can also include specific propaganda and public relations functions focused abroad. The CIA is a sizable federal bureaucracy with all the associated “iron cage” problems. To join the crowd or not to join the crowd…


Bias and Priorities: The CIA uses both overt and covert methods of data collection (or espionage), at the discretion of the president and with congressional oversight. Distinct from normal diplomatic work, this work is focused on special activities with regard to nonproliferation, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, international organized crime and narcotics trafficking, environment, arms control intelligence, hostile foreign states or groups, or in support of friendly foreign states or groups, but also in support of national foreign policy interests. These data include social, economic, and cultural information about a country or threat scenario. One trend within the agency has been a move toward the use of “open-source” information, as reflected in the creation in 2005 of a new Open Source Center to collect information available from “the Internet, databases, press, radio, television, video, geospatial data, photos and commercial imagery.” The typical activities of a CIA employee credentialed at the M.A. or Ph.D. level are best summarized under the rubric of “analyst.” While there are a great many kinds of analysts at the agency (e. g. the “leadership analyst,” the “profiler,” and many others), in general analysts are tasked with the synthesis of variegated sources of intelligence data on countries, people, or scenarios of interest, and specialize in the production of written reports and assessments. This task is often carried out with input from other experts in the field, who are often not agency employees. Outreach to academic, non-profit and corporate communities of expertise is also an agency priority.



As many critics of the agency have pointed out, analysts are subject to a wide variety of pressures to conform to the existing organizational culture of the CIA, which can have an influence on their work. Institutional pressures known to influence the conclusions and recommendations of CIA analysts include: group think (often embodied in the entrenched four- phase “intelligence process” or “intelligence cycle”), finding data to support already established policy priorities, risk-aversion in analysis, and an unwillingness to share data and results as part of the process of institutional advancement. Research conforms to the well-established institutionalized activities based on the work of “analysis” (see below), briefly, “an action that incorporates a variety of tools to solve a problem.” This would include the agency’s increased concern with explicitly cultural knowledge, the relevance of which is significantly recognized when couched in established institutional terms and priorities. Any research of anthropologists within the agency, for example, is subject to the institutional frames and requirements of being an “analyst.” These concerns, it should be point out, are similar to pressures and attitudes commonly found in the corporate world as well.


In its original 1948 operating instructions, the CIA’s covert activities included: activities related to: “propaganda; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition, and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.” These activities have changed in relation to the perceived changes of external threats (e. g. the end of the Cold War, the War on Terror, etc). The CIA can also use confidential fiscal and administrative procedures, and is exempted from most of the standard limitations on the use of Federal funds. The CIA is exempted from having to disclose its “organization, functions, officials, titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed.” Most notoriously, during the Watergate era, covert activities that included assassinations and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, illegal domestic spying on US citizens, were brought to light. During the Iraq War, it has been widely reported that the CIA operates secret detention and interrogation facilities. Much covert and classified data collection has the explicit goal of revealing “the plans, intentions and capabilities of our adversaries” and providing “the basis for decision and action.” Unlike a college campus, the headquarters of the CIA is a secure facility. Phone and email data are not made available for employees. Access is restricted to scheduled “appointments” for all not-employees, who must wear badges identifying them as such and cannot move through the facility unaccompanied by a handler. Many critics – internal and external – have pointed to the “pathology of secrecy” at the CIA as something that increasingly hinders organizational effectiveness in all areas.



OSINT (Social Media) #Twitter

Sources of Data and Research Subjects: As with most intelligence agencies, civilian and military, the CIA takes an all-source approach. This includes overt and covert, public and classified information. This can include the use of technology, such as surveillance aircraft and satellites, or signal interception technologies. It also includes heavy reliance upon internal analysts, as well as analysts at the State Dept and DOE. And it also includes diplomats abroad, close cooperation with foreign and allied intelligence services, private enterprises, academic experts and academic trade journals, as well as Google. Finally, it can include other “human sources,” such as paramilitary, manned spying operations, the use of key informants (often also members of the international intelligence community) and interrogation techniques. The majority of the information used by the CIA to develop its analyses is open source intelligence (OSINT), including information from the media (such as newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and the internet), other public data (such as government reports, public surveys, official data, legislative debates, press conferences, etc), observation and reporting (e. g. satellite observers, airplane spotters, Google Earth), professional and academic (e. g. conferences, peer-reviewed journals), public geospatial information (the use of Geographic Information System), among other sources, tailored to support specific policy goals, and all integrated in the work of the typical analyst. The collecting and analysis of OSINT is comparable to the everyday work of traditional investigative journalism, in its use of searches, databases, primary interviews, sources, and leaks. The CIA also compiles a wide range of country data and indicators of political and other trends, much of which is public domain and available in the form of country profiles through the CIA’s World Factbook (



Most relevant for our purposes is the Directorate of Intelligence, which is the analytical branch of the CIA, responsible for the production and dissemination of all-source intelligence analysis on key issues of foreign policy. Of potential relevance is the National Clandestine Service (NCS), which is a semi-independent service responsible for the clandestine collection of foreign intelligence and covert action. The latter includes human intelligence (HUMISNT) services, which are often coordinated with other agencies (including the military). Most of the ethical concerns about CIA activities have focused on the work of the NCS. Much agency work (that is, the work of particular analysts) is focused on provisioning specific, tailored, information to policy, military and intelligence decision-makers, as a product of a process of data collection and analysis known as the “process of intelligence” or the “intelligence cycle.”

The process of intelligence is traditionally broken down into four phases, which include: collection, analysis, processing and dissemination (also called packaging). Collection can involve a wide range of information sources, from photo interpretation, intercepted cell phone or radar emissions, to diplomatic attachés. The work of analysts, too, is subject to a particular analytic process that is organizationally and bureaucratically reinforced. This process expects results in the form of mapping exercises, risk assessments, personality profiles, and the like. Continuously updated, these might be strategic intelligence about scientific, tactical, technical or diplomatic matters. They tend to be analytically limited to conclusions about the capabilities, vulnerabilities, intentions, threats, and opportunities for intervention, with regard to subjects of intelligence (people and countries). Finally, these are packaged in ways available for indexing, that are easily accessible to advisors, and that foreground lists of critical threats and opportunities. The intelligence cycle is a way of integrating the multiple sources of data into actionable intelligence available to decision-makers, and tends to privilege part-whole relations in problem-solving, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (also called a “systems approach”). That is, rather than the specter of “spy,” the more accurate representation of work typical for a CIA employee is “analyst.” Even so, the everyday work of analysts at the CIA is heavily shaped – in terms of method and outcome – by institutional conventions and priorities of the agency and not by independent research agendas. This includes an instrumentalism, for example, in the analysis of threat scenarios: Rather than “understanding” the problem the goal is more directly “solving” the problem and “deliverables” (one justification, for example, for the use of modeling). Though, there is less predictive work at the agency and much more descriptive or explanatory work. It is also important to note that analysts typically have no contact with “collectors” of information.

An agency development of relevance to anthropology has been the CIA’s increased study of itself through the Center for the Study of Intelligence and elsewhere. Currently employing at least one anthropologist, CSI is at once a “reference and resource center for scholars and others studying the history and practice of intelligence disciplines.” It can be thought of as one part the agency’s internal “think tank,” one part “lessons learned” shop and one part forum for the reassessment and advancement and emergent needs of more integrated approaches to the analysis of intelligence. This involves more attention to the CIA’s own “organizational culture,” and to improving “organizational effectiveness,” but includes, for example, new intelligence strategies directed toward public diplomacy. The majority of this work is classified. A significant proportion of such research is published by CSI via an in-house journal called Studies in Intelligence, addressing historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects of the intelligence profession. It also creates classified and unclassified monographs.



Marine Corps Intelligence Activity

Type of organization: military intelligence (MI)

MCIA perceives its mission as providing intelligence and intelligence-related services to support Marine Corps operations. They employ approximately 30-40 intelligence analysts who work closely with Marine Corps personnel such as FAOs (military officers who specialize in area studies and foreign cultures). Their activities also feed into other processes like policy development, training or education. MCIA has the DOD lead for developing something called “cultural intelligence,” which is an all-source approach to intelligence that emphasizes the impact of culture on issues traditionally of interest to intelligence agencies. This involves special training for analysts and some open field research, such as focus groups in other countries (note that this is distinguished from “collections,” which would be what most of us would think of – covert data collection), and the production of reports and other materials that highlight cultural information. The staffing is mixed between civilian and military personnel.

Bias and Priorities: As above and potential framing biases related to USMC missions and areas (littoral etc) may make certain types of products and results more or less palatable to senior leadership. Framing biases are also expressed in terms of the precedent of established Marine Corps (and military) doctrine, which provides a lexicon for how to frame emergent problems and concerns (e. g. “cultural knowledge” can quickly become a concern for the “cultural terrain” or “behavior” can serve as the institutional default for “culture” in ways very different from currents in anthropology). The current operational tempo of USMC may lead to a bias away from complex solutions and explanations and toward problems/solutions with immediate operational relevance as opposed to longer-term concerns about the impact of US actions, etc. It is also possible that MCIA’s status as a member of the intelligence community could lead to biases in favor of work that it perceives needs to be classified, believing that open source work could be done by unspecified others. We also have to be aware of the differences among culture shops in the Marine Corps (comparing MCIA to the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning and its “culture training” responsibilities).

Secrecy: Although some employees are located in separately for technical reasons, most activities take place in a “secure facility” on the Quantico military reservation. No cell phones are allowed inside (even for high level employees), escorts are required for most non-employees, and, when an “uncleared” person is on a floor a red light on the ceiling flashes to alert all personnel. Nevertheless, while may (though not all) of its data sources and products are classified, MCIA emphasizes transparency in how it carries out its work. All presentations and publications that are related to specific missions or areas of analysis must be cleared by command staff and public affairs. As a rule, this would prohibit or at least severely hamper the sharing of information and theory through the normal academic channels. Research related to the organization itself or to outside interests is not controlled by the organization. Some data used by analysts is collected covertly. The uses to which some of the analysis is put are kept from the public and, sometimes, from the analysts themselves.

Sources of Data and Research Subjects: MCIA is an “all source” agency meaning it uses publicly available information, conducts open library and field research of its own, and uses information collected through covert means. Traditionally, the subjects of MCIA social scientists (as with all intelligence agencies) are people and organizations believed to have some potential impact on US policy, as adversaries, allies, or by-standers. However, as with many US military and intelligence organizations, MCIA also is starting to want to use social scientists to understand itself and USMC more broadly to learn how internal frames and predispositions affect its products and the interactions of Marines abroad.

Types of Work: Social scientists may be employed as analysts, in research positions, or in other administrative, technical, or command positions unrelated to their academic backgrounds. These are employed in the production of a tiered line of MCIA “products” of varying degrees of depth, from cultural “smart cards,” through field guides or country handbooks, to more in depth studies. MCIA engages in outreach with academic experts, who are used for a variety of one-time tasks, such as review of product information (see “Emerging Arrangements” below). Recently, MCIA created two positions specifically designed for anthropologists. These are “command billets” created to ensure greater rigor in the organization’s use of social science, to further develop MCIA’s cultural analyst capacity, to monitor ethics with regard to social science, and to assist with outreach to academic institutions.

3. Air University

Type of organization: professional military education (PME)

Air University is the institution that houses the majority of professional military education for the US Air Force. In contrast to the Navy and the Army, which have spread their schools and colleges out, the Air Force has them located “around the circle” on Maxwell/Gunter Air Force base. The “around the circle” metaphor comes from the location of the main officer’s schools around one circular loop on the main base. This loop does not include enlisted education (housed largely at Gunter, a few miles away), AFOATS (a school that supports ROTC programs and the education of those who come in outside normal channels, such as medical personnel), or the community college, leading to interesting politics of space. AU includes Squadron Officers College (2 lieutenants and captains), Air Command and Staff College (majors), Air War College (colonels), AFOATS (see above), the College for Enlisted Professional Military Development, Community College of the Air Force (enlisted), several other smaller schools and institutes, as well as a wide range of centers devoted to research, teaching, doctrine development, and special topics. One of these is the new Air University Culture and Language Center that resulted from a directive coming from the Air Force Chief of Staff who directed that Air University do a better job of providing education related to language and culture.

Bias and Priorities: As above and toward topics that meet curricular needs and away from those a social scientist might think enlisted personnel and officers need to learn. There appears to be at least a slight bias away from concepts and theories and towards data and analysis based on experience. Because of the service, there is a bias toward technological problems and solutions and sometimes active resistance to problems that do not lend themselves to engineering-type solutions. There also is resistance from some faculty and students to anything that does not support the mission of “putting the bomb on the target,” which, of course, removes consideration of most of the problems the US military is currently encountering. Again, because of the service, there is less emphasis on tackling “boots on the ground” problems with social science. Social science is generally associated with negotiation, interaction with foreign military counterparts, interacting with foreign diplomats, and, to a lesser degree, interaction with NGOs, other government agencies, and other military services.

Secrecy: Although some of what is developed in the Centers and institutes is classified or “for official use only,” most of the research conducted at Air University is open. A notable exception to this is the war gaming facility, which is restricted and contains classified materials. AU has several locations where storage of classified materials and secure communications can take place. These generally support the needs of people who need to work on things related to ongoing operations rather than the needs of people doing research. Faculty are expected to undertake research and publication agendas in their own fields. They may need to request permission to take time and funds to attend a conference, but are not required to get presentations and publications reviewed prior to release. Students are encouraged to produce papers that can be distributed or published. Most secrecy-related activities relate to force protection and involve things such as how gate lanes are configured, certain aspects of scheduling for important visitors, what aspects of IDs are checked and using which types of equipment, etc.

Sources of Data and Research Subjects: Because this is an educational institution, the range of possible research is very broad. AU schools often have encouraged faculty and students to study USAF or the US military in general, but these studies are often pragmatic rather than critical. USAF has been somewhat more hesitant that the other services in starting to use its social scientists to understand itself. There is some movement toward encouraging research that will help USAF understand people and organizations believed to have some potential impact on US policy, as adversaries, allies, or by-standers rather than simply nation states.

Types of Work: Social scientists may be employed as faculty, in research positions, or in other administrative, technical, or command positions unrelated to their academic backgrounds. Some students have undergraduate or masters degrees in social science. See also “Emerging Arrangements” below: For the last year, AU has be working to wrestle several positions away from the schools so that there can be full-time social scientists who are not beholden to the curriculum or interests of any particular school, but rather engage in research and curriculum development across the schools. In particular, they want to these social scientists to focus on the identification of militarily relevant cross-cultural competencies.

4. Emerging Arrangements

Perhaps the most interesting institutional context in which anthropologists engage with military and intelligence organizations include what we refer to as emerging arrangements. The military and the intelligence community are very large bureaucracies, slow to move when they need to incorporate new types of work or expertise. Over the last several years, and in response to “culture” having become a “new DOD buzzword,” there has been a disorganized scramble to “get more culture.” This has resulted in attempts to get anthropologists involved in a variety of ways. Some of these include:

  • IPA positions (inter-service personnel act) – essentially allows an organization to “borrow” an anthropologist from a university or other organization
  • Contracting – probably the largest means of incorporating anthropologists, this includes private consulting by individuals in full and part time or occasional capacities, anthropologists who work for large consulting firms and are hired out to organizations, or situations where a consulting firm runs a program or center for a military organization and hires anthropologists.
  • Consulting – often done with little or no payment or honoraria, this involves an anthropologist with some other source of employment working with a military, intelligence, or other national security organization on a limited basis, perhaps reviewing materials, speaking, or just serving as a sounding board.
  • Creation of new Centers and positions – recently, military and organizations have started to display a strong interest in hiring anthropologists and getting access to anthropological knowledge. Often in consultation with anthropologists, they create new positions and sometimes new offices, departments, or centers to engage in social science research.
  • MITRE/RAND – both of these organizations are non-profit entities that exist primarily to do research for the government. Both have billed themselves as repositories of social science knowledge, but RAND in particular employs no anthropologists in this topic that I am aware of. MITRE has at least one, an AAA member.

Intelligence and Cultural Anthropology; Source

(RAND conducted a session on the ethics of social science research on terrorism in January of 07. The workshop included only one anthropologist who does not seem to have been aware of this Commission. SEE LINK: 


Ukraine, Russian Power; Historical, Political Backgrounds (and NATO’s Burden).

Peace in Ukraine

This post is comprised of several sources of current media on the subject. All content is reposted with links and sources cited.


“Ukraine in Context”

Article Via Foreign Affairs. (Reposted). By: Serhiy Kudelia

Ukraine’s Euromaidan was aptly summed up in leaflets recently distributed around Kiev that featured a big X over former President Viktor Yanukovych’s crown-bedecked head. Indeed, current events in Ukraine bear more in common with Europe’s anti-monarchical grassroots uprisings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than with more recent rebellions. The Ukrainian protesters’ primary motives were not nationalist grievances or democratic yearnings but popular repulsion at the unconstrained, arbitrary, and corrupt power of an absolutist sovereign and his retinue.

In the seventeenth century, Europe’s absolutist monarchs faced no institutional constraints and could exercise power unilaterally. Neither parliament nor the court could overrule their judgments. And not only was power concentrated in the hands of the ruler but the rest of the “government” was designed to serve his or her needs. The monarchs formed their courts out of coteries of loyal minions who received exclusive access to privileges and rents, including noble titles and life-long public offices. These officials could, in turn, redistribute some of their private goods among their own servile lieutenants, but the monarch retained ultimate power to grant or revoke their privileged status.

Of course, such absolutist regimes were greatly varied, which, as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama noted in The Origins of Political Order, affected the patterns of their subsequent transformations. A stronger absolutism, which evolved in Russia, presumed the full subordination of different social groups to the monarch and an absence of space for autonomous action. Its stability depended on the coercive dominance of a single actor. So, for centuries, Russian emperors brutally suppressed rebellion at the first sign of it. In doing so, they managed to avoid the revolutionary upheavals that shook monarchs across Europe. The Bolshevik revolution succeeded only after the imperial court imploded from within.

By contrast, eighteenth-century France developed a weaker absolutism. The system was more decentralized and more dependent on the compliance of provincial elites, whom the king had to buy off. Weak absolutism thus required a balance of power between the king and the rent-seeking coalitions around him, with neither side dominating. Yet existing institutional checks, such as the Estates General and the courts, eventually proved ineffective in constraining the king and his aristocratic coalition. The non-nobles, as a result, had to bear the entire burden of paying for the state and the tax-exempt ruling class. The French Revolution thus started as a popular uprising against all elites.

Fast-forward a few centuries. Yanukovych entered his presidency to greet an empowered parliament, strong oligarchic cliques, and established traditions of patrimonial government. The system was ripe for absolutism, but not necessarily the old Russian model of strong absolutism. Namely, internal regional pluralism, a vigorous civil society, and prior experience with social mobilization acted as safeguards — and paved the way for recent events.


In September 2010, a few months after Yanukovych’s election, he pushed for a return to the presidential system (Ukraine had had a mixed system), which formalized his dominance over the legislature and the executive branch. Regional ties to his native Donetsk or personal ties to his family became two of the main criteria for government appointments. By September 2013, officials from Donbas, the metropolitan area that contains Donetsk, controlled half of all government ministries, including the lucrative energy ministry and the interior ministry, and occupied high-ranking positions in two-thirds of the country’s oblasts. (Officials representing Yanukovych’s family interests were in charge of the ministries with the largest rent-seeking opportunities, such as tax collection and duties, and oversaw the security apparatus.) Allies also held 40 percent of top jobs in the country’s prosecutorial agency and 60 percent in the highest economic court. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s venal bureaucracy, which had gone largely unreformed since the Soviet times, was all too happy to settle into the president’s personal rent-collecting entourage.

Yanukovych fully subordinated the judiciary and opposition through coercion and reshuffling. The show trials of opposition leaders, rare even in Ukraine’s tumultuous recent history, raised the costs of opposition activity to new highs. Major businessmen who had previously supported the more Western-oriented opposition had to switch their loyalties or risk their property. They were under siege in another respect as well: Yanukovych privatized major state assets and had his son or front companies buy them, thus expanding his family’s holdings. He redistributed budgetary funds within his close circle through rigged government contract bids. The companies of his main oligarchic allies, Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash, and of his son received more than half of the total value of contracts awarded over the previous two years (about 18 billion dollars).

Yanukovych’s increasingly absolutist rule led to a gradual change in the power balance within the ruling coalition. Like other absolutists, once Yanukovych marginalized the opposition, many of his former allies became the next targets on the list. One of them, Valery Khoroshkovsky, a multimillionaire and former security service chief, fled to London. Others, including old Donbas cronies, just fell out favor as the amount of money available for Yanukovych to give out decreased. Eventually, he encroached too far on the property rights of some of its members. His unilateral withdrawal from the talks with the European Union over an Association Agreement, which most Ukrainian oligarchs had strongly favored, was the last straw in a bundle of arbitrary maneuvers that threatened their business interests.

Although many expected it, however, an open oligarchic revolt, along the lines of the Fronde against Louis the XIV in France, never happened. Although some elites offered indirect support to the opposition, including  billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy, key businessmen remained loyal to Yanukovych until his final days. Like in other weaker absolutist states, as grassroots groups on the streets of Kiev and other cities tried to force Yanukovych out, the state institutions and his support coalition remained largely intact. The ruling Party of Regions stuck together and stalled the opposition’s initiatives in the parliament, including by adopting tough sanctions on protesting. Similarly, the court system, which played a crucial role in settling the Orange Revolution, remained subservient, jailing numerous protesters. Finally, there were no major defections from within the security apparatus. The top brass followed Yanukovych’s orders until the day he fled Kiev.

Such elite loyalty might seem particularly surprising; as political scientist Milan Svolik has shown, betrayal by regime insiders has been the leading cause for the fall of autocratic rulers since the end of World War II. Yet it had precedents, particularly in states where the composition of the ruling elite was based on kinship ties, tribal loyalties, or, like in eighteenth-century France, an exclusive patrimonial relationship. Despite long-lasting unrest on the streets, Yanukovych was able to hold his regime together for a long time thanks to the clientelistic web of personal dependencies and individual insecurities that he had learned to exploit so well. Political and financial backing from Russia also helped Yanukovych avert impeding economic disaster, which could have accelerated his regime’s collapse. As a result, once the regime started to sink, most of the crew waited for the captain to jump first before following his lead.



Yanukovych’s biggest weakness, and the source of his ultimate demise, proved to be his inability to establish authority over central and western Ukraine, including Kiev, which had voted for his opponents in the 2004 and 2010 elections. Over 80 percent of protesters on the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, arrived from these two regions. During his years in office, Yanukovych showed little sensitivity to their views, often adopting educational and cultural policies that were inimical to them. The last of those was his reversal on Ukraine’s commitment to integrate with the European Union, which had been endorsed by overwhelming majorities in these regions. That move served as a trigger for protests, but it was the authorities’ subsequent heavy-handed attempt to suppress riots that really fueled the uprising. According to the polls conducted over the last three months, two-thirds of protesters consistently named the government’s harsh repression of protesters as the main reason for their own decision to come out to the Maidan. Less than afifth named authoritarianism or integration with Russia as motives.

Unable to contain the revolt spreading through hostile regions, Yanukovych tried to use yet more lethal force in Kiev. Violent escalation, including random killings of protesters by snipers, only served to reinforce the impression of absolute power gone wild and strengthen the key motivation for opposing it. With two remaining options — ordering mass bloodshed or surrendering his powers — Yanukovych recognized the limits of his loyal troops and signed a deal with the opposition to shift most of his formal powers to parliament. This also sealed his fate. The moment the agreement was finalized, the coercive basis of his rule crumbled.

Yanukovych’s fate was similar to those monarchs — including Louis XVI — who either failed to self-limit their powers or attempted to cling to them against all odds. Yanukovych successfully destroyed institutional constraints and subordinated other elites. But he underestimated what violence against citizens would do to his system. Although nationalist or democratic ideals played a role in motivating some protesters, it was ultimately their shared belief in the need to punish the sovereign’s transgressions that united them. And it is this public commitment to the principle of restrained power that puts Ukraine on a democratic path, which many other European states traveled long ago.

It will take years for Ukraine to put all the institutional pieces of the democratic puzzle in place. Although the country has revived parliamentary primacy, it still lacks rule of law, genuine political parties, and a meritocratic civil service. Just like many other states exiting weak absolutism, it also has a parasitic, interconnected political class, which is very good at using populism and predation to prosper. The immediate challenge for Ukraine will be to cleanse itself of these vestiges of the past and start building from scratch those state institutions that would make its democratic progress irreversible. And if Ukraine’s new political leaders are ever tempted by absolutism, they should think back to this month and to the people’s spirit of resistance, which Yanukovych failed to heed. Ultimately, Ukraine’s future will depend on the will of citizens rather than the opportunistic choices of elites. And it will be much more secure because of that.

Ukraine/Crimea March, 2014

Via Twitter: RT @BSpringnote: Part of the 1st Ukrainina Marine battalion holding out against Putin in Feodosiya


Crimea’s Challenge

Ukraine’s Crimea region, a Black Sea peninsula that retains a degree of autonomy, has become the flashpoint for a backlash against the pro-Western protesters that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power. Review some key historical and geopolitical facts.

Patchwork Nation

Pro-European sentiment is stronger in the western reaches of Ukraine, parts of which were annexed from Europe during World War II. Crimea, with a Russian naval base, is more aligned with Moscow, as is eastern Ukraine, where President Yanukovich has sought refuge.

Share of votes going to Yanukovych in 2009 election

Sources: News reports, public records and archives,,, staff reporting. Info contained is via the Wall Street Journal.

Russia’s Aging Fleet

The Black Sea Fleet is a shadow of its former Soviet self but, with new commissions coming, is still capable of projecting Russian power. Photos by Black Sea Navy.

Moskva: 1164-class missile cruiser
Commissioned: 1983
11,300 tons, 680 crew members
Two diesel-electric submarines
(only one of which is operational)
Kerch: Anti-submarine cruiser
Commisioned: 1971
8,600 tons

Smetlivy: Anti-submarine cruiser
Commissioned: 1969
4,500 tons
Ladny: 1135-class Frigate
Commissioned: 1978
3,200 tons

Pytlivy: 1135-class Frigate
Commissioned: 1979
3,200 tons

Other ships in the fleet:
LSTs – Landing Ship (Tank)
Anti-submarine Corvettes
Other smaller surface vessels based at Novorossisk.
Vessels that have been ordered

Admiral Grigorovich Class Frigates3 ordered1 is due to be commissioned in March 20143,620 tons

Improved-Kilo class diesel electric subs
6 have been ordered
1 is due to be commissioned in June 2014

By Jovi JuanElliot BentleyAna RivasGeoffrey Smith and Michael Ovaska;
The Wall Street Journal

Sources: News reports, public records and archives,,, staff reporting from the Wall Street Journal, reposted.

Hagel’s Futile Quest for NATO Burden Sharing

March 4, 2014 Via The National Interest:

At a meeting of NATO defense ministers on February 26, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned his European counterparts that they must step up their commitment to the Alliance or watch it become irrelevant. The current path of declining European defense budgets, he emphasized, “is not sustainable. Our alliance can endure only as long as we are willing to fight for it, and invest in it.” Rebalancing NATO’s “burden-sharing and capabilities,” Hagel stressed, “is mandatory—not elective.” The tone of his message was firm. “America’s contributions in NATO remain starkly disproportionate, so adjustments in the U.S. defense budget cannot become an excuse for further cuts in European defense spending.”

Taken at face value, Hagel’s comments appeared to be an uncompromising demand for greater burden sharing by NATO’s European members. The speech would have been far more impressive and encouraging though, if previous U.S. officials had not made similar exhortations over the past six-and-a-half decades. Unfortunately, those calls proved futile, and in all likelihood Hagel’s effort will suffer a similar fate. European governments have never believed that Washington would drastically downgrade (much less terminate) its commitment to NATO, no matter how shamelessly the allies continue to free ride on U.S. military efforts.

The ink was barely dry on the treaty establishing NATO in 1949 before U.S. officials saw worrisome signs that Washington’s new alliance partners were shirking their share of the collective defense obligations. Secretary of State Dean Acheson assured uneasy senators that the West Europeans would provide the vast majority of armaments and manpower for the Alliance, making it unnecessary for the United States to station a large number of troops on the Continent. General Omar Bradley echoed Acheson’s assurances. The next year, however, Washington “temporarily” dispatched four divisions to Europe to augment the two divisions already stationed there as part of the post-World War II Allied occupation of Germany. U.S. officials concluded that the other NATO members were not yet prepared to provide enough forces for a credible defense in the increasingly tense global strategic environment resulting from the communist offensive in Korea.

Washington’s prodding for greater burden sharing continued, however. In NSC 82, the Truman administration formalized the decision to strengthen Europe’s defense by making the “temporary” troop deployment permanent and bringing all NATO forces under U.S. command. But NSC 82 also insisted that those measures were not unconditional. “The United States should make it clear that it is now squarely up to the European signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty to provide the balance of forces required” for Western Europe’s defense. “Firm programs for the development of such forces should represent a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the above commitments on the part of the United States.”

The allies did promise to build more robust forces and to create a European Defense Community, including West German units, to coordinate those efforts. But little meaningful progress took place, as France and other countries dragged their feet about implementing the EDC. That behavior led Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to warn the allies that the United States would have to conduct an “agonizing reappraisal” of its security commitment to Europe, if they didn’t make a more serious effort. France killed the EDC, however, and there was no agonizing reappraisal—or even a downsizing of the U.S. military presence in Europe. Indeed, U.S. officials soon went out of their way to assure the Europeans that Washington regarded their security as vital to America’s own.