Secret IDB Proposal Would Give $48 Billion Infusion to Boost Venezuela’s Economy — But Only After Regime Change

The Inter-American Development Bank is quietly circulating an analysis that foresees an up to $48 billion infusion of capital into the Venezuelan economy should President Nicolás Maduro be removed from office. A pair of confidential documents, both called “Venezuela: Challenges and Opportunities,” outlines a four-year plan to open the country’s beleaguered economy to foreign corporations through privatization, structural reforms, and public-private partnerships.

The documents — slide decks that were obtained by The Intercept — are circulating in an 11-slide summarized version and a 27-slide full version, both classified as “confidential.” The author is marked in the first slides of both presentations as the bank’s secretary, who is responsible for organizing discussions between the bank, governments, and private companies. The presentations, which are dated March 15, are addressed to executive directors of the Inter-American Development Bank and IDB Invest, the bank’s investment arm aimed at lending to private companies.

Founded in 1959, the IDB offers financing and technical assistance for infrastructure, health, and education projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The bank is owned by 48 countries: 26 borrowing member countries and 22 nonborrowing member countries. Currently, the five largest shareholders are the U.S., with 30 percent of voting shares; Argentina and Brazil, with 11.2 percent each; Mexico, with 7.2 percent; and Japan, which has 5 percent of voting shares.

The improvements in Venezuelans’ daily lives would allow self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó to claim a victory — by benefiting from international assistance that is being denied to the current leadership.

The dominant position of the U.S. has raised questions about the bank’s independence. Indeed, U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance on regime change helped urge IDB officials into pushing the analysis of a post-Maduro Venezuela, a source told The Intercept.

The Maduro regime has long claimed that the country’s economic collapse is the result of a capital crunch driven by sanctions and a coordinated financial assault by the United States for the purposes of undermining and overthrowing the socialist government. The emergence of the IDB-led plan will only heighten those suspicions.

The proposal for international largesse could be a boon to an incoming administration. If all went according to plan, the improvements in Venezuelans’ daily lives would allow opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó, or another incoming president, to claim a victory — by benefiting from international assistance that is being denied to the current leadership. Meanwhile, Venezuela would be stripped of its public assets.

The IDB documents were supposed to have been presented at the IDB’s annual meeting from March 26 to 31 in Chengdu, China. Controversy erupted, however, because the IDB had invited Guiadó’s economic coordinator and IDB representative, Ricardo Hausmann. Beijing — the meeting’s host, a Maduro ally, and a minority 0.004 percent shareholder with the bank — has not recognized Guiadó’s rule and denied a visa to Hausmann, a Harvard University economist and Guiadó’s representative to the IDB. The turmoil caused the cancellation of the China meeting just days before it was set to occur.

Another source, an IDB insider, told The Intercept that inside the bank, regime change in Caracas is seen as a question of when, not if, and many believe that it will happen soon. Nonetheless, the urgency around the plan apparently faded after the highly publicized failure of a plan by Guaidó and allies to bring truckloads of “humanitarian aid” over the Colombian border. The bank leaders, the source said, had hoped that the convoy would help trigger Maduro’s downfall. Bank leaders have since become less optimistic that he will be removed from power in the near term.

TOPSHOT - People try to salvage humaitarian aid after the truck carrying it was set ablaze on the Francisco de Paula Santander International Brige between Cucuta in Colombia and Ureña in Venezuela, on February 23, 2019. - A truck loaded with humanitarian aid was set ablaze on Saturday on the Colombia-Venezuela border, an opposition deputy told reporters amid rioting on the Santander bridge crossing. (Photo by Schneyder Mendoza / AFP) (Photo credit should read SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP/Getty Images)

People try to salvage humanitarian aid after the truck carrying it was set ablaze on the Francisco de Paula Santander International Bridge between Colombia and Venezuela on Feb. 23, 2019.

Photo: Schneyder Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images

The documents do not delve into specifics about where the full $48 billion investment would come from. The Intercept arrived at the total number by adding up subtotals for the three “key recovery areas” listed in the presentation: “urgent needs of the population,” “basic infrastructure,” and “institutional reforms.” The presentation broke down these estimated investments into two columns: phase one on one side, and annual totals for phases two and three combined on the other. Because phases two and three are expected to last for three years, those annual totals were multiplied by three and added to the first phase investments, leading to the grand total of $48 billion. (The slides noted that the investment levels required for “basic infrastructure” exclude investments in the country’s “hydrocarbons and energy sector.”)

Though the slide decks do not state where the money would come from, $48 billion in loans would likely be unprecedented in the IDB’s 60-year history. In response to an inquiry from The Intercept, a spokesperson for the IDB said, “While I have not seen the document you mention, by the size of the number, it probably refers to a much larger lending or assistance package involving many institutions, not just to IDB-financed operations. It is almost three times what the IDB approves in a single year.”

Two sources with direct knowledge of the proposal — one in the U.S. and one in Brazil — confirmed the authenticity of the documents, and a third source told The Intercept that the plan exists. All three sources requested anonymity to discuss the proposal because of fears of professional reprisal.

The Intercept is declining to publish the documents out of concerns over source protection.

A parallel business forum to the China summit — coordinated by IDB Invest, formerly known as the Inter-American Investment Corporation — was also canceled. CEOs of major companies had been invited to attend, including electrical giants such as the U.S.-based AES Corporation and Italy’s Terna; construction firms like South Korea’s DOHWA Engineering and Mexico’s ICA; and energy players like Colombia’s Terpel and Canadian Solar. (An IDB spokesperson told The Intercept that the 2019 annual meeting has not yet been rescheduled and that the business forum will no longer take place.)

In March, the IDB was the first multilateral international organization to recognize Guaidó as interim president, less than two months after Trump did.

Ricardo Hausmann, Venezuela National Assembly leader Juan Guaido's representative to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), listens during an interview in New York, U.S., on Friday, April 5, 2019. The bank passed a motion Friday to certify Hausmann, a Harvard University economist and longtime critic of Nicolas Maduro's regime, as the nation's IDB governor. Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ricardo Hausmann, Venezuela National Assembly leader Juan Guaido’s representative to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), during an interview in New York on April 5, 2019.

Photo: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hausmann, who served as the IDB’s first chief economist from 1994 to 2000 and more recently consulted for the bank, was instrumental in formulating the analysis circulated to the executive directors of the IDB and IDB Invest, according to one of The Intercept’s sources. (Hausmann did not respond to a request for comment.)

Over the past several months, Hausmann has been making public remarks about the need for international loans and investments in Venezuela to spur its economic recovery in the wake of Maduro’s fall. Speaking to The Economist last January, he said Venezuela would need a loan in excess of $60 billion over three years. In another interview with the Harvard Gazette a few days later, Hausmann said the reconstruction effort would “involve international financial assistance, probably a significant program led by the International Monetary Fund.”

Hausmann’s involvement with Guaidó’s purported interim government suggests that he is optimistic about the collapse of Maduro’s government — a view that at this time has not yet been borne out by events.

On April 11, Hausmann spoke before an assembled group of international finance ministers brought together by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “Today, the Ministers reviewed steps taken since January to increase financial pressure on the Maduro regime and additional steps to support the democratically elected National Assembly and Interim President Guaidó,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “The Ministers then discussed plans for future economic support of Venezuela. We welcomed to this discussion Dr. Ricardo Hausmann, whom Interim President Guaidó has designated as coordinator of his economic advisors.”

Mnuchin said after the meeting that $10 billion in international financing to spark trade would be made available to Venezuela once a new government came to power.

A gas flare is seen at the Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) Jose Antonio Anzoategui industrial complex (CIJAA) in Barcelona, Anzoategui state, Venezuela, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Hunger is hastening the ruin of Venezuelan's oil industry as workers grow too weak and hungry for heavy labor. Absenteeism and mass resignations mean few are left to produce the oil that keeps the tattered economy functioning. Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A gas flare at the Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) Jose Antonio Anzoategui industrial complex in Barcelona, Anzoategui state, Venezuela, on Feb. 8, 2018.

Photo: Wil Riera/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The IDB documents provide an overview of Venezuela’s socioeconomic disaster under Maduro, describing a free fall in nearly every indicator from maternal mortality to soaring hyperinflation. The documents highlight that private investment represented a mere 0.7 percent of an already low gross domestic product in 2017 and that oil production fell by 60 percent over 12 years, reaching the lowest levels since 1949.

The oil factor has been crucial. Venezuela is home to the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, which accounts for 92 percent of the government’s revenue. In 2011, oil was trading at over $100 per barrel but crashed in recent years. “Faced with declining external liquidity, the government has applied measures to ration hard currency and cut imports since 2013,” the full slide deck reads, noting that Venezuela produces only 25 percent of the food it needs.

Through the tragedy, the IDB sees a business “environment with opportunities,” particularly “abundant natural resources (minerals and oil)”; “commitment of support from the international community”; and a “resilient private sector committed to recovery.” The bank estimates that, with an annual investment of $14 billion, oil production could surpass 3 million barrels per day by 2029. By last December, the country was extracting 1.1 million barrels per day, according to data from the Organization Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The focus on ramping up oil production runs counter to many international institutions’ warnings about climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world economy has 12 years to move rapidly in the opposite direction — cutting down its reliance on fossil fuels.

Under current law, the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA must have a majority stake in all oil projects, a hurdle to foreign investment.

The United States, for its part, has always been keenly interested in Venezuelan oil. “That’s the country we should be going to war with. They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door,” Trump reportedly said in a private conversation in 2017, according to a book by former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. U.S. oil giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips filed billions in arbitration claims when Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez expropriated their Venezuelan operations in 2007. If Maduro were to fall, it would offer an opportunity for them and others to re-enter the Venezuelan market.

The proposed infusion of cash laid out in the IDB plan would serve as a carrot to induce foreign governments and business leaders to support the U.S.-led push to overthrow Maduro.

Notably, the IDB documents obtained by The Intercept lay out what the bank calls “priority actions”: eliminating obstacles for private companies, financing international trade, and establishing new legislation to re-privatize government-owned companies.

The proposed infusion of cash laid out in the IDB plan would serve as a carrot to induce foreign governments and business leaders to support the U.S.-led push to overthrow Maduro. The plan calls for $4.5 billion in the first year to repair basic infrastructure, such as electricity, water supply, and transportation. The figures, the bank stresses, do not include “private investments in the oil and energy sectors.”

The infusion of capital would have three specific goals, the documents say: “stability,” with the normalization of food stocks and health and education services; “execution” of basic infrastructure repairs; and institutional reforms aimed at “reversing the brain drain.” Professionals have been fleeing the country in droves and a recent nationwide blackout was likely exacerbated by the exodus of expertise needed to keep basic government services running.

Although it includes $11.5 billion for humanitarian aid, such as food distribution to 25 million people and unconditional cash transfers to 17 million, the bulk of the plan is based on the well-known neoliberal prescription adopted throughout Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, with dubious results.

The subsidies and direct support — even on electricity and basic sanitation — in the IDB proposal could help a new government gain popular support and alleviate suffering during a crucial transitional period. But the subsidies and direct support funding would be cut dramatically over the course of four years.

The deepest changes in the economy would come only in the medium- and long-term. In a slide titled “What can be done in the energy sector?” the IDB proposes legislative reforms to open the electricity market to the private sector within the first 12 months following regime change, to be followed by public-private partnerships (“key to financing,” in the words of the bank), rate revisions (frozen since 2002), and only targeted subsidies.

Among the “urgent priorities for public administration,” the bank’s proposal demands steps such as “a budget law,” “recovering the capacity to generate statistics for policy formulation,” and “mechanisms for the gradual dismantling of electricity, water, gasoline, and public transportation subsidies.”

According to the IDB’s 2018 financial statement, the Venezuelan government has been considered to be in default since last May. Currently, $233 million in loans are in arrears. Since 2012, the bank has not made any new deals with Caracas and since 2017, all loan disbursements have stopped.

The post Secret IDB Proposal Would Give $48 Billion Infusion to Boost Venezuela’s Economy — But Only After Regime Change appeared first on The Intercept.

Nancy Pelosi Takes Control of U.S. Foreign Policy on Brexit With Stark Warning to U.K.

Addressing Ireland’s parliament in Dublin on Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seized control of American foreign policy in relation to Brexit, saying that Congress would block any new trade deal with the United Kingdom if Britain’s exit from the European Union threatens the peace in Northern Ireland.

After introducing the slew of Irish-American lawmakers traveling with her, Pelosi praised the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the British-governed territory of Northern Ireland in 1998 and removed the need for customs and security checkpoints along its border with Ireland.

“America will continue to stand with you in protecting the peace that the Good Friday accords have realized,” Pelosi said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We must ensure that nothing happens in the Brexit discussions that imperils the Good Friday accord, including, but not limited to, the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.”

“Let me be clear,” Pelosi added, “if the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday accords, there would be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement.”

Pelosi also recalled “the bravery of our late friend, the extraordinary Martin McGuinness.” Before renouncing violence for politics, McGuinness was a commander in the Irish Republican Army. “Martin is beloved and missed by his many friends in Congress,” Pelosi added.

Pelosi’s words on trade were a hammer blow to so-called Brexiteers in Britain, who have fed the hearts of their supporters on the fantasy that the U.K. can simply walk away from the European customs union and single market, and offset the damage to its economy by striking a free trade deal with the U.S.

The stumbling block to that plan is that the U.K. can only trade freely with the U.S. after it completely withdraws from the EU, but doing so would require customs and immigration checks between Ireland, which remains an enthusiastic member of the European bloc, and Northern Ireland, which would leave.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the peace in Northern Ireland has been the decrease in tension along that now-invisible line of partition, imposed on Ireland in 1921, when the British Empire divided the country in two. The prospect of once again fortifying it is seen by observers on all sides as a risk to the entire peace process.

To preserve the peace, EU negotiators initially proposed making Northern Ireland a special economic zone, which would remain inside Europe’s economic bloc with the rest of Ireland after Brexit. That proposal was popular with Northern Ireland’s business community — and the majority of the region’s voters, who opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum — but was ultimately rejected by the British government.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who depends on the support of a small party from Northern Ireland committed above all to maintaining the union with Great Britain, proposed instead that the whole of the U.K. would remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit if no other solution could be found to keeping the border open in Ireland. The catch, for those dreaming of a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S., is that countries that are in the European customs union are barred from striking their own independent trade deals with other nations.

That has led the most hardcore Brexit supporters in the British Parliament to propose simply leaving the EU without any special arrangement for Northern Ireland and taking U.S. President Donald Trump up on his offer of a comprehensive trade deal with the U.S.

Trade deals, however, have to be approved by Congress, which has, for decades, been packed with influential Irish Americans of both parties. Among those traveling with Pelosi to London and Dublin this week is Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement and is the current chair of the House Ways and Means committee, which oversees trade policy.

Neal is also the co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus with Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican. Another member of that caucus accompanying Pelosi, Rep. Brendan Boyle, told the Irish Times that the delegation had a heated exchange with members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, led by Conservative Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, in London on Monday.

Boyle, whose father was born in Ireland, said that the delegation attempted to provide “a reality check” to those in Rees-Mogg’s group who claimed “that the border issue is ‘concocted’” by a secret cabal of anti-Brexit politicians “in London, Brussels, Dublin, and Washington, all in some sort of grand conspiracy to force them to do something that they don’t want to do.”

“We very much attempted to disabuse them of that sort of conspiracy-type thinking,” Boyle said.

Rees-Mogg’s group continues to insist that any border checks after Brexit could simply be handled by technology. The fact that no such technology appears to exist anywhere in the world has not deterred them.

The fanciful nature of that supposed solution was underlined on Tuesday by Karen Wheeler, the British customs agency’s senior official in charge of post-Brexit border planning. “There is no technology solution which would mean that you could do customs controls and processes and not have a hard border,” Wheeler told business leaders meeting on Tuesday night at a Belfast museum dedicated to the Titanic, which was built in the city. “There is no magic solution that would make that go away. If there was, trust me, we would have found it.”

As the Washington Post reported, Pelosi also confirmed that, during her delegation’s earlier stop in London, she delivered exactly the same message to both the British prime minister and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We made it clear to all that if there were any harm to Good Friday accords — no treaty,” Pelosi said. “Don’t even think about that.”

The post Nancy Pelosi Takes Control of U.S. Foreign Policy on Brexit With Stark Warning to U.K. appeared first on The Intercept.

Secret Report Reveals Saudi Incompetence and Widespread Use of U.S. Weapons in Yemen

Since the brutal murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi last October, Congress has increasingly pressured the Trump administration to stop backing the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen and halt U.S. arms sales to Riyadh. In response, President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that if the U.S. does not sell weapons to the Saudis, they will turn to U.S. adversaries to supply their arsenals.

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters in October, referring to a collection of intent letters signed with the Saudis in the early months of his presidency. “You know what they are going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else.”

But a highly classified document produced by the French Directorate of Military Intelligence shows that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are overwhelmingly dependent on Western-produced weapon systems to wage their devastating war in Yemen. Many of the systems listed are only compatible with munitions, spare parts, and communications systems produced in NATO countries, meaning that the Saudis and UAE would have to replace large portions of their arsenals to continue with Russian or Chinese weapons.

“You can’t just swap out the missiles that are used in U.S. planes for suddenly using Chinese and Russian missiles,” said Rachel Stohl, managing director of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. “It takes decades to build your air force. It’s not something you do in one fell swoop.”

The Saudi-led bombing campaign in North Yemen primarily relies on three types of aircraft: American F-15s, British EF-2000 Typhoons, and European Tornado fighters. The Saudis fly American Apache and Black Hawk helicopters into Yemen from military bases in Saudi Arabia, as well as the French AS-532 Cougar. They have lined the Saudi-Yemen border with American Abrams and French AMX 30 tanks, reinforced by at least five types of Western-made artillery guns. And the coalition blockade, which is aimed at cutting off aid to the Houthi rebels but has also interfered with humanitarian aid shipments, relies on U.S., French, and German models of attack ships with, as well as two types of French naval helicopters.

The catalogue of weapon systems is just one revelation in the classified report, which was obtained by the French investigative news organization Disclose and is being published in full by The Intercept, Disclose, and four other French media organizations. The report also harshly criticizes Saudi military capabilities in Yemen, describing the Saudis as operating “ineffectively” and characterizing their efforts to secure their border with Yemen as “a failure.” And it suggests that U.S.  assistance with Saudi targeting in Yemen may go beyond what has previously been acknowledged.

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Since the beginning of the war, the U.S. has backed the coalition bombing campaign with weapons sales and, until recently, midair refueling support for aircraft. But the French report suggests that U.S. drones may also be helping with Saudi munitions targeting.

“If the RSAF benefits from American support, in the form of advice in the field of targeting, the practice of Close Air Support (CAS) is recent and appears poorly understood by these crews,” the document says. A footnote after the word “targeting” specifies that the possible U.S. “advice” refers to “targeting effectuated by American drones.”

Though the U.S. has denied engaging directly in hostilities against the Houthis, American MQ-9 Reaper drones – a reconnaissance drone with hunt-and-kill capabilities – have flown over Houthi occupied territory. After the Houthis shot down one of the drones in October 2017, it led to speculation that the U.S. could be using them to collect intelligence for the Saudis. Targeting being effectuated by American drones could mean that U.S. drones play a more active role in coalition targeting, like laser-sighting precision-guided munitions drops, for example.

U.S. Central Command strongly denied that U.S. drones have any operational role in coalition targeting. “The U.S. military does not provide that type of support to the Saudi-led coalition,” a CENTCOM spokesperson told The Intercept by email. “Our role with the Saudi-led coalition is advisory only. We provide intelligence and advise the coalition on best practices, air-to-ground space awareness, and the law of armed conflict.”

French-made Leclerc tanks of the Saudi-led coalition are deployed on the outskirts of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden on August 3, 2015, during a military operation against Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies. Pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition retook Yemen's biggest airbase from Iran-backed rebels in a significant new gain after their recapture of second city Aden last month. AFP PHOTO / SALEH AL-OBEIDI (Photo credit should read SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)

French-made Leclerc tanks of the Saudi-led coalition are deployed on the outskirts of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Aug. 3, 2015, during a military operation against Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies.

Photo: Saleh Al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images

Dated September 25, 2018, the report was written to brief an October meeting of the French “restricted council,” a meeting of cabinet-level officials that included French President Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, and Minister of European and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian. Its publication is likely to have significant political implications for the Macron government, which has steadfastly defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while simultaneously downplaying its own knowledge of how French weapons are used in Yemen.

In January, Parly told a host on France Inter, a major French public radio station, that she had “no knowledge as to whether [French] weapons are being used directly in this conflict,” and that “we have recently sold no weapons that could be used in the course of the Yemen conflict.” She has also told journalists that French weapons “have not been used against civilians,” and described the country’s weapons exports as “relatively modest,” adding that “we don’t sell weapons like they’re baguettes.”

But the report shows that the Saudis and Emiratis have made much wider use French military hardware than the French government has admitted. Since the war began in 2015, the coalition has used French tanks and armored vehicles to reinforce the Saudi border and defend Emirati military outposts in Yemen. The Saudis have stationed French long-range artillery guns along its border, capable of firing deep into Yemen’s northern governorates, while the Emiratis have piloted French multiengine fighter planes, equipped with French laser-targeting technology. And both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used French warships to enforce the coalition blockade against the country.

Though the report lists the French arms used by Saudi Arabia and the and UAE, it consistently notes that French intelligence has not observed the same weapons on “active fronts” with coalition ground forces, which are largely made up of Yemeni fighters loyal to former President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, as well as foreign mercenaries. One map notes the presence of French Leclerc tanks at a coalition base near the battle of Hodeidah, but the report also says that the UAE uses Leclerc tanks generally for defensive purposes.

In response to a detailed list of questions sent by Disclose, the French prime minister’s office sent a lengthy statement about France’s arms sales and its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The statement says that French arms sales are thoroughly reviewed and consistent with French and international law.

“France is a responsible and reliable partner,” the statement reads. “Offensive actions are regularly taken from Yemen against the territory of our regional partners – we have seen this with ballistic missile attacks or drones carrying explosives, for example. France maintains a constant dialogue with these partners to respond to their defense needs.”

It continues: “Moreover, to our knowledge, the French weapons available to the members of the coalition are mostly placed in a defensive position, outside Yemeni territory or on coalition holdings, but not on the front line, and we are not aware of civilian casualties resulting from their use in Yemeni theater.”

At no point does the report assess whether French arms have been used against civilians. One map, however, estimates that more than 430,000 Yemeni people live within range of French artillery guns on the Saudi-Yemen border.

The report is primarily concerned with the location of French weapons among coalition forces and says nothing about origin of Houthi weapons, some of which are known to have come from Iran. An appendix catalogues the major weapon systems used by the Saudis and Emiratis, but is not a complete list; it does not mention munitions, rifles, or several types of armored vehicles spotted by monitoring groups.

Overall, the appendix reinforces a point that observers of the war have made since the intervention began: that the military capability of the coalition has been created and sustained almost entirely by the global arms trade. In addition to the U.S., the U.K., and France, the report mentions radar and detection systems from Sweden; Austrian Camcopter drones; defensive naval rockets from South Korea, Italian warships, and even rocket launcher batteries from Brazil.

HODEIDAH, YEMEN - SEPTEMBER 21: Yemeni fighters aligned with Yemen's Saudi-led coalition-backed government, man a frontline position at Kilo 16, an area which contains the main supply route linking Hodeidah city to the rebel-held capital Sanaa, on September 21, 2018 in Hodeidah, Yemen. A coalition military campaign has moved west along Yemen's coast toward Hodeidah, where increasingly bloody battles have killed hundreds since June, putting the country's fragile food supply at risk. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

Yemeni fighters aligned with the Saudi-led coalition-backed government man a frontline position at Kilo 16, an area which contains the main supply route linking Hodeidah city to the rebel-held capital Sanaa, on Sept. 21, 2018.

Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The report describes the Saudi-led air war in Yemen as “a campaign of massive and continuous airstrikes against territories held by the Houthi rebellion.” The coalition carried out a total of 24,000 airstrikes from the beginning of the war through September 2018, according to the report — a number that falls within the range estimated by the Yemen Data Project, an independent monitoring group.

French intelligence has observed five types of piloted fighters flying over Yemen, all of which are NATO aircraft. The only non-NATO aircraft mentioned in the report is the Wing Loong, a Reaper drone knockoff produced by the Chinese. Export controls have prevented the U.S. from selling armed drones to the UAE, so Abu Dhabi turned to China to acquire them. Last year, the UAE used a Chinese drone to kill Saleh al-Samad, president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, who was widely viewed as an advocate for engaging in the U.N.-led peace process.

Despite their vast technological superiority, the Saudis in particular are failing to meet their military objectives, the report says, identifying Saudi targeting as in need of improvement. And it describes the Saudis as less effective participants in air and sea missions, noting that the Emiratis are largely responsible for the blockade. It speaks more favorably of Emirati pilots, saying that they have a “proven” ability to use guided munitions, and that they perform up to NATO standards during bombing missions.

The report opens with a discussion of the battle to retake Hodeidah, a port city on the Red Sea and the entry point for most commercial goods and humanitarian aid into Yemen. The UAE predicted a decisive victory in Hodeidah, where fighting began last summer. But the intelligence report assessed that the “taking by force of [Hodeidah] appears still out of reach” for UAE-backed militias, despite their having nearly twice as many forces on the ground as their adversaries at the time it was written. However, the report notes them slowly moving to encircle and besiege the city by trying to retake critical junctions on the road between Hodeidah and Sana’a, the capital, which the Houthis control.

Before the offensive began, humanitarian groups identified a protracted siege as a worst-case scenario because it could largely stop the flow of aid to some of the regions of the country most in need.

“Commercial and humanitarian shipments coming through Hodeidah port are a lifeline, not just for people in Hodeidah city, but for much of Yemen,” said Scott Paul, a humanitarian policy lead at Oxfam America. “Setting up a long-term front-line and siege on the perimeter of the city would have a dramatic impact on national commodities markets and endanger anyone struggling to pay for basic necessities like food, fuel, and medicine.”

Despite calls from aid groups, the U.S. did not pressure the Emiratis to back off the attack. One U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal that U.S. policy was to display a “blinking yellow light of caution,” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement asking parties to respect the “free flow of humanitarian aid” but stopping short of calling on coalition forces to back off.

ADEN, YEMEN - SEPTEMBER 23: Humedan Hussin Abdullah, sits with father at a government hospital bed on September 23, 2018 in Aden, Yemen. Abdullah is waiting in the hospital to have shrapnel removed from his leg, an injury he sustained in Hodeidah province that killed two of his family members. A coalition military campaign has moved west along Yemen's coast toward Hodeidah, where increasingly bloody battles have killed hundreds since June, putting the country's fragile food supply at risk. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

Humedan Hussin Abdullah, left, sits with his father at a government hospital on Sept. 23, 2018 in Aden, Yemen. Abdullah is waiting to have shrapnel removed from his leg, an injury he sustained in an attack in Hodeidah province that killed two of his family members.

Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Hodeidah saw some of the worst fighting of 2018, and the Norwegian Refugee Council estimated a total of 2,325 civilian casualties as a result. Aid groups also sounded the alarm about thousands of civilians who were trapped because of the fighting. An internationally brokered ceasefire in December slowed the pace of coalition airstrikes, but the ceasefire broke down in January and violence resumed.

The French intelligence report also describes a massive operation by the Saudis to secure their border with Yemen, and says that five brigades of the Saudi army and two brigades of the Saudi National Guard — about 25,000 men — are deployed along the border. The troops are reinforced by 300 tanks and a battalion of 48 French-made Caesar self-propelled Howitzer guns capable of firing dozens of miles into Yemeni territory.

The “unspoken goal” of this border operation is to penetrate Houthi-controlled areas and eventually advance on Houthi strongholds in the Yemeni governorate of Saada, the report says. But it says the Saudis’ lack of mobility leaves them highly vulnerable to guerrilla attacks and that their strikes are too imprecise be effective against the nimbler Houthi forces.

“Despite the defensive means deployed, the rebels maintain their nuisance capability: artillery salvos, missile shots, improvised explosive devices, ambushes and infiltrations into Saudi territory,” the report says. “The addition of infantry combat vehicles in empty spaces between the tanks, in the summer of 2016, did not allow for an improvement in the efficiency of Saudi tactics.”

Disclose is the first nonprofit newsroom of investigative journalism in France. Its mission is to reveal abuses and hold the powerful to account. Disclose supports strong and independent journalism that is focused on the public interest.

The post Secret Report Reveals Saudi Incompetence and Widespread Use of U.S. Weapons in Yemen appeared first on The Intercept.

A Honduran Asylum-Seeker Was Brutally Murdered After Being Deported — From Mexico

Terror raced through Teresa Gonzales as both the clarity of the message and the ambiguity of the threat hit her at once. “We have a present for you waiting outside,” read the text, which appeared on her daughter Rosa’s cellphone during Saturday worship. “Mom, they’re threatening me,” said Rosa, eyes wide.

Teresa, whose family members’ names have been changed for their protection, had gone to worship at her church in central Tegucigalpa, bringing Rosa, 16, along with her. Teresa — a short, sturdy woman with round cheeks and tightly curled, black hair — tried to attend service with her family on a daily basis. On this particularly muggy Saturday, however, her older daughter, Leti, had been busy at work when she was interrupted during prayer.

Adrenaline racing, she made a quick calculation. The gang had caught up to her — it was time to run. Gathering up Rosa, she fled straight from the crowd at the cavernous Baptist church onto a bus, and straight to a cousin’s home in a nearby town.

It wasn’t the first time Teresa had fled threats like this. The year before, Rosa had caught the attention of a local gang member. The young girl refused his advances and death threats quickly spread from Rosa to the entire family, leading them to go into hiding — hopping from one place to another, only having a moment’s peace during the short time it took for the gangs to find their location again; ultimately, they attempted to flee north toward the perceived safety of the United States. They weren’t the first to leave either. Two of her other daughters had already fled, one to Spain and the other to join her brother in the United States, where she had gained asylum.

But it was the first time that her daughter Leti had stayed behind.

Leti, 20, had always been optimistic. Even after the death threats against the family began — when her little sister refused the advances of a local gangster — she was still cracking jokes about her siblings’ clothes or mocking how they talked, just to see them laugh. No matter how tired she was, she would always come home brimming with energy to help her mom with the household chores and to take care of her 2-year-old daughter, Keyla. “She was so happy,” said Teresa. She told me that during the family’s first attempt to escape the threats, they had crossed a river on a raft. “Throw me in here!” Leti had laughed “I want to learn how to swim!”

Back in Tegucigalpa, Leti would come home from work to see her mother wracked with worry and she would insist on giving Teresa a makeover, tut-tutting any sign that she had stopped taking care of herself. “Oh, when I’m old, I’ll never let myself go like this,” she would say while carefully applying eyeliner on her mother.

Leti herself was nearly always impeccably dressed, often in a white blouse (white was her favorite color). She had her mother’s cherubic cheeks and long, brown hair that flowed over her shoulders. And although Leti had just dropped out of her final year of school to take care of her daughter, she dreamed of studying psychology at university. As a kid, however, she wanted to be a lawyer. “To defend the poor,” Teresa told me. “She loved the idea of justice.”

“She wasn’t afraid, and she was so clear-headed,” said Teresa. “She would say that we don’t owe anyone anything, so we shouldn’t be scared.”

That Saturday, on Teresa’s way to her latest hiding place, the two spoke over the phone. Attempting to reassure her terrified mother and younger sibling, Leti asked them not to leave. “Don’t worry,” she implored her mother. “That boy isn’t going to do anything to you,” she said. “You are a child of God.”

“They left [her] in the wolf’s mouth,” said a family member.

Eight days later, Teresa received a troubling phone call. Leti had gone out on a double date with a childhood friend and never returned — she had been missing since Sunday.

Leaving Rosa asleep in their hiding place, Leti’s mother rushed to Tegucigalpa. She had only just arrived in front of her first stop, the national registry, when the phone rang. It was a call from her pastor.

“Tere, we found Leti,” he said.

Teresa breathed in sharply. “How is she?”

The pastor’s response was shattering: “She’s dead.”

Live images of the crime scene had begun rolling across her neighbors’ TV screens. The two women’s bodies had been found decomposing in a stream, only recognizable by the clothing they wore.

“She was tortured,” Teresa told me.

“Asphyxia by strangulation,” read the death certificate.

Leti’s family was devastated. But her death wasn’t a surprise for those who lived in turbulent neighborhoods like hers in Tegucigalpa. Honduras is beleaguered by warring gangs and police — unofficial armies in the unofficial, indiscriminate war that plagues the Northern Triangle of Central America, catching innocent civilians in the crossfire.

It also would not have surprised Hondurans that Leti was a deportee, detained and turned away after a final, defiant attempt four months prior to escape the death threats against her family. However, Leti was deported not from the United States, but from Monterrey, Mexico. And although the Gonzales women had a valid claim for asylum under Mexican law, and despite their repeated requests to immigration agents, they were never given the chance to apply for it before being put on a bus back to Honduras and Leti’s death.

According a Migration Policy Institute analysis of both U.S. and Mexican deportations, from 2015 to 2017, Mexico had already deported roughly 409,000 Central American migrants, nearly double the number of its northern neighbor. This was no accident. Much political pressure and direct funding from the United States has focused on Mexico’s immigration enforcement. And, according to Maureen Meyer, director of Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, Mexico has accepted its role as a barrier for those looking to reach the U.S. border.

“It’s shocking,” said Meyer, “knowing … the infrastructure in Mexico, the widespread abuses that happen against migrants in Mexico, and the very weak asylum system Mexico has, that we were still asking Mexico to do what they were doing.”

The United States has domestic and international obligations not to deport asylum-seekers to their deaths, but by expecting Mexico to do this work for them, the Trump administration can turn a blind eye to what happens next. Effectively, Trump’s wall has already been built — but on Mexican soil.

“It doesn’t always seem that their main interest at all is what happens to people in Mexico, as much as making sure people don’t get to our border,” said Meyer.

Mexico’s Wall

A year before Teresa’s family was sent back to Honduras, the Trump administration centered its 2016 campaign around the promise of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and making Mexico pay for it. After Trump took office, his administration continued funding projects begun under the Obama administration such as the $3 billion Mérida Initiative, which includes four pillars, the third of which is the creation of a Mexican “21st Century Border.” According to a Congressional Research Service report, this involves “support for securing Mexico’s porous and insecure southern borders,” including “$24 million in equipment and training assistance”; in addition, the U.S. government has obligated “$75 million more in that area.” According to the same report, these appropriations enable the U.S. government to “shape Mexico’s policies.” One such policy is Mexico’s Southern Border Plan, aimed at stopping migrants as they cross into Mexican territory from Guatemala. As reported by the New York Times, under the direction of the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department additionally funneled $20 million toward deportation flights from Mexico.

Then, entire caravans of asylum-seekers began flowing once again through Mexico toward the United States. “Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted on November 25. Trump also began to pressure Mexico to become a “safe third country,” which would mean migrants would be legally obligated to request asylum in Mexico before doing so in the United States. Mexico resisted. But soon thereafter, at the end of 2018, the “remain in Mexico,” or “Migrant Protection Protocols,” plan was introduced. It would leave thousands of asylum-seekers sitting just south of the U.S. border, effectively leaving Mexico’s buckling immigration institutions to simultaneously take on both its own and the United States’s asylum-seekers.

Meanwhile, Mexico elected a new president as well. Andrés Manuel López Obrador called migration “a human right we will defend,” proposing a new politics of immigration in Mexico. Such a statement was a sharp contrast to the rhetoric and policies of the past administration — perhaps the most recent, glaring example of which was the militarized closing of the Mexico-Guatemala border, where tear gas was used as the first migrant caravans attempted to enter Mexico last year. Since taking office in 2019, López Obrador promised to clean up the practices of the National Migration Institute, known by its Spanish initials INM; invest in Central America; and bolster his asylum offices while also giving migrants the opportunity to stay and work in Mexico. But to this day, say many, he has not addressed the core of Mexico’s biggest problem — the deep rift between Mexico’s broken asylum system and the better-funded but deeply corrupt immigration forces.

Article 21 of Mexico’s refugee law states that that if a representative of the government becomes aware of a foreigner requesting asylum, they must tell the Ministry of the Interior or be sanctioned. Yet both a 2018 report from Amnesty International and the Mexican immigration authority’s own internal review in 2017 revealed many irregularities in INM’s handling of asylum-seekers. Rather than caring properly for asylum-seekers in detention, the INM has been actively seeking to forcibly deport migrants — no matter how well-founded their fear of return.

“The Mexican government is routinely failing in its obligations under international law to protect those who are in need of international protection,” said the Amnesty International report, “as well as repeatedly violating the non-refoulement principle, a binding pillar of international law that prohibits the return of people to a real risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations. These failures by the Mexican government in many cases can cost the lives of those returned to the country from which they fled.”

Mexico’s asylum and refugee agency, the Commission for Refugee Aid, known by its Spanish acronym COMAR, currently operates with minimal personnel and an even lower budget than it did under the Peña Nieto administration. In 2019, the Mexican government approved an operating budget of roughly $1 million, about $250,000 less than in 2018. Meanwhile, the INM is still receiving over $70 million in support from the Mexican government, despite also its own budget also being cut.

According to Ruth Wasem, former congressional researcher and professor of public policy at the University of Texas, Mexico has the asylum laws, but not the institutions to implement them. “We have the laws and the institutions,” she says. “But we’re lacking the political will.”

Meanwhile, lives like Leti’s may continue to fall through the cracks.


Illustration: Cornelia Li for The Intercept

Fleeing North

Four months before Leti’s death on June 4, 2017, Teresa’s family and dozens of other migrants barreled north in the back of a suffocatingly hot shipping container.

“We were in the trailer for thirty hours without food or water,” Teresa told me in October from her hiding place in Honduras. “We were stacked in between each other’s legs.”

Once the train was well inside Mexico and they had escaped the inferno of the container, Leti and her family members, two of whom were now sick and covered in mosquito bites, were put on a bus going north. The Gonzales women had nearly arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border north of Monterrey when the bus lurched to a halt.

“Immigration had stopped it, and we hadn’t even realized,” said Teresa.

Teresa was delirious from stress and dehydration. However, when INM agents stopped her bus, Leti’s mother still managed to do what she had long ago decided: turn herself into the authorities and tell them that her family was fleeing for their lives. But when she presented her family’s papers, it was Mexican immigration agents she was facing, not the U.S. Border Patrol.

Quickly, all four of them were thrown into detention in Nuevo León.

According to Gabriela Zamora, an immigration researcher at Colegio de la Frontera Norte who is a co-founder of Casa Monarca, one of Monterrey’s most prominent migrant shelters, “they would have sent them forcibly … to a migration detention center, which Monterrey still lacks.” Zamora’s best guess for what would have been a likely location is Piedras Negras, in Coahuila, at the facility where members of the 2019 Honduran caravan would later be detained in February.

“I was so nervous after everything that had happened,” said Teresa. She again told the agents of the threats, of her fear for the lives of her children. According to Mexican law, Leti’s family had the right to hire legal counsel and to medical care and medication. In 2016, the INM had also signed a non-mandatory “alternatives to detention” agreement with COMAR and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, allowing asylum-seekers to be released from detention. But the INM agent speaking to Teresa pushed back. “They told me that we were already scheduled for deportation,” she said.

Teresa was scared. “I didn’t want to go back,” she said. But Leti, as usual, was worried for her mother — and for good reason. Teresa’s mind and health were quickly deteriorating. Her blood sugar levels had risen to be dangerously high. “Mommy, we don’t have issues with anyone,” she said, panicked that they were trapped in the center without medicine.

Teresa held tight, praying for the chance to at least stay in the relative safety of Mexico, despite her deteriorating health. She took solace in the biblical story of Noah. “He saved himself and his entire family, after floating for many years,” she said. “Sometimes I think, ‘If they suffered, why can’t we?’ That story gives me a lot of strength.”

Yet within 10 days, the bus arrived to deport their family back to Honduras. “They told me that the consul hadn’t come, so we had to go back to our country,” said Teresa. The agent told her that if she were to apply for asylum, she would have to wait for three months in detention. “My sugar had risen a lot,” she said. So she acquiesced to her daughter.

“Maybe if I had just stayed, Leti would be alive,” Teresa later told me, her voice shaking.

“It’s unfortunately all too common that potential asylum-seekers apprehended in Mexico are … not informed of the right to seek protection,” said Meyer. “And I think the overall consensus is that most immigration officers … are much more focused on the apprehension, detention, deportation side of things.”

Madeleine Penman, author of the 2018 Amnesty International report titled “Overlooked, Under-Protected: Mexico’s Deadly Refoulement of Central Americans Seeking Asylum,” conducted two years of research and more than 100 interviews with migrants and immigration officials alike. “What we saw was that on a routine basis, people were being returned to Honduras and El Salvador that had a clearly well-founded fear of danger. This is a clear violation of international law and Mexican law that we saw happening on a common basis.”

The INM did not respond to requests for comment.

Since the report’s publication, Penman said she has been personally involved in stopping deportations while visiting detention centers in Mexico. “Because the systems of the INM and COMAR are so poor and coordination is so poor, it’s not clear who’s on a deportation list and who’s actually an asylum-seeker.”

Seeking Refuge

If Leti and her family had been allowed to file a claim for asylum, there was still no assurance that it would have gone smoothly. INM agents have gone beyond just dissuading migrants from claiming asylum in the detention centers. Documents obtained by The Intercept show that COMAR has received fabricated letters from the INM that claim to be from migrants they have detained. These letters, claiming the migrant is renouncing asylum claims and requesting deportation, are later faxed to COMAR offices, effectively canceling any future chance at asylum in the country.

“This kind of situation is very common,” a source inside COMAR confirmed. “They present us with a handwritten note saying, ‘Thank you COMAR but I cannot continue with the process,’” said the source, who requested anonymity due to fears of professional retaliation. “It’s not the applicant, because they fill out their form, and when comparing the handwriting, it isn’t the same, the signature is not the same, and then that same person will come back requesting to continue with their claim, saying ‘I never signed this!’”

Pamela Lopez, a former asylum adjudication officer at Mexico’s COMAR in Tapachula, agrees. “Sometimes, because of capacity, they try to get rid of people, just to not have them there,” she said. In her experience, “[The INM] has falsified applicants’ writing many times.” She, too, has had applicants return past the border to check on their application, only to find that it had been withdrawn.

The Mexican interior secretary, Olga Sánchez Cordero, has estimated that there will be 48,000 asylum applicants in 2019. And according to new data from Mexico’s office of the UNHCR, January and February of this year saw an 185 percent increase in asylum applications in Mexico compared to the same months last year. But for those who listened to López Obrador’s rhetoric during the campaign, it came as a shock when his government cut COMAR’s already-minuscule budget for 2019.

On February 28, 2019, at a forum run by the Migration Policy Institute, Sánchez Cordero said that the answer to this gap in funding will be support from the UNHCR itself. “Traditionally, our country has been a friendly, hospitable country,” she said. “And we would like to continue to be one when it comes to asylum and refugees. We can strengthen COMAR, and with the support of the UNHCR, we can start to strengthen our agency … in order to expedite the requests we’ve received.”

But the last time UNHCR lent helped COMAR with hiring, Mexico’s corruption still got in the way. When the first migrant caravan began forming in October 2018, COMAR was pressured to aggressively pursue asylum applications for the migrants in the caravan before they reached the United States. At the time, Tapachula’s COMAR outpost only had a staff of about 30. The UNHCR stepped in to help Mexico hire 22 new employees for six months to support the intake of the caravan’s migrants. According to documents obtained by The Intercept and as reported in Mexico’s newspaper La Reforma, however, at least one of the jobs was taken by Roberto José Pacheco Alegría, the husband of COMAR’s head delegate in Chiapas, who was contracted as a registry assistant and listed as working on the intake of migrants seeking asylum. According to COMAR, the delegate was verbally reprimanded by the López Obrador administration. “Whilst there should be zero tolerance with respect to nepotistic practices,” wrote spokesperson Carmen Soriano in an e-mail, “the enormous workload, the caravan, and the overall excellent and committed job on the part of the delegate and COMAR’s weak operation capacity, we considered to keep the delegate in her job provided that such practice will not be tolerated in the future.”

Others who were contracted were young and inexperienced, and immediately went to work deciding the fate of migrants asking for asylum. COMAR told The Intercept that each and every staff member was trained by UNHCR staff and knowledgeable COMAR colleagues on basic refugee protection issues. Lopez, however, differs in her account. “They were never trained,” said Lopez. “Just sit at the desk, look it over, and here are your cases.” In Mexico, asylum decisions, which can mean the difference between safety and possible harm or death, are made largely by the one asylum officer you are assigned.


Illustration: Cornelia Li for The Intercept

A Parting of the Seas

After Leti’s murder, Teresa was determined to keep her last daughter in Honduras alive. First, they moved towns again to hide from Rosa’s pursuers, spending their days inside. After being cooped up for multiple weeks, Teresa finally took pity on her daughter and let her out to find work. Quickly thereafter, the threats flooded in yet again. “They sent me pictures and videos of her,” said Teresa.

In February, Teresa’s blood sugar levels spiked to 400, but the idea of losing another daughter was unbearable. So they traveled north, where they were caught once again by the INM and detained, this time in Tenosique. There, Teresa saw a doctor, but was given no medication.

According to an email from COMAR, the INM and COMAR have recently signed a cooperation agreement aiming at ending refoulement practices. But these changes, again, didn’t reach Teresa’s family.

“Better you go back to your country and try again,” the agent told her.

After their deportation, Rosa and Teresa hid in a friend’s hallway in Tegucigalpa. A neighbor, knowing the danger they faced, mortgaged her house and lent them the money to flee again.

This time — just as the Trump administration was preparing to send back the first asylum-seekers under the “remain in Mexico” program — Teresa and Rosa reached the United States. As their raft ran aground in the Rio Grande, on the shores of McAllen, Texas, they were immediately apprehended. The first and only thing Teresa said to Border Patrol: “We want asylum.”

One week after they were released from immigration detention, Teresa asked me to join her at church. “Miracles happen here!” proclaimed a giant LED sign on the wall. Red and blue spotlights crisscrossed the huge megachurch, and Teresa swayed to the Christian rock band playing at the pulpit. She hugged her granddaughter and Rosa, her feet firmly together and her hands raised up at the elbows. “Eternal, limitless. Borderless, I am,” sang the family, hundreds of voices in unison. Tears rolled town Teresa’s cheeks, and she frantically tried to fix her mascara, trading quick glances with her daughter.

At church now, she told me, Teresa asks God to give her strength —“that he protects my children.”

After leaving all their worldly possessions behind in Tegucigalpa and changing phones numerous times to shake their pursuers, Teresa and her family have lost most physical reminders of Leti. When she can bear it, Teresa returns to the memories that are still inscribed in her social media accounts. They are mostly family memories: trips to the river with Keyla, birthday parties. These moments now haunt Teresa, who still can barely speak of her lost daughter.

Later that afternoon, Teresa leaned back on her family’s bed in the United States, and I asked what her hopes are now. She looked out the window, her black curls falling around her face, her lips pressed together. “I often think about the Red Sea,” said Teresa, surrounded by the six family members that share her small studio apartment. “The U.S. is parting the seas so we can pass, giving us an opportunity.”

The family is now in deportation proceedings, with a court date set for March 2020. Without a way to legally work, they are uncertain how they will afford a lawyer or apply for asylum. But they are hopeful.

After their arrival, Rosa was busy with the basics of registering for high school: vaccinations, setting up English immersion classes. She told her mother, who is illiterate, that she wants to study and succeed for Leti and for her niece. “She told me, Keyla no longer has her mother, but I can give her a better life.”

This story was produced in partnership with the Global Migration Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The post A Honduran Asylum-Seeker Was Brutally Murdered After Being Deported — From Mexico appeared first on The Intercept.

Sweden Considers Request to Reopen Rape Investigation of Julian Assange

As he awaits sentencing in England for breaching bail, and fights possible extradition to the United States, Julian Assange might soon face legal jeopardy in a third country, Sweden, where a woman who says the WikiLeaks founder raped her in 2010 has asked prosecutors to reopen their investigation.

Some legal observers think that the complex interaction of three separate justice systems could now work to Assange’s benefit, by making his extradition to the U.S. less likely.

Assange initially took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy in 2012, after England’s High Court ruled against his final appeal to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual molestation and rape leveled against him by two women.

In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors announced that they were closing their investigation into the sexual assault allegations in light of the asylum granted to Assange by Ecuador, and the fact that the statute of limitations on the claims made by one of the women had elapsed.

When Ecuador rescinded Assange’s asylum on Thursday, he was arrested for violating bail in 2012 and for allegedly conspiring with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, as she leaked classified material to WikiLeaks in 2010.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for Assange’s unidentified Swedish accuser, wrote on Twitter that her client still wanted him to stand trial in Sweden.

The woman’s complaint, Swedish prosecutors told England’s High Court in 2011, was that in her home, “Assange deliberately consummated sexual intercourse with her by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep, was in a helpless state.”

“It is an aggravating circumstance,” the prosecutors added, “that Assange, who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used, still consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her. The sexual act was designed to violate the injured party’s sexual integrity.”

Assange’s arrest on Thursday seemed to take Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren, by surprise, and she said in statement that it was “news to us too.”

Later in the day, after the complainant’s lawyer went public with her desire for the case to be reopened, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced that “the counsel for the injured party has requested the Swedish preliminary investigation concerning rape be resumed.”

Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecution, Eva-Marie Persson, is currently conducting a review of the case, according to a spokesperson for her office. Persson stressed in a written statement that the investigation “has not yet been resumed” and offered no timetable for when the decision would be made.

But prosecution authority explained that the investigation could be reopened, now that Assange’s extradition to Sweden is possible, given that the statute of limitations for the suspected crime of rape is 10 years, and the offense was allegedly committed in mid-August 2010.

Assange immediately denied the allegation, and one of his lawyers, Mark Stephens, even claimed at the time that Sweden intended to stage a “show trial” as part of a plot to take revenge on the WikiLeaks founder for publishing documents that exposed wrongdoing by American soldiers and officials. “We saw the smirking American politicians yesterday,” Stephens said after Assange was taken into custody in 2010. “The honey-trap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we’ve seen so far, you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.”

David Allen Green, a contributing editor to the Financial Times on law and policy, who has written extensively about Assange’s failed legal battle against extradition to Sweden, suggested on Friday that if Sweden does renew its extradition request, it could make Assange’s extradition to the United States less likely.

Any request from Sweden, on behalf of a complainant who says that she has been waiting nine years for justice to be served, would probably be granted priority by an English court over the more recent request from the U.S., which wants Assange to stand trial for allegedly trying (and apparently failing) to help Manning crack a password to access classified documents.

If U.S. prosecutors tried to seek extradition following any legal proceedings in Sweden, Green observed, that could require the consent of courts in both Sweden and England, and could be challenged by Assange’s lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights. “Therefore any decision to extradite Assange onward to the United States would be subject to legal challenges in both Sweden and England, as well as at Strasbourg,” where the European Court of Human Rights sits.

Even if Sweden does not renew its investigation, Assange’s extradition to the U.S. is likely to be challenged by his lawyers with reference to Article 4 of the extradition treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom signed in 2003, which states that “extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”

And extradition between the two countries is far from automatic. On at least nine occasions since the treaty was signed, the U.K. has declined extradition requests from the U.S. In 2012, then-Home Secretary Theresa May decided not to extradite Gary McKinnon, a British hacker with Asperger’s syndrome who admitted accessing U.S. government computers but claimed he was just looking for evidence of UFOs.

Last year, another alleged hacker with Asperger’s, Lauri Love, won a High Court appeal against his extradition to the U.S. Love, who allegedly stole troves of data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Pentagon, NASA and the FBI, convinced judges that there was a high risk that he would kill himself if sent to an American prison.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s current lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the announcement by Swedish prosecutors that they were considering the request to reopen their investigation.

The woman who brought that complaint has not been identified, but the second woman, whose case has now been dropped, is Anna Ardin. She told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in 2010 that the complaints were “not orchestrated by the Pentagon” but the result of actions by “a man who has a twisted attitude toward women and a problem taking no for an answer.”

On Thursday, she wrote on Twitter that she never wanted him to be extradited to the United States.

The post Sweden Considers Request to Reopen Rape Investigation of Julian Assange appeared first on The Intercept.

Julian Assange Arrested in London After Ecuador Withdraws Asylum

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, was arrested on Thursday inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London after the Latin American nation withdrew his diplomatic asylum. London’s Metropolitan Police service said in a statement its officers were “invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”

Video of Assange being dragged from the embassy was captured on a live stream set up by Ruptly, a Russian government news agency.

Assange’s lawyer, Jen Robinson, tweeted that he had has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions in the U.K., but also in relation to a U.S. extradition request.

Assange, 47, will be held at a central London police station until an appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court can be arranged, the police said. The force explained that it was acting on a warrant issued by that court after Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012, violating bail conditions by not attending a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations.

In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors announced they were closing their investigation into the sexual assault allegations in light of Assange’s asylum and the time that had elapsed.

Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, released a video statement explaining his decision to withdraw the diplomatic asylum granted to Assange by his predecessor, accusing Assange of “discourteous and aggressive behavior,” “hostile and threatening declarations against Ecuador and especially the transgression of international treaties.”

“He particularly violated the norm or not intervening in the internal affairs of other states,” Moreno added.

Moreno also said that British authorities had offered him a guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could be tortured or face the death penalty. That seemed like a clear reference to the United States, where, the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia accidentally revealed in November that it had filed a secret indictment charging Assange with crimes related to Wikileaks disclosures.

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of leaking military and diplomatic files to Wikileaks before having her sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama, is currently in jail for refusing to testify about her decision in 2010.

Wikileaks has claimed in recent weeks that Ecuador had turned against Assange because of what Moreno took to be Assange’s part in the alleged hacking of his own phone.

Last week, after private photographs of Moreno and his family were posted online, the president told the Ecuadorean Radio Broadcasters’ Association that Assange did not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones” while enjoying diplomatic asylum.

Although Moreno did not directly connect Assange to that leak, Reuters reported that his government said it believed the photos were shared by WikiLeaks.

Assange’s arrest was condemned by many supporters, including Edward Snowden, who reminded journalists that the United Nations had “formally ruled his detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights.”

Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum, denounced the decision.

The post Julian Assange Arrested in London After Ecuador Withdraws Asylum appeared first on The Intercept.

Netanyahu Set for Victory as Israelis Vote for Never-Ending Military Rule of Palestinians

Voters in Israel delivered an overwhelming endorsement of the status quo by re-electing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has promised to simply ignore waning international pressure to end Israeli military rule over a captive population of millions of Palestinians living, without civil rights, in the territories it seized in 1967.

With more than 97 percent of the vote counted for Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu was in a commanding position to assemble a coalition of ethnic nationalist parties in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, including openly racist extremists who want to strip non-Jews of their citizenship and expel Palestinians from the occupied territories.

As soon as exit polls suggested that the prime minister’s Likud party was on course to be one of the two largest parties in the Knesset, allowing Netanyahu to stay in office, he led a crowd of supporters waving Likud posters and Donald Trump signs in jeering the “biased media.”

Signs of how own fans among the supporters of his ally Netanyahu did not escape Trump’s notice.

On the eve of the election, Netanyahu had appealed to ultranationalist voters by promising to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, where more than 400,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements that are illegal under international law, and maintain Israel’s military control over even those Palestinian population centers with limited self-government.

The prime minister’s pledge seemed to make formal what has been clear for the past decade of his rule: that Israel has no intention of ever honoring its commitments under the Oslo Peace Accords to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state, and plans instead to continue ruling over a de facto single state in which nearly half of the population is denied citizenship or the right to vote based on ethnicity.

The scale of his victory can be judged by the fact that the party that posed the largest threat to his leadership was led by former generals who boasted of their role in pummeling Gaza and offered no plan to end the occupation.

As the Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf explained last week on the +972 Magazine podcast, both Netanyahu’s Likud party, and its main rival, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, the former army chief of staff, offered Jewish Israelis the choice to vote for the status quo, in which they could continue to enjoy the benefits of security ensured by a powerful military, in return for none of the sacrifices required to end the occupation and make peace.

“If you look at the occupation, and the sort of solutions that are being offered to Israelis, the most obvious one is the two-state solution and the least popular one is the one-state solution,” Sheizaf said. “Usually we treat them as a binary choice: if you don’t do the two-state solution, you’ll end up with the one-state solution.”

Since the population of Arabs and Jews is nearly equal in the entire territory now under Israel’s control, achieving peace through a single, binational state in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy equal civil and political rights would ensure democracy but end the century-old Zionist project of creating a Jewish state which would be, as Netanyahu has said recently, primarily for Jewish citizens and no one else.

“But I think that in the real framing, and this is where political decisions are made, both by the voters and by the leaders, there’s a third choice, of maintaining things as they are,” Sheizaf said, “let’s call it the status quo.”

“Israelis, when they look at the two-state solution in the style that was being promoted in the 90s,” Sheizaf continued, “it meant for Israelis withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, obviously, the dismantling of all the settlements that are now in the West Bank — a huge internal battle, significant financial costs and, we must also admit, significant military risk because nobody can predict what will happen 5, 10, 15 years from the day that peace is agreed, or the day that Israel leaves the West Bank.”

“The one-state solution, from an Israeli perspective, is even worse because you’re talking about annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and, in theory, full voting rights to all the population between the Jordan River and the sea,” Sheizaf said. “Then, at best, you will look at a different political system which will be in a sort of a draw; at worst, from an Israeli perspective, it will be dominated by Palestinians.”

“Netanyahu and the right have been saying to Israelis,” he added, “not only that the status quo is significantly better than the one-state or two-state solution, but some of the things that people said you can only achieve through a peace deal, can be achieved within the status quo.”

Among the benefits Israel has managed to accrue through sheer power politics, are close and increasingly less secret relations with Saudi Arabia and joint military operations with Egypt in the Sinai peninsula.

Despite some notable successes, and hysteria stoked by Israel’s government, the Palestinian-led effort to isolate Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has so far failed to make it a pariah state equivalent to apartheid-era South Africa. On the eve of Israel’s election, the organizers of the government-backed Eurovision song contest, scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv in May, announced that their headline act would be Madonna.

“So, you take all this together,” Sheizaf concluded, “an Israeli would say, ‘There is an option where I don’t pay anything and I’m getting some of the benefits of the peace process. And if you understand that, you realize why the status quo, from an Israeli perspective, is far superior to the two other options.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s latest victory, and the threat of annexation, Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, said that it was clear that Israelis had chosen a path away from the two-state solution.

The increasingly naked disregard for the rights of non-Jews ruled by Israel was made plain on election day by Netanyahu’s Likud party, which dispatched volunteers to smuggle hidden cameras in to 1,200 polling places used by Arab citizens.

The morning after the election, Palestinians in the West Bank village of Ein Yabroud, who are deprived on the right to vote, unlike their neighbors in the Israeli settlement of Ofra, awoke to find triumphalist Israeli graffiti sprayed on their property. Car tires were slashed and doors and walls were covered in Star of David symbols and the word Hebrew word for “revenge.”

The extent to which the disparity between the rights of Palestinians living under military occupation in Ein Yabroud and those enjoyed by their Jewish neighbors in Ofra is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that homes in that settlement, built on stolen Palestinian land and in contravention to international law, are currently listed for rent on Airbnb.

In another sign of how little the ongoing occupation costs Israelis, the company announced on Tuesday that it had decided to reverse a decision announced in November to remove about 200 listings in West Bank settlements following pressure from BDS activists. “Airbnb will not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform,” the company wrote. “Any profits generated for Airbnb by any Airbnb host activity in the entire West Bank will be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.”

Airbnb’s reversal, which was denounced as “reprehensible and cowardly” by Amnesty International, came after a court settlement with dual Israeli-U.S. citizen settlers whose listings were to be removed and potential renters who filed suit in an American court.

The Center for Constitutional Rights recently filed a counterclaim in federal court accusing the settlers of violating the Fair Housing Act. One of the Palestinian-American plaintiffs in that suit, Ziad Alwan, was born in Ein Yabroud after it was occupied and now lives in Chicago.

As Mairav Zonszein reported in The Nation last month, Alwan “cannot rent the Ofra property because he is Palestinian; he cannot set foot in it, even though his family is the rightful owner of the farmland that settlers and Airbnb are now profiting from. He holds the title deed for the land, which is listed under his father’s name and registered by the Israel Land Registry.

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, observed in a New York Times Op-Ed this week that election days in the West Bank offer the clearest illustration of Israel’s undemocratic rule, as Israelis “cast their votes for a Parliament that rules both Israeli citizens and millions of Palestinian subjects denied that same right.”

“Israeli settlers in the West Bank don’t even need to drive to a polling station inside Israel to vote on their Palestinian neighbors’ fate,” El-Ad wrote. “Even settlers in the heart of Hebron can vote right there, with 285 registered voters (out of a total population of about 1,000 settlers), surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinian nonvoters. Or as Israel calls it, ‘democracy.’”

The post Netanyahu Set for Victory as Israelis Vote for Never-Ending Military Rule of Palestinians appeared first on The Intercept.

Stoning Gay People to Death in Brunei Is an Outrage and Not My Definition of Islam

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah proceeds to inspect honor guards during a welcome ceremony at the Istana on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah proceeds to inspect honor guards during a welcome ceremony at The Istana in Singapore on July 5, 2017.

Photo: Wong Maye-E/AP

I was 13 years old when I first heard of the Sultan of Brunei. The absolute ruler of a tiny, oil-rich kingdom in Southeast Asia, Hassanal Bolkiah was the subject of a much-discussed TV documentary by the British filmmaker Alan Whicker in 1992. As a young teenager, sitting in front of the television, I was in awe of this Muslim king. He was the richest man in the world! He earned a quarter of a million pounds every hour! He owned more than 150 cars!

Today, however, I’m filled not with awe but with disgust. Brunei has become the first country in Southeast Asia to impose capital punishment for “crimes” such as adultery and gay sex.

LGBTQ Bruneians, who are in particular danger, have been fleeing the kingdom. Can you blame them? According to the Associated Press, “Homosexuality was already punishable in Brunei by a jail term of up to 10 years. … But under the new laws, those found guilty of gay sex can be stoned to death or whipped. Adulterers risk death by stoning too, while thieves face amputation of a right hand on their first offense and a left foot on their second. The laws also apply to children and foreigners, even if they are not Muslim.”

This is barbarism, plain and simple. How can a punishment rightly described as “cruel and inhuman” (U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet), “vicious” (Amnesty International), and “medieval” (Human Rights Watch) be considered appropriate or acceptable in the 21st century? Has the Sultan — who isn’t exactly a paragon of moral rectitude himself — taken leave of his senses?

Then again, shamefully, Brunei isn’t alone. A recent study by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that there are already six countries that explicitly make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. And, as a Muslim, it is a source of deep frustration for me that 5 out of the 6 are Muslim-majority countries — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia — and in the sixth, Nigeria, the death penalty is imposed only in Muslim-majority or Muslim-plurality states. According to ILGA, there are also 70 member states of the United Nations that “criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts” — and, again, Muslim-majority countries are disproportionately represented on that list. In fact, homosexuality is illegal in the vast majority of the world’s Muslim-majority nations, from Senegal in West Africa to Malaysia in Southeast Asia to Qatar in the Middle East. (Full disclosure: I host two shows on Al Jazeera English, which is funded by the government of Qatar. According to the Qatari penal code, gay sex can result in a prison sentence.)

It is easy to blame all of this rampant, state-sponsored homophobia in the Muslim-majority world solely on Islam. Indeed, the prominent British atheist, scientist, and Islamophobe, Richard Dawkins, cited Brunei’s barbaric new law in order to compare my faith to cancer.

Yet the truth is that nowhere in the Quran is a legal punishment prescribed for the sin, or the “crime,” of homosexuality. There are no authentic reports in any of the Muslim books of history of the Prophet Muhammad punishing anyone for same-sex acts. In fact, even many Muslims today are unaware that the Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality in 1858. Got that? One hundred and nine years before the U.K. and 145 years before the United States, the biggest Muslim-ruled empire on earth decreed that there should be no penalty for being gay.

To be clear: The consensus position among mainstream Islamic scholars, whether Sunni or Shia, is that same-sex relations, like extramarital or premarital relations, are a sin. There is, however, no consensus among scholars about any earthly punishment for committing this sin. Don’t take my word for it — ask Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, described as “arguably the West’s most influential Islamic scholar.”

To point the finger only at Islam, or even at Islamists, doesn’t explain why Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power after toppling the Muslim Brotherhood and is now a hero to Ivanka Trump, has violently cracked down on LGBTQ communities; or why Muslim men are fleeing a “gay purge” in secular Chechnya.

Homophobia is not the monopoly of any one country, culture, or religion. Catholic-majority Brazil is believed to have the highest LGBTQ murder rate in the world. Orthodox-majority Russia passed a “gay propaganda law” in 2013. Here in the United States, anti-gay hate crimes are on the rise and, according to Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Federation, the Trump administration has “done so many things that are as anti-LGBTQ as you could possibly be.” The president has even joked that his vice president wants to “hang” all gay people. (As my friend Owen Jones, perhaps Britain’s best-known progressive and gay commentator, has observed, “If you only talk about LGBTQ rights to bash Muslims, you don’t care about LGBTQ rights.”)

For those of us who are Muslims, however, there is no point denying that queer people do face particular abuse, discrimination, demonization, and violence across the Muslim-majority world. It is long past time for us to engage in a frank discussion about our attitudes toward gay people in our midst. We have to find a way to try and reconcile our beliefs — and Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, has traditionally seen homosexuality as a sin — with the reality of life in modern, pluralistic, secular societies in which gay people cannot be wished away or banished from sight. Personally, as a practicing Muslim, I have had to think long and hard about this over the years, and I have also written before about my own homophobia when I was younger and the lack of compassion and understanding displayed by some in my own community.

Muslims, though, are not a monolith. In the United States, the majority (51 percent) of Muslims now support a legal right for gay couples to marry, compared to a majority (58 percent) of white evangelical Christians who remain opposed. There are a number of prominent Muslim-majority countries, from Turkey and Indonesia to Bosnia and Kosovo, where it isn’t a crime to be gay (though, of course, homophobic prejudice and discrimination still abounds).

And, in an interview on the Deconstructed podcast in February, the soon-to-be prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, told me that he plans to repeal his country’s anti-gay laws. Ibrahim, one of the most respected voices in the Muslim-majority world who was himself imprisoned on trumped-up charges of sodomy, said the laws are “archaic,” a hangover from the days of British colonialism, and “nothing to do with Islam or Christianity.” For Ibrahim, “you cannot condemn people for their sexual orientation” because “your sexual orientation is your business.” However, he added, “it will take time” for attitudes to “evolve.”

Here’s the problem though: Gay Bruneians no longer have time on their side. Their Muslim-majority neighbors have stayed silent while Brunei’s Western allies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have issued the most tepid and halfhearted of condemnations. It has been left to Hollywood celebrities to publish scathing op-eds and launch a loud boycott campaign. So it’s time for the rest of us — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — to make some noise too, on behalf of members of a persecuted minority group who are in genuine fear for their lives.

Remember, this isn’t a debate about Islamic theology or ethics. This isn’t about changing sincerely held religious beliefs. We should all, of course, be free to believe what we want, but while I can’t and don’t speak for other Muslims, I’ll tell you this for free: Stoning innocent people to death is not my definition of Islam.

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Cameras Linked to Chinese Government Stir Alarm in U.K. Parliament

It is a Chinese state-owned company that is implicated in disturbing human rights violations. But that has not stopped Hikvision from gaining a major foothold in the United Kingdom. Through a network of corporate partners, the Hangzhou-based security firm has supplied its surveillance cameras for use on the British parliamentary estate, as well as to police, hospitals, schools, and universities throughout the country, according to sources and procurement records.

Hikvision, whose technology the U.S. government recently banned federal agencies from purchasing, is generating millions of dollars in annual revenue selling its technology to British companies and organizations. At the same time, it has been helping to establish an oppressive surveillance state in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Uighur ethnic minorities have been held in secret internment camps.

British politicians are raising concerns about the technology — and are calling for an embargo on further purchases of it — on the grounds that Hikvision is complicit in human rights abuses and also represents a national security risk, as it is feared that Chinese intelligence agencies could potentially tap into camera feeds in sensitive locations. Some of the company’s cameras record audio and are connected to the internet, meaning that they can be monitored from anywhere in the world.

In January, the cameras were scheduled to be installed inside London’s Portcullis House, according to Adm. Lord Alan West, a member of the U.K. Parliament’s second chamber, the House of Lords. Portcullis House is an office building in Westminster used by more than 200 members of Parliament and 400 of their staff to carry out their daily work, which routinely involves discussion of confidential national security, economic, and foreign policy issues.

West told The Intercept that someone who was “concerned that this was happening” tipped him off about a contract that would equip the building with Hikvision surveillance equipment. He said he subsequently complained about the matter to authorities within the parliamentary estate.

“It seems to me to be extremely worrying — it’s rather like being able to get a Mata Hari into each office,” he said, referring to the Dutch exotic dancer who was accused of spying for Germany during World War I. “Are we sure we are happy with Chinese CCTV in members of Parliament’s offices, listening to what they say to their constituents, listening to what ministers say, filming the documents on their desks?”

A Parliament spokesperson denied the existence of a contract involving Hikvision and said that there was no plan to “install any additional cameras at Portcullis House this year.”

A source familiar with security on parts of the parliamentary estate, which, in addition to Portcullis House, consists of the Palace of Westminster, the Norman Shaw buildings, and Big Ben, told The Intercept that Hikvision’s equipment had “absolutely” been used there in the past. The source said they could not confirm whether any Hikvision cameras were currently active, as there are hundreds of cameras fitted both in and around all parliamentary and government buildings in the area.

“It’s rather like being able to get a Mata Hari into each office.”

It has previously been estimated that, throughout the U.K., there are more than 1.2 million Hikvision cameras. Procurement records and government contracts reviewed by The Intercept show that the company — which was 40% owned by China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime, as of June 2018 — has supplied its surveillance systems to a wide range of organizations and companies across the country.

The cameras have been installed widely in London, in boroughs including Hackney, Kensington, Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham. They have been purchased by local government authorities in Guildford, South Kesteven, Thurrock, Stockton, North Tyneside, Aberdeenshire, Falkirk, West Suffolk, and Kent.

In Wales last year, police began placing the Chinese cameras in 17 towns. In Northern Ireland, Hikvision’s surveillance equipment has been installed inside more than 300 buses. The cameras have been fitted inside hospitals in Hampshire, Lancashire, Kent, Northampton, Cornwall, Cumbria, and Yorkshire. They have been set up at schools in Surrey, Devon, Birmingham, and at a university in Plymouth. The cameras have also been deployed commercially: in the Southgate shopping center in Bath, the Gallions Reach shopping park in London, and at Tesco supermarkets and Burger King fast food restaurants.

Hikvision’s marketing materials say that its cameras can be used with facial recognition software and linked to a centralized database of photographs. The technology can distinguish between known faces and strangers, and trigger alerts when an unknown person enters a building or office, the company claims. It says its corporate mission is to “work together to enhance safety and advance sustainable development around the world.”

In China, Hikvision has been helping the government implement a nationwide surveillance network named Skynet. In recent years, the effort has aggressively focused on the Xinjiang region, where the Communist Party is implementing a crackdown on ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority, under the pretext of countering terrorism.

In Xinjiang, an estimated 1 million Uighurs — including children, pregnant women, the elderly, and disabled people — have been held in internment camps. Within these secretive facilities, Uighurs are forced to undergo a “re-education” process that includes mandatory recitals of Communist Party political songs and speeches. Those who resist are said to face punishments, such as beatings and solitary confinement.

According to Human Rights Watch, Chinese authorities are “committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades.” The group said in a 2018 report that one of the most disturbing aspects of the repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang involves mass surveillance systems.

“Xinjiang authorities conduct compulsory mass collection of biometric data, such as voice samples and DNA, and use artificial intelligence and big data to identify, profile, and track everyone in Xinjiang,” the report said. “The authorities have envisioned these systems as a series of ‘filters,’ picking out people with certain behavior or characteristics that they believe indicate a threat to the Communist Party’s rule.”

Since at least 2010, Hikvision has been helping to establish a massive network of cameras in Xinjiang that police are using to spy on ethnic minorities. In 2013, Hikvision’s public security manager, Qian Hao, boasted that the company’s technology had enabled security forces to track and profile people. “We can help preserve stability by seeing which family someone comes from, then persuading their relatives to stop them from harmful behavior, like with Falun Gong,” a banned spiritual group, Qian said.

“We must be vigilant of any risk that Hikvision or any company may pose to U.K. national security.”

As China has ramped up its crackdown in Xinjiang, Hikvision has reaped the financial rewards.

The company is reported to have have a stake in more than $1 billion in business in the region, including five contracts in 2017 alone that were worth about $277 million. Among those contracts were deals to provide surveillance systems to state agencies for use in the internment camps, as well as on Xinjiang’s streets and inside its mosques, schools, and offices.

Hikvision declined to comment for this story. The company has in the past tried to downplay its connection to the Chinese regime, portraying itself as an independent corporation. However, the company’s own financial records disclose that its controlling shareholder is a Chinese government-owned entity called the China Electronics Technology HIK Group.

In September 2018, Chinese government official Weng Jieming declared that Communist Party leadership “is integrated into the corporate governance structure” at Hikvision, according to a government press release translated by IPVM, a video surveillance trade publication. Weng praised the company, saying that it had “resolutely implemented the spirit of the important instructions” from the country’s president, Xi Jinping.

In the U.K., Hikvision does not supply its cameras directly to its customers; instead, it sells the equipment through a network of wholesalers and subcontractors. The company’s latest U.K. accounts, from 2017, show a gross annual profit of $2.62 million and a turnover of $6.55 million. Its total global sales revenue for the same year totaled $6.65 billion, according to its promotional materials.

Hikvision has three offices across the U.K. and last year announced a plan to launch a new research and development hub within its British headquarters, near London’s Heathrow airport. The research and development division is headed by Pu Shiliang, who is based in China, where he has also reportedly worked for the government’s Ministry of Public Security, a feared agency known for targeting activists and political opponents.

The U.K. is an attractive prospect for any company working in the security industry. It is one of the most surveilled countries in the world, with up to an estimated 6 million cameras, one for every 11 people, throughout its towns and cities. Hikvision has managed to tap into the lucrative British market by undercutting its European competitors by a substantial margin. According to government procurement documents, a basic Hikvision surveillance system could be purchased for £1,000 ($1,310). In contrast, the cost was £3,000 ($3,930) for a system of similar specification made by Germany’s Bosch.

The British government has expressed concerns about the Chinese government’s involvement in the country’s critical infrastructure. In December, defense secretary Gavin Williamson said he would be looking “very closely” at the role of Chinese firm Huawei in upgrading the U.K.’s mobile networks from 4G to 5G. “We’ve got to recognize the fact … that the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way,” he said. However, Hikvision’s growing presence in the U.K. has not attracted the same level of scrutiny.

In the U.S., Hikvision has not had such an easy ride. In August of last year, an amendment was added to the National Defense Authorization Act that banned the U.S. military and government from purchasing Hikvision technology. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who authored the amendment, stated that the Chinese government was trying to “target the United States” by expanding the role of Chinese companies in the U.S. domestic communications and public safety sectors. “Video surveillance and security equipment sold by Chinese companies exposes the U.S. government to significant vulnerabilities,” she said, “and my amendment will ensure that China cannot create a video surveillance network within federal agencies.” The ban was eventually signed into U.S. law.

Karen Lee, a member of Parliament for the U.K.’s Labour Party, told The Intercept that she was urging the British government to consider boycotting Hikvision products, especially for use in publicly owned buildings. “At a time when digital interference in foreign political processes is increasingly being used to destabilize other countries, we must be vigilant of any risk that Hikvision or any company may pose to U.K. national security,” Lee said.

More evidence is needed to prove that Hikvision is implicated in Chinese government espionage, Lee added. “Regardless, it is unacceptable that a company which has been instrumental in human rights abuses is providing equipment to publicly owned U.K. agencies,” she said. “Divestment has a proud history at the center of civil rights campaigns, from apartheid South Africa to the American civil rights movement. The U.K. must send a clear message that we will do no business with any company that facilitates mass human rights abuse and ethnic repression.”

The post Cameras Linked to Chinese Government Stir Alarm in U.K. Parliament appeared first on The Intercept.

On the Eve of Israel’s Election, Netanyahu Thanks Trump for Sanctioning Iran at His Request

On the eve of Israel’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took credit for President Donald Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by designating it a foreign terrorist organization.

“Thank you, my dear friend, President Donald Trump,” Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew, “for answering another one of my important requests.”

As the Telegraph correspondent Raf Sanchez noted, Netanyahu’s choice of words seemed to imply that Trump’s earlier decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Syrian territory Israel seized by force in 1967, was also a gift given at the request of the embattled Israeli prime minister.

One day before Israelis go to the polls, Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops, since he faces both an immediate electoral challenge from Israel’s former military Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, and the prospect of a post-election indictment on corruption charges.

Joe Dyke, an Agence France-Presse correspondent, pointed out that Netanyahu omitted the claim that Trump’s move was made at his request in a subsequent tweet in English. That left the prime minister open to the charge often leveled at Palestinian leaders by Israelis, that they placate the international community in English and then say something quite different for domestic consumption in their native tongue.

Trump is popular with Israel’s right-leaning, nationalist electorate for a string of concessions to Israeli claims, including the de facto recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights. Netanyahu’s warm relations with the American president have featured heavily in his re-election campaign.

On Sunday, Netanyahu also shared a segment from Fox News in which Sean Hannity called Gantz “his crazy opponent,” for suggesting that Trump was meddling in Israel’s election.

Soon after Trump’s decision to sanction the Revolutionary Guard Corps was announced, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted that Trump’s action was the result of lobbying by “Netanyahu Firsters,” including John Bolton, who made paid speeches advocating regime change in Iran before he became the national security adviser, and Sheldon Adelson, a financial supporter of both the American president and the Israeli prime minister who once suggested a nuclear strike on Iran would be the best way to start negotiations.

It was, Zarif added, another “misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu.”

After Netanyahu’s Hebrew-language tweet taking credit for the decision, Zarif tweeted a screenshot of a report from the Israeli press with the letters “Q.E.D.” a Latin phrase used at the end of a mathematical proof, indicating that the truth of a proposition has been demonstrated.

Senior Pentagon and C.I.A. officials opposed Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on the military unit and affiliated companies and individuals, arguing that it would “allow hard-line Iranian officials to justify deadly operations against Americans overseas,” The New York Times reported. Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, offered this as proof that Netanyahu now seems to have more sway over the president’s decisions than his own military and intelligence officials.

Maryam Rajavi, the leader of an Iranian exile group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen — which successfully lobbied to be removed from the official State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations with the help of paid supporters like Bolton — also took credit for the new sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran retaliated, as the BBC Persian correspondent Bahman Kalbasi noted, by designating The United States Central Command a terrorist organization and naming the U.S. government a supporter of terrorism.

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