Lightning Strikes Twice? Malaysia Airline Tragedies

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:10 p.m. DST, 17 July 2014

Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 Fatal Crash - 07.17.14, Painting by Richard Lee

DONETSK, Ukraine -- First, we preface this article with our sympathies for the families and friends of the 295 people who died when a Malaysian Airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine earlier today.

It is a horrific tragedy, in a world which has become increasingly violent, whether by design or happenstance, and for which there is no explanation.

The tragedy of Flight MH17 could also be considered a "smoking gun" for a conspiracy theorist.  By definition a theory is based upon postulation not fact, and to postulate that a conspiracy exists without evidence is the very definition of an infinite loop.

Though not a mathematician, it seems statistically improbable that two Malaysia Airlines' planes would crash, killing 239 and 295 people respectively.  Flight 370 was lost in the Indian Ocean and the reason for its crash has yet to be determined.

According to M.I.T's Sloan School Statistician Arnold Barnett, "if you take one flight a day, you would on average need to fly every day for 55,000 years before being involved in a fatal crash. (Source: ABC)

However, it would seem that the caveat to this postulate is that it only applies if you are not on a flight originating from or flying to Kuala Lumpur.  Both planes disappeared while in a cruising altitude of 10,000 metres (33,000 feet) and otherwise showing no signs of distress.

Flight 370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board after it took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. Flight MH17 originated from Amsterdam bound for Kuala Lumpur and is reported to have been brought down by a Buk anti-aircraft system.  The possible culprits in this latest Malaysian Airline disaster were quickly identified as a pro-Russian separatists group which admits to previously downing cargo planes, but vociferously denies any involvement in this attack.

Or it could be those pesky Russians, a perfect scapegoat easily maligned given their recent bad behavior and Cold War Era reputation. This is not to state that Russia couldn't have been involved, or that Russia is a country intent upon promoting peaceful coexistence with other countries, a position easily discredited by its current hostilities with Ukraine.

Russia is a perfect scapegoat, but this seems a pedestrian and all together too neat explanation for two catastrophes disparate in every other way except Kuala Lumpur.  Sometimes the most obvious is a distraction, very much like the character Oz in The Wizard of Oz, who upon discovery states "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Amidst the cacophony of calls by world leaders to investigate the cause of this crash and bring the guilty to swift and harsh justice, there is no one to blame for the deaths of the 239 passengers of Flight 370 who seem to have receded from the public's mind in lieu of more current affairs.

But, what if this was less about the improbability of two airlines from the same carrier crashing just 4-months apart, than a targeted assassination of an individual or individuals who were somehow traveling from or to Kuala Lumpur, and the rest of the family and loved ones were simply 'collateral damage?'

In the light of the pain that many people are experiencing today as a result of this tragedy, this speculation brings no closure, no comfort, and no answers.  But, as initially proffered, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and it is the stuff that conspiracy thrillers are made of.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

Gazprom Pipeline Runs Dry

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 08:05 p.m. DST, 21 June 2014

"CIMG0406"  Photo by: JanChr KIEV, Ukraine -- The violent conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainian militias is slowing down, if only momentarily, due to a ceasefire declared by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday, 18 June. While bloodshed may be decreasing, Russia has initiated a new economic offensive, shutting off the primary gas pipeline running between the two nations.

According to Russian officials, Ukraine has run up an oil bill totaling more than $4 billion, although Poroshenko's administration denies this figure. The issue at hand is not whether Ukraine owes its northeastern neighbor for unpaid gas, but rather the size of the debt. Ukrainians have been vocal about Russian price-gouging, claiming that exports to Ukraine are sent at a steep premium when compared to other countries. Also, according to Poroshenko the value of Russian oil fluctuates at president Vladimir Putin's convenience.

While Russia closed the tab on 16 June, the move will not immediately impact the Ukrainian markets. Like much of Russian diplomacy, shutting off the pipeline is more a show of power than anything else. For now, the gas reservoirs throughout Ukraine are full and will provide energy for months. Even so, winter months are brutal in Ukraine, and officials will need to act fast to secure reliable gasoline preserves for wintertime.

The feud impacts communities outside of Russia and Ukraine. Gazprom, the corporation responsible for the supply termination, is the largest gas company in Russia and one of the largest international suppliers. European Union nations rely largely on the circulation of Gazprom oil through Ukraine, which is then sold and traded further west into EU countries. The uncertain relationship between Russia and Ukraine, especially in light of the ongoing Ukrainian civil war, leaves EU member nations at the mercy of regional stability.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, EU representatives have tried to middleman a compromise between Ukrainian and Russian executives, to no avail. Gazprom will require Ukraine to pay at least half of the debt before any more oil crosses the border. Ukraine has dismissed the offer, citing the longstanding price inflation and demanding that the costs be set at a rate consistent with the international market.

At the end of the day, both Ukraine and Russia have much to gain by cooperation, and more to lose if the regional friction continues to silence synergy. A good portion of Gazprom revenue comes from Ukrainian consumers and the network of markets throughout the EU. And similarly, Ukrainian winters could prove dangerous without the necessary raw materials.

The stalemate is expected to drag on, as both parties are sure of their facts and figures regarding oil transactions. Russia and Ukraine will both plead their case to international mediators in the coming months, but considering the average length of arbitration and settlement agreement, it will likely come down to the combined efforts of Kiev and Moscow to resolve the dispute and steady the market.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

US Hypocritical Response to Ukraine Conflict

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 08:57 a.m. DST, 13 May 2014

IMG_5823  Photo by: Christiaan TriebertDONETSK, Ukraine -- On Sunday, 11 May, two Ukrainian provinces conducted supposed democratic referendums to determine their international identity. The motions were suspicious at best, as 90% of votes counted in Donetsk favored withdrawal from Ukrainian authority and turnout in Luhansk determined 96 of every 100 voters supported provincial autonomy.

Certainly the numbers appear exaggerated. These reports of airtight consensus must be questioned by the rational world. Dissent is pervasive throughout much of Ukraine. So when voting officials came forward on Monday with claims of unprecedented solidarity, the West responded as would the teacher of the struggling student who scores 105% on a self-graded assessment.

But the conflict in Ukraine covers more ground than the Western press are willing to turn over. A thoughtful discussion of modern Ukraine can not endorse the interim Kiev government wholesale, nor should it condemn all separatists as patent burglars. Both approaches are reductive towards the legacy of corruption and organized injustice in Ukraine.

In spite of Western backing, the previous Ukrainian establishment and the placeholder administration are fraught with human rights violations. And while Vladimir Putin exploited political rifting in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, perhaps the United States should also be concerned that Moscow has obviously made off with a whole chapter from the American playbook on how to seize foreign land.

The history of the United States is a clinic on nabbing territory illegally while simultaneously claiming martyrdom. In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo came to symbolize the American attempt to play martyr, while illegally holding Mexican land by whatever means necessary. In the same year, Texans fought the Mexican military in the Battle of San Jacinto and established Texan sovereignty. The slaughter lasted a matter of minutes and left over 600 dead, all but nine were fallen Mexican soldiers.

During the early 19th century, Americans began occupying Texas legally, but it did not take long for the Anglo residents to begin defying Mexican prohibition of slavery and other important legal codes. Americans continued to flood the region and soon outnumbered ethnic Tejanos 4 to 1. With some exception, the Texan army was American born and armed by the mother country, which in 1845 would welcome Texas into the union.

Unlike the takeover of Texas, Moscow did not inundate eastern Ukraine with Russian militants. They have been living in Ukraine for generations. Pro-Russian rebels represent the fragmentation of the Republic, not the forced entry exercised by American citizens and weaponry throughout its history.

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Published: 13 May 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

Perhaps more egregious than the theft of Texas is the coup d'état of the Kingdom of Hawaii, organized by Americans and flanked by US Marine encroachment on the islands.  Wanting to spare bloodshed, Queen Lili'uokalani surrendered her crown and was placed under arrest. The United States' intent to annex the Kingdom was explicit, and during the in-no-way democratic proceedings, a provisional government took charge until American lawmakers brought Hawaii into the fold.

The Crimean Peninsula at the heart of the Ukraine conflict has a joint identity as a Ukrainian and Russian region. During the Soviet era, Crimea was nominally transferred within Ukraine's demarcation. When the Soviet Union disbanded, Ukraine maintained jurisdiction of the region. The peninsula remains divided in terms of religion, ethnic makeup and political affiliation. If the United States is so concerned with the will of the people, there are several well-documented injustices ongoing within American boundaries that could be addressed immediately.

The United States practices selective attention--joining the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russian involvement in the Ukrainian arm wrestle, while downplaying the United Nations when they become critical of America's parallel behavior. A recent report by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations shows both the longstanding injustice experienced by indigenous peoples in North America and the irony in the United States searching the globe to point out instances of criminality and misconduct.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are some of the oldest mountains in North America and are considered sacred ground to the Lakota-Sioux people. At first, white settlers were uninterested in the land, until surveyors began trespassing on the terrain in 1849. Through a series of treaties, the land was promised to the Sioux, and later expressly removed from Sioux possession when gold prospectors found valuable deposits in the Hills.

Since then, the Black Hills have been the subject of desecration, as the United States government thought it appropriate to carve out the faces of Anglo oppressors into the mountains that the Sioux people so revere. Mount Rushmore stands as a permanent reminder of white tyranny, and an obvious symbol of the ongoing violation of Sioux religious freedom.

In the ongoing international debate over the Ukraine conflict, the United States has very little legal or moral footing on which to base their criticism of Russia. Each day, the United States affirms the right for an empire to occupy land against international law. While the global community generally recognizes Putin's exploits as unjust, the White House has long modeled similar undertakings. The oligarchies in America and Russia imitate each other more than either would like to admit.

What makes the plight of one people more pressing than another?

Washington's unbalanced attention to the sister concerns does not appear very democratic. For the most part, America cannot change the course of action in Ukraine. But if politicians are so bothered by illegally seized land, there are plenty of instances to address within their own jurisdiction. Start with the Black Hills.

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Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Women Seeking Safety Encounter Abuse in Syrian Refugee Camps

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:33 a.m. DST, 10 April 2014

Syria Bedouin Woman, Photo by Marc VeraartDAMASCUS, Syria – By every metric, the Syrian countryside is a war zone. Suburbs are subject to aerial attacks and corner stores have become foxhole retreats from city gunfights. The death toll now exceeds 150,000 lives. Massacres waged by Syrian troops and rebel forces alike continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of either side's agenda. All the while, ordinary people either defend their community or seek stability in a less contentious Syrian locale or border country.

Amidst the chaos, the international community places bets on either the Syrian Army or various rebel collectives. The United States, Russia and Iran make high-stakes wagers in the form of assault rifles, chemical weaponry and large-scale explosives. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also seated around this international card table. Given the current political landscape and the violations of basic human rights by the establishment and the rebellion, global efforts to arm either side are a gamble indeed.

One thing is certain. With increased weaponry provisions, a commensurate level of unfathomable bloodletting has followed throughout major cities like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. The widespread violence and continued threat of biological warfare has been a powerful impetus for Syrian migration to more stable nations. Over two million nationals have escaped the perimeter of their home country, while millions more try to cope in the crossfire. There, they face the reality of suicide bombers and large-scale attacks carried out by both factions.

Lebanon has been the principle destination for those people fleeing the ongoing turf war. To date, over one million Syrians have claimed refugee status in Lebanon, a staggering influx for a nation numbering less than five million before civil war broke in Syria three years ago. Thousands more seek safety in the Mediterranean nation every day. Lebanon has been a gracious host to Syrians seeking asylum, forgoing required permit fees upon entry and allowing their neighbors to live outside of designated treatment centers and refugee shelters.

Syrian migrants exercise this right, but not without adversity. Women are particularly affected by sexual abuse following their relocation. Human Rights Watch reports that female refugees are subject to improper advances and verbal abuse on a regular basis while living in their makeshift communities in Lebanon. Perpetrators range from employers to volunteers from religious institutions, according to HRW. The actual scope of abuses remains unknown, as many victims presumably have outstanding residency payments or have little faith in the criminal justice system. Assailants continue to act in the shadows of fear and silence.

For many of these women, leaving home meant a better life for themselves and their children. Rape is used in Syrian warfare as a tool of power and coercion against men, women and children indiscriminately. While President Bashar al-Assad and top leaders of various opposition forces have not openly condoned sexual assault of the enemy, the act is permissible and never punished internally. Externally, retaliatory rape is not uncommon. In a society where rape is taboo, victims are hushed and assaults go unreported. But anecdotal evidence confirms the disturbing and rampant nature of the mistreatment.

Journalist Lauren Wolfe directs The Women Under Siege project and discusses abuse against Syrian women in her feature Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis. Wolfe cites a report from Ya Libnan news website in which a member of the Syrian Army was commanded to rape teenagers in late 2012. The girls were later slaughtered. Similarly, Wolfe describes a young rebel soldier who was arrested by Syrian forces. During his imprisonment, the man was forced to watch while Syrian security raped his fiancée, sisters, mother and other female acquaintances. Belligerents in both camps resort to these barbaric measures.

The mass-exodus of Syrians will continue so long as lawlessness persists. Massacres such as August's Ghouta chemical attack on civilians and the execution of 51 loyalist prisoners in July have only added fuel to vehicles of hate and violence. While the United States is heavily invested in the success of the rebellion, the White House now knows that many of these renegades are affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. If history repeats itself, these weapons may be trained at their supplying nation in the future.

If the efforts of the States involved more non-lethal aid, certainly the people of the world would be grateful. The need for the increased protection of women is self-evident. When better mechanisms to report and convict perpetrators of sexual abuse are established in refugee camps, these facilities will truly be places of refuge.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Syria's Newest Tool of Torture

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:42 p.m. DST, 19 February 2014

Dead Bodies Lie in Road in Retailiation for Rebel Killing of Soldier, Daraa Province, Aleppo, Syria, Photo by Peacock AlmntoufInternational partners worked for months in order to create a plan that would result in Assad ultimately handing over Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. Although Western countries and Syria-supporting countries like Russia disagreed over many factors, they finally agreed to an agenda that would take away Assad and his troops’ ability to torture and murder civilians by way of chemical weapons.

The process has frustratingly been delayed at several points and Syria still shows signs of missing deadlines, but at least the regime seems to  have not used these weapons since the agreement.

However, leave it to the disturbing minds of Assad and his troops to devise another sickening and inhumane way of terrorizing rebels and citizens alike. To target the opposition-held Aleppo,  Assad’s troops have crafted barrel bombs that are oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel, that they then dump out of the back of helicopters which will then destroy several-story buildings and all living things nearby. Their intense destruction has earned them the nickname “barrels of death”.

The use of these barrels of death over the past few weeks has resulted in Aleppo becoming a ghost town, where more and more people flee the city and whole neighborhoods are emptied. This has also increased the number of those in mass exodus out of Syria and into neighboring countries that are bursting at the seams with the influx of refugees.

The latest talks on Syria ended without progress or resolution, even though the sense of urgency mounts every day. Thousands of Syrian children have spent so long fleeing war and seeking refuge that they no longer know what peace and a sense of safety feel like. Their hope for a future is diminishing with every failed stakeholders meeting and with every crime against humanity that Assad is allowed to get away with. Take away his chemical weapons, and he creates aerial “barrels of death.” Unfortunately, this pattern of warfare will not end until conclusive and decisive action is brought down upon the regime.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

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The Terminal Terminus of Snowden

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 16:59 p.m. EDT, 3 July 2013

Olga, Aeroflot Transfer Desk Official, Shremetyevo Airport, Moscow

SHEREMETYEVO AIRPORT, Moscow - Edward Snowden’s flight from the United States with government secrets which he stole from the National Security Agency, now finds himself in the untenable situation of being denied asylum in 21 countries to which he has appealed.

Snowden arrived in Moscow on June 23rd. He flew into Sheremetyevo airport where he petitioned a Russian consular officer to issue asylum requests to countries he identified as potential places for him to hide.

However, shortly after his arrival, Washington revoked his U.S. passport which means he cannot officially cross the airport border into Russian territory.

Snowden’s current situation is reminiscent of the 2004 American comedy-drama titled “The Terminal.” The movie is about “a man who becomes trapped in a New York City airport terminal when he is denied entry into the United States and at the same time cannot return to his native country due to a revolution.

The film is partially inspired by the 17-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I, Paris, France from 1988 to 2006.”

In the film, the protagonist who is named Viktor Navorski, is played by Tom Hanks. When Navorski “arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, he finds that his passport is suddenly no longer valid due to the outbreak of a civil war in his homeland. As a result, the United States no longer recognizes Krakozhia as a sovereign nation, and he is not permitted to either enter the country or return home.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Snowden has become such an incendiary character that despite the secrets he carries, not one of America’s allies, nor even some of the less than friendly nations seemed inclined to offer asylum to the man who has been internationally branded as a traitor.

He has become, in American parlance, such a ‘hot potato,” that some European nations have imposed restrictions such as denying air space entry to planes feared to be transporting Snowden. According to Carol J. Williams of the L.A. Times, “some states to which Snowden turned for help, like India, Poland and Germany, have said ‘no’ outright.

Austria, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland all require asylum bids to be made in person on national territory – a technical barrier that spares them having to make a decision.

Even Ecuador and Venezuela, where officials earlier suggested Snowden should be treated as a human rights hero, have been pulling back the welcome mat as they ponder the potential costs of crossing U.S. national interests.” (Source: L.A. Times)

Though, Russian President Vladimir Putin initially stated that the Kremlin would offer Snowden asylum, through sophisticated political maneuverings he has allowed himself to appear sympathetic to both Snowden and the White House.

Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, stated on Monday, 1 July 2013 that Snowden would be welcome to stay in Russia, but only if he refrained from leaking more classified information “aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners.”

Upon this request, Snowden who seems committed to revealing all of the secrets with which he absconded promptly withdrew his request for asylum in Russia. At this juncture, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have yet to formally answer Snowden’s asylum appeals.

Perhaps because of these countries' leftist leaning governments Snowden surmised that they would be amenable to his overtures for asylum. It would be an even bolder step if he could make his way to a country like Iran, a sworn enemy of the U.S. But, the revocation of his passport has quashed all possibilities except asylum or return.

It remains to be seen what Snowden will do if his remaining asylum requests are denied. Will he stand by his stated convictions and live out the remainder of his life in Sheremetyevo airport? Will he accept Putin’s offer to cease further disclosure of top secret information and petition once again for asylum in Russia?

Or will it end where it all began, arriving on a flight back to the United States to face the music?

The Hunt for Edward Snowden

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Jessica Tanner, Staff WriterLast Modified: 01:41 a.m. DST, 26 June 2013

Edward Snowden, Photo by Pan-African News Wire File PhotosMOSCOW, Russia - As the hunt for Edward Snowden continues, it appears that Snowden is the one with the upper hand.

Although, the whereabouts of the computer contractor who revealed confidential information about The National Security Agency’s surveillance programs are still virtually unknown.

Journalists, government officials, and social media users worldwide are desperately trying to pinpoint Snowden’s exact location.

Russia initially expressed outraged at the United States' suggestion that the country had been complicit in Snowden’s travels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was quoted as saying, “I want to say, right away, that we have nothing to do with Mr. Snowden, or his movements around the world.”

However, within the last few hours President Vladamir Putin has acknowledged in an official statement that the whereabouts of Snowden are known, and that he will not comply with President Barak Obama's requests to surrender the alleged spy.

Prior to this admission, The White House was demanding that any country that Snowden sought refuge in give him up, so he could face espionage charges in the United States.

Apparently Snowden was set to board a flight from Moscow to Havana, but instead it was packed with journalists, including a CNN team. This same flight took off this past Monday without the 30-year-old American they were all hoping to question.

There is one source named Julian Assange who supposedly knows where Snowden is hiding, but he refuses to reveal the location. All Assange would say is that the former NSA contractor is “in a safe place and his spirits are high.”

Snowden spent several weeks hiding in Hong Kong, China and betrayed the United Sates by leaking classified NSA documents to journalists. He left the Chinese territory Sunday on a flight to Moscow.

Follow Jessica Tanner on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @JessTanner1991