Proposed Afghan spy chief divides Western, Afghan officials

Hamid Karzai with U.S. Special Forces during O...

Hamid Karzai with U.S. Special Forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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September 14, 2012 by Joseph Fitsanakis 1 Comment

Last month we
reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to appoint one of his most trusted advisors, Assadullah Khaled, to lead the country’s intelligence agency. There appears to be a slight problem with this proposal: Khaled is known as a fierce character in Afghan politics, who has been accused by Western diplomats of corruption, extreme brutality and narcotics trafficking. During the past few years, Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, has reportedly become “almost a surrogate family member” of the Karzai family, and is viewed “as a son” by the Afghan President. He also has a close relationship with officials in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who seem to appreciate Khaled’s hardline stance against Pakistan. Moreover, Khaled is an ethnic Pashtun, that is, he belongs to the largest Afghan ethnicity, whose members occupy central Afghanistan. However, he has strong connections with leading figures in the former Northern Alliance, whose support is crucial for the survival of the Karzai regime. Some Western officials, therefore, see him as a potential unifying figure in the country. But in a confidential cable sent to the US Department of State by the American Embassy in Kabul in 2009, and leaked by WikiLeaks, Khaled was described by one senior American diplomat as “exceptionally corrupt and incompetent”. Later that same year, a high-level Canadian diplomat publicly accused Khaled of participating in international narcotics trafficking and systematically employing torture against his political enemies in Kandahar. The diplomat, who served in Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, was referring to Khaled’s tenure as Governor of Kandahar Province, where he personally run what Kandaharis described as “the torture prison”. Continue reading

Anti-Islam Filmmaker Went by ‘P.J. Tobacco’ and 13 Other Names

By Noah Shachtman with Robert Beckhusen September 13, 2012 |  12:09 pm | 


A scene from the video ‘Innocence of Muslims.” Image: via YouTube

Updated 5:34 pm.  

He went by many names, the man who helped produce “The Innocence of Muslims,” the inflammatory video now roiling the Middle East: Matthew Nekola; Ahmed Hamdy; Amal Nada; Daniel K. Caresman; Kritbag Difrat; Sobhi Bushra; Robert Bacily; Nicola Bacily; Thomas J. Tanas; Erwin Salameh; Mark Basseley Youssef; Yousseff M. Basseley; Malid Ahlawi; even P.J. Tobacco.

But his real name — the one he used when he was sent to prison for bank fraud —  was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. His habit of adopting other identities earned him a 21-month sentence in federal prison. During 2008 and 2009, court documents reviewed by Danger Room (.pdf) and embedded below show that Nakoula again and again opened bank accounts with fake names and stolen social security numbers. Then Nakoula would deposit bogus checks into the new accounts and withdraw money before the checks bounced. The scheme worked for more than a year, until he was indicted in June of 2009. Eventually, he was ordered to stay off of the internet unless he got his probation officer’s permission, and pay a $794,700 fine.

Yet Nakoula’s fakery apparently continued. Actors hired to perform in “Innocence” say they had no idea the movie they were making would be so deliberately offensive to Muslims; in fact, many of the most provocative lines were overdubbed after the fact. Basseley swears he’s not “Sam Bacile,” the director and writer of the movie; he just happens to have a similar name, and coincidentally was found at the address tied to the cellphone of “Bacile.”

This is the man whose work is now at the center of one of the gravest diplomatic disasters in recent memory, whose video is at least partially responsible for attacks that claimed the lives of four U.S. employees, including the American ambassador to Libya. It shows how U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century is at risk of being derailed by a single, pseudonymous fraudster. In the 1990s, Marine Gen. Charles Krulak famously coined the phrase “The Strategic Corporal” to describe how a 19-year old Leatherneck’s actions, broadcast worldwide, could derail U.S. interests. Meet Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the Strategic Con Man.

Nakoula first came to federal agents’ attention in January of 2009. That’s when Joe Takai, a fraud investigator at the Capital One Bank, contacted his counterpart at Wells Fargo Bank, Trang Ha, who reached out to the United States Postal Inspector Service. Ha told the feds this was a case of synthetic identity fraud, and gave postal inspectors a stack of bank statements, surveillance photos tied to 11 suspicious social security numbers to prove it.

“Synthetic identity fraud is defined as the application for credit card and bank accounts … using a fictitious name and a true SSN (social security number), which is in fact issued to a name other than the one used in the application. Once credit is issued using the combination of real and fictitious identifying information, a new identity is established,” explains a June 16 2009 criminal complaint against Nakoula, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles County.

Surveillance video taken from Wells Fargo ATMs showed that the same person was accessing the accounts of “Ahmed Hamdy” and “Thomas J. Tanas.” The accounts were opened in the spring of 2008, using the social security numbers of a 46-year-old man and a 6-year-old child. Until October, the accounts drew no attention, keeping up a positive balance thanks to a series of deposits from outside banks and credit cards. Then, over the course of October, 11 credit card convenience checks, each just under $2,000, were deposited into the Tanas and Hamdy accounts. All of the checks bounced. By the end of the month, the two accounts were collectively overdrawn by nearly $12,000.

When “Hamdy” applied for an account, he used an address also belonging to a Nakloula Basseley Nakoula. (Credit card bills belonging to a “P.J. Tobacco” were also sent there.) Postal inspectors pulled up Nakoula’s driver’s license photo, and noticed that he looked an awful lot like the one taking money out of the Hamdy and Tanas accounts.

Postal inspectors also noticed that “Tanas” was depositing checks into Washington Mutual accounts belonging to a “Nicola Bacily” and a “Erwin Salameh.” Five different surveillance videos showed Nakoula making those deposits at banks scattered around Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The chase continued, with more interlocking accounts uncovered. Eventually, on June 18, 2009, Nakoula was indicted on five counts of fraud. But his mischief, in turns out, was far from over.



In July of 2011 — apparently a month after he got out of jail — Nakoula started casting actors for “Innocence.” At the time, it was titled “Desert Warriors,” or possibly “Desert Storm.” Ostensibly, the film was about life in the Middle East of long ago.

i can tell you i auditioned for a movie called Desert Storm that was about Ancient Warriors. My character was called Sampson on the paper with a few lines I got each day upon arriving on set. We never saw a full script or any lines after the day we shot them. Many questions were asked regarding absurdity of lines and situations,” Tim Dax, an occasional erotic film actor and star of such movies as “Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical,” tells the website Joe.My.God.

Sam the producer who I believed to be, but not certain as Egyptian. His reply would always to work with what we were given as he wrote the script. The clip that I saw part of today for the first time is questionable as to being my voice. The voice over work is dubious at best. a week and a half of work, 75 bucks a day & lunch. ; )

Jimmy Israel, who tried out for a part in the movie and later worked on the production, remembers things differently. According to Israel, the filmmakers worked on the script for “about 10 months. And it was still terrible.” Continue reading

Iran, Syria, and the Arab Spring: Whither the Tehran-Damascus Nexus?

September 13th, 2012 Filed Under : Foreign Relations,


Jubin M. Goodarzi

“The chain of resistance against Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the new Iraqi government and Hamas passes through the Syrian highway.  Syria is the golden ring of the chain of resistance against Israel.”Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior Advisor for Foreign Affairs to Iran’s Supreme Leader, 6 January 2012

Since early 2011, Tehran’s longstanding Arab ally, the Syrian Ba’athist regime, has been locked in a struggle for survival against an unrelenting opposition. Iran has chosen to throw its weight behind the Syrian government, a move that has damaged its popularity in Arab societies. In many respects, Iran’s standing in the region is the lowest it has been since the Iran-Iraq War.

During the course of the conflict, Iranian support for the Syrian regime has wavered between absolute acquiescence and real concern about the actions taken by the Ba’ath government. In the end though, Iran has found that the risk of losing its only Arab ally demand continued support for the Assad regime.

Iran’s Declining Regional Popularity 

Following his rise to power in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric toward Israel and its Western backers boosted Iran’s popularity. This coupled with Tel Aviv’s failure to deal a knock-out blow to the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah movement in the 2006 war in Lebanon boosted popular support in the Arab world for the “axis of resistance,” which included Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Continue reading

Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal

25 July 2012 6:11 PM

There is a degree of panic, and rightly so, over whether the Syrian tyrant Basher al Assad will use chemical weapons against either his own people or foreign attackers. His regime has this week threatened to do the latter, thus finally confirming what was long suspected but never openly admitted, that Syria possesses chemical weapons. It is believed to have mustard gas as well as nerve agents such as tabun, sarin and VX. The fear is either that the Assad regime uses them or that they fall into the hands of Hezbollah, al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups. Either prospect is utterly nightmarish. Even Russia says it has told Syria it is unacceptable to threaten to use them.

In the last few days, this has been much discussed. What has not been raised, however, is the question of how Syria managed to develop such a chemical weapons stockpile in the first place. No-one in the western media seems remotely curious about how Syria has managed to arm itself to the teeth with them beneath the radar of international scrutiny.

Dr Danny Shoham, at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, is an expert in chemical and biological warfare. In a Middle East Quarterly article in 2002, Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria’s Ultimate Weapons, he set out the extraordinary history of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

Continue reading

Iran News Round Up July 26, 2012

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by Ali Alfoneh, Ahmad Majidyar and Michael Rubin
(E) = Article in English


  • Mohammad-Reza Tabesh: “We must support the government of Syria, which is at the frontline of the struggle against Israel… But we should support it as long as the government of Syria does not treat the people of Syria badly and the rights of the people are not violated.”
  • Ali-Reza Mahjoub: “Survival of the Syrian government is in the interest of our region.”
  • Jafar Qaderi: “The government of Syria… must continue the path of reform, enforce the popular will, and respect the popular vote.”
  • Fatemeh Alia: “We must support the trend of reform in Syria.”
  • Mousa-al-Reza Servati: “We oppose the West because of belief that any reform must take place based on the choice of the people and implemented by the people of Syria. People can achieve whatever their wishes through elections”
  • Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh: “What we see in Syria… is a domestic Syrian issue and intervention in internal affairs of states is incorrect and illegal…” 
  • [E] The Indian media reported that the country’s government has decided to attend the 16th heads-of-state summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran at the highest level, and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will represent New Delhi in the high profile meeting.
  • [E] Iran and Russia lambasted the western and Arab states for their interferences in the internal affairs of Syria, and called on them to stop unconstructive acts in the Muslim country.
  • Military and Security

    Analysis: Bandar’s return affirms hawkish turn in Saudi foreign policy


    For over two decades, America’s relations with its most important Arab ally were primarily mediated by just one man: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. But on June 26, 2005, Bandar, a personal friend of the Bush family, submitted his diplomatic resignation, after being recalled to Riyadh by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Almost immediately, Bandar, known for years in Washington’s diplomatic circles as a flamboyant socialite, disappeared from public view. It is said that he faced serious health problems, going in and out of hospitals. Others claim that he fell out of favor with Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ruling elite, and in 2009 there were even
    unconfirmed reports that he was under house arrest after allegedly trying to organize a military coup against King Abdullah. Last week, however, Bandar returned to the limelight in spectacular fashion: in a plainly worded statement, Saudi authorities announced that the Prince had been appointed Director General of the Mukhabarat Al A’amah, the Kingdom’s main intelligence agency. Continue reading

    Navy: Nuclear Sub Worker Set Fire So He Could Leave Early


    Hospital Worker Accused of Using Dead Patient’s Credit Cards

    By CLARKE CANFIELD Associated Press

    PORTLAND, Maine July 24, 2012 (AP)

    Navy investigators have determined that a civilian laborer set a fire that caused $400 million in damage to a nuclear-powered submarine because he had anxiety and wanted to get out of work early.

    Casey James Fury of Portsmouth, N.H., faces up to life in prison if convicted of two counts of arson in the fire aboard the USS Miami attack submarine while it was in dry dock May 23 and a second blaze outside the sub on June 16.

    The 24-year-old Casey was taking medications for anxiety and depression and told investigators he set the fires so he could get out of work, according a seven-page affidavit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

    Fury made his first court appearance Monday afternoon but did not enter a plea.

    Magistrate Judge John Rich III scheduled a combined detention and probable cause hearing for next month. The U.S. attorney’s office has filed a motion asking that Fury be held without bail.

    Fury’s federal public defender, David Beneman, did not speak in court and earlier in the day declined to comment to The Associated Press. Continue reading