The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Automne à Paris

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Passing by La Tour Eiffel on my last trip to Paris. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Taking off from the Big Apple in a couple of hours to head to Paris on behalf of the State Department on a three-day speaking tour. My first event will be held at L’Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM) on 14 December at 14:30 talking about the effects of the Libyan war on the broader Mediterranean geopolitical spectrum. I’ll then be appearing on France24, one of the EU’s principal news networks on 15 December at 11:00. I will then be speaking at Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) on 16 December from 09:00-11:00 on U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. My last stop will be at  Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) at 14:30 also on 16 December.

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December 12th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

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The Futility of Battling Ideology at War’s End

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A massive piece of art in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section celebrating Bradley Manning, the Army private who passed a massive United States government document trove onto the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks.org. Manning, currently in detention at Fort Leavenworth, disclosed information which today is classified as secret but will one day very likely simply be part of the collective historical record. Lessons from history are rarely if ever learned by government. Perhaps it is finally time to reexamine our methodology. The balance between state secrecy and open governance almost invariably tilts towards further secrecy. Yesterday's release of yet more Nixon tapes and testimony-more than 17 years after his death-reinforce this idea. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I saw one of these living, contrasting images on the subway here the other day where I wonder if I am the only one observant or nosey enough to notice these things. An older man boarded the train donning a black leather vest with a green outline of Viet Nam divided rather starkly between North and South by a US Marine Corps rank insignia. I was born the year Viet Nam’s indigenous war ended and two years after it effectively ended for the United States. The political fervor of the Johnson and early Nixon era, where fighting Communism was deemed as an existential fight for America’s values at home as well as the biggest external challenge to American supremacy in the Pacific and Eurasian rimland realms, defined the imagery of my upbringing. We were all “All Along the Watchtower.”  Standing next to this man was a smartly dressed, city chic thirty-ish woman reading a fresh paperback.

Curious to know what others are reading to pass the commute time, I glanced over her shoulder to see who the author was and noticed it was a novel by a Vietnamese writer called Aimee Phan. The book was titled The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, a post-Viet Nam war odyssey of sorts. Looking it up on Amazon when I got home, I saw it won’t be out for some time, meaning the reader on the subway either worked for the publisher or a media outlet provided an advance copy to review the book. So here was a man representing the blood, death, and tears of a futile war with an invisible, unreachable goal and next to him a confident post-feminist woman born after his war’s end reviewing a book putting the war more firmly in history rather than the still very present tense of the vest wearer. Both of them appeared to stand oblivious to one another.

Sure perhaps we can revise our view and say that the war was either to buffer the vehemently anti-Communist but far from democratic South Vietnamese state or overturn its Communist peer competitor in the North. But in the context of the era, the American public was often extolled of the virtue of defeating such an evil ideology. That must not be forgotten. In 30 years, will there be a young person reviewing a book-in whatever form books will be in 30 years (assuming they still exist)-written by a second generation Iraqi-American author putting that war in the appropriate perspective with a grizzled yet proud Iraqi Freedom veteran nearby looking off the other direction?

Militaries and sometimes insurgencies can be defeated on the battlefield with overwhelming force and a scorched earth campaigns respectively (think Operation Desert Storm for the former and the Filipino insurgency in Luzon during the Spanish-American war for the latter). Though it may be possible to let the gun barrels cool down once both sides have exhausted themselves through the implementation of physical and psychological violence, it is impossible to kill ideas. Ideas can only be bested by more innovative, successful ideas, not columns of tanks and harsh secrecy laws. This is the eternal struggle between the short and long views of the intellectually ill-equipped men who describe themselves as “history’s actors.”

Tens of thousands of Americans died fighting to contain the spread of Asian Communism in the Korean and Viet Nam wars. Countless Americans served in Europe during the Cold War to stem the westward geographic creep of Soviet Communism. Today in troubled European cities like Athens (pictured here) rife with economic disquiet, the symbols of Marxism and Leninsim have failed to disappear. One has to ask, what was it all for? And was it all really such a success? Or did American triumphalism confuse Soviet and Warsaw Pact economic state collapse with the death of an ideology? Did America provide a security umbrella in Europe for decades only to allow for the freedom to espouse Communist ideology in the EU's economically devastated "olive belt" countries? ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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November 11th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Sunrise on Thira

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Took a very early morning walk down to one of Santorini's volcanic beaches. Complete calm. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Something about the light in the Mediterranean keeps forcing me to return as often as I can after nearly two decades. There is just no other place like it on earth. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Black sand, white surf, high contrast. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My footprint in the pure volcanic sand. Good times here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

But the best thing about staying at Caveland? Puppies! Romping in my room even at 5am. I felt like C. Montgomery Burns in the episode '101 Greyhounds.' ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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October 2nd, 2011 at 3:24 am

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From Paris to Piraeus

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Underneath the innards of Le Tour Eiffel. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My place on stage at Maison de la Chimie on Rue St Dominique.

Paris & Athens- Firstly I want to thank Jean-Luc Marret and the staff of his Fondation de la Recherche Stratégique for hosting me and allowing me to speak at their global terrorsim conference yesterday. The title of my talk was Western Boots on Eastern Ground: A Comparative History of Western Intervention in the Muslim World in the Post-911 Decade (Which I may very well transform into an upcoming article). My only regret is that I had virtually no time to enjoy the city on my sleepless, croissant fueled whirlwind. I was happy to be part of the trans-Atlantic political continuum if only for a moment in time.

Asia Times Online reproduced my article on Said Bahaji from the August edition of Militant Leadership Monitor.

I left a gleaming, well functioning Paris this morning, full of shimmering life and bustling with tourists to arrive in a sullen, deserted Athens. I found out upon arrival at the nearly empty airport that the Greek capital is bracing for yet another paralyzing transport strike to show union and neo-Communist displeasure at the austerity measure being imposed on them by the Papandreou government. It was told that if I had flown in tomorrow rather than tonight it would not have been possible for me to reach to port of Piraeus-where I am holed up in a budget hotel for the night to catch the morning ferry to Santorini-except if I had hitchhiked. The few locals I was able to talk said this next day of direct action is meek compared to others earlier this year where the port was blockaded and tourists were apparently prevented from reaching their intended ferries by burly union types. I was assured that ferries will be running despite the possibility that most of Athens proper will reach a tense standstill rather quickly.  But I have left my big DSLR behind on this trip in order to take away the temptation that is always there to jump into the fray (though I do have one hell of a point and shoot should the mood strike). Heading to Santorini at the outset of its long, quiet (I think?) off season to get my nose to the grindstone on some long overdue long form writing.

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September 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Daylight in Paris

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A quick Blackberry snap of the street view here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Paris- I will be speaking at Maison de la Chimie tomorrow for the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique’s conference entitled “Dix ans après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001: bilan et perspectives de la lutte contre le terrorisme.” I will be speaking about my experiences and analyses of several Western military interventions throughout the post-9/11 decade, their successes and failures, and where we head next. Although it is an incredibly vast topic, I will somehow try and keep it concise and based on my own on the ground observations rather than something derivative and wonky.

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September 25th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Retracing Mohammed Atta’s Footsteps in Catalunya

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The Monica Hotel in the yachting town of Cambrils on the Costa Daurada. Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh arrived here after Atta picked up bin al-Shibh from the nearby Reus aeroport. It is one of the four places Atta rented from July 9-19, 2001 (July 8 he stayed at a hotel near Barajas aeroport just outside Madrid). ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Tarragona- I went delving into Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s mysterious doings in July 2001 here in Spain’s fiercely autonomous Catalunya region. After taking a RENFE train down the coast to the ancient Roman city of Tarraco (Tarragona), I spent hours walking and taking train and bus rides as well as asking a lot of street directions, to try and reconstruct Atta’s stay here just over 10 years ago. No publication in English that I can find talks about all four of the locales, the only thing I can find is a book by an El Pais journalist which I will now attempt to scour Barcelona to find as a reference tool. This is getting in the minutiae of the road to 9/11 but why did these men need to stay in four hotels in three cities in well under a two week period? Was it a level of spontaneity, disorganization, or was Atta trying to throw any possible interlopers off his trail? We will never be able to know as Atta’s remains were atomized in the wreckage of AA11 and the North Tower.

Trying to piece together al-Qaeda’s Catalunya summit a decade on is a convoluted, complicated affair. Looking back at so many different books and newspaper articles, no two accounts of this period in Atta’s timeline are identical (as with most of the timelines of the 9/11 actors I have looked into). One of the key questions is a gap of approximately four days between when he checked in at the Monica in Cambrils and then checked in at the Sant Jordi further north in Tarragona proper. He then went to Salou which lies between Cambrils and Tarragona. Some sources suggest Atta and bin al-Shibh stayed in an al-Qaeda safehouse in the unaccounted for interim as Spanish and American authorities were unable to find hotel records for the two AQ men between July 9-13, 2001. What most want to know is whether or not Atta and bin al-Shibh met some of the key Syrian and/or Maghrebi AQ facilitators here.

Hotel Sant Jordi adjacent to Savinosa beach in Tarragona. This is the 2nd hotel where Mohammed Atta slept, in room 206. According to the El Pais account, he supposedly left because it was to crowded with tourists as per the interrogation of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, not exactly conducive to a terror summit. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Hotel Casablanca Playa in Salou. This is the 3rd locale where Mohammed Atta slept for a night in room 512 in July 2001 during his mysterious Catalunya sojourn with Ramzi bin al-Shibh. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Atta spent his final night in Catalunya in room 15 of the Hostal Residencia Mont Sant in downtown Salou. From here, he drove his Hyundai Accent rental car back to Barajas in Madrid and returned to the United States with 9/11 less than 2 months away. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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August 13th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

War’s Antidote

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This is Snoopy the show-jumping rabbit. Used without permission.

Here he goes! Used without permission.

Barcelona- This hilarious article came out in the Daily Mail about show jumping rabbits here in Europe, something I never knew existed. So as not to get overly exercised about certain frustrating geopolitical constructs, one need only to picture Snoopy the rabbit staring down his competitors at the starting line. Things needn’t always be so serious?

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August 9th, 2011 at 6:34 am

Posted in Europe,Uncategorized

Degrees of Separation From Assange

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New York- I got a list email last week from Vaughan Smith, the head of London’s Frontline Club (a journalism event space in central London) that he and his club were offering full support to Wikileaks’ Australian guru Julian Assange. Here is the text of the email:

Dear friends of Frontline, many of you will have seen Julian Assange and the Wikileaks people at Frontline. I wanted to copy you the press release that I sent out today. Very best, Vaughan

“I attended court today to offer my support for Julian Assange of Wikileaks on a point of principle.

“In the face of a concerted attempt to shut him down and after a decade since 9/11 that has been characterised by manipulation of the media by the authorities, the information released by Wikileaks is a refreshing glimpse into an increasingly opaque world.”

The Frontline Club was founded seven years ago to stand for independence and transparency.

Recent informal canvassing of many of our more than 1,500 members at the Frontline Club suggests almost all are supportive of our position.

I am suspicious of the personal charges that have been made against Mr Assange and hope that this will be properly resolved by the courts. Certainly no credible charges have been brought regarding the leaking of the information itself.

I can confirm that Mr Assange has spent much of the last several months working from our facilities at the Frontline Club. Earlier today I offered him an address for bail.

7pm. Tuesday 7 December. —

I had no clue that Smith was in cahoots with Mr. Assange and don’t really have a strong opinion on it one way or the other at the moment because I have been too busy with other political and personal machinations to get worked up positively or negatively. I met Smith briefly when Frontline hosted an event several years ago now at Powerhouse Books in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. The whole reason I knew who he was in the first place (which I did not bother to mention when I met him) was the case of Roddy Scott. Scott was a freelance cameraman working for Smith’s now defunct Frontline TV agency in the Caucasus mountains in 2002 when he was killed by a Russian sniper/sharpshooter while filming a firefight in the Ingush Republic.  Smith was quoted in some obituaries about Roddy Scott such as this one in The Independent. Roddy was working for Mr. Smith hoping to make a paltry bit of pounds sterling for his footage which was sure to be remarkable (it was confiscated by the Russian security services upon his murder).

Scott had filmed the only footage (at least by a Westerner that I have heard of) of the PKK in battle with the Turkish army, from the PKK’s point of view no less and his Chechen footage was sure to be unique. It was not terribly likely that Scott’s footage of Chechen mujahideen would have ever seen the light of day even if he had made it back to Britain in one piece because of the impending American-Anglo invasion of Iraq that was brewing to a boil in the fall of 2002. The Chechen war had long not been a fashionable conflict to cover when Scott died and that mattered none to someone of the intellect and curiosity of someone like Roddy Scott. After reading Smith’s email, I saw some footage on PBS Newshour from outside a London courthouse of Assange’s lawyer saying that Assange would be staying with a supporter after his release on bail had been secured. I guessed that that supporter would be Vaughan Smith only to read in the NY Times that was exactly the case.

What I did not know was that Vaughan Smith was such a wealthy man as described by the Times. The paper describes him as putting up Assange in a “a 10-bedroom home on a 650-acre estate” in Sussex. Why then, I have to go back to 2002 and wonder, could he not have even bought Roddy the hiking boots he desperately needed to traverse the Greater Caucasus range with Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev and his fighters? I never knew Smith was a man of such means or I would have asked such an awkward question back then in the dark days of 2002. I had no idea that I was a few “degrees of separation” from the whispy-haired, sallow looking Assange. Let’s hope Smith has better luck helping the newly famous Assange than he did a poor freelancer lying dead in a post-Soviet nightmare eight years ago.

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December 15th, 2010 at 1:35 pm