December 3rd, 2017
For your Bits this weekend we get started with an extensive investigation that undermines the American-led coalition’s claim that their air strike campaigns in Iraq are amongst the most precise in history resulting in minimal civilian casualties. On the ground reporting by the New York Times showed that coalition’s estimate of civilian deaths was incredibly inaccurate: instead of about 1 in every 157 airstrikes resulting in civilian death, as the coalition’s data claims, it was found that approximately 1 in 5 airstrikes caused civilian deaths. The coalition’s false sense of comfort about the accuracy of their bombs and their self-delusion of accountability prevents them from properly assessing the errors in their target selection process and continues to cause unnecessary civilian suffering.
~ 60 Minute Read
“Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.”
“A key part of the coalition’s investigation process is to match civilian casualty accusations against its own logs. Chris Umphres, an Air Force captain at Udeid who assesses allegations of civilian casualties, told us that military investigators possess the coordinates of “every single strike conducted by coalition forces,” crucial information unavailable to the typical journalist. “We have 100 percent accountability of where all of our weapons are employed.”
We found this to not always be the case. For every location we visited, we submitted GPS coordinates to determine whether it was the coalition or the Iraqi Air Force that bombed the site. At first, the coalition told us it did not have the time or the staff to check more than a handful of the coordinates. But eventually, a team of Air Force analysts at Udeid agreed to compare the dates and coordinates of each of the 103 sites in our sample with those the coalition had recorded in its airstrike log. If a strike in our sample occurred within 50 meters of a strike that was recorded in the logs, they classified it as a “probable coalition airstrike,” while assessing those outside this range — that is, anything more than a couple of house-lengths away — as “unlikely.”
By this measure, 30 of the 103 strike sites in the sample we submitted are probable coalition strikes. But other evidence suggests that the coalition was responsible for many more. Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own.
We found many such discrepancies. For instance, the Air Force analysts said it was unlikely that the coalition had struck Qaiyara’s water-sanitation facility because the logs recorded the nearest strike as 600 meters away, which would place it outside the compound entirely. Yet we discovered a video — uploaded by the coalition itself — showing a direct strike on that very facility. (When we asked Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, director of public affairs at Udeid, about this discrepancy, he said he could only report “what the strike log shows.”) Similarly, we were told that a strike we identified on Qaiyara’s main bridge was unlikely to be by the coalition, because the nearest strike was on a truck 150 meters away. We again found a coalition video showing a direct hit on the structure. Pickart explained the inconsistency by saying the coalition had conducted multiple strikes on various targets within an hourlong period, only one of which was included in the official log.
The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian.
To understand how radically different our assessment is from the coalition’s own, consider this: According to the coalition’s available data, 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq have resulted in civilian deaths, or about one of every 157 strikes. The rate we found on the ground — one out of every five — is 31 times as high.”
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Our next articles takes a look at the classified information that U.S. President Donald Trump shared with Russian officials in the Oval Office; information which undermined a valuable undercover Israeli intelligence asset embedded in territory controlled by Daesh (ISIS). Israel and the United States have had a mutually beneficial and unusually close intelligence arrangement for decades; Israel has well-placed human resources throughout the Middle East and the United States’ massive military and intelligence budgets provide the most sophisticated tools money can buy. This unique relationship means that Israeli and U.S. spy agencies often share raw intelligence data with each other which shows how information was collected, rather than just a summary of the conclusions. Israel is now second-guessing this relationship since Donald Trump provided bits of information from that raw data with Russian officials. This allowed the Russians to ensure that they, too, were not being spied on by the Israelis and to share the information with their ally, and Israel’s enemy, Iran.
~ 17 Minute Read
What is apparent after interviews with intelligence sources both in Israel and the U.S. is that on the night of the infiltration the helicopters carrying the blue-and-white units came down several miles from their target. Two jeeps bearing Syrian Army markings were unloaded, the men hopped in, and, hearts racing, they drove as if it had been the most natural of patrols into the pre-dawn stillness of an enemy city.
“A shadow unit of ghosts” is what the generals of Aman, Israel’s military-intelligence organization, envisioned when they set up Sayeret Matkal. And on this night the soldiers fanned out like ghosts in the shadows, armed and on protective alert, as the Mossad tech agents did their work.
Again, the operational details are sparse, and even contradictory. One source said the actual room where the ISIS cell would meet was spiked, a tiny marvel of a microphone placed where it would never be noticed. Another maintained that an adjacent telephone junction box had been ingeniously manipulated so that every word spoken in a specific location would be overheard.
The sources agree, however, that the teams got in and out that night, and, even before the returning choppers landed back in Israel, it was confirmed to the jubilant operatives that the audio intercept was already up and running.
Now the waiting began. From an antenna-strewn base near the summit of the Golan Heights, on Israel’s border with Syria, listeners from Unit 8200 monitored the transmissions traveling across the ether from the target in northern Syria. Surveillance is a game played long, but after several wasted days 8200’s analysts were starting to suspect that their colleagues had been misinformed, possibly deliberately, by the source in the field. They were beginning to fear that all the risk had been taken without any genuine prospect of reward.
Then what they’d been waiting for was suddenly coming in loud and clear, according to Israeli sources familiar with the operation: it was, as a sullen spy official described it, “a primer in constructing a terror weapon.” With an unemotional precision, an ISIS soldier detailed how to turn a laptop computer into a terror weapon that could pass through airport security and be carried on board a passenger plane. ISIS had obtained a new way to cause airliners to explode suddenly, free-falling from the sky in flames. When the news of this frightening ISIS lecture arrived at Mossad’s headquarters outside Tel Aviv, officials quickly decided to share the field intelligence with their American counterparts. The urgency of the highly classified information trumped any security misgivings. Still, as one senior Israeli military official suggested, the Israeli decision was also egged on by a professional vanity: they wanted their partners in Washington to marvel at the sort of impossible missions they could pull off.
They did. It was a much-admired, as well as appreciated, gift—and it scared the living hell out of the American spymasters who received it.”
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Your last Bit of the weekend takes a look at how the series of sexual harassment allegations against high profile men is affecting the way that people view their own lives and experiences. The article includes 56 personal stories shared by people, “both women and men[,] reassessing interactions from their past, wondering if they were on either end of a troubling encounter.” By specifically looking at instances of “gray area” harrasment, “a category of behavior that isn’t unequivocally harassment, whether because of the intent of the perpetrator, the reception of the target, or the severity of the offense,” these stories shed a light on how this behavior provides “invisible grease for the wheels of an orchestrated system of humiliation designed to instill self-doubt and fear into women who might have otherwise posed a threat to male control.”
~ 38 Minute Read
When physical intimacy or mutual romantic interest has already been established, it can be especially hard to entertain the possibility that a sexual experience, in that context, might constitute harassment. Also, the legacy of woman as property and sex as her duty creeps into contemporary relationships in insidious ways, sometimes in the form of relentless pestering for sex or willful disregard for a partner’s desires. These anecdotes show that, in cases where there is romantic or sexual history between the partners, recognizing misconduct by either party can be incredibly painful.
Describe a situation that was in a gray area but ultimately OK.
I once was in a relationship with a woman who clearly saw me as a long-term partner, when I considered us to be less serious. I never misrepresented my feelings about us out loud, but whenever she would bring it up I would dodge the question. I didn’t want us to break up and stop having sex, so I let her continue to believe that we might be long-term partners. I think I could have acted in a way that was more considerate of her feelings and lessened the eventual emotional hardship she suffered when we broke up, but I don’t believe what I did was sexual harassment. —Roger, 29, lawyer, D.C.
Describe a situation that was in a gray area but ultimately not OK.
I’ve had many experiences of men with whom I was intimate having an expectation of “getting off” or finishing even if we were not having sex. I’ve been yelled at for giving a guy “blue balls.” I’ve had many experiences where I was intimate with a man and then slowed down before anything moved toward intercourse, and I’ve received a lot of “well, you implied that we were going to have sex” or “now I’m worked up, and it causes me pain if I don’t get off” or “why would you invite me over if you weren’t planning on having sex with me?” I have many times finished a guy (hand job usually) even if we were done “hooking up” because I didn’t want to have sex but he implied that I “owed him that.” I still find it horrifying and inappropriate, but whenever I’m in that situation, I still feel obligated to do it. —Keisha, 23, graduate student and State Department employee, D.C.
There was a time in college where I felt a lot of pressure around fitting in, particularly with other men, particularly straight men, and sort of the culture of hooking up that I felt was floating around in my social circles. I hooked up with someone. She and I had met at a party, and we had both been drinking. We were making out, and we were talking, so I felt like it was a situation where we were both present for it and that it was consensual. But I saw her a few days later, and I’d left some hickeys on her shoulder and her neck. She wasn’t upset by it and kind of laughed about it as a sort of joke. But it’s a memory I look back on, and I don’t feel good about, in part because I felt like the whole point of the hookup was me sort of trying to prove something or had a connection to my own insecurity. —Ben, 32, Oakland”
“Describe a situation that seemed OK at the time but now seems like harassment.
I was at a local show and ended up getting [a woman’s] phone number. A while later we went out to dinner and went back to her house to watch a movie. There was some intoxication involved. She asked if I wanted to go to her room for the night. At the time I didn’t feel the desire to go any further than that and didn’t make any advances. After we began [having sex] she [said] she didn’t know if she was clean and that she didn’t have protection, but by that point I wasn’t in a mind frame to consider the consequences. After the first round there was a small break before she got back on top. This continued multiple times. I remember thinking that this is what it felt like to be used. It wasn’t until after that I decided that this was something that I didn’t want to happen again. —Roy, 28, musician and activist, Salt Lake City
I was out at a club with some friends when I was reintroduced to a friend of those friends, and he and I ended up going back to my apartment at the end of the night. When we got there, we consensually moved from kissing and touching to oral sex, but I wasn’t interested in having anal sex with him. He did want to have anal sex and asked me multiple times if we could, including while laying on top of me with his dick rubbing against my ass. I gave a variation of “no, I’m sorry, not tonight” each time. … Finally, after about five or six times, he did stop asking and left abruptly. At the time, I didn’t think much of it since (1) he never penetrated me, (2) we did enjoy some consensual sexual moments that night, and (3) he was living in another city. I now think he probably committed some form of harassment and/or assault against me. But in the back of my mind, I still hold doubts about that assertion, and I sometimes wonder whether those interactions actually live up to the rather serious definitions of assault and harassment. —Jordan, 27, analyst, D.C.
In my early 20s … I took someone home and started having sex with him. Halfway through, my bedroom door opened and in walked a guy I had been on a couple of dates with. He’d come back with my housemates. I looked at him in shock and then said, “OK, take your clothes off and join us.” We had a threesome, and for years it was a funny and outrageous story—but I realized recently that he had no right to follow me home and walk in on me like that. And I wonder what would have happened if I had said no. —Emma, 36, charity grant assessor, United Kingdom”
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