MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling wades through a curious wiki leak

Published by MAC on 2010-12-13
Source: Nostromo Research, PTI

Julian Assange was arrested in London last Tuesday and charged with rape.

Those who are already incandescent about the wiki leaker's supposed breach of  state securities may now dismiss him as a common criminal to boot.

But many will continue  hailing Mr Assange as a new type of peoples' hero - not least much of the world press.

And, in particular, the London-based Guardian newspaper, for which Assange and his band have provided more sensational copy than Britain's recent Arctic weather.

What America wants, America will get!

Among the voluminous documents, dripped from Julian Assange and his colleagues' vigorous fingers, is a relatively short paper which has received a modest amount of attention.

Intriguing - and worrisome - it certainly is.

Classified "SECRET/NOFORN", the policy document originated from the US State Department in February 2009.

"NOFORN" means "Not For Release to Foreigners" -  somewhat quixotic, given the data relates to overseas resource projects in the hands of companies that may reasonably be accounted Friends, not Enemies, of America.

It seeks to flesh out measures, adopted over the past eight years by the US Department of Homeland Security and aimed at "protecting" the nation's security from "terrorists" who might attacking supplies of the country's strategic raw materials.

The document is dubbed: "Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources Protection" - or CI/KR) (and can be found attached below).

A Cacophony of a List

Of particular interest to mine-watchers will be the "Critical Foreign Dependency Initiative List (CI/KR) by region".

Unsurprisingly, this mentions several key basic metals, currently in short (or non-existent) supply within US borders or from Canada - such as rare earths, cobalt, chromium, manganese, nickel and platinum group metals.

However, bauxite and iron ore are also included in the inventory; these are rarely identified as "strategic" materials, at least from a "defence" perspective.

It's true that aluminium, the end product of bauxite mining, is vital to aerospace manufacture.

More puzzling is the presence of iron on the menu, despite the US having ample supplies itself  (it's ranked as the world's 10th biggest producer by its own Geological Survey). Americans also buy iron ore from Canada, the world's third largest producer.

UK Calling

There's a rolling table of international communications' facilities (notably undersea cables) considered essential to "the programme" .

Again, it's not immediately obvious why, in a world dominated by cyber discourse (not least by wikis themselves), this should be the case. 

(We're tickled that some of these precious submarine cables originate from Cornish beaches, including one at Porthcurno, where we briefly swam  last year. Laid in 1879, this was the first international communications' pipeline of its kind. That's hardly surprising: by that date time Cornish miners were digging up more copper and tin than the rest of the world put together).

Curiously, only four mines are actually named, with around thirty other supposedly critical deposits merely cited by the regions hosting them.

We learn that India is a prime provider of chromite, but only that it's obtainable from Orissa and Karnataka. South Africa's Bushveld, too, is identified as a chromium source. That's a pretty big expanse of territory to reconnoitre and protect -  even if you were a modern Mata Hari.

In contrast, Kazakhstan's Khromtau chromite complex at Kempersai is specifically listed.

So are two niobium mines: Araxa's in Brazil, owned by CBMM; and the Niobec operations of IAMGOLD in Quebec.

Then there's Rio Tinto's Carumba iron ore mine in Brazil's Minas Gerias state.

But we may wonder about the standard of diligence behind the CI/KR as a whole, considering this enterprise was sold by Rio Tinto to Vale at the end of January 2009 - a month before the list was published.

Rio Tinto isn't the only UK company vital to the protection of its oldest political ally.

Notorious British arms manufacturer, BAe Systems, is said to be "critical to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter[programme]".

And terrorists had better keep their hands off Azerbaijan's Sangachal terminal, an important component of British Petroleum's 1,768km long Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline.

Worth it's wait?

It's difficult to evaluate the importance of all this data - thrown together like a shopping list, scribbled by a harried mother as she tries  beating the pre-Xmas crowds.

It smacks of being cobbled by committee. Or, perhaps, by a low-level bureaucrat with a colon problem.

For example, the word "Uranium" suddenly appears half way through the text, unpunctuated next to "Nickel" - and that's all we're told.

Readers may also be puzzled that the most important plant for safeguarding in Argentina is a "foot and mouth disease vaccine facility". (Doesn't this the Latin American country also host several big strategic mineral deposits?.)

More than eighteen months (not to mention a new president) have walked through the US corridors of power since the formulation of  the CI/KR policy.

So, what use to pro-democracy campaigners is this rather bizarre mix of generalised geographical areas, just a few defined mining operations, and a patchwork of downstream and infrastructural operations?

Arguably, they would have been on such a list, whether or not New York's Twin Towers had been conflagrated in the atrocity of 2001.

But, having said this, we now know considerably more about where, and what, the US government is targeting than we did nine years ago.

For this, Julian Assange and his fellow leakers deserve our thanks.

Chromite mines in India critical to US


7 December 2010

WASHINGTON: Two little known chromite mines in Orissa and Karnataka, besides a factory in Gujarat that manufactures critical chemotherapy drugs are among global "key infrastructures" which could pose a danger to America's national security if they come under terrorist attack, a secret US cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed.

The classified State Department cable dated February 18, 2009 asks its diplomatic posts to update a secret list of key infrastructures across the globe which are vital of America's national security interests and needs to be protected from any terrorist attacks.

The secret list includes only three infrastructure projects from India. "Orissa (chromite mines) and Karnataka (chromite mines) Generamedix Gujurat: Chemotherapy agents, including florouracil and methotrexate," the cable said.

"Loss" of these infrastructures in foreign countries "could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States," it underlined.

The highly secretive American list, which has now appeared in the public domain, include undersea cables, key communications, ports, mineral resources and firms of strategic importance in countries from the Uk to New Zealand, Africa, the Middle East and China.

A Siemens factory in Germany does "essentially irreplaceable production of key chemicals" while a Canadian hydroelectric plant is termed as a "critical irreplaceable source of power to portions of Northeast US.

It also included European manufacturers of vaccines for smallpox and rabies, an Italian maker of treatment for snake-bite venom, and a German company making treatment for plutonium poisoning.

"Critical infrastructure" is defined as systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacitation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters," according to cable leaked by the whistle-blower website.

The newly released diplomatic cable is one of the most explosive yet out of many leaked by the website that have heaped embarrassment on Washington and caused anger around the world.

The US, which has charged Wikileaks of indulging in a criminal act by stealing and releasing these cables, has neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of these documents.

America: the panoptic shiver

Paul Rogers

Open Democracy

10 December 2010

The hacked United States diplomatic missives reveal both the vast ambition and the new vulnerabilites of the world's superpower.

Among the most compelling nuggets of information contained in the batch of United States diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks and published in leading international newspapers is the list of installations in more than fifty countries which the state department in Washington deems to be a US security concern.

Some of the locations seem obvious (major oil-and-gas processing-plants and pipeline terminuses, for example); but others are far harder to fit any evident national-security frame (such as an Australian pharmaceutical plant specialising in anti-snake-venom treatments, and cobalt-mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo).

But even the more unlikely sites are relevant to a country that sees itself as the world's sole superpower with interests across the globe. The anti-snake-venom plant in Australia almost certainly has the expertise and equipment to make antidotes to other toxins, and this could be highly significant in the event of a biological-warfare threat.

The cobalt-mines around Kolwezi and Mutshatsha in the southern DRC extract the world's most important deposits of cobalt ores, and ferro-alloys containing cobalt have the specific property of retaining their shape at very high temperatures. They are therefore much in demand for the guidance-vanes of missile-engines and other elements of modern weapons-systems.

The more surprising elements of the list as much as the expected ones thus illustrate the continued reach of the United States's strategic and security ambitions. But they also reveal something more: its new vulnerabilities. The increased inter-state competition across much of the global south from China and other rising states is one, familiar, source of these; another and perhaps less visible source is the challenge posed by insurgent groups to these prime targets. Indeed, central Africa may be a good place to begin to track this superpower dilemma.

A wider trend

In 1977-78, this region of what was then Zaire - ruled by the authoritarian (and west-supported) Mobutu Seso Soko - was a scene of severe violence as forces of the central government in Kinshasa fought to prevent rebel groups taking control of the mines. The insurgents were supported from Soviet bloc countries, especially East Germany, making this also one of the characteristic proxy wars of the cold-war era. The crisis became so serious that Franco-Belgian paratroopers (supported by Nato) were airlifted to the region to take control of the mines; the contingent, having secured the objective, then handed over to a French-organised Inter-African Force.

Such armed competition over mineral resources both extended beyond the cold war and acquired new dimensions - among them the capacity and will of paramilitary groups to target sites of great economic value or symbolism to the power-structures they seek to undermine (see "The asymmetry of economic war" 14 February 2008).

In Sri Lanka, for example, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) guerrilla group attacked an oil refinery, the international airport and many other such sites in the 1990s; its biggest operation was a massive truck-bombing of Colombo's central bank in January 1996 that killed over 100 people and injured 1,400 as well as damaging both much of the capital's business district and business confidence overall.

A further significant example in this decade is the Provisional IRA's decision to switch the focus of its armed campaign in the early 1990s in the direction of a full-tilt assault against the City of London, at the very time when the latter was competing vigorously with Frankfurt to be Europe's financial hub (see Paul Rogers, "Political Violence and economic targeting aspects of provisional IRA strategy, 1992-97", Civil Wars, 3/4, Winter 2000).

A series of bombs in the heart of the extended district - in Bishopsgate, Baltic Exchange and Canary Wharf - was the result; there were also numerous attacks on transport targets including rail terminuses, motorways and airports. The government of the day, led by John Major as prime minister (1990-97) never publicly acknowledged the full impact of the IRA's strategic shift; but at the centre of power there was clear recognition of the serious dangers of such "spectaculars". The result was to fuel the development of an incipient "peace process" in Northern Ireland involving all leading actors, initially by Major's Conservative government but with more focus when Tony Blair's New Labour came to power in May 2007.

The completion of this process in the form of the Belfast agreement of 1998 and subsequent events (albeit breakaway or "dissident" factions claiming the IRA mantle persist in efforts to continue the struggle) took place just as the arc of insurgency was rising elsewhere. In the 2000s, the age of "war on terror", this form of economic conflict has become part of the armoury of al-Qaida and its affiliates; examples include the attack on the French tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen on 6 October 2002 and the bombing of the Saudi oil-processing plant at Abqaiq on 24 February 2006 (see "Abqaiq's message to Washington", 9 November 2006). At the height of the Iraq insurgency, in 2004-07, repeated attacks on oil facilities sabotaged US efforts to develop this asset and to establish control over the country.

There are other cases across the world, perpetrated by groups (such as India's Naxalites) with a quite different ideological character and political motive. A series of low-cost but high-impact attacks on Mexico's oil-and-gas pipelines by the small but effective Ejército Popular Revolucionario (Popular Revolutionary Army / EJR) in 2007 would also come into this category.

A real grasp

The wider trend evident here since the 1990s is the ability of paramilitary groups in different parts of the world to recognise the weak points of organised commercial and financial operations - and, on many occasions, to target them. These disparate groups are not themselves coordinated or supportive of a single cause, but the body of experience they have separately developed (much of which can be widely accessed and shared across the internet) means that a common understanding of the vulnerabilities of urban-industrial societies is possible (see "Al-Qaida's business jihad", 12 August 2010).

This trend, and its wider political context, helps explain the desire of the United States state department to collect data on potential strategic targets in more than fifty countries. The US has faced many problems in the decade of "war on terror", and its overriding focus on military combat has in addition handicapped its ability to cope with emerging issues such as the rise of China as a major economic power. Yet the inner nexus of power in Washington maintains an unbending commitment to the idea of the "new American century" and the status of the United States as the world's only military superpower (see Philip S Golub, "Empire as a state of being", Le Monde diplomqtique, December 2010).

This ambition is manifested in the effort to secure "full-spectrum dominance" using conventional military forces; the attempt to exert control of space through US space-command's Vision for 2020; and a capacity to project power far in excess of any other state. For all its extraordinary strength and scale, however, the project is as yet unable to prevent sub-state actors from launching damaging assaults and thus maximising the benefits of "asymmetrical war".

The insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have already hugely constrained American forces and their coalition partners; both conflicts too have elements of an inter-state resource war of the kind familiar from the cold-war period (see "Afghanistan, and the world‘s resource war", 10 July 2010). But in addition to such "classic" geopolitical and geo-strategic concerns, the United States now faces a further deep underlying worry: that paramilitary groups worldwide are ever more aware that their most effective impact might come less from laying improvised-explosive devices (IEDs) to disable small military units than by striking laterally at major nodes of economic activity.

This process may still be in its early stages. But that is precisely the importance of the diplomatic list of security-related sites released by Wikileaks. The United States, the world power, has interests everywhere - and in the new conditions of global politics, conflict, and technology, these are everywhere shadowed by new vulnerabilities. The cables show that Hillary Clinton's state department has a real grasp of this reality. How the United States responds to it will help define the character of the next decade and beyond.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001, and writes an international-security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We're Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)

Lunch With the CIA

John Thomas

The Mad Hedge Fund Trader

4 December 2010

"The long term outlook for supplies of food, natural resources, and energy is becoming so severe that the CIA is now viewing it as a national security threat... This will be music to the ears of the hedge funds that have been stampeding into food, commodities, and energy since March. It is also welcome news to George Soros, who has quietly bought up enough agricultural land in Argentina to create his own medium sized country".

Lunch with the Central Intelligence Agency is always interesting, although five gorillas built like brick shithouses staring at me intently didn't help my digestion.

Obama's pick of Leon Panetta as the agency's new director was controversial because he didn't come from an intelligence background- upsetting the career spooks at Langley to no end. But the President thought a resume that included 16 years as the Democratic congressman from Monterey, California, and stints as Clinton's Chief of Staff and OMB Director, was good enough. So when Panetta passed through town on his way home to heavenly Carmel Valley for the holidays, I thought I'd pull a few strings in Washington to catch a private briefing.

The long term outlook for supplies of food, natural resources, and energy is becoming so severe that the CIA is now viewing it as a national security threat. Some one third of emerging market urban populations are poor, or about 1.5 billion souls, and when they get hungry, angry, and politically or religiously inspired, Americans have to worry. This will be music to the ears of the hedge funds that have been stampeding into food, commodities, and energy since March. It is also welcome news to George Soros, who has quietly bought up enough agricultural land in Argentina to create his own medium sized country.

Panetta then went on to say that the current monstrous levels of borrowing by the Federal government abroad is also a security issue, especially if foreigners decide to turn the spigot off and put us on a crash diet. I was flabbergasted, not because this is true, but that it is finally understood at the top levels of the administration and is of interest to the intelligence agencies. Toss another hunk of red meat to my legions of carnivorous traders in the TBT, the leveraged ETF that profits from falling Treasury bond prices!

Job one is to defeat Al Qaida, and the agency has had success in taking out several terrorist leaders in the tribal areas of Pakistan with satellite directed predator drones. The CIA could well win the war in Afghanistan covertly, as they did the last war there in the eighties, with their stinger missiles supplied to the Taliban for use against the Russians. The next goal is to prevent Al Qaida from retreating to other failed states like Yemen and Somalia. The Agency is also basking in the glow of its discovery of a second uranium processing plant in Iran, sparking international outrage, and finally bringing Europeans to our side with sanctions against Iran.

Cyber warfare is a huge new battlefront. Some 100 countries now have this capability, and they have stolen over $50 billion worth of intellectual property from the US in the past year. As much as I tried to pin Panetta down on who the culprits were, he wouldn't name names, but indirectly hinted that the main hacker-in-chief was China. This comes on the heels of General Wesley Clark's admission that the Chinese cleaned out the web connected mainframes at both the Pentagon and the State Department in 2007. The Bush administration kept the greatest security breach in US history secret to duck a hit in the opinion polls.

I thought Panetta was incredibly frank, telling me as much as he could without those gorillas having to kill me afterwards. I have long been envious of the massive budget that the CIA deploys to research the same global markets that I have for most of my life, believed to amount to $70 billion, but even those figures are top secret. If I could only manage their pension fund with their information with a 2%/20% deal! I might even skip the management fee and go for just the bonus. The possibilities boggle the mind!

Panetta's final piece of advice: don't even think about making a cell phone call in Pakistan. I immediately deleted the high risk numbers from my cell phone address book.

I have been pounding the table with these guys for four decades to focus more on the resource issue, but they only seemed interested in missiles, planes, tanks, subs, and satellites. What a long strange trip it's been. Better take another look at the Market Vectors agricultural ETF (DBA), their agribusiness ETF (MOO), as well as my favorite ag stocks, Monsanto (MON), Mosaic (MOS), and Agrium (AGU). Accidents are about to happen in their favor.

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