Europe update: May 25 2017


Still a lot of things happening in the aftermath of Monday’s terrorist bombing in Manchester, as you might expect. The UK is on edge, and so for example an unattended vehicle is enough to shut down the Westminster Bridge in London. The investigation has found “suspicious items” during an investigation of a house in Wigan, a town near Manchester, and police say the alleged bomber, Salman Abedi, may have had accomplices who are still at large, though they’ve already arrested eight people suspected of having connection to the bombing.

Republican Congressman Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Thursday that the Manchester bomb used the same explosives as bombs used in the 2015 Paris attack and the 2016 Brussels attack. This brings me to an important question, which is: when are American officials going to stop blabbing to the press about this incident that happened in another country? It’s gotten so bad now that British police are no longer sharing information with the Americans about the investigation. They’re concerned that the steady stream of American leaks, most recently including photographs of bomb parts, will compromise their investigation. All investigations like this include leaks to the press, but there’s an almost willful disregard for British interests in the amount of leaking that’s being done by Americans right now. It’s bizarre.

I want to talk a bit more about the part of this story that’s only just starting to get serious attention, which is the British failure to identify Abedi as a security risk despite the fact that multiple people tried to alert authorities about him. I realize that law enforcement can’t monitor every threat, but there are minimal-effort things you can do to help monitor somebody about whom you’ve received several reports. Watch for him traveling to places where terrorist organizations are known to operate–Libya, for example. Stick his name on a terror watch list so other intelligence agencies might pick up on him. Something. So far it seems like the Brits did nothing with this guy–who, again, was so clearly abnormal that multiple people including family members told authorities about him.

It just seems like there’s something off about this case, especially when you factor in how quickly things went down in Libya after the bombing–Abedi’s father and brother were taken into custody within a day or so. Why? What did the Libyans know about them? His father, Ramadan, fought with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group during the 2011 revolution against Muammar Gaddafi. The LIFG was declared a terrorist organization by the US in 2004 for its ties to al-Qaeda, but parts of it, under boss Abdelhakim Belhadj, rebranded in 2011 in order to leverage Western aid and participate in the post-Gaddafi political transition. We know that Britain supported Libyan rebels with training, advisers, and equipment during the revolution–did they work with the rebranded LIFG? Was Ramadan Abedi among them? I’m not saying it has anything to do with his son blowing himself up at a concern in 2017, but I think a full accounting of the degree to which Western governments supported Salafi-Jihadi extremists during the 2011 intervention to oust Gaddafi would be a good thing even if there’s no connection to Monday’s attack.

Although it seems almost inappropriate to talk about it with everything else going on, Britain is holding a snap election next month, so I’ll just leave this here without comment:

Britain’s opposition Labour Party has cut the lead of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives to five points less than a fortnight before a national election, according to the first poll published since a suicide bombing killed 22 people.

In a sign that the election could be more closely contested than has previously been thought, YouGov said on Thursday May’s party was on 43 percent, down 1 percentage point compared to a week ago, while Labour was up 3 points on 38 percent.

The previous YouGov poll had given May a lead of nine points.


UN envoy Espen Barth Eide says that the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides are still “far apart” on terms for a summit that would (hopefully) end with the island finally reunified. This isn’t that surprising–major agreements like this invariably get harder as they approach completion, which is why so few of them every get completed. But one of the main sticking points continues to be the disposition of the thousands of troops Turkey has permanently based on the island. The Greeks want them gone, the Turks refuse to consider it. It’ll take some creative compromising to bridge that gap.


Researchers at the University of Toronto say they’ve uncovered an international hacking operation that steals documents and then tries to embed fake documents within large dumps of otherwise authentic ones. There’s no specific evidence connecting this group to Russia but the researchers did note that they seem to target opponents of Vladimir Putin’s government:

The campaign has targeted more than 200 government officials, military leaders and diplomats from 39 countries, as well as journalists, activists, a former Russian prime minister and a prominent critic of President Vladi­mir Putin, according to the report. The attackers seek to hack into email accounts using phishing techniques, steal documents and slightly alter them while retaining the appearance of authenticity. These forgeries, which the researchers have dubbed “tainted leaks,” are then released along with unaltered documents and publicized as legitimate leaks.

“Tainted leaks plant fakes in a forest of facts in an attempt to make them credible by association with genuine, stolen documents,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab. “Tainted leaks are a clever and concerning tool for spreading falsehoods. We expect to see many more of them in the future.”

You may recall that last-minute hack into then-candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign included some pretty obvious forgeries among a bunch of authentic material. Just saying.


A new poll shows Macron’s En Marche party winning 310-330 seats in next month’s parliamentary election, comfortably more than the 289 seats it needs for a majority. That would certainly eliminate concerns about his ability to implement a legislative agenda.


So, hey, how’d the big NATO meeting go?

Ha! Yes, there is a normal thing that you often see happening! I wonder if those two had a chance to shake hands a second ti-

Oh good! How nice! Well, surely those were all the physical hijinks for thi-

Welp, that was President Trump committing misdemeanor assault on the prime minister of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, so that he could get in the front row for a group photo.

They say a picture equals a thousand words, but to be fair these pictures are pretty silly. But compared to the earlier stages of his excursion, where–well, hey, we’re all still alive, I would have to say that this NATO meeting was where the wheels began to come off of the President Big Boy’s First Big World Adventure! Tour. There was the bit where Trump called Germany “very bad” and pledged to stop German auto imports into the US (it’s not clear how he could do this). There was the bit where he and the rest of the NATO leaders couldn’t come up with a collective position on Russia, which isn’t solely on Trump but is still a problem for the alliance. And there was Trump once again insisting that NATO countries that haven’t been hitting the alliance’s “2 percent of GDP on defense” spending target owe back pay to the United States, which–whether you think they should owe back pay to the US or not–simply isn’t the way NATO works, something that has been explained–repeatedly–to Trump without it ever sinking in.

Yes, it could have been worse. Trump did not, contrary to what you might have heard, abrogate America’s Article 5 obligation to the alliance’s collective self defense. No, he didn’t explicitly endorse the collective defense either, but if this were literally anyone but Donald Trump nobody would even think to ask whether he’d specifically endorsed it because there’s no real reason to do that. That Trump refused to do so may be troubling for other members of the alliance, particularly members in Eastern Europe worried about Russia, but I don’t think it rises to the level of outright scandal. The US forces that have been and are being deployed to Eastern Europe speak a lot louder than anything Donald Trump said or didn’t say in Brussels.

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