23 October 2014

Behind ISIS - the "Islamic State"

My coverage of the rise of ISIS began with my Guardian op-ed, which was closely followed by a similar piece which, however, takes a slightly different tack, published via my Al-Arabiya English column.

Sadly, the general media's approach to ISIS/ISIL/IS/Islamic State/ whateverthef*ckuwannacallem has been largely lacking much critical or investigative values. If we've not had to endure the usual jingoistic cheerleading, we've instead been subjected to shallow and frivolous criticisms that often miss the point entirely.

At risk of flogging a dead horse, I decided to tackle this by undertaking two projects - firstly, a long form analytical piece that would examine the evidence in the public record around ISIS and its emergence in the context of geopolitical realities; secondly, an investigative piece to contextualise the apparent "intelligence failure" to anticipate the rise of ISIS, in the context of the way ISIS has been exploited to kill surveillance reform and justify the expansion of the military-industrial complex. 

This led to two, in-depth long-form articles. The first, 'How the west created the Islamic State.... with a little help from our friends', first published on Medium, then by Counterpunch, Truthout, and many other outlets, expands on my long-articulated (and well-documented) thesis that the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism is a co-creation of both the Western and Muslim worlds. That is somewhat of a simplification, admittedly - but I endeavour to avoid simplistifications by digging deep into the public record to piece together where ISIS actually came from: the nexus of US-UK led covert operations mobilising Islamist extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda through the financial, logistical, and military support of regional states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. As Vice President Joe Biden himself confirmed (without, however, admitting western complicity - note, btw, the obligatory mentions in the coverage of this that Biden never said these state intended to arm terrorists....

No they did not burst out of the blue into Iraq from nowhere. No they did not spontaneously generate the ability to self-finance themselves in a way that would make most entrepreneurs salivate. No they do not even today operate as a purely non-state entity with no outside support. All these myths, routinely adopted by mainstream media pundits and even the talking head experts who court them, serve to obfuscate the reality of the unfolding crisis across Iraq-Syria and the wider Middle East. 

The next piece was first published in the stellar British magazine, Ceasefire, under the title 'Story of a War Foretold: Why We're Fighting ISIS', then printed by Counterpunch who ran it as 'How the Pentagon Exploits ISIS to Kill Surveillance Reform and Re-Occupy Iraq'. This investigative piece looked at how the Pentagon was using the spectre of ISIS to justify  the surveillance machine, the re-invasion of Iraq-Syria, the massive consolidation and expansion of intrusive new powers globally to crackdown on 'terror suspects' - including the administrator of the Pentagon's Minerva initiative. She tried to justify Minerva's co-optation of academia to develop models that might predict "insurgencies" by the intelligence community's alleged inability to predict the rise of ISIS.

This investigation showed that the intelligence community had ample warning of the rise of ISIS, knew it was coming, but did nothing - further, that the current military strategy in Iraq-Syria is bound to fail according to a range of military and intelligence experts, some active; and finally, that this failure in turn is very likely to elicit a prolongation of military operations in the region for the foreseeable future, with a great probability of ground troops. I used a range of source material - public record, press reports, official Congressional testimony, interviews with former and active British, American and Iraqi officials in military and government. 

If you want to understand what's going on in the region right now, I consider these two articles to be definitive and comprehensive primers that'll get you up to speed in an hour or so.

Are you an activist? Your tweets could kill you. I'm not joking

So I've not had a chance to update this blog as I've been up to my neck in it, but I've realised doing so has meant some of my readers haven't been able to keep up with my work. To make up for it, while I've got a few moments between sessions at the IARU Sustainability Science Congress in Copenhagen (where I gave a talk this morning), here are some updates.

First order of business is the continuation of my investigation, that began in The Guardian, into the Pentagon's co-optation of social science and academia to create new tools to track activists and political dissent. 

I followed that up with an extensive four-part investigation published by Occupy.com, which dug deeper in the activities of the Pentagon's Minerva Research Initiative, to unearth its role in funding new, cutting-edge, data-mining tools and algorithms that could be used by the intelligence community - most specifically the NSA and CIA - to analyse and track activism, political dissent and ultimately predict social unrest, via social media. 

The overarching aim is to enhance the intelligence community's capacity to automatically assess threats using these algorithms, based on integrated analysis of a person's or organisation's social media usage combined with what can be gleaned from their private communications, to create an overall picture of behavioural patterns and political propensities. 

The most worrying thing of all about all this is that according to former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake, the celebrated whistleblower who inspired Edward Snowden, these algorithms and data-mining tools are precisely the sort of algorithms used to generate targets for the CIA's drone-strike kill lists. The upshot is that if you tweet something that can be categorised as "extreme" via the dubious and imprecise threat-classifications schemes being developed for Pentagon use, you could end up on a terror watch list somewhere - or worse.

And just because you're American, don't think you'll be ok because drone strikes currently take place abroad in certain Muslim-majority countries. The other line of inquiry I explore in this in-depth series is the ongoing efforts to militarise the US homeland with drones. By September 2015, Obama has demanded that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalise its drone regulations, so that drones can fly in US skies. Police units are already using drones borrowed from border control in places like Seattle to conduct surveillance and assist with active on-street operations. But that's not all. Apart from the police actively lobbying to arm drones with so-called "non-lethal" weapons - riot control stuff, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc. - a little-known Pentagon executive directive last year now formally gives domestic agencies the authority to use armed drones on US soil in the case of major "civil disturbances" or "emergencies" - whether natural disasters, economic or food shocks, or a terrorist attack. 

My investigation ties up the Minerva initiative in the context of the wider national security apparatus and the drive to accelerate state-military control in the face of the increasing danger of civil unrest at home and abroad, due to the escalating probability of climate, energy, economic and food crises. 

The issues uncovered in my investigation demonstrate that we are well on the path to the consolidation of the surveillance-state, with the US leading the new model of state consolidation - our every move under the watch of militarised drones; our behaviours public and private the subject of routine but extensive data-mining and behavioural analytics to predict our predisposition and gauge our threat-level to US "national security"; and the danger of political dissent being characterised as a "threat" as the state loses its legitimacy as climate, energy, economic and food crises deepen. 

Think Skynet (Terminator), meets Hydra (Captain America: Winter Soldier), meets Pre-Crime (Minority Report).

So sure, your Facebook posts, tweets, Flickr photos, etc. etc. might not be an issue right now. But they're already being mined, wholesale, to gauge your organisational affiliations and "threat-potential." In a few years time, they might just get you on that drone-strike kill list. 

16 August 2014

Read the opening of ZERO POINT, a near future science fiction thriller


London, United Kingdom
1st February. 3:14PM GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

            Trafalgar Square. The crowd was massive. And squeezed.  Fortified rows of riot police wielding batons, tucked behind long plastic shields, surrounded angry, squashed civilians, heaving and rolling and shouting.
            “We want work! We want work!” they chanted, some shoving fists into the air, others waving banners emblazoned with pound signs crossed with skulls.
            The crowd was everywhere. Swathes of angry, shouting demonstrators were hemmed in all over central London and the City. Regents Park. South Kensington. Hyde Park. Westminster, outside the Houses of Parliament. Canary Wharf. Kings Cross. It was the biggest mass protest in the UK, ever.
            What had begun as a series of disparate demonstrations inspired by the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon - supposedly defeated decades ago - had spontaneously snowballed from a single occupation of Parliament Square into an unprecedented, city-wide mass rally.
             Then riot police were in amongst the writhing crowd, shoving with shields and lashing out with batons. People ran and screamed, some drenched in blood, others throwing bottles and cans at the officers. Cars were aflame, shop windows cracked.
            London was ablaze.

BREAKING: Security Expert & Guardian Journalist’s New Book Predicted Iraq Crisis. Author Now Warns of Intervention’s Bold Threat to Homeland Security

Having contributed to both the 9/11 Commission and the 2005 London bombings Coroner’s Inquest, Dr. Nafeez Ahmed has a unique and authoritative insight into the knock-on effects of military intervention. ‘Zero Point’, his critically-acclaimed new Sci-Fi thriller, predicted the United States’ recent bombings in Iraq and provides an alarming warning of how further US-UK military intervention could spark deadly global unrest.

For Immediate Release
London, UK – While many haven’t given the United States’ recent bombing in Iraq anything more than a passing glance through their TV, investigative journalist and international security scholar Dr Nafeez Ahmed is steadfast in his belief that the nation’s Islamic Insurgency could fight back against further UK-US action. But his research shows something far more chilling; this retaliation could destabilise the entire Middle East, North Africa, and even the West. Dr. Ahmed predicted western intervention in his gripping upcoming novel, ‘Zero Point’, and it has already become a reality.

This eagerly-awaited new science fiction thriller, inspired by true events, weaves a chillingly plausible narrative of a near future dystopia following a Fourth Iraq War, in which Britain and the United States intervene repeatedly in Iraq to crush an Islamist insurgency there and defend Western oil interests. The narrative draws on Dr. Ahmed’s first-hand experience as a security journalist, academic and government adviser to explore the self-defeating hubris of an all-powerful national security state in an era of converging environmental, energy and economic crises.

“The short-term is hope is that air strikes will save some lives from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the reality is that the west actually created this crisis,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “Since the 2003 Iraq invasion the US and UK have broken up large concentrations of power in the Middle East for their own gain. Coupled with their short-sighted support for al-Qaeda affiliated rebels in Syria and elsewhere backed by the Gulf regimes, things are looking pretty bad.”

Continuing, “The old adage that “it all comes down to oil” is also absolutely true. My research has shown that more military action could be put in place to simply protect our oil interests, which will inflame the crisis in the long-term and lead to possible global unrest.”

The novel stands as a fictional exploration of the current predicament and its challenges. Dr. Ahmed knows that it’s extremely timely.

“People currently have huge anxieties over the threat of terrorism, mass surveillance and the rising possibility of major civilizational crisis. The recent recession tested these fears and my narrative speculates how such civil liberties could actually be cracked down on if Iraq and wider Middle East insurgents threaten terrorist attacks on our home soil. The results could affect the entire world. Although frighteningly close to reality, my narrative does also have its exciting, fun and fantastical elements – it’s not just a story of looming destruction!” Dr. Ahmed adds.

Former NASA engineer Boyd Morrison, now an international bestselling thriller author of The Ark, The Vault, Rogue Wave, The Catalyst and The Roswell Conspiracy, is raving about Ahmed’s new book:

“Nafeez Ahmed has mined his extensive background in international security to create a fast-paced thriller that combines conspiracies, terrorism, and cutting-edge technology. Prepare to hold on for a wild ride!”

ZERO POINT will be published on 14th August by Curiosity Quills Press in DC, and officially launched in New York City on 18th August at The Henley Vaporium, 23 Cleveland Place, New York, NY 10012, United States at 7-9PM. Ahmed will be joined by journalist and philosopher Daniel Pinchbeck, founding director of the Center for Planetary Culture, and Alnoor Ladha, board member of Greenpeace International and director of The Rules.

For more information, check out the ZERO POINT website and trailer at zro.pt. Nafeez Ahmed will be touring New York City between 18th August and 1st September 2014, and Washington DC from 21st and 22nd August, and is available for interviews. Contact him on iprdoffice@gmail.com

Official Synopsis:

Mass riots
Economic meltdown
Black outs

And a new oil war in Iraq to keep the world economy afloat.

Fourth Iraq War veteran and war crimes whistleblower, David Ariel, is sick of violence, and trying to make ends meet working for police specialist protection. But after Prime Minister Carson is brutally assassinated by extremists on Ariel’s watch, he is covertly targeted by a compromised police investigation.

When forensics discover that Carson’s assassination inexplicably defied the very laws of physics, bodies drop like flies. Key witnesses are murdered in impossible circumstances.

Fleeing for his life while London is locked-down under martial law, Ariel gets a phone call from Iraq he will never forget: his estranged girlfriend, journalist Julia Stephenson, warns that the Carson killing is just the beginning of a wider plot to bring the west to its knees. Then she disappears.

Ariel’s blood-soaked race against time to track the terror cells behind Carson’s death tumbles into the cross-fire of a hidden battle between mysterious rogue intelligence agencies. Their goal: to monopolise black budget technologies which could unlock the universe’s darkest, arcane secrets.

As the world he thought he knew unravels, Ariel faces off against bent coppers, double-crossing agents, psychic killers and super soldiers to complete a black ops mission like no other: Stop Quantum Apocalypse.

About the Author:

Through his books, films and journalism, Ahmed argues that a combination of political repression, failed economic models, young disenfranchised populations and escalating resource scarcity due to energy, food and water crises are contributing to what he calls a “new age of unrest.” Instability in far apart locations from Brazil to Ukraine to Thailand – as well as Syria, Egypt and beyond – are symptoms of an accelerating “global riot epidemic” due to the end of cheap oil and intensifying climate disasters.

In March 2014, Ahmed made global headlines with his exclusive Guardian report on a NASA-funded model of the risks of civilisational collapse which identified how widening economic inequalities and looming resource shortages due to ecological stress could precipitate a collapse of global industrial civilisation. In a further series of exclusives this summer, Ahmed exposed how the Pentagon and UK Ministry of Defence are funding social science and data-mining projects to develop tools to track political dissent and public opposition to fossil fuels. His exclusive reporting has also included revelations on the link between NSA mass surveillance, environmental crisis, and political activism; and how US-UK covert operations and foreign policies have empowered Gulf state-backed jihadists, fanning the flames of Middle East unrest from Iraq to Egypt to Syria.

A former lecturer in international politics at Sussex and Brunel universities, Ahmed is the bestselling, award-winning author of five books on international security issues, the latest of which is A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010) – the first peer-reviewed academic work to analyse the intersection of climate change, energy depletion, food crisis, economic turbulence, international terrorism, and state-militarisation. Ahmed wrote, co-produced and presented the documentary feature film inspired by the book, The Crisis of Civilization.

Nafeez Ahmed

9 August 2014


I'm thrilled to announce that I'm launching my debut science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT, in New York on 18th August 2014, at The Henley, 7-9PM, at an exclusive dialogue event hosted by Daniel Pinchbeck, founding Director of the Center for Planetary Culture

An Exclusive Discussion and Book Launch with Dr Nafeez Ahmed, Daniel Pinchbeck, Alnoor Ladhna

The coming decades may look bleak at first glance - humanity stands on the brink of a precipice consisting of multiple, overlapping crises: escalating climate change, the melting Arctic, rocketing inequality and persistent poverty, a deepening and looming global food crisis, the proliferation of extremism whether it be far right fascism or religious fundamentalism, ongoing military interventionism, and the rise of the global police state and mass surveillance in the name of fighting a seemingly endless 'war on terror'.

In this exclusive dialogue, author, journalist and philosopher Daniel Pinchbeck - director of the Center for Planetary Culture, Alnoor Ladhna - director of The Rules and Greenpeace board member, and investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed - Guardian writer, security expert, explore how the crisis of civilization offers unprecedented hope for a transition to a new, thriving form of post-carbon, post-capitalist prosperity. What can we do, as individuals and communities, to grasp the reigns of history and, collectively, change the direction of our civilization?

The event is also a launch for Ahmed's new science fiction thriller opus, ZERO POINT, set after a Fourth Iraq War in which the US and UK governments intervene repeatedly in Iraq to put down an al-Qaeda insurgency, with devastating unforeseen consequences at home and abroad. Copies of ZERO POINT will be for sale, and Nafeez will be signing them.

Watch the ZERO POINT official trailer:

About Nafeez Ahmed:

Nafeez (http://nafeezahmed.com/) is a bestselling British author , international security scholar and investigative journalist. He writes for The Guardian on the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises, and has contributed to two major terrorism investigations in the US and UK. His latest book and film on The Crisis of Civilization can be found at http://crisisofcivilization.com/ Nafeez's books, journalism, and films aim to catalyse social change in the public interest by harnessing radical, systemic approaches to understanding the interconnections between the world's biggest problems, while developing holistic strategies for social transformation.

About Daniel Pinchbeck:

Daniel is an American journalist and philosopher applying vision, creativity, and systems thinking toward the shaping of an ethically and ecologically viable society. His latest book is Notes from the Edge Times (Penguin, 2010) He has written widely on contemporary crises and opportunities for transition, and has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, ArtForum, The New York Times Book Review, The Village Voice, among many others. He is founding Director of the Center for Planetary Culture (http://planetaryculture.com/), a new hybrid think tank advancing ideas and solutions to our most challenging ecological, social and political issues.

About Alnoor Ladha:

Alnoor Ladha is a co-founder of The Rules, a global collective of activists and organisers focused on addressing the root causes of inequality and poverty. He is also a board member of Greenpeace International, USA, and Partner/Head of Strategy at Purpose, an incubator for new types of social movements. Alnoor has created pro-social organizational strategies for Amnesty International, MTV Exit, Google, the United Nations Foundation, the Gates Foundation, among others. He has written for The New York Times, Fast Company, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Economist, among others.

Location: The Henley, 23 Cleveland Place, New York, NY 10012, United States

Date/Time: 18th August, 7-9PM

25 June 2014

Mass surveillance, political dissent, and the coming open source revolution

Over the last two weeks, I've authored a series of investigative Guardian articles connecting up the increasing propensity of the national security system to criminalise political dissent with the growing recognition of environmental, economic and energy crises. My latest post follows up those somewhat disturbing stories with an immensely powerful and positive vision for 'open source everything', articulated by former senior CIA spy Robert David Steele, widely recognised in the international intelligence community as the pioneer of the practice of Open Source Intelligence. 

The first piece in this series focuses on the US. The story investigates how a little-known Pentagon-funded social science research programme partnering with universities up and down the United States (and around the world) is sponsoring academic research to track the danger of new threats in an age of uncertainty due to new risks. Most prominent in this programme is the tendency of the research to view all political dissent as a source of potential terrorism. Social science is being co-opted to develop innovate new research, analytical and data-mining tools that can be mobilised quickly in field operations to track peaceful activists, social movements, and NGOs. 

The second story extends this investigation to the UK, highlighting how Britain's major research councils have been co-opted by Ministry of Defence and related UK government officials, once again with a view to fund research which is demonstrably concerned with generating information that can be operationally useful for government defence priorities, as opposed to supporting the sort of sound, critical and independent scholarship so sorely needed in the social sciences (and particularly in social science research on government counter-terrorism policies). As with the US case, analysis of little-known official government planning documents demonstrates that the Ministry of Defence's thinking in response to the convergence of major global environmental, energy and economic crises is increasingly regressive. Lacking a holistic, systemic and causal approach to gauging the nature of these crises, the MoD ends up projecting anti-capitalist activists, black and ethnic minority groups, immigrants, Muslim minorities, and Muslim-majority populations abroad all as potential security threats to the integrity of the functioning of global capitalism.

The third story in this series is an extended interview with Robert Steele, former CIA case officer and co-founder of the US Marine Corps Intelligence Command, where he was civilian deputy director. Steele, the author of The Open Source Everything Manifesto (North Atlantic Books, 2012), offers his insights on what he believes are the preconditions for revolution in the US and UK (and much of the west), and the prospects for challenging state corruption and corporate domination of the global commons. Steele's vision is an exciting one, and demonstrates that the counter-movement of open source everything holds the real possibility of transforming the current order for the benefit of all. Most striking is his expert assessment that the pre-conditions for revolution in the west already exist - all we need, he says, is our 'Tunisian fruitseller'.

30 May 2014

Who the hell are the Henry Jackson Society?

When I tell people about the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), most of them give me a blank look. Henry who? And why should a whole society be erected around some dude called Henry?

When I explain to them that HJS is actually a little known but powerful right-wing British think-tank set up with the support of American neoconservatives, understanding begins to dawn. 

Except, just how much influence HJS wields in policymaking circles is an open question, the fact that it is extremely well-connected with the financial, business, political, security and energy industry elite in the US and UK speaks volumes about their agenda and objectives.

While touting their support for freedom, liberalism and democratisation as their core organisational remit, in practice they appear to be a neocon trojan horse for the very opposite: state-expansionism, state-militarisation, interventionism, rampant market deregulation and privatisation in the interests of Western investors, coupled with anti-Muslim hostility and white supremacism. 

What's particularly shocking is that their pursuit of the latter is not exactly something deeply hidden, but is - for the most part - easily verifiable from the public record, with a little digging. The kind of digging that sadly my media colleagues seem to have not considered to be very important.

Recently, I've put out three major pieces linked to the Henry Jackson Society's dubious 'freedom promotion' via The Guardian. I collect them all here for your reference as they form a coherent whole that demonstrates HJS' pivotal coordinating role within a wide Anglo-American web of neoconservative power which is increasingly attempting to steer the ideology and policy decisions of global leaders in the regressive and counterproductive direction that apparently suits a tiny minority, but not the rest of us. 

The first, 'What climate denial, oil addiction and xenophobia have in common: neocons', points out the connection between HJS and the American far-right nutty 'news' service known as 'Breitbart'. The second, 'Think tank behind Tory foreign policy promotes Arab world fossil fuel hegemony', focuses squarely on HJS, the neocon social networks it represents, and the narrow interests it caters for. The third, 'Inclusive capitalism is Trojan Horse to quell coming global revolt', drives a stake into the heart of HJS' claims to be seeking meaningful economic 'reforms' in the public interest, as opposed to token PR schemes to continue corporate profit-maximisation while manufacturing public consent. Many didn't know that HJS was a key coordinator of the 'Initiative for Inclusive Capitalism' which brought together global financial leaders from across the spectrum to voice recognition of the urgent need for change (notably without, however, offering meaningful mechanisms for actual change beyond flowery verbiage).

That is not to say that everyone associated with HJS necessarily understands or agrees with their narrow, regressive and xenophobic vision. Indeed, part of the problem here - one that those who have studied the rise of the neoconservative movement in the US are well aware of - is that there has been a concerted effort by this disparate network of movers and shakers to influence public policy in the direction of their favoured ideology. That neocon movement continues to be active in the Obama administration, despite its Democrat colours, precisely due to the success of this neocon endeavour over the last decades to consolidate access to key institutions and structures

This is why it is hugely important to understand that HJS and the interests it represents are so out of whack with not only what the vast majority of the public would agree with or desire, but even what most policymakers would want to see happening in the world.

ZERO POINT Official Trailer and Website Launched!

I'm excited to announce that the official trailer for my forthcoming science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT, is now up, along with the rather spiffing new website right here at zro.pt.

And I'm equally excited to let you know that ZERO POINT is now available for pre-order direct from my publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. Yes, you can order your paperback copy of ZERO POINT right now and make sure it's shipped to you before the official launch date of 14th August.

ZERO POINT is a somewhat different kind of novel to what you might normally read. It's inspired, thoroughly, by true events. Even the wackiest stuff that happens takes inspiration from little-known real world craziness. It offers a plausible scenario of near future political intrigue and social polarisation that aims to unearth, using the tools of speculative fiction, the risks and dangers of continuing business-as-usual on a finite planet. It's also, as I hope the trailer conveys, a lot of fun.

You can watch the trailer here:

If you enjoy it, share it!

23 May 2014

Zero Point

I'm excited to announce that my forthcoming novel ZERO POINT, a political science fiction thriller, is due out on 18th August 2014 from Curiosity Quills Press. Below is the spanking new cover. 

Looks cool, huh? ZERO POINT is inspired by true events - stuff that's actually happened, and stuff that plausibly could happen. Rounded off with stuff that's clearly blatantly insane. 

It's a serious reflection on how real-world crises could unravel our societies and radicalise politics. It's also action-packed, bloody, violent and fun. 

And it's got swearing.

Do I need to stick a parental guidance sticker on there or something?

Anyway, here's the story:

Mass riots
Economic meltdown
And a new oil war in Iraq to keep the world economy afloat
Fourth Iraq War veteran & war crimes whistle-blower, David Ariel, is sick of violence, and trying to make ends meet working for police specialist  protection. But after Prime Minister Carson is brutally assassinated by extremists on Ariel’s watch, he is covertly targeted by a compromised police investigation.
When forensics discover that Carson’s assassination inexplicably defied the very laws of physics, bodies drop like flies. Key witnesses are murdered in impossible circumstances.
Fleeing for his life while London is locked-down under martial law, Ariel gets a phone call from Iraq he will never forget: his estranged girlfriend, journalist Julia Stephenson, warns that the Carson killing is just the beginning of a wider plot to bring the west to its knees.
Then she disappears.
Ariel’s blood-soaked race against time to track the terror cells behind Carson’s death tumbles into the cross-fire of a hidden battle between mysterious rogue intelligence agencies. Their goal: to monopolise black budget technologies which could unlock the universe’s darkest, arcane secrets.
As the world he thought he knew unravels, Ariel faces off against bent coppers, double-crossing agents, psychic killers and super soldiers to complete a black ops mission like no other: 
Stop Quantum Apocalypse

If this sounds like your kind of thing, hook up with me on Goodreads, Facebook and/or Twitter to keep abreast of updates. I'll be posting cool stuff, and maybe even some spoilers if you're lucky, related to the book all the way up to launch :)

26 March 2014

The "Nasa collapse study" controversy: some thoughts

After my article on a new study of civilisational collapse part-funded by NASA went viral and global last week, the web has been afire with all sorts of controversy and debate, some useful, some not so.

Lessons learned?

Clearly, the mere mentioning of a "Nasa-funded study" of "civilisational collapse" in my headline was enough to spark massive interest, but also didn't help with the ensuing headlines off the back of my original piece, to the effect that the study - an independent research project - was assumed by many to be a NASA directed project.

As I pointed out here, the creation of the HANDY model designed to explore various scenarios of civilisational collapse, integral to the new study, was indeed pursued with NASA funding. This certainly added credibility to it in my eyes.

However, as a fellow environment journalist Stephen Leahy pointed out to me the other day on Twitter, although he agreed with the substance of my articles on this, he felt it was inaccurate to refer to the study simply as "NASA-sponsored" - he would've specified, "partly sponsored by NASA."

So while it seemed reasonable to me at the time to abbreviate this into "NASA-funded study", I recognise how not being specific on the nature of this funding allowed other outlets to conflate the story into reports about Nasa. I didn't exactly help by excitedly tweeting out all the headlines that ensued, many of which simply stated "Nasa says", or "Nasa study finds" blah blah - and a couple of times I got carried away and put out a few tweets to the same effect myself. I went back and deleted those one or two tweets I could find where I referred offhand to "Nasa study" in my own words. As of today, the original Guardian article has been amended to more clearly state the independent nature of the study and its relationship to Nasa.

Lessons I've learned. Be specific, be clear. Don't RT uncritically - just because RT's don't automatically equal endorsement, it can sure look like that to others. And don't get yourself carried away in the tidal wave of media self-replication.

Was the HANDY model newsworthy?

Of course the other issue is the credibility of the study, and of the HANDY model. I stand by the scholarly importance of the study (see my expert source cited below, a Stanford University sociologist) and in particular I stand by its news value, which some have questioned on the basis that the study is some form of 'junk science'.

In fact, a few people have been very, very unscrupulous in the way they've decided to attack me, as well as attack this article. There are lessons to be learned on a number of sides.

Keith Kloor's insertion into this, backed up by his erstwhile blogger Robert Wilson (an obscure research student of Mathematical Ecology who models Plankton), has been an enlightening experience. I've been attacked, smeared, defamed and muddied before online - so it's nothing new to me and not really a big deal. But when that sort of behaviour ends up being effectively endorsed or carried out by a journalist who writes for a reputable science publication, and someone doing scientific research at a university, it deserves highlighting and exposure.

Kloor and Wilson

Both Wilson and Kloor, together, seem to have an ideological aversion to reporting of, or discussion around, peak oil, which recognises that the plateauing of conventional oil production is in part responsible for escalating oil prices which will be increasingly debilitating for economic growth - certainly as long as we remain largely dependent on fossil fuels. Here, we find Wilson and Kloor responding in the following manner to my story based on the work of a former BP geologist, Richard Miller, who had just given an academic presentation at UCL on oil and gas supply forecasting, and had also co-edited a recently released special edition of the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society B on oil and energy issues:

Rather than engaging with the actual arguments - arguments here which are not mine, but those of Dr. Richard Miller and contributors to one of the most prestigious journals in the world - Kloor and Wilson instead engage in some generic banter to misrepresent me as a 'doomer'. As if the mere mention of a break on economic growth due to looming energy challenges constitutes a forecast of doom (it doesn't - it's known as "risk analysis")
I cite this merely to indicate the kind of childish ad hominem attacks Kloor and Wilson routinely indulge in, often together.

Kloor then ran this piece highlighting my article on a Nature Communications study documenting declining rate of growth in crop yields in key food basket regions around the world. Once again rather than engaging with the issues raised in the paper, Kloor wrote:

Equating the thesis of my book and film with that of the Collapse movie illustrates disinterest in simple fact-checking. Even the link to my film that Kloor supplies explains further:

"The film reveals how a failure to understand the systemic context of these crises, linked to neoliberal ideology, has generated a tendency to deal not with their root structural causes, but only with their symptoms. This has led to the proliferation of war, terror, and state-terror, including encroachment on civil liberties, while accelerating global crises rather than solving them... 
The real solution, Nafeez argues, is to recognise the inevitability of civilizational change, and to work toward a fundamental systemic transformation based on more participatory forms of living, politically, economically and culturally."

Only someone functionally illiterate, plain dumb, or deliberately obtuse would interpret this as meaning that I predict unequivocal doom. And as these reviews indicate, my book, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, is ultimately optimistic in tone.

This essentially seems to sum up how Kloor often deals with issues or subjects - or people - that he disagrees with: character assassination, scorn, mockery etc., etc., but sadly, at least in my case, not much meaning argument, or counter-evidence.

Kloor and Wilson, however, hit a record when they apparently began collaborating on a response to my part-Nasa-funded civilisational collapse story.

Faux Modellers

In his critique of this story, Kloor sets the tone by painting me as a 'doomer', and a liar: 

"Since joining the Guardian’s blogging network in 2013, Ahmed has carved out what I would call the doomsday beat...  A good example, of course, is the collapse paper he disingenuously hyped as being 'NASA-sponsored.' (You’ll soon understand why that was deceptive.)" 

Of course, Kloor isn't actually in a position to know my motives, but goes ahead and asserts a deliberate deception on my part in "hyping" a Nasa link. Kloor then cites as his basis for further scepticism of the study itself, and of my alleged "conspiratorial leanings", the following:

"There were a couple of skeptical outliers, some folks who know about mathematical models and were incredulous after reading both the study and the Guardian story. One is Robert Wilson, a UK Mathematical Ecology PhD Student who wrote up his impressions at his personal blog. Another is the U.S. science journalist David Appell, who offered his thoughts on the study’s model and (like Wilson) also took note of Ahmed’s conspiracy theorist leanings."

The first notable problem here is that, although Kloor cites Wilson and Appell as if they are independent experts whose perspectives on the credibility of the study's model is relevant, this is untrue. Although both Wilson and Appell have academic experience of mathematical modelling, neither have any clue about modelling in the context of social phenomena - see Wilson's and Appell's resumes. As said before, Wilson models Plankton, and Appell worked as a physicist decades ago.

While obviously there are overlaps, social modelling is a different ballgame, and unless you've actually modelled sociological variables, you won't necessarily get it. Attempting to model social and physical systems together is a specialised discipline that requires inputs of expertise from both social and natural sciences. Someone who doesn't understand this should simply be ignored. Kloor doesn't - he apparently seeks them out purely because they back up his desire to lambast the HANDY model, regardless of whether they actually have the relevant academic knowhow to comment.

9/11.... wtf?

Wilson's first blogpost on the subject referenced by Kloor is a highly defamatory screed replete with misrepresentations and outright falsehoods.

Like Kloor, he opens with character assassination:

"I cannot claim to know how much the Guardian pay their in house apocalypse merchant Nafeez Ahmed, but I hope it is not much. Not really a regular journalist, Mr. Ahmed runs the Earth Insight blog 'hosted' (does 'hosted' mean the Guardian get the stuff for nothing?) by the Guardian. If your idea of journalism is someone waking up each morning and then doing a Google Scholar search and credulously reporting every piece of half-baked research that backs up that journalist’s prejudices then Mr. Ahmed is your guy."

No substance here except it's clear that Wilson, like Kloor, doesn't agree with my take on things. He continues by claiming that I'm a 9/11 conspiracy theorist:

"Mr. Ahmed spent a large part of the 2000s going around concocting conspiracy theories about September 11th [update: the link to Mr. Ahmed's crackpot conspiracy theories has been removed from his website in the day since I posted this (you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to draw a conclusion). Fortunately you can still read it using the archive.is website here.], telling us that the US government was partly behind the whole thing. Back then he was doing the rounds of 9/11 truth conferences, today, sadly, the Guardian has been foolish enough to give him a platform."

The post Wilson links to is working now for anyone to peruse at their heart's desire. After I realised that Wilson was using it to discredit my work, I archived it temporarily as a sort of sociological experiment to test how Wilson and Kloor would react, and whether either of them would demonstrate any academic/journalistic integrity. As suspected, Wilson went bonkers with rather embarrassing results, and Kloor eagerly followed him down the rabbit hole. In almost every blogpost Wilson writes about me (many cited and tweeted by Kloor), he references the "conspiracy" of the missing "9/11 conspiracy" article in an exercise of triumphant disclosure. It would be funny, if it weren't so feeble.

I was hoping that before promoting Wilson's allegations, Kloor would at least follow his own advice re: 'fact checking' and 'journalism 101' - y'know, maybe drop me an email or a call to find out the state of play. He didn't do that. Instead, he preferred to drop conspiratorial insinuations about my deceptive nature (and clearly ignored the tweet on 17th March where I'd actually publicly acknowledged deleting the post precisely to annoy them):

So, let's just get this non-issue out the way.

As long-time readers of my work here will know, the idea that I'm a 9/11 conspiracy theorist is patently absurd - whether you agree or disagree with my arguments. As an international security scholar, my first book, The War on Freedom, raised fundamental questions about the role of US-UK foreign, defence, intelligence and other policies in facilitating the activities of Islamist terrorist groups in the decades leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and on the day itself in relation to the emergency response of the national security system. The book was mandatory reading for the 9/11 Commissioners, and was also used by the 9/11 Family Steering Committee to inform their lines of inquiry in demanding an independent investigation. My testimony in US Congress about my work related to my third book, The War on Truth, was filmed by C-Span and can be viewed here.

Wilson writes:

"anyone familiar with Mr. Ahmed’s approach will note that he likes to put high emphasis on credentials, in this case Nasa, as Christopher Hitchens delightfully mocked here.)"

Unfortunately, neither Wilson, nor Kloor who cites/tweets him so copiously, saw fit to do sufficient fact-checking to identify my rebuttal of Hitchens in the Independent on Sunday, which pretty much demolishes Hitchens while setting out my actual perspective on 9/11 quite clearly.

Along these lines, in a separate blog post where Wilson declares - "Fact checking however should never get in the way of a good story" - he claims:

"However trumping up credentials is something he is rather fond of. Just read the About section of his personal website. There he gives a rather lengthy resume. This includes a boast about how his work was discussed in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens however was not exactly praising Mr. Ahmed, instead he was calling him a 'contemptible' man who concocts half-baked conspiracy theories.
Similarly he talks about how his conspiracy theorist utterings about terrorist bombings were 'used' by various investigations. By 'used' he means that he sent them a copy of his work, which anyone is free to do. Whether they used them for anything other than recycled paper is unclear."

Of course, readers of my blog will note that Hitchens' description of me is described right here on these pages on the right-hand side, six quotes down. Yes right over there. Can you see it? This website wears that quote rather proudly :) So much for fact-checking Mr Wilson (and Kloor).

The inadequacy or non-existence of Wilson's research skills are on display again when he suggests that the "use" of my work by various official investigations is a fraud. In yet another post, he describes for me this reason as an "intellectual charlatan" - that is even after someone called Gareth post in the comments the link (already on my bio) to the National Archives in DC which lists the 9/11 Commission 'Special Collection' - yes, a copy of my book is archived in DC as part of an official collection of 99 books that were "made available to members of the Commission to use during its activities." If Wilson is unclear how these 99 books were selected for 9/11 Commission investigators (no, they didn't read everything they were sent in the post by random members of the public from around the world), he should do a bit of journalism and fact-check it himself. Perhaps call up the National Archives in DC?


The main problem seems that Wilson's capacity for sociological or political analysis is rather thin. He appears incapable of recognising the distinction between asking questions on the basis of factual anomalies, and positing a theory. I've never posited a "theory" about 9/11, least of all a "conspiracy theory" - the most I've argued is that the US and the West's unsavoury geopolitical relationship with Islamists over the last three or more decades has functioned to impede intelligence agencies, and undermine national security, in quite fundamental ways that dramatically increase the risk of terrorism at home and abroad. I see no particular ideological reason why such questions shouldn't be asked, if available evidence calls for it - without, however, getting involved in spurious speculation (and indeed such questions were asked by the 9/11 Family Steering Committee in quite reasonable fashion).

Indeed, my views about the sorry state of the so-called 9/11 "truth" movement are well-known. I'm on record in a number of places pointing out that simple physical anomalies cannot be used to justify conclusions of a government conspiracy (for instance, see my observations in Channel 4's eye-opening documentary "Conspiracy - Who Really Runs the World" on the WTC collapses, about 25 min in). So I kind of end up pissing off basically everyone, 'troofers', 'anti-troofers', and a lot in between.

But this is the problem with people like Wilson and Kloor - their idea of "journalism 101" doesn't seem to involve engaging directly and fully with people's actual writing/arguments, or even speaking to them properly. If they disagree with it at face value, it must be wrong, and it must be ridiculed. Fact-checking goes out the window.

Lies and Ignorance

After smearing me - a smear which Kloor repeats with reference to my alleged "conspiracy leanings" - (which he also sources to David Appell, who however merely references Wilson's blog) Wilson proceeds to 'dissect' my article:

"There appears to be no evidence that the paper in question has been peer-reviewed. Mr. Ahmed claims it has been accepted for publication by Ecological Economics.  Yet, the paper is not on the Ecological Economics website, although it is in submission. This kind of thing should be unacceptable from a reputable newspaper like the Guardian."

Sadly, Wilson didn't bother actually speaking to the authors of the study, as I had, who had confirmed the paper's acceptance for publication and peer-review.

"... I do not model human civilization as my day job. Instead I model plankton. If you want to do a half adequate job of modelling plankton populations you will probably need more than eight equations. And I think humans are more complex than plankton, but some times I have doubts. 

A model with this few equations will always provide egregious predictions about 'industrial collapse'. Anyone who spends more than two minutes looking on Gapminder will recognise that inter-country differences are so vast that using eight equations to accurately model humanity is like replicating the Sistine Chapel using a crayon."

Here, Wilson's ignorance of the nature and purposes of social modelling is embarrassing - equally so for Kloor's uncritical dependence on Wilson as one of his sources of expert authority.

According to Dr. Deborah S. Rogers of Stanford University's Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, who is a leading expert in modelling inequality and social stratification:

"Models do not prove hypotheses, nor do they replicate reality. Rather, models are useful because they give us some insight into possible mechanisms and possible consequences. These new insights, then, feed into the iterative process of hypothesis-testing that underlies good science. 
There is no problem with models that are 'simplistic' – they are supposed to be. A model is an abstraction from – a simplification of – reality. The objective is to see if you can understand the essential mechanism(s) that drive the system, and what some possible consequences of this mechanism might be. If the model results give you valuable insights into certain real-world trends, then maybe you have managed to capture the essence of the mechanism. If not, then you probably haven't, and you will need to either revise your model or add components to it. 
There is no particular value to making a model complex...you add just enough complexity until you are convinced that you have captured the essence of the mechanisms you are trying to understand. Meanwhile, it is fully acknowledged that there are many other things also going on in reality, that are not captured by the model...
Likewise, a demography/resources model that predicts collapse given certain relationships between the population and their resource base does not need to include the complexities of political, economic and social adjustments made in response to the situation. It merely shows us the possible outcomes, and leaves it to the archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientists, political scientists, economists, and policy-makers to debate the actual and hypothetical responses to these possibilities, and how they altered (or will alter) the outcomes...
The HANDY model finds that unequal populations collapse, although they apparently attribute this to the lack of labor as the working class dies off. Again, without commenting on the adequacy of the specifics of the HANDY formulation, I find the simplicity of the model useful and the results plausible. 
If we want to criticize the HANDY model, and by the same token our Spread of Inequality model, let’s focus on the specific mechanisms that are postulated – not on the simplicity of the model, and not on the lack of exact parallels with past events."

This illustrates just how ridiculous and unscientific are the responses of not just Wilson, but also Kloor's apparently partisan effort to discredit the HANDY model. 

But Wilson doesn't stop there. He proceeds to misrepresent the paper as follows:

"Most problematic is that they only model renewable resources. Modern civilization is fundamentally dependent on the provision of non-renewable resources on a huge scale."

This characterisation of the paper is simply untrue. Either Wilson hasn't read the paper properly, or wilfully misinterprets it to make his point. The paper says (p. 7):

"In reality, natural resources exist in three forms: nonrenewable stocks (fossil fuels, mineral deposits, etc), regenerating stocks (forests, soils, animal herds, wild fish stocks, game animals, aquifers, etc), and renewable ows (wind, solar radiation, precipitation, rivers, etc). Future generations of the model will disaggregate these forms. We have adopted a single formulation intended to represent an amalgamation of the three forms, allowing for a clear understanding of the role that natural resources play in collapse or sustainability of human societies."

He then ignores the study's reservations about technology in the context of carrying capacity:

"It also assumes that there is a fixed carrying capacity for populations. Carrying capacity itself is a deeply problematic concept. Think about Britain prior to the Industrial Revolution. If Britain had attempted to power the Industrial Revolution with wood it would have rapidly run out of trees. As Tony Wrigley argued in his fine book on the subject the transition to coal allowed Britain to escape the limits of a purely organic society. This makes it clear that this model, in its current form, offers limited insights into whether civilization will persist over the twenty first century."

But the study itself takes note of the pace of technological progress against the pace of resource consumption, with respect to a concept of carrying capacity rooted precisely in our contemporary understanding of the earth's available renewable, nonrenewable and renewable stocks. The transition from wood to coal happening in the past, is no guarantee that a similar transition will necessarily occur in the future. It might do, but that all depends on the natural resources actually available, a factor the model at least attempts to account for - a matter Wilson simply overlooks.

Kloor attempts to dignify Wilson's feeble posts with the following recommendation (among many others):

Following this post, Wilson managed to generate upward of five further blog posts on the grand old topic of little ol' me (within a space of about 24 hours I imagine... scary). His last post is a slightly deranged discovery of how I have been surreptitiously deleting tweets "to cover" my "tracks." He didn't bother asking me about it - if he had, he would've learned that deleting one's tweets can actually be a way of acknowledging and correcting inaccuracies once recognised (which once again, I've acknowledged openly on Twitter).

I can't claim to fully understand their motives - one can only guess. But it appears that Wilson and Kloor are focused not on doing good journalism/scholarship to explore a controversial issue, but on muddying journalism/scholarship to score points on ideological and personal grounds. As my writing ranges over major global challenges, crises and risks which they find unpalatable for whatever reason, their approach appears to be one of simply defaming and slandering - to the point of conspiratorially turning every triviality into hard evidence of disingenuous deception. That much, it seems, has now been proven.

Yet both pontificate like authorities on the standards of journalism and academic research. Unfortunately, they seem to have little regard for either in practice.