History learned # 5 : The Great China Project

Is the leak genuine?

Relieve aid for Bajuni islands

Our Chinese source gives us little on the credibility of the document other than that it was being passed on directly, not anonymously, by the TFG. Without direct contacts to the inner circle of the UIC, we have no way of directly verifying the document. But we can assess the plausibility of the document being genuine, or a forgery, based on its content.

Would Aweys write such a document? In timing and outline, the general content of the document is certainly plausible. At the end of 2005 the UIC would have been establishing strategies to be used in the coming year. Many of the strategies in the document came to fruition. And Aweys would certainly be an appropriate person to write such a document. It is strange that he would refer to the organization already as the ‘Islamic Republic of Somalia’, a title which if adopted by the organization could alienate potential allies immediately by its implicit assertion of sovereignty; but, at a time of early planning, one might aim high, and later in public use more diplomatic language. At that time much of the country was controlled by warlords: one might have expected him to spend more time dealing with strategies against them. But the document does suggest favoring certain warlords over others; warlords which were ministers in the TFG might well be regarded simply as part of the TFG; and the document was more one of political than military strategy. In a secret document he might be prepared to advocate less scrupulous tactics, such as assassinations and cooperation with criminals: note that the UIC itself would not be performing the assassinations, and could achieve deniability through this strategy. These tactics stop short of terrorism against civilians or foreigners, and it is plausible that this might be the extent of the UIC’s terrorist inclinations. A forger intent on smearing Aweys and the UIC might be expected to go further: the revelation is not that damning, given the context. As for shooting leakers, it is certainly a dramatic flash of rhetoric, but Aweys is a regular practitioner of fiery oratory; and he refers only to those who leak the information and are found guilty, which sounds quite plausible from a Muslim judge and less plausible from a forger.

If genuinely written by Aweys, there is still the matter of explaining how it got to the TFG. As it was sent to the Chinese, the document came in 4 files: three jpeg image files, one scan of each page of the original paper document in Somali, and a word file with what appears to be an accurate English translation. The word file metadata lists its author as a “Captain Weli” from the “Department of State”. A US State Department computer; or a TFG official calling their fledgling office a “Department of State” – either is quite plausible. Using tools that were effective against Blair’s “sexed up” Iraqi dossier word file, we see that the TFG translation was last modified on Oct 3, 2006, underwent at least two revisions, was last saved by “hi” (an intelligence in-joke, or coincidence?).

The Great China Project

If the document is genuine, there is still the question why it was not released to the Chinese until mid October 2006. One can make all manner of speculations: the TFG was protecting its source; the document was not captured until then; the TFG started circulating it as a last desperate measure to embarrass the UIC as its position crumbled; the particular documents chosen to circulate internationally may be somewhat capricious. But still, if the TFG captured the document not long after its creation, and was prepared to share it internationally, one would have expected they would do it earlier. Perhaps, since it is not terribly damaging, it received low priority; it is plausible it was circulated elsewhere but not seen fit to use publicly, since it is not quite consistent with the usual inflated denunciations. But note the following dramatic timeline:

Timeline

  • Sep 18: Attempted Baidoa assassination of TFG President Abdulahi Yusuf. President’s brother and 5 guards killed.
  • Oct 3: Final edits to the Aweys document English translation.
  • Oct 14: TFG sends the Aweys document images and the English translation to Chinese contacts.
  • Oct 16: TFG ambassador to China receives “The Great China Project” message (see below)
  • Nov 2: President Yusuf arrives in Beijing.
  • Nov 4: Forty-eight African countries that have diplomatic relations with China participate in a two-day Beijing summit. The Somali conflict is on the agenda.

The “Great China Project” message is another WikiLeaks.org leak, from a different source, this time an intercept of Somali TNG diplomatic traffic:

Intercepted diplomatic traffic

Subject: The Great China ProjectFrom: Faisal Ahmed Yusuf

Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 01:57:45 +0400

Dear Amb. Mohamed Awil and Abdirahman Haji;

[…]

Brothers, as I was just talking to brother Syed Ali and Abdirahman, and having obtained now the consent, elderly blessing and directives of HE, the President, thanks to Syed Ali for that, it is about time to do the last few actions requested by CHEC.

The Preliminary delegate coming to Beijing for the meeting consist of:

Ministers:

1-Hon. Said Hassan Shire, Minister of Rebuilding and Resettlement. (Invitation letters, tickets, and hotel arranged already).

2-Hon. Abudlahi Yusuf Harare, Minister of Petroleum. (Please correct the name for me if Harare is just nickname and not the official third name)

Brothers, as CHEC requested, we need to officially request a meeting between our above mentioned ministers and:

1-With the Chinese Minister/Ministry of Foreign Affairs (international Cooperation liaison office)

2-With the Chinese Minister/Ministry of Commerce.

3-With the Governor of Export and Import Bank.

[…]

YE, additionally, brothers there are some of us who are coming there to Beijing to lobby for the project, in a very SILENT manner we will be working from the background and support the Ministers, President delegates, Embassy so that the mission ends with the anticipated successes.

Analysis of intercepted traffic

Note carefully the relevant priority ministers. Could there be a Somali oil rights for Chinese arms swap? Such oil rights would have to be renegotiated if the UIC controlled Somalia. China also enjoys TFG money for infrastructure reconstruction projects.

Other motivations for forgery

What other motivations are there for forgery? Anything embarrassing to Aweys and the UIC, which undercuts its alliances and internal cohesion, aids the TFG and its allies. A forger does not want to appear over the top, but still wants to inflict damage on the target. The damage here appears unreasonably mild for October 3 of this year. If the intended audience were internal to Somalia, it does not seem likely to weaken the UIC drastically: the time to unite Puntland and Somaliland against the UIC had largely passed by Oct 3. Perhaps Puntland and Somaliland had received the document much earlier and kept it quiet. If the intended audience were foreign, such as the US or Ethiopia, a forger would be expected to cater to those interests and their fear of radical Islam and terrorism.

A forger would have to make a plausible fake version of the document on paper, scan it into a computer, and write an English translation. This seems beyond the TFG’s immediate concerns in October, as it struggled for its own existence; but not beyond that of its foreign allies such as the US. It is not implausible, and not without precedent: US spooks have a long history of leak fabrication.

But if the document is a forgery, one large question remains: the aim being to embarrass Aweys and the UIC, why was it not spread more broadly and given a more immediate date? If the audience were external, it should have been leaked further and made more use of by the US. But there seems to be no evidence of this. was the TFG trying to protect a UIC mole or protect a forgery from public scrutiny? If US intelligence was behind the forgery, was it worried about being caught out again influencing US domestic political opinion with its fabrications?

One cannot conclude with certainty that the document is genuine or otherwise. But based on the above analysis, it seems that either the document is genuine, slightly modified or is an earlier forgery recycled for the Chinese.

Conclusion

Today, the UIC’s ultimatum against Ethiopian troops in Baidoa has expired and fierce fighting rages. Ethiopian forces have become involved, and there is potential for a wider regional war and great tragedy. If the UN continues in its present role, blindly supporting the TFG as its legitimacy erodes and its ‘seat of government’ is overrun, it cannot improve the situation. If the US continues treating the UIC as if it consists primarily of terrorists, it will lose all credibility (if it has not already) among Somalis who, whatever their misgivings, appreciate the stability provided by the UIC. The situation is far more complicated and interesting than any simplistic reading will imply.

If the leak is genuine, the secret order reveals insights into Aweys’ thinking and strategy. If fake, it still says something about the intrigues of Somali and global politics. But whatever the case, Somalis, together with the international community, should seek to understand Aweys and the UIC, in order to clarify what they are dealing with, and establish a lasting peace and good governance in Somalia.

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