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The Islamic State and Taliban are Fighting Over Afghan Talc Riches

The Islamic State and Taliban are Fighting Over Afghan Talc Riches

London, UK The Islamic State in Afghanistan (ISKP) controls major mining sites in eastern Afghanistan and has a strategic interest in the country’s rich mineral resources, new Global Witness research shows – a powerful example of the wider threat posed by armed groups and corrupt actors in Afghan mining.

The Islamic State in Afghanistan (ISKP) controls large talc, marble and chromite mines in the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Achin district in the Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan – the same area where in April 2017 the US military dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ against ISKP-held caves. Nangarhar was the deadliest Afghan province for US troops in 2017.

The evidence on how much ISKP have been able to mine and profit from the minerals is mixed, but there has been at least some activity – and the group has fought major battles with the Taliban over neighboring districts containing even richer deposits. A Taliban commander explicitly linked the ferocity of the conflict to competition over resources, saying: “The fight is over the mines.”

A talc processing factory near Nangahar, mid 2017 | Photo: Courtesy of Global Witness

Nick Donovan, Campaign Director at Global Witness, said: “The Islamic State appears to have a significant strategic interest in Afghanistan’s minerals and controls some major mining areas. Given its track-record of exploiting natural resources in Iraq and Syria, this should be a wake-up call for both the Afghan government and the Trump administration. They must strengthen control over the trade in places like Nangarhar, but just as importantly put in place desperately needed transparency and oversight reforms so that legitimate mining has a chance to provide a viable alternative.”

Global Witness’ report At any price we will take the mines’: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s white talc mountains uses satellite imagery and extensive interviews to highlight this threat in unprecedented detail. But it also shows how ISKP are just a high-profile example of a much wider problem of the involvement of armed groups and corrupt actors in Afghan mining.

This is evident just 50 kilometers from the ISKP controlled sites, where dozens of mines under Taliban influence are producing talc and marble in large quantities. Global Witness research uncovered evidence that the Taliban are making millions a year from talc alone – part of the $200-$300 million a year they are estimated to make from minerals across Afghanistan.

A significant part of this talc ends up being sold in the United States. Almost all of Afghanistan’s output is exported to Pakistan, which in turn exports more of it to the US than to any other country. Pakistan provides more than a third of US imports of talc, which is used in products ranging from paint and cosmetics to paper and baby powder. EU countries are also major buyers.

A man walks among piles of talc at a processing plant near Jalalabad, mid-2017 | Photo: Courtesy of Global Witness

“Unwitting American and European consumers are inadvertently helping fund extremist groups in Afghanistan,” said Donovan. “The US and other importing countries must put in place strong requirements for companies to exercise full due diligence of their supply chains – as a matter both of moral duty, and of their strategic national security interest in a stable Afghanistan.”

He added: “the ultimate aim is not to stop the trade but to reform it in a way that preserves and strengthens the livelihoods of ordinary Afghans without funding the Islamic State, other illegal armed groups, or abusive strongmen.”

There are no easy solutions to achieve this, but there are obvious reforms that could help, and which have yet to but put in place. The Afghan government and its international partners should urgently:

  1. Tighten control over the minerals trade in Nangarhar and across Afghanistan, especially the movements of minerals through the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan;
  2. Give local communities an interest in legal mining through a direct share of revenues and, where appropriate, community ownership of mines;
  3. Work with trade partners and consumer countries to put in place strong controls over supply chains from conflict affected areas; including a requirement for due diligence by importing companies;
  4. Carry out transparency and oversight reforms – like a single transparent sub-account for mining revenues – in order to make abusive mining more difficult and create a space for legal extraction that benefits the country and local communities.
  5. Prioritise security around the mines as part of a broader strategy to protect resource-rich areas.

For the US in particular, abuses in the Afghan mining sector should be a major security concern, but so far the Trump administration’s main priority has been to push for US companies to get more contracts for Afghan resources. The US should do three things:

  1. Make the security and reform of the sector a high level priority for its engagement with the Afghan government;
  2. Only push for new contracts in areas with adequate security, and after basic governance reforms have been made;
  3. Require US companies to carry out due diligence and rid their Afghan and Pakistani supply chains of conflict minerals.

The Afghan government has made clear and welcome commitments to most of these reforms, but they have yet to be implemented – upcoming amendments to the Afghan Mining Law will be a key test. A ban on the talc trade was imposed in early 2015, but was lifted later that year under pressure from traders.

“The Afghan government and its partners need to start treating this problem with a sense of urgency that matches the scale of the threat,” Donovan said. “They are counting on Afghanistan’s resources to fuel development and fund the government, but as our research shows all too clearly, without immediate action, they are far more likely to fuel more corruption and conflict.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The full text of the report ‘At any price we will take the mines’: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s white talc mountains is available here. Supporting photo and video B-roll are available upon request.
  2. The report uses satellite imagery and interviews with a range of sources to show the extent of ISKP and Taliban control of mines. Major talc mines, as well as chromite and marble, are located within the main ISKP-controlled area around the Momand valley in Nangarhar’s Achin district. The available satellite imagery does not appear to show vehicles or machinery in the area, and several sources denied mining had taken place since ISKP seized it in mid-2015. At the same time, multiple other credible sources reported that ISKP have indeed benefitted at least to some extent from extraction, with some indicating they have done so with a tighter grip and greater investment than the Taliban. Some of these sources provided supporting evidence. ISKP were also widely agreed to have levied a modest tax on talc removed from stockpiles near the Momand valley in early 2017, a movement visible in the satellite data. As early as 2015, an ISKP commander Global Witness interviewed described control of resources in Badakhshan as a key priority, saying: “at any price we will take the mines.”
     
  3. The global talc industry is predicted to grow to around US $3.29 billion by 2021. An estimated 380,000 tons of talc was imported into the United States in 2017. On average around 35% of US imports are from Pakistan, according to the US Geological Survey. From our research we also estimated that around 80% of Pakistan’s 2016 exports of talc actually originated in Afghanistan. Of those exports, 42% went to the US, and another 36% went to EU countries, especially the Netherlands and Italy. See report for more details and sources.
  4. Chromite is the only economic ore of chromium, which is widely used as an essential element in the production of stainless steel and other steel alloys. Marble produced in Afghanistan is also renowned for its quality, with uses ranging from flooring and tiles to decorative objects.
  5. Global Witness’ previous 2016 report “War in the treasury of the people: Afghanistan, lapis lazuli and the battle for mineral wealth” exposed the importance of mining, especially of lapis lazuli, for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The report found that armed groups including the Taliban were earning tens of millions of dollars per year from Afghanistan’s lapis mines, the world’s main source of the brilliant blue lapis lazuli stone, which is used in jewellery around the world. The full report can be found here.
  6. For a graphic visualisation of talc flows out of Pakistan to the rest of the world see Chatham House’s graphic here.

Global Witness is an international organization that investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses

Trans Mountain Pipeline Faces Untenable Risk for Failing to Recognize Indigenous Jurisdiction

Trans Mountain Pipeline Faces Untenable Risk for Failing to Recognize Indigenous Jurisdiction

Secwepemc Territory, BC — The Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) pioneered an Indigenous risk assessment of Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), demonstrating that failure to take into account Indigenous jurisdiction and land rights constitutes too great a risk for large projects seeking access to Indigenous lands and resources.

This was confirmed by Kinder Morgan Limited (KML) Canada this weekend, when following another mobilization by Indigenous Peoples against the TMEP, KML announced that it is suspending non-essential spending on the TMEP because the risks to investors are too great.

The announcement took investors by surprise and shows that the TMEP has come to a breaking point, where there will either be a decision to cut the losses and stop the project now, or provoke further conflict and confrontation, which will only increase risks.

Though much attention has been focused on inter-jurisdictional struggle between the federal and provincial governments over regulation and environmental assessment, the company and governments have both failed to dispense their legal duties of obtaining consent from the proper title holders of the land. The failure to take into account Indigenous jurisdiction and land rights continues cannot be remedied. There is no recovering from this failure to properly assess risks and from the announcement by KML.

Secwepemc land defender, Kanahus Manuel stated:

“Kinder Morgan is misleading investors by suggesting they have secured the land base and Indigenous consent for the Trans Mountain pipeline.  They do not have consent from the Secwepemc and failure to recognize Secwepemc title, land rights and indigenous jurisdiction, will only result in more conflict, direct actions, blockades and Indigenous land occupations which will increase the risks and economic uncertainty for Kinder Morgan and its construction deadlines.”

Map highlighting Secwepemcul’ecw Nation along proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline route. Read the Risk Assessment Brief by the Indigenous Network on Economies & Trade HERE

As the updated INET summary brief, released, today, April 13, 2018,  “Standing Rock of the North” states:  “Despite the company’s insistence that the threats to the pipeline come from the provincial government, it is Indigenous jurisdiction that poses the greatest threat. Indigenous Peoples from across B.C., as well as non-Indigenous allies, have shown their opposition to the project, and its violation of Indigenous jurisdiction, through physical blockades. Kinder Morgan’s failure to take into account indigenous land rights and jurisdiction, including failure to obtain the prior informed consent of Indigenous Peoples, constitutes the greatest risk to the proposed development and investments. The surprise announcement from Kinder Morgan came on that same weekend that the company refrained from having high-profile Indigenous leaders arrested that joined in a blockade at its facility in Burnaby. This indicates the company recognizes the risks posed from rejection of the project by Indigenous Peoples. The failure of KML to yet again disclose those risks should be deeply disconcerting to investors and lenders.”

Over half of the proposed pipeline route of Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) passes through Secwepemc territory in the south-central Interior of British Columbia.

In the fall of 2017, INET prepared the Secwepemc Risk Assessment of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project that detailed the risks to investors, including Secwepemc land defence risk, legal risk, economic risk, political risk, reputational risk, regulatory risk and climate risk. It was tabled with investors in North America and Europe. Since then these risks and opposition to the TMEP project led by Indigenous Peoples has only grown.

Ska7cis Manuel, Acting Director of INET stated:

“Kinder Morgan’s announcement of a work stoppage is a win for land and water defenders and their dedication to environmental protection. There is a clear opposition to the tripling of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the extraction of fossil fuels from the tar sands. Kinder Morgan’s announcement was not only irresponsible from an investors’ perspective, it is even more irresponsible since it calls on Canada to use executive force, while failing to take into account Aboriginal Title and Rights. This is a fundamental human and indigenous rights issue. INET has raised concerns about Canada’s oppressive tactics, including use of court injunctions to access Indigenous peoples’ resources, with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The stoppage reveals that Indigenous peoples’ rights have weight and there is a clear need for the full recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights, anything else, including the use of force, will just result in increased uncertainty and risk.”

Related Documents

  1. Read the Risk Assessment Brief by the Indigenous Network on Economies & Trade HERE
  2. Read the Risk Summary by the Indigenous Network on Economies & Trade HERE

About the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) 

The Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) is a network of Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous supporters who work toward promoting the economic dimension of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.  We have prepared legal arguments that Canadian policies that fail to recognize Aboriginal and Treaty rights and our decision-making regarding access to our lands and resources, constitute a subsidy under international trade law. Our submissions have been accepted by World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunals during the last round of the Canada USA Softwood Lumber Dispute.

FOIA Litigation Reveals Department of Defense Spent $138,093 at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Businesses

FOIA Litigation Reveals Department of Defense Spent $138,093 at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Businesses

Washington, DC A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the transparency organization Property of The People has produced receipts and other documents revealing Department of Defense (DoD) expenditures at Mar-a-Lago and twelve Trump properties during the President’s first six months in office.  The expenses, each made with DoD charge cards, raise serious questions as to whether Donald Trump is violating the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution.

Among the documents released today is an 8-page summary chart provided by the Department of Defense outlining the majority of $138,093.23 in DoD charges at Trump properties beginning on the first day of the administration, January 20, 2017, through June 14, 2017. The release also includes a 369-page document with receipts corresponding to a selection of the charges outlined in the summary chart.  Among the charges were $58,875.69 in charges incurred specifically at Mar-a-Lago; $9,618.78 at Trump’s Bedminster, NJ Golf Club during an extended weekend stay in May, 2017;  $35,652.44 spent at Trump’s Las Vegas Hotel; and $17,102.55 in DoD expenditures at Donald Trump’s beleaguered Trump Ocean Club in Panama.

A summary chart provided by the Department of Defense outlining the majority of $138,093.23 in DoD charges at Trump properties beginning on the first day of the administration, January 20, 2017, through June 14, 2017. You can read the full chart HERE.

The FOIA lawsuit that obtained the receipts was brought by Property of the People and the organization’s co-founder, MIT FOIA researcher Ryan Shapiro.  The group and Shapiro have filed similar FOIA requests with The US State Department, Department of Commerce, General Services Administration, US Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and US Customs and Border Protection.  

In September 2017, documents obtained by Property of the People from the Coast Guard and DHS revealed National Security Council and other agency  payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels. These documents provided the first strong evidence of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.  These revelations also informed Senators Gary Peters, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Udall’s decision to introduce the HOTEL Act — Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating and Lodging — banning executive officials from staying at any property owned by the president, vice president, Cabinet secretaries or their families members.

And last month, documents released by the General Services Administration (GSA) to Property of the People highlighted $1,760.46 in charges made by the GSA across three days in 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in DC and the BLT Prime Restaurant located within the DC Trump Hotel.

“Donald Trump views the American public as a bunch of marks waiting to be fleeced,” said Property of the People co-founder, Ryan Shapiro. “With the DoD’s spending at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, and Trump’s refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, once again we find the President’s hand deep in the taxpayer’s pocket.”

Continued Shapiro, “Trump’s venality and his administration’s open contempt for transparency creates a functionally unprecedented potential for conflicts of interest and corruption.”

Added Property of the People staff attorney, Gunita Singh, “Repeatedly, our FOIA litigation has revealed blatant financial conflicts of interest resulting in the transfer of taxpayer dollars to Trump properties and likely constitutional violations. We expect this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we fully intend to aggressively continue our FOIA work exposing kleptocracy at the highest reaches of government.”

As part of the the organization’s efforts to seek transparency and accountability from the Trump administration, Property of the People has thousands of FOIA requests in motion with numerous federal agencies, as well as numerous active federal FOIA lawsuits to compel agency compliance with the organization’s requests.

Related Documents

  1. View the summary chart of DoD’s charge card expenses HERE
  2. Read a 369 page selection of DoD receipts HERE
  3. Read the DoD’s accompanying cover letter HERE
  4. Read Property of the People’s initial complaint HERE

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People staff attorney, Gunita Singh.

You can support their work at https://operationfortyfive.org/donations

Litigation Reveals GSA Expenditures at Trump International Hotel in DC

Litigation Reveals GSA Expenditures at Trump International Hotel in DC

Washington, DC — As court arguments in the District of Columbia and Maryland litigate whether patronage by state governments and foreign countries at The Trump International Hotel in DC violates the US Constitution, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the transparency organization Property of The People has now produced receipts revealing expenditures at the Trump International Hotel by The US General Services Administration (GSA), the agency responsible for administering the travel charge card program for all federal agencies.

The FOIA lawsuit that obtained the receipts was brought by Property of the People and MIT FOIA researcher Ryan Shapiro.  The group and Shapiro filed similar FOIA requests with The Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, State Department, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and US Customs and Border Protection.

In September 2017, documents obtained by Property of the People from the Coast Guard and DHS revealed National Security Council and other agency  payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels. These documents provided the first strong evidence of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.  These revelations informed Senators Gary Peters, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Udall’s decision to introduce the HOTEL Act — Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating and Lodging — banning executive officials from staying at any property owned by the president, vice president, Cabinet secretaries or their families members.

The document just released by GSA to Property of the People, a microsoft .xls file, highlights $1760.46 in charges made by the GSA across three days in 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in DC and the BLT Prime Restaurant within the DC Trump Hotel.

“Regardless of how much he makes on any individual transaction, the President is sending a signal that the White House is open for business,” said Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro.Due to his refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, Donald Trump has turned the American Presidency into a racket.”

As part of the the organization’s efforts to seek transparency and accountability from the Trump administration, Property of the People has hundreds of FOIA requests in motion with numerous federal agencies, as well as numerous active federal FOIA lawsuits to compel agency compliance with the organization’s requests.

Related Documents

  1. View the list of GSA charge card expenses HERE
  2. Read the GSA’s response to Property of the People’s suit HERE
  3. Read Property of the People’s initial complaint HERE

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People counsel, Gunita Singh.

You can support their work at operationfortyfive.org/donations

Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Washington, DC — On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Property of the People filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.

Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information online identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” about a previously unknown FBI surveillance platform named Gravestone. The metadata was posted on the DOJ’s website data.gov [screencaptures 1, 2].

The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”

The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader DOJ data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems. While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.

In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. The FBI failed to comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working day deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, earlier today, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance with its FOIA requests.

Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, and security incidents and misuse.

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online. While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems. Not only has the DOJ now purged all information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have failed to make public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.

According to Property of the People Co-Founder, Ryan Shapiro:

“The FBI has a long, dark history of utilizing new surveillance technologies to facilitate violations of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the public requires access to documents about this cyber-enabled FBI surveillance platform.”

Shapiro continues:

“The FBI has failed to make public, and possibly even to conduct, the legally mandated Privacy Impact Assessment for its Gravestone surveillance system, and also failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about Gravestone. True to form, the FBI appears intent on conducting surveillance with abandon on Americans while simultaneously refusing to comply with even the most basic requirements of transparency about this surveillance.”

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.