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TALON Under New Scrutiny

Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence nominee James Clapper reportedly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he will evaluate and consider shutting down the TALON database; a database of suspicious events reports of a counterintelligence or force protection nature.

Privacy rights and civil libertarians protested TALON when it was revealed that it contained information on US citizens: a potential violation of federal laws written to prevent the use of military intelligence capabilities against civilians. Subsequent legal reviews resulted in inappropriate records being purged from the database.

Iran Backpedals, UK Stands and US Flexes

British PM Tony Blair offered proof that Iran had abducted 15 UK sailors and Royal Marines from Iraqi waters, despite Iran's claims otherwise. Britain also closed all bi-lateral communications between the UK and Iran until the matter is resolved.

Iran has been steadily backing down from its original bellicose statements, now saying that it will free the female sailor now held captive either today or tomorrow. Iran has also shifted its stance in saying that the British inspection team may have "entered into Iranian waters unintentionally." Britain still maintains the incident took place well within Iraqi waterways.

In a clear show of force, the U.S. Navy began concentrated exercises in the relatively confined Persian Gulf. The exercises include two aircraft carriers - the John C. Stennis and the Dwight D. Eisenhower - and over a dozen other US warships. The operations are an unmistakable message to Iran. "It was the first time that two carriers had conducted joint operations in the Gulf since 2003, the year the United States invaded Iraq."

Iran Bankrolling Attacks In Iraq

A British commander has revealed that in Basra, local leaders have confided that Iran is paying for bombings and attacks against the coalition in southern Iraq. Lt. Col. Justin Maciejewski, commanding officer at the British base at Basra Palace, said, "Local sheikhs and tribal leaders here in Basra - who are desperate to prevent this violence escalating - are telling us that Iranian agents are paying up to $500 a month for young Basrawi men to attack us."

Lt. Col. Maciejewski added that "We have a lot of very modern and quite sophisticated weaponry being used against us - weaponry that could only really have been procured from a state. These are not old munitions from the Iran-Iraq war. They are much more modern, some of them produced in 2006 and the locals are telling us that these are coming in from Iran."

Even so, Britain plans to drop its force level by 30% by the end of the year, abandoning the Basra Palace base altogether by the end of summer.

US Navy Lacks "Sizzler" Defense

Despite the existence of numerous models of anti-ship missiles, the US Navy still lacks a plan to defend aircraft carriers against such weapons, in particular the Russian-made super-sonic “Sizzler.”

It is known that China has deployed the Sizzler (the SS-N-27 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile) and it is suspected that Iran has either purchased them or has been approached by the Russians about a potential sale. Per naval weapons experts, this missile in the hands of either nation could challenge the US Navy’s ability to freely operate in a defense-of-Taiwan or Strait of Hormuz contingency.

Chinese Tech Threat

Computer chip maker Intel recently announced that it will open a wafer fabrication plant in China. Located in the Northeast city of Dalian, the partially government-subsidized facility is expected to start producing chip-sets in early 2010.

The decision to produce chip-sets, which shuttle data between processors, was driven by US regulations designed to prevent advanced processor technology from falling into the hands of Chinese weapons designers. An important but possibly futile effort given recent revelations in the Chi Mak Chinese espionage case.

P2P Security Threat

From an unusual corner of the government comes a report on the threat from peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software. US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has launched a stinging attack on P2P services, stating in a recent report such software poses a threat to national security.

The USPTO reports that government employees and contractors who have installed P2P software on their computers have repeatedly compromised national security by allowing – intentionally or not – others on P2P networks access to proprietary or classified information. The report goes on to state that there is no legitimate business need for P2P software on sensitive systems.

Cyberspace Command Promotion

Yesterday the U.S. Air Force reported to Congress their plans to elevate its new Cyberspace Command to “major command” status, putting a command dedicated to the defense and security of the virtual world on par with that of the commands dedicated to those same missions in the physical world.

The pronouncement is merely the first step in a long series of hurdles, including manning documents, a budget and physical location, which must be overcome before full operating capability is achieved.

Intelligence and The Surge

Early signs of military success related to the surge are starting to spread, though less well known is that while attacks are down and enemy dead are up, our reinforced commitment to success in Iraq has brought about a boon in tactical, actionable intelligence. General Petraeus is noted in the New York Post as saying that military units are suffering from “information overload.”

Lest one think that this is the-man-who-wrote-the-plan spreading sunshine because his career depends on the plan succeeding, a colleague in Iraq – much farther down the chain of command and less inclined to either hyperbole or PC-speech – confirms:

“Once we set up shop we end up with more intel than we know what to do with. Not uncorroborated data but the five-Ws and then some. What we can't do is act on it all.”

Intelligence in counterinsurgency, and indeed all conflicts we will deal with in the future, is paramount. What point on the earth can't we blow up? The trick is identifying the point. This intelligence success would not be possible without the support of the local population, which suggests that "the surge" is working at a very granular level: exactly what is needed to break an insurgency.

Positive Signs in Sadr City and Fallujah

In a sign that General Petraeus' counter-insurgency program is being rolled out on the ground, US and Iraqi forces are opening community medical clinics in impoverished Sadr City as they take and hold neighborhoods. It is a concerted effort to turn the tables and undermine Muqtada al-Sadr's ability to win militant support through providing public services amid poverty-stricken Iraqis.

In another sign, members of a local Sunni tribe joined forces with Iraqi police in an operation that killed 39 al-Qaeda terrorists in Fallujah. It is a sign that the new MNF-I Commanding General David Petraeus is correct when he said that more and more Iraqi Sunnis in al-Anbar "have had enough" of the civilian killings. al-Qaeda terrorists tactics now include the use of children in car bombs to clear checkpoints more easily, then blowing up the car bomb with the children still in the backseat after the terrorists are clear of the vehicle.

Sudan Found Guilty In USS Cole Bombing

Sudan is partly responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole while in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000, says the judge presiding over a US civil suit brought against the African nation by the bombing victims' surviving members. Experts, including former CIA Director James Woolsey, testified that Sudan had given safe haven to bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network since 1991. Former DCI Woolsey said the attack may still have been possible, but it would not have been as easy without state-sponsorship from Sudan.

In a statement, Judge Doumar said, "I don't think there's any question that there is substantial evidence in this case, presented by expert testimony, that the government of Sudan induced the particular bombing of the Cole." Sudan has had $68 million in frozen assets since the United States put them on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The families of the victims are expected to be paid from these funds.

North Korea Threatens 'Actions'

North Korea warned the US to lift its financial sanctions, looking to free $24 million in the regime leadership's assets in a Macau bank. In Beijing enroute back to North Korea, Kim Kye Gwan warned that should the US fail to lift the sanctions, North Korea “will be forced to take corresponding steps.”

Previously, North Korea also said that US-South Korean war games in South Korea - similar to joint maneuvers that have been carried out for decades - threatened the nuclear talks. North Korea said that the exercises now are "provocative saber-rattling [and] an uncouth act little short of leveling a gun at the dialogue partner."

North Korea's agitated demeanor extended beyond its words for the United States as their direct talks with Japan on normalizing diplomatic relations ended after only 45 minutes. Japan wants a full accounting of its citizens abducted and held - or potentially killed - by the North Koreans over the span of several decades. With no movement or information offered from the North Koreans, the meeting abruptly broke off.

IAEA Director-General ElBaradei is headed to Pyongyang in hopes of restoring IAEA inspectors expelled by the North Koreans. Despite the IAEA's part in the failure to prevent conditions which led to the October testing of a North Korean plutonium bomb, ElBaradei says he now hopes "to reverse course toward denuclearization and a comprehensive settlement involving economic and security concerns."

Millions Protest Terrorist Release in Spain

Over 2 million people marched in a Madrid protest over ETA terrorist Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos' early release from prison, granted by Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Supporters accused the Spanish government, elected into office following the 2004 al-Qaeda terrorist attack in Madrid, of surrendering to terrorists.

Respected Spanish blogger Barcepundit observed, "Many people, not only from the PP, view this as the last straw, as a measure in favor of a terrorist who just said he doesn't feel any remorse for killing and who belonged to a terrorist organization that just killed 2 inocent people in the Barajas airport bombing late last year."

US, Iran Jab At Iraq Talks

At the Iraqi conference bringing together its neighbors on security issues, representatives from the United States and Iran met but exchanged heated words. U.S. envoy David Satterfield reportedly pointed at his briefcase and declared that the US had hard evidence of Iran's aiding Shi'a militias in Iraq. Iran's Abbas Araghchi retorted that the US is lying and trying to cover its own failures.

In the conference, Iran also demanded the US set a timetable for leaving Iraq, as have certain members of the United States Congress.

In other developments, yet another Iraqi claim of the capture of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the appointed leader of the 'Islamic State of Iraq,' has proven false. But the captured man is said to be a religious leader of the al-Qaeda aligned group.

Taliban Threatens 'Horrible Modern Attacks'

Afghan warlord and former prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has detached from the Taliban and is attempting to enter the Afghanistan political process under their new amnesty provisions. But the report cautions that his fighters are not laying down their arms for the 'spring offensive' and joining him. Hekmatyar reportedly "instructed all important warlords in Afghanistan to dismantle the HIA's structures in their areas and merge with the Taliban's command. Thus they will remain in position and simply change hats."

The PakTribune reported that the Taliban have distributed fliers in the Kandahar region warning Afghanis that "horrible modern attacks with modern weapons would be carried against coalition forces this year," and warned them to stay clear of Coalition troops.

After having several troops killed recently, British soldiers are reported to be harboring "huge resentment" towards their fellow European NATO partners whose troop levels are seen as failing to shoulder their share of the burden in Afghanistan. A retired senior British military official explained, "When you go on an operation as complex and dangerous as this [Operation Achilles], where some NATO nations are not playing a full part, it makes the job of a commander much more difficult if he cannot use half the troops. It breaks a fundamental military principle." He then added, "It also undermines NATO's credibility in the long term if it cannot respond to operational challenges such as this."

Chinese Consider Property Rights

On the heels of the State Department releasing the 2006 Human Rights Report, the Chinese government issued its annual rebuttal. As expected - the Chinese find many faults with the US governments protection of human rights.

While speaking in Shanghai, Treasury Secretary Paulson focused on China's need for further capital market reforms. Unlike prior efforts, Secretary Paulson chose not to focus on the undervalued yuan and the US trade deficit with China (at least minimally due to the undervalued currency).

On the issue of reform, Chinese officials are considering tax and property law changes which would reportedly provide for private property rights and balance domestic and foreign corporate tax rates over time.

EU to Hamas: Recognize Israel

Providing a somewhat detailed view of how West Bank and Gaza are drifting apart, IDF General Yoav Galant discussed how the Hamas has subdivided Gaza into four military commands of the South, Central, Gaza City and Northern brigades, as Hamas increases its control by evolving into a hierachically structured force in the mold of Hizballah. Palestinian terrorists are now traveling to Syria, Lebanon and Iran to recieve training, training that was called "a strategic danger more than all the weapons smuggled into Gaza."

Meanwhile, as Fatah's PA President Mahmoud Abbas looks to extend the informal Gaza-Israel cease-fire to the West Bank to end Israeli operations there, the EU's Javier Solana said that Hamas must first must give clear a recognition of Israel before the European Union will re-start the flow of aid money to the Palestinian government, unity or none.

In other news, Israeli Arab leader Sheik Raed Salah, called Israel's 'ticking time bomb', has been barred from the construction and excavation site near the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary. The Israeli Arab has made calls for an Arab uprising against Israel.

Afghan Arrests and Offensive Underway

Coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan have added two significant arrest to their recent efforts. The first, Mullah Mahmood, was captured while fleeing the Panjwaii district of the Kandahar province. He was captured at a check-point after Afghan soldiers recognized his burqa was a disguise. Mahmoud is believed to be a senior Taliban commander responsible for aiding suicide bombers in Afghanistan. The second capture included a leading al-Qaeda operative and bomb maker, along with five other suspected terrorists, in a Coalition led raid in the Nangarahar province. No names have been released at this time.

Today marks the second day of the Coalition's latest offensive - Operation Achilles - aiming at increased security in the Helmand province. A Royal Marine was killed yesterday in combat related to the operation.

Iraq Sees Prison Break and Attacks

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi led as many as 300 in an attack on a jail in Mosul on Tuesday. The attack resulted in approximately 140 prisoners escaping. No details are available at this time on the names of the escaped prisoners.

North of Baghdad in the Salah ad-Din province, six US soldiers were killed in a blast on Monday. Three US soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Diyala province on Monday.

Additional attacks by terrorists and 'insurgents' caused civilian deaths in Hilla, Baghdad, Tikrit, Harmiya, Udhaim, and Latifiya. The Hilla attack, carried out by two terrorists wearing suicide bomb belts, resulted in at least 90 deaths and wounded twice as many.

AU Forces Welcomed With Mortars

As African Union forces begin to move into Somalia on a 'peacekeeping' mission, mortars fell across the Magadishu airport injuring at least one person at the airport. The first AU troops to arrive are from Uganda and should make up approximately 20 percent of the total force - should other AU states fill the request for a force of 8,000 troops.

Mogadishu has seen a return of Islamic Courts Union members after their expulsion at the beginning of the year. The lack of an alternative security force, following the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces, and an interim government incapable of exerting itself across the capital has again permitted the al-Qaeda tied organization's members to return to the city. Mogadishu has seen renewed violence over the last several weeks. Djibouti's President Ismael Omar Guelleh, whose country hosts the US forces which aided in the Ethiopian effort to defeat the ICU, has said that he believes the Horn of Africa is no safer due to the defeat of the ICU. Guelleh said: "People lack basic needs. There is no medicine, no water or services, nothing. They are easily used for criminal activities. That threat still remains."

Algeria's al-Qaeda Arm Claims Attack

al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly known as the GSPC) has claimed responsibility for the killing of four non-Algerians over the weekend. The group claims that the killings are a "a gift to our Muslim brothers in Chechnya who are being killed and oppressed by the criminal Russian government." One of the victims was a Russian engineer.

Elsewhere in Algeria, the government has agreed to organize tours with the Iranian government for reporters. The government also reported that no US bases would be permitted on Algerian soil though their cooperation with the War on Terror is "profitable."

The Algerian and Tunisian governments have agreed to join forces against al-Qaeda and other militant groups working in both countries.

al-Qaeda Beaten in Amirya

al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was routed in an attempted strike on the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council in Amirya. The attack resulted in AQI casualties of 50 or more and 80 plus captured. Iraqi Police initially held off the attack until the Iraqi Army and splintered factions of the 1920 Revolution Brigade and the Islamic Army in Iraq joined the defensive and routed the enemy. As Bill Roggio notes, the details of the attack have been somewhat misreported thus far.

Arming Taiwan for Independence

The DoD has approved the sale of up to 453 missiles manufactured by Raytheon to Taiwan's (RoC) Air Force. The potential sale includes 218 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM's and 235 AGM-65G2 Maverick's for use by the Republic's contingent of F-16's. China (PRC) has complained that the sale violates prior agreements with the US, and the internal affairs of the People's Republic.

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian warned China that Taiwan is "very likely ... to take more actions toward further independence." He noted China's military build-up as a cause for the independence movement.

Pakistan to Deal with Taliban and al-Qaeda?

While Senate hearings focus on the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda along the border regions of Pakistan, the Pakistani government has both denied al-Qaeda's presence in Pakistan and acknowledged the evidence as accurate. President Musharraf stated that "These people should leave and go, otherwise we will have to deal with them and we are dealing with them." His Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said "We deny it" in an interview with the AP, specifically speaking to allegations of bin Laden being in Pakistan.

While US, NATO and Afghan leaders press the issue of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan ahead of any 'spring offensive' the Taliban's senior commander Mullah Dadullah confirms bin Laden is alive and that "hundreds more" suicide bombers are prepared to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Rocket Attacks and a Successful Ambush

A day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reported that he had assurances that Hamas would end rocket attacks on Israel, at least six Kassam rockets were launched into Israel. No injuries were reported. Israel reportedly attacked and killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders Ashraf al-Saadi, Mohammed Abu Naaseh and a driver in the West Bank town of Jenin.

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