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February 28, 2007

Taliban Suicide Bombers: Hitting Hard Targets

On the heels of the recent Taliban suicide bombing at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where Vice President Cheney was visiting commanders, there is an excellent bit of recent analysis from the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor crew on Taliban suicide bombing trends. The Jamestown researchers collected data on known Taliban suicide bombings in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2007. What they found and shared in an excellent analytical report is of significant importance on several levels.

Cheney Attack Reveals Taliban Suicide Bombing Patterns should be read in full. To distill it down to a few bullet points, the thrust of their findings are as follows:

  • Already 22 suicide bombings (or attempts) in Afghanistan, [including yesterday’s at Bagram Air Base] nearly on track for Mullah Hayat Khan's pledge of 2,000 suicide bombers this year. For perspective, 2006 saw 139 suicide bombings and only 25 in all of 2005.
  • 19 of the 22 resulted in only the bomber dying. The Bagram attack reportedly killed 23, mostly civilians. The other 2 killed 11 Afghan police officers and 8 civilians combined.
  • Unlike al-Qaeda in Iraq, which primarily hits soft targets (civilians), the low Taliban kill ration is because they are primarily hitting ‘hard targets,’ i.e. NATO & Afghan military targets (17 of 22).
  • Also unlike AQAM, the Taliban has actually apologized for civilian deaths caused in instances, illustrating a nationalist aspect vice the stateless al-Qaeda they ally with.
  • The above demonstrates a potential end goal of a ‘Pashtunistan’ straddling the Afghan/Pak border.
  • The Jamestown analysis acknowledges the other ‘Iraqification’ aspects of the Afghanistan insurgency led by the Taliban while still noting this significant difference in targeting.

There are other aspects as well that are discussed and considered. The report helps concerned non-professional observers appreciate the distinctions between the largely Pashtun Taliban (whether technically Afghani or Pakistani) and their Arab al-Qaeda allies who share safe haven in western and southern Pakistan.

Add it to your reading today.

Note: For readers who observe our citing of 22 Taliban suicide attacks vice Jamestown's published count of 21, there is an inconsistency with Jamestown's numbers, if one looks closely. This is understandable and surely due to the fact that their analysis was largely penned before the Bagram attack. Hence, it appears the number of attacks is cited still at 21, with the additional attack at Bagram folded into the assessment without an adjustment on the total number cited throughout. See Jamestown's paragraph #4 breakdown of the cited 21 2007 attacks.

February 27, 2007

Three French Dead in Desert Attack

In what appears to be the first terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia with Western victims since September 2004, French expatriates traveling in the northwest of the kingdom came under fire Monday from an unidentified vehicle. The attack resulted in the killing of three men - a schoolteacher and two employees of a private French company in Riyadh - and injury to a 17-year-old adolescent male. Women and children present were not hit.

Le Monde reports on reactions from French and Saudi officials and suggests that the attack may be al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-inspired, as it was consistent with previous attacks on Westerners with no military ties who were targeted simply to drive them from the Arabian peninsula.

UPDATE: An update from Le Monde indicates that the 17-year-old French national previously reported injured has now died from wounds incurred in the attack.

February 26, 2007

Intermediate Technology; Immediate Threat

An interesting and informative post at Danger Room (a must-visit site for the technological angle to the war) related to EFPs:
Where are Iraq's superbombs coming from, really? The Pentagon is claiming -- again -- the Iranian government supplied the deadly "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs). But the more you study these devices -- which use an explosive charge to a convert disc-shaped metal 'lens' into a high-velocity slug capable of smashing through thick armor at an extended range –- the more likely they seem to be home-made in Iraq.
The author then goes on to note, without a sense of irony:
It took years for the American military to learn how to make these weapons on the fly. And yet insurgents in Iraq already have essentially the same capability. It's an example of what has elsewhere been called 'Intermediate Technology' which takes a lot of time and money to develop, but when it exists it can be quickly and cheaply copied.

“Intermediate technology” is how some developed nations improve the lot of under-developed nations. It isn’t an attempt to rush the developing nation into first-world status, but a provision for essentially “good enough” technology that lies between what the grantor would consider sub-standard but the grantee considers a gift from heaven.

As far as the people who work the EFP problem in Iraq for a living are concerned, this was not an indigenous technology. The "knock off” EFPs being made in Iraq now are based on precision-made devices that earlier in the conflict were traced to Iran, along with the passive infrared triggering mechanisms they were paired with. The author draws parallels to the knock-off AK-47 industry, but anyone with some spare steel, a forge and a ball-peen hammer can make an AK-47; substantially more expertise and technology are required to make a reasonable facsimile of a Swiss-made rifle. Still, while there may be an Iraqi cottage industry churning out pseudo-Steyr-Mannlichers, the original technology and expertise had to come from somewhere else.

Having a healthy sense of skepticism about war-related intelligence is a good thing, but discounting the likely origin of these weapons is not.

Fadhila Joins New Coalition; Kurds to Baghdad

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn reported on Sunday that the Shia political party Fadhila would be joining a new parliamentary coalition with the Sunni party the Iraqi List and other unnamed Sunnis ("Al-Khaz Ali: Fadhila is Joining a New Coalition Still in Formation"). The Fadhila Party is a Shia faction that ran in the December 2005 elections with the United Iraqi Alliance along with SCIRI, Dawa, the Sadriya and Shia independents. It abandoned the new government after being deprived of the Petroleum Ministry (Fadhila's control of the oil ministry under the previous, interim government had been primarily noted for widespread allegations of corruption).

Fadhila is distinguished by the fact that alone among the Shia religious parties it does not follow the authority of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, but instead is guided by the Ayatollah Muhammad al-Ya'qubi. Under his direction, for example, it opposed the ratification of the constitution supported by all other Shia parties. It has a significant presence in Basra but has left no national imprint (aside from the aforementioned reputation for corruption). The fact that it is partnering with a Sunni party by itself could be a positive sign, and so observers will need to watch this new coalition.

Al-Rafidayn also reported separately ("Kurdish Forces to Participate in Baghdad Security Plan") that Kurdish forces would be participating in the new Baghdad security plan. It reported that 1,800 members of the Kurdish militia Beshmarka had left from their base in Irbil in north Iraq heading toward Baghdad on Sunday. The article notes that while some independent Kurdish lawmakers expressed reservations about having Kurdish troops involved in Baghdad fighting, the plan was supported by Iraq's two leading Kurdish public officials, President Jalal Talibani and Kurdish autonomous region President Masoud Barzani.

February 25, 2007

Sadrists Allegedly Murder Rival Shia Elders in Basra

As reported in today's Al-Hayat ("Shaikhiya Faction Accuses 'Mahdi Army' of Assassinating Two"), the Shaikhiya Faction is accusing the Sadrist Mahdi Army of murdering two of its elders. The article quoted Shaikh Amar al-Faiz, head of the Awlad Amar tribe and a leader in the Shaikhiya, as saying that four men in black dress stopped their vehicle at a security checkpoint, took one to a Sadrist-dominated neighborhood, and when the other called the police, the police arrived but joined the kidnappers. The article does not indicate how this information was procured, although it does cite multiple local sources as giving alternative explanations for the hit; some saying that in the city there was an ongoing Sadrist-Shaikhiya contest over local business, or alternatively that it might have been part of a theological struggle, as the Shaikhiya had been excluded from local positions by Shia previously based in Iran.

Al-Hayat notes that the Skaikhiya are a Shia faction not aligned with any prominent religious authority nor aligned with any of the major political parties.

February 24, 2007

Symposium - Iran: The Countdown

It was a pleasure to be invited by Dr. Jamie Glazov to participate in a symposium on Iran, along with Dr. Michael Ledeen, Dr. Patrick Clawson, Kenneth Timmerman and Andrew McCarthy. The exchange among the group was spirited at times and never short on ideas.

The discussion within Iran: The Countdown starts with and often returns to the Iranian nuclear threat, but invariably finds itself centered on the Islamic Republic's 28-year run as the principal state sponsor of international (and Iranian domestic) terrorism and regime change.

Readers who come here primarily seeking information and views on Iran will likely find Iran: The Countdown worth the read. Many thanks to Dr. Glazov and FrontPage Magazine for the invitation. A similar symposium on Pakistan may well be coming soon, and hearing a few others discuss the road ahead for Pakistan would certainly be very interesting.

February 23, 2007

China's Space Odyssey And Unrestricted Warfare

In the 1991 Gulf War, international military observers watched the stunning allacrity with which the United States military routed and dispatched what was then the world's fourth largest standing army. Principle among them were Chinese military professionals in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who noted that the technological advantage the Americans commanded could not be defeated if confronted directly. Thus, in 1999, PLA Air Force colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui wrote Unrestricted Warfare, where Qiao and Wang determined that in order to defeat China's Western enemy, warfare must not be restricted to the traditional military realm but should necessarily also include fully engaged economic, energy, finance, and computer network warfare, among other forms. Defeating their American enemy required a radical shift in thinking that included non-traditional combat by uniformed soldier and civilian professional alike.

In 2007: A Chinese Space Odyssey, Fred Stakelbeck takes a brief yet studied look at events leading to and surrounding China's recent intercept and destruction of one of their own aging satellites, a move which rekindled debate on the inevitable militarization and defense of space and space assets.

The development is once again - in part - the product of Chinese observation of American military dominance and the search for the means to strike its Achilles Heel: The flow of information which drives the technological advantage.

Evaluating America’s recent conflict in Iraq, China’s communist leadership believes that a weaker military can defeat a superior force by attacking its space-based communications and surveillance systems, using powerful “lightning strikes” as a prerequisite for victory. A January 22, 2007 New York Times article noted that China has “extensively studied how the U.S. has used satellite imagery in the Persian Gulf War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in tracking North Korea’s nuclear program.”

Not since the October 4, 1957 launch of Russia’s Sputnik has the U.S. felt as threatened by another country’s space activities. At that time, America answered the challenge, developing the greatest space program on Earth. Now, China has thrown down the gauntlet. With advances in other areas such as submarine, aircraft and warship design, China has improved its extra-regional capabilities allowing it to extend its influence beyond the Taiwan Strait. Adding a space-based military capability will only make the country more dangerous to potential future adversaries such as the U.S.

Clearly, to delay or refuse space and/or space-based defense on the principle that the heavens should remain un-militarized is to leave vulnerable and unprotected America's true Achilles Heel. The Chinese have demonstrated their capability and desire and announced that the heavens indeed are already militarized through ground-based systems. To fail to defend our satellites with a concerted effort now would be wholly irresponsible.

2007: A Chinese Space Odyssey is well worth the reader's time, as it is vital to understand our vulnerabilities, lest they remain unaddressed and undefended. A Senior Asia Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, Fred Stakelbeck is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Center for Threat Awareness.

Bullies And The Bullies Who Bully Them

Today, both past and present presidents of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, claimed in separate speeches that its critics (ie: the West - primarily the United States) is 'bullying' Iran on its nuclear weapons program after the release fo the IAEA report on Iran's program. This strikes as an unseemly attempt at posturing as victims for the world's premier state sponsor of international terrorism.

But alas, the terrorist-coddling regime is a quite capable victim, not quite ready for a seat on the set of daytime talk shows. Rafsanjani warned, “If you continue this bullying way, you will definitely make many troubles for yourselves, the world and the region.” Not to be outdone, the former IRGC officer turned president, Ahmadinejad, offered, “This is the spirit of arrogance and culture of aggressive powers.”

But they understand their intended audience well and are not the first to claim that the US is Bullying Iran. The New York Times beat them to the proverbial punch, complaining of American "escalation" without acknowledging Iran's own escalation through killing Americans and arming those who do in Iraq.

Any response to comments of Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani today can be found in the original response to the New York Times editorial in a ThreatsWatch Commentary titled The Bully And His Mercenaries. In part:
Iran has been embedding its Qods Force members within Iraq – including throughout all levels of Iraq’s government – since the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Through this network, it has supplied both Sunni terrorists and insurgents as well as Shi’a militias and death squads with cash, training and weapons, including the milled explosive charges and infrared triggers that have been employed in roadside bombs. These IED’s have accounted for 70% of US casualties in Iraq and Iran has perfected the weaponry for maximum carnage. For the jihadiyun, they truly are the MVP of global jihad. One would think that such deadly weapons shipped in from Iran would be the bane of those who so support the troops. Yet, in truly revelatory fashion, barely a word condemning Iran for such “escalation” is heard in network newscasts or seen in New York Times editorials. Perhaps that is because Iranian ayatollahs do not vote in American presidential elections.
Perhaps, considering the consistent language, they do read the Times.

February 22, 2007

New Type of IEDs Impact U.S. Forces in Iraq

The two "dirty" chlorine truck bomb explosions have gotten most of the recent publicity, and may signal a change in tactics and capabilities on the part of the "insurgents." However, not getting as much play in the media is a new type of IED called a "speed bump" made from plastic explosive sandwiched between two layers of metal (even like baking tins). These homemade devices explode when a vehicle travels over it, often ripping into the underbelly of an unarmored underside. Military officials in Iraq point to these "speed bumps" as another emerging IED threat -- one that has received less attention because it does not require Iranian assistance to manufacture.

Already, IEDs cause an estimated 70% of the deaths and serious injuries in Iraq. Because of the desert environment, these speed bump bombs are difficult to detect since they can simply be covered with dirt. The anti-IED task force was been funded to the tune of $3.5 billion in 2006, and yet, our military vehicles remain vulnerable to attcks. Some of the newer veihcles have "V" shaped bottoms that deflect a blast and prevent many serious injuries. But is pretty clear that more needs to be done since the terrorists have shown the ability to stay one step ahead of us, even if the "innovations" are made in a local machine shop.

Earlier today, U.S. forces raided a car bomb factory containing propane tanks and ordinary chemicals. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said:

"What we are seeing is a change in the tactics, but their strategy has not changed. And that's to create high-profile attacks to instill fear and division amongst the Iraqi people," he told CNN. "It's a real crude attempt to raise the terror level by taking and mixing ordinary chemicals with explosive devices, trying to instill that fear within the Iraqi people."

Presumably, this new strategy is backfiring on the insurgents as Iraqis are more frequently calling in tips. Still, the adaptive nature of the attacks is a disturbing trend.

Battle Labs Closing

The Air Force Times reports that budget constraints are forcing the close of all seven of its battle labs:

The labs, which functioned as centers of innovation and technology aimed to improve or develop tools for combatant commanders, were stood up nearly a decade ago.

It is worth noting that the Air Force's first battle lab was established in response to the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Ironically, we are currently engaged with an enemy that constantly changes tactics and adopts new methodologies (read: innovates) in response to our superior physical force and technological advantages. One could argue that the Air Force has a smaller dog in the fight when compared to the Army or Marines, but the recent rash of aircraft that have been brought down over the skies of Baghdad should give every aviator pause.

If there is one thing all our armed forces need to be doing more of, it is innovating, which makes closing the battle labs a penny-wise, dollar-foolish mistake.

Internal Insecurity

From the Department of Energy comes another report of internal security woes that make it that much easier for sensitive national defense information to get into the hands of our enemies:

The Energy Department’s Inspector General, Gregory H. Friedman, has found fault with the Idaho National Laboratory’s technical procedures for removing restricted nuclear data and confidential data from old computers.

DOE agreed with the conclusions of a report Friedman’s office issued, which essentially recommended that the Idaho laboratory adopt and enforce all department policies regarding the handling of excess computers.

If this sounds familiar it is because time and time again DOE labs have demonstrated that they lack the capacity to follow the most fundamental rules and clearly spelled out policies regarding security. This would be less of an issue if DOE were some other government bureaucracy, but the DOE is the agency responsible for the security of our nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Our national labs are government facilities that are managed and operated by private companies. This should make it easier to address these pressing issues since the operating concern is undoubtedly contractually obligated to follow applicable government policies. Given the level of attention being paid to WMD proliferation these days, rectifying lab security issues - and removing those responsible for allowing these lapses to continue - should be a top priority for our national security leadership.

February 21, 2007

Karine-A Redux: Saggers In Gaza

The IDF believes that Hamas may have Sagger anti-tank missiles successfully smuggled in through the Gaza border with Egypt, and in "especially large" number.

The IDF fears Hamas has succeeded in its efforts to smuggle Sagger-type missiles from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. It appears that the number of missiles is especially large. However, the mere fact that such a weapon may be in Hamas' hands will affect the way IDF vehicles operate in the Gaza Strip, if it is decided to embark on an extensive offensive operation.

In recent years there have been many attempts by militant organizations to smuggle anti-tank missiles into the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians managed to successfully upgrade the RPGs in their possession from locally produced types to military grade equipment. However, the Sagger is a significant advance that poses a serious threat to the IDF - not only to armored jeeps, but also to armored personnel carriers (APCs), and in some instances, also to tanks.

AT-3 Sagger Anti-Tank Missile
The Sagger anti-tank weapon is not as effective as the Kornet, the type believed to have been used in the Palestinian tunnel raid that resulted in the capture and continued captivity of IDF corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006. But it is a significant upgrade from the past weapons stocks held by Hamas and their cooperative network of Palestinian terrorists.

Saggers Captured Aboard Karine-A ShipIran is the likely originating source of the Sagger anti-tank weapons and would not be the first time they were sent to Gaza Postmarked Tehran. Numerous Saggers were among the 83 crates of weapons shipped from Iran and intercepted by Israeli SEALs before it could reach Gaza aboard the Karine-A. From a TIME magazine report in 2002:

Commandos from Israel's Navy SEALS unit, Shayetet 13, swooped down on the Karine A in international waters of the Red Sea on the night of Jan. 3, catching most of the 13 crew members asleep. The Israelis say the crew told them the weapons were loaded onto the Karine A from boats off the Iranian coast in an operation headed by Lebanese Hajj Bassem, an assistant to the notorious terrorist Imad Mughniyah. A leader of the Lebanese militia Hizballah, Mughniyah has close ties to Iran and is blamed by the Americans for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Israeli intelligence tells TIME the captured captain of the ship, Omar Akawi, a maritime adviser to the Palestinian Transportation Ministry, identified a photo of Bassem as that of the man who delivered the cargo. Akawi also confessed to Israeli interrogators that the weapons were intended for the P.A.

On the ship, the Israelis say, they found the weapons in 83 giant barrels, each 12-ft. long by 4-ft. wide. The barrels had dense air pockets at each end enabling them to float and adjustable valves so that they could hang just beneath the surface of the sea. The plan, the Israelis say, was for a frogman named Salaam as-Skandari, a Palestinian trained by Hajj Bassem, to guide them to the Gaza shore. As-Skandari, along with the rest of the crew, are in Israeli detention.

The Karine-A contained 83 12'×4' Iranian-made crates, sealed and designed to float just under the surface of the sea. Palestinian divers would enter the water from fishing boats after the crates were dumped by passing ships and guide them ashore. Most do not realize why the Israelis would fire on 'suspicious' fishing boats off the Gaza coast in the Mediterranean Sea. This is why.

For additional information on the 2002 intercept of the Iranian arms shipment aboard the Karine-A, including Sagger anti-tank missiles, see here and here.

al-Qaeda Bases = al-Qaeda Targets

In our most recent analysis, we considered the resurgent Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in Pakistan and its potential effective 'acquisition' of an incorporated 63,218 square miles of FATA and NWFP in Pakistan, juxtaposed against the increasing weakness of the Musharraf government. Troubling as that is, there is always room for another perspective when considering matters of grave national security import.

From the erstwhile James S. Robbins at National Review, optimism that is not without merit.

It may well be that some small scale camps have been established — nothing like those in Taliban Afghanistan surely — but this is as much opportunity as threat. If al Qaeda is coalescing, it is easier to target. If there are camps, they can be surveiled. If there are training programs, they can be infiltrated. Al Qaeda’s leaders should understand that these are not the 1990s. Unlike then, everything they do will be watched. Unlike then, we are not afraid to take strong action instantly when opportunities arise. If we can lull them into a false sense of security, allow them to reconstitute to the point where they feel comfortable enough to operate in the open, so much the better. If they get confident, they will make mistakes. And they have a lot to be confident about. I’m certain the enemy is convinced we are a weak, failing power with neither the will or capacity to continue to prosecute the war effectively. At least that’s what they read in the papers.

The man has a point.

February 20, 2007

Site Changes Underway

As you may have noticed, changes are underway at ThreatsWatch.

First you'll notice that we've pulled the NewsBrief and InBrief sections of the site. This was done in conjunction with the creation of the DailyBriefings section. Our aim in doing so was to enable us to provide more frequent and worthy context added news and simultaneously increasing our availability to develop more significant works of analysis, commentary and special reports.

We made the decision to maintain the DailyBriefings archives in our resources library pages in hopes that the news, combined with the coming resources on those pages would be of real value to our readers. We are not maintaining individual archive pages for DailyBriefings - nor allowing comments or trackbacks to them. That decision could change if our readers believe their would be significant value in having that option.

Also, we've begun to use tags on our entries - across the full spectrum of the site. While the earliest usage will have limited value, as our archives are updated with tags - and new entries are added - we hope that the value will become clear.

There are other events taking place offline, specifically related to the Center for Threat Awareness, and we hope to be able to share some of that shortly.

By all means, feel free to share your feedback - positive or negative - here.

February 19, 2007

Abusing Intelligence

Michael Tanji has taken aim at the continuous politicization of intelligence at the Weekly Standard in his article Abusing Intelligence.
The politicization of intelligence does not stop with the Senate. This past week the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted unanimously to provide access to the classified NIE on Iraq to the entire House membership. By abdicating the role they play on behalf of the rest of the House, every member of the committee has declared open season on the professionals who conduct intelligence operations and their work. The bickering over intelligence issues was almost unbearable when just a handful of representatives had access to classified material; one can only imagine the cacophony that will erupt once over 400 partisans begin clamoring for their chance to score a goal in front of their myopic fans.
Michael's concluding thought is spot on.
The continued abuse of intelligence for partisan political purposes might make it easier to win re-election, but it makes our ability to fight and win wars drastically more difficult.
This reality is in part precisely what has spawned the Victory Caucus.

February 15, 2007

Bees in a Box Buzz Bombs

About a decade ago, scientists at a national laboratory, in partnership with the University of Montana, were working on a project to "re-train" bees to respond to the chemical signature of chemical and biological weapons. These were the days between the first War in the Persian Gulf and our current battles against terrorism. The concept was to replace the bees’ reactions to pheromones and have them instead, “make a bee line” to the chemical or biological weapons. Suspecting that Hussein had his chemical and biological weapons in underground bunkers to avoid detection by inspectors, the idea was to send a swarm of specially trained bees to locate the sites.

In an outgrowth of this earlier research University of Montana researchers demonstrated the use of insects to detect pollution and land mines . A related program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), demonstrated that bees were trained in less than two hours using sugar-water rewards to condition a hive of honeybees to eschew flowers and instead hunt for 2,4-dinitrotoluene, or DNT, a residue in TNT and other explosives, in concentrations as tiny as a few thousandths of a part per trillion.
In tests of 12 trained bee colonies in 2001 at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, one to two bees an hour were seen flying around uncontaminated controls, while "we were getting 1,200 bees an hour on the targets," said Philip J. Rodacy, a chemist in the explosives technology group at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. Sandia, the Southwest institute and the University of Montana are among many institutions contributing to the research.

It is now coming to light that Los Alamos National Laboratory using previous research performed by UK-based company called Inscentinel have transformed regular honey bees into bomb detectors. Apparently when the bees come into contact with explosives, their feeding tubs (proboscises) extend. The bees were re-trained as part of a program called the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project during which they received sugar water when they were exposed to dynamite, C-4, and the Howitzer propellant grains used in IEDs in Iraq. The training takes no more than ten minutes.

The process involves placing the bees in a box, a “sniffer box,” into which air is sucked. If explosives are present, the bees will simultaneously extend their proboscises, and a video camera will detect the movement and sound an alarm. Whether the use of these bee boxes is practical or not is still a question. More about the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project can be found in Sniffer bees set to snare suicide bombers

There are a number of similar programs being pursued using insects. It is also now being considered to use swarms of bees to detect and identify Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) which present a critical vulnerability for American military troops abroad and is an emerging danger for civilians worldwide. The point of this is that in our Nation’s efforts to defeat terrorism, even some unconventional methods are being explored. Examining the issue of IED detection more closely, you can discover that the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization -- has received $6.7 billion in taxpayer dollars since 2003, for the sole purpose of eliminating the threat of so-called improvised explosive devices, and that President Bush recently asked Congress to allocate an additional $6.4 billion for the effort. IEDs kill or maim our troops in Iraq daily. In fact, IEDs are the number one killer of our forces in Iraq according to this Defenselink article . The real problem is detecting them.

Detecting IEDs can be particularly difficult because they can be hidden almost anywhere, and every pile of rubble or garbage is suspect, he explained, so the training focuses on situational awareness. “We’re training soldiers to be keen, to be acute and to be paying attention,” Patrick said. “Our goal is to impart our experience so when it comes down to them being able to execute, it’s second nature.”

Actually, the real issue is that our vehicles travel along the highways at speeds of 55 mph (80 feet per second) or more. So, the method of detecting the IEDs at roadside requires realtime detection capability. Even some of the newer, electronic or high-tech methods haven’t been able to accomplish this task. Trained bees might not be a bad idea.

February 12, 2007

The History of Minority Rule

Clifford May simply owns today's must-read commentary, stating the obvious yet mysteriously elusive regarding the history of Minority Rule.

In 1917, most Russians were not Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were a minority, but they were fanatical and ruthless. So they prevailed — and for most of the 20th century Russians lived and died under Communist oppression.

In 1933, most Germans were not Nazis. The Nazis were a minority, but they were fanatical and ruthless. Tens of millions would perish before Hitler’s dream of world conquest collapsed.

Today, it is not clear that most Iraqis want to slaughter other Iraqis and return Iraq to despotism. But a fanatical and ruthless minority does.

This minority — actually two rival minorities, one Sunni, one Shia — enjoys the support of both al-Qaeda and the regime that rules Iran. That is not surprising. What is: the fact that such mass murderers are neither opposed nor even seriously condemned by “the international community.” Instead, in the Middle East, Europe and even America, opposition and condemnation are meted out in fullest measure to those reluctant to quit the fight against the mass murderers.

Read it all. Regular readers will feel this a broken record, but it continues to amaze - with national shame - how the visceral opposition to any American action in Iraq completely dismisses the unprotected bloody fate the Iraqi people would endure at the feet of such disinterest.

Every once in a while, someone will write something profound that, when truly reflected upon, does not necessarily require great intellectual ponderance and quiet meditation to arrive at, leaving the reader to punish himself or herself for not making the same observation long ago. Today is one of those 'every once in a while' days.

I'll have to remind myself to 'once in a while' say thank you to Cliff May. If they were to see or hear his words, it can hardly be doubted that most Iraqis would do the very same, perhaps more than 'once in a while,' and surely with the conviction of the affected...and Defended.

February 11, 2007

Hasan: 'They Never Smile'

There is a commentary by Khalid Hasan in Pakistan's Daily Times that is more than worth the reader's time. In Postcard USA: Ignorance by satellite, Mr. Hasan laments the content and quality of Pakistani satellite television offerings for Pakistanis living abroad, from soap operas to religious programs to news.

The religious programmes are so dark and grim that one would have to have strong faith to remain in the flock after watching them. There you have these people, masquerading as divines and theologians, as authorities on the word of God and all that has been revealed to man. They never smile. They only deliver themselves of chilling warnings to those who stray from the path, a path that they credit God with having laid down, but of which the Almighty is quite innocent.

The issues they debate and yap about are so abstruse and so utterly irrelevant to life as people live it that one wonders what distant planet these men have come from. I have seldom if ever heard any of them speak about things that would enable us to live better lives in the here and now. You hear them either recounting stories from centuries gone by or terrorising their audience with the punishment that awaits them in the hereafter. Since God is just, there is little doubt that the tortures of hell that they threaten the rest of us with, await them instead for the harm they have done in this world to people emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

You will want to read it all.

The Predictable Palestinian 'Diplomatic Blitz'

It was only a matter of time. Predictably, Palestinian leaders are now making the rounds with their new peace deal in hand, engaging in a 'diplomatic blitz' to convince Europe and the United States to restart the free flow of millions in international aid funds to the Palestinian Authority that were cut off when the terrorist group Hamas was freely elected into the majority in the Palestinian government one year ago.

The newly agreed-to Mecca Accord has, at least temporarily, settled the bloody dispute between Hamas and Fatah within the Palestinian Territories. It has addressed nothing that caused the monetary cutoff.

The Associated Press report that coined the new Palestinian overtures to Europe and the United States a 'diplomatic blitz' seems in one paragraph to minimize the importance of some semblance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and supplant it with guaging peace between warring Palestinian factions as the determining factor for the resumption of US and EU funding.

While apparently falling short of Quartet demands, it goes a long way toward ending months of Palestinian infighting that has killed more than 130 people, and the international community might be reluctant to take any steps that could renew tensions.

Falling short? As if the withholding of EU and US funding ever had anything to do with whether or not Fatah gunmen were killing Hamas gunmen and vice versa. "Going a long way toward ending months of Palestinian infighting" has nothing to do with going a long way toward recognizing Israel's right to exist or renouncing terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. The latter would be "going a long way" to resuming the flow of funds. The former is irrelevant.

The strategy being employed is one that attempts to leverage the displays of American and Israeli cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. With Hamas ending its street-level death match with them, it is hoped that this will transfer enough through Fatah to convince the West to loosen its purse strings once again. But this is almost akin to Germany and Japan reaching a peace brokered by Italy in 1943, and then touting that as cause for US and British handouts and assistance.

February 10, 2007

Mecca Accord Means More Attacks On Israel

The initial reporting of the Fatah-Hamas unity government agreement reached through the Mecca Accord brokered by Suadi Arabia included speculation of the easing or elimination of the economic embargo on the Palestinian government and its elected Hamas majority. The International Herald Tribune headline Friday however read EU and U.S. are cautious over Palastinian deal." As well they should be.

Nothing that brought about the economic embargo has changed. The economic aid freeze required that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce terrorism and end the practice. Hamas affirmed that it still refuses to recognize Israel and that "Our battle with the Israeli enemy is still on." Hamas' leader in the Jebaliya camp in Gaza added, "We will be the spearhead of jihad ... to defend Palestine and Arab and Muslim nations."

Simply because Hamas and Fatah have apparently agreed to stop killing each other for the moment in the Palestinian Territories does not mean that any should reconsider the ongoing economic embargo. It does, however, look to translate into an ire directed outward against Israel rather than inward between the two Palestinian groups.

However, the development does offer the opportunity to criticize American policy - or more to the point, Bush policy - in the Middle East. Consider an editorial from the Washington Post that starts out reasonable and cautious, but in the end cannot resist lashing at American policy.

Unable to embrace the Palestinian accord but reluctant to offend a Saudi ally it has been counting on for help against Iran, the Bush administration adopted an awkward wait-and-see position. As events unfold in the coming days, it will watch from the sidelines, to which it has been relegated by its own ineptitude.

Of course we should wait-and-see. What would the Post's editorial board have America do? This represents a commonly held American view that the United States can and should impose itself as the solution. This is a wholly arrogant view from afar and ironically displays the 'hubris' so often attached to the current administration.

In a Washington Times' Saturday report, Joshua Mitnik wrote that there would be no peace for Israel in the Mecca Accord. Fathi Hamad of Hamas said that he "urged militant groups to resume attacks on Israel and denied that Hamas would respect past peace deals with the Jewish state."

This makes it unmistakable that the requirements set for the lifting of economic freezes have not only been left unmet, Hamas is clearly preparing for the continued fight with Israel.

Hamas and Fatah have agree to stop killing each other. This does not bode well for Israel in the short term, because the infighting between the two factions can now be once again directed outward in attacks on Israel. Israel's enemies have just strengthened themselves.

Timmerman: Squeeze Iran

In Squeeze Iran, Kenneth Timmerman writes that, while many are frustrated with the American leadership's reluctance to go public with the evidence on Iran's deadly game in Iraq, the pressure on Iran has been steady...and effective.

The U.S. Cobra is finally standing on its tail. This strategy is clearly working.

In Tehran, shortly after the January 10 speech by President Bush, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set up two commissions, terrified that the policies of President Ahmadinejad were taking his regime to defeat.

A domestic policy review board is examining Ahmadinejad’s dismal handling of the economy, which has led to increased unemployment and runaway inflation.

A national security and intelligence review board led by Khamenei’s son Mojtaba and his chief of staff, Akbar Hejazi, is looking at Iran’s nuclear face-off with the international community and its aggressive posture in Iraq.

According to Iranian exiles who have been following these events closely, a rift has developed between Ahmadinejad and senior Revolutionary Guards “professionals,” who believe the President’s overheated rhetoric and behavior is endangering the survival of the regime.

“It’s not that these professionals want to make peace with America and sing Kumbaya with the opposition,” said Shahriar Ahy. “Rather, they feel that Ahmadinejad has brought in undisciplined amateurs who are riding roughshod” over their agencies and “destroying all the work” the professionals have accomplished over the past twenty years.

Tehran’s reaction to the more forceful U.S. policy in Iraq gives the lie to the U.S. politicians and analysts who have been arguing that the United States must talk to Tehran.

In fact, it shows they were completely wrong.

Read it all. When you are done, look west from Iraq to see one of Syria's contributions to the effort to kill Americans in Iraq.

The former Iraqi Parliament member now wanted for stealing $2 million from the government, Sunni Mishaan al-Jabouri, runs al-Zawraa TV (aka Jihad TV) 'in the open' without fear of arrest in his new home, Damascus. al-Zawraa broadcasts Iraqi insurgent propoganda via satellite, including footage of insurgent-filmed attacks on US soldiers.

[See: CBS News Video: Live From Syria: Insurgent TV]

As the CBS News interview shows, it is an effective recruiting tool for the insurgency, providing an advertising and marketing arm that clearly feds into Iraq fresh foreign terrorists.

Iran and Syria do not respond to negotiation in the manner many may wish. They do, however, respond to fear. Negotiations do not inspire fear. It is for this reason that those - particularly in Washington, DC - who openly lament that the Administration is 'beating the war drums,' it is still talk, just as is negotiation. However, it is talk that is backed by threat of force and instilled fear. This is the only such talk that either will respond to in a manner all desire but others seek through classic negotiation.

With actors such as Iran and Syria, this is negotiation.

February 6, 2007

Iran, Iraq, 'Speed Bumps' and NIE Dissent

Andy McCarthy asks, What’s Our Iran Policy?

For lo these six-plus years, the Bush administration’s Iran policy has been incoherent. Axis of evil ... but no regime change; incorrigible destabilizer supporting both Sunni and Shiite terror in Iraq ... yet Iraq's helpful neighbor who has no interest in destabilization; the terror master who cannot be negotiated with ... but a rational actor we believe will be brought around by negotiations.

Got that?

Now, the confusion is manifesting itself in spasms of gibberish over another self-imposed wound: To release or not release evidence that Iran is stoking the violence in Iraq.

Andy's certainly right when he says "We need something besides confusion."

Nick Grace of Global Crisis Watch alerted us to a report from B. Raman of the indispensable South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), in which he concludes that Israeli strikes on Natanz and Isfahan are imminent. After bulleting a few recently reported events, he adds:

After a visit to the US in February last year, I had reported that there were three groups there---- one group was totally opposed to any intervention in Iran. A second group urged intervention by the US before it became too late. The third group favoured intervention by Israel with a US wink, without Washington getting directly involved. The third group seems to have won the debate.

Saul Singer says "The Gambians are asking: So long as other countries are allowed to have these weapons, and they are not illegal, why shouldn't Iran join the club?" While there are 'official answers,’ Saul's essentially echoes that which we have gone to lengths here at ThreatsWatch to illustrate: It's the terrorism, stupid.

Meanwhile, Iran now claims to have assembled 300 centrifuges in two enrichment units at its underground Natanz facility. Just in time for their big February 11 celebrations designed to rally national support around their weapons program. Still lagging behind their goal of 54,000 centrifuges. Have I mentioned that their terrorism is spot on, however? Perhaps I should write a commentary or an analysis on this sometime soon...

From the New York Sun, Eli Lake writes that acceptance of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is far from universal or unanimous, with dissenting opinion filed by the Treasury Department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the military intelligence bureaus of the Army and Marines. The dissenters disagree with the majority opinion that Baathists and Sunni nationalists compose the majority of the Sunni insurgency, and instead "argue that the Baathist wing of the umbrella Sunni terrorist group has ceded authority to Abu Ayoub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq." The Baathist wing they speak of includes fully six al-Anbar tribes now operating under al-Masri via the The Mujahideen Shura Council which, according to one quoted intelligence official, "is now for all intents and purposes an arm of Al Qaeda."

In Major Dissent, Major Issues, our Michael Tanji makes a rather common sense observation at his personal blog, Haft of the Spear.

It is important to note the size and make-up of the dissenters; Treasury is heavy into insurgent/terror funding issues so their say here is not insignificant, and it almost goes without saying that Army and Marine intel have a much more detailed view of things on the ground. The majority agencies have their people on the ground and other resources of course, but a desk-jockey arguing a position based on reports sent by a guy who rarely if ever leaves the Green Zone seems insufficient when stood up next to a guy who probably still hasn’t washed all the Iraqi sand out of his crevasses and has actually met a few terrorists.

There is a lot that can be said about the Dissent v. Conventional Wisdom in the case of the NIE, but that just about covers the view from 10,000 feet.

Also in Iraq, the enemies have adapted IEDs to strike at the undercarriages of military vehicles, the only spot on most vehicles not up-armored. "The weapon is formed by sandwiching plastic explosives between metal plates, such as baking trays, a Pentagon intelligence document shows." It's called the 'speed bump.' A creative and adaptive enemy intent on killing you will adapt and create in order to kill you.

Just a few things that caught my eye earlier that, with insufficient time today, I thought I’d share here.

February 4, 2007

Preparing for a Natural Disaster of Pandemic Proportions

Since September 11th, and even before, the federal government has run war games. These drills have been designed to prepare for the eventuality of another attack, whether another airplane hijacking, a suicide bombing, or a CBRN attack. Mostly our focus and attention has been on these types of incidents.

Homeland Security includes the efforts of first responders, public safety and of critical infrastructure organizations. Importantly, it addresses a range of hazards and disasters, both natural and manmade. At the heart of the homeland security process is the understanding of anticipation, indications and warning, mitigation, response and recovery.

Last week, another type of war game was held, one that was intended to help prepare the country for a global outbreak of a highly transmissible strain of influenza -- a pandemic. While admittedly such outbreaks have occurred infrequently in history, their occurrences are also unpredictable. This war game is described in Agency Uses Mock Outbreak to Prepare for Disaster

A 22-year-old Georgetown University swim team member just back from Indonesia eats dinner with his teammates but then develops a fever and doesn't accompany them to a meet in New York. That is how a flu pandemic in the United States started.

Unfortunately, a winter storm created a public safety issue and caused the CDC to abort the war game midway through the program, postponing the conclusion of the exercise until April.

The question of how to deal with a possible outbreak of pandemic flu, likely to be a strain of the much publicized H5N1 bird flu, in the United States has been controversial. There has been an on-going debate over whether the fears of a pandemic outbreak of H5N1, or avian flu, was a real risk, or if the crossover of the disease from poultry to humans was possible. This question was back in the news this week, and raised to a new level of awareness and concern that at least at the Center for Disease Control, the possibility is all too real. In addition to the war game, the CDC issued new guidelines in preparation for a flu pandemic.

Probably one of the more scary observations is that if an outbreak were to occur, it is likely that it would take four to six months to prepare a vaccine to protect against a pandemic flu, the guidelines are considered critical to restricting the virus in the interim.

Among other things, these new guidelines have created a scale of 1 to 5, with five representing the most severe outbreak. As expressed in the CDC news release :
"The threat of a pandemic continues to be real. We need to continue helping state and local decision-makers determine some of the specific actions they could take during the course of a pandemic to reduce illness and save lives," said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. "An important consideration for action is the severity of a pandemic once it emerges. The new CDC guidelines are a step forward in that direction."

Among the recommended actions in case of a pandemic outbreak are:

1. Asking ill persons to remain at home or not go to work until they are no longer contagious (seven to 10 days). Ill persons will be treated with antiviral medication if drugs are available and effective against the pandemic strain.

2. Asking household members of ill persons to stay at home for seven days

3. Dismissing students from schools and closing child care programs for up to three months for the most severe pandemics, and reducing contact among kids and teens in the community

4. Recommending social distancing of adults in the community and at work, which may include closing large public gatherings, changing workplace environments and shifting work schedules without disrupting essential services.

The actual (and lengthy) plan document can be found here . The CDC’s pandemic flu page is found here .

Why is all of this so important, and how does it relate to homeland security? The answers start with this from the Washington Post article:

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, has killed millions of birds and 164 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003. It does not pass from person to person efficiently. But it is highly lethal and still evolving; many experts believe it has the potential to cause a pandemic.

Further, the response to an outbreak of a pandemic flu, if it happened, would come under the heading of “All Hazards” Crisis Management that is governed by HSPD-8. HSPD-8:

"...establishes policies to strengthen the preparedness of the United States to prevent and respond to threatened or actual domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies by requiring a national domestic all-hazards preparedness goal, establishing mechanisms for improved delivery of Federal preparedness assistance to State and local governments, and outlining actions to strengthen preparedness capabilities of Federal, State, and local entities."

How real is the threat from H5N1 and how possible is it for the “bird flu” to spread to humans? Two articles highlight the most recent outbreaks of the “flu” in poultry.

Deadly Bird Flu Virus Found in Britain and First case of bird flu found on British farm

Simply, these two articles talk about the gassing of 159,000 turkeys from Europe’s largest poultry producer that were infected with H5N1 while in a sealer shed. The question of transmission is raised. The Washington Post article includes this:

Bird flu has killed or prompted the slaughter of millions of birds worldwide since late 2003. It has killed at least 164 people worldwide, but remains difficult for humans to catch. Experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a global pandemic. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with sick birds.

The final point for now, and one that underscores the potential threat is this, Pandemic flu may be only two mutations away (a biologically technical piece):

The difference between a flu virus that kills millions, and one that kills only a few comes down to just two amino acid changes, researchers say.

Knowing the mutations required to convert H5N1 into a flu pandemic threatening humans is an important finding that may permit scientists to remain ahead of the spread of the virus. It is ironic, though perhaps not, that the CDC war game was aborted by something that could well help stem the spread of an H5N1 pandemic flu outbreak it if occurred…a major winter storm that paralyzes a city and keeps everyone indoors and out of contact from others for the duration of the incubation period.

February 3, 2007

It's Iran....'And Everybody Knows It'

Hizballah's public face, Hassan Nasrallah, admitted that Iran feeds Hizballah through Syria.

"Iran assists the organization with money, weapons, and training, motivated by a religious fraternity and ethnic solidarity," Nasrallah said. "And the help is funneled through Syria, and everybody knows it."

Everyone most certainly does. And yet, nothing is ever done to end this practice. Israel tried to have an impact by launching airstrikes along the Syrian border to interdict arms shipments during its war with Hizballah over the summer. The world, however, convulsed.

At the end of operations, UNIFIL forces took ground positions but, nonetheless, refused to conduct night operations, ceding half of the clock and the cover of darkness to unchallenged and unfettered re-arming, re-supply and Hizballah reconstruction in southern Lebanon.

This is not to make the false assertion that UNIFIL forces did anything to disrupt Iranian/Syrian/Hizballah efforts in the light of day. That solar phase is more aptly described as a 'gentlemen's agreement' of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" and continues still.

To wit, Hizballah is known to have re-armed and re-built its positions to levels that exceed pre-war levels.

Just as Nasrallah says, "and everybody knows it."

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters makes the point that we here have made as well, saying, "The admission makes it clear, despite Nasrallah's insistence that Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization, that Nasrallah leads a group that owes its allegiance to Teheran and not Beirut." Unfortunately, James Baker and Hillary Clinton continue to fail to acknowledge the significance of this as they continue to call for talks with Syria to somehow convince Syria to strong-arm groups which they do not control, namely in getting Hamas to recognize Israel.

Syria's influence here is limited, at least in the direction desired. Assad's Syria will act in its own interests, and its interests do not include riding against the tide with terrorist groups in the region, much less the Iranian masters who exert control over both the groups and Syria itself.

February 2, 2007

Hope Rides Alone Amidst Yellow Ribbon Fanfare

In Hope Rides Alone, Sgt. Eddie Jeffers writes from Iraq and explains in half a sentence our parallel feelings about yellow ribbons and their too often hollow symbolism that has robbed them of sincere meaning in the eyes of the serving.

I stare out into the darkness from my post, and I watch the city burn to the ground. I smell the familiar smells, I walk through the familiar rubble, and I look at the frightened faces that watch me pass down the streets of their neighborhoods. My nerves hardly rest; my hands are steady on a device that has been given to me from my government for the purpose of taking the lives of others.

I sweat, and I am tired. My back aches from the loads I carry. Young American boys look to me to direct them in a manner that will someday allow them to see their families again...and yet, I too, am just a boy....my age not but a few years more than that of the ones I lead. I am stressed, I am scared, and I am paranoid...because death is everywhere. It waits for me, it calls to me from around street corners and windows, and it is always there.

There are the demons that follow me, and tempt me into thoughts and actions that are not my own...but that are necessary for survival. I've made compromises with my humanity. And I am not alone in this. Miles from me are my brethren in this world, who walk in the same streets...who feel the same things, whether they admit to it or not.

And to think, I volunteered for this...

And I am ignorant to the rest of the world...or so I thought.

But even thousands of miles away, in Ramadi, Iraq, the cries and screams and complaints of the ungrateful reach me. In a year, I will be thrust back into society from a life and mentality that doesn't fit your average man. And then, I will be alone. And then, I will walk down the streets of America, and see the yellow ribbon stickers on the cars of the same people who compare our President to Hitler.

Sgt. Jeffers also echoes what I have tried repeatedly to point out: Absent in the debate against American action in Iraq is any consideration at all for the Iraqi people. Barack Obama may be an exception when he said, “It is time for us to fundamentally change our policy, it’s time to give Iraqis their country back.” This soldier on the ground says:

We are the hope of the Iraqi people. They want what everyone else wants in life: safety, security, somewhere to call home. They want a country that is safe to raise their children in. Not a place where their children will be abducted, raped and murdered if they do not comply with the terrorists demands. They want to live on, rebuild and prosper. And America has given them the opportunity, but only if we stay true to the cause and see it to its end.

That Senator Obama's appealing suggestion would surrender the Iraqi people exposed to the enemy currently killing them without American defense illustrates clearly that those who need to hear cannot or will not.

Sgt. Jeffers' words from Ramadi should be read in full. Please afford him a few minutes in your busy day to listen.

Get rid of your yellow ribbons. If you want to display your support for the troops, display it to them, not to your neighbors. Try going to the good folks in the Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon and help them "ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them,” which seems to really upset some American writers. These folks sponsor entire units and work tirelessly to be as "obscene" as possible...if Q-Tips, shampoo, wipes and shippable foods in the middle of Hell can be considered such.

I do not know Sgt. Eddie Jeffers, nor do I know to where he will return after his tour and service are complete. But when he does return, he will never walk down my street alone. Not ever.

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