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March 31, 2007

Pak Cleric Demands Shari'a Law in One Week

From Pakistan's Daily Times:

Maulana Abdul Aziz, the prayer leader at Lal Masjid and principal of Jamia Hafsa, on Friday gave the government a week’s deadline to “enforce Sharia” in the country, otherwise “clerics will Islamise society themselves." “If the government does not impose Sharia within a week, we will do it,” Aziz told a gathering after Friday prayers. Similarly, he gave the Islamabad administration a week to shut down “brothels”, otherwise “seminary students will take action themselves.”

“If we find a woman with loose morals, we will prosecute her in Lal Masjid,” he said. Sources told Daily Times that the Jamia Hafsa administration would compile a record of brothels and gambling dens over the week, and then launch a drive. They said the seminary believed these places were being run in collaboration with civil society organisations.

“Jamia Hafsa will hold a conference on April 5-6 at Lal Masjid, where ulema will finalise a strategy against brothels and gambling dens,” said Aziz, adding that the drive would not be limited to Islamabad.

Remember that Aziz's partner at Lal Masjid is Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who said Thursday, “The students from universities and colleges and youths from all walks of life ask why we do not call for jihad against a repressive regime, but I always say that the time is not ripe. But when pious lady teachers are punished and arrested for the sake of prostitutes, a call for jihad is imminent.”

The Match.

As for The Tinderbox...

Pakistani authorities have shut down an illegal FM radio station set up by pro-Taliban clerics in Islamabad during growing concern about the spread of Islamist influence.

President Pervez Musharraf, an important ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, has long warned against the spread of what he calls extremism although critics say his government has done little to tackle religious hardliners.

Concern about the spread of militancy, or Talibanisation, intensified this week as militants battled police in a previously peaceful northwestern town and hardline students of an Islamabad madrasa launched a Taliban-style drive against vice.

The clock ticks. Will The Falcon flex its talons? Will the Ostrich raise its head further?

Restless activity stirs in The Birdcage.

March 30, 2007

Birdcage: Pakistanis Between The Falcon and The Ostrich

The angry waltz continues between the agressive Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance of Islamists (including elements of the ISI) and an increasingly cowering Musharraf government, the latter seemingly fearful of confronting that which already confronts it with ire.

Like a predator falcon, the Islamists prefer to do battle but begrudgingly and patiently engage in the dance while the storm gathers. Likewise, the intimidated government of Pervez Musharraf clearly prefers to dance. Fearful of confronting the falcon's talons, Musharraf's governmental ostrich buries its head in the sand.

Trapped in the closed birdcage with predator and prey, the Pakistani people not inhabiting the lawless tribal regions sit powerless observers. Their predicament can be clearly observed in today's editorial, Who Will Fight This Talibanisation?, in Pakistan's newspaper The News.

Tank and the Jamia Hafsa episode should serve as a wakeup call to the government. It must act decisively now. The future is only going to get bleaker unless madressah and national curriculum reforms are carried out and the overt display of religion in national life is curtailed, to levels normally found in other Muslim countries such as Malaysia or the Gulf states. As for civil society, and those who think they are non-extremist (i.e., progressive, liberal and/or moderate), they better stand up and speak against the extremists or risk their very existence and way of life coming under a permanent threat.

Against the desperate wishes of an ostrich too fearful to raise its head, the falcon only circles tighter...closer...menacingly sizing up the Pakistani people's sole protector-turned-prey.

Storm clouds approach on the horizon, growing darker, deeper and more ominous by the day. There will be a storm. Only initiative remains to be decided.

The clock ticks for The Falcon and The Ostrich.

British Issue Passports to Fraudulent Applicants

According to a report in the Guardian, it is estimated that the British government has issued at least 10,000 valid passports to people who filed fraudulent applications. The Home Office has also acknowledged that a number of these faked applications have been done by al Qaeda.

Between October 2005 and September 2006, the Home Office minister, Joan Ryan, said that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) had received 16,500 fraudulent applications. Although close to half of the frauds were intercepted by existing measures, the rest had gone under detected. Therefore, the Home Office says:

"Our current estimate is, therefore, that the level of undetected fraud is about 0.5%, equivalent to 10,000 applications against the planned 6.6m passports issued per year."

Tony Blair’s spokesperson said, “It isn't just a matter of saying there's 10,000 [fraudulently obtained passports] out there and doing nothing about them. Each and every one of these is being followed up to ensure that those responsible are caught." If they are trying to make that sound reassuring, I don’t think they succeeded, especially since one other source estimated that of 16,500 fraudulanet applications filed yearly, 10,000 were undetected.

Ten thousand valid passports issued to fraudulent applicants is a lot. Two examples of those who were issued passports were Dhiren Barot, the most senior al-Qaeda terrorist ever captured in Britain and here is his profile. The other was Moroccan national Salaheddine Benyaich who is now serving eighteen years in Morocco for terrorist offences.

Of course, the British have instituted a one-on-one interview process for fist-time applicants for a UK passport in which a series of questions will be asked (e.g., “do you have a mortgage,” “where and when were your parents born,” “where do you bank?”).

How safe are we? Well, there is a great deal of talk on both sides of "the pond" about identity credentials and e-passports, but the essential element in identity security remains with the breeder documents, like birth certificates. Without assurance of the authenticity of this basic document, the certainty of other types of identity like a Social Security card or a drivers license is tossed into doubt.

How safe are we? The British revelation of passports being issued to fraudulent applicants gives you an answer. We simply are not there yet.

March 27, 2007

Critical Infrastructure Exposed

We take the ready availability of fuel, telecommunications, power and water for granted. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina remind us that entirely too many people in this country could not survive for very long if those systems were shut down for even a few days, which makes news that computer security researchers recently discovered a new vulnerability in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems all the more disturbing.

SCADA systems include the computers, switches and controls that are used to control dams and water treatment plants, rail systems, power plants and other elements of our national critical infrastructure. The flaw in question could allow an attacker to remotely launch a denial-of-service (DoS) attack against a given SCADA system, potentially shutting down the system or causing it to react in such a way as to endanger lives.

It was a DoS attack that temporarily shut down two of the computers used to manage the Internet’s addressing system last month, and DoS attacks are routinely used by criminal hackers to hold poorly defended networks hostage while they extort money from the network owners. As far back as 1998, non-state actors have used DoS attacks against US government, including the White House and Department of Defense. Captured al-Qaeda computers have reportedly revealed extensive research had been conducted on SCADA systems.

How difficult is it to bring down or at least degrade the operations of a SCADA system? Such systems have been compromised to varying extents for years (PDF). In 1999 the Russian government noted that hackers had gained control over Gazprom’s natural gas pipeline. Safety and monitoring systems associated with oil and power systems in the US have been disabled, as have municipal emergency communications systems. Formerly trusted insiders have been the cause of some attacks, but by and large it is outsiders without special knowledge of SCADA systems that have wrought the most havoc.

There would be less of a concern over SCADA security if such systems were not configured insecurely by default. For the sake of convenience and speed, most such systems do not bother with separate user accounts or passwords (who wants to bother with login credentials at 3 A.M. when people are without water or heat?). Penetration testing carried out by computer security firms regularly expose these and other weaknesses that could be readily exploited by those with malicious intent and modest technical skills.

Most of the critical infrastructure at risk is owned and operated by the private sector, which places a premium on efficiency in operation and availability of service. Traditional approaches to security tend to hamper both of those factors, which is why more original thinking is needed in order to secure these systems from compromise. For motivation the SCADA industry would do well to remember what has happened to the business world since the fall of firms like Enron: A dramatic compromise will come, and with it will follow expensive and burdensome regulation.

March 26, 2007

Global Crisis Watch: Trouble Spots in 30 Minutes

The latest Podcast edition of Global Crisis Watch has been produced and released by ThreatsWatch friends Nick Grace and Sasha Eckstein. (Download the audio here.)

In this week's edition, Dr. Abdiweli Ali of Niagara University details the situation in Somalia which has shamefully been permitted to decline as the al-Qaeda franchise ICU Islamists make their return to Mogadishu. His segment is a must listen.

Also not to be missed is a candid interview with Indonesian Counterterrorism and Security Consultant Noor Huda Ismail. He is performing what can only be called 'field investigation' on the various Indonesian terror threats, including al-Qaeda's South Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah. I had the opportunity to sit in on the call from Washington, DC to Jakarta and assure you that the ground level insights offered by Mr. Ismael are worth your time in the second segment.

While I spoke briefly on Iran and Pakistan in the final segment, it is of significantly less value than the discussions with Dr. Abdiweli Ali and Noor Huda Ismail. Their input offered ground-level insights, while mine was a quick fly-over at 10,000 feet by comparison. Even still, I managed to mis-speak on precisely where the Iranian abduction of the 15 British sailors and Royal Marines. It apparently did occur outside the riverine areas of the Shatt al-Arab and indeed in open Gulf waters. Consider that CBS News reported that "A fisherman who said he was with a group of Iraqis from the southern city of Basra fishing in Iraqi waters in the northern area of the Gulf said he saw the Iranian seizure." Chalk it up to a traveling/working weekend and too short of an information ramp-up time before speaking, which is always inadvisable. Perhaps one should do better at heeding one's own advice to others?

At any rate, I have been a sporadic listener to Global Crisis Watch in the past (don't make the same mistake), only recently becoming a habitual listener checking in every Monday morning. Take a trip to trouble spots in 30 minutes each week and make Global Crisis Watch part of your regular Monday commute.

March 25, 2007

Bioterrorism – Are We Ready (Yet)?

More than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks , the government cannot show how the $5 billion given to public health departments has better prepared the country for a bioterrorism attack or flu pandemic.

Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001 the United States suffered through a second terrorist incident that kept the Nation on edge. These attacks revealed gaps in the nation's preparedness for public health emergencies resulting from bioterrorism. Among the tools needed for responding to such emergencies are vaccines to prevent the spread of disease; tests for rapid diagnosis; and therapeutics, including drugs, for treatment. Please refer to this GAO Report, Biological Research Laboratories: Issues Associated with the Expansion of Laboratories Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

From between late September and through October, a series of letters were sent to various media outlets (including American Media in Florida and the offices of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw) and then private individuals like Ottilie Lundgren. http://www.fbi.gov/anthrax/amerithraxlinks.htm The Amerithrax Case is still open, and while Steven Hatfill was named by then Attorney General John Ashcroft as a “person of interest,” to date, no one has been arrested for the series of anthrax-laced letters.

Five years after the anthrax attacks that killed five people, the FBI is now convinced that the lethal powder sent to the Senate was far less sophisticated than originally believed, widening the pool of possible suspects in a frustratingly slow investigation. The finding, which resulted from countless scientific tests at numerous laboratories, appears to undermine the widely held belief that the attack was carried out by a government scientist or someone with access to a U.S. biodefense lab.

Before this, probably the most visible examples of bioterrorism in the United States was in 1984 followers of Bhagwan Shri Rashneesh sprinkled homegrown salmonella bacteria on supermarket produce, door handles, and restaurant salad bars in Oregon. While nobody died, more than 750 people become seriously ill. The poisonings were preparation for attacks meant to keep voters home during a local election in which a cult member was running for a county judgeship.

A decade later, 1994, federal authorities charged two members of an anti-government militia, the Minnesota Patriots Council, with planning to use biological weapons for terror attacks. The men were stockpiling ricin, a biological toxin. Both were convicted.

The record shows that the U.S. has had numerous warnings and alerts, some prior to September 11th and yet, there remains a strong sense that we are not prepared to respond should a scaled chemical or biological attack actually occur.

In May of 1999, Robert M. Burnham, then the Chief, Domestic Terrorism Section of the F.B.I., made a statement in front of the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. In that statement he commented that:

· WMD type cases had steadily increased.

· FBI cases opened: 37 in 1996; 74 in 1997; 181 in 1998; 123 in 1999…anthrax prominent in ‘98 & ‘99.

· Interest in biological agents continues to grow… intelligence indicates foreign & domestic terrorist groups have an interest in acquiring biological materials and knowledge.

· “How to" literature available over the Internet.

In July 2003, published a report from the the Partnership for Public Service ,
Homeland Insecurity - Building the Expertise to Defend America from Bioterrorism

· Bio-terror threat growing & represents a security threat

· Response capacity shrinking…1/2 of the federal scientific and medical personnel in bio-defense to be eligible to retire by 2008

· Threat from biological weapons grows larger and more pressing as scientific and technological advances in biology expand.

· al Qaeda has been pursuing plans and materials to develop biological weapons…the possibility of a bio-terrorist attack even more deadly than September 11

· Shortage of scientific and medical personnel jeopardizes federal bio-defense agencies to counter a BW attack

· Local first responders, regional vaccine stockpiling, and bio-weapon monitors in big cities have attracted funding

· Fed. resources needed to respond to a wide-spread terror attack, such as aerosolized/weaponized anthrax

· Conduct an audit of US bio-defense work force and create a single point of accountability to monitor federal bio-defense staffing.

In November 2005 when he announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response President Bush said, "Today, I am announcing key elements of that strategy. Our strategy is designed to meet three critical goals: First, we must detect outbreaks that occur anywhere in the world; second, we must protect the American people by stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, and improve our ability to rapidly produce new vaccines against a pandemic strain; and, third, we must be ready to respond at the federal, state and local levels in the event that a pandemic reaches our shores,"

So, how far have we come? It has been said that even with the best of intentions, Intelligence and Law Enforcement Agencies can "predict probabilities" but they can't be sure if a terrorist attack using chemical or biological toxins will occur. And if it does occur, they can't be sure what toxin will be used, even if you focus on the “most likely suspects" (According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases , Category A pathogens include anthrax, smallpox, plague, botulism, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers; Category B pathogens such as hepatitis A virus and salmonella; Category C agents are things like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis)

Where did the $5 billion go and are our communities better prepared to deal with a biological (or chemical) attack? That is the question raised in U.S. Struggles With Bioterror Defenses

Since September 11th the amounts of money send to state and local health departments for emergency preparedness was increased nearly ten-fold. The government’s allocation for bioterrorism preparedness in 1999 was $40.7 million to the states. This grew to $950 million in 2002. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was assigned the responsibility of monitoring the effectiveness of this funding, but has found the task difficult.

"We're not able to demonstrate accountability," said Craig Thomas, chief of the CDC office that evaluates and monitors public health departments. "It's not just accountability to the CDC. It's accountability to your community. It's accountability to your local stakeholders and the people who fund you as well." "The difficulty comes down to, how do you measure (improvement), how do you quantify that, so you have something you can track over time, something you can use to identify gaps that have to be filled," said the CDC's Dr. Richard Besser. He oversees the Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.

In a newsrelease in 2004, Biodefense for the 21st Century it is clear that biodefense is a National priority. A great deal of money has been spent on bio-defense (or bio-preparedness). A little more than a year ago, a fact sheet from the Department of Health and Human Services lists its Biodefense Accomplishments , including the increases in budgets.

The question remains, are we ready?

This entry is related to Preparing for a Natural Disaster of Pandemic Proportions

Other references for this are:


Biological and Chemical Weapons Control

March 23, 2007

Pakistan Symposium at FrontPage

With thanks to Dr. Jamie Glazov of FrontPage Magazine, ThreatsWatch's Steve Schippert participated in a symposium on the looming Pakistani nuclear threat. Among the participants were notable experts B. Raman, former head of Indian Intelligence; Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, author of My Year Inside Radical Islam; and Thomas Joscelyn, a New York City-based economist and terrorism researcher and analyst.

The contributions of the panelists were significant and the conversation engaging. Included were estimates on the likelihood of various possible scenarios, potential consequences of each, and - most importantly - an introduction to a potential advised new approach for the US in dealing with the Pakistanis and the growing Pakistani crisis.

To that end, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross' concluding statement effectively summed up the resultant ideas from the symposium and are worth republishing here:

One problem with U.S. counterterrorism policy is that it tends to be reactive rather than pro-active. Most government analysts weren't paying attention to the situation in the Waziristan area of Pakistan until late last year when the mainstream media picked up on it. The U.S. stood idly by while the Islamic Courts Union took power in Somalia last year, and after Ethiopia's intervention we're not doing enough to prevent the burgeoning insurgency in that country. It seems that this panel has emerged with a consensus that Pakistan is currently one of the two most critical areas in the global war on terror because its terrorist safe haven significantly helps extremist forces in Afghanistan and because of the possibility of a "nightmare scenario" if Musharraf falls from power. (The other critical area is Iraq, which is already receiving much attention from high levels of government.) Hopefully policymakers, analysts, and other officials will be pro-active in Pakistan rather than standing by idly as the situation in that country worsens.

I said before that there isn't a good answer to the situation in Pakistan, but the suggestions put forward by this panel would make a far better starting point for a comprehensive U.S. policy than the efforts that are currently being undertaken. I think the most important recommendation is B. Raman's focus on the informational approach: U.S. and Indian intelligence do need to undertake "a crash joint operation," as he puts it—not just to identify jihadist elements in Pakistan's scientific community, but also in other areas that can help us better understand Pakistan.

What emerges from this panel, I believe, is a four-pronged approach. The first prong, as I already discussed, is informational: we need to learn more, as it will make us more effective in dealing with Pakistan. The second prong is diplomatic, as Thomas Joscelyn suggests. We need to convince Musharraf to move away from the course of appeasement that he has been following, as it jeopardizes the U.S.'s security, and ultimately jeopardizes Pakistan as well. (In this regard, Pakistan's signing of the new Bajaur Accord is not a good sign.) The third prong is engaging the internal dynamics of Pakistan. This includes efforts to weed out jihadist elements (in the Pakistani military, the ISI, and beyond), and by engaging moderate officers within the Pakistani military as B. Raman suggests. The fourth prong, as Rohan Gunaratna suggests, is economic: helping to ensure continued growth of the Pakistani economy.

These four steps would comprise a far more sensible Pakistan policy than our current efforts.

The FrontPage Pakistan symposium can be read here to see in detail how such conclusions were reached.

March 22, 2007

Waziristan Ceasefire Reported

In the ongoing fighting in recent days between South Waziristan local tribes and Uzbek al-Qaeda fighters, Pakistan's Daily Times is reporting a temporary ceasefire. temporary ceasefire. About 130 have been killed thus far in a sudden hot conflict between the Uzbeks and locals. How long the ceasefire will hold is anyone's guess, as at least on Taliban leader, Maulvi Nazir, is quite reluctant to ease the pressure on the Uzbeks.

Tribal sources said that Maulvi Nazir, commander of pro-Taliban tribal militants in Wazir areas, at one point was unwilling to negotiate a ceasefire with foreign militants and their local harbourers. “The jirga members convinced him after hours-long parleys,” said sources in Dera Ismail Khan city, 200 miles south of Peshawar.

Security officials in Tank city said that pro-Maulvi Nazir militants on Thursday ambushed two vehicles carrying 12 Uzbek militants, killing six of them in Zarmilan, 35 kilometres south of Wana....

...Maulvi Nazir was quoted as saying that the foreign militants would be provided shelter as refugees only after they “disarmed” themselves.

“There can be no other arrangement as far as the foreigners’ stay in (South) Waziristan is concerned,” he told a group of elders who visited him near Wana on Wednesday.

While some reports suggest that the fighting is between the Taliban-loyal tribal leaders and al-Qaeda - including Arab al-Qaeda forces - this should be met with some caution, as local Pakistani coverge describe the conflict nearly exclusively as waged against Uzbek foreigners, not 'foreigners' in general.

Washington Post report stated early in the article that "Local Pashtun tribe members -- including many Taliban supporters -- have squared off against Uzbek, Chechen and Arab militants..." Yet, at the end of the report, a Pakistani MP representing South Waziristan stated the fighting as essentially against Uzbeks.
Uzbek militants had already beheaded a number of local people, according to Maulana Mairajuddin, a member of a far-right religious party who represents South Waziristan in Parliament.

Mairajuddin -- who spoke by satellite phone from Wana, a town where much of the violence has taken place -- said the fighting this week started with the abduction of four local women by the Uzbeks. Mairajuddin said he wished locals and the foreigners would stop fighting each other and return to battling U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

"This is the worst news for those who hate the occupation of foreign forces in neighboring Afghanistan," he said.

Readers should consider reports of a general rift between al-Qaeda and the Taliban with caution, as that does not appear the case at all.

UK: 'Timeout' for Iran 'Perverse'

Britain's UN Ambassador shot down South Africa's call for a 90-day 'timeout' for Iran rather than proceed with further Security Council measures, calling the notion "perverse." The BBC reports:

Council members South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia have proposed amendments.

South Africa's - that Iran be granted a 90-day hiatus on all sanctions - has been rejected out of hand by the council's major powers.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, called the suggestion "perverse".

"Every time we paused, Iran then came round and said the pause was terribly useful because 'we were able to develop and enhance our nuclear capability'," he said.

Quite correct. However, in the quest for consensus, the Security Council will instead hear criticism of....Israel.

But they say they will consider on Thursday a request by the two Muslim nations for the resolution to call for a nuclear-free Middle East - implying that Israel should get rid of its nuclear weapons.

Fair or unfair, Israel's nuclear capability plays a major role in its deterrence and has left potential attackers to seek out proxies like Hizballah, Hamas and the assorted lot of Palestinian terrorist groups to do their bidding through terrorist pot-shots.

Further, why would Israel's self-imposed nuclear disarmament cause Iran to cease its nuclear advancement? It is their right, we are constantly reminded, and they will not budge, "not one iota."

Iran and others seek the destruction of Israel not because they have nuclear weapons, but because they are Jews. The 'causus belli' thus remains. Let's be sure to enter that into the calculus first, please, gentlemen.

March 21, 2007

Teaching, Tots & Terror

The FBI recently sent an “informational bulletin” to state and local police alerting them to the potential threat of "foreign extremists" trying to obtain school bus drivers licenses. No plots were revealed and no immediate threat was noted, which of course caused a frenzy of speculation and concern among both the recipients of the bulletin and the family members of any potential victims of a school-related attack.

The FBI was right to act out of “an abundance of caution” but wrong to suggest that there was nothing to worry about. Setting aside for a moment the Bureau’s substandard performance when it comes to domestic intelligence, consider that just yesterday Islamist insurgents set fire to a school in Thailand as a way to draw out and then attack local police forces, and it was only two years ago that Muslim terrorists took control of a school in Beslan, Russia that resulted in nearly 200 dead children. Domestically, the aberration that was supposed to be the Columbine Massacre has become all too common with similar attacks occurring recently in Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

A terrorist attack on a school in the US is a very strategic move due to the importance we place on the lives of our children. As events yesterday in Iraq demonstrate our enemies do not hold children in the same high regard. The reported lack of knowledge of a specific plot asks us to ignore both our inability to assess the domestic terrorist threat and a growing body of evidence that shows schools as viable if not preferred targets.

March 20, 2007

On Iraq, 'Bad' Is News, 'Good' Is Opinion

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Consider the progress already seen in Iraq since forward operations (popularly coined 'The Surge'). When positive developments are slipped into hard news coverage, they are almost always prefaced with the caveat of "Petraeus says" or "General Caldwell said," while the bad news is stated as unarguable fact. Whether in print or broadcast, while some news reports seem to note successes in Iraq on occasion, it is not an overstatement to say that such reporting is more often than not couched with an immediate "but" or "however" qualifier.

In order to read of good news on any given situation in Iraq, one is relegated to pilfering the Opinion section. Bad news, after all, is fact. Good news, on the other hand, is surely just opinion. Is this an over-arching and unfair generalization? Perhaps. But consider that the observation is neither unique, new nor even disputed much directly. Those who share this view did not arrive at it overnight nor due to over-active imaginations.

Consider the latest from Gordon Cucullu, replete with extensive quotes from General Petraeus in Iraq, detailing the ground situation as he sees it, one which the Commanding General cautiously notes is improving each day. Naturally, Mr. Cucullu's observations are relegated to the New York Post's Opinion Page.

What tactics are working? "We got down at the people level and are staying," he said flatly. "Once the people know we are going to be around, then all kinds of things start to happen."

More intelligence, for example. Where once tactical units were "scraping" for intelligence information, they now have "information overload," the general said. "After our guys are in the neighborhood for four or five days, the people realize they're not going to just leave them like we did in the past. Then they begin to come in with so much information on the enemy that we can't process it fast enough."

In intelligence work - the key to fighting irregular wars - commanders love excess.

And the tribal leaders in Sunni al Anbar Province, the general reports, "have had enough." Not only are the al Qaeda fighters causing civil disruption by fomenting sectarian violence and killing civilians, but on a more prosaic but practical side, al Qaeda is bad for business. "All of the sheiks up there are businessmen," Petraeus said. "They are entrepreneurial and involved in scores of different businesses. The presence of the foreign fighters is hitting them hard in the pocketbook and they are tired of it."

A large hospital project - meant to be one of the largest in the Sunni Triangle - had been put on hold by terrorist attacks when al Qaeda had control of the area. Now it's back on track. So are similar infrastructure projects.

Now, the Opinion Page is where Mr. Cucullu's conjecture belongs. Yet, there is hardly conjecture in the lengthy quote provided above. Within is found more encouraging news than perhaps could be discovered within the entire world/national news section of most any newspaper in print or within most any single news broadcast in the United States.

In fact, in fully 18 paragraphs of Cucullu's reporting (or, opinionating), only the final paragraph contains the kind of conjecture one may expect in a typical opinion piece. Even that is populated with a direct quote from "Malik Daoud," the new MNF-I Commanding General.

Early signs are positive; early indicators say that we're winning. As Petraeus cautiously concluded, "We'll be able to evaluate the situation for sure by late summer." That's his job. Our job? We need to give him the time and space needed to win this war.

There is more conjecture and opinion than that in New York Times (et al) front page reports on (formerly secret) US signals intelligence operations, (formerly secret) US detention facilities abroad, and/or (formerly secret) US Treasury Department financial counterterrorism measures. Once again (or still), for any good news on Iraq, read the Opinion Page.

March 18, 2007

Two Splits on PA Unity Govt

The New York Times headlines an essentially minor difference in the positions of the U.S. and Israeli governments toward the new Hamas-Fatah Palestinian Authority government ("U.S. and Israel Differ on Palestinian Contacts"). Since U.S. officials are merely speaking of maintaining communication with non-Hamas "individuals" in the new government, this - as long as it goes no further - will not legitimize Hamas. Indeed, one suspects that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres - both members of the ruling Kadima Party - would maintain some "backdoor" contacts with PA President Mahmud Abbas whether they said so openly or not.

It is in Israel itself where the divergence is clearer, as it is between Kadima and its coalition partner, Labor, led by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Leading members of Labor have called for not only maintaining contact with non-Hamas officials but negotiating with them toward a peace settlement. Since Fatah is the junior partner in its government with Hamas, it's not clear how such negotiations would be meaningful.

There are also rifts within Kadima, in part due to Olmert's rock-bottom approval ratings, and exemplified when Foreign Minister (and Kadima member) Tzipi Livni seemed to pointedly not mention support for the prime minister in an important speech. Livni would become prime minister were Olmert to resign.

Olmert might be forced to resign if his coalition collapses, as it would if Labor were to leave, a real possibility depending on who wins the upcoming Labor Party leadership election; Peretz is expected to lose. Israeli coalition politics is complicated by the fact that the centrist Kadima is arguably closer to the Likud Party than Labor on policy issues, yet the high level of personal animosity that exists between Likud and Kadima leaders is very much out in the open. On the other hand, Labor was forced to abandon much of its socio-economic agenda in order to be a junior partner in Kadima's government, something which has caused some Labor MKs (Member of the Knesset) to argue for leaving the government.

March 17, 2007

Threat Perception and Risk Inversion

An analysis written by ThreatsWatch's Steve Schippert on the nuclear threat posed by Pakistan has been published by The Weekly Standard on their website. In Threat Perception and Risk Inversion, it is reasoned that the most pressing terrorist threat still emanates from Iran, as it always has been over the past 28 years. Likewise, with Musharraf's stability within Pakistan increasingly precarious, the risk of the established Pakistani nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of a murky cabal of Islamist terrorists must be considered the gravest nuclear threat before us today.

"In a conversation with this reporter in October 2001, Gen. Gul forecast a future [Pakistani] Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls." --Arnaud de Borchgrave, August 2004
THERE REMAINS an inversion of public discourse and policy direction with regard to two of the most significant threats we face. In particular, the most pressing nuclear threat is widely perceived to be from Iran while the more imminent terrorist threat is believed to be found in Pakistan. While both threats remain very real, few seem to understand that the most imminent nuclear threat is posed by Pakistan--the only current nuclear power considerably within reach of becoming an Islamist-run state aligned with al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other Islamists. Conversely, Iran's still-developing nuclear weapons program deceptively overshadows the significant state-sponsored international terrorism emanating from Tehran. This, while Pakistan's increasingly embattled--and internally challenged--President Pervez Musharraf stands as the primary buffer between Islamist forces of the ISI, the Taliban, and al Qaeda taking ownership of Pakistan's significant nuclear arsenal of 30 to 50 warheads.

We extend our gratitude to the people of The Weekly Standard, particularly Online Editor Jonathan Last and Senior Writer Stephen F. Hayes, for believing that the subject matter and our writing was worthy of their space.

You can read the rest of Threat Perception and Risk Inversion here.

DHS: Policy Changes & Congressional Criticism

Two things happened recently of interest to people who follow the Department of Homeland Security. Frankly, neither should be a surprise.

The policy change was the announcement by Secretary MIchael Chertoff that under new regulations, senior officials -- including the Senior Executive Service and others who earn more than 86.5% of Executive Schedule II pay - $145,320 in Pay Year 2007 - will have to wait a full year before lobbying anyone within the Agency. This is a change from the previous policy whereby "retired" DHS executives were only barred from lobbying their "component agency." In making this announcement Chertoff said:

"There should be no doubt about the integrity of our leadership and the motivation for their service to our country. The American public rightfully expects and deserves that the mission focus be job-one."

As Congress is now moving toward greater transparency in lobbying and Appropriations, this makes sense. Of course, this would not stop non-DHS "consultants" representing companies to also influence policies favorable to their clients. Since this new ruling takes effect on June 7, 2007, only DHS employees who leave after that date will be affected.

Maybe of greater eventual importance was the criticism lodged by Representative David Wu (D-Oregon), Chairman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation on March 8th. The issues seem to revolve around S&T's continuing management problems, lack of focus on important research and development priorities and the losses of many of the top people in the Science and Technology Directorate. Making the situation worse is that S&T is facing a a 9.5 percent budget cut for fiscal year 2008.

When we seem to still be struggling with the deployment of new technology solutions for the security issues presented following September 11th, the lack of focus and guidance in what should be the braintrust of the DHS is a great concern. At the hearings, Congressman Wu commented that he was concerned "about the lack of a strategic plan or risk assessment that should be the basis for research priorities within [Homeland Security] ... I strongly encourage you to carry out a detailed, scientific risk assessment soon."

While not minimizing the importance of arming our first responders with the best possible capabilities, nor suggesting any dimunition of effort for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (FY'08 budget increase of 17 percent over 2007, to $569.1 million), questions still remain about other critical programs. All one needs to do is look at the recent issues relating to identification for immigration, and you can understand the concern in some circles.

March 14, 2007

Iran Gets It Right ...And Wrong

Thanks to the indispensable MEMRI, an interesting commentary is found on the pages of the Iranian regime's English-language Tehran Times that most likely missed...including us. In the commentary, titled "Mild Cold War Heats Up," Iran gets it right on Russia using the US-Czech-Poland missile situation to reassert itself.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians felt a loss of pride and status, but now Moscow is trying to reassert itself as a rival to the United States. For the first time, Russian arms exports exceeded those of the U.S. in 2006. Russia is also feeling proud as the revenues it is gaining from high oil prices have turned a hungry and indebted Russia into a wealthy country which sits on large energy resources and controls its imports to Europe.

Russia and the U.S. have been in a mild cold war ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the plan to deploy missiles on European soil is heating up this mild cold war.

But the regime's newspaper can't resist getting it horribly wrong within the same article.

Berlin is very concerned about the project because Germany suffered more than any other country in Europe during the Cold War. Germany also partially owes its unification to the Soviet Union, which decided to end the Cold War after nearly half a century.

Yes. The Soviet Union 'decided' to end the Cold War, thus unifying East and West Germany. How benevolent of the descendants of Czars, no? And how lucky are we that Saddam 'decided' to bring an end to his brutal regime and free the Kurds?

Thanks to the regime's Tehran Times writers, we are reminded once again that in a field so covered with darkness, as National Security can so often be, some things are just plain funny.

Iran Sanctions: Of Apocalyptics and Atheists

While the BBC reports that there has been UN 'progress' over Iran sanctions among diplomats with an agreement close, what will ultimately be agreed upon is almost sure to disappoint.
The measures are designed to tighten existing sanctions imposed in December.

Ambassadors admit privately that the nature of the sanctions being discussed is limited.

What is important, say Western diplomats, is to present a united front and show Iran there is disapproval at the UN over its uranium enrichment programme.
What is important, rather, is that if sanctions are to be levied, they should at least be effective in achieving the stated aims of the United Nations Security Council. Ostensibly, this is to prevent the maturation of the Iranian nuclear program until such safeguards can be introduced to ensure there is no weaponization capability being produced.

Short of that effectiveness - which the resultant additional sanctions are sure to be - the ongoing exercise is process for sake of process.

The Export Law Blog summarizes the principal contention in the Iran sanctions debate.

Although it seems certain that the [existing] list [of blocked firms and individuals] will be expanded, there is still some disagreement over who to include on that list. For example, the United States is pushing to include all firms owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the list but is encountering some resistance. The Russians have whimsically argued that the Revolutionary Guard is an "€œinstitution€" in Iran and are hesitant to penalize an institution. There'€™s little point in trying to make sense of that argument because the Russians, of course, aren'€™t terribly keen on sanctioning Iran in the first place but can'€™t very well admit that.

However, while Russia may not be 'terribly keen' on sanctioning Iran - putting it in step with Putin's American rivals - there is at least some hope that, beneath the surface, Russia is not too 'terribly keen' on a nuclear-armed Caliphate-seeking Islamists, either. Perhaps there is more to the Bushehr nuclear fuel supply delays than rubles.

Russia surely does not trust Iran with nuclear weapons and Iran surely has no deep-seeded love for the atheists of Russia. Simply stated, each has just not finished exploiting the other to the point of exhausting their perceived usefulness.

At least one can hope. Perhaps even with some cause.

After all, surely Russia understands their limited usefulness to the principal exporters of Islamic revolution. An atheistic state, however helpful with arms and nuclear technology at present, is still at the end of the day another group of unbelievers. However frustrating and adversarial, Russia remains a rational actor. The same cannot be said for an Islamic Republic chock full of apocalyptic influentials who view Mutually Assured Destruction as a gateway to the return of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi, the Perfect One.

March 12, 2007

Post-'Surge' Readiness Syndrome

Always a keen observer, the tireless Soldier's Dad spells out for the average American a net effect of 'The Surge' in Iraq that is routinely missed, dismissed or ignored.
...At the same time that the top IA Units are being rotated thru Baghdad for what could aptly described as their "Final Exam"...20 new Iraqi battalions are being stood up...so that the coalition doesn't need to "Fill In" for Iraqi units being rotated into Baghdad.

The end result is a larger Iraqi Army that is better equipped and better trained not only in Baghdad..but the outlying provinces.

The surge is the proverbial "One Step Back, Two Steps Forward"
Just one example of why Soldier's Dad should be one of your regular stops.

March 11, 2007

Shadow Wolves – Focus Shifts From Counterdrug to Counterterrorism

Since the 1970’s federal law enforcement officials have maintained a unit of Native American officers as trackers along the U.S.-Mexican border helping to hunt down drug smugglers. This unit of what was the U.S. Customs Service (now the Department of Homeland Security), was created by an act of Congress in 1972, the Shadow Wolves are an all-Indian Customs unit—possibly the world's best trackers— possess a unique set of skills passed down from generation to generation to pursue smugglers along a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. They were recruited from several tribes, including the Navajo, Sioux, Lakota and Apache. Efforts now are underway to expand the fifteen member unit to 21. One requirement will remain, however: Shadow Wolves agents must be at least one-quarter Indian.

As described in an article from the New York Times, In Arizona Desert, Indian Trackers vs. Smugglers

“Detecting is one thing, and apprehending is something entirely different,” said Rodney Irby, a special agent in Tucson for the immigration agency who helps supervise the Shadow Wolves. “I applaud the technology; it will only make the border more secure. But there are still going to be groups of people who penetrate the most modern technology, and we need a cadre of agents and officers to apprehend them.”

On the Arizona border, the Shadow Wolves have seized nearly 30,000 pounds of illegal drugs since October and routinely seize 100,000 pounds of illegal drugs a year. Based on this success and the concern that drug trafficking on the Northern border is increasing, the DHS is considering forming a sister unit to patrol part of the Canadian border at the Blackfeet reservation in Montana.

Adding to the challenge is that drug smugglers have enlisted tribal members or forced them into cooperation, sometimes stashing their loads in the ramshackle houses dotting the landscape or paying the young to act as guides. Several tribal members live on the Mexican side, and those on the American side have long freely crossed the border, which they usually do through a few informal entry points that drug traffickers, too, have picked up on.

It is now being reported that the Shadow Wolves trackers have been enlisted to hunt bin Laden

An elite group of Native American trackers is joining the hunt for terrorists crossing Afghanistan's borders…

The Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan and the US military's failure to hunt down Osama bin Laden - still at large on his 50th birthday on Saturday - has prompted the Pentagon to requisition them.

US Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates said last month: "If I were Osama bin Laden, I'd keep looking over my shoulder."

“Tracking skills are in such demand that the Departments of State and Defense have arranged for the Shadow Wolves to train border guards in Central Asia, including some central to the fight against terrorism.” Several officers are going to train border police in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan bordering Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

In many circles, the importance of the capture (or confirmed death) of bin Laden is minimized. But despite a $25 million bounty on his head and the use of billions of dollars worth of sophisticated equipment, US forces have so far failed to capture bin Laden "dead or alive". Maybe this new approach will finally get these results. Before anyone gets too agitated over this, I and many others believe that bin Laden’s capture or death will not end the jihad. Personally, I believe that if he was already dead, his martyrdom would have been extolled.

Spain: Divided We Fall

Considering the massive protests in Madrid on the anniversary of the 3/11 al-Qaeda bombings in 2004 that killed 191, it is difficult for the world to notice that Spain stands a divided nation. Matthew Kaminski notes the troubling extent of the division in Terror's Spanish Legacy in the Wall Street Journal.
And, to complete the picture of a state divided, wounds from Spain's awful 1936-39 civil war and the subsequent four decades of General Franco's dictatorship that most people assumed were long healed were ripped open by Mr. Zapatero. In a break with previous Socialist rulers, he openly plays politics with history. Rusting Franco-era statues are ceremoniously torn down. The church and the so-called bourgeoisie--the enemies for the divisive Second Republic of 1931-36--have come under attack. Anyone on the right is, often by implication, a fascist.

Since Mr. Zapatero took office--in reality, since the bombs went off--"we have seen the re-emergence of two Spains," says Hermann Tertsch, a senior correspondent at El Pais, a Socialist-leaning Madrid daily. "It's very, very tense," adds Mr. Tertsch, "close to real confrontation." Violent? "Anything can happen," he says, "anything." The post-Franco bipartisan "compact is destroyed," says Mr. Aznar. The danger: "Balkanization of the country," he says. "What need is there to do this?" Mr. Aznar asks in discussing his political opponent's policies. "Why--why risk everything, when things were going so well?"

In one of Europe's most dynamic economies and successful new democracies, such talk can at first smack of exaggeration. But it's not only anti-Zapatero partisans voicing these anxieties, which ultimately reflect the serious damage that terrorism has done to Spain's confidence and its institutions. "The attacks showed that the idea that the Spanish transition had finished was wrong," says Eduardo Nolla, a political theorist.
There continue to be still more arrests in Morocco related to the deadly 2004 bombing. The attacks sparked the election of a Socialist prime minister and the subsequent withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq as Zapatero sought to minimize Spain’s exposure to terrorism and thus bowed to al-Qaeda's warning. But his appeasement has clearly extended to indigenous ETA terrorists in the Basque separatist movement.

In the Scotsman, Elizabeth Carr-Ellis notes that a Shattered Spain's scars won't heal, due in part because the "links between ETA and the bombings of March 11, or 11-M as they are known in Spain, have been present since the first explosion." Spain will be a country to watch closely with its population clearly divided. Splitting the Spaniards are the populist appeal of socialism and anti-American sentiment versus the belief that appeasing terrorists, foreign or domestic, risks the demise of a unified Spain into fracture and partition.

It is difficult to put a fix on just how much Spain risks internal turmoil. But should the division reach such heights, it is clear that al-Qaeda and the jihadiyun at war with the West could have asked for nothing more from a handful of Moroccan bombers and their home-made bombs.

North Korean Class Structure

Reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea, Han Young Jin of the Daily NK has written a vivid glimpse into the North Korean class structure. He paints a portrait complete with the brushstrokes of internal paranoia pervasive throughout communist systems.
If a person is discovered to be in opposition to the regime they will be brutally punished and so a person is cut off early if they are found to show any signs of anti-Kim Jong Il. The people who inflict the greatest control are the military high commanders. North Korea’s military can be seen as a branch of national politics that really does represent half of the regime. Political elites from the military closely control high commanders with under cover spies whose job is to specifically tattle on suspicious officers to the Party. Then, the protection agency in command contacts an expert who equipped with bugging devices carefully monitors the high commander’s every move, 24 hours a day.
Han's words also reveal the watermarks of hollow position, self-service and fear of change among North Korea's most priviledged and powerful.
There is a popular story of an elite North Korean official who visited the South and frankly revealed “Though we may crawl and be worn, we cannot follow South Chosun’s economy.” It is also a well known fact that elite officials preferred Samsung digital cameras and showed interest in Hyundai cars at a South-North Cabinet talks and Aug 15th event in Seoul. Nonetheless, when it comes to acknowledging the need for capitalist reform, North Korea's central class discards it with a wave of the hand. The reason that capitalist goods are preferred but reform rejected is a result of the ideology that their individual power will be lost with change to the regime. Those who have loyally followed authorities have no mindset nor special skills that will enable them to survive a capitalist system. Rather than confronting a competitive society, they prefer their current position and the glory that comes with it.
Read the rest of Han's Analysis of North Korea’s Class Structure: A 3 tiered web control system. It's quite good.

March 10, 2007

Kurds Open to Coalition with Allawi, Fadhila

Al-Hayat is reporting that Iraqi Kurds are considering abandoning their alliance with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shia-dominated coalition and instead forming a new coalition led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi List and recently including the Shia Fadhila Party ("Inclusion of the Kurds in Allawi's Coalition Depends on Its Success"). Prominent Kurdish leader Mahmud Uthman told news agencies that the Kurds were interested "if it is confirmed that the coalition that Iyad Allawi is trying to form can bring together diverse parties capable of bringing about change in Iraq." The article also noted that there was speculation that the new coalition was being supported by the United States, as U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Allawi together visited Kurdistan recently just as Fadhila was withdrawing from the United Iraqi Alliance.

The same article also reports on a separate incident of special note regarding Iran. Kurdish authorities have declared martial law in the border area around Najwin and closed the border with Iran due to the infiltration of Iraqi territory by members of the terrorist Ansar al-Sunna Army (jaish ansar al-sunna). The article notes that members of the Kurdish border patrol have reported repeated attacks from Sunni terrorists coming from Iranian territory.

ThreatsWatch has reported on the formation of this new coaltion twice in the past two weeks (see Fadhila Announces Departure from UIA and Fadhila Joins New Coalition). While I downplayed the significance of Fadhila's actions in these previous reports because of its limited influence outside its base in Basra, the potential addition of the Kurds is much more important. The Kurdish parties have been Maliki's only reliable non-Shia partners, and the defection of both Fadhila and the Kurds would deprive the government of its majority in parliament. This is all still somewhat speculative since the Kurds seem to be conditioning their inclusion on Allawi forming the rest of the coalition first, but an Allawi-led Sunni-Kurd-Fadhila coalition would force the prime minister to make radical changes in order to maintain any kind of governing coalition at all.

The association of Khalilzad with the formation of this new coalition, whether accurate or not, could have a negative affect on U.S. relations with the Maliki government if Maliki comes to believe that the U.S. is conspiring against him. There are potential positives that come from this news, but for the U.S. to be associated with attempts to form a new ruling coalition will backlash by reinforcing rampant accusations that the Iraqi government is an American puppet. This is even more true because Allawi was once funded by the CIA.

March 9, 2007

Moscow, Missiles and the Polish Perspective

French president Jaques Chirac warned the US on its plans to place missile interceptors within Poland and the Czech Republic to defend Europe against a limitted volley from Iran. He heeded Putins warning that the placement would spark an "inevitable arms race" and potentially a new Cold War.

The French president said Europe and the US needed to consider Russia’s concerns about the projected missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. “We should be very careful about encouraging the creation of a new dividing line in Europe or a return of the order of the past,” he said.

Actually, the "order of the past" had Poland and Czechoslovakia behind the iron curtain as Soviet satellite states, clients beholden to Moscow. Now, both states are working with the United States for European security, not planning a defense against the Yanks. And it is Putin who seeks to restore the "order of the past" with his apparent desires to reconstitute the Soviet Union.

Perhaps Mr. Chirac is simply upset that the Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus said Friday in a speech that "Environmentalism should belong in the social sciences," adding that "environmentalism is a religion" that seeks to reorganize the world order.

Regardless, if anyone understands the perils of the "order of the past," it would be the Czechs and the Poles. One would do well to listen more closely to them on such issues than an outgoing French president who never lived under the Stalinist boot.

Islamists, Hypocrisy and the West

Al-Arabiyya TV Director-General Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed calls into question the hypocrisy of Islamists who make their home in Western nations, under their hosts' protection of liberty and free speech, and yet call for the destruction of the very government that affords such protections. Further, when deported or extradited, they demand to go back to their Western hosts. He asks, "What makes fundamentalist extremists, who incite against the West and its culture, the first to run into its arms, and to fight [for the right] to stay there?"

"What makes Omar Bakri, who enjoys liberty in Britain, spread hatred [against Britain], fight its culture, and say obscenely that [Britain] is a toilet in which he lives in order to defecate there? Does it make sense for someone like him to express a desire to return to Britain after everything he has said and done?

"As for Abu Qatada, he prefers to remain in prison and not to return to his homeland Jordan, just like [Osama Nasser], the imam from Milan, who is protesting about being taken to Egypt and about being imprisoned there. Not only is he protesting his abduction; he has also decided to sue for 20 million Euro in damages…

"It is blatantly obvious that all three are enjoying all the benefits of the [government] they despise: They want the financial aid, the security, the [rule of] law, the justice and the freedom of expression afforded by this government. Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy? When they preach, aren't they greatly deceiving their followers - [considering this discrepancy] between what they say and what they do?

"It is some of the extremist hate-mongers living in the West who are inciting the Muslims in the East against Western countries... - those [same] countries that have hosted them, given them protection and shelter, and in many cases also financed the education of their children, including their Islamic and Arabic language studies. It is also revolting to see writers denouncing the actions of [Western] governments that wish to get rid of the extremists by sending them back to their Islamic countries.

Read the full translation provided by MEMRI.

March 8, 2007

Patraeus' Briefing on Iraq

General Petraeus gave his first press briefing as CG of MNF-I. While the commentary and debate coming from our political leaders has shown some disconnect with events on the ground and the strategic necessities required to resolve the violence in Iraq, the General shows that he understands the task at hand and intends to fulfill his mission. For those who will not have the time to watch the video of the briefing, which is worth the time, here are some highlights of his comments:

  • Iraqi and Coalition forces are building their strength in Baghdad, and should be at full strength by June.
  • These are the early days of the effort - and it will have to be sustained to achieve its objective.
  • Sectarian attacks have declined and some displaced families are returning to their homes.
  • 96 weapons caches have been discovered in Baghdad and two car bomb factories destroyed in the last two weeks.
  • A "number of tribes" in Anbar are now working with the Coalition and Iraqi forces to defeat extremist in the region.
  • PRT teams will be doubled from the current 10 to 20.
  • US forces will protect Shi'a pilgrims on route to Karbala.
  • Iraq's Council of Ministers have submitted to the Iraqi Parliament new laws for the equitable distribution of funds from Iraq's oil reserves.

There is much more to be gained from the General's words directly. The video is available on the Pentagon Channel - or for those who have trouble viewing the Pentagon Channel, we have made it available here at ThreatsWatch.

Skirting The Issue of Terrorism

Three months after the United Nations Security Council levied sanctions on Iran that included a ban on sales of dual-use nuclear equipment, the UN’s IAEA has finally decided to ban nuclear assistance to Iran.

The move expected to pass muster with the 55-member IAEA Board of Governors is drawing immediate criticism from Iran, which is still in violation of the UN Security Council mandate that the Islamic Republic cease enrichment activities. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA offered a retort in complaint within the context of what he called an IAEA that is weaker than it has ever been.

From Vienna, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said, “For instance the IAEA Chief is quoted as saying that Iran has not suspended its uranium enrichment activities. That is right. We have not suspended enrichment, but we have good reasons for doing so, since no one has technically, or legally convinced us why we should do so.”

That is because Iran refuses to pay attention when it is plainly stated and laid out that Iran is the premier state sponsor of international terrorism and, as such, is quite simply not trusted with nuclear technology. Soltanieh, the IAEA, the Security Council and even critics of the West’s pressure on Iran know that the “technical or legal” argument is an intentional skirt of the underlying issues.

As was argued here last night, it’s the terrorism, stupid. Yet even the West allows itself to get wallowed in the mire of arguing or negotiating or talking or studying Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the real and present danger of Iran’s chief export, terrorism, benefits from our distraction and costs very real lives at present, not theoretical lives in the future.

Why does this avoidance happen? Because addressing real terrorism vice potential nuclear weapons requires action, decisiveness and resolve. It simply cannot be procrastinated with talks about talks. Simply put, it is profoundly more difficult to deal with and the solutions – requiring a resolve equal to or greater than that of the Iranian regime – are unpleasant and not found within the board rooms of the UN, the IAEA, or anywhere else.

How distracted (or willfully ignorant) are we? Well, France is negotiating a gas deal with the terror-sponsoring regime. So does a German company. And nations (read: European Union states) are ‘struggling’ to ratify sanctions on Iran for defying the UNSC….twice now within the calendar year.

Meanwhile, we have .50 caliber sniper rifles and infrared EFP triggering devices tracked by serial numbers to Iran.

Again, the immediate crisis with Iran is decidedly not nuclear. Iranian nuclear arms have not accounted for a single American body bag to date. Iranian terrorism, on the other hand…

March 7, 2007

Fadhila Announces Departure from UIA

The Washington Post is reporting that the Shia party Fadhila has formally withdrawn from the governing coalition of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and is seeking an alliance with the predominately Sunni Iraqi List faction. Fadhila's decision to join in this new alliance was reported by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn on February 25 and published here at ThreatsWatch the following day. The original article described the formation of the new coalition as having been already decided upon, having received the blessing by the party's spiritual leader. This appears to be the "official" announcement by party leaders.

In regard to Fadhila's withdrawal from the governing coalition, this is not as significant as it may seem on the surface. Fadhila has withdrawn from the coalition before, and since the formation of the current government under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has never actually participated in the government, having been denied the Oil Ministry due to allegations of corruption. Like the Sadr faction, Fadhila has opposed Maliki's government on many major votes. Although both voted for Maliki's nomination and confirmation as prime minister, his core support has always depended on four elements - his own Dawa Party, SCIRI (the largest Shia faction), the Shia independents of the UIA (who make up a fifth of the coalition), and the Kurdish parties.

This is not to say that nothing good could come from the new coalition, assuming it stays together. Fadhila's withdrawal from the UIA, however, has little practical impact on the functioning of the Maliki government.

Hamas Demands Israel Restore EU Funding to PA

In a meeting in Tehran, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged visiting Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal to continue its fight against Israel. Ahmadinejad said, "The [Palestinian] government should use its brave and pious forces to continue resistance against the Zionist regime." To that, Israel Radio reported Meshaal said Israel 'will eventually disappear from the world, and the Palestinians should be prepared for that.'

Yet a "senior Hamas offcial" is reported in Israel's Haaretz within the same news cycle that Hamas "will offer a promise from Hamas and Fatah of a total cease-fire with Israel, including a complete halt to Qassam [rocket] fire and suicide bombings" if Israel will reverse course and ask the European Union to restore its funding tp the Palestinian Authority government. Hamas has still not offered to recognize Israel or renounce terrorism.

Beyond (or rather, part of) the Hamas offer, it was made clear that if Israel in fact did not seek to restore EU funding to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, the existing un-written semi-ceasefire currently in effect will be "at risk." In other words, Hamas will enter a full ceasefire (to the extent that they can enforce one, which is more than questionable with the assorted lot of terrorist groups) if and only if EU funding is restored with Israel's support. Otherwise, the terror attacks will increase.

Many observers who comment on this are likely to discuss it within the context of a 'power play' or realpolitik. That is a trap of nuance that dismisses the civilian targets of terrorists.

There's a simple word for it: Extortion.

March 4, 2007

DHS Abandons RFIDs for US-Visit Program

This cannot be good news for the RFID industry, and while it does not mean that the RFID identity tracking program is being entirely abandoned, it does raise another question about the efficacy of this technology for this use.

Based on a recent Government Accounting Office study that confirmed that the RFID technology had not proven successful during tests at various land border crossings, the DHS has decided to abandon a facet of the US-VISIT program under which foreigners leaving the country would be tracked during their exit with an RFID tag embedded in an I-94 document.

"The RFID test proved, as GAO indicated, unsuccessful," Chertoff told the committee. "I mean, this is the real world," Chertoff said. "I think, yes, we're abandoning it. That's not going to be a solution. So in the real world, when something fails, we drop it and we move to the next thing," he added.

As described in RFID Border Tracking Plagued By Low Read Rates:

"...over the course of a week a mere 14 percent of 166 tags were correctly identified. The goal was 70 percent. "While RFID technology required few facility and infrastructure changes," reads the report, "US-VISIT's testing and analysis at five land POEs [ports of entry] at the northern and southern borders identified numerous performance and reliability problems, such as the failure of RFID readers to detect a majority of travelers' tags during testing."

While this is far from the death knell for RFIDs, it raises still another question about how broadly the RFID technology will eventually prove useful. Despite any of the questions including cost (I attended a recent meeting in which "experts" said that the cost of an RFID for supply chain and inventory tracking wouldn't get to 5 cents per item until at least 2011), accuracy, vulnerability to cyberviruses, and cloning, adherents like Wal-Mart are undeterred.

There is little doubt of the eventual value of RFIDs to inventory tracking and supply chain management, nothwithstanding some of the security issues that have been raised (e.g., cloning). Using RFIDs to maintain control of inventory in hospitals is a clearly viable application. How, or if, the technology will actually play an important role in identity, especially at our borders or ports of entry remains a question.

In an additional and related situation, the most recent Blackhat Hackers Conference in Washington DC, there was controversy over presentation of papers that detailed how the security of certain RFIDs could be compromised. These can be seen at:

Lawmakers Working to Limit RFID Door Cards
RFID door cards raise security concerns, legislation in the works.

Black Hat 'RFID' Compromise Is A Win For Security - The deal between HID and IOActive shows how delicate a line security researchers walk when they seek to present their work to the public.

What's next? Time will tell as the industry and the government attempt to align the current state of the technology with the desired applications.

Back To Their Old Tricks

Sunni insurgents fighting under the umbrella of the Islamic State of Iraq have reverted back to the practice of posting execution videos. CNN reports that a video released by the Islamic State of Iraq “shows a group of Iraqi men blindfolded in a room. In the final 21 seconds, the video cuts to a scene showing the men lined up, kneeling in a field, before they are shot in the back of the head.”

The kidnapping and executions were conducted in response to the alleged rape of a Sunni woman who fingered Iraqi security officers as her aggressors. While the validity of this claim is still disputed, the larger issue is the posting of this video and its potential ramifications. This recent al-Qaeda in Iraq internet posting of an execution video may cost the 'Islamic State of Iraq.'

Execution videos were a trademark of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. His posts earned him the disdain of many tribes in Iraq, Sunni and Shia alike. They also earned him a verbal reprimand from the al-Qaeda leadership. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter to Zarqawi, dated July 9, 2005, urged the Jordanian to quell his posting of brutal executions. He states:

Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable - also- are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. You shouldn't be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men and their description of you as the shaykh of the slaughterers, etc. They do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq, and of you in particular by the favor and blessing of God… And we would spare the people from the effect of questions about the usefulness of our actions in the hearts and minds of the general opinion that is essentially sympathetic to us.

Zawahiri’s letter speaks to a concern that the al-Qaeda leadership has increasingly paid more attention to: international image. While insurgents generally get away with employing brutal tactics, the Islamic State of Iraq’s success is partly dependent on maintaining popular support. In order to gain this support, the Islamic State of Iraq must continue to make itself out to be the oppressed: it cannot afford to look like an oppressor.

In a sense, this recent execution video is curious. The Islamic State of Iraq was doing a better job of gaining support among the Iraqi tribes, especially in Anbar province. However, this video might anger some people in Iraq. It will be interesting to see if the al-Qaeda leadership speaks to this video. If this video is the start of a return to prior tactics, the Islamic State of Iraq may lose some of the support it previously enjoyed.

March 1, 2007

The National Conference of State Legislators vs the Real ID Act

The Real ID Act of 2005 has been discussed here previously, as have some of the objections raised by both privacy advocates and the individual states.

Well, the National Council of State Legislatures has now established a separate resource on its website to arguments against the Act. Clearly, the group is opposed to the act, which its members view as an $11 billion unfunded mandate.

The site includes a series of documents covering the history of the REAL-ID Act, the status of current legislation -- including a searchable database of action at the state level -- links to critical studies, an archive of related news stories, and a clock tracking the time until the bill goes into effect.

As the May 11, 2008 implementation deadline of the Real ID Act approaches, states are facing an uncertain future. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has failed to release regulations and Congress has appropriated only $40 million to assist states with the implementation. Without adequate assistance from the federal government and regulations to guide state efforts to implement the Real ID Act, state driver’s license security is at a stand still. According to a study conducted by NCSL, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the act will cost states more than $11 billion to implement over five years and will have a major impact on services to the public. All 245 million driver's license (DL) and identification card (ID) holders will be required to make an in-person visit to their DMV in order to obtain a Real-ID compliant license. As a result, states will need to hire more employees and expand business hours to meet the deadline.

Many people believe that creating a uniform form of identity credential across the states is an important step in security. Being against the Act on the basis of the "unfunded mandate" and the burdens that it places on the states for implementation is one thing. Contrary to the security aspect, advocates believe that there are serious privacy and civil liberties issues. Not surprisingly, the ACLU has come out in favor of a new piece of legislation, "Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007" that in their words, would "fix" the Real ID Act of 2005. For its part, the DHS is supposed to be releasing new guidelines today, March 1 on the implementation of the Act.

I can't help but feel that many of the fears associated with the Real ID Act, and the concern over privacy are overblown. To the extent that common information could be provided on each states' drivers licenses to conform with the Act, it seems that the primary objection is over the direct costs to the states for its implementation. However, with all of the objections being raised, I have yet to read a solution that addresses the simple fact that our identity credentials are faulty, drivers licenses and other forms of identity are forged and yet, today, still, drivers licenses are the form of identity shown by most Americans when they fly domestically or simply, go to the bank to cash a check.

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