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June 29, 2007

Rapid Analysis: Attempted London Car Bomb Attack (Updated)

[Editor's Note: Updates as more information becomes available are at the bottom of this post.]

Analyzing the initial information publicly available on the attempted car bomb attack outside a crowded night club in downtown London, fusing past and present data creates a picture of what appears to be a failed suicide attack. Consider information shared in the initial public reportage of today's terror incident where, inside the car crashed into trash cans outside the club, police "found petrol and gas contained in several large containers, and a large number of nails. They (also) discovered a means of detonating the gas and fuel."

One witness said that door staff at the nightclub Tiger, Tiger alerted police after the car was driven into bins last night and the driver ran off.

The witness said the large silver saloon car was being driven "erratically" before the minor crash. The driver was not stopped.

And this:

DAC Clarke described how the bomb was discovered by chance when an ambulance crew, who had been at the scene for a separate incident, had noticed smoke inside the abandoned Mercedes.

'The ambulance crew saw what they thought was smoke, but we need to find out if it was smoke or vapour,' he said.

Erratic driving followed by a minor crash, with little if any observable damage to the vehicle. Yet the driver ran away. Why?

The ambulance crew, not there for the minor crash, was drawn to the car by enough smoke or vapor in the car to catch their eye from a relative distance...at 2AM. Yet, it must have been gone by the time the police got there to inspect, because they (or at least the DAC giving the briefing) could not determine which it was. Something small smoldered for a brief time. Yet the gas canisters and gasoline did not detonate.

All of the 7/7 and 7/21 bombers from last summer's al-Qaeda attacks in London were (or, in the case of 7/21, intended to be) suicide bombers. And their identities were all revealed by surveillance cameras in public space. The terrorists are not stupid and are risk averse by nature. A live suspect being tracked and potentially captured is a security risk for the entire organization, especially the local cell(s). Yet, the driver ran from the car.

Putting past and present together, here's what initially shakes out as more than plausible:

ThreatsWatch: This was most probably an attempted suicide car bombing. In a highly surveilled London area, there is more risk than reward for the larger group and cells in 'other -than-martyrdom' operations. The driver was not simply parking the car for the bomb to later detonate. He would have driven with more care to escape relatively unnoticed. The bomb, described in reports as "huge," did not detonate when the driver expected outside the Tiger, Tiger night club. Instead, the detonator smoldered. Having already attracted the attention of multiple people on the street, the bomber needed to escape before the contents of his car were discovered in his presence. He could have driven the car off, but if the bomb was going to eventually perhaps detonate, it would then not be at its target. It is one thing to be in control of a suicide mission (psychologically speaking) and quite another to drive around without control or knowledge of when one's bomb will explode. Furthermore, if smoke was filling the car, visually obscuring and perhaps even noxious, driving might have been determined difficult at best. So, the bomber fled and left the device to hopefully eventually detonate at its intended target, even if off schedule.

Unfortunately for the terrorist cell involved, there is a live human being that can now be tracked down and most likely images for public description purposes from surveillance cameras notoriously throughout London. As for the car, it was almost certainly a stolen vehicle.

Time will tell. For instance, if/when the suspect is found and killed or captured, one tell-tale sign of suicide mission intent will be if he has recent body hair stubble on his chest, arms and back. Suicide bombers are often known to shave their bodies before their martyrdom attacks.

This is obviously speculative initial analysis. There are many ways to do the math, and many figures not yet publicly (or even internally) known. Take it for what it's worth, a simple exercise in logic, trend and lessons learned.

If this proves indeed a terrorist attack, as it overwhelmingly appears now, It will be interesting to observe going forward: Will Britain make the same mistake twice?

Update: See also - Counterterrorism Blog: London Car Bomb Found, Defused

This type of car bombing plot is typical of other British Jihadist car bomb plots in the past, including both the July 2005 bomb plots, and the Dhiren Barot Jihadist group bomb plots.
--- In July 2005, a number of bombs and components, some packed with nails to cause death and maximum injury, were recovered from a car parked by the July 7 bombers at Luton station.
--- British Jihadist Dhiren Barot pleaded guilty to plotting a series of attacks, including detailed plans to explode limousines packed with gas cylinders, explosives and nails after leaving them in underground London parking garages or hotels.

Update II: Consider another potential explanation for the crash:
ThreatsWatch: A bomber seeking out the Tiger, Tiger club on a suicide mission would likely want to drive the bomb into the building, not park outside on the street, for maximum casualties inside. Another possible explanation therefor may be that the bomb did not go haywire after hitting the trash cans near the club, but well before. This might explain the "erratic" driving and stopping just short of what we are assuming as the target.

If the bomb malfunctioned before reaching its target (which in this scenario could clearly be other than the Tiger, Tiger club) and the car began to fill with choking noxious smoke while driving, the visibility and breathing may have proved so difficult that the bomber simply could drive no further to his ultimate destination, forced to abandon his malfunctioning rigged vehicle. If surveillance video exists, it would be interesting to see how soon after impact the driver exited the vehicle and if smoke was already billowing out of the opened door.

Update III: From ABC News -

"the bomb was composed of tanks of propane, butane and 125 liters of gasoline (33 U.S. gallons), roofing nails and a fuse that initial reports indicated was constructed of simple light bulb or flashbulb filaments and designed to be triggered by a mobile telephone."

Update IV: Second car bomb found "in a Mercedes apparently towed into a car park pound beneath London's Park Lane after being found illegally parked in the West End of the city."

Update V: A suspect - this from ABC News -

British police have a "crystal clear" picture of the man who drove the bomb-rigged silver Mercedes outside a London nightclub, and officials tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com he bears "a close resemblance" to a man arrested by police in connection with another bomb plot but released for lack of evidence.
Officials say the suspect had been taken into custody in connection with the case of al Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot, who was convicted of orchestrating a vehicle bomb plot involving targets in London, New York, Newark, N.J. and Washington, D.C.

June 27, 2007

Unspending Homeland Security Budgets

Homeland security is the name of a Cabinet level agency of the federal government, and a way to describe the subject of protecting the United States and its citizens from a repeat of the terorrist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Since that date, it has also become a way of describing a state of mind. We all want to be and to feel secure. The questions can be asked then, "what role does the Government play in ensuring our security" and "how much is our security worth?"

The argument sort of goes like this: "Government spends too much money." The counterargument goes like this: "Government does spend enough money." Today's U.S.A. Today raises an important question.

Almost $5 billion of $16.04 billion in grants approved by Congress for states and Washington, D.C., from fiscal 2002 to 2007 remain in federal coffers, according to Homeland Security Department budget figures. That's fueled concerns in the Bush administration and Congress that the government has been dishing out money faster than local governments can spend it.

This revelation comes at the time when the White House and Congress differ on how much money to allocate to the Department of Homeland Security for upcoming Fiscal Year 2008. The White House request of $2.2 billion was doubled by the House (and the Senate is expected to follow suit). So the White House contends that the increases above the request are unwarranted. The former Chairman of the House Appropriation Sub-committee for Homeland Security, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) says "Why put billions more dollars in the hopper when it's full already?"

Much of the money was allocated for programs created after Spetember 11th to tighten security and pay for equipment and training. Among the explanations for the unspent allocations are:

  • the equipment is backordered
  • the money is obligated for multi-year projects
  • requirements to "adhere to strict bidding and contracting rules before the money can be spent."

There should be a way of reconciling the funds already allocated to the funds actually committed. That would give everyone an idea of how much of the $5 billion in "unspent" funding was truly there, simply sitting in the federal holding accounts. Without such a reconciliation, it is hard to say for sure whether Congressman Rogers is right or not. However, I suspect that he's more right than wrong.

NewsFlash: al-Qaeda Is Stronger In Pakistan

Shocking news out of Washington today regarding al-Qaeda, Afghanistan and Pakistan. From McClatchy comes the headline: "US:Al Qaida regroups in new sanctuary on Pakistan border".

While the U.S. presses its war against insurgents linked to al Qaida in Iraq, Osama bin Laden's group is recruiting, regrouping and rebuilding in a new sanctuary along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, senior U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

The threat from the radical Islamic enclave in Waziristan is more dangerous than that from Iraq, which President Bush and his aides call the “central front” of the war on terrorism, said some current and former U.S. officials and experts. Bin Laden himself is believed to be hiding in the region, guiding a new generation of lieutenants and inspiring allied extremist groups in Iraq and other parts of the world.

But how is this news? Because yet another analyst openly acknowledged that al-Qaeda has rebuilt to beyond pre-9/11 capabilities? The answer lies in the next paragraphs.

The remote Pakistani region [Ed. Note: Decidedly not "between Afghanistan and Pakistan."] “is the real heart of the war on terror, and we’re losing,” said a U.S. intelligence official who, like most of his colleagues, requested anonymity because intelligence reports on the matter are highly classified and because their pessimism conflicts with the administration's public statements. "We took our eye off the ball when we went into Iraq."

And there you have it. The reason this is a news story.

To say we are losing against al-Qaeda requires qualification desperately.

Where we are actively confronting al-Qaeda, we are defeating them soundly. The rallying cry for our troops in Diyala operations (and other provinces in Iraq) is "Surrender or Die." This is not the banter of the defeated, and al-Qaeda terrorists are being effectively and systematically hunted and killed in a proper military manner, to put it bluntly. The same can be said of Afghanistan, where the absence of the enemy's vaunted annual "Spring Offensive, Version 2007" never materialized. This was not an accident or change of course for them. They were beaten to the offensive punch and, again, effectively and systematically hunted and killed in a proper military manner.

Where we can be said to be "losing to al-Qaeda" remains solely where we are not engaging them. This would be, as Marvin Weinbaum says in the article, inside Pakistan (and decidedly not "between" Pakistan and Afghanistan.)

Again, we are handing decisive defeat to al-Qaeda where we hunt them, (finally at last) in Iraq and in Afghanistan and only "losing" where we are not engaging them and killing them. And what doesn't kill them makes them stronger.

Yet, the solution to all America's strategic woes - according to an increasing number of the American political class - is to duplicate in Iraq (where we are killing al-Qaeda terrorists with painfully effective means) the losing blueprint of non-engagement currently on display in Pakistan.

It's that simple.

This is insane.

Please forgive the unusually rash tone, but I am about at my limit of tolerance for politicians who clearly do not understand the conflict at hand yet make sweeping policy regarding American National Security based on such fundamental ignorance.

June 25, 2007

Pakistan: Addressing A Failed Nuclear State

At the Center for Security Policy, Salim Mansur raises the uncomfortably obvious.

If Iran's race for acquiring nuclear weapon capability puts the West in a quandary, then consider how much greater dilemma will be when the clerical regime in Tehran has its fingers on nuclear weapons.

Such a scenario is real when it comes to Iran's neighbour, Pakistan, and neither the present occupant of the White House nor future aspirants have a clue how to deal with a nuclear weapon state named again in the top tier of the recent Foreign Policy journal's "failed states index" for 2007.

The scenario is very real, and one which few care to delve into for long. It's not a pleasant exercise.
  • Pakistan has nuclear weapons.
  • It is also the current home to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the epicenter of the global jihadiyun movement.
  • The Taliban has recently taken to seeking its enemies by reportedly deploying suicide bomber teams on distant shores.
  • Al-Qaeda is considered to have surpassed its pre-9/11 capabilities since migrating to its sanctuaries in Pakistan in 2001-2002.
  • The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance fields an armed fighter force of over 200,000 men on Pakistani soil.
  • The alliance has been steadily gaining territory ceded to them by Pervez Musharraf, as he has been incapable of defeating or even stemming the rising tide of Islamists inching ever closer to Islamabad.
  • As Mansur states bluntly, Musharraf "has run the country for over seven years and his welcome has run out" among the general population, not just the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance.
  • And, again, Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

It truly is a conundrum.

If we stream across the border in an attempt to smash the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, this surely hastens the end of Musharraf's days as the only reliable buffer between al-Qaeda and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. (Any buffer beyond Musharraf is couched quite necessarily in "known unknowns," a scary proposition for nuclear weapons security.)

If we stop short as we are presently, al-Qaeda and the Taliban only grow stronger inside Pakistan and continue to ever patiently inch closer to Islamabad.

And any number of US actions in the world - a withdrawal from Iraq or an offensive attack elsewhere - could be interpreted by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance as a green light for the final push on Musharraf, Islamabad and Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Notice soberly that there is no discussion on how to prevent the fall of Musharraf or how to stop al-Qaeda (and aligned movements) from taking Islamabad. There is, alternatively, speculation on whether (or not) another Pakistani military commander will secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal after a coup/assassination. There is, alternatively, speculation on whether (or not) we know where each one of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are stored and whether (or not) we can seize/destroy them in place.

We are, in short, ceding the inevitability of Pakistan's collapse. There is quite little we can actually do to stop it short of a miraculous groundswell of popular Pakistani support for Musharraf that seems as likely now as an honorary O.J. Simpson Day in Brentwood, California...a subject most Americans are far more knowledgeable on.

Yet there will no doubt be disbelief and surprise on the faces of Americans across the country the day Pakistan collapses into the waiting arms of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, likely with Hamid Gul taking his 'seat of destiny' in Islamabad. In 2004, Gul "forecast a future [Pakistani] Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls." He, of course, has also long desired a Pakistan-Iran military alliance.

Regrettably, the loudspeakers in a slumbering America are calling out, "Attention K-Mart shoppers: Welcome to the Real World."

Too few are listening.

Arabic Worm: Evolution of Cyber Threat?

Courtesy of the online terrorist hunters at Internet Haganah:

A seemingly harmless worm spreading around the world could point the way to an explosion in Arabic viruses, according to one security vendor. Masaki Suenaga, a security response engineer at Symantec, claimed that Arabic elements within the W32.Alnuh worm could be a test to see how users react.

Discovered on 31 May, W32.Alnuh spreads harmlessly and only terminates programs to protect itself. The worm closes Windows Task Manager, Registry Editor, Command Prompt and the Folder Options in Windows Explorer in both English and Arabic versions of the Windows operating system.

Nay-sayers will be quick to point out the harmless nature of the virus itself, but the Alnuh worm is merely following a familiar pattern of malicious code development:

"W32.Alnuh looks like just an experiment by the author," Suenaga said on the company's website. "After they have done their homework, they might step to the next stage to make a more complicated virus."

Indeed, it is common for novice malcode authors to feel their technical oats with a proof-of-concept prior to including more complicated and potentially damaging code.

Muslim hackers have long trailed their malicious cohorts in other parts of the world; most “cyber wars” associated with the Middle East being little more than digital graffiti-fests. The evolution of Alnuh and other malcode originating in the Middle East bears watching lest it indicate (finally) the start of an evolution of the cyber threat from this quarter.

Al-Qaeda Courts Hamas, Urges Support

In a newly released video message from al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader urged Hamas to "Unite with mujahedeen in Palestine ... and with all mujahedeen in the world in the face of the upcoming attack where Egyptians and Saudis are expected to play part of it." Al-Qaeda is known to have at least a small presence in Gaza and may be looking to leverage Hamas' recent territorial gains there. Zawahiri also said to Hamas, "Taking over power is not a goal but a means to implement God's word on earth." A Hamas spokesperson distanced the group from al-Qaeda, but stopped well short of criticizing either Zawahiri or his terrorist group.

Zawahiri's praise and calls for support for Hamas today is in sharp contrast to criticism levied against Hamas as recently as March 2007, when the al-Qaeda leader said of the recent Mecca agreement, "Hamas has made a mockery of Muslims' minds and feelings by saying that the accord reached in Mecca respects international agreements. What is happening in Palestine is another form of humiliation." He said then that Hamas had "sold out Palestine" and "gave up on ruling by Sharia [Islamic law]."

Today's message may therefor be seen as, among other things, a gentle goading for Hamas to institute strict enforcement of Sharia Law. It is also a bit of amicable opportunism, hoping to derive operational benefit from Hamas' new dominance of the Gaza territory.

While there are distinct differences between Hamas and al-Qaeda on many levels - reflected in Zawahiri's earlier criticism and Hamas' gentle distancing - similarities, ties and links exist. In the wake of Hamas' electoral victory last year in the Palestinian Territories, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, highlighted some known key ties between al-Qaeda and Hamas in a March 2006 column.

Hamas and al Qaeda, as Muslim Brotherhood offshoots, have had a number of notable links.

Bin Laden sent emissaries to Hamas in September 2000 and January 2001; Israel arrested three Hamas militants in 2003 after they had returned from an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah entered the world of terrorism through Hamas. And according to a 2004 FBI affidavit, al Qaeda recruited Hamas members to conduct surveillance against potential targets in the United States.

The two can be expected to each exploit what benefits them going forward in Gaza, stopping well short of public repudiation or embrace.

Sound familiar? Sounds a lot like Iran, doesn't it? And considering that Hamas does not call its own shots since accepting Iran's economic life-preserver after Western aid was cut, it should not be a surprise. this is not to say that today's positioning reflects any change in Hamas' previous views on al-Qaeda. It is simply to say that the considerable Iranian debt ensures that public statements and relationships will not deviate from serving Iran's aims.

Update: Two other things to look at from last year that are worth the reader's time on the subject of Hamas and al-Qaeda:

A PrincipalAnalysis from March 2006: Triangulating Hamas, Abbas and al-Qaeda, and
James S. Robbins' Strip Club: al-Qaeda and Hamas in Gaza

Palestinian Poll Shows 'No Confidence' In Many Quarters

A Palestinian poll had a few very interesting findings (insofar as any poll can be judged a proper reflection of any population). While the overall gist is that Palestinians essentially equally blame Hamas and Fatah for the recent upheaval, there were a couple of points that leaped from the page.

The survey, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), found that while 75 percent want early presidential and parliamentary elections, 40 percent said they would not participate if the race was between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh. Abbas would slightly edge out Hanyieh with 49 percent of the vote compared to Hanyieh’s 42 percent. The numbers change dramatically if imprisoned Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi replaced Abbas in the race. The percentage of voter nonparticipation decreases to 31 percent and 59 percent of West Bank respondents said they would vote for Barghouthi compared to 35 percent for Haniyeh.

First, I have long been one who, admittedly observing from a distance, believes that the Palestinian people are not well represented by their leaders on either side, and that if they had some semblance of prosperity and productivity they might just sideline both groups in order to preserve such prosperity. It's human nature. And the 40% non-participation number, in my opinion, reflects this possibility.

But then that 'human nature' theory also runs into trouble when the popular support for Barghouti comes into play. Just who is Marwan Barghouti? He is the founder of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group. See here, here and here.

But perhaps the most interesting information found within the poll comes regarding how the Palestinians view the Palestinian Authority itself, with nearly half wishing it dissolved completely. But the issue of a confederacy within a Jordanian frame comes up prominently as an alternative.

The dissolution of the PA was not an option for 49 percent of respondents while 41 percent would welcome such a step. Among those in favor of dissolving the PA, 26 percent want the Palestinian territories placed under an international trusteeship. Forty-two percent support a confederation with Jordan. However, 17 percent of those said a confederation with Jordan should be established only after a Palestinian state was created.

Now that is something to chew on. Nearly 20% of Palestinians polled want a confederation with Jordan.

Update: In haste, I failed to mention that this popular support for Barghouti to replace Abbas just might have something to do with why, when the PA made a prisoner release request to Israel late last week, Barghouti was not among them.

In reference to these rumors, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office told Ynet that no negotiations were taking place regarding the release of prisoners. State sources said they expected progress of the issue of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, via Egyptian mediation, as a prerequisite for discussing the issue of Palestinian prisoners.

Sources in the Palestinian Authority said they had not requested the release of senior prisoners such as Marwan Barghouti, but rather prisoners who could help Fatah in their struggle against Hamas in the West Bank and, primarily, promote an atmosphere of support for the new PA government.

Wink, wink. Internal politics just might have something to do with it. The article concludes in error if one is to consider this context.

From a political perspective, the release of Fatah-affiliated could greatly increase the emergency government's popularity. Barghouti, for example, received support for 59 percent of respondents in a recent poll that pitted him against former PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

His popularity is precisely why he will remain in prison. It's not how he polls against Haniyeh, but rather how he polls against Abbas. Fatah leadership (read: Abbas) simply cannot "increase the emergency government's popularity" at the cost of the sitting president.

Palestinian Authority Calls Out Iran

On Friday, ThreatsWatch highlighted the Iranian hand in Hamas' Gaza takeover. On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority's Information Minister called out Iran for its role as well.

“According to our information, Iran has played a big role in what happened in Gaza. Dozens of members of Hamas have been trained in Iran, and Hamas smuggled in weapons through tunnels not to fight Israel but against the Palestinian Authority,” Tirawi told a news conference.

“The whole plan has been carried out in co-ordination with Iran, and Iran has been informed of every step,” he added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas previously accused “foreign elements from the region” of orchestrating Hamas’s bloody takeover, but it was the first time that a senior official explicitly blamed Iran.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri retorted that “Tirawi’s accusations are lies”, while acknowledging that Hamas enjoys good relations with Iran as well as other Muslim states.

It's the first time that Abbas' PA has directly named Iran in such a role and is significantly noteworthy in that regard.

June 22, 2007

Where Will We Fight al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia, Algeria and in other places America seems unwilling to send her troops to fight the enemy that has killed thousands of our civilians and soldiers. And within the context of the relentless calls to disengage from Iraq forthwith, Cliff May asks quite succinctly, Where Will We Fight al-Qaeda?

That leaves only two places where we know for sure al Qaeda and its associates are operating actively — and very lethally — and where the U.S. can send its best warriors against them with the approval of the local, elected governments. Those places are, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But many politicians, looking at polls showing Americans fatigued by a war that was not supposed to be so prolonged or arduous, now favor withdrawing from Iraq — retreating from the battlefield al Qaeda calls the central front in their jihad against us.

And does anyone seriously believe that, after leaving Iraq, we would not soon exit Afghanistan as well? How many suicide bombings of police academies, market places and mosques would be required to get us out — slaughters that the major media will, as usual, blame not on the killers but on the “foreign occupation”?

If this is where members of Congress want to go, they ought to be honest about where it leads: Al Qaeda will still be waging a war against us, but we will no longer be waging much of a war against al Qaeda.

May is spot on.

It's as if to say, "If we can't get it at a drive through, it's too hard."

My grandfathers, one a Pearl Harbor survivor, would hang their heads, ashamed of their country's collective compulsion toward outright laziness (intellectual and otherwise) and self-loathing.

June 21, 2007

Haniyeh The Merciful

Hamas' former PA Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, has assured the West that securing the release of kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston is a 'top priority' as his 100th day of captivity passes.

A senior Hamas leader last night insisted that securing Alan Johnston's freedom was a top priority as vigils were held worldwide to mark the BBC journalist's 100th day as a hostage.

Ismail Haniyeh, who was deposed as Palestinian prime minister last week, warned the Scot's captors that they were running out of time. He said: "We are approaching the need for being decisive. We hope to finish as soon as possible."

His comments came as a member of the violent clan said to be holding Mr Johnston was kidnapped and executed. The body of Munir Dughmush was dumped in a square in Gaza City yesterday - just hours after Hamas named his family as the group behind the abduction.

Haniyeh the Merciful. Benevolent terrorists are always refreshing.

Perhaps Haniyeh might make releasing Galid Shalit a 'top priority.' Or not. The Israeli soldier was captured in a Hamas-led operation one year ago in a Palestinian tunnel raid into Israel.

Taliban-al-Qaeda Alliance Shifts Focus To Kabul

Just as tactics and weapons employed by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in Afghanistan have come to mirror those employed by al-Qaeda In Iraq, so too now the strategy reflects by focusing attacks on the capital city, where troops - and more importantly, media cameras - are massed.

"It is true we are increasing our pressure on Kabul, because Kabul is the capital city and the foreign troops are concentrated there," Zabiyullah Mujahed said.

He added that the "independence and freedom of our country" was the goal of the Taleban and that they were repeating the same tactics used by insurgents in Iraq.

The BBC report goes on to describe a drop in support for the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance inside Afghanistan. Rural populations along the border surely tire of the cycle of having their towns over-ran and 'taken' by Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists who cross in from their safe havens in Pakistan. Such instances always include the killing of locals - principally those employed in a security context - in order to exert their dominance.

To be sure, Coalition forces have largely pre-empted the much promoted (annual) Taliban Spring Offensive by countering offense with offense.

UN Head Criticizes HRC For Unfair Focus On Israel

At National Review Online's The Tank on Monday, I criticized UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for citing "man-made global warming" as a cause for the genocide in Darfur. But I made sure to conclude that "Ban Ki-moon is still a profound upgrade from his predecessor."

Today, Ban Ki-moon demonstrates why I leveled my incredulous criticism in a closing couched general praise.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticizing the world body's own Human Rights Council for picking on Israel as part of an agreement on its working rules.

The European Union, Canada and the United States had already attacked the singling-out of Israel's role in the occupied Palestinian territories for continued special investigation, under the deal reached in Geneva on Monday.

A U.N. statement said: "The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."

The statement did not mention Israel or the Palestinian territories by name.

It didn't have to. When's the last time we saw that kind of objectivity from a UN Secretary General? Imagine John Bolton working with a UN SecGen with such objectivity.

Now, if only the IAEA had such leadership traits.

June 20, 2007

Khatami Under Fire In Iran

Former Iranian president Mohammad Katami is being brought to trial in Iran for shaking hands with two Italian women on a recent trip to Italy. The goal is to ultimately strip him from rights to preach in mosques.

An Iranian religious tribunal will try former president Mohammad Khatami, a moderate Muslim cleric, and possibly ban him from preaching over a handhsake with two women during a recent trip to Italy. The court, which is charged to rule on crimes committed by clerics, will examine the lawsuit presented by a group of talabeh, theology students, from Mashhad, Iran's holiest city. Another lawsuit has also been filed by paramilitary militia Hezbollah, present in all major Iranian cities.

In a statement distributed to the press Wednesday, the clerics ask for Khatami's conviction for shaking "impure hands, contradicting the sacred principles of Islam" and compare the former president, who ruled from 1997 until 2005, to a "political prostitute."

First off, let's not get too enamored with the characterization of Khatami as a "moderate Muslim cleric." Relative to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is perhaps less radical. But unless 'Death to America' is OK with you, let's not attach 'moderate' to him just yet.

Iran is what it is and its leaders remain radical. Perhaps to varying degrees, but moderate is not an adjective applicable. Period.

That said, his upcoming trial may present a unique opportunity. The 'back channels' should be quite busy now or soon, seeking to exploit the division to its fullest extent. If some measure of leverage avails itself, it should be seized.

Smuggling Nuclear Materials

This story out of Georgia, if authentic, poses some interesting questions:

Georgian customs officers sent a car carrying a mixture of plutonium and beryllium back to Azerbaijan after foiling an attempt to smuggle the materials over the border, Georgian television reported on Tuesday.

Customs officials found the materials, which can be used in nuclear bombs, in what appeared to be a routine customs check as the car was driven over the border from Azerbaijan, the Imedi television station reported.

Both materials are useful if one is assembling a nuclear weapon, and while it would appear that there was insufficient material on hand to go nuclear, the fact that such building blocks are so readily transported together – and treated with such disdain in that part of the world – suggests that fears surrounding proliferation of WMD to rogue regimes or non-state actors is far from unfounded.

Perhaps more interesting is the path the materials seem to have been taking.

If coming from the north and headed west, why transit Azerbaijan? Were Russian-Georgian tensions a factor and a crossing from Azerbaijan considered less likely to attract scrutiny?

If coming from the south and headed west, why not head into the Persian Gulf? Perhaps to avoid the US naval deployment?

June 18, 2007

FireWatch: New ThreatsWatch Podcast Launched

We're happy to announce the new ThreatsWatch podcast, FireWatch, a new regular audio feature that has been in development for some time.

Intended to "take you to flareups and hot-spots around the globe," we will be featuring for listeners discussions with insightful and knowledgeable guests from the counterterrorism, intelligence, media and government communities. There will also be regular discussion among ThreatsWatch contributors and members of the Center for Threat Awareness, of which ThreatsWatch.org is a part.

Evident right from the first edition of FireWatch, we are firm believers that maintaining a sense of humor is vital. There are many dark days in the world of counterterrorism and National Security concerns, particularly in a time of war. And without a sense of humor, it can be quite a challenge at times to pick up day after day and engage the issues that require attention, study and action. Serious subjects require sober approach. But after strings of discouraging developments and events brought on by ambitious and capable enemies, one can be left with the choice to either laugh or cry. Often, we say laugh. It can be the difference today that makes tomorrow's re-engagement of difficult issues possible.

In our first edition of FireWatch, we engaged in lengthy discussion with Eli Lake, senior reporter and National Security writer for the New York Sun. From the al-Askaria mosque bombing in Iraq to the Hamas takeover in Gaza, the issues at hand were covered in detail, but in a conversational tone. If you are expecting "Meet The Press," you'll not find it here. But if you want to get a glimpse of the thinking of one of the best National Security writers in the country (as well as that of ThreatsWatch contributors), then FireWatch is for you.







To download FireWatch, click here or right click then select 'Save Target As'.

With this our first FireWatch production, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. Suggestions, criticism and comments are welcomed.

Recently from Eli Lake at the New York Sun:

Gaza and Hamastan: Lessons (Not) Learned

Seth Liebsohn's latest requires your sober attention today.

Now is the time to take a history lesson about democracies withdrawing from lands tyrants lick their lips over. Again. The lesson no longer need be from the 1930s, or even the 1970s — when a forced U.S. withdrawal from Southeast Asia resulted in killing fields and slaughter. The lesson can easily enough be 2005, when Israel left Gaza. The world wanted Israel out of Gaza, just as so many now want us out of Iraq. Israel left Gaza, and the void was filled — but not by the laying of tracks for the Peace Train. Within two years, Iranian Hamas took over from Arafatian Fatah. Where many of us once warned that Fatah's rule of Gaza would create another Libya in the Middle East, our warnings went unheeded, and, at the same time, the warnings were not alarmist enough: A new Iranian state in the Middle East is now in charge. Nice work. At long last, might we now absorb the lesson?

Iran now has two firm front-line positions against Israel: Lebanon (via Hizballah) in the North, and Gaza (via Hamas) in the South. If there is any move on Israel this summer or fall, rest assured the North-South tandem will act in overt concert.

June 17, 2007

Mice Cured of Bird Flu Using Human Antibodies - Strides made in fight against bird flu

As time passes, the reality (or possibility) of the threat posed by a mutation of H5N1 making the jump to humans has increased the attention being paid to the progress being made. It was recently announced that a collaborative international team of scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Bellinzona, Switzerland and the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, had used antibodies derived from immune cells from recent human survivors of H5N1 avian influenza to successfully treat H5N1-infected mice as well as protect them from an otherwise lethal dose of the virus.

"The possibility of an influenza pandemic, whether sparked by H5N1 or another influenza virus to which humans have no natural immunity, is of serious concern to the global health community," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "If the success of this initial study is confirmed through further laboratory and clinical trials, human monoclonal antibodies could prove to be valuable therapeutic and prophylactic public health interventions for pandemic influenza."

While this is not a new approach since it was used in treating victims during the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak, scientists had been struggling to do the same with bird flu. The process is known as passive immunotherapy, the new approach relies on two distinct steps: the extraction and culturing of antibody-producing white blood cells known as Memory B cells, and the purification of the B cells to isolate four distinct monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that secrete bird flu neutralizing antibodies. Tests showed that mice receiving either of the two protective mAbs had levels of virus in their lungs that were 10 to 100 times lower than those in control mice, and little or no virus moved beyond the lungs. The mouse study is ''a very lovely, elegant proof of principle,'' said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University.

After taking blood samples from Vietnamese adults who were confirmed to have an H5N1 infection, researchers extracted white blood cells (called memory B cells) and treated them to cause them to produce large amounts of antibody. The samples of antibody materials were then tested to identify those that could neutralize the H5N1 influenza virus, and then the B cells were purified to create four monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that secrete H5N1-specific neutralizing antibodies. Skipping through most of the technical biomedical discussion that I don’t understand, the test mice were given one of two different H5N1 mAbs at one of three dosages or a human mAbs for diphtheria or anthrax. All of the test mice were then exposed to lethal doses of H5N1 influenza virus. The mice that were given the non-H5N1 mAbs died within a week. Comparatively, the survival rate of mice receiving one of the H5N1 antibodies was remarkable.

What does all of this mean? The implications are:

► researchers say, that human mAbs may provide broad protection against variant H5N1 viruses--a desirable quality in any therapeutic aimed at the constantly evolving flu virus.

► the findings from this international collaboration are encouraging

► the neutralizing ability of fully human mAbs with potent H5N1 influenza virus…can be rapidly generated from the blood of convalescent patients

Big Pharma Donates Vaccines
GlaxoSmithKline to make unprecedented vaccine donation to WHO pandemic flu stockpile
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today announced its intention to donate 50 million doses of H5N1 adjuvanted pre-pandemic influenza vaccine to the World Health Organization (WHO) in support of its stockpile initiative.

Sanofi Pasteur Supports WHO Initiative for the Establishment of an H5N1Vaccine Stockpile.
Sanofi said it, too, was ready to supply a significant number of doses of H5N1 vaccine for an international stockpile through a WHO partnership. Part of this supply could be made available immediately, in bulk form.

Baxter, Glaxo to donate flu vaccine
GlaxoSmithKline PLC will donate enough prepandemic influenza vaccine to the World Health Organization to inoculate 25 million people in poor countries, and Deerfield-based Baxter International Inc. said it also will donate vaccine.

The United Nations agency said on its Web site Wednesday that it will get 50 million doses to distribute in the event of a pandemic caused by the deadly H5N1 flu virus. WHO said Sanofi-Aventis SA and Hungary's Omnivest also might make some vaccine available.

The question remains if having this stockpile of pre-pandemic flu vaccine will do much if the H5N1 morphs as expected before it jumps to humans. For that reason, keeping an eye on research like that done on the mice by the NIAID/International consortium. I continue to follow this subject because of the implications on preparedness and response, and the concerns in some circles that an outbreak could be quite devastating.

June 14, 2007

After al-Askariya II: What To Look For

With al-Qaeda's second bombing of the al-Askariya mosque and shrine in Samarra, all eyes are turned 60 miles to the south to Baghdad, on the lookout for an expected spike in sectarian violence. Here are some things to consider and look for in the ensuing 72-hour period.

  • In the same period after the first al-Askariya bombing in 2006, the immediate Baghdad sectarian death toll was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. If 'numbers' (forgive, please) between now and Saturday do not approach this, things may turn quite differently this time.
  • The number of dead in Baghdad on the day of the bombing was 26. That number may be off by one or two, but immaterial to the following point... Keep in mind that the average number of Iraqis killed in Baghdad since the 'surge' began has been somewhere between 20 and 25.
  • While Muqtada al-Sadr 'called for peaceful demonstrations' in response, he called for the same things last year immediately following the Samarra bombing.
  • Since General Petraeus arrived in Baghdad with his unapologetically forward-leaning demeanor, Muqtada al-Sadr saved his own skin by retreating to the friendly confines of Iran. With that, his loose gaggle called the Mahdi Army did what loose gaggles do without leadership: They fractured and disintegrated. If Muqtada al-Sadr can leverage this to reconstitute his (over-hyped in 2005 & 2006) Mahdi Army band of thugs, this would bode trouble. But his retreat to Iran and abandonment of his foot soldiers leaves a mark that makes this difficult at best.
  • The cohesive core of the Mahdi Army (once a group of an estimated 60,000, according to the Iraq Study Group) remained (and remain) in his absence. This group, about 3,000 hard core Shi'a militants, is comprised of the EJK cells (Extra-Judicial Killing), professional assassins trained, supported and - according to General Petraeus, not me - directed by Iran's Quds Force. Expect much of the reprisals against Sunnis (again, primarily civilians) to be the handiwork of these Iranian-backed crews.
  • Watch carefully for the language used in Sunni and Shi'a Friday prayers tomorrow. Most important to watch are the Baghdad area mosques, where the Shi'a and Sunni population lines most visibly meet and blur, and where the majority of the sectarian violence 'score settling and re-settling' cycle in 2006 played out its deadly track.

In his report at the New York Sun today, the indispensable Eli Lake quoted Dr. Mary Habeck on the situation going forward. Those looking for reason to see other than despair should consider her words.

A professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, Mary Habeck, yesterday said she thinks the implications of the mosque bombing won't be the same as last year. "If this was last year and this was the first time this happened, I would think this was the end of the world," Ms. Habeck said. She added that Iraqis have the bitter experience of turning to al Qaeda and Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army in the last year. "When people ran to them for support and protection, they found themselves being forced to live in a way that does not match with their understanding of Islam, and they found themselves being killed and intimidated by al Qaeda," she said.

As she says, it is not 2006. For those not familiar with Dr. Mary Habeck, rest assured, she knows the enemy.

When it comes to defining and quantifying the sectarian violence expected to ensue to some degree, listed above are the key indicators to look for. Judge for one's self. Be wary of scanning headlines and opening paragraphs and arriving at an emotional conclusion. It's not going to be good. But the question is one of true relativity to 2006, and the key to assessing this is context.

The September assessment of 'the surge' is coming. Al-Qaeda knows it. Iran knows it. The attack on the mosque is not a message to Iraqis. It's a message to the American public and political class. They want you to sit back and watch the show.

September is their finish line - timeline, anyone? Iran and al-Qaeda should be expected to ratchet up the violence and mayhem accordingly. The question is, will Iraqis indulge their inciting ways?

Flag Day 2007

There are a few, perhaps too few, excellent commentaries available today on the meaning of the Stars and Stripes, its creation, its meaning and, one can hope, the sacrifices made to defend that which it stands for.

We certainly hope that one is flying near you. And if you like, the door is open to share your thoughts on the flag and what it means to you. We'll make sure the comments are pubbed later today - along with some of our own.

Stars and Stripes Forever

Stars and Stripes Forever

June 10, 2007

RFID Myths & Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals

The subject continues to be the threat posed by counterfeit medicines to our Nation's patients and to the World, especially people in the third world where the prevalence of fake drugs attacks the unassuming and innocent.

It has been said that "Counterfeiters are the lowlife of bio-terrorism."

Still, there is continued confusion about the role of RFIDs in the supply chain of legitimate pharmaceutical products and separate importance of very different authentication technology solutions. Part of the problem in my opinion is the way in which the Food and Drug Administration defined the track and trace requirements in their Final Report of their Counterfeit Drug Task Force.

"...it is feasible for use by 2007. Radiofrequency Identification (RFID) tagging of products by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers appears to be the most promising approach to reliable product tracking and tracing. Significant feasibility studies and technology improvements are underway to confirm that RFID will provide cost-reducing benefits in areas such as inventory control, while also providing the ability to track and trace the movement of every package of drugs from production to dispensing. Most importantly, reliable RFID technology will make the copying of medications either extremely difficult or unprofitable. FDA is working with RFID product developers, sponsors, and participants of RFID feasibility studies to ensure that FDA's regulations facilitate the development and safe and secure use of this technology. FDA is also working with other governmental agencies to coordinate activities in this area.

As innocent as that statement may seem, it was read by the media and many people as defining RFIDs as an anticounterfeiting solution. This, despite the fact that the very next conclusion discussed "authentication" technologies. To this day, and despite the reality that RFID tags have been cloned (in other more secure applications like the e-passport), the FDA maintains that there never was a mandate for the pharmaceutical industry to use the RFID for the track and trace requirement.

From Chief Security Officer (CSO online), an article titled "The 5 Myths of RFIDs" provides adequate challenge to the misconceptions that have persisted.

The problem is that decades after RFID technology was invented, and years after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started touting it as the most promising way to authenticate drugs, RFID technology as an anticounterfeiting technology remains just that: "promising"-yet far from proven.

The myths:
1. RFID tags are anticounterfeiting devices.
...an RFID tag is first and foremost a tracking device, not a security one. Further, "it's not an anticounter­feiting device in the way that, say, a hologram label is supposed to be."

2. RFID technology is necessary to track the movement of legitimate drugs. AmerisourceBergen (a major pharmaceutical distributor) is engaged in a track-and-trace pilot project "to check the source of any drugs that pass through one of its distribution facilities...RFID technology is just one tiny piece of the project-the one that (hopefully) makes it operate quickly, rather than securely.

3. RFID technology can be used to mark pills, tablets and elixirs themselves. According to Novartis's James Christian, "No one is marking drugs, only the packaging."

- "The packaging isn't what's important."
- pharmaceutical products are routinely and legally repackaged in both the United States and the European Union.

4. RFID technology will let consumers verify that they have purchased legitimate products. The ultimate goal of using RFID technology as part of an electronic pedigree or track-and-trace program is to allow customers to know that the drugs they have in their medicine cabinet are authentic ones.,,Yet no one-not the FDA, and not any of the pilot programs being done by the private sector-is actually proposing a way for consumers to validate the products.

5. The pharmaceutical industry is this close to widespread RFID adoption. The FDA, after delaying for years the deadline for when the industry should have electronic pedigrees in place-ones that it says, most likely, will rely on RFID technology-recently announced its biggest delay of all: It was giving up on setting a deadline.

Somehow, this doesn't jibe with my having been told that there was no FDA mandate to use RFIDs for track and trace in the supply chain. Admittedly my opinion is influenced by personal issues, counterfeit pharmaceuticals is a supply chain issue and it is in many ways a law enforcement or private security issue where counterfeits can be identified. There are solutions "out there," they just aren't being used yet.

Please refer to New FDA Legislation Could Impact RFIDs and the Safety of Medications and the World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Counterfeit Medicines.

June 8, 2007

Dominoes of Defeat

This simply must be read.

Some opponents of the Iraq war are toying with the idea of American defeat. A number of them are simply predicting it, while others advocate measures that would make it more likely. Lending intellectual respectability to all this is an argument that takes a strange comfort from the outcome of the Vietnam War. The defeat of the American enterprise in Indochina, it is said, turned out not to be as bad as expected. The United States recovered, and no lasting price was paid.

We beg to differ.

Once with opposing views of the Viet Nam war, Peter W. Rodman and William Shawcross agree on the cost of politically induced voluntary failure in Iraq. Later in their commentary, they continue with vigor.

Today, in Iraq, there should be no illusion that defeat would come at an acceptable price. George Orwell wrote that the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it. But anyone who thinks an American defeat in Iraq will bring a merciful end to this conflict is deluded. Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.

And indeed those consequences are ignored. Consider that Pakistan is like a domino falling in slow motion with al-Qaeda rebuilt beyond pre-9/11 strength and facilities. When Pakistan falls, the Saudi Arabian domino with then proceed with greater alacrity, and the dynamic of this conflict will undertake a profound shift.

Some among those who criticize our engagement in the Iraq War, when confronted with descriptions of "defeatism," suggest that they would focus more intently on Afghanistan, where "the real fight" (with al-Qaeda) is. Unfortunately, even a complete shift of US forces into Afghanistan from Iraq would not address this, as the al-Qaeda enemy makes its home in Pakistan. Are they then advocating an invasion of Pakistan?

If we allow defeat in Iraq considering this greater context, what then of those who "advocate measures that would make it more likely?"

No, the conflict will not end with our 'redeployment' from Iraq. Not if redeployed to Afghanistan, nor if redeployed to Camp Pendleton. It almost certainly would, however, fuel the fire and spark a regional blaze with dominoes teetering.

And this is to say nothing of the Iraqi killing fields that would engulf them. When is the last time you heard a Congressional critic reference the Iraqi people? And why not? Because they dare not. In order to maintain their vested positions, they simply must "ignore these consequences."

And those among them with a conscience will hauntingly find peaceable sleep a fleeting commodity. Those without will relish in their political victory with eyes averted. But history will not be kind.

June 5, 2007

JFK Plot: Iran, Crime, Capability

Eli Lake of the NY Sun points out a connection that has received nominal attention:

As New York police and the FBI interview suspects in an alleged plot to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport, one thread the ongoing investigation will explore is why one of the suspects was planning to go to Iran.

The article deserves your full attention and reinforces a number of points raised earlier, in particular Sunni-Shi’a cooperation. With two of Kadir’s children living and studying in Iran, it seems safe to say that the Islamic Republic has more than a passing connection to the plotters.

The money quote from the former head of the FBI’s Iran-Hezbollah unit:

“The fact of the matter is that the Iranians are a bunch of sneaky bastards. They are going to take care of anyone who hurts us. I am not at all surprised that they might have been trying to provide him cover to get out of the region…”

Additionally, the apparent connection to the Islamist group “Jaamat al Muslimeen,” which attempted to overthrow the Trinidad-Tobago government in 1990, is most interesting. JaM – a Sunni group - is assessed to be a primarily localized group focused primarily on organized criminal activity.

It is a common fallacy that terrorists groups, in particular al-Qaeda, live primarily off the fat of wealthy Islamist benefactors. While there is apparently no shortage of rich supporters of Jihad who are willing to write checks to headquarters elements, crime – everything from computer crime to mortgage fraud - is largely how the rank and file sustains their activities.

Some have been dismissive of the nature and capability of the JFK plot, alluding that it was long on intent but short on capability. We humbly submit that precious few domestic threat actors have managed to blow up a police headquarters and take control of a nation’s political apparatus as JaM has done. Granted, the US is not Trinidad-Tobago, but we underestimate such ambition at our peril.

June 4, 2007

JFK Plot: Broader Implications

With scant time to reflect very deeply about the most recent domestic terror plot some initial thoughts come to mind that will require further development as events and time allows:

  • We are, and will continue to have to fight them everywhere. There was never any “here” or “there” to begin with, and we had no choice but to take the fight to the enemy. Iraq was less a trigger for terrorism than 9/11 was.
  • Their words resonate. That most home-grown plots are not top-flight AQ-actual endeavors is less a statement on their capability and reach and more proof of their compelling message.
  • Throw out most if not all of your preconceptions. The argument about Sunni-Shia cooperation has received considerable if dismissive press, but as my colleague has pointed out, when it comes to hating us there is no better ally than your “enemy.”
  • Technology is a double-edged sword (swallow it). That the alleged plotters used Google Earth will no doubt revive old arguments about the “security problem” that the Internet poses. We cannot stop the rush of technology; we should embrace it and leverage as they do.
  • Big, serious terrorism is hard. The tougher the job the fewer people you can trust, which is good for us but also a signal to future homegrown plotters of the value of aiming small in order to miss small.

JFK Plot: The Guyana Surprise

When the story of the JFK plot broke, perhaps the biggest surprise was the implication of a former minister of parliament from Guyana. Guyana seemed to come out of nowhere.

In 2006, the House Committee on Homeland Security released a report titled A Line In The Sand: Confronting The Threat at the Southwest Border (PDF). Within it is found the following paragraphs regarding terrorism, South America and how little we know about the convergence.

Furthermore, according to senior U.S. military and intelligence officials, Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists.

General James Hill, commander of U.S. Southern Command, has warned the United States faces a growing risk from both Middle Eastern terrorists relocating to Latin America and terror groups originating in the region. General Hill said groups such as Hezbollah had established bases in Latin America. These groups are taking advantage of smuggling hotspots, such as the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and Venezuela’s Margarita Island, to channel funds to terrorist groups around the world.

Venezuela is providing support—including identity documents—that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups, say some U.S. officials. The Venezuelan government has issued thousands of cedulas, the equivalent of Social Security cards, to people from places such as Cuba, Columbia, and Middle Eastern nations that host foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. officials believe that the Venezuelan government is issuing the documents to people who should not be getting them and that some of these cedulas could be subsequently used to obtain Venezuelan passports and even American visas, which could allow the holder to elude immigration checks and enter the United States. Recently, several Pakistanis were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border with fraudulent Venezuelan documents.

“Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has been clearly talking to Iran about uranium,” said a senior administration official quoted by the Washington Times. Chavez has made several trips to Iran and voiced solidarity with the country's hard-line mullahs. He has hosted Iranian officials in Caracas, endorsed Tehran's nuclear ambitions and expressed support for the insurgency in Iraq. The Times reports Venezuela is also talking with Hamas about sending representatives to Venezuela to raise money for the militant group's newly elected Palestinian government as Chavez seeks to build an anti-U.S. axis that also includes Fidel Castro's Cuba. “I am on the offensive,” Chavez said on the al Jazeera television network, “because attack is the best form of defense. We are waging an offensive battle….”

Given all that is happening in Chavez’s Venezuela, some American officials regret that terrorism is seen chiefly as a Middle East problem and that the United States needs to look looking to protect its southern flank. A U.S. intelligence official expressed concern that “Counterterrorism issues are not being aggressively pursued in this hemisphere.” Another intelligence official stated terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay are not being interrogated about connections to Latin America. The bottom line, when it comes to terrorism so close to U.S. shores, says the official, “We don’t even know what we don’t know.”

And hence, the sudden unexpected appearance of Guyana as a potential hub of terrorism support and finance. When the arrested in the JFK Airport plot include a powerful former member of Guyana's parliament, the usage of that individual's influence within and upon government there must be considered. Think "Passports."

With a source of authentic passports from an unsuspected country, who would need (or needed) to bother with using mules (human smugglers) to sneak across the Southern Border? Just hop a flight. The infiltration implications are potentially severe.

June 3, 2007

The JFK Plot: Sunni-Shi'a Cooperation

While we investigate, research and analyze developments and background regarding the terrorist plot to bomb fuel storage tanks at JFK Airport, ThreatsWatch will publish interesting details via RapidRecon. Earlier, Kyle Dabruzzi noted the more troubling stated operation of "to smuggle individuals, including mujahideen, from Asia into Guyana and then into the United States."

One other interesting and noteworthy item is that the development of the JFK plot included interconnection and cooperation between Shi'a and Sunni terrorist groups. Abdul Kadir, the former Minister of Parliament (2001-2006) in Guyana, is Shi'a Imam in Guyana. The named among his network (see the formal complaint) included Abdel Nur, a Shi'a also from Guyana, and Kareem Ibrahim, a Shi'a imam of "one of the two leading Shia mosques in Trinidad," according to a report in the Trinidad and Tobago Express. Interestingly, Kadir was arrested trying to make his way to Venezuela, presumably enroute to Iran.

Kadir was arrested around 11 a.m. on Friday at the Piarco airport trying to board a flight on Venezuela, while Ibrahim was held around the same time at his mosque in Tacarigua.

Kadir was heading to Iran via Venezuela for an Islamic conference.

The former Minister of Parliament is a very powerful and connected man. Knowing this begs the question: "What Islamic conference in Iran?" Even still, finding an Islamic conference in Iran is about as easy as finding a Christian conference in Georgia or Alabama. Was this the true purpose of the trip or was Kadir tipped off through his extensive network? When were the tickets purchased? Did they include the connecting flight to Iran? Was he looking just to get across the border into the friendly confines of anti-American and Iran friend Hugo Chavez's Venezuela?

Kadir arranged for JFK plotter Russell Defreitas and the "Source" to stay at Kareem's home while facilitating a meeting with the leader of Jamaat al-Muslimeen, a Sunni terrorist group that attempted a coup in Trinidad in 1990. Though unnamed in the complaint, Jamaat al-Muslimeen's leader is Yasin Abu Bakr. See also here then here.

Shi'a Kadir was arranging a meeting between the plotter and the Sunni Jamaat al-Muslimeen and Abu Bakr for funding and further support for the JFK attack. And the Shi'a Imam Kareem had later sent an emissary to show the plan to "contacts overseas who may be interested in purchasing or funding it."

Who were those contacts? Where were those contacts? Who was (or would have been) sent as the liaison? All questions that are surely being asked in interrogation.

But what should be recognized is that there is quite a developed terrorist network(s) in Guyana, and that there is no apparent reservation for cooperation among Sunni and Shi'a terrorists there when it comes to attacking the United States. Guyana has an operation that had, until now, flown well beneath the radar. The involvement of at least one former Minister of Parliament elevates it above the horizon. As Kyle rightly said in the title of his previous post, there is certainly "more than meets the eye" in the JFK terror plot story.

June 2, 2007

The JFK Plot: More Than Meets the Eye

The complaint that was filed against the JFK plotters, Russell Defreitas, Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir, and Abdul Nur, provides some interesting insight into the operational planning of the operation and reveals what might have been a much larger, more dangerous, operation.

On page 12 of the complaint, a conspirator referred to as “Individual A” told another conspirator, “Individual E,” that he, Defreitas and an undercover agent, referred to as “the Source” were working on two plans: “one to smuggle individuals, including mujahideen, from Asia into Guyana and then into the United States; and a second to attack the United States where it would inflict the most harm.” As it appears, Individual A’s first priority was to smuggle foreigners into the United States via Guyana, and not to perpetrate the JFK attacks. With the focus of our border protection agencies being fixed on the Mexican border, our homeland's borders, notably the Florida keys, are significantly more porous.

Additionally, “Amir” Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad, became involved with the JFK plot when Defreitas and the Source traveled to Trinidad to seek assistance. Kareem insisted that he present the plans to his "contacts overseas who may be interested in purchasing or funding it.” On May 27, during a phone call between Defreitas, the Source, and Kareem, Kareem indicated that he was sending an emissary to present the plan and that the “individual would travel overseas to present the plan.” The use of an emissary, a courier if you will, is a standard modus operandi of al-Qaeda. Although there is no evidence to suggest that al-Qaeda was to be involved, the actions of Kareem indicate that he was possibly a middle-man who was seeking the blessings of a larger terrorist organization.

This foiled plot may indeed reveal the workings of a much larger operation. One thing to keep an eye out for is the future questioning of the suspects, particularly Kareem Ibrahim. Their testimonies may provide vital information about the extent of the plot and which outside actors might have gotten involved.

Pandemic Flu: Potential for U.S. Economic Recession (Part II)

The debate continues about the likelihood of an outbreak of bird flu, otherwise known as Pandemic Flu, or simply, H5N1 variant (variant because of the belief that the H5N1 strain will need to morph at least once more before the jump to humans becomes a serious issue).

There were two important related developments this past week.

US Establishes New Protocols For Interagency Fight Against Pandemic. Basically, this discusses the need for the resources of both DHS and DoD to be pooled and mobilized to fight an outbreak of Bird Flu. Included in the resource pooling would also be Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others. President Bush's 2005 National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza is provide here for reference.

What becomes very interesting is that in the latest Defense spending bill, a mere $13.2 million to address avian flu research and monitoring was provided. But the bill was passed without $650 million in pandemic preparedness spending that had been included in an earlier version of the bill. The earlier bill was vetoed by President Bush because it set a timetable for starting a US withdrawal from Iraq.

The exclusion of the pandemic money doesn’t mean Congress won't appropriate anything for that purpose this year, but it does suggest that a considerable delay is likely, said Richard Hamburg, government relations director for Trust for America's Health, a public health advocacy group based in Washington, DC.

"This is going to delay completion of the initial commitment by the president to supply at least $7.1 billion in funding," he said, referring to Bush's request for pandemic preparedness funds in November 2005. "And we're certainly concerned about the fate of those dollars and whether they'll go into another vehicle."

The deleted $650 million included $625 million for vaccines, antivirals, other medical supplies, and diagnostic and surveillance tools, according to a text of the earlier bill that was vetoed (HR 1591). The sum also included $25 million to compensate individuals for any injuries caused by H5N1 influenza vaccines.

Back in April, I posted Pandemic Flu: Potential for U.S. Economic Recession in which the potentially strong negative effects an outbreak of Pandemic Flu would have on the U.S. economy.

In response to this post, a comment was left this week by Robert E. Armstrong, Ph.D. & Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University in Washington, DC. With their permission, it is reproduced here.

While the medical response to pandemic flu will be important to controlling its spread and limiting its toll, there are considerable non-medical issues related to flu preparedness that are essential for ensuring the continued well-being of the nation's economy. Planning for Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) is critical to maintaining the overall viability of society. Thus, while we rightly prepare for the flu, we must be equally prepared to function during the flu. The Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the DOD's National Defense University has prepared a number of freely-available items which can help civilians be prepared both before and during the flu. "Bird Flu and You" is a poster available in 9 languages with basic information about influenza preparedness. "Weathering the Storm" is a report with information about planning for COOP, including instructions for carrying out "tabletop exercises" with a COOP plan.

In reviewing the report, a number of issues are raised. Clearly, the debate continues about whether H5N1 will actually make the jump to humans, especially since Bird Flu was first discovered in 1961 and human cases didn’t occur until 1997. Of course, we already know that mutations of H5N1 are occurring and that the one or two additional mutations needed to “go human” would not be surprising. Clearly, what is different today than in 1918 when the last pandemic occurred is globalization in general, and as just demonstrated by the traveling TB patient, air travel is such that a virus can be spread from one part of the globe to another, almost in an instant. So the report itself is presented as a guide to keeping your organization operating through a pandemic. It presents ways to ensure a healthier workspace including sanitizing and decontamination procedures, restricted movement, limiting group meetings (e.g., telecommuting and video teleconferencing), and establishing work groups to keep the work of your company flowing. Further, it talks about continuity planning, and specifically, how your company or organization will continue to operate, especially as employees fall sick (or have a family member fall sick).

I bring this up because planning and preparedness continues to be a general issue when it comes to disaster planning (disasters meaning to include terrorist attacks with chemical, biological or radiological weapons). There are so many exigencies that it is impractical or unrealistic to expect that “tabletops” or wargames can provide the road map to appropriate responses. Just yesterday the local emergency preparedness people here (where I live) made public pronouncements that they were ready in the case of another Gulf Coast evacuation like the one during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Anyone who drives the local interstates and experiences the long delays created by road construction has to come to a different and less rosy conclusion. Another point made by the National Defense University report was that a medical response to an outbreak of Pandemic Flu (a variant of the H5N1) will be late since the morphing of the virus itself makes it difficult to develop a vaccine for an unknown. Yesterday, the FDA Finalized Guidances for Pandemic and Seasonal Influenza Vaccines.

June 1, 2007

Nuclear Terrorism – Apparently Not By Sea

Since September 11th, security at container ports in the United States has been a major concern. There has been considerable publicity and chatter about the number of the cargo containers coming into our ports going uninspected (initially reported to be less than 5% but now stated as nearly 90%), and the possibility that one such container might slip through the security net with a nuclear device or contraband nuclear material. With bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress increased funding for port security and placed an emphasis on testing all cargo for radiological material.

Within months of the September 11th attacks, U.S. Customs Service had created the Container Security Initiative (CSI). One of the minimum standards of this effort was the presence of non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment (gamma or X-ray) and radiation detection equipment. For reference, this is a copy of the most recent Strategic Plan for the Container Security Initiative.

Immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, increased security focused on the aviation industry and not on shipping.

That changed dramatically in 2006 when lawmakers opposed a deal to grant control of six U.S. ports to a Middle East based company, Dubai Ports World. Under scrutiny, Dubai Ports World backed out of the arrangement.

But the furor over the ports deal generated bipartisan support for increased port security measures. Later that year, lawmakers passed a Port Security Bill, earmarking more than $7 billion over five years to the effort.

In his July 27, 2006 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, Vayl Oxford the Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office of the Department of Homeland Security clearly stated. “The gravest threat to America is a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists.”

But now, the DNPO chief is downplaying the container threat. As reported in the May 25th issue of Global Security Newswire, Director Oxford said that would-be nuclear terrorists would be extremely unlikely to bring such a device into the United States in a container ship. This is in contrast to the fact that the DNPO is heavily promoting efforts to get the next generation of radiation scanners into port facilities.

“Everyone wants to know how we’re doing on scanning their containers. I personally don’t think the threat is coming through this mechanism,” Domestic Nuclear Detection Office head Vayl Oxford said during a breakfast presentation held by the National Defense University Foundation yesterday. “Giving up a nuclear device putting it in a container and letting it float around the world for a couple of weeks is probably folly. But it’s a great metric. Everybody loves to count containers,” Oxford said.

Instead, Oxford believes that his office should increase its focus on "non-port of entry venues" -- especially the porous northern border, where only forty percent of land entry points are monitored in any way. "I think what you’ll see is the emergence of mobile systems that will allow us to search the location as necessary as opposed to a lot of fixed locations," Oxford said. That approach mirrors that being taken to deal with smaller watercraft. According to Oxford, by the end of the year "all Coast Guard boarding teams will be equipped with some sort of radiation detection equipment."

All of this comes at a time when a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill is asking for an audit of the Bush Administration’s plans to buy radiation detectors. Primarily, the law makers are questioning the pace of testing and deployment along with the:

…management challenges that are inherent in evolutionary or spiral advanced technology development acquisitions of the type [the department] is conducting," the lawmakers added. "These challenges have the potential to produce soaring cost overruns, schedule delays or performance problems, including those that result from laudable efforts by agencies to accelerate the use of advanced technologies." The department did not have an immediate response to the lawmakers' concerns.

It was back in September 2006 that the initial award of the contracts to screen cargo for nuclear materials were awarded.

Additionally, there has been much recent speculation of the threat of nuclear terrorism, and specifically whether al Qaeda already possessed either the weapon or the nuclear raw materials. While some people continue to maintain the position that if al Qaeda has such a weapon they would have already used it, I know that at least one of my colleagues believes that the question is more likely one of how to "deliver the package."

One question (at least) is raised by all of this. If there was such a rush to acquire portal radiological detector, why now does Mr. Oxford shift attention away from cargo entering through out seaports?

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