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November 30, 2007

Bin Laden: Message to the European Peoples

Osama bin Laden's awaited speech, titled "Message to the European Peoples," was released on the Internet this evening. It was first delivered to al Jazeera approximately 9 hours before its public distribution on the Internet and was also the second new as-Sahab product disseminated on November 29. This is bin Laden's fifth appearance in 2007 and since September alone.

"Message to the European Peoples" is the 90th video product produced by as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's central media wing, this year and actually comprises of three videos and a stand-alone audio file. The three videos are individually subtitled in German, English and Pashtu.

File Name Language Seeds
A1.rmvb German 56
E2.rmvb English 61
H3.rmvb Pashtu 41
S4.rm Arabic audio 29

The videos were posted by "Ekhlaas Correspondent" on behalf of al-Fajr Media, which regularly posts communiques and messaging products on behalf of frontline al-Qaeda nodes. Al-Fajr, however, normally does not distribute as-Sahab materials, which represent al-Qaeda Senior Leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is best known for distributing content recorded in Iraq, Somalia, the Philippines and other theaters.

Interestingly, the method of distribution for the latest message also varies from normal practice for as-Sahab products and resembles methods used by the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), which is considered the media wing for al-Qaeda in Europe. GIMF products are frequently produced in or subtitled in German.

"Message to the European Peoples" is the second bin Laden message that has been delivered to al Jazeera before its public release on the Internet. The previous bin Laden product, "To Our People in Iraq" on October 22, was also released to al Jazeera ahead of its Internet distribution. Since the intercept of a working draft of bin Laden's September 7 video by the private SITE Institute, al-Qaeda has varied its channels and methods of delivery and distribution, especially for products containing new material from bin Laden. As-Sahab features have been assigned longer and randomly generated passwords and have also been posted by different Jihadi forum users, which suggests that al-Qaeda has hardened its operational security.

Promotional banner for bin Laden message

[Editor's Note: We have begun posting the propaganda from al-Qaeda and others for the primary purpose of informing and educating both the general public and policy makers about the level to which the enemy has actively engaged in Information Warfare. Some of the messages contain graphic content. We at ThreatsWatch post these videos as evidence of the brutal nature of the enemy we face and the clear intent they have to kill those not aligned with them. Making the public aware of the nature of the enemy - as well as the often forgotten virtues of our own nation - is one of the primary missions of ThreatsWatch and the Center for Threat Awareness.]

November 29, 2007

As-Sahab Media: Ambushing a Convoy of Apostates in Khost

As-Sahab, al-Qaeda's central media wing, released its 89th video this year and the fifth installment of "American Holocaust/Hell for the Americans in the Land of Khorasan (Islamic Emirate)" today on the main al-Qaeda message forums. The video, which is billed as "Ambushing a Convoy of Apostates in Khost," lasts a total of 29 seconds and features footage of tactical operations in Afghanistan.

It was posted in 3 video formats and 3 different file sizes and seeded across a total of 298 free file transfer sites on November 28, including cocoshare.cc, filefactory.com, hostupload.net, files.to, savefile.info, youuploadit.com, megaupload.com, rapidshare.com and archive.org.

File Name Format Size (MB) Seeds
2.rar MPEG 12.8 138
2M.rar RM 2.54 91
G.rar 3GP 0.19 69

The video itself, however, was last modified on November 6th. Following standard operational security, the files are zipped in the RAR format and protected with the randomly-generated password "a*m76nk,ihr08dVy)h!#5Z&^#3m5kedfa."

As-Sahab's banner for American Holocaust: Ambushing a Convoy of Apostates in Khost.

[Editor's Note: We have begun posting the propaganda from al-Qaeda and others for the primary purpose of informing and educating both the general public and policy makers about the level to which the enemy has actively engaged in Information Warfare. Some of the messages contain graphic content. We at ThreatsWatch post these videos as evidence of the brutal nature of the enemy we face and the clear intent they have to kill those not aligned with them. Making the public aware of the nature of the enemy - as well as the often forgotten virtues of our own nation - is one of the primary missions of ThreatsWatch and the Center for Threat Awareness.]

Moeller and Yates Stump for AFRICOM in Nigeria

Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, AFRICOM’s Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations, and Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, the Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Activities, toured Nigeria’s capital of Abuja in an effort to garner support for AFRICOM’s establishment among Nigerian government officials. Moeller and Yates, General William Ward’s two deputies in the AFRICOM command structure, visited with the chief of defense staff, the foreign affairs minister, and the national security adviser. Nigeria is a crucial state to get on the AFRICOM bandwagon due to its status as a major power in West Africa. At a press conference held in the US embassy in Abuja, Vice Admiral Moeller, with whom I previously spoke via a Department of Defense Blogger’s Roundtable, offered a quote addressing some of the concerns surrounding basing on the continent:

“AFRICOM does not intend to station large operational units in Africa,” said Moeller, adding that if invited by African countries, small forces could come in for specific tasks and then leave.
Speaking on the question of energy, Moeller also had this to say about AFRICOM:

“It has nothing to do [with] oil resources in the Gulf of Guinea. The resources there are Nigerian. They belong to Nigeria and to the countries of the region. What we do is work with partner nations to make sure that the resources are available for the global community, and for what they are intended for.”

Prior to arriving in Nigeria, the duo stopped in Burkina Faso and will now travel to Djibouti, the small nation in the Horn of Africa where a contingent of American forces is based. Though the larger campaign of establishing support for AFRICOM is vital for its effective operation, bringing Nigeria into the fold is especially crucial due to its special position in the region. Nigeria has come out in opposition to the command in recent days. As reported by the BBC:

The Nigerian government has said it would not allow its country to be used as a base for the US-African military command, Africom. At a meeting of the National Council of State, President Umaru Yar'Adua said that Nigeria was also opposed to any such bases in West Africa.

Though no word is yet forthcoming on the Nigerian reception to the visit of Yates and Moeller, the mere occurrence of such a meeting is encouraging. The United States and Nigeria may find themselves forced into cooperation out of necessity, especially concerning operations of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an insurgent organization in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region. This organization presents a significant threat to Nigeria’s control of its own resources and the availability of these resources for the global community.

Dadullah's Tickets to Heaven

Top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah was known for many things. The grizzled one-legged fighter loved attention and frequently reached out to the international press, including al Jazeera and ABC News, and also ensured that his activities - including beheadings where he personally wielded the knife - were captured on film. One such display that the "Butcher of Kandahar" organized was the distribution of "ticket to heaven" vouchers for would-be suicide bombers.

Courtesy of the LEE Media Network, an Internet group that is known for producing and distributing Taliban propaganda, a short seven minute clip of Dadullah and his "tickets to heaven" has appeared on the Web. The video features Dadullah greeting four suicide bombers and asking their name and family affiliation while a masked clerk dutifully registers their information into a ledger. He then personally handwrites a "ticket to heaven" on a small piece of paper and passes it to each smiling mujahid. The video then transitions to a farewell ceremony for the four would-be martyrs and then is followed by four minutes of their individual martyrdom statements. A voiceover in Pashtu hails each bomber as text scrolls that displays the alleged dates of their suicides.

The video appears to have been recorded in January or February 2006 and produced in October 2006. Dadullah, himself, was killed during an Afghan and NATO raid in Afghanistan on May 12, 2007, and it is not clear who signed his "ticket to heaven."

[Editor's Note: We have begun posting the propaganda from al-Qaeda and others for the primary purpose of informing and educating both the general public and policy makers about the level to which the enemy has actively engaged in Information Warfare. Some of the messages contain graphic content. We at ThreatsWatch post these videos as evidence of the brutal nature of the enemy we face and the clear intent they have to kill those not aligned with them. Making the public aware of the nature of the enemy - as well as the often forgotten virtues of our own nation - is one of the primary missions of ThreatsWatch and the Center for Threat Awareness.]

November 28, 2007

Sistani's Fatwa: Iraqi Shi'a Must Protect Iraqi Sunnis

The significance of Iraq's Shi'a leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani's fatwa instructing his followers to protect Iraqi Sunnis is difficult to overstate in the context of Iraq's crucial reconciliation process.
Leading Shiite cleric in Iraq Ali Sistani Tuesday banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis.

Sistani bans the Iraqi blood in general the blood of Sunnis in particular. His announcement came during a meeting with a delegation from Sunni clerics from southern and northern Iraq. The clerics are visiting Najaf to participate in the first national conference for Ulemaa of Shiites and Sunnis.

Sistani called on the Shiites to protect their Sunni brothers, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mulla, head of the authority of Ulemaa of Southern Iraq, noting that the Fatwa of Sistani would have positive impacts nationwide.

"I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shitte or a Kurd or a Christian," Al-Mulla quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting.

Sistani warned the Sunni clerics from the plans of the enemies to plant seeds of discord among the Iraqis.

The visiting delegation voiced relief for the meeting and said they backed Sistani's stance.
Western observers should note the significance of Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Among the world's Shi'a, he is seen as a direct (and rational) competitor to Iran's radical Ayatollah Khameini for the true leadership of the Shi'a ummah (community). Many in fact have already seen him as the true leader of the Shi'a. Unlike Khameini, Sistani sees room for democratic governance and a separation between the mosque and government. For a bit of background for those unfamiliar with Sistani's significance in the Muslim world far beyond Iraq, consider an Iraq analysis from this spring:
In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith. While the Khomeinist revolutionary Khameini clearly believes in Shi’a theocracy, the Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani believes that the faith can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. And while the Iranians work to spin the growing Sunni tribal rejection of al-Qaeda as Americans “negotiating with terrorists,” Sistani himself has always had open channels of communication with American forces and the Iraqi government.

Iran Evidence Turned SCIRI, Sistani Popular In Iran
It was through those open channels that the United States clearly shared evidence of Iranian material support for specific Sunni groups engaged in targeting Shi’a Iraqis in attacks. And it was clearly compelling enough to cause Iraq’ largest Shi’a political party to seek guidance from the traditionalist (and pro-democracy) al-Sistani instead of the revolutionary Iranian leaders....

....Sistani’s appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and fondness. Some are “intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi'ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq,” which is fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe’s Anne Barnard reports that within Tehran’s own central bazaar, “an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric.”
ThreatsWatch readers may want to back again and re-read the last paragraph.

Again, the significance of this development from Sistani is difficult to overstate, especially once one appreciates Ayatollah Sistani's position of leadership atop the Shi'a faith...not to mention his moderation and pragmatism.

Counteroffensive in Somalia

The BBC reports that Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces have responded militarily against attacks on Ethiopian bases by the Shabaab, the armed wing and youth movement of the Islamic Courts Union. (_Shabaab_ translates to 'youth,' and al-Shabaab is a common name for jihadi youth movements.) A minimum of six bases were targeted by the Shabaab in simultaneous attacks in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu.1 This violence further highlights the escalating violence in Mogadishu which has caused a reported 60% of the city’s population to flee in recent days. According to the report:

Our correspondent says the insurgents say they have been encouraged by the admission by Mr Meles [Ethiopia’s Prime Minister] that his forces were becoming bogged down in Somalia.

In an effort damper some of the violence 1,600 Ugandan troops have deployed in Mogadishu as part of a slow to materialize promised 8,000-man African Union force. At this juncture, this unit is much more likely to become a party to violence rather than a referee of the violence. The founder of the Shabaab, Adan Hashi Ayro, has declared that the Ugandans will be fair game. According to Voice of America:

On [November 14], the elusive founder and leader of the Shabbab, Adan Hashi Ayro, is believed to have posted an audio recording on a Somali Web site, urging his fighters not to differentiate between Ugandan soldiers and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu and to destroy the peacekeeping force.

Ayro, who was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and is on a U.S. list of terror suspects, was a top military commander in the Islamic Courts Union before the Islamists lost power in an Ethiopia-led offensive last December.

Since then, Shabbab fighters have led a fierce insurgency against tens of thousands of remaining Ethiopian troops in Somalia, and against the secular Somali interim government supported by the government in Addis Ababa and the United States.

With Zenawi saying his forces cannot withdraw under the current circumstances due to divisions in the Somali government and the lack of peacekeeping units, the violence will continue in Mogadishu, particularly in light of Ayro’s pledge to target such units.

Al-Furqan Attempts Comeback with Second Video

Despite the recent loss of numerous cells across Iraq, the media wing of al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) has produced a second video product, which the al-Fajr Media Center posted Tuesday night on the main Jihadi message boards. The one minute video, called "Destruction Of An-American Hummer Vehicle," is the latest in the ongoing ISI media series "Roman and Apostate Hell in al-Rafedain Land" and, according to the accompanying Web statement, shows an IED attack on a hummer in the az-Zobayer bin al-Awaam region of Diyala Province.

Al-Furqan, al-Qaeda's media network inside Iraq, has been heavily targeted by coalition forces since the surge peaked in June. Its operations in Mosul were dismantled over the Summer and in the past week nearly 30 of its operatives in Samarra have been killed and captured by coalition forces. Al-Furqan perviously maintained a large output of propaganda products but it practically went silent between September and late November. The sudden appearance of video releases suggests a renewed effort by al-Qaeda to produce.

"These videos are especially crucial at this point in time," said military analyst Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal. "We've seen a drop in attacks and al-Qaeda needs to show it can still conduct operations and is relevant. With the targeting of these media cells they need to show that their capacity to conduct and record ops is still in place. In 2 months one of the most sophisticated insurgencies on the planet from both a military and propaganda standpoint hasn't been able to produce videos. That alone speaks volumes on where al-Qaeda in Iraq currently stands."

With competing videos produced almost on a daily basis from militias and militant groups that are members of the ISI umbrella, it is even more critical for al-Furqan to show that it can produce. "They're vital for fundraising, recruiting and also morale for the guys in theater," Roggio continued. "They pull the videos up on their cell phones. They want to see results of operations."

Banner for

Warning: Video contains graphic scenes.

[Editor's Note: We have begun posting the propaganda from al-Qaeda and others for the primary purpose of informing and educating both the general public and policy makers about the level to which the enemy has actively engaged in Information Warfare. Some of the messages, such as this one, contain graphic content. We at ThreatsWatch post these videos as evidence of the brutal nature of the enemy we face and the clear intent they have to kill those not aligned with them. Making the public aware of the nature of the enemy - as well as the often forgotten virtues of our own nation - is one of the primary missions of ThreatsWatch and the Center for Threat Awareness.]

November 27, 2007

Science, Technology and the “Age of Terrorism”

The old saying was publish or perish. Scientists or academic researchers knew that peer review of their work was critical to gaining acceptance. But since September 11th, serious questions have arisen as to the appropriateness of certain types of research in general, and then the publication of sensitive but not classified information. This first became an issue for discussion when Dr. Mark Buller of St. Louis University and his team developed a vaccine resistant strain of mousepox in 2003 with funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Back then the question was whether the benefits of doing the research, especially when it came to especiallyparticularly virulent and new bio-terror agents, was prudent, and whether the publication of the results outweighed the potential for educated terrorists having the information and potentially being able to duplicate it.

This was discussed in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) book, Biotechnology Research In An Age of Terrorism: Confronting the Dual Use Dilemma (note that this is the pre-publication proof of the book).

This book confronted the dual-use dilemma; there is a public good served by performing certain types of high-risk research in biotechnology while there is also the possibility that publication of the results of this research might “be subverted for misuse by hostile individuals or nations.” Without getting into the greater detail of this 100+ page report that I read preparing for a presentation I made in May 2004 on “Bioterrorism and Homeland Security,” the question was whether the publication of federally-funded research should be filtered through a review process to determine which sensitive information should not be published.

This issue was discussed in greater detail at a symposium of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), National Security and Biological Research: What Are the Boundaries? held on November 11, 2003 in which the balance between scientific integrity and law enforcement (national security) issues were discussed and debated.

In my opinion, it is worth the time to listen to and to follow the slides of the kick-off presentation by Ron Atlas, the dean of the graduate school and co-director for the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Atlas was one of the architects of the NAS report touched on above.

At its core, Atlas’ presentation addresses the question about proposed bio-technological research, “Is it safe for human safety, and is it safe for potential misuse?”

  • "This not about censorship or saying to scientists, 'don't do this research,' or to the editors of scientific journals, 'don't publish this research."
  • "We need a dialogue among people who normally will not and do not speak to each other— in the national security community and on the front pages of Science, Nature, and beyond."
  • "This is not a problem that the United States can or should face alone."

A subsequent example of the “publish or not publish” issue arose in June 2005 when the federal government asked the National Academy of Sciences not to publish a research paper that feds describe as a "road map for terrorists" on how to contaminate the nation's milk supply.

It was initially posted on a password protected website designed to give journalists access to advance copies of articles slated for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, some people who downloaded the paper asked the Food and Drug Administration for comment. The FDA in turn, addressed the issue with the Department of Health and Human Services, which asked the academy to stop the article's publication.

The paper "is a road map for terrorists and publication is not in the interests of the United States," HHS Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson wrote in a letter to the science academy chief Dr. Bruce Alberts.

The paper gives "very detailed information on vulnerability nodes" in the milk supply chain and "includes ... very precise information on the dosage of botulinum toxin needed to contaminate the milk supply to kill or injure large numbers of people," Simonson wrote.

"It seems clear on its face that publication of this manuscript could have very serious public health and national security consequences."

So this brings us to the current timeframe. Of course, it is only five years since the NAS and NYAS reports. On October 18, 2007 a new report, Science and Security in a Post 9/11 World: A Report Based on Regional Discussions Between the Science and Security Communities was released.

This report addresses the question of how we reconcile heightened security measures adopted in the wake of 9/11 with the open and free international exchange of scientific experts and ideas.

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, the subsequent anthrax attacks, and ongoing terror threats internationally have markedly changed national and international security. As concerns about threats and terrorist activities have become global, so have the rapid transfer of information and communication. The confluence of the globalization of business and the revolution in information storage and transmittal has changed the landscape upon which to build national and international security. This requires a re-examination of the security measures developed during the days of the Cold War to assess whether those tools are still appropriate and to determine how they are affecting the current science and technology enterprises.

Among the key issues discussed in this report are:

  • The United States’ porous borders could allow terrorists to enter the country and attack U.S. citizens. Some of these terrorists might pose as (or in fact be) students in order to gain entry and find cover in a university community.
  • there is concern that terrorists might use U.S. advanced technology against us. The presence of dangerous pathogens or other research materials that could be used as weapons pose a potential vulnerability at some universities. Moreover, there is concern that terrorists aspiring to apply advanced technology to the development of weapons might develop the technical capability to do so through a university education.
  • a more generalized concern is present about state actors and their access to advanced technologies of military significance. That is, because the U.S. military edge is built on the skillful application of advanced technology, there is concern that other countries might benefit militarily from access to scientific or technical information available in the university environment.
  • concerns are present arising from the reality that America’s economic well-being is founded on the maintenance of its scientific and technological edge and that foreign countries could seek to penetrate U.S. universities (as well as U.S. businesses) for the purpose of obtaining early access to technology in order to supplant U.S. capabilities and reap the economic gains for themselves.

This is another audio file well worth the time to listen to for those concerned about the policy debates over sharing of sensitive scientific knowledge.

To strengthen the essential role that science and technology play in maintaining national and economic security, the United States should ensure the open exchange of unclassified research despite the small risk that it could be misused for harm by terrorists or rogue nations, says a new report by the National Research Council.

Again, the question is “sensitive but not classified information,” and how or whether to share it around the world. Congress wanted to re-look at the question of balancing science and security. The report is discussed in greater detail in a recent issue of the Homeland Security Daily Wire.

According to an article written by John Timmer of ArsTechnica, National Academies tackles international science in the age of terrorism, the report:

1) views the continued exchange of scientific expertise as an essential component of national security;

2) calls for efforts to smooth and simplify the handling of research-related security concerns;

3) strongly supports a continuation of an environment within the US that promotes the international exchange of science, arguing that it's essential for continued US leadership in science:

"Foreign-born scientists and engineers come to the United States, stay in large numbers, and make significant contributions to America's ability to achieve and maintain technological and economic leadership. Given the current diminishing rates of new scientific and engineering talent in the United States—the subject of other reports and a topic of national concern—the size of the US research and development effort cannot be sustained without a significant and steady infusion of foreign nationals."

Further, the NAS report argues that the United States relies on technological and financial superiority for much of its military and security activities, and a reduction of scientific activity would adversely affect both of these. Examined by the committee were clauses in federal contracts and grants that restrict the use of foreign researchers, decisions to limit scientific publications on sensitive topics, the restrictions imposed by "sensitive but unclassified" designations, and the management of biological information and agents.

One of the more interesting observations made in the current NAS report is that many of the potentially dangerous biological technologies are either developed or spread internationally. And further, given that a basic education in molecular biology is sufficient for someone to develop dangerous biological materials, although not a specific purpose of the Report, it suggested that the United States adopt more generous and liberal immigration policies (“free movement of human capital"). Essentially, rather than keeping foreign scientists out of the country, make it easier for them to enter, all as a means of increasing security.

All of this is placed against the backdrop of the 2008 report by the Battelle Memorial Institute that makes it clear that the U.S. is losing its global R&D dominance; in a decade or so, global R&D will be roughly equally divided among the U.S., Europe, and India-China; U.S. benefits from European, Asian companies outsourcing their R&D to U.S. labs.

There is growing equalization of R&D activity occurring in parallel with declining U.S. dominance, with outsourcing and offshoring growing in significance. "The U.S. will continue to dominate for up to the next 10 years or so, but after that decade activity is likely to be split into thirds with North America, the European Union and Asia -- dominated by China and India -- holding approximately equal shares," the report concluded. In addition, outsourcing and offshoring of R&D is increasing, with the U.S. leading the trend. Conversely, the EU and Asia are increasingly offshoring R&D to the United States in order to be in a better position to enhance their market shares. Indeed, the United States is benefiting from the continued in-sourcing of R&D. "The globalization of R&D will continue to grow, and competition for research funds will become more intense," said Jules Duga, a senior researcher at Battelle and an expert on R&D trends.

The issue is no longer the simplistic “publish or perish.” Dealing with scientific discoveries and advancements at a time when the free flow of information and access to reports, even perhaps those reports contained in this entry, is open to almost anyone with a computer and an Internet connection is problematic. Allowing sensitive information on new discoveries to travel free around the World in a matter of seconds leads to the very real question of National security versus freedom of speech issues (or at least issues of extreme censorship).

November 26, 2007

New Bin Laden Message Imminent

A new banner appeared on several Jihadist message boards this evening to advance a forthcoming as-Sahab product featuring Osama bin Laden called "A Message to the European People." The accompanying forum thread, written in Arabic by a user with the name "Terrorism Lover" who regularly posts as-Sahab announcements, urges readers to cross-post the announcement on English-language Web sites in order to "give (Westerners) the unseen truth of their failed war." The message and news wire stories it has generated have been cross-posted on dozens of other forums and blogs, including leading English-language Jihadi propaganda message boards.

Promotional banner for upcoming bin Laden message

The upcoming statement will mark bin Laden's fifth appearance in 2007, all of which have been disseminated since September, suggesting to counterterrorism analysts that the head of al-Qaeda is comfortable with his current security. According to former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman, "The sudden increase in the frequency of his messages reflected his confidence that he was now in a safe position where the American intelligence agencies and security forces would not be able to reach him and where there would be little likelihood of his being betrayed by those tempted by the American offer of huge cash rewards for anyone helping in having him killed or captured."

Table of 2007 as-Sahab releases featuring Osama bin Laden
Product Title
Sep 7
"The Solution: A Speech to the American People"
Sep 11
"The Will of Walid al-Shehri"
Sep 20
"Come to Jihad: A Speech to the People of Pakistan"
Oct 22
"To Our People in Iraq"

While the product is likely to be in video form it is unclear whether it will feature new footage of bin Laden or recently recorded audio. The photo used in as-Sahab's promotional banner appears to be an old stock photo.

The previous as-Sahab product featuring bin Laden, "To Our People in Iraq," was delivered to al Jazeera before its distribution on the Internet and led to Jihadist outrage at the Qatar-based news channel for not airing the speech in full. The appearance of the advance banner on the main forums suggests that the new message will be an Internet release.

Re: Brits Spin Basra

As noted in Brits Spin Basra Surrender as Victory, it is reasonable to see the British spin on their withdrawal from the fight and the ensuing drop in attacks on their forces as a significantly flawed bit of analysis. That said, Basra is not lost or surrendered.

The Iraqi Army has continued to expand its presence in the province and currently maintains elements of the Iraqi Army's 10th Infantry Division and 14th Mechanized Division. In addition, the 9th Armored Division's 3d Brigade is deployed to Basra. The 10th IA Division includes 4 Special Troops Battalions.

There is little news of late regarding any IA operations in the region, and we have little to gauge progress on border enforcement - aside from a recent briefing which stressed the training center and Basra's role as one of the regional centers for the Department of Border Enforcement.

The good news is that when the push in Basra comes it is likely to be Iraqi led.

Burmese Government Disconnect Fails

In a land already lacking in many basic freedoms, Burma took a turn for the worst when the military government imposed draconian restrictions on citizens with access to the Internet. While access to the Internet itself may not be a right, the key role it plays in communication means that precluding access restricts free speech. The will to overcome such restrictions however, triumphed to a degree:

Savvy young bloggers in Myanmar are breaking through the military junta's tight Internet controls to post photos and videos of swelling anti-government protests, experts said Tuesday.

The government blocks almost every website that carries news or information about the Southeast Asian country, and even bars access to web-based email.

But an army of young techies in Yangon works around the clock to circumvent the censors, posting pictures and videos on blogs almost as soon as the protests happen.

Many of these images have been picked up by mainstream news organisations, because bloggers have managed to capture images that no one else can get.

The development and employment mechanisms to overcome state-sponsored repression of this nature are not new, but the importance of such efforts is reinforced during contentious world events. For a more comprehensive review of related events read the OpenNet Initiative report Pulling the Plug.

Lebanon Dancing With Danger to Syrian, Iranian Composers

The Christian Science Monitor report is headlined Syria's role at US talks may help Lebanon. Within it, analysts are cited noting the likely inclusion of talks on the Golan Heights - captured 1967 after Syria invaded Israel - and ongoing speculation that Israel may ultimately return the land to Syria.

Syria, which exerts powerful influence over the Lebanese opposition to the Western-backed government in Beirut, is attending the Annapolis conference after US officials agreed that the fate of the Golan Heights – Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 – could be discussed.

The presence at Annapolis of Syria, a close ally of Iran and a staunch foe of Israel, may herald the beginning of a thaw in the icy relations between Damascus and Washington, which some analysts believe could help stabilize Lebanon and weaken Syria's relationship with Iran.

"There's been a very clear link in the past two weeks between the Lebanon crisis and Annapolis," says Ibrahim Hamidi, the influential Damascus correspondent of the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily. "It's part of a process that focuses again on the Arab-Israeli struggle. Definitely, it will have a positive impact on Lebanon."

Here is how this article should be properly digested:

Of course there is a link between the crisis in Lebanon and Syrian interests in the Golan as well as others. Please recall with clarity that Hizballah sparked the 2006 Summer War with Israel at a time precisely when the UN investigation into Syrian involvement in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was coming to a head and Syrian reference to the UN Security Council seemed imminent.

Please also recall with clarity that Hizballah sparked the 2006 Summer War with Israel at a time precisely when Iran was about to be referred to the UN Security Council (again) for consideration of sanctions regarding their non-cooperation with the IAEA on its clandestine nuclear program.

In short: The Lebanon crisis is now and always has been about Syrian and Iranian interests. No matter what Hassan Nassrallah or anyone else says. Lebanon has the regrettable fortune of location - at the crossroads of regional interests greater than her own ability to stand.

So while Lebanon dances on the precipice of disaster once more, the music is conducted by Syrian and Iranian composers yet again. Or, more properly, still. The sheet music has long been written and changes little with time.

Brits Spin Basra Surrender as Victory

In late 2007, Britain vacated to an airport outside the city and handed over control in Basra to the Iraqis. Applying the exact opposite approach as the United States - leaning back rather than forward - British command is now in the process of claiming similar advances in the security situation. In what must be seen as a simply stunning quote, British Major General Graham Binns said that since the UK disengaged in Basra, attacks on UK forces are down 90%.
"We thought, 'If 90% of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?'," Gen Binns said.

About 500 British troops moved out of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in the heart of Basra in early September, joining some 4,500 at a garrison at an airport on the city's edge.

Since then there has been a "remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks," Gen Binns said in an interview in Baghdad on Thursday.
Applying this logic, attacks on British forces would be down an amazing 100% if they withdrew from Iraq entirely. Achieving a zero-attack level on forces is not the mission - in Basra or elsewhere. Binns continued...
"The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we're no longer patrolling the streets," he said.
This is a disturbing matrix for calculating success.

As Herschel Smith notes at The Captain's Journal, Iranian Militias Continue to Conduct Operations in Iraq, and they are based largely in southern Iraq - and pervasive in Basra. Disengaging from them seeking the safety of Zero Loss is a sad commentary on the state of the political direction ultimately guiding the British Military.

I agree with the reader who e-mailed W. Thomas Smith at The Tank on National Review Online. He said rather succinctly the following.
I cannot believe the nerve of the British leadership. What a ridiculously convoluted and euphemistic way of saying "We surrendered the city to JAM [Jaish Al Mahdi] rather than engage them with effective force, all for the sake of avoiding further attacks on us." I am sure you are already aware of the Brits' spinning of their retreat and surrender of the city, as well as their persistent defense of their "softly, softly" approach to losing. I simply could not resist pointing out yet another example of their shameless rationalization of a self-imposed defeat here. They haven't the desire to carry out the mission.
The reader simply nailed it, unfortunately.

Australia Drifts From America With Howard's Defeat

I posted a very brief farewell to Australian Prime Minister John Howard at The Tank on National Review Online Saturday after he lost the election to Kevin Rudd. He is an ally that will be sorely missed. In Australia Drifts From America, I introduced Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd for those who may not be familiar with him.

Incoming Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has two key items on his agenda as it relates to the existing relationship with the United States.

First is his intent to pull out Australian troops from Iraq. This means less on the ground than it does in the general direction of the new Australian leadership going forward. The United States has not lost an ally, but the degree to which it has enjoyed support will be at an immediate ebb.

This will be exemplified by the second item on his agenda with respect to relations with the United States: Pushing for Australian ratification of the Kyoto Accord and isolating America in dissent.

The Kyoto Accord is an uneven, unfair and unbalanced economically disastrous ambition that - if enacted - would severely impair American industry and damage our economy. This, of course, is the reason so many nations - such as China - fervently support its implementation, not the environmental reasons it is said to address. The environmental aspects are merely the tool used to generate emotionally-based Western support for the measures.

The Mandarin-speaking Rudd is also expected to move toward closer ties with China as he leads a slow drift away from America. How his intended policies are - or are not - carried out will be important to follow.

Rudd has a majority parliament on his side to enable the actions he says he seeks.

John Howard, like Tony Blair, will be sorely missed.

Take Blackfive's advice and read also Jules Crittenden on Howard's defeat and Rudd's victory.

November 25, 2007

Al-Furqan Releases New Iraq Video

Al-Furqan, the official media wing of al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), posted a new video on Saturday - its first since September - called "Implementing Allah's Rule On Nine Elements Of Interior Commandos." The video lasts 3 minutes and 14 seconds and shows the gruesome assassination of nine Iraqi men by masked mujahideen with a bullet to the back of the head. It is included in the group's ongoing series of video releases called "Roman and Apostate Hell in al-Rafedain Land."

The murders appear to be recent. Although the video and accompanying Web posting do not state when the men were killed, the New York Times reported the discovery of four dead bodies in Salahuddin, including three floating in the Tigris River, on November 20.

Al-Furqan represents the "Information Ministry" of the ISI and, until recently, maintained a large output of propaganda products, including short videos and occasional PDF magazines. Its network of media cells across Iraq, each manned by a media emir, cameramen and digital video editors, suffered tremendous setbacks over the Summer and was practically dismantled by U.S. forces. A total of eight cells have been disrupted and 24 propaganda operatives captured and killed between July and October. The head of al-Furqan, Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud Al Mashadani, was captured on July 4 and, according to The Long War Journal, revealed that not only is the ISI a notional group created by al-Qaeda but that its head, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, is a character performed by a local actor.

The appearance of the new release by al-Furqan has been heavily promoted on Jihadi Web sites and message boards across the world. With nearly one or two new videos produced by militant Sunni and Shiite groups inside Iraq every day, al-Furqan is at risk of losing its preeminent position in the war's cyber threater. This video is not only a signal to jihadis that the ISI's media teams are still "in the game" but also creates the perception that the ISI continues to control territory inside Iraq - critical issues for fundraising and recruitment.

Banner for

Warning: Video contains graphic scenes.

A Note from ThreatsWatch Editors:
We have begun posting the propaganda from al-Qaeda and others for the primary purpose of informing and educating both the general public and policy makers about the level to which the enemy has actively engaged in Information Warfare. Some of the messages, such as this one, contain graphic content. We at ThreatsWatch post these videos as evidence of the brutal nature of the enemy we face and the clear intent they have to kill those not aligned with them. Making the public aware of the nature of the enemy - as well as the often forgotten virtues of our own nation - is one of the primary missions of ThreatsWatch and the Center for Threat Awareness.

November 24, 2007

As-Sahab Media: Ambushing a Convoy of Crusaders near Kandahar

As-Sahab, al-Qaeda's central media wing, released its 88th video this year and the fourth installment of "American Holocaust/Hell for the Americans in the Land of Khorasan (Islamic Emirate)" Wednesday, November 21, on the main al-Qaeda message forums. The video, which is billed as "Ambushing a Convoy of Crusaders near Kandahar," lasts a total of 10 minutes and 21 seconds and features an interview with a Taliban commander in Pashtu, footage of tactical operations and the burial of dead mujahideen in Afghanistan.

It was posted in 3 video formats and 4 different file sizes and seeded across a total of 308 free file transfer sites on November 20, including uploaded.to, load.to, cocoshare.cc, depositfiles.com, filefactory.com, sendspace.com, megaupload.com, uploadpalace.com and archive.org.

File Name Format Size (MB) Seeds
a.rar MPEG 303 52
s.rar RM 40.5 115
m.rar RM 3.69 89
g.rar 3GP 3.87 52

Following standard operational security, the files are zipped in the RAR format and protected with the randomly-generated password "Rm*B3m4^nbIdtgVyh!#5Zgtfd#nc,m)fR."

As-Sahab's banner for American Holocaust: Ambushing a Convoy of Crusaders near Kandahar.

Warning: Video contains graphic scenes.

'Our African Partners' - Partnership, Not Dominance, for AFRICOM

On November 20, I participated in a Department of Defense Blogger's Roundtable with Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations, US Africa Command. A transcript of the question and answer session is available here as well as audio here.

Concentrating on the formation of AFRICOM and its mission, Vice Admiral Moeller answered questions on topics regarding maritime security, counterterrorism, and inter-agency relations among others. The most notable aspect of Vice Admiral Moeller’s remarks was his heavy use of the phrase “our African partners.”

As an example:
Clearly, you know, working with our African partners -- I mean, the challenge -- and we will look to support, again, where it makes sense to do so and the best of our ability some of the issues with regard to the many medical challenges that confront many of our African partners in terms of HIV/AIDS, the challenges of malaria and those kinds of things; because clearly to be able to develop capacity in the forces of our African partners requires a force that is physically capable of, you know, our being able to work with and support them, to have the capacity to do the kinds of things that we want to do with them and we believe that they would want to do -- but that requires a relatively healthy armed force to be able to do those kinds of things.
Having used the phrase 21 times throughout the conversation, its persistent use is evidence that American government officials, both civilian and military, are working to make clear that the establishment of AFRICOM is not intended to facilitate the military domination of the African continent by the United States. It is instead intended to better enable military cooperation with African states.

November 23, 2007

The Clock Ticks for Lebanon

The battle lines are drawn and the clock ticks in the crisis in Lebanon, where a bitterly and evenly split parliament cannot agree on a compromise president.

The impasse has created a tense standoff between the US-supported March 14 block, which forms the backbone of the Government, and the pro-Syrian opposition, each waiting for the other to make the first move.

The March 14 block, which holds a wafer-thin majority in parliament, has threatened to elect a president drawn from its own ranks if no consensus candidate was found. The move could spur the Opposition to form a rival government and take public action such as seizing government buildings.

Wiam Wahhab, a senior member of the Opposition, told The Times that the election of a March 14 president would be “answered on the ground”.

“Which ever side is the strongest will win,” he said.

The "Opposition" is, of course, Hizballah, backed monetarily and militarily by Iran and Syria. The March 14 Cedar Revolution has no such military backers in any tangible sense.

And as the clock ticks toward midnight, tension is high.

With Hizballah and their Syrian and Iranian life lines anxious to decide things according to their strength (armed conflict in the streets), the situation could be grim in relatively short order.

The next 48 hours will be crucial.

Also see from the Washington Post: From Hopeful To Helpless At a Protest In Lebanon.

November 22, 2007

New Prime Minister Appointed in Somalia

Nur Hassan Hussein has been appointed as Somalia's new Prime Minister.

The VOA report reflects optimism from some inside Somalia regarding his ability to function as a leader.

A senior advisor to President Yusuf, Abdirizak Adam Hassan, tells VOA he is optimistic about the choice of Nur Adde.

"I think he is going to be a good manager," Hassan said. "He is going to be a man of accountability, transparency, and overall good governance."

Western diplomats have expressed hope that with his humanitarian background Nur Adde will be effective in his new role.

Hassan says he believes the main tasks for Nur Adde will be restoring security and building up Somalia's government institutions.

"The major assignment of this prime minister is going to be in my view security," he said. "He has to pacify the country, he has to work towards the stabilization of Somalia. The second priority is going to be executing the mandate of the government - drafting the constitution of the country, the census-taking, the referendum, the restructure of Somalia into federal Somalia, the multi-party system, making free and fair elections at the end of the mandate of the government."

November 21, 2007

Germany & Austria Issued al-Qaeda Video Threat

The Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a well-known Jihadist media collective based in Austria, posted a 4-minute video on the Internet Tuesday demanding that German and Austrian troops withdraw from Afghanistan and also calls for the release of two GIMF suspects arrested in Vienna earlier this year.

The video, "A Call to the German and Austrian Governments," features stock news photos and terrorism-related video clips on top of moving background textures and special effects produced with Adobe After Effects. The logo of the "Caliphate Voice Channel," GIMF's network of multimedia Web sites, appears in the top right corner.

A male voice, digitally altered to disguise his identity, reads the communique in accented German. He begins by stating that the "hundreds of billions of dollars and Euros, which the crusaders and enemies of Islam in America, Europe and especially Germany have invested" in the fight against al-Qaeda have only hardened GIMF's resolve, and proceeds to moderate Islamic groups and organizations that "poison ones mind and destroy Islam from within so that the crusaders won’t even have to pull arms."

He then calls for Germany and Austria to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and warns of an upcoming Taliban Winter offensive. "The mujahadeen has spared you up until now," he warns the Austrian government. "(T)hat’s why your number of dead soldiers is not very high but this will change soon." He then concludes with a warning that if the "brothers and sisters who were arrested in Vienna" are not released that the Austrians will regret ever having Muslims in their prisons.

Both German and Austrian authorities, according to wire reports, are aware of the video and the Austrian interior ministry has called it "an abstract threat." Nevertheless, authorities are taking the threats seriously.

GIMF is widely considered to be the media arm of al-Qaeda's European network and, based on its frequent outreach to the German and Austrian media, is suspected to be centered currently in Austria. It appeared on the Internet in 2002 and was one of the major early distributors for al-Qaeda messaging products. It expanded into English-language content between 2003 and 2004, and then expanded heavily into the French and German languages in 2006.

Long known for its bravado, the group has often posted recruitment advertisements on well-known Jihadi message boards for volunteers. The GIMF has even described its mission as the "Al-Qaeda University of Jihad Studies." Indeed, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, GIMF served as recruitment and training ground for al-Qaeda's corps of media specialists. With the right skills, proven loyalty and operational security, GIMF experience could open doors to paid frontline assignments in Iraq with al-Furqan Media and in Afghanistan and Pakistan with as-Sahab Media. GIMF video products, including this latest release, however, are typically of poorer quality than videos produced by al-Furqan and as-Sahab.

The group has posted a wide variety of materials, including videos for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Flash-based combat video game called "The Night of Bush Capturing," e-Books and mujahideen magazines, hacking and encryption software, and a long commentary about a fictitious American al-Qaeda operative named "Rakan Ben Williams." It produced a weekly news vodcast called "Voice of the Caliphate" that ultimately morphed into a redundant network of Jihadist video archive sites called the "Caliphate Voice Channel." In August 2006, the group also posted the hostage videos of Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, who were captured in Gaza, raising fears of al-Qaeda involvement in the kidnapping.

In September, two suspected members of GIMF were arrested in Austria during investigations of a March 2007 GIMF video that threatened the government of Germany and Austria. The release of these two individuals is one of the group's demands in this latest video.

Video and transcripts in German and English follow.

[ThreatsWatch thanks Bruce Kesler of the Democracy Project and Jon Ham of the John Locke Foundation for translation assistance.]

Banner graphic for 'A Call to the German and Austrian Governments'

German Transcript
English Translation

Bismillah, wahhandulillah, wassalatu wa salam ala rasulilah.

Sechs Jahre sindvergangen seit den gesegneten Operationen gegen das Herz der Kreuzfahrer und ihrer Verbundeten und die Ummah der Muslime hat seit dieser Zeit stetig an Starke gewonnen.

Unzahlige Geschwister haben mit der Erlabnis Allahs wieder zuruck zu ihrer Religion gefunden und wieviele Menschen haben den aufrichtigen Weg erkannt und sind von der Jahliyah und dem Kufr zum Islam konvertiert und alles Lob gebuhrt Allah.

Trotz der vielen, hunderten von Milliarden Dollar und Euro, welche die Kreuzfahrere und Feinde des Islam in Amerika, Europa und spexiell Deutschland gegn den Islam investiert haben, haben sich die anfrichteigen Geschwister nicht einen Millimeter von ihrem Diin entrfernt, im Gegenteil:

Der offen ansgerufene Krenzzug gegen den Islam und gegen die Muslime, der von Bush ausgerufen wurde und von seinen europaischen und deutschen Verbundeten bestatigt wirde, hat nur zu einer Festigung der wahren Muslime und ihrem Dun gefuhrt und sie haben die Heuchler dieser Ummah erkannt die die Dunya dem Achirs, den Kufr den Tawhid und das und das Schleimen und Unterwerfen dem Jihad vorziehen. Das Ziel dieser Verrater ist ihr Wohldtand in der Dunya und um dies zu erreichen lassen sie kein Scheinargument noch eine Luge unversucht, um die Muslime in die Irre zu fuhren.

Sie rufen dazu auf in die Religion der Demokratie eizutreten indem man sich an den Wahlen beteiligt oder indem man Menschengemachte Gesetze annerkennt und befolgt. Und die Mehrheit zeigt ihnen Gehorsam in dieser Sache und fallt dsdurch in den Shirk und Kufr. Oh ihr Muslime in Deutschland die hentige Abkehr vom Islam, die Dawa zum Kufr besteht aus den vielen selbsternannten und vom Staat bezahlten Gelehrten und Vereinen Deren Ziel ist es euren Verstand zu vergiften und den Islam von innen zu zerstoren, sodass die Kreuzfahrer nichtmal zu den Waffen greifen nussen. Diese sogenannten Gelehrten sind Freunde der Juden und Christen wo Allah und doch gewarnt hat dass die Unglaubigen nur untereinander Freunde und Beschutzer sind.

Sie reden der Ummah ein dass sie sich zur Demokratie bekennen muss, und sie rufen dazu auf, Wahlen zu gehen einen Vorteil fur die Muslime zu schaffen, wo doch jedem Muslim klar sein muss dass man nie etwas gutes fur die Ummah erlangen wird indem man Allah etwas beigeselt. Und dieser Dun, zu dem sie rufen, gennant auch Demokratie, ist in Wahrheit micht einmal eine 100 jahre alte atheistische Erfindung und sie bedeutet die Herrschaft der von Allah erniedrigten Menschen, obwohl ein Muslim nur Allah alleine als Herrscher und Richter akzeptiert.

Das nachste Thema auf das wir einghehen wollen, ist die Beteiligung Deutschlands am Kreuzzug gegen die Muslime Die deutschen Soldaten besetzen immer noch Afghanistan und wir wiederholen den Aufruf aus dem letzten Video das Deutsehland seine Truppen aus Afghanistan abziehen soll, dies dient nur zu eurer eigenen Sicherheit in eurem Lande.

Dasselbe gilt auch fur Osterreich. Die Mujahideen haben euch bisher noch verschont deshalb ist die Zahl eurer getoteten Soldaten nicht besonders hoch, doch dies wird bald anders sein, da die Taliban eine Winter-Offensive angekundigt haben, und diese Offensive erstreekt sich auch auf den Norden.

AbschlieBend richten wir noch einige Worte an die osterreichische Regierung: Wir fordern euch auf, die in Wien festgenommenen Geschwister sofort freizulassen, sonst werdet es ihr bereuen dass ihr es gewagt habt, Muslime in eure Gefangnisse einzesperren!


Bismillah, wahhandulillah, wassalatu wa salam ala rasulilah.

Six years have passed since the blessed operations against the heart of the crusaders and their allies and the Ummah of Muslims has since that time steadily gained strength.

Countless siblings have found back to their religion with the permission of Allah and so many people have recognized the correct way and converted from Jahliyah and the unbeliever (Kufr) to Islam and all the praise belongs to Allah.

Despite of the many hundreds of billions of dollars and Euros, which the crusaders and enemies of Islam in America, Europe and especially Germany have invested against Islam, the brothers have not moved one millimeter from it, the opposite:

The openly called crusade against Islam and against Muslims, which where called by Bush and acknowledged by European and German Allies, has only strengthened true Muslims and their call to duty and they were able to spot the pretenders of the nation... who prefer to suck up and subdue instead of Jihad.

They call to convert to the religion of democracy by participating in elections or by accepting or following man-made laws. And the majority shows obedience in that thing and falls in the Shirk and Kufr. Oh Muslims in Germany [uknown term] renunciation from Islam, which connects the invitation to Islam (Dawa) to the Kufr (unbeliever). From many self-proclaimed and from government funded academics and associations whose goal it is to poison ones mind and destroy Islam from within, so that the crusaders won’t even have to pull arms. The so-called academics and friends of the Jews and Christians, which Allah warned us of, that those non-believers are only amongst friends and guardians.

They try to tell the nation that you have to profess to Democracy and they call for elections to create advantages for Muslims, whereas every Muslim should know that nothing good for the nation can come out of it if you affiliate it with Allah. [What] they call for, named Democracy, is really a less than 100 year old atheist figment and it means the reign of Allah [is] lowered by the people, even though a Muslim knows that only Allah alone is accepted as ruler and judge.

The next subject we want to discuss is the participation of Germany in the crusade against Muslims. German solders are still occupying Afghanistan and we are going to repeat the appeal from the last video that Germany should remove their troops from Afghanistan, which will serve to your own security in your country.

The same applies to Austria. The mujahadeen has spared you up until now, that’s why your number of dead soldiers is not very high, but this will change soon because the Taliban has announced a Winter Offensive and this Offensive extends to the north.

In conclusion we are addressing words to the Austrian government: We call upon you to release the brothers and sisters who were arrested in Vienna, otherwise you will regret it, that you dared locking up Muslims in your prisons!

November 20, 2007

Chaos on Mogadishu's Factory Road

A cell phone video of the aftermath of a recent battle between Jihadists and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu has been posted to Qaadisiya.com, a Web site allied with Shabaab (Somalia Mujahideen Youth Movement).

The five minute video shows Shabaab militants on November 8 parading on Factory Road, a main highway artery in Mogadishu, carrying machine guns and rocket launchers and waving the flag of al-Qaeda. The video cuts to cell phone footage of the bodies of at least two Ethiopian soldiers being kicked and dragged through the street. It then shows a rally that was held in the street by Shabaab.

Shabaab is led by Aden Hashi Ayrow, who trained at al Qaeda camps in the late 1990s and was reportedly chosen by al-Qaeda senior leaders in February 2007 to serve as the network's commander in Somalia. The group has waged an insurgency campaign against Ugandan peacekeepers and Ethiopian forces deployed to back the country's transitional government.

Warning: Video contains graphic scenes.

Syria: Iran's Secret Project Home?

Friend of ThreatsWatch and respected counterterrorism expert Olivier Guitta has written an important analysis in the Middle East Times, Iran's secret Syrian plan. Few have given this dynamic much public consideration, but Olivier has been considering both the likelihood and potential consequences for some time.

Another proof of what transpired came from ranking Republicans on the House Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Peter Hoekstra, who were briefed on the Israeli strike and sworn to secrecy. They wrote an op-ed in the October 20 Wall Street Journal clearly underlining the seriousness of the situation regarding both the North Korean and Iranian involvement in the Syrian arms program.

Finally, the fact that the Bush administration (including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and most notably Defense Secretary Robert Gates) has been ramping up the rhetoric and taking action against Iran (including the latest sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) in the past week, might also be linked to what really happened in Syria.

The Syrian story is far from over: in fact, on October 23, Al Seyassah ran a story about potential new secret nuclear sites in Syria. According to Western sources cited by the paper, it is possible that Syria is developing other nuclear sites with the help of North Korea, Iran and Iraqi experts, the latter who fled their country at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. In fact, observation satellites have allegedly located in Syria at least two other sites similar to the one destroyed by Israel last month.

Iran's handwriting is all over the wall from the chemical to the nuclear arms program in Syria.

Considered also should be a piece he referenced in the above, one which we have linked and shared here in the past. Consider again Olivier Guitta's Plan B: Syria’s forgotten — but dangerous — nuclear program from last December.

German magazine Der Spiegel revealed in March 2004 that Swedish authorities and the CIA were investigating a very likely Syrian nuclear program secretly developed in Homs in the northern part of the country. That July, investigators looking into the Pakistani nuclear network of A.Q. Khan pointed out that Syria may have procured centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to produce a bomb.

This fact was confirmed in May 2006 in a declassified report to the U.S. Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria also got help from Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Keep in mind that Syria’s economy was very dependent on Iraq’s trade, especially oil-smuggling revenues. Sunday Telegraph journalist Con Coughlin affirmed in a September 2004 article that 12 Iraqi nuclear scientists — who were transferred to Syria and given new identities before the war — were on their way to Iran to assist their counterparts there in building a nuclear weapon. “The results of the research would then be shared with Syria,” Coughlin added.

But what really broke the camel’s back was a recent report from the well-informed Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Seyassah. It quoted European intelligence sources as saying that “Syria has an advanced nuclear program” in a secret site located in the province of Al Hassaka, close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. British sources quoted by the paper believe that “it is President Assad’s brother, Colonel Maher Assad and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who supervise the program.”

And as the Annapolis meetings draw near, it is clear to some that Hamas-caretaker Syria has become the Annapolis prize. Syria seeks the Golan heights. An informed Washington may be seeking something which is quite different and unseen in public discussions.

November 19, 2007

Prouty Case Highlights CI Woes

The case of Nada Prouty, both a former FBI Special Agent and a CIA operative, is another shocking indication of the degradation of our counterintelligence capabilities. Still, unnamed intelligence officials are beginning to discount the roles she played while working for the intelligence community and consequently the damage she may have caused:

[H]er role was limited. “This is not John Dillinger or Reilly Ace of Spies,” said [an anonymous senior US official]. “She took an illegal shortcut to the American dream, then she made some inappropriate computer searches. At this point, there is no reason to treat this as a counterintelligence case.

The “shortcut” mentioned would be her sham marriage to a US citizen, done to gain citizenship herself. This is apparently a trait that runs in the family.

As to her “inappropriate computer searches,” it is important to keep in mind that government intelligence databases are not the Internet, and their use is not akin to googling for ex-boyfriends. Her searches – and apparently the delivery of those search results to those who did not have a right to see them - were focused on Hezbollah-linked family members. Prouty’s brother-in-law, Talal Khalil Chahine, is a fugitive from US justice and believed to be living in Lebanon. Prouty’s sister is serving 18 months in prison for her part in a scheme to route $20 million to individuals linked to Hezbollah.

Prouty was one of the literal handful of FBI Special Agents who knew Arabic and was familiar with the Middle East prior to 9/11; she was later one of the precious few Arabic speakers the CIA had on station in Iraq interrogating detained al-Qaeda operatives. Assessing the negative impact she may have had on our intelligence capabilities has nothing to do with where she fell out on the government pay scale and everything to do with the fact that she was a vital cog in the machine. As J. Michael Waller points out:

Prior to 9/11, when presented with evidence of Islamist networks in the Washington, DC area, [Prouty] dismissed the evidence as of little importance. Those close to the matter trusted her judgment at the time, though after 9/11 US authorities, under the direction not of the FBI but the Justice Department, raided the offices in those networks, made several arrests, and got several terrorist-related convictions.

This is a point that cannot be stressed enough. People like to think that the intelligence community if chock full of the nation's best minds on every subject. Truth be told it is generalism that is rewarded and true expertise receives nominal recognition and middling compensation. An agency like the Bureau, with so little Middle Eastern expertise, would have subjected Proudy's conclusions to little scrutiny, just like DIA deferred to the judgment of Cuban expert (and mole) Ana Montes.


Defense News, a publication covering the global defense industry, reports on a previously unnoticed development regarding AFRICOM in an article entitled, Whelan: AFRICOM ‘Needs Brainpower, Not Hardware.' In September, government officials met with representatives from a number of African countries in an effort to facilitate discussion on the creation of AFRICOM.

In late September, Pentagon officials and American diplomats met with officials from nearly 40 African nations in a little-publicized weekend session aimed at easing concerns about Washington’s plan to establish a new U.S. military command there, defense sources said at the time.

Held at Airlie House in Warrenton, Va., about 50 miles west of Washington, the meeting featured panel discussions and presentations by officials from DoD, State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — as well as cocktail receptions and dinners.

“We had two good days there,” Whelan said, in which U.S. officials attempted to “put AFRICOM back into context” after several months of negative press reports and criticism from the continent. They also discussed civilian control of the military, AFRICOM’s nonmilitary tasks, and U.S. plans to provide training and other assistance.

The American delegation also spent a good deal of time “listening to where [African leaders] see the security challenges there.”

African officials view them differently, in many cases, depending on the region from which they hail, Whelan said. But “they do tend to agree that additional capacity is needed to deal with those challenges.”

Combined with General Ward’s recent trip to Addis Ababa , the occurrence of this meeting serves as good evidence that US policymakers are actively trying to assuage African fears regarding the more nefarious reasons proffered for AFRICOM’s creation. These efforts appear to be having an effect as:

Whelan said such efforts are beginning to thaw some of the skepticism about the new command. She cited recent, less ominous comments from officials in Nigeria and South Africa, countries that had been leading the opposition to AFRICOM.

November 18, 2007

Ansar Al Mujahideen Targets the Maldives

A previously unknown group called "the Media Section of Ansar Al Mujahideen" posted a teaser video today on a well-known Internet forum associated with al-Qaeda that promotes an upcoming full-feature package called "Your Brothers in Maldives are Calling You!"

The teaser lasts 1 minute and 49 seconds and features clips recorded inside a Wahhabi mosque during the October 6, 2007, standoff between approximately 90 masked militants armed with swords and iron rods and 100 government soldiers on Himandhoo island. The tiny island, which belongs to Alif Alif atoll, lies 50 miles to the west of Male', measures only 750m across and has a population of 583 residents. It is known as a hotbed of Wahhabi activity and, according to multiple intelligence sources, was a major transit point for South and Southeast Asian militants traveling by boat to fight in Somalia in the Fall and Winter of 2006.

The standoff occurred at the unregistered Dhar-al-Khuir Mosque on October 6, 2007, which was harboring at least two members of a cell that orchestrated the country's first Jihadist terror attack. The attack, on September 29 at a popular tourist drop-off point in Male', injured 12 foreign nationals and, according to police investigations, was funded by Islamic NGOs in Pakistan and the UK. Although the NGOs have not yet been named publicly, knowledgeable Maldives observers suspect the Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq NGO, the charitable wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

When fully released, the video will mark the first al Qaeda messaging product that features the Maldives. It is likely a call for foreign recruitment and financing for the local terror cell, which is believed to have grown considerably in the past year. The Maldives is believed to fall under the purview of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Comorro who is wanted for the 1998 East Africa embassy attacks and is believed to be hiding inside Somalia.

Interestingly, the teaser appears to be an indigenous product. It was seeded in 3 file formats (WMV, MP4 and FLV) and 4 sizes across 23 sites, including rapidshare.com, zshare.net, megaupload.com, badongo.com, and archive.org. The archive.org location appears to be the master distribution point and is registered to a false e-mail address "walad99@spambog.net." It also contains documents with keywords related to travel and tourism, which is the main source of income for the country and the main issue of contention for Maldivian militants.

Promotional banner for Media Section of Ansar Al Mujahideen's teaser video

As-Sahab Media: American Holocaust #3

As-Sahab, al-Qaeda's central media wing, released its 87th video this year and the third installment of "American Holocaust" Saturday on the main al-Qaeda message forums. The video, which is billed as "an ambush on an American crusader convoy in Kandahar," lasts a total of 2 minutes and 39 seconds and features footage of tactical operations in Afghanistan.

It was posted in 2 video formats and 4 different file sizes and seeded across a total of 278 free file transfer sites on November 16, including uploaded.to, load.to, cocoshare.cc, depositfiles.com, filefactory.com, sendspace.com, megaupload.com, uploadpalace.com and archive.org.

File Name Format Size (MB) Seeds
3.rar MPEG 101 126
3s.rar RM 14.9 78
3m.rar RM 1.24 45
3g.rar 3GP 1.3 29

The video itself, however, was last modified on November 5th. Following standard operational security, the files are zipped in the RAR format and protected with the randomly-generated password "axU)b54xIzo#hVy*h!5Zn^md#nc8b4d."

As-Sahab's banner for the 87th video release of the year - American Holocaust.

As-Sahab's banner for the 87th video release of the year - American Holocaust.

November 17, 2007

Critical Infrastructure Vulnerable to Mischief

Most of the discussion about critical infrastructure security and vulnerability centers on terrorism. But the fact is that "normal" vandalism. Last Monday, three teenagers in Tampa Florida drilled a hole through an ammonia gas line, apparently believing that money was hidden inside the 6" pipeline. The pipeline leads to a phosphate factory in nearby Polk County where the ammonia is used to make fertilizer.

So here we are, six years after the attacks of September 11th and a screwball teenager is able to damage an unsecured gasline, releasing a toxic cloud of anhydrous ammonia, forcing the evacuation of surrounding Hillsborough County residents, endagering public safety and creating an environmental hazard. Although the flow of the ammonia was stopped after the leak was detected and the pipeline shut down, the ammonia will be absorbed into the nearby rvier water. Experts from the U.S. Coast Guard anf the EPA were on scene to assess the environmental impact of the release.

Pipelines are regulated by the federal transportation department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, with the federal Transportation Security Administration assisting on security issues.

A TSA spokeswoman said the agency has reviewed 66 pipeline network security plans and made more than 100 on-site inspections nationwide. But it was unclear late Tuesday whether it has examined pipelines in the Tampa Bay area.

Nationwide, the number of "significant incidents" involving pipeline breaks dropped to 34 in 2006 from a high of 93 in 1988. The government threshold for such an incident includes events resulting in death, hospitalization, more than $50,000 in damage, or fires and explosions.

The leak burned the teenager who has been charged with criminal mischief and had been treated at the Tampa General Hospital with chemical burns on 18% of his body. Of course, the problem in this case is that the pipeline is privately owned, and the security is the responsibility of the company. This is much like the need for security at local utility systems, where the companies maintain their own departments of security. Previously, I've written about the importance of public-private partnerships when it comes to critical infrastructure security. This incident is probably a good example. But this also shows that an act by a stupid teenager can lead to problematic results.

Musharraf: 'Am I a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde?'

As Assistant Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Pakistan, the BBC interviewed Pervez Musharraf Friday in Rawalpindi, where he defended his actions since his first sacking of the Chief Justice in March. He said that it is Benazir Bhutto who is seeking agitation and not elections because her party is "not in a position to win anything at all." At the end of the clip, Bhutto addresses a press conference stating that she cannot see how she can enter into more talks with Musharraf after he makes commitments and "moves the goalposts."

November 16, 2007

Anthropology, Policing and Soldiering In al-Qaeda's Pakistani Insurgency

We have made a concerted attempt to distinguish between the employment and deployment of Pakistani Police and paramilitary forces (Frontier Corps and constabularies) and the employment and deployment of the Pakistani Army when news coverage vaguely refers to Pakistani "troops" or "soldiers" being killed, captured or deserting in the conflict with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP) inside Pakistan. This is very important in understanding the state of affairs there.

Former head of Indian Intelligence, B. Raman, notes the distinction well and includes ethnic/tribal distinctions as well in a report from the South Asia Analysis Group's International Terrorism Monitor. The unusually long excerpt is necessary, but read the report in full for additional context.

6. The Police has an important role in counter--insurgency and counter-terrorism. They act as the eyes and ears of the Government even in the remotest of villages. They know the community better than the Army. Gen.Zia ul-Haq and other military dictators of the past tried to strengthen the self-pride and elan of the Police in order to secure their co-operation for the Army. Musharraf was the first military dictator, who sought to humiliate the Police right from the day he took over in October, 1999, and marginalise its role. He appointed junior and middle-level Army officers---some serving, some retired--- as monitors of the performance of senior police officers. There were shocking instances where senior Police officers, holding a position equivalent to the rank of a Maj. Gen. in the Army, were asked to report to army officers of the rank of Major or even Captain. These junior officers, who knew very little of the community, were asked to write the annual performance report of very senior police officers. Musharraf also started an exercise to militarise the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of the Ministry of the Interior, which, in the past, used to be largely, if not predominantly, staffed by Police and other civilian officers. The IB of Pakistan shared the same civilian traditions and work practices as its Indian counterpart. Musharraf sought to change this in order to give the Army a greater role in the IB. There was a similar mishandling of the non-police sections of the civilian bureaucracy.

7. The result: A drying-up of the flow of intelligence not only from the tribal areas, but also from other parts of the country as well. Police officers hardly investigated terrorism-related cases either because of their resentment with Musharraf or because of a fear of incurring the wrath of the terrorists." It serves the Army and Musharraf right" was their attitude. There was neither effective prevention nor successful investigation in most cases. Successful investigation and prosecution is an important deterrent to the spread of terrorism. This is hardly to be found in Pakistan.

8. Another blunder committed by Musharraf was the over-use of the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps in the operations against terrorists in the tribal areas. He wanted to avoid using the Punjabi-dominated Army for ground operations. While the Army is actively involved in the ground operations against the Baloch freedom-fighters in Balochistan, it was confining itself to the barracks in the FATA and in the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). American officials and their counterparts in Pakistan often claim that Musharraf has deployed nearly 80,000 troops in the tribal areas. The Americans cite this as one of the reasons for their strong backing to the General despite his growing unpopularity.

9. What they do not mention is that many of these security personnel are the tribal members of the para-military forces, who come from that area, and not Pakistani military personnel recruited from other areas of the country. A large number of the Pakistani army personnel are used not for ground operations against the terrorists, but for providing physical security to American and other NATO military supplies to Afghanistan from the Karachi port after they are landed there. This has been creating resentment among the tribal personnel of the para-military forces, who feel that Musharraf, under US pressure, is making not only Muslims kill Muslims, but also Pashtuns kill Pashtuns, in the name of the so-called war on terrorism. The FM radio stations operated by pro-Al Qaeda jihadi leaders in the tribal areas have been repeatedly alleging in their broadcasts directed to the fellow-tribals in the para-military forces that innocent tribals are being killed in order to save American lives in the US homeland.

10. As a result of this, there has been a growing number of desertions of Pashtuns serving in the para-military forces. Only now, for the last few days, Musharraf has been using regular Army units to counter the supporters of Maulana Fazlullah in the Swat Valley, but afraid that the Pashtun soldiers of the Army too might start deserting their units like the Pashtun members of the para-military forces, he has been avoiding the use of the army in ground operations and has instead been relying increasingly on helicopter gunships. This has, on the one hand, resulted in an increase in the number of civilian casualties due to indiscriminate air-mounted actions and, on the other, further fuelled the resentment in the para-military forces, whose personnel are asking: Are the lives of the Army personnel more precious than those of the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps?

As noted previously, we have attempted to make this distinction at ThreatsWatch. Consider the following two for more information:

We'd better be able to wrap our minds around the cultural and ethnic dynamics of an embattled Pakistan. To dig deeper into understanding the anthropology required for effective counterterrorism, spend some time with On the Uses of Cultural Knowledge by Dr. Sheila Miyoshi Jager. It's worth your time if you seek to understand the important cultural dynamic of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

Economic Growth in Africa

In a contrast to some of the more decidedly negative events I report on, it is my pleasure to convey news of the recently released World Bank report on Africa’s economic development. Africa, as a region, is growing economically on pace with the rest of the developing world. According to the report, the continent expanded economically at a rate of 5.4 percent in 2005 and 2006.

“Africa is now moving in tandem with the rest of the world,” John Page, the bank’s chief economist for Africa, said.

Over all, the region’s economy grew by 5.4 percent in 2005 and 2006, faster than the economies of many developed countries and similar to those of developing nations other than India and China. Nations that export oil or minerals led the pack, but 18 others — home to more than a third of the region’s population — also performed well, the report said.

Africa still occupies the bottom rung of the world’s economic ladder. Forty-one percent of sub-Saharan Africans live on less than $1 a day — an improvement from 47 percent in 1990, but still the world’s worst poverty rate. A lack of skills, low productivity, red tape and poor infrastructure hobble business development.

The recent economic progress merely made up for ground lost during the plunge that accompanied independence and the painful belt-tightening that followed. Over all, Africa has simply recovered its position of three decades ago, the report says. “The reason: when things go well they do not last, and when they go wrong, they go very wrong,” the report states.

Still, Mr. Page said, Africa is at a turning point. He credits the improvement, in part, to the fiscal discipline advocated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Though there is still a long way to go, the report attributes this improvement to smarter economic policies, improved governance and a reduction in armed conflicts.

Chinese Industrial Espionage: Major Economic Security Threat

The 2007 annual report from the Congressional United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission was released to Congress and select media outlets yesterday and it is hard hitting. The report accuses China of vast industrial spying without dissenting views from any of the commissioners of bi-partisan make-up. (Note: The July 2007 report on the Commission's website is not the one referenced here or in news articles today.)

China is running an "aggressive and large-scale industrial espionage campaign" against American technology, a US congressional commission says, in a report that will exacerbate growing tensions between the two countries.

The hard-hitting report, by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, accused China of backsliding over free trade reforms and of using spies to enable its companies to get hold of technology without having to pay for the research.

"Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies," it said, adding that scientists and engineers were enlisted to get hold of secrets "by whatever means possible - including theft".

When the full report is attained, we will make the PDF accessible at ThreatsWatch in full.

This should come as no surprise to even casual observers. The level of Chinese espionage that took place (and continues to take place) within our own Department of Energy nuclear research facilities since the 1980's and peaking in the 1990's has been catastrophic in scope and scale. Attained by the Chinese without the expense of research were - among many other things - designs for our W-88 miniaturized multiple-warhead nuclear MIRV weapon, the most deadly on the planet.

The scope of this report goes beyond the nuclear research facilities and investigates the impact on the broader economic and industrial base.

Economic security is as important as any aspect of security, and industrial advances must be protected and industrial espionage confronted at all turns. The health and competitiveness of the economy we leave our children demands it.

November 15, 2007

The Center for Threat Awareness

Last week, the Center for Threat Awareness was officially launched at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas. The decision was both apropos and easy considering the nature of the event and our disposition as Think Tank 2.0™. On Sunday it will have been two years since ThreatsWatch – the Center's public face - first appeared. And thanks to the attention we have received since those early, uncertain days, we had reached a point where a corporate enterprise was not only required, but essential for future growth. From the beginning we had intended to build an organization that would work to make the key issues, events and trends relating to the threats we all face more accessible to a broader audience. The Center will ensure that we can continue to provide a venue for reasoned and knowledgeable discourse on the ideas, principles, events and challenges impacting each of us today, as well as offering us further opportunities for research and outreach beyond the scope of ThreatsWatch.

Here's a little background on the organization, our objectives, and those involved.

The Center for Threat Awareness is organized as a non-profit, educational organization. We have applied for and are awaiting approval from the IRS as a 501(c)3 for tax purposes. All Center activities to date have been entirely self-funded by the current Board of Directors.

The Center has established the following research centers to focus our efforts to broaden public awareness and enhance policy maker understanding of the threats to our nation and her interests:

· National Security Policy and Practice

· Defense and Military Operations

· Foreign Policy

· Terrorism and the Global War

· Intelligence and Counterintelligence

· Liberty and Governance

Our research efforts will produce both original, insightful analysis on pertinent issues and leverage the work of other professional researchers and analysts to make knowledge of significant threats more accessible to the public.

The Center is staffed by an intellectually-diverse set of authors and analysts who contribute regularly to ThreatsWatch in either published written form or as professionally produced multimedia content from our new investigative podcasting team Global Crisis Watch:

Sasha Eckstein
Host, Global Crisis Watch

Jay Fraser
Homeland Security

Joshua Goodman

Nick Grace
Host and Producer, Global Crisis Watch

C. Hart
Arab-Israeli Conflict

Clay Varney

Our Board of Directors, in addition to managing Center operations, are also regular contributors of analysis and commentary to ThreatsWatch:

Marvin Hutchens
Foreign Policy
Liberty & Governance

Steve Schippert
Defense & Military Operations
Terrorism & the Global War

Michael Tanji
Intelligence & Counterintelligence
National Security Policy & Practice

Our Board of Advisors will be helping us find a firm footing as we prepare for the future, and guiding us along the most likely paths to success:

Kevin Aylward
Wizbang, LLC

Andrew Cochran
Counterterrorism Foundation and CounterterrorismBlog.Org

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Counterrorism Foundation

Dr. Mary Habeck
Johns-Hopkins, School of Advanced International Studies

Dr. Michael Ledeen
American Enterprise Institute

Fred Pruitt

To those who have supported us for the last two years, we offer our deepest and heart-felt thanks. To all newcomers to ThreatsWatch and the Center, we offer a sincere welcome. Our two years of labor notwithstanding, this is merely the start of our journey on the road to increased threat awareness and more informed public discourse on challenges to liberty and freedom worldwide. We hope you find value in our efforts and will share with your family, friends and colleagues the work of the Center for Threat Awareness.

We will have specific Center for Threat Awareness details on the site soon, as well as other CTA special reports and updates.

AFRICOM Commander Visits Ethiopia

The International Herald Tribune recently reported on the visit by General William “Kip” Ward to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on November 8. General Ward is the recently appointed commander of United States African Command (AFRICOM). He attended a meeting of African Union officials, an organization headquarted in Addis Ababa, as part of his first tour as AFRICOM chief. The tour also included stops in Senegal, Cameroon, and Gabon.

Another report on the visit offered speculation regarding the location of AFRICOM’s headquarters. According to a spokesman of the infant command, several heads of state have reacted positively to AFRICOM’s inception, including Liberia, which has publicly shown interest in hosting the command. The spokesman also said that AFRICOM may be based in the United States. AFRICOM is expected to have a staff of one thousand and a budget of $250 million.

Faulty Airport Security

Air travelers know that additional time is needed to pass through the post-September 11th security. Especially after the liquid bomb scare of last summer, additional restrictions were imposed by the TSA, including the banning of shampoos and bottles of water and limiting the size of containers of liquids, gels and aerosols to 3 ounces. On my flight to DC yesterday, I had a nearly flattened, all but empty tube of toothpaste confiscated. Still, a GAO report issued today reveals that investigators were able to bring explosive and IED components (liquid explosives, liquid incendiary components and detonators) through security.

The report, obtained exclusively by CBS News, details how GAO investigators conducted covert tests at 19 airports earlier this year to test the vulnerabilities of the passenger screening process. The investigators succeeded in passing through TSA checkpoints undetected with components for making improvised explosive devices (IED) and improvised incendiary devices (IID). "Our tests clearly demonstrate that a terrorist group, using publicly available information and a few resources, could cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers," the report states.

Aside from the minor inconvience of losing my toothpaste, my concern is that we still haven't gotten airport security right. The GAO invesitgation concluded that a terrorist group, using publicly available information and resources, could cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers by bringing IED and explosive components through security checkpoints. But the challenge remains how to avoid significant delays for passengers while balancing security. We may be seeing a return to stricter carry-on luggage policies.

As stated by the CBS News security analyst, Paul Kurtz, "If you start to break up all the components over several different people, and you bring them in in different ways, on your person, in your carry-on luggage, how is a TSA screener supposed to put all those pieces together?"

While most hotels offers guests complimentary TSA-compliant toothpaste, we continue to face serious airport security issues. If GAO investigators can circumvent the safeguards, there is no reason to believe that terrorists cannot do the same.

November 14, 2007

Pre-Thanksgiving Flu Scare

It is completely understood that there is disagreement about the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus and the question of its potential human impact. Not even considering the Bush Adminstration's focus on Pandemic Flu preparedness, large parts of the United States, as well as the rest of the World, are responding to H5N1 and its derivatives as though it is real. I know that the Delmarva Poultry Industry is concerned about the spread of bird flu. Their concern lies not only in the effect an outbreak might have on their businesses, but also because of the possible human jump.

Migrating birds from eastern Europe have been blamed for bringing the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu to Britain after it was discovered at a farm preparing to supply Christmas turkeys to Waitrose. Some 5,000 turkeys, 1,000 ducks and 500 geese are being slaughtered at the free range Redgrave Park Farm in Suffolk after H5N1, which has killed more than 200 people around the world since 2003, was identified.

Earlier today, the chief veterinary officer of the U.K. Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed that the strain of Avian Influenza present at the infected site is the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. Although the British authorities have essentially closed off the area by enforcing a 3 km protection zone, a 10 km surveillance zone,

Even though there can be arguments and disagreements about the human threat, turning a "blind eye" to the possibility of a spreading and mutating H5N1 virus would be wrong. The economic impact within the poultry industry alone warrants attention. The prospect of a human contagion makes it even more critical.

I stand by my previous alerts on this subject, and will probably add to this entry as time permits.

November 5, 2007

Updates Underway

While ThreatsWatch has, on the surface, sat rather dormant over the last few weeks - we've been working to prepare for the launch of the Center for Threat Awareness (CTA) and to make some significant improvements to this site.

Later this week we will launch the Center for Threat Awareness and begin our concerted efforts to build an organization that extends beyond the reach of ThreatsWatch. CTA will be the educational non-profit think tank behind our on-going efforts to enhance national security, expand the reach of liberty, and broaden understanding and dialog on key issues to us all. We are working to add additional research capabilities, reasoned and knowledgeable analysts, and expert advisors. In addition we've added one of the net's best investigative podcasting teams to our roster and look forward to their return to action.

Coinciding with launch of CTA, ThreatsWatch will get a face-lift and begin a process of site improvements aimed at improving our delivery of content and enhancing our readers' experience and interaction. This multi-stage upgrade will begin this week - with the new site implementation and see further upgrades later in the year.

There are many online and off-line sources for those interested in these topics. As such, we are very appreciative of your continued support. While we've volunteered countless hours to the study of the issues of our day - and will continue to do so - we recognize that the real value behind our efforts is not in our improved understanding but in the broadened understanding and interests of our visitors.

Comments are now closed across the site.

Again, thanks for your patience and we very much look forward to your feedback, discussions and visits on and after Thursday, November 8th.

November 4, 2007

A Response to Readers on Eritrea: Who Knew?

First, I would like to thank all of the ThreatsWatch readers who took the time to read and reply to my previous article on Eritrea. It’s gratifying to know that one’s work is reaching an audience, whether in agreement or not.

As the mission of the Center for Threats Awareness is to increase public knowledge of national security threats, coverage of Eritrea’s possible inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism seemed apt. I make a concerted effort to be knowledgeable on current events, but this was a development that had missed my attention for several weeks after the fact.

It is an unfortunate fact that the average American has probably never heard of Eritrea and as such might be inclined to deem the country unimportant, hence my language. It was with this background that I sought to approach the topic and to make the point through my article [Eritrea: Who Knew?] that the country is in fact important.

Indeed, Eritrea has been a target of al Qaeda in the past and Secretary Rumsfeld visited Eritrea in 2002 sounding a call for improved relations between the two countries. However, circumstances change with time, as does a country’s national interest. Mr. Rumsfeld also visited Iraq in 1983 where he met with Saddam Hussein. That visit did not preclude Rumsfeld from advocating the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Further, Rumsfeld is no longer in government. Considering that he was secretary of defense, even if he was still in government, Rumsfeld would have no role in the decision regarding Eritrea’s status as the state sponsors of terrorism list is a State Department prerogative.

Finally, the government of Eritrea, headed by the despotic Isaias Afwerki, has made the conscious choice to harbor figures of the Islamic Courts Union like Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and also to supply weaponry to insurgent forces that have killed and wounded civilians.

November 3, 2007

Pakistan: State of Emergency Declared by Musharraf

Pakistani President and Army Chief of Staff Pervez Musharraf has declared a State of Emergency in Pakistan. The constitution has been suspended, the Supreme Court Chief Justice removed, private television and radio stations taken off the air, and land-line and cell phone communication has reportedly been interrupted.

BBC's Islamabad correspondent reported that "fears have been growing in the government that the Supreme Court ruling could go against Gen Musharraf." Police are said to have surrounded the Supreme Court and relieved Chief Justice Chaudhry of his duties once again, though Chaudhry had recused himself from among the judges to rule on the legality of Musharraf's latest election.

Pakistan's DAWN newspaper also reported that Benazir Bhutto will not be returning to Pakistan from Dubai due to the state of emergency.

These developments put the United States in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, the United States is the symbol of democracy and is by nature inclined to criticize what could be the suspension of elections under martial law.

Yet, on the other hand, for as much as Musharraf has been criticized (including in this space) for his reluctance to directly and decisively engage the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists within Pakistani territory, there are no stronger options among those that seek to replace him - only weaker or even Taliban-sympathetic.

There are difficult days ahead in Pakistan for all.

November 2, 2007

When Virtual Reality Becomes Too Real

The time may be fast approaching when the creativity and imagination of computer programmers and the digital media industry, along with the entrepreneurial urge to become the “next” Google, crosses what may now only be an imaginary line of prudent security.

In the real (physical) world, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that al Qaeda and its clones might have been closely watching the response and reaction of the New York City emergency responders, police and fire departments when Adam Gadhan (or Azzam the American as he is also known) triggered the scurry of activity and ramping up of security with the threat of a dirty bomb this past summer. That was a very real threat and it was responded to in kind. However, it is also hard to question that it could easily have been used as a simulation by terrorists to observe our responses.

Only a few years ago it was said that the sometimes obsessive use of video games by the kids might actually be the early joystick training for the future pilots and electronic warriors of today (and the future). Then, it was all about dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

It is in that parallel and virtual world though, that the question needs to be raised and discussed about how the digital revolution (and we are still truly in the infancy of this new media or tool) is changing not only the ways in which we communicate with each other via the Internet, but also in the ways it can be utilized for nefarious purposes. We already know that al Qaeda and their clones have used the Internet both for propaganda as well as training.

A few months ago, my colleague Michael Tanji raised some eyebrows when he brought to the surface the potential that the parallel world of Second Life might be used to elevate terrorism training. This was also covered in one of our Daily Briefing Item: Second Life Facilitating Terror?

Legal experts claim that the lax operating and security environment in the virtual world of Second Life could serve as a haven for activity that could support terrorists.

Certainly there were arguments that Second Life wasn’t intended or wasn’t being used for those purposes. In fact, one commenter suggested that the original post was “alarmist tripe.” In response, Michael wrote:

That you cannot operate with a specific level of granularity in SL is not the point: SL is more “real” than the more widely accessible online sources of training and indoctrination, and that can make a significant difference. True, SL is not an FPS environment, but it is much more realistic in the sense that you are dealing with “people.” You are not prepared to be a cop because you read true crime novels and you are not prepared to be a terrorist if you merely read Jihadist web sites; you have to interact with experts and you have to practice. Practicing in the real world tends to get you caught and FPSs are just games.

In turn, I made the observation that “I’ve only heard of Second Life, and never actually seen it. But the point is that virtualization of any aspect of life can be dangerous. Offering a virtual reality setting to program scenarios bears scrutiny.”

To that, Michael added that Second Life was already being used as a teaching and learning vehicle.

There have also been a number of recent discussions about Google Earth and its possible use of it as a tool for terrorist purposes. So what does all of this lead up to? Well, a couple of months ago I read an article in the MIT Technology Review about a company named Everyscape that was working to create a virtual version of the real world. Although the site will launch this fall under the shadow of mapping giant Google Earth, Everyscape's cofounders say that users will find the company's look and feel quite different. "We're working on a human experience," CEO Jim Schoonmaker says. "Google has built a superhuman experience."

The intention of the website is to provide a virtual immersion for the user into the space being explored. Currently, this is limited to one of Everyscape’s photorealistic virtual environments corresponding to parts of San Francisco, Boston, and New York City, Miami and Aspen Colorado. You can see an animation of MIT’s Infinite Corridor, built using the technology behind Everyscape here.

I know that it is not intended to be a tool for terrorism, and the owners of Everyscape would probably object to the characterization, but one’s imagination does not have to roam very far to translate a virtual tour of an environment to gain a familiarity with the surroundings, either as a tourist or a possible terrorist, without ever leaving one's satellite connected laptop computer in a cave in Afghanistan. Or is it Pakistan? Or some other city, whether in Europe, Asia or North America. You can see another example of an Everyscape virtual city demonstration by clicking on this link or on one of the other links provided. It should not be too hard to imagine, especially as Everyscape and probably others like it improve and expand, that these virtual immersions "could" be an example of virtual reality blending with the physical world.

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