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January 31, 2008

Afghanistan Study Group Report Released

The Center for the Study of the Presidency has released their Afghanistan Study Group Report (PDF), warning that gains made in Afghanistan beyond Kabul against al-Qaeda and the Taliban risk being lost without an influx of forces and a unified international approach.

We believe that success in Afghanistan remains a critical national security imperative for the United States and the international community. Achieving that success will require a sustained, multi-year commitment from the U.S. and a willingness to make the war in Afghanistan – and the rebuilding of that country – a higher U.S. foreign policy priority. Although the obstacles there remain substantial, the strategic consequences of failure in Afghanistan would be severe for long-term U.S. interests in the region and for security at home. Allowing the Taliban to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan, as well as failure to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state, would not only undermine the development of the country, it would constitute a major victory for al-Qaeda and its global efforts to spread violence and extremism.

The “light footprint” in Afghanistan needs to be replaced with the “right footprint” by the U.S. and its allies. It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan. Without the right level of commitment on the part of the U.S., its allies, and Afghanistan’s neighbors, the principles agreed upon by both the Afghan government and the international community at the 2006 London Conference and the goals stated in the Afghanistan Compact will not be achievable. Additionally, recent events in Pakistan further emphasize that there can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if its neighbors, especially Pakistan, are not part of the solution.

Unfortunately, a stable Afghanistan has not been in Pakistan's interests. Not before the events of September 11, 2001, and not after. This does not make the report incorrect, but illustrates, as the authors themselves understand, that enlisting Pakistan in Afghan support is a tall order.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as quoted in a TIME magazine article on the report, looks at Afghanistan with less alarm, accompanied by frustration toward European NATO allies' flagging commitment and will in the Afghanistan mission.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was not familiar with the study's findings, but he struck a more optimistic tone on Afghanistan's future.

"I would say that the security situation is good," Gates told The Associated Press. "We want to make sure it gets better, and I think there's still a need to coordinate civil reconstruction, the economic development side of it."

Gates said more troops are needed in Afghanistan, but "certainly not ours." When asked how many more NATO troops might be needed, he said that number should be determined by ground commanders.

ThreatsWatch has not yet completed digesting the Afghanistan Study Group report. We will release a distilled analysis once that process is complete.

Al-Qaeda Claims Algeria Suicide Bombing

Al-Qaeda's North African wing, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing against a police station in Thenia, Algeria on January 29. Four people were killed by the blast and twenty wounded. The perpetrator drove an explosives laden van toward the station whereupon policemen opened fire on the vehicle, which detonated before reaching the police station outright. Severe damage was caused to surrounding buildings. AQIM's claim was posted on a jihadist website the next day:

"A lion's cub of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, valiant martyr Hamza Abu Abderrahman, drove a vehicle laden with at least 650 kilograms (1,430 pounds) of explosives against the ramparts of the apostates: the judicial police station in Thenia," said a statement on a website routinely used by Al-Qaeda.

The attack comes amidst a heightened threat environment in Algeria with embassies urging their nationals to avoid public venues and travel to the country's interior where AQIM is active. Olivier Guitta, a counterterrorism consultant, has reported on internal dissension in AQIM's organizational structure over the decision to switch from independent operations as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) to the umbrella of Al-Qaeda and the methodology of attacking civilian targets in suicide strikes. If so, this attack, though relatively on the lower end, is evidence that AQIM still retains operational capability.

January 30, 2008

Digital Security and Disgruntled Employees

Protecting business records and information is among the priority security issues that have to be paramount in executives' minds. It is certainly one of the points emphasized by local law enforcement when they speak to small and large businesses alike. Many businesses worry about natural disasters and act of terrorism. Is your business prepared to deal with a disaster or catastrophic event like a fire or flood? Maintaining redundant backups is an essential component of good business practices and security in today's digital world.

However, the question here is whether those same businesses are conscious of the potential damage to be done by spiteful, angry, and vengeful employees. When a woman working for a Mandarin, Florida architectural firm noticed a classified ad with a job description similar to hers with her boss's phone number, she mistakenly concluded that she was about to be fired. Her response was to sabotage the firm's computer files.

"She decided to go and mess up everything for everybody," said Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman Ken Jefferson. Jefferson says Cooley accessed the company's server with her own account, and with a handful of mouse clicks and keystrokes she deleted seven years' worth of architectural drawings. Seven years of work were gone in but a few seconds. The company put the value of the deleted files at $2.5 million."

Even though the owner of the company was able to hire data recovery consultants and retrieved all of the drawings, this incident raises the serious question of computer and data security, regardless of the size of your business. Is your company's data backed-up? Is it off-site? Is it automatic or manual? I maintain triple back-ups of my critical data (CD-RW, external hard drive and separate desktop computer). It only takes one incident to make you super careful.

Bhutto's Party Flounders, Bickers in Pakistan

At The Daily Standard, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Threatswatch's Nick Grace have co-written an article looking at the state of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In Shattered Hopes, they write:

BUT THESE ARE NOT THE BEST of circumstances, and [Bhutto's widower] Asif Ali [Zardari] may find it difficult to hold the PPP together. Islamabad-based political commentator Ahmed Quraishi told us that the Bhutto family is privately suspicious of the will that Asif Ali relied on to take over the party's reins. "Nobody knew about it, not even the Bhutto family, nor any of Benazir Bhutto's political aides nor close associates within the party," he said.

"Zardari's rise to leadership marks the beginning of dissension within the PPP," B. Raman, former head of counterterrorism for India's external intelligence agency, told us. "It was a very unwise decision of the PPP to endorse Zardari, and very unwise of Benazir to have endorsed her husband."

There are already signs that Raman may be correct. Some members of the Bhutto family (who have controlled the PPP since its inception forty years ago) have signaled their rejection of the legitimacy of both Bilawal and Asif Ali. Though Bilawal recently adopted "Bhutto" as his middle name, some family members do not consider him a part of the dynastic line. "Bilawal is actually a member of the Zardari family," Saifullah Mehsud, a research analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, told us. "They repositioned him as a Bhutto, but lineage is traced from the father and not the mother. He is a Zardari son."

Grace and Gartenstein-Ross conclude that the significant troubles of the PPP post-Bhutto, while not fatal, do not bode well for US interests.

Even if the PPP does not collapse under the weight of internal bickering, the odds are overwhelmingly against anyone in the party leadership accomplishing the goals that Benazir Bhutto had upon her return to Pakistan. Since the PPP is Pakistan's only secular opposition party with true national reach, its weakening is significant for U.S. strategic interests.

The entire article can be read by clicking the Weekly Standard link in this post's 'Notes' section in the right column.

January 29, 2008

DHS - The Presidential Transition Plan

With the 2008 Presidential election upon us, the Nation also faces the first ever transition of the Department of Homeland Security from one Administration to another. Staying totally apolitical, that this is the first election in over 50 years where there is no incumbent Vice President running for the higher office presents an even greater challenge. A few weeks ago, I noted that Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security had sent a memo to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. The memo contained a “to-do” list that included developing a plan to deal with the "mass exodus" that would occur with the change in Administration.

A new task force, a subgroup of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee, just published what they describe as "politically neutral" recommendations to deal with the transition, a period of heightened vulnerability that they define as one month prior and six months following the change in Adminstration. Seeking to achieve a seemless transfer to a new President, the recommendations include:

• Any "credible threat reports" should be disseminated to all presidential and vice presidential nominees in a "timely and reliable" fashion;

• Nominees should be encouraged to issue "one joint statement" in the event of a heightened threat level;

DHS, the presidential nominees, their staffs and the Senate should develop an "expedited process" to handle appointments and nominees to top departmental posts "that goes far beyond the top three or four senior positions";

• Current appointees in the Bush Administration should be "incentivized" with financial bonuses to remain in their posts and overlap the new administration;

• A bipartisan group of senators should set a goal of confirming all incoming DHS nominees for national security posts "by the start of the August 2009 recess."

The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to "Prevent, Prepare, Respond, and Recover." Considering the difficulties experienced by DHS during its first six years coordinating the activities and integrating the staffs of 22 legacy agencies, the need to plan for and deal with the potential loss of a significant number of senior level key people is obvious and essential. According to the report, there are 177 "Senior Executive" positions at DHS Headquarters, including 12 presidential appointments who require Senate approval, 33 political appointments and 107 career employees (25 positions are currently vacant, 3 of which would be political appointees). Aside from the transition to a new Administration, one of the more significant challenges facing the next DHS Secretary is to figure out how to streamline and integrate the activities of the disparate agencies.

MasterCard Foreign Policy

That's what our Iran policy seems the byproduct of, as I expressed in Fare Thee Well, Optimism over at National Review.

And unless one can induce the return of the Mahdi without catastrophic calamity, hoping that Iran's messianic regime will stumble on another route to fulfillment is a direct path to the catastrophe they intend to create in order to pave the way for the return of the 12th Imam. With "peaceful nuclear power," no less.

On that day, persistently left to others to confront by each U.S. administration since the 1979 Khomeinist revolution, investing in the tangible support of the Iranian people will have seemed like a bargain basement [deal] we were unthinkably unwilling to take. Today, it is too high a price.

It's a MasterCard foreign policy no less indicative of our American quest for comfort today than our individual and collective debts. One day, the convenient minimum payment will exceed our income and savings, and regret and conscience will be the least of our concerns.

Hizballah Demands Investigation.... Oh Really?

So.... Hizballah demands an investigation into recent killings in Lebanon? Oh, really? Well...

One thing is for certain: The investigation will not be conducted by Capt. Wissam Eid, inspector for the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. You see, he had been investigating car-bombing assassinations until he was assassinated himself. No word on whether Hizballah has lodged a formal investigation request for that killing.

It's a 'pot, kettle, black' kind of thing. Except, in this instance, the kettle isn't really black, is it?

Short answer: No.

In-depth answer: No.

The Mexican Border Threat

Yesterday's Daily Briefings highlighted an article discussing the use of vehicles displaying the "logos" of FedEx, Wal-Mart, DirecTV and the U.S. Border Patrol by the drug cartels to smuggle drugs, human cargo and weapons across the border into the U.S. This was based on a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Termed "cloned" vehicles, the report also warns that terrorists could use the same fake trucks to gain access to secure areas with hidden weapons. The report says criminals have been able to easily obtain the necessary vinyl logo markings and signs for $6,000 or less. Authorities say "cosmetically cloned commercial vehicles are not illegal."

This is not the first report of this type. In August 2006, over 3000 pounds of marijuana and more than 200 kilos of cocaine were seized from a cloned Wal-Mart semi driven by a criminal wearing a Wal-Mart uniform.

Last week when I posted Violence Spikes on the "Other Side" of the Border, one or two commenters objected to the premise that the violence on the Mexican side of the border was a threat to our National security. In fact, it was even posed that in some way, we were the cause for border crossovers. I don't think so.

Well, according to Stratfor, there's an undeclared war on the Mexican/US border between Mexican Federal forces and the drug cartels, with spillover into the United States. It impacts the cross border supply chain of NAFTA, has potential impacts on our energy markets (Mexico remains one of our primary suppliers of petroleum products), and raises the question of the safety of travel and tourism across the border. In this short video, Fred Burton of Stratfor describes what he calls the battle for turf between the Gulf and Sinaloa drug cartels.

Whether or not the violence is sporadic and whether or not the Mexican government is either attempting to break the cartels and quell the violence, or, as one other commenter implied, is in league with the cartels, is less the issue, then the actual threat to American security posed by the continuing narco-violence on the "other side of the border." To ignore the problem will not make it disappear, and to suggest that it doesn't exist, is even worse.

January 28, 2008

As-Sahab: Winds of Paradise Part 2

As-Sahab, al-Qaeda's central media wing, released its 4th video for 2008 and the second installment of "The Winds of Paradise" on January 27 on the main al-Qaeda message forums. The 46-minute video, a documentary-style strategic PSYOP product aimed at boosting morale among the rank and file, promoting martyrdom, and encouraging participation in the Afghan theater, is an extremely well-produced product that features a group of al-Qaeda fighters from Turkey, Kuwait, Syria and Afghanistan who died while fighting alongside Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

The video begins with a 4-minute title and introductory reel that originally appeared in the first installment of "The Winds of Paradise," which was released on July 14, 2007, and re-released with English-language narration on September 5. It starts with a campfire 3D computer animation and speech by former al-Qaeda in Iraq head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and then a recitation from the Qur'an. A 50-second and undated clip of Usama bin Laden espousing the virtues of martyrdom follows. Bin Laden, it is interesting to note, is flanked by a member of his elite security detail, the Black Guards. The video also includes speeches by al-Qaeda Afghanistan chief Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who is chroma-keyed onto a green After Effects backdrop, and al-Qaeda "defense minister" Abu Yahya al-Libi.

Each fighter featured in the video is introduced by a narrator and identified by his nom de guerre. They are shown engaged in weapons training, marching in formation, and morale-boosting activities like singing Islamic nasheeds and camping overnight in a cave. At one point they also meet former Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who arrives at the training camp in two pick-up trucks. Each fighter delivers a video testimonial, including the Turkish fighters who are subtitled in Arabic. They are then shown participating in ambush operations.

As-Sahab's banner for The Winds of Paradise.

As-Sahab camerawork has increasingly improved in sophistication and technique. Although the footage included in this latest video seems to have been shot before Dadullah's death in May 2007 it shows a level of creativity that as-Sahab field work has previously lacked. Whereas in the past training and operations footage has consisted of "point and shoot" with little thought about the final product, the training footage in "The Winds of Paradise Part 2" experiments with different camera angles and techniques. One shot, for example, shows the fighters reflected off the shimmering water of a creek as they march by. Additionally, the overall pacing of the video is also tight, which suggests improved storyboarding capabilities.

The video was posted in 3 video formats and 4 different file sizes and seeded across a total of 426 free file transfer sites on January 26, including archive.org, uploaded.to, badongo.com, yourmirror.biz, hostupload.net, rapidfile.net, megaupload.com, filepep.com, theonlinedatastorage.com, picshome.com, ezyfile.net, fastuploading.com, simpleupload.net, archiv.to, egosh.dr.ag, netload.in, egoshare.com, bluehost.to, depositfiles.com, filefactory.com, badongo.com, share-online.biz, cocoshare.cc, savefile.info, 4filehosting.com, zshare.net, upitus.com, ntshare.com, heyupload.com, and maxishare.net. Some of the seeds are stamped with "mirrorit.de," a Web site that facilitates three uploads at once.

File Name
Format
Size (MB)
Seeds
Sh1.rar
DIVX
1.24G
18
Sh2.rar
RM
201.0
139
Sh3.rar
RM
32.7
148
Sh4.rar
3GP
16.8
121

The files were last modified on January 22 between 4 and 5 am (local computer timestamp). Following standard operational security, the files are zipped in the RAR format and protected with the randomly-generated password "h7dkk4%0$45FJ*(DJ&Xhy43VFchys#@^&G(HFfah." The unlinked promotional banner for the video first appeared on the Web forums on January 23 - four days before the final official release.

As-Sahab's banner for The Winds of Paradise.





[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.]

January 26, 2008

Tangled Web of Simplicity: Nukes, Iran, Spies, and the IAEA

As tangled as the web may be, often spun so for public consumption and confusion, at the end of the day dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program comes down to trust. Do you trust Iran with a nuclear program? The rest is confusing clutter, and we engage ourselves in heady, time-consuming intellectual debate over the incredibly simple.

The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth had a conversation with Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister. He addressed Iran, Hamas and the potential of a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists "within 10 to 15 years." Regarding Israel's understanding of the Iranian nuclear program - in stark contrast to the minority opinion proffered by the December Iran NIE - Barak shared the following.

"We think that they are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project. We suspect they are probably already working on warheads for ground-to-ground missiles..."

Before dismissing, one must ask why the IRGC had a significant contingent inside North Korea to observe their nuclear weapons test, which was most likely a plutonium device. Plutonium production is what heavy water nuclear reactors are built to produce, and Iran is continuing construction of one at Arak.

Iran's nuclear program need not be exclusively in Iran. Syria and North Korea are both fertile grounds for an extended program and - in the particular but not exclusive case of Syria - beyond the horizon of the IAEA.

And, just to tangle the web spun, consider recent accusations by a Russian defector and former Deputy Resident of Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service (successor organization to the KGB) New York City operations. Having run Russia's post-Cold War espionage program in the United States, defector Sergei Tretyakov charges that the UN's top IAEA verification official is a Russian spy.

The top U.N. official responsible for monitoring the clandestine nuclear programs of Iran and Pakistan is a Russian spy, according to a new book on Moscow’s espionage operations in the United States and Canada. The official is identified only by his Russian code name, ARTHUR, but other sources identified him as Tariq Rauf, 54, a Pakistani-born Canadian who is chief of verification and security-policy coordination at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Too sensational to believe? Read on.

Tretyakov’s description of ARTHUR all but names Rauf as his spy.

“When Sergei had recruited ARTHUR [in 1990],” Earley writes, “he worked at the Canadian Centre for Arms Control,” a think tank for experts on nuclear weapons.

Later, ARTHUR was “a project director at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, part of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a California think tank,” he relates.

A few years later, when Tretyakov became deputy chief of Russian intelligence in New York, he renewed his relationship with ARTHUR, who had become “a U.N. senior verification expert,” who specialized in the clandestine weapons programs of “rogue states” such as Iran, Libya and his native Pakistan.

“I know that he is still employed at the agency and I have no reason to believe he has stopped working for Russian intelligence,” the one-time master spy says in the book.

“He hated America.”

Rauf’s résumé is identical to Tretyakov’s description of ARTHUR’S career. They are one and the same, according to multiple sources.

A former Russian diplomat and arms control specialist who knew Tretyakov well in New York, reviewed the description of ARTHUR and said it appeared to describe Rauf.

“The fingered Canadian guy, well, you know only too well who could theoretically fit this reference,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Another former Monterey arms expert, when asked whether Rauf might be the spy code-named ARTHUR, said, “Yes, the name you provided is correct.”

As part of The China-Russia-Iran Axis, Russia is a critical part of the Iranian Protectorate, with veto power inside the UN Security Council and perhaps its own loyal operative within the heart of the IAEA itself.

There are many reasons the IAEA's many voluminous Iran reports provide little confidence one way or the other regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program. This only potentially adds to the mix of the incredulous.

We should be wary of trusting Russia regarding Iran, to say the least, regardless of the specific veracity of the above claims. Likewise, we should be wary of the straightforwardness of IAEA reports when the Director General states in an interview that his primary charge is not to inspect, identify and verify nuclear programs, but rather to avert a war with Iran at all costs.

So at the end of the day the individual is left with a decision to make regarding Iran: Do you trust Iran with nuclear technology?

Coming up with the answer to that fundamental question is not terribly difficult, is it? If so, perhaps you have been in Washington, DC for far too long.

For my money, there's no need to qualify a stance against an Iranian nuclear program with hard evidence of X or Y or proof of collusion, gerrymandering or accuracy within or without the IAEA. It's a simple matter of trust and consequences.

Iran defiantly gives no reason to trust and the consequences are too great, making the risk unacceptable. Yet, we appear on a path that will leave difficult consequences to be dealt with by others at a later time. And that is wholly irresponsible.

But then again, perhaps I simply have not been in Washington, DC long enough. Surely one day I will come to my senses and enjoy the new Great Game.

January 25, 2008

Border Breach: Hamas Deployment Ignored, Shoppers Reported

When miles of the border fence separating Gaza from Egypt was simultaneously brought down this week the first thing to enter my mind was the ease of movement it afforded Hamas and the enhanced ability it provided for the Palestinian terrorist group to infiltrate Egypt and, perhaps from another border, Israel.

Yet, most news articles chose to report a narrative that the Gaza siege had been broken, and thousands of hungry and thirsty Gazans crossed into Egypt on shopping sprees and supply runs. While there is of course truth to that account, it was not the reason Hamas leveled the iron fence. If it wanted relief for the Gazan citizens, it would halt the rocket attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon and other Israeli towns and cities. Bringing down the fence allowed Hamas to further the propaganda meme of victims of Israeli aggression and of humanitarian tragedy wrought by Israel.

Keep in mind two very important pieces of information (1 & 2) for proper context (3) here:

1. The steel posts of the Gaza-Egypt fence were severed - under cover and in secret by Hamas - over the course of weeks before the whole of the tract was brought down in a coordinated set of post-midnight blasts.

2. As the support post cutting was nearly complete, days before the fence was brought down Hamas stopped supplying fuel to its only power generation plant in order to create an international media storm of Palestinian plight at the hands of an Israeli aggressor fomenting humanitarian crisis.

3. The proper stage of perception and 'crisis' was then set to be effectively used to condition media coverage to characterize the streams of Gazans as fleeing siege and violence, and of course shopping, rather than coordinated Hamas operations for a.) Information Warfare; and b.) Infiltration into Egypt.

The final paragraphs of this Ha'aretz article finally cuts to the chase.

Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have used the newly open border with Egypt to send numerous terrorists into the Sinai peninsula over the last two days, with the goal of then sending them from Sinai into Israel to commit attacks, defense officials said Thursday.

The Israel Defense Forces, the police and the Shin Bet security service have consequently beefed up their forces and their alert level along the Israeli-Egyptian border in an effort to thwart infiltrations. Should terrorists succeed in entering Israel from Sinai, one defense official said, they might commit suicide bombings, kidnap soldiers or civilians, or attack small agricultural communities or military outposts.

In addition, the counterterrorism unit in the Prime Minister's Office warned Israelis against visiting Sinai and urged those who are already there to leave, since the flow of terrorists from Gaza also increases the likelihood of terror attacks in Sinai's tourist resorts. Egypt is also worried about the possibility of terror attacks in Sinai.

One member of the counterterrorism unit noted that the open border not only enables terrorists to enter Sinai, but would also make it easier for them to smuggle an abducted Israeli back into Gaza.

Remember that the popular vacation spot for Israelis, Sharm el-Sheikh, is nearby inside Egypt, a 'target rich environment' for Hamas terrorists who may gain access.

When there is a successful or failed bombing and/or kidnapping of Israelis at Sharm el-Sheikh in the coming weeks, remember all of the stories that you read about the Great Gaza Blackout and the sudden Palestinian shopping spree in Egypt - both blamed on Israel, and each story missing the terrorist operational component of the propaganda campaign.

The headlines have been simply unbelievable. Witness:

For Gazans, it was a day of joy, shopping - Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Shopping and shooting on Gaza's border - BBC
Palestinians Hurry to Finish Their Shopping in Egypt - New York Times
Palestinians Profit From Breach - AP

Of course, there is still room for concern as every silver lining has a black cloud. To wit, increased unemployment due to the breaching of the fence.

Open border is a nightmare for hundreds of Palestinian smugglers - Globe & Mail

You should be more informed than that. Hopefully, now you are. Keep your eyes on the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

And remember that you heard it here.

January 24, 2008

Scientific Dilemma – Security versus Publication

A few weeks ago I offered a rather lengthy backgrounder on the subject of balancing the academic and researcher urge to publish and seek peer review of work, and the potential national security implications of publishing those results. In many ways, this is also related to the problem of the sale or theft of intellectual property as a number of entries here at ThreatsWatch have recently discussed.

Today we find ourselves on a precipice of discovery. On the one hand, our Nation’s scientists and researchers attack the many challenges of a World that is moving at Internet speed. But it is that speed that also creates the scientific dilemma. September 11th changed more than just our lives. It changed more than just the question of security, because it also changed the importance of judging how and when sensitive (but not secret) information should be shared.

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 the reports contained in the previous entry on this topic, Science, Technology and the “Age of Terrorism” are open to almost anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. This fact could well be 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, and raises the parallel question of freedom of speech (or at least issues of extreme censorship). I first became intimately aware of this problem as I was preparing for a presentation on Bioterrorism and Homeland Security that I delivered in May 2004 on Long Island. What struck me then was the discussion of the work of Dr. Mark Buller and his associates. They had created a highly lethal virus in an effort to develop stronger protections against supervirulent forms of smallpox that terrorists might turn on humans

Back then the question was whether the benefits of doing the research, especially when it came to new and particularly virulent 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 type of research has been debated for years, with critics arguing again yesterday that superviruses created in laboratories could inspire terrorists to create their own deadly diseases. The mousepox scientists countered that the research could help deter terrorism by demonstrating the emergence of more potent medical defenses.

The mousepox research was done at St. Louis University as a project financed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases meant to find new protections against smallpox, which kills one in three victims.

The leaders of the research said that the lethal mouse virus would have no effect on humans even if it somehow escaped from the laboratory, which they said was safeguarded at biosafety level three, the second-highest degree of security.

"To my knowledge, there's no scientific evidence to suggest that this kind of research poses any sort of human health risk," said Mark Buller, a professor of molecular microbiology at St. Louis University who directed the mousepox research. Many experiments have shown that mousepox does not cause disease in humans, he said.

We are seeing clearly that the limits of science are boundless. We know that these advances must continue to enable us to be prepared to counter the “whatevers” that can (might) occur. What are the limits of science? Where is the line between seeking peer accolades and recognition and crossing a line of discretion, over which we allow access to critical information and scientific advancements that could harm us if used against us?

An earlier publication from the Central Intelligence Agency, The Darker Bioweapons Future draws the picture of what “could be”:

According to experts, the biotechnology underlying the development of advanced biological agents is likely to advance very rapidly, causing a diverse and elusive threat spectrum. The resulting diversity of new BW agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that it would be virtually impossible to anticipate and defend against, they say. As a result, there could be a considerable lag time in developing effective biodefense measures. However, effective countermeasures, once developed, could be leveraged against a range of BW agents, asserted attendees, citing current research aimed at developing protocols for augmenting common elements of the body’s response to disease, rather than treating individual diseases. Such treatments could strengthen our defense against attacks by ABW agents.

An article in the November 28, 2007 Journal of American Medical Association commented about the increased concerns about the threats of bioterror attacks outbreaks of an infectious disease. It is a simple and undeniable fact. Our enemy in this Global War on Terrorism is educated and determined, and they have already made it clear that they will use all means of weapon against us. Therefore, things like scientific literature, technology transfer efforts, academic conferences and patents become the source for potential use. The potential lethality of some of the scientific and biotechnological developments, if they fell into the wrong hands, is beyond comprehension. However, the counter argument is that in parallel with the development of these agents, also comes the development of vaccines to deal with them.

It cannot be the most popular position with the scientific community, but I believe that discretion is warranted when it comes to publishing scientific results. If it isn’t already policy, I believe that National Security must be superior to scientific accolades, and therefore, a filtering process needs to be established. Is that censorship? Perhaps it is censorship. But the net effect of that censorship (if that is what it is), is a probably increase in security along with a decrease in academic/research accolades.

January 22, 2008

Iran, Russia and China: The New Troika

Over the weekend, FrontPage Magazine asked for an interview regarding the cooperative and protective relationship that both Russia and China have undertaken with regard to Iran. Both Russia and China are pursuing their own goals and needs, which include energy supply, economics and the shared desire among all to damage and weaken the United States. Iran remains, in the context of the triumvirate, a hot hand in a re-surging cold war.

FP: We've gathered here today to discuss the Iran-Russia-China alignment. I think a good place to start is with Russia sending nuclear fuel to Iran. What do you make of this development?

Schippert: The 11-shipment Russian supply underway of 80 tons of enriched uranium nuclear fuel for the Russian-built 1,000 megawatt light water reactor is a sweeping Iranian victory and troubling in several respects. From a strategic view flying by at 20,000 feet, it is indicative of Iran and Russia's deepening common alignment against the United States. It's an alignment – an allied partnership beyond nuclear cooperation - that also includes China.

Iran has notched yet another major victory over the West, which remains quick and eager to talk while slow and reluctant to act. Iran smartly feeds the Western obsession with talks and negotiations, while acting without pause or regret. The West, in this regard, is persistently, willingly and knowingly being played.

The first question that should come to mind should be, why then does Iran need to continue enrichment if Russia supplies the fuel for its only production reactor? And, what use does Iran have for the enriched uranium it will soon begin producing in significant quantities itself? With the Russian-built Bushehr reactor on the Arabian Gulf operating on Russian fuel and no other light water plants in operation – let alone being built – the answer is either benevolent stockpiling for future plants or the development of nuclear weapons. Of course, there's the Arak heavy water plant nearing completion, which will be used to create plutonium.

Recall that Iran steadfastly refused a deal tabled in which they would have received Russian enriched uranium fuel in exchange for scrapping their enrichment program. What ended up agreed to in 2005 was a Russian supply with no enrichment cessation requirement at all. Until now, Russia hesitated to deliver the fuel. This Iranian victory, which few discuss from this perspective, has afforded the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism both the preservation and advancement of its nuclear enrichment program and the Russian nuclear fuel for the low, low cost of...nothing. Iran ceded nothing and has now received both.

If that were not disconcerting enough, consider the timing of the sudden arrival of the first Russian enriched uranium fuel shipment.

The timing of the delivery and the massive oil and gas deal signed between China and Iran are not mere coincidences. Each unforeseen event came days after the latest NIE on Iran provided the necessary political and diplomatic cover to freely proceed with each.

The entire interview published today can be read at FrontPage Magazine, and includes a fundamental policy recommendation for dealing with the 'new axis.'

Iraq and the ABM Treaty: 'Tough Calls, Good Calls'

It may be dismissed quickly by some as open cheerleading for President Bush. But consider the critical issue of discarding the out-moded ABM treaty with Russia discussed in a commentary in today's The Wall Street Journal and it's hard to judge the decisions made on these issues any way other than favorably. It opens discussing Iraq.

One of the most difficult and consequential decisions of the Bush presidency took place in January of last year: the decision to fundamentally change our strategy by "surging" more U.S. forces to Iraq.

This decision was taken against the backdrop of escalating violence in Iraq, calls for immediate or "phased" withdrawal, prognostications of imminent defeat, and an abundance of political blame directed at the White House. The president's move was met with skepticism and outright vilification, except for a few principled politicians like John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Today, people are getting in line to claim credit for the "surge."

Mr. Bush's decision was guided by a clear strategic principle. The president wanted the U.S. to win, and refashioning our strategy was the best opportunity to succeed in this goal, as well as to leave Iraq policy on a sounder basis for his successor. Whoever wins the presidency in 2008 will be pleased that he did. What a difference a year makes.

And they begin with the Iraq decision one year ago in order draw the parallels common to what are commonly termed "tough decisions." "Tough decisions" are, by definition, the same decisions in which much criticism arises and views commonly split - such as those regarding Iraq last year and the ABM Treaty early in his presidency. For if there were consensus, such decisions would not be characterized as 'tough.'

While there is arguably much to criticize, this is the nature of divided opinion, not a failed presidency. It's important to distinguish the two and, in an election season, ask yourself exactly what it means to you when you hear 'ability to make tough decisions' when a candidate is discussed.

We at ThreatsWatch overwhelmingly prefer clarity over consensus and understanding over agreement. And when core principles guide thinking during trying times and issues, the 'tough decisions' are instinctively less difficult to make and reflect the consistency afforded by followed principles.

While the ABM Treaty decision widely criticized is discussed at length in the Wall Street Journal commentary, of greater interest here today is the decision-making process that delivered it.

January 21, 2008

The Need for Secure Identification

NOTE: As shown by the comments, this subject is controversial. The opponents are many (actually there are eighteen states). Among the objections is the high cost pass through to the states of the mandated changes in drivers’ licenses as defined in the Real ID Act of 2005. Also, civil liberties supporters claim that privacy is violated by various requirements for biometric information being embedded in the new IDs, as well fearing that a Real ID is a precursor of a National ID card. Yet, despite all of the objections, a key question remains. How do we ensure that a person presenting an ID is not only the person for whom the ID was initially issued, but also whether the ID document itself is authentic.

The “final rule” released by the Department of Homeland Security on January 11th reduced the pass through costs by 73%. The DHS announcement also included:

"The American public's desire for greater identity protection is undeniable," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 drivers licenses and ID's, and used 364 aliases. For an extra $8 per license, REAL ID will give law enforcement and security officials a powerful advantage against falsified documents, and it will bring some peace of mind to citizens wanting to protect their identity from theft by a criminal or illegal alien."

While opponents argue that the Real ID Act was passed as an amendment to a Defense Department Appropriations bill, Congress passed the Act in an attempt to address some of the findings of the September 11 Commission. When you look at the events of September 11th that raised everyone’s attention to issues of security, it is hard to lend too much credence to the opponents’ issues when balanced against issues of security. While the following is admittedly from an editorial written by Secretary Michael Chertoff in the Houston Chronicle the facts remain:

● All but one of the 9/11 hijackers carried government IDs that helped them board planes and remain in the country illegally.

● Last year, our immigration and customs agents charged hundreds of illegal workers with crimes relating to state and federal document fraud.

● In 2005 alone, identity theft cost American households $64 billion, and 28 percent of these incidents likely required a driver's license to perpetrate.

Even though some people argue that some of the hijackers carried legal drivers licenses, those people fail to understand that there are serious holes in security, especially when it comes to the authenticity of the so-called “breeder documents” (like birth certificates and social security cards) that people have used in the past to secure (I should actually use the word, “obtain”), a legal drivers license.

As a result, one of the important provisions of the recently “Final Rule” of the Real ID Act issued by the Department of Homeland Security (at least in my opinion) is that it will :

"...establish minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards in accordance with the REAL ID Act of 2005. These regulations set standards for states to meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act," including:

● information and security features that must be incorporated into each card;
● proof of identity and U.S. citizenship or legal status of an applicant;
● verification of the source documents provided by an applicant; and
● security standards for the offices that issue licenses and identification cards.

This final rule also provides a process for States to seek an additional extension of the compliance deadline to May 11, 2011, by demonstrating material compliance with the core requirements of the Act and this rule.

Minimum Standards for Drivers Licenses and Identification Cards Acceptable by Federal Agencies for Official Purposes: Final Rule

Final Rule, Part 1 (PDF, 120 pages - 4.2 MB)
Final Rule, Part 2 (PDF, 164 pages – 5.6 MB)

Based on the Final Rule, the Timeline for Real ID Implementation is as follows:

Security Upgrades – Phase I (by December 31, 2009)
States will:
● Verify lawful status with DHS to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining REAL IDs
● Check Social Security number electronically with the Social Security Administration, so that one else can claim your identity.
● Ensure than application does not have licenses in multiple identities
● Conduct background checks for DMV/contractor employees to ensure licenses are not issued by corrupt insiders

Security Upgrades – Phase II (by May 11, 2011)
States will:
● Verify electronically all identity document with the issuing source to ensure reconrds exist and are accurate
● Confirm tamper resistant features of REAL ID licenses
● Record in DMV databases the full name established by the required identity documents
● Commence issuing REAL IDs (if not sooner)

Enrollment – Age 50 and Under (by December 1, 2014)
● All license holders born on or after December 1, 1964 who want a REAL ID-compliant license have one by December 1, 2014

Enrollment – Over Age 50 (by December 1, 2017)
● All license holders – regardless of age – who want a REAL ID- compliant license have one by December 1, 2017

Under these new standards, individuals seeking driver's licenses must provide their state Department of Public Safety office with documents proving who they are and that they're here legally. States must verify that the documents presented are legitimate, secure their own license issuing offices from identity theft and work together to prevent individuals from receiving driver's licenses from multiple states.

Additionally, the DHS is providing $360 million to the states to defray the implementation costs (this is composed of $80 million in REAL ID grants and $280 million in homeland security funding).

This is not to say that there isn’t a loud and vocal group of people and states (18 states) that oppose the implementation of the Real ID Act. Among the concerns is the fear that the Real IDs will lead to a National Identity Card. Additionally, opponents argue that privacy of citizens will be violated by the creation of this more secure ID card. From what I know and understand, the standards being proposed by this Act are an extension of the Drivers License Standards as previously established by the American Motor Vehicles Administrators Association (AAMVA) that as late as 2004 was revising the menu of security features from which states could choose in an effort to reduce counterfeiting of this form of ID (there are details included on this page). Thus, the Real ID Act retains the flexibility of each state to issue their own cards, but to conform with a standard so that each state’s license contains minimum common elements. Still, the issue has been raised as one of states rights.

Under the proposed rules all current driver's license and state I.D. holders would have to track down verified copies of "breeder documents" that prove their citizenship and marital status. Many states are balking at the proposal, seeing it as a federal encroachment on state sovereignty, a privacy-invasive initiative and a financial strain on cash-strapped states.

So, to the opposition. Montana governor Brian Schweitzer has announced that his state will not comply with the requirement to apply for the extension as provided for in the “Final Rule” and is calling upon the governors of 17 other states to also not comply with the new regulations. The extension:

DHS understands that the States are concerned about the tight timeline required to comply with the REAL ID Act. The Secretary and other DHS officials have discussed this matter with various Governors. Since DHS wants all States to be able to comply with the Act, DHS has set-up a procedure in the NPRM for States to obtain extensions until December 31, 2009. DHS expects States that have been granted an extension to begin issuing compliant licenses no later than January 1, 2010, in most cases with a roll-out of licenses as they expire.

Schweitzer sent a letter to the governors of Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington. In that letter, he wrote:

"Today, I am asking you to join with me in resisting the DHS coercion to comply with the provisions of REAL ID, " Schweitzer wrote. "If we stand together either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses."

In response, Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner says DHS has no intention of blinking, and says that non-compliance "will mean real consequences for their citizens starting in may if their leadership chooses not to comply" and "That includes getting on an airplane or entering a federal building, so they will need to get passports."

At the same time, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is going to be only partially implemented, with a valid U.S. Passport to be required after January 31, 2008 to travel by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.

I’m not going to get into all of the details and controversy surrounding the WHTI, but here are the key documents:

Final Rule - Air Phase (PDF)
Final Rule - Passport Card (PDF)
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Land/Sea Rule (PDF)

Some people see the coming of Big Brother, and all I see is another step toward ensuring our Nation’s security. Beyond this, even those who are concerned about security, specifically myself and my colleague, Mike Tanji had a series of emails over the last 24 hours discussing this very topic. Once he and I have agreed, I’ll add the email thread to this post.

January 19, 2008

Surveillance and Society

The subject of surveillance in a free society is controversial. As currently enabled, FISA allows our intelligence agencies to listen in on conversations between terrorists in the Middle East who may be plotting to hurt America. While we have ongoing debates about the FISA courts, arguing the balance between citizen privacy and gathering information to prevent or intercept terrorist attacks, there are sufficient enough examples in recent time in which such surveillance has led to an early detection and response to a planned terrorist attack. I don’t really see much alternative.

In fact, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell believes that the government needs even more expansive powers to examine web searches, internet activity, and e-mail.

FISA – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – is the biggest obstacle, argues McConnell, with its outdated rules creating absurd situations that needlessly hamstring intelligence efforts. Worse, U.S. lawmakers are continually dragging their feet, and he thinks that the policy of tweaking 30-year-old laws is insufficient. “If we don’t update FISA, the nation is significantly at risk,” said McConnell. He noted that the NSA’s monitoring capabilities dropped by 70 percent when federal judges entered a secret ruling that required warrants for intercepting traffic that “incidentally flowed” into domestic computer systems.

Well, early last week, the U.K.-based Privacy International and the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center gave the U.S., the United Kingdom, China and Russia the lowest possible rating, “endemic surveillance societies.” Of course, this is the first time that the United States has dropped to the “bottom rung,” with the two groups attributed the U.S. position to increased surveillance and reduced government oversight, all from the concern over terrorism, immigration, and border control. It is the second year in a row at this low level for the U.K. that has the World’s largest network of surveillance cameras. The U.K.'s extensive use of surveillance cameras was covered in an earlier post, Emerging Trend: Use of Public Surveillance in the U.S.

Plans for National ID cards or other types of identification documents containing biometric information leads to a low rating by these organizations. That would certainly include the eventual coming of the ID cards in compliance with the Real ID Act and other DHS rulings. Another contributor to a low rating include security breaches when data or information is lost. Generally, this report showed a general increase of surveillance around the globe and noted a decline in “privacy safeguards” last year.

New Scientist's Phil McKenna writes in his article, US and UK rival China for government surveillance that part of the problem may be technology advancing faster than government safeguards.

Part of the problem may be technology advancing faster than government safeguards. "There is a rapid expansion of technologies for surveillance, identification, and border control and a much slower adoption of policies to safeguard privacy and security," says Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Despite their low ratings, the US and UK do not compromise privacy as much as China or Russia, says John Palfrey, of the OpenNet Initiative, an international academic research group that monitors government internet filtering and surveillance. Yet, he is troubled by the way governments can anonymously monitor internet traffic.
"Even democratic societies don't make clear to their citizens how comprehensively governments reach into the private lives of individuals," says Palfrey. "We have no way of knowing what our government can come to know about us as private citizens."

The question of surveillance cameras was also raised in a recent Chief Security Officer Online (CSOonline), Should Surveillance Cameras Detect Criminals - or Deter Crime? The article discusses the use of a covert surveillance camera to detect “graffiti-related motion” by snapping pictures and emailing them to the police, and collects TV-quality video on a tamper-resistant, encrypted memory card. The problem in this case is that the particular product discussed stops criminals (graffiti artists) but does nothing to deter crime itself (vandalism).

The contradiction here lies in the fact that detection, by definition, must allow the crime to start taking place. Otherwise there’s nothing to detect. Hidden cameras still allow paint to get on the wall, which happens to be by far the most expensive aspect of the graffiti problem—the cleanup. This particular article comments that deterrence (consistently removing graffiti within 24-48 hours) is more effective than the detection itself. Thus, CSO argues that addressing the crime is a more effective use of time than the detection.

Clearly, the comparison between terrorism and graffiti is a bit ludicrous. But the question of surveillance, and weighing of the balance between its benefits and costs, will be a continuing issue. In the case of terrorism, we have no choice but to continue walking that thin line between pre-empting acts of terrorism by detecting plans ahead of time, and abridging the rights of normal citizens. Somehow, I still don’t see how any of my rights have been limited.

George Clooney to the Rescue?

Events in the conflict stricken Niger Delta region of Nigeria took a decidedly unusual turn on January 19 as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) issued a statement urging movie actor and People magazine's two time "Sexiest Man Alive" George Clooney to help mediate the standoff between the Nigerian government and the insurgent group. MEND has used kidnappings, bombings, and other violent tactics against elements of the oil industry operating in the Niger Delta in a campaign for a greater share of the oil revenue for the delta's impoverished people. MEND's call comes shortly after Clooney was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for his advocacy work on Darfur. Excerpts from MEND's statements follows, as reported by AFP:

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) wishes to draw your attention to the unrest in this oil-rich region of Nigeria which is gradually building up to a crisis that will make Darfur an adjective for child's play," MEND said in an open letter sent to the press.

[...]

"We suggest that the UN should take a proactive step to nip the Niger Delta unrest in the bud before it is too late," the letter continued.

"Both sides of the conflict are building up arms for an imminent battle which can only be prevented with the intervention of well meaning and credible peace makers like you," the group said.

MEND invited Clooney to come and "see things for himself" in the delta.

In related news, some of the delta's other insurgent groups will participate in peace talks with the Nigerian government in the coming week. MEND refuses to participate in these talks while its leader, Henry Okah, remains jailed in Angola. In a statement issued to Reuters, a MEND spokesman had this to say in reference to recent attacks perpetrated by the group:

"What you are seeing is the calm before a storm. We are working on a major terrifying event that will be a date not easily forgotten like 9/11," the spokesman said. "Those smaller raids serve as irritants and reminders that all is not well and over."

No word yet on whether Mr. Clooney will take MEND up on its offer.

January 18, 2008

Violence Spikes on the "Other Side" of the Border

Increasingly, there is concern that the spike in violence on the "other side" of the border continues, despite the promised crackdown by Mexican President Calderon. In fact, some attribute the upsurge in violence to a reaction by the drug cartels to the government efforts.

Edgar Millan is a federal law enforcement official in Mexico. At a press conference he said Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on crime could cause more violence as drug cartels retaliate. But, he says the country will not back down in its war on drug cartels.

Yesterday, a gun battle broke out in an upper class neighborhood of Tijuana as Mexican federal agents raided a house that sheltered armed drug traffickers suspected of being members of the Arellano Felix drug cartel. Following a three hour gun battle that included military and law enforcement, authorities found six slain kidnap victims. All of the victims were male and found shot execution style in the head. Whether the victims had been kidnapped for ransom or were members of a rival gang remains under investigation.

In an almost surreal pronouncement, Osuna Millan, Governor of Baja California told reporters, "we're winning the battle."

Shortly after the arrests yesterday afternoon, Tijuana's City Hall, police station and other city buildings were evacuated. Someone broadcast bomb scares on the police radio frequency. Local media report someone also said they'd hunt city officials and their families. Then the person played narcocorridos, songs that celebrate drug traffickers.

This isn't the only violent activity going on in Mexico.

● last week, gunmen killed two federal agents and a civilian in the central state of Michoacan.

● also, two other federal agents were killed and three were injured during a shootout in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.

● before the Reynosa shootout, three suspected criminals were killed and 10 federal agents and soldiers wounded in a shootout in the town of Rio Bravo, across the border from Donna, Texas.

● Ten people, including three U.S. residents, suspected of having ties to the powerful Gulf cartel were arrested the next day.

● In the central Mexican state of Hidalgo on Wednesday, assailants killed the director of public safety for the town of Tulancingo was shot more than 20 times;

Why is this important to Americans? The flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics across the porous Mexican border to the United States remains a continuing issue of debate. I watch things very closely these days. Laredo is just a day-trip away, where the drug violence has already more than once crossed over the border from Nuevo Laredo. In 2007, drug violence claimed more than 2500 lives. Already this year, one estimate the count at 148 people who have died in the continuing war. Take a close look at the map of border areas. There are a number of "sister" or "twinning" cities that include San Diego-Tijuana Metro; Tecate, California – Tecate; Baja California, Calexico; California – Mexicali, Baja California; El Paso, Texas – Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; Laredo, Texas – Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; McAllen, Texas – Reynosa, Tamaulipas;Brownsville, Texas – Matamoros, Tamaulipas (the list is alot longer). Human smugglers use the same routes as the narcotics cartels. This represents a continuing threat.

UPDATE: As a reminder of the effect the porous Mexican border has on us, a Border Patrol officer was killed when he was runover by a "rogue vehicle" as he attempted to stop it after it ran a checkpoint in Yuma California.

CIA: Cyber Attacks Turn Out the Lights

The importance of securing national resources that access cyberspace just got a shot in the arm:

On Wednesday, in New Orleans, US Central Intelligence Agency senior analyst Tom Donohue told a gathering of 300 US [and foreign] government officials, engineers and security managers from [critical infrastructure sectors] asset owners that
"We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands. We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge. We have information that cyber attacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the United States. In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet."

Such an event would be problematic at any time, but timed to occur during high-stress periods like during heat waves or inclement weather, the impact could be devastating. Most "cyber terrorism" noted to date is little more than miscreant mischief, but a concerted effort to conduct a serious attack in this sector could actually cost lives. The volume may be minor, but the idea that services we take for granted are not under our control is one way to shake people's confidence in the government's ability to protect them.

Corporate Espionage: Exposing Weak Points

From Strategy Page comes a familiar but still disturbing tale of what awaits us if we do not rapidly and comprehensively improve our counterintelligence capabilities:

Corporate security officials have been delivering some bad news to the U.S. Department of Defense, and American intelligence agencies. It seems that the Internet criminals are putting more effort, and skill, into seeking out corporate secrets. Why should that trouble the Pentagon? Mainly because many of the corporate secrets sought are all about military technology, and the U.S. government uses the same kind of networks and software, and security tools, that corporations use. Worse, corporate security tends to be better than what's found in government organizations. So if the [intruders] are getting into corporate systems, they can burrow into the Pentagon, and other government agencies, as well.

Commercial firms doing business with the government in the defense and national security sectors are obliged to follow a number of personnel, information and industrial-security policies, but work done far from government watchdogs or in a more scientific/academic environment can get lax as a matter of course.

From a security perspective, these firms are essentially extensions of government agencies and they merit equal protection. This is unlikely in the current environment as we are hardly able to defend government secrets with the nominal resources available to us. Allow adversaries to gain access to sensitive data before we are even able to test or field it provides them with an incredible strategic advantage that renders our investment in time, money and intellectual capital moot.

Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War

Next on the reading list comes from the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute: Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War.

I've yet to even read Henry Sokolski's introductory piece, but am sharing now as it appears an interesting and informative collaborative colection with the collective works of others organized in three sections.

I. Islamabad's Proliferating Past
II. Maintaining Southwest Asian Deterrence
III. Pakistan's Next Set of Nuclear Headaches

The work looks to provide a proper brief history of the Pakistani nuclear program, its current deterrent role in the regional balance of power, and a ponderance of the future threats to and, thus, from the Pakistani nuclear arsenal with al-Qaeda in their midst with eyes on an Islamabad jihadi prize.

At nearly 400 pages, it will not be a quick read. But I expect Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War to be an engaging and interesting one and share it here for those who may find interest in the same.

Al-Qaeda's Open Call to Jihad to Take Islamabad

As the situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate while al-Qaeda's insurgency grows stronger and more pervasive, Uzbek Taliiban commander Qadri Tahir Yuldashev released a video message in which he has called for jihad directly against Pakistani military forces.

Two al-Qaeda leaders in the north of Pakistan have called on their supporters to wage a new Jihad against security forces and seize control of Islamabad.

In a graphic video sent to Adnkronos International (AKI), Takfiri militants Qadri Tahir Yaldeshiv (Photo) and Abdul Khaliq Haqqani called for urgent action against the armed forces to avenge the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in 2007.

As we have long been writing about here at ThreatsWatch, al-Qaeda's ultimate target in their insurgency is Islamabad and the complete control of Pakistan, its institutions - including the military and nuclear weaponry - and the institution of Shari'a law, carving out Pakistan as the anchor for the envisioned reestablishment of a caliphate.

Yuldashev now states their Islamabad target and national Sharia aims without nuance. In his video message, Yuldashev dips into the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) well once again, summoning more emotional reaction to the July 2007 government siege of the pro-Taliban, pro-al-Qaeda establishment. Included for effect in the propaganda message and call to jihad was graphic footage of the Islamists' revenge, including the throat slitting of a Pakistani soldier.

Speaking of Pakistani soldiers: It is important here to continue to distinguish between Pakistan's Frontier Corps paramilitary forces and the professional soldiers of the regular Pakistani Army. The two forts overrun by Yuldashev and Baitullah Mehsud's combined Taliban forces this week in Mehsud's South Waziristan were manned by Frontier Corps paramilitaries and not the Pakistani Army. The two do not share common levels of proficiency.

As we explained in a September PrincipalAnalysis, Understanding Al-Qaeda's Pakistan PSYOP and Insurgency, al-Qaeda seeks to avoid direct bloody confrontation with the Pakistani regular army's forces. Not because they are feared, but because for al-Qaeda, it would be ideal if the Pakistani armed forces can be kept in tact and eventually aligned with the insurgents following the victory the Islamists envision within Pakistan. The Interior Ministry, however, is the one Pakistani institution that remains almost uniformly pro-Musharraf. And the Frontier Corps paramilitary forces, the constabularies, and the Pakistani police are all part of the Interior Ministry and therefor preferred targets.

So when you read about Taliban attacks on Pakistani "troops" or "soldiers," be sure to look to distinguish between the Pakistani Army and other forces. Offensive attacks against Pakistani Army forces would mark a significant shift from a PSYOP seeking to win their support to a ground op seeking to remove them as an obstacle blocking control of Islamabad - and all that comes with it.

January 15, 2008

MEND Strikes Back

The latest news from Nigeria's oil transit hub of Port Harcourt, a hotbed of unrest in the Niger Delta region, is that a vehicle that had just previously been carrying Sotoye Etomi, a major official with Nigeria Ports Authority, was attacked by members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on January 14. According to AFP:

Sotoye Etomi's convoy was attacked with dynamite after it dropped him off. The attack left the driver of the pilot vehicle and two police escorts dead.

What's truly notable about this incident is the identity of the targeted individual. On January 13, Etomi, in his official capacity, declared that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was not responsible for the explosion on board an oil tanker in Port Harcourt on January 11. This incident was explored in detail in a previous RapidRecon. Etomi instead blamed the explosion on electrical problems.

MEND obviously did not take too kindly to Etomi's assertion and claimed responsibility for the convoy attack in its usual manner, an e-mail sent to journalists. In its communique, MEND spells out the motivation for the attack: to demonstrate to the Nigerian government, to the Nigerian security services, and to the ethnic Ijaw people that it claims to represent that the organization is free to act in the Niger Delta with impunity. AFP's report has more:

The MEND email said that Monday night's attack on Etomi's convoy "was meant to show that nothing happens by accident in the Niger Delta, including the bomb explosion on the oil tanker vessel".

"The government wants to deceive the world that it can guarantee security and peace in the region. Foreign investors should take a prudent cue from A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, ... which has stopped its vessels from calling at Nigerian ports until normalcy returns," MEND continued.

[...]

The group warned it intends to step up its campaign of violence, saying attacks would "soon become a daily occurrence".

MEND's message in this attack was obvious and successfully conveyed, despite the failure to kill Sotoye Etomi after his attempt to denigrate the group's capabilities. The attack is also striking in that the group recently pledged to enact a ceasefire if its leader, Henry Okah, was released by Angola, where he is being held on suspected arms trafficking. Whether this overture was merely for PR purposes or a sincere gesture, MEND's attacks continue and its overall strategic aim is clear: to inflict an insufferable amount of economic damage to the Nigerian government by making the Niger Delta, with its huge petroleum reserves and presence of foreign oil companies, an unstable and dangerous place in which to do business.

January 14, 2008

Suicide Terrorism in Pakistan: al-Qaeda's Lal Masjid Plan In Motion

Suicide terrorism inside Pakistan spiked in 2007, particularly after the Pakistani raid on the pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque) in July. It is worth mentioning here that the Taliban (Afghanistan) were originally opposed generally to suicide Taliban attacks (though they supported al-Qaeda's employment of the same.) That changed after 2001 as al-Qaeda's influence grew considerably within and often over the Taliban, post-retreat into Pakistan. B. Raman, former head of a branch of Indian intelligence, takes a look at the trends of suicide terrorist atacks inside Pakistan at the South Asia Analysis Group.

There were 56 acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan during 2007, resulting in the death of 419 members of the security forces----the majority of them from the police and para-military forces--- and 217 civilians. The most important civilian killed was Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister. As against this, there were only six incidents in 2006 in which 46 members of the security forces and 91 civilians were killed.

2. Of the 56 incidents of 2007, there were only four during the first six months of the year. The remaining 52 took place after the Pakistani commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad between July 10 and 13, 2007, in which about 300 tribal girls studying in a madrasa attached to the mosque were allegedly killed.

To put the Lal Masjid raid reaction into proper perspective, one must understand it as a planned event. It was an event of which al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote in a letter to the brothers who ran Lal Masjid that "things are going according to plan." The plan was communicated in a letter found inside the Lal Masjid complex by Pakistani forces: Provoke a government siege for the purposes of creating martyrs through which the public - particularly fence-sitting or inactive (with AQ/Taliban) Pashtuns - would be whipped into a violent frenzied anger.

That anger manifested itself partly in retaliatory suicide bombings against the government and government forces, as well as increased recruiting for the Taliban and al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.

The reaction was a part of al-Qaeda's plan to push its insurgency forward in Pakistan, but was not the single momentous launch point for such. This was noted in a ThreatsWatch Principal Analysis shortly after the siege began, x_Showdown or Showtime In Pakistan?_

In al-Qaeda's 'Death by a Thousand Cuts' insurgency strategy, the Lal Masjid event was a major cut, but still one of many rather than the cataclysmic death knell for Pakistan some had feared. As the suicide terrorism continues in Pakistan - well noted by B. Raman - Lal Masjid's impact is still felt.

Iraq and al-Qaeda, Victory and Caution

There is an understandable temptation to declare victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq. And while Iraqi and American forces have teamed to drive them from every sanctuary al-Qaeda had carved - including now the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad - and deliver a decisive blow to the terrorists, the state of the terrorist fighters in Iraq is not permanent or final considering the sources of their foreign origins and outside support.

From another excellent symposium panel at FrontPage Magazine, my friend Daveed Gartenstein-Ross contributes a paragraph of thought that boils the entire important discussion down, providing the salient point that busy readers will want to take away from it today. In the latest symposium on Iraq, "Crushing al-Qaeda," while there is much talk of declaring victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq, beaten back as they are, Daveed offers words of wisdom - and caution.

Those improvements are indeed occurring, but as my colleagues capably point out, it is too early to declare AQI’s defeat. I spoke with a military intelligence officer who recently returned from Iraq, and spoke of AQI’s resilience. Part of the reason for this is that AQI draws its support from a broader transnational movement: AQI can be completely crushed inside Iraq yet still regenerate based on the support it draws from beyond the country’s borders. Recent events clearly demonstrate the links between AQI and the broader al-Qaeda movement. For example, the recently captured Khalid Al Mashadani, who was considered the most senior Iraqi in AQI’s network, had served as an intermediary between AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Key al-Qaeda leaders have made it clear that they view Iraq as a central front in their war against the U.S. And when U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed an al-Qaeda financier named Muthanna (described as the emir of the Iraq and Syrian border area), they uncovered a list of 143 al-Qaeda fighters who were en route to Iraq. These fighters came from all over, including Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, France, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and Yemen. This emphasizes the human resources that AQI can draw upon to replenish its ranks.

If you have time, do read the entire symposium, as it is well worth your while. If you do not have the time or for some other reason cannot read it in full, be sure to take the above paragraph from it at minimum.

Also of particular interest today on Iraq, Iran and al-Qaeda is the latest from Michael Ledeen at National Review. From his article, One Happy Mob, Ledeen highlights Iranian support for Sunni terror groups inside Iraq: Money for attacks on Americans, more if with video of it.

If you read down to the small print, you will find that the most important Treasury target, Brigadier General Ahmed Foruzandeh of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, also works with Sunnis.

In early April 2007, Foruzandeh provided ($25,000 U.SD) to two men claiming to be members of a Sunni terrorist organization in Iraq, promising...additional funds if they would deliver videos of attacks against Coalition Forces.

A very well informed person in the intelligence community tells me that the “Sunni terrorist organization in Iraq” is a big deal, is in many ways coextensive with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and clearly shows what I and others have been arguing for a long time: Iran supports al-Qaeda. To have discovered that the Revolutionary Guards are in cahoots with al-Qaeda in Iraq is enormously important, because it reminds us once again that we are engaged in a broad war in the Middle East, of which Iraq is simply one front. And it shows once again that the considerable efforts by many in Washington to gainsay Iranian support for the terror war against us are misplaced, and potentially very dangerous for our troops on the ground.

Iranian strategy requires al-Qaeda's mayhem, al-Qaeda's strategy requires all or parts of Iraq for the restoration of the caliphate, and both can pour in from many directions. Let's not be too quick to declare an entity defeated that can reconstitute itself from elsewhere and with state support in relative short order.

Applaud and praise our success. Don't walk off the ledge in premature celebration.

The Impeachment Impetus of Musharraf's New Friends

Pakistan's embattled president, Pervez Musharraf, is reportedly in talks with and has invited Shahzad Sharif into a role in the Pakistani government. Shahzad is the brother of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf deposed in a coup in 1999. As reported by Pakistan's Dawn newspaper:

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) head Shahbaz Sharif dashed to Islamabad on Saturday and returned to Lahore in the evening after holding separate meetings with an aide of President Pervez Musharraf, the Saudi ambassador and a former bureaucrat, sources told Dawn.

The sources said the PML-N president had met Brig (retd) Niaz Ahmad, who passed a message from President Musharraf on to Mr Sharif about the formation of a national government before the general election.

Sources in the PML-N said the president had suggested Shahbaz Sharif to become a part of the proposed government. The sources said the president had also proposed a “future role” for Shahbaz Sharif after the elections.

This is not a curious move, but a logical one for Musharraf, who needs to look beyond the coming elections and create the conditions of his future survival - a skill, it should be noted, that Musharraf has persistently displayed. Quoted in The Australian, Musharraf speaks frankly of the reality he faces, and vows that he will survive any attempt by his foes at impeachment after elections.

PAKISTANI President Pervez Musharraf has threatened to resign rather than face impeachment should the opposition seize government in general elections next month.

Mr Musharraf, asked about opposition threats to impeach him if, as seems likely, the main opposition parties win a two-thirds majority in the new National Assembly, said: "If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I'd be leaving office before they would do anything.

"If they won and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn't like to stick around."

A two-thirds majority in the Pakistan parliament is required to begin impeachment proceedings. Given the sense of public anger following Benazir Bhutto's assassination last month, political analysts say her Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could win the numbers required to drive Mr Musharraf from office.

Exactly what role was offered the brother of Musharraf's hated political rival is not yet known, but it is likely the role of Prime Minister. Musharraf must offer a healthy tribute in order to even hope of avoiding swift impeachment and removal in a majority PML-N/PPP government.

And considering he must deal with the man he overthrew and banished into exile for nearly ten years, there may not be enough tribute to be had regardless of any deals made. Musharraf knows this but has few options short of canceling elections outright. But this would only increase a street demand of his ouster, leading potentially to a military-led coup in order to prevent the fragmentation of Pakistan in the eyes of generals.

A deal may be publicly reached beforehand. But it would be hard to envision any guarantees against impeachment being kept when push comes to shove if the PML-N and the assassinated Benazir Bhutto's angry PPP manage a two-thirds majority in Pakistan's parliament.

For Nawaz Sharif, revenge is best served. Period. By any means.

January 12, 2008

On-Board Internet and Airline Security

UPDATE: For reasons unrelated to the WiFi security questions discussed in this post, it was announced today that Boeing Co. delayed the maiden test flight of the 787 Dreamliner and said that it won't deliver the aircraft until early 2009. This pushes back the delivery date by three months to its customer, All Nippon Airways Co. Boeing has indicated that the delay is attributable to "challenges related to start-up issues in its factory and extended global supply-chain" and insists that the design and technologies behind the plane 'remain sound.'

Modern "road warriors" run through airports, wait in terminals for delayed or canceled flights, experience often long layovers, and where possible, log onto the available WiFi. My recent increase in business travel shows (me, at least) how tethered to the computer many have become. Most hotels now offer free WiFi. Some airports also offer service (I was in one last week that actually offered free WiFi). Of course, public Internet access lacks security. Still, most airlines and planes do not have power outlets at your seat, so your ability to work on your computer is limited by your battery life.

Airborne broadband has been possible since before September 11th. However, "debate" between FAA and FCC, and then DHS and DOJ continues about the safety of allowing cell phone and WiFi use in the air. Certainly, there is a justifiable fear of ground to air (or the reverse) communication between terrorists. Recently, it was disclosed that the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, offering passengers a number of amenities including on-board, in-flight Internet access had been designed with a serious security flaw.

An alert issued by the FAA last week revealed that the computer network in the Dreamliner's passenger compartment, designed to give passengers in-flight Internet access, is connected to the plane's control, navigation, and communication systems.

The revelation is causing concern in security circles because the physical connection of the networks makes the plane's control systems vulnerable to hackers. A more secure design would physically separate the two computer networks. Boeing said it's aware of the issue and has designed a solution it will test shortly.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is a mid-sized jet designed to carry between 210 and 330 passengers, and is in the final stages of development. The Company says that it has taken advanced orders for over 800 planes that are scheduled to go into service at the end of 2008. Even though Boeing indicates that the language of the report is somewhat misleading (basically that the plane's networks do not completely connect), and that they are addressing the issue, the FAA is demanding that Boeing show that it has addressed the computer-network issue before the planes begin service.

Lori Gunter of Boeing said that "there are places where the networks are not touching, and there are places where they are." Gunter added that although data can pass between the networks, "there are protections in place" to ensure that the passenger Internet service doesn't access the maintenance data or the navigation system "under any circumstance." She said the safeguards protect the critical networks from unauthorized access, but the company still needs to conduct lab and in-flight testing to ensure that they work.

Of course, the concern here is over the potential for hackers to access aircraft flight and management systems over what the FAA considers "inadequate or appropriate safety standards for protection and security of airplane systems and data networks against unauthorized access.”

I realize that many fellow travelers would like to have access to the email accounts while flying from one airport to another. It might be nice to have, but certainly not at the risk of security breaches of airliner systems. And I'm not too sure what it would be like with a number of business passengers all logging onto their accounts. Personally, I'd be happy to have more space between the seats and power outlets.

MEND Bombs Oil Tanker

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Nigerian insurgent group, did not take long to act on its promise to create an "economic tsunami in the world oil markets". On January 11 MEND claimed responsibility for a bombing attack on the oil tanker Golden Lucy while it was waiting to offload fuel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria's main transit point for petroleum exports. The explosion caused a fire that caused no fatalities but injured several.

Oil industry sources reported that exports were unaffected, so whether this particular strike will result in MEND's economic tsunami is at this juncture unlikely. However, it would be foolish to assume that this is the sole action MEND has in the works. Though the damage caused the attack was not earth shattering, the modus operandi employed raises an alarm. According to The Wall Street Journal:

An oil tanker attack represents a dramatic change for the insurgency in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta. In the past, groups have staged attacks against oil installations in Nigeria's swamps or in shallow, off-shore waters. Groups, some of them criminal gangs, have also targeted foreign oil workers in kidnapping attempts. They have also attacked Nigerian security forces, killing dozens in recent years. Gunmen have also staged increasingly bold attacks on oil installations further out to sea. But if MEND's assertions are true that it worked with insiders, the attack could indicate the Nigerian oil industry is significantly more vulnerable to attack.

Clearly, if sympathy and support for MEND is growing among the local population, the group's capacity for destructive attacks grows considerably. The full text of MEND's claim of responsibility follows:

January 11, 2008.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) confirms that its Freelance Freedom Fighters (FFF) working inside the oil industry detonated a remote explosive device that caused the fire on a tanker in Port Harcourt, Rivers state of Nigeria today, January 11, 2008.

How can the government of Nigeria fight an enemy that is within and can not be seen? MEND salutes the patriotic agents and also use this opportunity to commend our friends inside the military and secret service for valuable information and resources. We call on all oppressed citizens of the Niger Delta to do your own bit in your own way to regain freedom and win the fight against injustice. Even if it means to poison the drinks and food sold to the soldiers that rape our women and brutalize and kill our youths, just do it.

Again, we are appealing to residents inside the Niger Delta to avoid milling close to military vehicles and check points as we want to avoid the loss of civilian lives. The military seems to be deliberately using civilians as human shields.

Long live the Niger Delta!

Jomo Gbomo

Jomo Gbomo is MEND's elusive spokesman who communicates with the media by e-mail. As his words attest, if MEND has sources within the Nigerian military and security services, it does not bode well for efforts to stabilize the Niger Delta nor to militarily defeat the insurgency. The Nigerian military does not have a particularly stellar track record in confronting MEND. Referring to individual members of MEND, Sebastian Junger wrote:

They were a collection of walking nightmares, everything that is terrifying to the human psyche, and when confronted with them, Nigerian soldiers have been known to just drop their weapons and run.

The coming days will determine if MEND can strike the single blow that cripples the Nigerian oil industry or if their campaign will succeed through the fomentation of low level instability through constant small scale attacks. Whichever path is chosen, the initiative at this point clearly lies with MEND.

January 10, 2008

Nigerian Insurgents Pledge "Economic Tsunami"

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an insurgent group active in southern Nigeria's Niger Delta region aligned against foreign oil companies and the Nigerian military, has issued a new threat against oil installations in its area of operations on January 10. Via e-mail, MEND fired a proverbial shot across the bow of the oil companies and the Nigerian government. As reported by the Associated Press:

The group, known as MEND, also warned in an e-mail sent to journalists that "an attack on the Nigeria oil industry that will cause an economic tsunami in the world oil markets is imminent."

In the same e-mail, MEND also took credit for a shooting attack against a number of ships owned by ExxonMobil and Addax Petroleum in the Bonny River. If their words were not enough to alarm the world's economy, Voice of America details that

Military and intelligence sources acknowledge oil rebels are stockpiling weapons and supplies in preparation for a big offensive.

MEND has also claimed that it is receiving training from Western mercenaries in ambush techniques and in the employment of surface-to-air missiles to be used against oil company helicopters that ferry workers throughout the delta, including to offshore oil platforms. Though the threat of an "economic tsunami" by MEND may be interpreted as simply bluster, the evidence of preparations for further attacks suggests otherwise. Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States and is trending upward on that list, as is West Africa as a whole.

In view of the instability of the Niger Delta and the vulnerability of oil production to disruption from terrorist attacks on infrastructure and personnel, MEND needs to be taken seriously as the organization does not merely pose a threat to Nigeria alone, but to the world's economic security as a whole. MEND and similar groups in the Niger Delta have already succeeded in causing a drop of 20-25% in oil production through kidnappings and bombings and they likely have the capacity to inflict further reductions through violence. As MEND demonstrates, American and international dependence on oil does not merely have consequences in the Middle East alone.

January 9, 2008

Former NSC Official Doubts NoKor Nuke Deal

Expressing what can only be described as grave doubts about the prospects of realizing North Korean nuclear dismantling through the current efforts, former director for counterproliferation strategy on the National Security Council Carolyn Leddy reminds that North Korea is still North Korea.

Last fall the chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, testified to Congress that disablement measures underway at the Yongbyon facility would "effectively end" North Korea's plutonium production capability by year's end and that its uranium enrichment program would cease to exist as well. Yet media reports indicate that disablement activities at Yongbyon have slowed to a crawl. In a statement Friday, North Korea professed to have already disclosed all nuclear programs.

Were this merely a matter of a missed deadline, it would hardly be cause for concern. And the deadline reportedly became part of the deal only at President Bush's insistence -- reiterated in his groundbreaking letter to dictator Kim Jong Il last month.

Yet, perhaps anticipating the lapse, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last month that she wasn't "too concerned about whether [the deadline] is December 31 or not."

This view is misguided. As with all things regarding North Korea, the devil is in the details. Deadlines matter. I took part in a U.S. delegation's trip to survey the Yongbyon nuclear facility in September. Afterward, it was clear that North Korean officials view all elements of the six-party agreement as negotiable. If the deadline can be overlooked, so can the "disablement" and the "disclosure." This is how the Clinton administration's agreed framework unraveled.

Read it all.

ORNL Security Breach - Details Released

UPDATE: A factual error was brought to my attention by Mr. Bill Cabage, a public information officer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Specifically, I wish to clarify that the incident described in this post occurred at the Y-12 National Security Complex and not at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. These two facilities, while both located in Oak Ridge Tennessee, are in fact separate facilities managed by different organizations. Y-12 is managed by Babcock and Wilcox (B&W Technical Services Group, Inc.) while ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle.

"As noted in the first bullet in the referenced IG report, the laptops belonged to ORNL staff members who were working at Y-12. ORNL staff often work on projects at Y-12, but the two facilities are separate entities with different missions."

In October 2006, there was a significant security breach at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is unrelated to the suspected hack attack by China against ORNL in December 2007. Now, following an investigation by the Department of Energy, the DoE Inspector General has just released a report on the "incident." The title of the report is: Inspection Report on "Incident of Security Concern at the Y-12 National Security Complex." This breach occurred at the Y-12 National Security Complex at ORNL.

As background, it should be understood that:

Y-12 maintains Limited Areas that employ physical controls to prevent unauthorized access to classified matter or special nuclear material. The Department has restrictions regarding what items may be taken into Limited Areas and the capabilities of those items. The Office of Inspector General received an allegation that unauthorized portable electronic devices (including laptop computers) were introduced into a Limited Area at Y-12 and that this breach in security was not properly reported.

In all, it is now known that at Oak Ridge, 38 laptops had been allowed into restricted areas, and that the Inspector General found that nine of these laptops had later been taken on foreign travel. If that wasn't bad enough, two of the laptops had been taken to countries on DoE's sensitive countries list (this is the list as of July 2005). As some added detail, although this is a 2003 document, it describes what the DoE considers to be "sensitive information" (this document is actually titled Sensitive Foreign Nations Controls).

Four main security violations occurred, the IG said:

● On Oct. 24, 2006, Y-12 employees discovered a contractor from Oak Ridge National Laboratory had brought an unclassified laptop with wireless capability into a Y-12 limited area without following proper protocols.

● Y-12 cybersecurity staff did not properly secure the laptop, and the user left the area with the computer, contrary to Energy policy. The laptop was not retrieved by the department until almost an hour later. Because the laptop could have been tampered with during that time, it could not be collected as best evidence.

● Energy requires that within 32 hours of an incident of security concern, a written report be submitted to the Headquarters Operations Center. The written report was not made until six days after the incident was discovered.

● Subsequent inquiries revealed that as many as 37 additional laptops may have been brought into the limited area by ORNL employees without following proper security protocols.

Even though the IG's report reported that forensic analysis concluded that the laptop computers did not contain classified information; all 38 computers in question contained malware that could potentially be used by hackers to obtain unauthorized information and 26 of the 38 laptop computers had wireless communications capability.

According to the Inspector General's report, ORNL management took immediate remedial steps upon learning of the security breach. The contractors who were involved in the incident were removed from the Y-12 Facility and had their unclassified email accounts suspended. A security breach at your bank is serious; a security breach at TJ Maxx was serious; a security breach at a nuclear laboratory is quite a bit more serious.

January 8, 2008

DOJ: Mexico main meth supplier to U.S.

Mexico has always been known as a grower of marijuana. It has been known as the conduit for South American cocaine to the United States. For as long as I can remember, U.S. counterdrug efforts have seen the Mexican border as a prime target for interdiction efforts. In fact, at a recent Homeland Security Roundtable that I attended, Chairman Bennie Thompson of the House Committee on Homeland Security commented that drug interdiction at the border was one of the priorities of the Committee.

But in another reminder that what happens South of the Border has an impact on U.S. security a new report released by the National Drug Intelligence Center, it is confirmed that Mexico is the main supplier of methamphetamines to the United States.

"Despite heightened chemical import restrictions in Mexico, methamphetamine production in that country has increased since 2004, and Mexico is now the primary source of methamphetamine to U.S. drug markets," the National Drug Intelligence Center's 2008 report on methamphetamine said.

All of this is happening at the same time as the ramped up anti-drug efforts of Mexico President Felipe Calderón occur, and in the face of the U.S. plan to spend over $500 million in support of the anti-drug campaign. However, one story, from the Dallas Morning News suggests that the south of the border narco-terrorism may actually increase if the plan is implemented. Dubbed the Merida Initiative, this security cooperation initiative with Mexico and the countries of Central America is intended to combat the threats of drug trafficking, transnational crime, and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, and at least on the surface, has the "political resolve" of the Preisdents of Central America to join forces to strengthen regional security and seek additional tools and capacity to execute such will. This program provides:

• Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners, canine units for Mexican customs, for the new federal police and for the military to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.

• Technologies to improve and secure communications systems to support collecting information as well as ensuring that vital information is accessible for criminal law enforcement.

• Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system to trial, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and establishing witness protection programs.

• Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid operational response of law enforcement agencies in Mexico.

• Initial funding for security cooperation with Central America that responds directly to Central American leaders’ concerns over gangs, drugs, and arms articulated during July SICA meetings and the SICA Security Strategy.

• Includes equipment and assets to support counterpart security agencies inspecting and interdicting drugs, trafficked goods, people and other contraband as well as equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures in the region.

The full National Methamphetamine Threat Assessment 2008 can be found here.

While it may be hard to believe, some U.S. anti-drug officials are saying that this implementation of the Merida Initiative could well increase the violence, as the drug cartels respond forcefully against the increased pressure. Drug-related killings surpassed 2,500 in 2007, eclipsing 2006's figure of more than 2,100, according to the Austin-based Stratfor consulting firm.

But if you think that this is a Mexican security problem, think again. This is also, and maybe more importantly, about U.S. border security.

"Between Texas and Arizona alone, you've got 12,000 gun shops along that border with Mexico. And a lot of these gun shops provide weapons that feed into organized crime in Mexico, so we really need the support of the Unites States," Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán said.

It was only a few years ago that there were debates about whether the drug smuggling routes being used by the cartels to bring narcotics to the United States might also be used by terrorists. We know now that drug smuggling and human smuggling across that border use the same routes. We also know that the narco-terrorism has spread across the border in places like Laredo Texas. If we think that border security is only about illegal immigration, we miss the point about drugs, viomence and guns that are all being propagated on the other side of what is a seriously porous border with Mexico.

January 7, 2008

Terrorists’ Adaptive Behavior

While advances in technology are being used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies to monitor and track terrorists, al Qaeda and its sympathizers have adapted their behavior to foil these steps by using “low-tech” countermeasures. On the most basic level, al Qaeda operatives and their supporters are avoiding locations that they assume will be watched or bugged like mosques and bookshops. They have also adopted simple codes to avoid detection.

Often, suspects use simple, homemade codes in their exchanges - "Taxi drivers, referred to suicide bombers; explosives were "dough." Anybody who had to go to "the hospital, had been taken to jail, while those visiting "China" were really attending training camps in Sudan.”

Experts said the codes may not appear sophisticated at first glance but can be time-consuming to crack, especially if the targets are conversing in Arabic…

…"They are incredibly aware when they use any electronic means to communicate that they can be monitored by the intelligence services all over the world, not just Europe."

A Jamaican convert to Islam, Andrew Rowe was found guilty in September 2005 on terrorism charges after British authorities found a code book in which double meanings were assigned to model numbers for Nokia cell phones:

● "Nokia 3310" to refer to money
● "Nokia 3410" to signal potential trouble from the police
● "Nokia 3610" as code for weapons

Jose Padilla and his co-defendants used a code based on vegetables - "eggplant" and "zucchini" were really references to weaponry and ammunition. When the F.B.I. broke this code, it led to his arrest and conviction.

At the same time, the advent and expanded worldwide use of Internet telephone services like Skype and other Internet telephone services are hard, if not impossible to trace or bug. I know that I often use my Skype to make long distance calls, and I know that a caller-ID sees that call as a numeric string like ‘000123456′ or its shows up as “unknown caller.”

One senior Italian counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed strong frustration that Skype had been invented. - - - "Unfortunately, the technology changes so quickly that we're always playing a catch-up game," the senior Italian official said. "The bottom line is that we'll have to work more and more with human sources."

We already know, and have discussed here at ThreatsWatch, that terrorists are suspected of using “virtual worlds” for training venues. See Second Life: Elevating Terrorism Training and When Virtual Reality Becomes Too Real

But according to this article, in last Saturday’s Washington Post article, Terror Suspects Hone Anti-Detection Skills, some European terrorists are leaving cities to go camping or go on wildlife trips to avoid monitoring. Some (including four of the men involved in the London Metro bombing in July 2005) have even used “paint balling” as a ruse to cover-up terrorist training. Others have used rented vacation homes to store explosive components.

It is this type of behavior that makes it harder to authorities to protect and defend citizens from another attack, and makes it more likely that a terrorist cell can go undetected.

So ask yourself. Just because this story refers to Europe, how likely is it that the same tactics aren’t also being used in the United States? Of course, the answer has to be, “why not?”

Iranian Navy Threatens US Navy in Gulf

In what appears a test of provocation, US military officials reported Monday on a significant action over the weekend in which five vessels of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps harrassed US Navy ships with hostile actions and transmitted threats over radio channels.

In one radio transmission, the Iranians told the U.S. Navy: "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes," the U.S. military officials told CNN.

When the U.S. ships heard that radio transmission, they manned their gun positions and officers were "in the process" of giving the order to fire when the Iranians abruptly turned away, the U.S. officials said.

The events took place at the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping choke-point that Iran has repeatedly threatened to block by sinking tankers in retaliation for any attack on Iran. See also a BBC report on the incident, which includes a useful map for those unfamiliar with the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

We at ThreatsWatch have dismissed the Iranian threat to choke oil shipments by blocking the Strait as well as its stated aims to stop its own exports. The Iranian 'Oil Weapon' remains not the act of cutting off their own economic life blood, but rather the results that such threats have on oil prices to their windfall benefit.

As with other Iranian threats and actions that have caused the world oil markets to nervously drive up the price of crude, this weekend's action also comes as oil prices fell from a November 2007 average of $92.67 to just $88.21 for December. [Source: OILNERGY: posted oil price (WTI)]

For background and our detailed analysis on the real Iranian Oil Weapon (price manipulation), please see:

PrincipalAnalysis: Iran’s Oil Weapon - Fielded and Wielded

The Iranian Oil Weapon is not the act of blocking the Strait of Hormuz nor the removal of Iranian oil from world markets, which is economic suicide for an immensely struggling Iranian economy. The Iranian Oil Weapon is the threat of this, manifest in actions such as the naval harassment this weekend, and the clear economic advantage the resulting tensions provide via increased market price for exported crude oil and natural gas.

January 6, 2008

Dakar Rally Canceled Due to al-Qaeda Threat

A previous report published here at ThreatsWatch detailed the emerging presence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) outside of its nation of origin, Algeria, in the northwest African nation of Mauritania. That report provided information on two recent terrorist strikes perpetrated by AQIM in Mauritania in late December, the first a shooting attack against a family of French tourists, and the second against a contingent of Mauritanian soldiers. Further noted was the 'up in the air' status of the Dakar Rally, a cross-Saharan car and motorcycle race set to begin in Lisbon, Portugal on January 5 and end in Dakar, Senegal sixteen days later. Eight out of fifteen stages of the race were set to take place in Mauritania, but in light of these recent attacks, fears were raised that the race might be a target as well. Now, those fears have been realized, with the race canceled on January 4 as a result. According to the Associated Press:

Al-Qaida threats against the Dakar Rally and an attack in Mauritania forced organizers to cancel the annual race on Friday, the eve of the 5,760-mile trek across North African desert scrubland and savannah. It was the first time the automobile, motorbike and truck rally has been called off in its 30-year history. In a statement, organizers blamed "threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organizations." the Dec. 24 killings of a French family and international tensions.

As a response to the previous AQIM attacks, the Mauritanian government had pledged to mobilize a significant security contingent in response to the heightened threat environment, but race organizers did not wish to risk the chances of an attack against any participants or spectators. The cancellation of the race is a big blow to Mauritania as the race provides a significant inflow of revenue into the impoverished country. AQIM made reference to the rally in a posting on an Internet forum as it took credit for the December 26 attack that killed three Mauritanian soldiers:

"This operation came at a time when the sky of beloved Nouakchott is sullied by the Israeli flag fluttering over it, at a time when the Mauritanian regime remains (an agent) of the crusaders, detaining Muslim youth and starving the Mauritanian people while guarding its masters, securing for the infidels a suitable climate for the 'Rally' and... fighting the mujahedeen under the banner of the cross," it said.

The cancellation of this race should make clear to all that al-Qaeda is far from a defeated organization, that even as it and its affiliates have suffered major setbacks in Iraq, the jihad continues in areas of the world as far flung from one another as Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean to Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. The disruption of the rally is a major victory for AQIM, which reportedly has only has a few dozen members in Mauritania.

Americans unconcerned about terrorism.

As the New Year begins, the World is in turmoil. Islamic fundamentalism is exerting pressure in places like South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and probably soon, in Europe. Yet, it is pretty clear that we, here in America, do not feel threatened by terrorism. Most of us patiently tolerate the extra waiting and surveillance when we travel by air (I hear plenty of murmured complaints). We see the violence throughout the World, but I believe many is us say, “well its over there,” or isn’t it sad what happened to that nice lady in Pakistan.

At Threatswatch, we spend our time writing about World events and trying to offer perspective on how these events affect our lives. Certainly, the analysis provided about terrorism around the globe is informative to anyone who spends the time to read the entries and to follow some of the sourced links. But when I read that people in a recent study (released December 14, 2007) seem to not believe that they are threatened by terrorism, it makes me stop and think.

According to the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation study involving over 1000 respondents, 39 per cent of respondents are very or somewhat worried about themselves or someone in their family becoming a victim of terrorism, down five points since March. Further, 46% believe that neither side is winning the War on Terrorism.

Question: How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism: very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried, or not worried at all?

Answer: Very and Somewhat worried declines to 39% in December from 44% in March 2007; Not worried at all, increased to 28% from 23% in March 2007.

Question:Who do you think is currently winning the war on terrorism: the U.S. and its allies, neither side, or the terrorists?

Answer: The U.S. and its allies up to 32% from 28% in January 2007; the terrorists up to 21% from 17% in January 2007; those answering "neither side" declined from 54% in January to 46% in December 2007.

Source: Opinion Research Corporation / CNN
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,024 American adults, conducted from Dec. 6 to Dec. 9, 2007. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

I’m not sure whether this is a matter of definition (the same study shows that a majority of Americans oppose the War in Iraq – is there confusion over the mission?) or whether we are simply falling back into a dangerous complacency.

Perhaps it is the focus of the new Democratically led Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives. The Committee Chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson recently has sent a memo to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. Contained in that memo was a “to-do” list.

CHERTOFF TO-DO LIST

Critical Vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security - Develop a plan for the mass exodus that will occur due to an Administration change.

Containers Security Standards and Procedures (Seals) - Draft the regulations as mandated by the SAFE Port Act of 2006 and mandated again by the 9/11 Bill.

National Response Plan (NRP) - release long overdue NRP while ensuring adequate input from state and local officials.

Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) - Issue the TWIC card as mandated by the SAFE Port Act of 2006.

Explosives Detection at Passenger Screening Checkpoints – Issue the strategic plan that was required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and mandated again by the 9/11 Bill.

Complete Critical Border Security Initiatives - Implement US-VISIT biometric air exit by the end of calendar year 2008 and complete Project 28.

What is Project 28? Flanking the Sasabe Port of Entry (POE) on the U.S.–Mexico border in Arizona, Project 28 is the first operational task order awarded to Boeing as part of the SBInet contract it won in September 2006.

The Secure Border Initiative – SBINet - is a program focused on transforming border control through technology and infrastructure

Do we, as a country, fear terrorism? Do we think that it will affect our lives? Or do we now (again) consider terrorism something that occurs somewhere else? I think that along the way we have lost our focus. Horribly, I believe that many people may have actually grown to believe that September 11th was an anomaly, and that it won’t happen again. I know that there are some in my own family who are like that. How soon we forget. How tragic it is that it may take an attack even worse than that of September 11th to make the rest of the country reawaken. I am afraid, I am very afraid that we are in the process of letting our guard down.

January 5, 2008

When Disaster Response and Technology Converge

Convergence is a great word these days because it also relates to how different technologies can combine to create something new. But one of the most intriguing things about what I do is watching as issues converge. Recently, I’ve spent a good amount of the “not enough time” that I spend writing for Threatswatch on questions of preparedness and critical infrastructure. Specifically, I’ve been watching the emergence of the potential for global flu pandemic, and also discussing its possible impact on business continuity. Both issues are important, but at the core, the question of infrastructure crosses over to other potential disasters (terrorist and manmade). It is, in fact, one of the reasons why one of the areas I’m personally interested in (outside of that of my company’s own technologies) is looking at the interdependencies of industry, health and safety and infrastructure.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security indicated that the “last mile” (the part of the network that links users with broadband access) of the Nation’s telecommunications systems might be vulnerable if there was an outbreak of pandemic flu (refer to Avian Flu or H5N1). Greg Garcia, the DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communication noted that up to 40% of the workforce would be unable to commute to work in the event of an outbreak, and that this situation would stress the country’s telecommunications systems

“And you don’t get to pick which 40 percent that could be,” he said during a speech at the New York Metro Infragard Alliance Security Summit in December. “Naturally, telecommuting will be a key mechanism to keeping our businesses and government operational during a pandemic flu.”

Among the findings of the DHS working group was that unless ISPs, telecommunications carriers and other vendors put safeguards in place, the connections that we all take for granted and depend on would likely be disrupted. The projected disruptions go beyond your Internet connection at home, though. It also includes connections to hospitals, health plans and physicians. Garcia’s recommendations for the health care industry, business and government included:

● obtaining a telecommunications service priority (TSP) for enterprises
● subscribing to government emergency telecommunications service (GETS)
● cards and/or wireless priority services (WPS) capabilities for critical IT staff
● limit access to business critical services through the enterprise connection
● limit remote access to users critical to maintaining business continuity
● adjust or retime automatic desktop backup software updates for telecommuters
● enhance the enterprise’s cybersecurity posture due to increased reliance on communications and IT, reduced support staff and the increased threat of cyber attack.

The emphasis – the priority – is to ensure that the Nation continues to operate and deliver critical services, even under the worst of circumstances.

It is important to understand that a number of different pieces all will eventually have to fit together for this country’s response to the range of “all hazards” that can strike. It ranges from man-made (terrorist) incidents to natural disasters. This convergence involves combining technologies from different areas to solve previously unsolved problems.

January 4, 2008

Godspeed, Andrew Olmsted

Because I just can't write it twice, Godspeed, Andrew Olmsted.

I don't cry often. But I find myself crying - against his wishes - for a man I had never met though, like many, felt I knew and knew I liked and knew I respected.

Please read Andrew's own farewell, poignantly written 'just in case,' and tucked neatly in his cyber-pocket after deploying to Iraq.

Godspeed, Andrew Olmsted. Godspeed.

The Wisdom of In-Sourcing

Military operations may neutralize immediate kinetic threats and strategic communications may make promises, but enduring change comes from systemic overhauls that stabilize unstable regions. Security, humanitarian relief, governance, economic stabilization, and development are critical for ultimate democratization. These are the real propaganda of deeds. Without competent and comprehensive action in these areas, tactical operations are simply a waste of time, money, and life.

So starts a remarkably insightful analysis of how the US national security apparatus should be operating in order to more effectively deal with the myriad problems facing the US around the world that are not well resolved with gunpowder.

The author, Matt Armstrong – one of two people in the country who actually hold graduate-level credentials in Public Diplomacy – goes on to argue that the US government has resources and strategies to address these problems, though both are limited in various means, and a proper alignment is far off:

The National Security Strategy declares the need to bring all of the elements of America’s national power to bear to build the “infrastructure of democracy” and to be a champion of “human dignity”. But, instead of consistent, coherent, and coordinated, operations, the U.S. relies on ad hoc reconstruction and stabilization solutions heavily dependent on outsourcing in lieu of any substantial internal capacity.

Some will argue that building such a capability to deal with the aftermath of wars is to build capacity that will rarely be used, but the employment of such a capability worldwide could largely reduce the need to use force over time. Lipstick on the nation-building pig? In Matt's own words:

This is not about building ‘nations’ but creating structural capacity that leads to enduring institutions that will lead to a stable state that has a chance to become prosperous while denying sanctuary and ideological support to terrorists, insurgents, and extremists. Don’t build this capacity and the enemy will simply wait us out.

A must read.

Raise The Costs for Tehran, Not Regime Stature

Rather than the wholesale abandonment of US efforts to contain Iran, how about Raising the Costs for Tehran?

Just asking an open-ended question...

Read the two articles. The first makes excellent observations, questionable conclusions and very poor recommendations. The second considers ways to make existing sanctions perhaps actually work.

As Michael Jacobson writes, "There has been far too little attention paid to how effectively the measures are being implemented." It's not a matter of failed sanctions inasmuch as it is a matter of actual implementation and enforcement - as are so many solutions handed down from the UN. Paper is as paper does.

Sanctions may indeed be an ineffective deterrent, but if they are barely implemented, it is rather tough to determine that it was the sanctions themselves that failed.

Curfew only matters if it's enforced.

Some US Passenger Flights To Get Missile Defense

The USA Today reports that NY-to-CA non-stop flight passenger jets are getting anti-missile systems to defend against terrorist attacks via shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, or ManPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems).

Tens of thousands of airline passengers will soon be flying on jets outfitted with anti-missile systems as part of a new government test aimed at thwarting terrorists armed with shoulder-fired projectiles.

Three American Airlines Boeing 767-200s that fly daily round-trip routes between New York and California will receive the anti-missile laser jammers this spring, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which is spending $29 million on the tests.

Jets will fly with the jammer device mounted on the belly of the plane, between the wheels. The device works with sensors, also mounted on the plane, that detect a heat-seeking missile and shoot a laser at it to send the missile veering harmlessly off course.

There will be testing, but none of the testing (once installed) will involve firing missiles, lest passengers fear they could be shot down in a test. The system has already been tested on similar cargo aircraft.

Symposium: The Day After

ThreatsWatch participated in a recent symposium published today at FrontPage Magazine titled "The Day After," focusing on the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel and what 'The Day After" Iran announces nuclear weapons capability and/or possession might look like. Steve Schippert participated with Israel's former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy and the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post Caroline Glick, and freelance writer and Tel Aviv-based translator David Hornik.

The two rounds of discussion began just before the recent NIE on Iran and concluded recently. Schippert closed the discussion with the following observations.

The threat posed [to Israel] by an Iranian nuclear arsenal is not one of mere blood and danger, but one of annihilation.

And Iran is quite aware of Israel's Samson Option - the Middle Eastern version of Mutually Assured Destruction. The only possibility of negating this is to strike Israel's nuclear arsenal - an officially unacknowledged but intentionally poorly kept Israeli 'secret.' This is why Iran's announcement of any nuclear weapons will not be in merely achieving weapons capability or a single weapon - but rather when it has the arsenal it needs if announced at all.

If permitted to achieve this, The Day After may not simply be the day after Iran announces its ability, but The Day After it does so by demonstrating it.

Feeling increasingly isolated and cornered, Israel will thus feel ever more compelled to act, entrusting its very survival to no ally, not even the United States. Perhaps there will then be a new "The Day After" symposium conducted in Persian rather than English.

Readers can consider the entire symposium and the sober observations from Gold, Glick and Hornik here.

Kenya's Descent into Anarchy

The previously stable and economically prosperous East African nation of Kenya has erupted in a spasm of deadly post-election violence resulting in the deaths of over 300 individuals in a few short days. The unrest began soon after evidence of improprieties in Kenya's December 27 presidential election emerged. The election pitted the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki, against Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement, who was running ahead in polling prior to the election. Kibaki was deemed the winner, but allegations of vote-rigging by Kibaki and his supporters have been alleged by Odinga and backed up by Western observers. As protests exploded in anger over the results, the confrontations between supporters of the two candidates have taken on the decidedly unsavory flavor of ethnic conflict. The Kikuyu tribe, of which President Kibaki is a member, has been targeted by members of Odinga's Luo tribe and vice versa, with the involvement of other tribes as well. There are more than 40 tribes in Kenya with Kikuyus as the most numerous tribe at 22% of the population, a group that has traditionally composed the country's most prominent figures in government and commerce. Luos comprise 13% of the population and have a history of animosity with the Kikuyu.

Many Luos feel they have been politically cheated by Kikuyus over Kenya's history. Odinga's father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, fell out with founding President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, within three years of 1963 independence. The rift worsened when rising Luo politician Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969, and Luos blamed it on Kenyatta's regime. Odinga says Kibaki cheated him out of a deal to create a prime minister's position in exchange for his Luo votes in the 2002 election.

Kenya, unlike some of its East African neighbors, has been relatively free of turmoil of this sort since its independence from the United Kingdom, enjoying a healthy economy and tourism sector. Though tribal tensions have been present in the past, inter-tribal violence of this kind has broken a new threshold. According to The New York Times:

Within the span of a week, one of the most developed, promising countries in Africa has turned into a starter kit for disaster. Tribal militias are roaming the countryside with rusty machetes, neighborhoods are pulling apart, and Kenya’s economy, one of the biggest on the continent, is unraveling — with fuel shortages rippling across East Africa because the roads in Kenya, a regional hub, are too dangerous to use. Roadblocks set up by armed men, something synonymous with anarchic Somalia, have cropped up across the country, in towns on the savannah and in the cramped slums.

In an event reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide of the 1990's and other similarly horrific events that have plagued history, an Assemblies of God church packed full of refugees was burnt to the ground on January 1. The massacre, perpetrated by a tribal melange of Kalenjins, Luhyas and Luos in the town of Eldoret, killed approximately 50 members of the Kikuyu tribe that had sought refuge in the seemingly safe confines of a place of worship. As reported by The Australian:

In broad daylight, a crowd of Kenyans set a church filled with hundreds of terrified families on fire and listened to their screams as flames engulfed them. According to witnesses including police and a Red Cross volunteer, those who escaped the Assemblies of God Church in Eldoret, about 300km west of Nairobi, were hunted down with machetes; others hid inside pit latrines.

Thursday, January 3, saw an attempted protest in Kenya's capital of Nairobi by supporters of Raila Odinga. Battles raged between opposition members and police across the city's slums. Further protests are planned for the coming days.

Kenyan police fired tear gas and water cannons to prevent an opposition rally Thursday before the country's top legal official called for an independent probe into the presidential election which has sparked a week of deadly unrest.

Huge numbers of paramilitary police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters gathered at the site of a rally called by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The police action prevented thousands of people from getting from slum districts in the capital to Uhuru (independence) Park for the protest.

The main fear now is that Kenya's post-election chaos will descend into an outright civil war with the potential for acts of ethnic cleansing and even genocide against the Kikuyu. Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has been dispatched to Kenya in an attempt to address the crisis. So far, efforts at mediation between the two candidates and their supporters have failed even though Kibaki and Odinga have called for a halt to the bloodshed and as the disruptive effects of the election dispute are now being felt inside Kenya's neighboring states as well.

January 3, 2008

Principal Leadership v. Principled Leadership

In Voting the War, Victor Davis Hanson writes of the current lot of Presidential candidates and the varying positions on the Iraq War, "consistency of belief reveals a lot, since it suggests that views are formed on principles rather than the prevailing, and constantly shifting, majority impression." In presidential leadership during a time of war, there can be no substitute for principled beliefs and positions underpinning the arrays of decisions necessary in the successful prosecution of war. Such exists with President George W. Bush, though cheapened by the caricaturization of his "Stay the course" phrase, which was likewise fueled by his own communications shortcomings.

Vacillation and hedging along with the accompanying indecision in political leadership leads to a troubled path. Mission and strategy become less clear to high-level commanders and this necessarily trickles down the chain of command, affecting individual actions on the ground with hesitance borne of uncertainty. Initiative is lost.

President Bush has - in this writer's view - maintained his base principles in his thinking on Iraq and our involvement there. However, 2006 was a very difficult year. In 2007, things changed.

What changed? Many will cite "The Surge." That term, however, cheapens what really took place: The Shift.

A wholesale shift in both strategy and tactics, and wholesale shift in mindset. Clarity of mission and decisive leadership, from both President Bush as well as General David Petraeus. The effects are undeniable.

And what allowed this 'Shift' to happen while a majority were calling for either phased or complete withdrawal, including the misguided general 'shift' recommended by the widely championed Baker-Hamilton Report?

A decision by the Commander in Chief that was made on the foundations of principle.

Accepting the popular Baker-Hamilton recommendations - particularly at a low-point of personal popularity and presidential approval ratings - would have been Principal Leadership. Instead, what we saw was Principled Leadership, regardless of whether one happened to agree with the principles held or not.

It was that foundation of principle that enabled not simply a numeric 'surge,' but a complete shift in attitude and thinking by the American men and women on the ground in Iraq. Where it counts. Where it matters.

More on the critical importance of principle in American leadership shortly.

January 2, 2008

Bhutto Was Not of Pakistan

Long-time Asia writer Justine Hardy wrote a very interesting brief in the hours after Bhutto's assassination that was published today at National Review Online.

6:16 P.M. — December 27, 2007 — A restaurant in a hotel in Delhi. The conversations around are mainly about wine and who’s having the biggest New Year’s parties. Most people are on mobiles, many of the conversations are just chit-chat, but a few of them are talking about Benazir Bhutto. Their tone mirrors the solipsism of economically grandiose India. They were not asking, “What now for Pakistan?” but “Will this effect us at all, should we be worried?” It will mean nothing for them because they exist in the hot-house financial bubble that barely touches daily India. They are two separate countries. It will mean a lot for the Congress leadership of India as it tries to keep the door open to their stroppy teenage-type sibling of a neighbour.

But not for the Indian elite she was observing. And, after mercifully contemplating conspiracy theories only briefly, as well as Bhutto's life, Hardy completes the circle in her thoughts, paralleling Indian society with Pakistan's, India's "stroppy teenage-type sibling of a neighbour."

Benazir may have been the remodelled face of democracy in Pakistan that we wanted to buy into, brushing aside her very messy political history. Let this death not be a waste, let it remind us that Pakistan is not a pro-Western democracy. It is, across large swathes of the country, a Western-hating place that has shaped so many of the Islamic terrorists we are trying to contend with today. Until we understand this we fail in our understanding of what Musharraf has been trying to do in Pakistan in building a lasting relationship with the west amongst a people who wanted exactly the opposite, barring the tight enclave of the political elite, those who live as separately from Pakistan as the rich Indians in the restaurant here live from street India beyond the sound-insulated glass. Benazir Bhutto was from that elite class. She was not of Pakistan.

Pakistan is clearly not yet a pro-Western democracy. But, for all his ills and shortcomings, perhaps Pervez Musharraf should be appreciated more for his efforts against the grain of the vast majority of the Pakistani public. While we eschew the delays in full democratization, he remains steadfastly pro-Western - and largely Western himself - trying to build a bridge with the West unlike any other could or would.

We should keep in mind that in his overwhelming domestic unpopularity, he could quickly and easily bolster his own domestic support by acting and speaking in a more anti-American manner and drive a populist wedge between Pakistan and the West. But he has not, though it an easy fix to a difficult and overwhelming unpopularity.

And while Bhutto herself may have made conciliatory overtures to the US in order to gain its support for her political drive, this should not be mistaken for a matching pro-US outlook held by a majority of her PPP supporters.

Sharing an interesting read that was worth my time this morning. Perhaps worth yours, too.

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