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February 29, 2008

SBINet – Virtual Border Security Delayed

Despite the denials by Secretary Chertoff that the SBINet (Project 28) will be mothballed, the $20 million project to deploy a virtual technology fence along the Arizona-Mexican border is being delayed for up to three years.

Though the department took over that initial stretch Friday from Boeing, authorities confirmed that Project 28, the initial deployment of the Secure Border Initiative network, did not work as planned or meet the needs of the U.S. Border Patrol. According to investigators of the GAO, software problems and other “unplanned difficulties” have plagued the implementation of the SBINet.

“It’s not really what they had envisioned,” Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, said at today’s joint hearing on SBInet by two subcommittees of House Homeland Security Committee.

Testing is not complete, but Project 28’s ability to detect intrusions is expected to be lower than the rate of 95 percent, plus or minus 5 percent, that DHS wants. On the other hand, it is argued that the system is a prototype. DHS press secretary Laura Keehner indicated that the system demonstration had been successful in the field test, and that it had enabled the identification of over 2000 illegal aliens since December 2007. Further, DHS indicates that the feasibility of the technical approach, critical technologies and system integration had been proven.

Still, this is a long-term, multi-billion dollar program (the 2006 estimate was $7.6 billion through project completion in 2011 to secure the entire 2000 mile border). Boeing was given an additional $65 million in December to upgrade the software. As you read some of the information, those familiar with contracting will note comments like “portions of Project 28 will be replicated” combined with “unworkable demonstration system.” Regardless, this sounds like a political football at a time when our border security is at stake.

February 28, 2008

New WTC- Question of Security Flaws

Earlier this week, we passed the 15th anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center occurred when Ramsi Yusef and his cohorts attempted to take Tower I (North) down with a truck bomb loaded with a fertilizer based bomb. Now, as the plans for the new World Trade Center are being finalized, questions about the safety of its designs have been raised.

Among the concerns are that the buildings contain too much glass, that they sit too close to the street where untold numbers of trucks would pass each day, and a further concern about whether or not the buildings should meet higher blast standards.

In a recent NY Daily News report:
Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund said the agency is "very confident that the entire rebuilt WTC site -- every building and every square inch -- will operate with an unprecedented level of safety and security." Michael Balboni, Governor Elliot Spitzer's deputy secretary for public safety, emphasized, "At the end of the day, this will be one of the most secure footprints on the globe."

The questions are pretty straightforward.

· A row of three mostly glass towers positioned too closely to city streets, increasing their vulnerability to attack
· Difficulties in inspecting some 2,000 delivery trucks and sightseeing buses that will enter or leave the site daily
· A vehicle security center which has not been fully designed and relies on vehicle inspection technology that has not even been developed yet

The question of whether the new buildings should meet Defense Department or Department of Homeland Security blast standards usually reserved for U.S. embassies or missions abroad is an interesting one.

The Vehicle Screening Center (VSC) is another unresolved issue. The design and engineering specifications for the nearly $500 million underground security center are not completed, even though the Port Authority claims that it will be completed when the other buildings are completed in 2012.

Frankly, it would seem that all, possible, security precautions be taken for a piece of real estate that has been targeted twice before.

Israel Kills Hamas Terrorists Recently Trained in Iran, Syria

Reading is fundamental. It's more than a public service message or a familiar and excellent nonprofit children's literacy organization. It is a lesson we adults often must relearn over and over again. One of our bad habits is in reading news. Far too often we fail to progress beyond the third paragraph.

If you had failed once again when reading today's New York Times article on the Hamas rocket attacks and the Israeli response, you would have missed paragraphs 11 and 12. And these paragraphs are fundamental to understanding what Israel and the West are facing.

Palestinians said two of the militants killed in the first Israeli strike were Abdullah Edwan, a rocket engineer, and Muhammad Abu Aker, a rocket squad commander. Residents said the men were going to a training camp in southern Gaza. Two were masked, they said, and returned from Iran three weeks ago.

Relatives of Mr. Edwan, who was said to have been the main strike target, said he was trained in Syria and Iran. Two other militants were wounded, medical officials said.

It's not the IDF making such claims, it is Palestinian family members.

When you hear someone minimize Iran's involvement in terrorism across the globe and across the Sunni-Shi'a divide, refer them to this article and these paragraphs from the New York Times today. Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, about as Sunni an organization as there is. And Iran is, naturally, the protagonist of the (Shi'a) Islamic Revolution there since 1979.

Food for thought.

Here is an example of ill-advised dismissal of Shi'a-Sunni cooperation in terrorism:

Hezbollah and Al Qaeda - International Herald Tribune Op-Ed

Here was the ThreatsWatch rebuttal to that failed logic:

Dangerous Liaisons: Dismissing al-Qaeda – Hizballah Cooperation Fosters Dangerous Misconceptions

Skilled terrorists armed with rockets, missiles and tons of explosives are not born in a vacuum. And the Hamas (Sunni) terrorists in Gaza have a long, profitable track record of Iranian (Shi'a) sponsorship.

When the world cries out about Israel's defensive 'siege' or blockade of the territory as 'collective punishment,' there are no strings of responsibility run back to the Iranian regime. None.

You, at least, should know better now.

Cyber Jihad Symposium

There is an interesting symposium today on the topic of Cyber Jihad, published at FrontPage Magazine. Interesting discussion that you might want to check out.

Opening comment by Dr. Lawrence Prabhakar:

Cyber Jihad represents the new defining paradigm of asymmetric conflict that is being launched by the wannabe jihadists in attacking a superior adversary with enduring tactics and weapons of the electronic cyberspace.

The contest pits the defending West against the host of coordinated attacks by a radical ideology that is determined of its objectives in terms of inflicting predatory physical violence; massive economic destruction and triggering a social and civic collapse that would destroy the very fabric of the liberal-democratic edifice.

The war in cyberspace is a virulent attempt to:

i) intimidate the public;

ii) impose the pervasive influence of a dogma that seeks radical transformation of the rest of the world to its whims or face the impunity of being destroyed;

iii) win the contest of the public space that delegitimizes all governments, civic institutions, democratic values;

iv) glorify violence and denigrate all pacific initiatives to development and growth;

v) promote religious obscurantism as the means of an emergent order.

Cyber jihad enjoys all the technological advantages of its adversary--the West, though it is asymmetrically weak in resources, yet its high human motivational force provides it the prospect to overwhelm the West that is now being surmounted not only by the predatory, asymmetric and attritional power of the cyber jihadis, but it also confronts the assertive and revisionist challenges of Russia, China Iran and North Korea who are evermore determined to attrite and assail the power of the West, the values of liberal-democracy and impose an authoritarian world order.

Meet Mahmoud Abbas

While the US and Israel try to work with Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, when others in Israel are hesitant to trust him because of his past, they should not be simply dismissed as alarmists. Meet Mahmoud Abbas.

"At this present juncture, I am opposed to the armed struggle because we can't succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different," he said.

The PA president also expressed pride both in himself and his organization, Fatah, for trailblazing the path of resistance.

"I had the honor of firing the first shot in 1965 and of being the one who taught resistance to many in the region and around the world; what it's like; when it is effective and when it isn't effective; its uses, and what serious, authentic and influential resistance is," Abbas said.

"It is common knowledge when and how resistance is detrimental and when it is well timed," he addad. "We (Fatah) had the honor of leading the resistance and we taught resistance to everyone, including Hizbullah, who trained in our military camps."

He did not say he is opposed to fighting Israel because he seeks peace and coexistence. Rather, "because we can't succeed in it."

I think in this space I have voiced support for trying to work with Abbas. But what I will not do is deride those who fear this because they do not trust him. They have good reason, as you can see.

February 27, 2008

The Think Tank is Dead. . .

. . . Long Live The Think Tank.

From our colleague, Michael Tanji. Enjoy.

Parlour Games: ElBaradei 'Disarming Iran'?

In the Financial Times, Ray Takeyh and Joseph Cirincione make quite the amusing claim today: ElBaradei is quietly managing to disarm Iran.

It is a popular parlour game in Washington's corridors of power and European chancelleries to deride Mohamed ElBaradei as a quixotic bureaucrat determined to subvert the western strategy of restraining Iran's nuclear programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report suggesting progress has been made by Iran is quietly disparaged by the Bush administration as another clean pass for the rash theocracy. The point that Mr ElBaradei's critics miss is that he is judiciously achieving the goals that they seemingly desire - the disarmament of the Islamic Republic.

The IAEA process, particularly the adoption last year of a "work plan" to investigate suspect activities, has been criticised by many Americans. The latest report shows, however, that process is working. The investigation and inspections - even the limited ones the IAEA is currently able to conduct - have, in effect, shut down direct weapons work and resolved many of the outstanding historical questions.

Oh really? One would think, after making such a bold statement, that Takeyh and Cirincione would have no trouble then spelling out specifically what "direct weapons work" ElBaradei and the IAEA have "shut down" in Iran. But they do not and leave the assertion hanging mid-air. They also dismiss as seemingly trivial the IAEA report's questions regarding "administrative interconnections" among Iran's enrichment, warhead and missile design programs.

What they go on to explain is how ElBaradei accepted Iran's explanations about such things as the HEU contamination on its centrifuges - an explanation that is certainly correct - while also accepting other explanations that are not so clearly obvious. But equally telling in ElBaradei's acceptance of the Iranian explanations is the statement used after each one: that the IAEA still seeks to verify the veracity of the Iranian explanations. The IAEA report states on each question the IAEA accepted as follows:

The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage. However, the Agency continues, in accordance with its procedures and practices, to seek corroboration of its findings and to verify this issue as part of its verification of the completeness of Iran’s declarations.

This is not an insignificant caveat. And it is far from a 'final answer,' though Iran says that it has given theirs. It sounds a lot more like 'trust but verify.'

At any rate, Takeyh and Cirincione continue.

Mr ElBaradei has disproved the notion that Iran's nuclear strategy is immutable. Despite its apparent solidarity, there are divisions within the theocratic regime on the urgency of the nuclear programme. It is true that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad and his militant allies' calculations are susceptible to neither offers of incentives nor threats of force. However, for the more tempered members of the ruling elite, the nuclear issue is considered within the context of international relations. Indeed, the fact that Iran has suspended the weapon design component of its programme since 2003 and is largely complying with the IAEA "work plan" reflects the propensity of the state to adhere to certain limits.

While there are indeed divisions within segments of the regime, let's not get carried away and credit Mohamed ElBaradei or the IAEA for exploiting them. ElBaradei knows what the Iranians want him to know. Just for kicks, let's bear in mind that the IAEA has no enforcement mechanism and that, as a result, Iran continues its enrichment activities unhindered - a.) In defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, b.) Undeterred by resultant sanctions, and c.) Unimpeded by the 'watchful eye' of Mohamed ElBaradei and the IAEA.

Let's go back to the IAEA's own report here. Iran - again under UN Security Council demand to halt enrichment activities - is implementing an advanced P-2 centrifuge design cascade that will ultimately speed its enrichment cycle as much as four-fold from the old P-1 design.

At the end of January 2008, the single P-1 machine and the 10- and 20-machine P-1 cascades were dismantled and the space was used for the new IR-2 machines. All activities took place under Agency containment and surveillance. [Emphasis added.]

Let's recap:

• The UNSC has sanctioned Iran and ordered it to halt its enrichment activities.
• Iran ignores and dismisses the UNSC demand and continues its enrichment program.
• Significant Iranian enrichment advances and milestones take place as the IAEA simply watches on.

Oh, and let's not forget. . .

• Two respected individuals, Ray Takeyh and Joseph Cirincione, proclaim "It is the much maligned Mr ElBaradei that has paved the way for success."

For whom? How does that make any sense?

Count me out of that cocktail party, because I beg to differ.

New and Improved: Euro Carrots for Mullahs to Mull

Consistent with previous fallout after December's NIE on Iran, the Europeans are planning a new round of incentives for Iran, apparently in tandem with a supposed new round of UNSC sanctions on Iran hoped for within the next week. That the most significant "outstanding questions" remain unresolved by the latest IAEA report is of no matter. After all, Iran said the evidence indicating "administrative interconnections" among Iran's enrichment, warhead and missile development programs are all "lies" and "fabrications."

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Note to Javier Solana: The sanctions are laughed at by Iran. There is no stick. And the previous US/EU attempt at offering incentives - which included construction of Western nuclear power plants - failed because Iran's own carrot is bigger. Why would they compromise?

The Iranian program steams ahead while we in the West amuse ourselves with the next bright idea. Iran is, simply stated, undeterred by our weak sticks and disinterested in our proffered carrots, which include all the civilian nuclear power - and accompanying uranium fuel - that Iran could ever want.

At some point, we will have to ask why this is, no?

IRGC Coup d'Etat In Iran

Every four years, Iranians go to the polls to elect the members of the Mejlis - the Iranian parliament. And while a democratic process on its face, the fact that all candidates are vetted by the clerical leadership - and those objectionable eliminated - assures that the Iranian people can only choose between candidates the regime approves of and candidates who approve of the regime. Not exactly the definition of popular representation.

But as Iranians head to the polls this year, something is distinctly different - something that began three years ago with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as president. It is the rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp in halls of power beyond military. The mullah regime has grown increasingly reliant on the IRGC in order to maintain power. And now this manifests itself in the candidate lists for the 2008 parliamentary elections - with predictable electoral results that will signify the 'mission creep' of the IRGC. Ali Alfoneh explains in greater detail in an AEI Middle Eastern Outlook column, IRGC coup d'etat In Iran. He concludes below.

Unable or unwilling to satisfy internal demands for reform and fearful of external pressure, the leadership of the Islamic Republic has handed over executive, and now legislative, power to the military. Commanders may retire, but they do not become civilians. They maintain informal networks and command structures honed at the frontlines with Iraq.

The Iran-Iraq war was their formative experience. United Nations sanctions and European Union admonishing simply do not compare to the horrors of trench warfare, Iraqi mustard gas, and wartime deprivation. International pressure may be a nuisance, but it is not serious coercion to a hardened generation of political elites used to the daily bombardment of civilian targets and the food rationing that occurred in Iran in the 1980s. Such a generation of leaders is not as sensitive to economic sanctions.

At the same time, the IRGC is changing the nature of the Islamic Republic. While still ruled by the clergy, in practice the Islamic Republic has begun to resemble other third world military regimes, with a military-industrial complex running the state machinery and controlling civil society.

The Islamic Republic's militarization, however, follows a different pattern from other military regimes. Rather than power being seized by force, the transformation in Iran will be gradual. Nevertheless, the March parliamentary elections are bound to mark a milestone in this creeping coup d'etat.

As Ali Alfoneh explains in the column (read it in its entirety), the clerical regime's power and longevity is now inextricably tacked to the level of loyalty of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Understanding the loyalties of the key IRGC leadership will be essential to reading future tea leaves in Iran.

Resolve and the War of Ideas

We are losing the greater War of Ideas. It's not because we have no ideas or ideals. Nor is it because we do not know how to convey them in a compelling manner. (Are you watching the crush for the latest Air Jordan sneakers from Nike? It's not because there is gold bullion in every 100th pair.)

We've plenty of ideas as important today as nearly 250 years ago, and we've mastered the art of communication. No, the problem is greater than either of those potential obstacles.

To begin to demonstrate, consider some important paragraphs below from a Jerusalem Post analysis titled Nasrallah's existential dilemmas. The context of the first paragraph cited is a speech from Hizballah's political leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered at a Beirut mosque last week and broadcast by Hizballah's Al-Manar TV. The excerpt is relatively lengthy, but read through it. You will see that it applies here.

The Hizbullah leader [Nasrallah] railed from his unknown hiding place against the 'robbing and murdering Zionists', whom he accused of killing prominent Hizbullah official Imad Mughniyeh. Behind the Hizbullah leader's customary defiant rhetoric, however, his movement currently faces a series of dilemmas.

Firstly, the movement's attempt to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, launched in late 2006, has gone nowhere. A few Hizbullah supporters (and a lot of tents) remain at the movement's 'permanent demonstration' in downtown Beirut. But the Saniora government has stood firm.

The constitutional crisis over the presidency is dragging on. There is a growing sense that Hizbullah's only non-Shi'a ally, the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun (Christian Maronite), is becoming an irrelevancy, because of the failure of Aoun to emerge as a realistic presidential candidate.

The result of this is to make Hizbullah's camp look more and more like a narrow, sectarian Shi'a force. The movement has spent the last decade and a half cultivating an image of itself as a 'patriotic' Lebanese and pan-Arab movement, rather than a sectarian, Iran-sponsored militia. This image is now looking increasingly frayed.

Perhaps it is looking frayed with Aoun, seen by some Lebanese Christians as a leader and by other Christians as a traitor, failing to live up to Hizballah's expectations - or his own.

But to whatever degree Hizballah's image as a nationalist movement is seen (or not) as frayed, it is most certainly not for lack of marketing effort. Pay close attention to the astute and skilled usage of imagery, compelling music and language in this recent Hizballah video effort.

Matt Armstrong took note and asked, "Terrorist or Nationalist?" And, in my view, that's precisely the question such groups would love the West to be asking themselves. For my money, it's important in this context to acknowledge that Hizballah was birthed by Iran and Syria more for the cause of fighting and killing the invading Israeli Jews and American and French forces than to win a civil war based on any indigenous love of Lebanon.

For Iran, it was a matter of exporting its revolution, only four years young at the time of the bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut. For Syria, it was about the maintenance of a base through which it could later exert control of Lebanon from within, eventually fully realized in the 1989 Taif Accord.

In Hizballah's own language still today, the above video propaganda notwithstanding, its own aims are less about a love of Lebanon than hatred for "Zionists" in Israel and the certainty of its "disappearance." This, Nasrallah reminds us, is an "established fact."

This is not beside the point. Rather, it is demonstrating it. Because Hizballah is thus required to effectively sell their hatred for the Jews of Israel as love of Lebanon in order to broaden their base. They must effectively market and sell an idea.

The video propaganda above, well produced and effective, is far more compelling than any message directly or indirectly employed (or not) to counter it among the target Lebanese audience. As Matt says, "you need to know to counter the message effectively." Note that he did not say you need to know how to. Because it's less a matter of knowing how if you don't know to.

There is a raging War of Ideas shaping this century. And the nation that turned certain stripes on rubber soled leather shoes into objects of desire that people have fought and killed over, and that promoted the shape of a soda bottle into a cultural icon, the country that invented "Guerrilla Marketing," is simply not engaged.

This. Must. Change.

We clearly know how. We must resolve to.

The latter is significantly more important and fundamental an obstacle than the former.

February 26, 2008

What About Bob? - A Turtle Bay Soft Cover

The UN's 'special coordinator for the Middle East peace process,' Robert Serry, pronounced from Turtle Bay that a 'new strategy' is needed by Israel, Egypt and Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority to end the Israeli blockade of Hamas' Gaza Strip. If it weren't from the austere halls of the United Nations, it would be a stunning display of ineptitude at understanding the conflict. Or bias. Pick one. But it's not stunning. It's just a display of ineptitude at understanding the conflict.

Despite Israeli denials, Serry, who was appointed to his post last December, on Tuesday reiterated that the Israeli siege of Gaza amounts "to collective punishment" of the territory's 1.5 million Palestinians.

He also chided the militant Hamas movement for not acting "with sufficient determination" to end rocket firing by Gaza-based militants on southern Israel.

Hamas hasn't acted to stop the rocket barrages "with sufficient determination"? Would Robert Serry have admonished the Third Reich for not acting "with sufficient determination" to stop the incineration of the Jews? It's hard to tell if that question is even rhetorical.

And collective punishment? What then is Sderot? Or even Ashkelon? It's the largest "collective" that Hamas can reach. That's why they are walled off and penned in, Bob. Hamas and the population that freely and openly elected the terrorists into a governing power.

And he expressed concern about "reports of outside militant groups now gaining a foothold in Gaza" but did not elaborate.

Of course he did not elaborate. Allow me. No, check that.

My friend Nir Boms has already elaborated on Gaza's New Residents. Read and one will be prepared to elaborate.

And to think I was in a good mood today...

February 25, 2008

NRC – Stop Using Cesium-137 Irradiators

Late last week the National Research Council issued a report titled “Government should spur replacement of radioactive cesium chloride in medical and research equipment,” urging hospitals and universities, along with the developers of certain medical devices, to stop using the 1,300 machines that are used to irradiate blood for transplant patients. While the cesium-137 is usually contained in stainless steel capsules, the material is radioactive and if combined with conventional explosives could become a dirty bomb or radiological dispersal device.

At a time when the number of these devices is increasing the disposal of the material is problematic.

About 400 of the cesium chloride irradiators in use in the United States were made by Canada's MDS Nordion, said Leonard Connell of the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, a member of the panel that produced the report. The number of cesium chloride irradiators appears to be on the rise in the United States, the report said. In addition, Connell said, there is no disposal facility for them in the United States.

The report argued that the storage of such large amounts of the deadly ingredient in potentially attractive targets poses a threat. Again, according to the NRC report, the concern over the toxicity of the cesium-137 is very real. Some might ask if it worth the concern? The report argues that phasing out the use of the material, especially in light of the on-going concern over the threat of a dirty bomb, is warranted.

Eight radionuclides account for more than 99 percent of the sealed sources that pose the highest security risks in the United States. Cesium-137 in the form of cesium chloride poses greater concern than the others because it is widely used in significant quantities and is soluble and dispersible. If ingested or inhaled, it delivers a dose to the whole body. The concern about the availability of sources is exacerbated by the lack of permanent disposal options, which increases the likelihood that unwanted cesium-137 will remain in storage where it could be vulnerable to theft, the committee emphasized.

The NRC is usually pretty objective and especially since they acknowledge that alternative, safer materials, including other forms of cesium could be used as substitutes, industry and academia should listen - - - “Possible options include less-hazardous forms of radioactive cesium (not currently commercially available), radioactive cobalt and other chemicals that cost more but work just as well in medical and research equipment, according to the council's report.” Frankly, I would probably conclude that the threat is real and the concern is valid.

The NRC offered a number of steps to achieve the phasing out of the cesium-137 that include the stoppage of licensing new cesium chloride irradiators (including their import/export), create government incentives for owners to decommission and dispose of the radioactive sources and devices, provide incentives to lower the cost of less dangerous materials, and possibly to create a government buy-back program (that’s a big WOW with the estimated cost of each irradiator being $200,000).

Is it worth the concern? Is it worth $260 million? It might be, considering the continuing threat of a dirty bomb, despite the fact that the real threat of a dirty bomb probably lies more in the bomb part of it.

Strategic Communication

The Taliban, tired of frequent demise by 'Nokia Triangulation,' have decided to threaten cellphone companies operating in Afghanistan. The International Herald Tribune reports.

The Taliban have demanded that all four cellphone companies in Afghanistan cease operating during night hours or face attacks on their offices and communication towers, according to a statement issued Monday to journalists.

The statement, issued by a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, complained that NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, which it called "occupying forces," were tracking the whereabouts of militants through their mobile phones and also conducting espionage through cellphones.

Dear Mr. Mujahid,

If you would kindly reject the practice of executing Afghan women with a bullet to the head in the public square for the intolerable sin of imperfection by adultery, and likewise reject the companion practice of murdering Afghan men who do not share your irresistible desire to kill all who disagree with you and your friends, then perhaps the local citizenry would not inform forces of your whereabouts. They - in theory - no longer feeling threatened, of course.

Until such time, please note that the power button on your cell phone does not require sunlight to function. At sunrise, however, it will function even still - neither requiring darkness - and you can press it at will.

Or, alternatively, you and yours can seek to blow up the cell phone operators and their civilian employess in Afghanistan. Surely we will witness the wisdom and compassion of your choice made in short order.


February 23, 2008

'Administrative Interconnections' Among Iran's Various R&D Programs

With the release of the IAEA's latest report on the Iranian nuclear program, ElBaradei's agency is worried about Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons though it does say that all other issues of concern have been addressed and unresolved questions answered. That's a rather fundamental issue to have 'concerns' about, regardless of what Mohamed ElBaradei and his IAEA accepted from Tehran as explanations.

Opening the section regarding "Alleged Studies," the IAEA report's paragraph 35 has wording that is about as close to an accusation as anything written by ElBaradei is ever going to get.

The Agency has continued to urge Iran, as demanded by the Security Council, to address the alleged studies concerning the conversion of uranium dioxide (UO2) into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) (the green salt project), high explosives testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, which could have a military nuclear dimension and which appear to have administrative interconnections, and in view of their possible link to nuclear material (GOV/2007/58, para. 28). As part of the work plan, Iran agreed to address these alleged studies.

Did you catch it? Th report says that Iran's enrichment, missile and explosives (high explosives needed to implode and trigger a nuclear detonation - ie warhead) R&D programs "appear to have administrative interconnections."

We will have analysis of the new IAEA report in the coming days. Until then, in order to learn more about Iran's Green Salt Project that the IAEA report referenced above, see from February 2006:

InBrief: 'Green Salt Project': Iran Admits Another Nuclear Deception

PrincipalAnalysis: Iran, Plutonium and Assessing the Threat

February 22, 2008

The Web Surrounding Mugniyah's Death

While questions still remain regarding who orchestrated the assassination of Imad Mugniyah, there seems to be general agreement that Hizballah and its allies intend to use the "terror master's" death to justify acts of aggression (or from their perspective, retaliation) against Israel.

However, in today's Daily Star, Michael Young reports that the Hizballah-Syria-Iran alliance is spinning a more convoluted tale - one that has much grander ambitions in mind:

In the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, a source close to Hizbullah was quoted as saying that the Mughniyeh hit was "Palestinian-Israeli," using American technology and financed by an unidentified Gulf Arab official.

While a Palestinian-Israeli-American-Persian Gulf alliance might seem illogical to many, the motive for promoting such an idea is much clearer:

The deepening animosity between Syria and Saudi Arabia might mean the Mughniyeh investigation is carried even further to implicate some Arab states. The fear is that Syria would do such a thing to gain leverage and force leading Arab heads to state to attend the Arab League summit scheduled for late March in Damascus, therefore guaranteeing that the event will be a success. The only problem is that the absence of a prior solution in Lebanon will almost certainly mean a failed summit. Assad will probably not bring the Saudis or anyone else to his gathering through intimidation, let alone through a politicized investigation.

Yet, Young believes that most catastrophic element of the report may well be the Lebanese connection:

According to a Syrian source cited by Al-Haqiqa, the Mughniyeh investigation may accuse "official or semi-official Lebanese parties ... allied with [the government]" of having participated in the Mughniyeh operation. The paper suggested investigators might also identify Walid Jumblatt, or more specifically his alleged security chief, Hisham Nasreddine, as having played a role in the killing. The "official or semi-official" parties the source refers to is almost certainly the Information Department of the Internal Security Forces - essentially the state security apparatus most loyal to March 14. A key objective of Syria and the opposition in the negotiations over a new government has been to ensure that the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Information Department, is taken out of the hands of the parliamentary majority. If the information in Al-Haqiqa becomes the basis of an official Syrian charge, the aim may be to advance this agenda. As for Jumblatt, no one will seriously believe the Druze leader has the capacity to eliminate so secretive as figure as Mughniyeh. However, if the Syrians do level such an accusation, it may exacerbate tension on the ground between Jumblatt's supporters and Hizbullah, without the latter being able to express doubt in the Syrian conclusions. The party has little margin of maneuver vis-a-vis Damascus, and Iran has reportedly indicated it wants no quarrel with the Assad regime over Mughniyeh. Hizbullah has blamed Israel for the assassination, but its secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has also described March 14 as having sided with Israel. If the Syrians play on that theme, Nasrallah may find himself tossed back into the unforgiving alleyways of inter-Lebanese conflict.

If the Syrian report actually implicates all of these players, the fallout could be immense.

Decades of Inattention: Terror Masters' Permitted Evolution

At the Center for Security Policy, Caroline Glick has written a column that gives another brief history of the life and times of Imad Mugniyah. However, she begins not with a look at his murderous career's past, but rather at what was its present.

It is quite possible that terror master Imad Mughniyeh was not killed Tuesday night in Damascus for his past crimes, but to prevent him from carrying out additional attacks in the future.

On January 30, French security services raided a Paris apartment and arrested six Arab men. Three of the men - two Lebanese and one Syrian - were travelling on diplomatic passports. According to the Italian Libero newspaper, the six were members of a Hizbullah cell. Documents seized included tourist maps of Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin and Rome marked up with red highlighter to indicate routes, addresses, parking lots and "truck stopping points." The maps pointed to several routes to Vatican back entrances.

Libero's report explained that the "truck stopping points" aligned with information the French had received the week before from Beirut. There, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah had convened a conference of his senior terror leaders where he ordered them to activate Hizbullah cells throughout Europe to kidnap senior European leaders.

The 'French Connection' may prove insightful in what lead to his demise. It may or may not unfold eventually in the open source.

But it is Ms. Glick's concluding graphs that are most important here, and policy makers should pay close attention going forward.

Mughniyeh embodied the fact that terrorists of all shapes and colors willingly collaborate with one another against their common enemies in the West. Mughniyeh personally bridged all the divisions within the world of Arab and Islamic terrorism. He showed that when it comes to attacking the West, there is no distinction between secular, nationalist, religious, Islamist, Sunni or Shi'ite terrorists.

His work revealed the inconvenient truth so fervently denied by policy-makers and politicians throughout the Western world. He showed that for the jihadists there is no distinction between terrorists who attack in Israel or against Jewish targets abroad and those who attack non-Israeli and non-Jewish targets. Moreover, his work as an Iranian agent demonstrates Iran's central role in sponsoring jihad throughout the world.

Mughniyeh's legacy is not simply a laundry list of massacre and torture. It is the nexus of global terror. While it is a great thing that he is dead, it must be understood that his death is insufficient. Hundreds of thousands converged in Beirut to celebrate his life's work. The West must understand the significance of that work and unite to destroy it - layer after layer.
[Emphasis added.]

After decades of inattention, the Terror Masters' war has grown exponentially in scope, lethality and scale. They will not be defeated simply by killing its seasoned leadership - neither Mugniyah nor bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri.

We must resist the temptation to find a way to end the war in its various theaters, but rather embrace the necessity to win it and defeat them in all.

We did not declare it. Likewise, it is not within our power to 'end' it so long as they desire it. To presume so is both arrogant and naive. And a road to defeat.

February 21, 2008

AFRICOM HQ Won't Be In Africa

Ending months of speculation over where the headquarters for AFRICOM, the new unified combatant command for Africa, would be located, a definitive answer has been reached. AFRICOM will remain in Stuttgart, Germany, AFRICOM's base of operations since the command's inception. This question has been long running as a number of African countries came out in strong opposition to having the base in or anywhere near their territory. Liberia, the tiny country founded by repatriated American slaves on the Gulf of Guinea, was the only African nation to openly express a desire to host the headquarters facility. This question of location was a major distraction amid efforts to get AFRICOM up and running smoothly. According to an AFRICOM official:

Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the Stuttgart, Germany-based command known as Africom, told The Associated Press that "the discussion of where we will place the headquarters has been so animated and apprehensive that it is getting in the way of our programs."

In actuality, such an arrangement is not all that unusual. Central Command (CENTCOM), the command running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has its main headquarters in Tampa, Florida, while Southern Command, responsible for Central and South America, is located in Miami, Florida. In related news, President Bush is on the last legs of a several day trip to Africa. During the course of his visit, the establishment of AFRICOM was a major issue and Bush sought to allay fears among Africans that AFRICOM represents an effort to militarize US relations with the continent. What has apparently been unclear to these individuals is that Africa was previously covered by three commands, European Command, Central Command, and Pacific Command. The creation of AFRICOM as a means to concentrate responsibility for Africa under one roof is not a radical departure from previous policy. This appears to be getting overlooked in much of the concern over the command. President Bush responded to these concerns in his characteristic style:

"The purpose of this is not to add military bases," Bush said without being asked at the opening of a session with reporters here. "I know there's rumors in Ghana -- 'All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. Or as we say in Texas,that's bull."

Amid the consternation about AFRICOM, much of the humanitarian work performed in Africa over the course of the current administration was overlooked. For example, Bush announced a new $350 million program to combat elephantiasis, hookworm and river blindness, not to mention previous large investments for HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa.

Farewell Optimism: Miranshah II = Miranshah I in North Waziristan

Tuesday, on learning there was a new 'peace accord' signed in North Waziristan, I wondered, Is Miranshah II a Pakistani Deal With Tribes in FATA This Time? The Pakistani news reports (only two available at the time) relying on government sources assured us that indeed this was the case, that the 2008 deal was with tribal leaders interested in peace and not supporters or members of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance seeking respite, as was the case in 2006. In 2006, Pakistan ceded North Waziristan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in hopes of placating an implacable violent enemy to avoid direct conflict and procrastinate confrontation. And thus the safe haven was formed and al-Qaeda has since recovered to pre-9/11 levels and capabilities while anchored there.

It should have raises red flags immediately. In reality it did. However, in my own rush to find reason for optimism and to spell out once more the proper means of defeating an embedded insurgency, haste made waste. For Miranshah II of 2008 gives no evidence that it is any different than the Miranshah I lopsided deal beyond the word of the same government who assured us the last time that it had made no deal with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It had, in fact, maintained this incredulously until this past Monday, when it assured us this time was different.

And in that rush, I committed the cardinal sin of analyzing news: I failed to read attentively the whole report, skimming by the final graphs. I hope that readers did not make the same mistake. If you did, allow me to point out the final three paragraphs of this report from Dawn, which I cited Tuesday yet allowed myself to sail right past the real 'keys to the kingdom.'

Local residents said that while Khasadars, a ragtag tribal police, man the check-posts now in North Waziristan, militants continue to patrol the streets, though without challenging the government authority.

On Sunday, the authorities imposed a Rs50 million penalty on tribes living in Darpakhel, Miramshah village and Borakhel Wazirs for causing damage to government property during clashes.

The government, however, has agreed to release some of the tribesmen in its custody and pay compensation to those whose properties have also been damaged by security forces.

The first hint comes in the first graph above. Envision 'militants' patrolling the streets. Patrols in streets (of the North Waziristan capital, no less) are shows of force and the arms of enforcement.

Now ask yourself: What possible 'authority' can the 'government' actually possess if armed 'militants' are conducting patrols and enforcing their own security? It is no different than the Crips or Bloods on armed patrols of 42nd Street in New York City while the mayor claims there is peace because the gang is "not challenging government authority." What authority? The gangs - and in this instance, the 'militants' in Miranshah - are the authority. Clearly.

So what do we have just from this skeletal report?

• Don't create a government (ie. challenge gov't authority)
• Release of captured prisoners
• Cessation of attacks by Pakistani forces (that's the 'peace' part)
• Undisclosed monetary payment compensating for tribal deaths and damage

As we noted at the time regarding the September 2006 Miranshah I 'peace deal', Pakistan ceded to 'tribal leaders' nearly everything the Taliban had previously demanded. Have a good look at that list.

• All captured fighters freed & returned to Waziristan.
• All captured weapons & vehicles returned to Waziristan.
• Restoration of ‘perks & privileges’ for tribesmen.
• Cessation of all air & ground assaults on the Taliban in Waziristan.
• Withdrawal of Pakistani troops, including checkpoints in Waziristan.
• Undisclosed monetary payment compensating for deaths/damage.

Look familiar?

What it takes to defeat an embedded insurgency remains the same - as discussed in Tuesday's optimistic initial reaction. Unfortunately, so does the Pakistani approach to negotiating cease fires with an implacable enemy.

The absence of conflict ("they did not challenge government authority") is not peace. It is a breather. And the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance benefits exponentially more than the state of Pakistan and its forces. Over 30 terrorist training camps in North Waziristan did not appear out of thin air. They were built and operational after the 2006 'peace accord' that was Miranshah I.

And Miranshah II = Miranshah I.

February 20, 2008

Reaction to PBS' Haditha Marines Documentary - Rules of Engagement

A recent PBS Frontline documentary explored the saga of the Haditha Marines facing charges for the deaths of civilians that occurred after being ambushed by insurgents.

Over at Blackfive, arguably the most influential Military Blog on the Net, the initial reaction is: Frontline convinces me - Haditha Marines innocent.

In a shocking turn of events the PBS documentary on Haditha was overwhelmingly even-handed and convinced me they should face no punishment. The show was fair and I have no complaints about bias or slant. This is what PBS ought to do all the time.

This is my in-depth look at the incident from a decision point perspective. What are our troops thinking and is that the right decision. Haditha was a horrible loss of life, but the decisions were correct if not perfect.

Also see Bruce Kesler's review, in which he concludes PBS’ Frontline Haditha Earns a “B-”, while Jules Crittenden€ has weighed in as well.

The Migration of al-Qaeda in Iraq: Gaza's New Residents

Al-Qaeda terrorists from Iraq have entered into Gaza via the downed fence with Egypt, according to reports and jihadi websites. This should be viewed in context with AQI's recent message offering assistance to Palestinian terrorists in Gaza. On the al-Qaeda wave into Gaza (along with others), this week's guest on the Fire Watch podcast, Nir Boms, refers to them as Gaza's New Residents at The Weekly Standard.

The border incident, initiated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, allowed some otherwise unwelcome guests to enter Gaza. The Bethlehem-based Maan news agency quoted Hamas sources as estimating the number of Arab men who had entered the Gaza Strip as new residents at 2,000. Many of these men, according to Egyptian sources, toured a number of Hamas-affiliated training bases and security installations and expressed their desire to remain in the Gaza Strip and launch attacks against Israel. Some of the men, according to Arab sources, had recently fled from Iraq, where they had been carrying out attacks against U.S. troops.

Where else did they come from? A Sunni Muslim website that carries statements of al Qaeda reported last week on the arrival of at least four Saudi militants to Gaza through Egypt. The members-only website, al-ekhlaas.net, said that the four Saudis, one from Riyadh and three from Jeddah, entered Gaza with the help of an Egyptian guide. Sada Usama, the author of that site, is said to have spoken with the men who had arrived safely. He called on other Saudis to enter Gaza.

"Hamas has turned the Gaza Strip into an international center for global jihad," said one Palestinian Authority official to the Jerusalem Post. This official claimed that, "Most of the men who entered the Gaza Strip through the breached border are now being trained in Hamas's camps and schools." Another PA security official told the Jerusalem Post that, according to his information, dozens of al Qaeda operatives have managed to enter the Gaza Strip in the past two weeks. He said some of them had already been recruited to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. "They brought with them tons of explosives and various types of weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles," he told the paper, and added that a number of Iranian security experts had also entered the Gaza Strip to help train members of Hamas and other armed groups.

Remember that in an audio statement by al-Qaeda in Iraq offered not only financial aid to Palestinian terrorists, but also called for Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades to break from the rest of Hamas and 'liberate' Jerusalem and even offered help in manufacturing Qassam rockets.

We scoffed at the AQI messenger, calling him "The Artist Formerly Known As Abdullah al-Naima." And we chided the Western media for continually referring to the stage name of 'Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.'

But regardless the messenger and the media indifference toward distinguishing between "James Bond" and Sean Connery, the AQI message with Palestinian 'offers' and al-Qaeda terrorists from Iraq entering Gaza via the felled Gaza-Egypt fence in the weeks prior are decidedly not a coincidence. Al-Qaeda is aggressively setting up shop in Gaza. And in so doing, it is also attempting to piggyback off the lucrative Palestinian cause in the Arab world.

February 19, 2008

Trifecta: Al-Qaeda's al-Libi, Hizballah's Mugniyah, and Now JI's Dulmatin

As our good friend, the indispensable Andy Cochran, says at The Counterterrorism Blog, The Good Guys Hit the Trifecta - Another Important Terrorist Leader Killed.

First, we nailed Al Qaeda commander Abu al-Laith al-Liby (or al-Libi, depending on your dictionary). Then someone (the Israelis? the Syrians?) stuck Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, "the Bin Laden of the 80s," in his well-deserved coffin. Now comes word that the Filippino Army has probably found the remains of Dulmatin, a top Jemaah Islamiah member suspected of planning the 2002 Bali bombings which killed over 200, in a grave in the southernmost tip of the Philippines. Dulmatin was apparently killed in a battle there on January 31 between government troops and a group of Abu Sayyaf, the terrorists who gave him refuge after he fled Indonesia. The FBI is assisting in the DNA check, but the authorities are quite confident. The Manila Times article on his death provides other details on him:
"Dulmatin carries the highest bounty of all fugitives known to be hiding in the Philippines, $10 million—dead or alive—offered by the US government.

Dulmatin—whose real name is Joko Pitono but was also known as Ammar Usman—is a Malaysian engineer from a wealthy family. He is the suspected mastermind of the bombings of a beach resort in Bali, Indonesia, on October 10, 2002, that killed 202 people, mostly Australian tourists.

Together with fellow Jemaah Islamiah member, Umar Patek, an Indonesian bomb expert, Dulmatin had sought refuge with the Abu Sayyafs in Jolo, Sulu, also in Mindanao, before being sighted in Tawi-Tawi."

No better words to conclude than with Andy's own: "The Good Guys are on a hot streak." Got that right.

Hit Counterterrorism Blog for the rest of the links.

Miranshah II: Pakistani Deal With Tribes in FATA This Time?

Pakistan's Daily Times and Dawn newspapers reported earlier this week that a new 'peace accord' (Miranshah II) had been signed between the Pakistani government and the two major North Waziristan tribes in Miranshah.

A grand jirga of 286 tribal elders from Dawar and Wazir sub-tribes of Utmanzai gathered at the agency headquarters in Miramshah on Sunday morning to discuss the future line of action following the expiry of a unilateral ceasefire by militants.

The ceasefire, first announced on Dec 17, was extended five times. It was due to expire on Feb 17.

Witnesses said that the grand jirga reached an agreement to revive the Sept 5, 2006, peace deal with the government.

The controversial agreement had drawn criticism, particularly from Washington which believed that it had allowed Al Qaeda to regroup in the militant tribal region.

Critics of the agreement said the government had capitulated to the militants by granting them major concessions without getting anything in return, particularly on key demands relating to the expulsion of foreign militants, an end to cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan and a pledge not to form a parallel government.

It appears the Pakistani government is finally - now that it may have rectified the error - admitting that it did not sign the Miranshah I accord with tribal elders in 2006 but rather with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. And it appears there may be reason to believe that Miranshah II has a chance to at least enable the isolation of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in North Waziristan. Whether this will actually be done is another question about the next steps - the agreement is not the endgame, but the enabler.

I added a bit more on this today at The Tank on National Review Online :

But there is reason to believe that it may in fact be so. Last month, several key tribal leaders that had been involved in government talks in the tribal areas were assassinated, clearly because such displeases Baitullah Mehsud and the rest of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. And if this is so, and the agreement was made between the Pakistani government and leaders from the same lot as those killed, there may be a chance for this to actually have more traction than the last, which was nothing short of a mere exercise in procrastination.

One can hope that, like Musharraf's behavior and direction during and after the elections, there are lessons learned and modifications made in strategy and approach at play here.

Too many are quick to opine that we need to hammer the tribal regions. Unless you are going to kill them all in a genocidal sweep, this has no long-term path to resolution. Any victory over the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance inside the Pakistani tribal region (FATA) requires the tacit involvement and shared desire by the Pakistanis who call that place home.

At the end of the day, it is the basic model that is working in Iraq today: Iraqis standing up for their own neighborhoods and towns. We would not be talking of the successes in Iraq meted out in 2007 without the support of the Iraqi civilian population. Period.

Well, not exactly 'period.' What I failed to say there was that there needs to be a balance of smart, on the ground force against the enemy in either theater, one which is deadly yet close enough and precise enough to discern enemy from civilian.

An accord alone will not achieve anything if the local populations do not feel localized security and freedom of movement/activity. By the same token, force alone (or any agreement decidedly not with the local population but with the implacable Taliban-al-Qaeda enemy) will not achieve any resolution or semblance of victory, nor will the wide application of area weapons (artillery, aerial bombardment) that accumulate growing numbers of civilian collateral losses.

Here's hoping the Frontier Corps can be ramped up and properly equipped and trained in order to effectively carry out the back end of what Miranshah II may (may) be.

It at least deserves to be observed in implementation before being condemned to the waste bin that has long held the paper Miranshah I was written on.

See also: The Impact of Pashtun Tribal Differences on the Pakistani Taliban - Jamestown.org

FireWatch Podcast: Conversations on Mugniyah, al-Qaeda, Hizballah and Iran

ThreatsWatch readers may note a change this week in the right column that includes a new section for our FireWatch podcast. The latest published this week - Fire Watch: February 18, 2008 - features Tom Joscelyn on the history and assassination of Imad Mugniyah followed by a second segment from Israel with Nir Boms on potential scenarios (who may have killed him) and an important look to the future implications for both Israel and the West as well as Hizballah and Iran.

Tom Jocselyn's cover story on Imad Mugniyah for this week's Weekly Standard is critically required reading for every American. The link to it as well as links to several other important pieces of work from both Joscelyn and Nir Boms are listed within the Fire Watch podcast posting, including a link to the 9/11 commission report referenced by Tom in the discussion. We extend our thanks to both for participating.

We also hope that readers and listeners will offer constructive feedback on the show as well as suggestions for topics and guests you would be most interested in for future productions. Our feedback e-mail address is listed on our ThreastWatch Contact Details page. We hope you will take a minute to send a note to let us know how we did and what you hope we will do going forward.

Some have asked about the name. It comes from the Marine Corps term used for daily unit level barracks/site guard duty. And, in a manner of speaking, that is what we are doing: standing guard in observing hot spots and US national security threats around the globe. The podcast is meant to bring this home in an accessible language and delivery for the average American who needs to become more informed but has difficulty in digesting often 'wonkish' language. The dirty little secret is that none of this is rocket science. Yes, it can get complicated and yes it requires study to digest fully, but it need not be a mystery to the average American.

We have long held that too few of those within professional counterterrorism, intelligence and national security circles speak to the broader public. Viewing this as critically important, it has been our primary mission all along. We hope you will continue to let us know how we are doing in that regard.

Note: Global Crisis Watch has not gone anywhere and a new edition of GCW is coming soon. FireWatch is simply a somewhat different kind of production and a new addition.

Castro Resigns, Cuba Handed to "Old Guard" Brother

The 50-year communist reign of Fidel Castro is over. The ailing dictator resigned and said in a letter to the Cuban people that they "can still count on cadres from the old guard" to carry on the Revolution. His brother Raul is now formally in power, though he has been the de facto ruler since the older Fidel has been seriously ill and under medical care. London's Times Online speculates that the sibling Castro, called 'The Prussian' for his "cold, efficient style," may move Cuba from the authoritarian Soviet-style communist model and adopt the new Chinese model of communism, one with 'less economic restraints but full political control.'

So long as brother Raul continues along the communist Cuban path, he is sure to draw praise from various American celebrity quarters, though hampered by a decidedly lacking level of charisma compared to his brother. Michelle Malkin has her usual rolling, updated page, which includes a list of laughable quotes from various public figures long-enamored with the Cuban dictatorship.

“Very selfless and moral. One of the world’s wisest men.” –Oliver Stone.

“Cuba’s Elvis.” –Dan Rather.

“Castro is at the same time the island, the men, the cattle, and the earth. He is the whole island.” –Jean Paul-Sartre.

“A dream come true!” –Naomi Campbell.

“If you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!” –Harry Belafonte.

“A genius.” –Jack Nicholson.

“Fidel, I love you. We both have beards. We both have power and want to use it for good purposes.” –Francis Ford Coppola.

“The first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War.” –Norman Mailer.

“Socialism works. I think Cuba might prove that.” –Chevy Chase.

“Castro is an extraordinary man. He is warm and understanding and seems extremely humane.” –Gina Lollobrigida.

If only we could find so many American celebrities who think so highly and adoringly of their own country. Perhaps its the American health care system's inferiority. It is nonetheless amusing that Chevy Chase, one of my personal favorite comedians, confuses socialism - which can be found in France and Germany - with communism.

At any rate, President Bush is demanding democracy for Cuba as Castro exits. While he is right to do so, he most assuredly is not holding his breath waiting for a new dictator to surrender absolute power to the will of Cuba's people.

February 17, 2008

An Important Public Private Partnership

Last week there was a rash of disturbing conspiracy theory misinformation about an organization called Infragard, a public-private partnership of the FBI and local businesses around the country. Chapter members are primarily involved in critical infrastructure and specifically cyber security in their communities, although other security-oriented companies are also involved. The organization is made up of a range of people from large companies like utility companies, to small companies like my own. Yes, I am a member of Infragard. Meetings are also populated by a number of agents from the local F.B.I. office from the cyber security arena.

This month’s meeting included a presentation by Paul Williams the Chief Technology Officer of Gray Hat Research about the vulnerabilities of what many would consider the most secure computer systems and data bases. A few months ago, we listened to a presentation from the local Protective Security Advisor of the Department of Homeland Security who is attached to the Office of Infrastructure Protection in the Risk Management Division.

Frankly, if you want to learn something about infrastructure security and the important role of private businesses and citizens in the process, it is probably worth a few minutes of your time to go through the Powerpoint presentation.

The point of all of this is that an ”exclusive” article by the “folks” at Progressive Media Project was trumpeted around the Internet last week in which they alleged having “inside information” that Infragard members were being deputized by the F.B.I. That is laughable on its face, and simply not true. More outrageous however was the allegation by an anonymous whistle blower that Infragard members were essentially given rights above the law. This anonymous "source" then related how at a “small meeting” of the organization, members were briefed about the steps they could take when (not if) martial law was declared, including the “ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out” and in the protection of the infrastructure, the ability to use “deadly force to protect it, without fear of prosecution.”

The problem here is not that the Progressive article is true, or that Infragard is a “secret society” of snitches and industrial spies. That is simply conspiracy theory nonsense! The problem is that the Progressive article was believed by (too) many people and then was strewn around the Internet on various blogs as though it was authoritative and true. Here is a link to the F.B.I. Response to The Progressive Article Alleging that the F.B.I. Authorizes Infragard Members to “Shoot to Kill” that brands the original article a fabrication.

If, before September 11th, someone, a “normal” citizen, had noticed something that “did not look right” and reported it, who knows if history might have been different. With certainty, members of Infragard chapters around the country are offered certain “For Official Use Only” information via a secure website, often daily and sometimes weekly. I simply don’t see anything wrong with citizens being more aware of their surroundings. Last Summer, our Infragard Chapter attended a briefing meeting of the local U.S. Attorneys office given by Fred Burton of Stratfor in which he spoke largely about the vulnerability of soft targets and some targets that were Not so soft. One of Burton’s key points was that business owners and employees of businesses needed to be aware of those people who might be watching their business.

We all should be watching and aware of what occurs around us. We'd all be alot safer.

February 15, 2008

The New Violent Veteran Victim Class

There are two kinds of war veterans: The poor dumb saps who only wanted money for college, and the violently transformed raging infernos who just can't transition from 'Bush's War' to Bellevue, Washington. So sayeth our print and broadcast media. LTC Steve Russell, US Army, (Ret.), had no earthly idea how imbalanced and prone to homicidal violence he was. He was instructed of precisely how 'on the edge' he and his brothers really are.

"On the Edge?" he asks.

IN THE LAST several weeks I have learned a great deal about myself, thanks to all the wonderful media reports about serving and returning war veterans. For example, I have learned that I might want to kill my wife because of the trauma of war. Or, if I have no beef with my family, that I might go after my neighbors instead. Or if there are no other handy targets for my aggression, I might go after myself.

While waiting to appear on a talk show, I learned that combat veterans are "all a little bit on the edge." One brilliant commentator even suggested that combat soldiers and private security contractors tend to be the types of individuals that have a propensity to harm others and commit acts of violence.

As if I was not sufficiently depressed after absorbing these diatribes (perhaps it was just those suicidal tendencies), I also learned that the term "hero" no longer applies to hundreds of thousands of veterans who have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, according to a Men's Health magazine I read while getting a haircut, only miscreants who jeopardize fellow soldiers by deserting their units in wartime exhibit true courage. Although I don't feel the term is fitting for myself, I never imagined the term "hero" could be used interchangeably with the word "AWOL" in a mainstream magazine.

It is this irrational mentality which makes Marines and soldiers, murderers and wife beaters that they are, more welcome in Huayrah, Diyala Province, Iraq than in Berkley, California.

Note the transition of the Victim Class message since the beginning of the conflict. Its central theme was originally that members of the US military did not sign up for war and that they simply wanted college tuition. Recall Jessica Lynch, portrayed as a barefoot girl from a hillbilly family too poor and unsophisticated for gainful civilian employment. Recall how those of her unit were also portrayed from Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. College tuition was the centrally pounced upon theme as the primary motivator for enlistment. This was a commonly trumpeted meme. But mass re-enlistments inside Iraq made this an embarrassingly silly leg to stand on.

Now, the transition - after a brief stop at Walter Reid and Bethesda in vain attempts at gathering amputee critics - shifts to the same tripe that plagued public media portrayals of Vietnam veterans: Crazy, violent, and unable to adjust.

War veterans from Iraq to Vietnam are just about sick of it all. Most of those doing the 'reporting' and commentating have about as much a clue about the 'military experience' as Wile E. Coyote has about the life and times of Charlie Tuna and his oceanic home.

Called as seen: Tripe.

February 14, 2008

Terrorists' Plot to Assassinate Philippine President Uncovered

The Philippine military has uncovered a joint Abu Sayyef and Jemaah Islamiyah assassination plot against President Arroyo, it was announced. The head of the Presidential Security Group, Brigadier-General Romeo Prestoza, also said that she is not the sole target. "We're taking any threat of this nature very seriously. It's not just the president, there are other targets," Prestoza said at a news conference. Arroyo has canceled travel plans within the country as a result, and a large protest against her had been planned in Manila, which authorities believe could be used for cover by terrorists seeking an attack.

Only three months ago, a Phlippine minister of parliament was among several killed in a bombing at the Philippine parliament building. The minister, Wahab Akbar, had been accused of once being a member of Abu Sayyef as well as maintaining ties to them.

There remains good reason for the United States' continued low-profile but significant counterterrorism assistance to and within the Philippines, including special forces training and operational assistance and advising.

To see a summary and overview of the two terrorist groups involved in the assassination plot, visit the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base entries for each below:

Abu Sayyaf

Jemaah Islamiyah

Update: Nick Grace, an Indonesia and Jemaah Islamiyah expert here at ThreatsWatch, notes that the news of the plot in conjunction with major increases in arrests of JI members in Indonesia suggests that Jemaah Islamiyah may be shifting its center of gravity from Indonesia to the Philippines. He adds that they seem to be more interested in striking Manila than Jakarta, where their ability to operate safely has been severely impaired by Indonesian counterterrorism and security efforts.

Protesting Too Much

"So-called talk that China runs spying activities in [the US] is totally fictitious and has ulterior motives"

So spoke Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao today after Washington announced the arrest of several Chinese living in the US for espionage.

Everyone spies on everyone to one extent or another, that's an irrefutable given. That Chinese spies just happen to be arrested collecting information on technologies that the Chinese military is attempting to master is not simply a random collection of data points.

What we may be able to debate is the definition of a "Chinese spy," given their practice of using the large number of scientists, students and professionals that go abroad as de facto as well as actual intelligence collectors. Still, it is hard to refute one's status when they're caught handing over wads full of cash for data.

February 13, 2008

Using Tripwires to Address the Border Security Threat

So much of the attention has been on the security threat posed by the porous U.S. border with Mexico and the building of the controversial wall that the great Northern border with Canada has gone largely unnoticed. To a great extent, even with the reports about the permeability of the border (see Security Lacking at the Canadian-U.S. Border ), most people have not listened to what is happening on our largely unprotected span of border with Canada (often referred to as the World’s longest unprotected border).

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security asked for responses from industry and public comment on the possible deployment of what they describe as “covert tripwire sensor systems” along the U.S.-Canadian border capable of detecting human beings crossing the international boundary line (and being able to differentiate between humans, animals, vehicles and wind blown materials). Apparently, the DHS is envisioning a system that could perform in unauthorized areas at distances ranging from 200 yards to several miles.” These sensors will be camouflaged or otherwise concealed from view and be powered with low-draw batteries or solar power.

"The tripwire sensor system is envisioned to contain classification capability that allows distinguishing a human that crosses the linear region from animals, vehicles, or wind blown material," said a sources sought notice published by the science and technology directorate of DHS on February 5. The department’s office of the chief procurement officer wants to hear by February 20 from prospective vendors that can supply such sensor systems.

Though it did not indicate specifically where and when these sensors would be deployed, DHS indicated that they would "operate in the environmental conditions typically encountered along the northwest and northeast border regions of the United States."

Now, while there is no way of knowing for sure, I’d expect that the DHS has a company and a technology already in mind and aired the public request to provide full disclosure.

At the same time, this statement of intent should probably be looked at in the context of the continuing “issues” being experienced by the first section of SBInet (the Secure Border Initiative) on the Mexican border. This program is also known as “Project 28,” reflecting the 28-mile stretch of the border that it is supposed to protect. As written in the February 5th edition of Federal Computer Week (dot com)

Following testing that was supposed to be final, the Homeland Security Department has determined that it needs to develop better software and perform additional tests on the initial 28-mile segment of the SBInet border surveillance system, a department spokeswoman said.

Yet, just a few hours ago, an AP report indicated that Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the DHS said that the government intends to approve the first 28-mile segment of the fence on the Arizona-Mexican border. The questions about the software continue, and seem to focus on the difficulties in providing what is called a common operational picture (COPS) to Border Patrol centers and mobile units.

Both Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Bennie Thompson have expressed concerns over the applicability and merits of the effort. Of course this reflects the nature of politics, especially when it comes to appointees of the opposite party running a federal agency.

Terrorist Leader Imad Mugniyah Killed

After three plus decades of terror, Imad Mugniyah was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria yesterday. Andy Cochran and Bill Roggio offer details on Mugniyah's trail of death and destruction, and his own late passing.

We at ThreatsWatch are loath to take pleasure in the death of men. For this killer of our brothers, we make an exception.

February 12, 2008

Chinese Espionage Redux

In light of the news that two separate Chinese espionage efforts were rolled up recently, it is perhaps a good time to remind everyone that this is a long-running problem (since 1979 in at least one recent case) and is not going away soon.

February 11, 2008

Another Look at the National Guard Readiness Report

About ten days ago, the Congressionally chartered Commission on the National Guard and Reserves issued its report on the Guard’s “state of readiness.” Specifically, the report highlighted the military’s lack of preparedness to deal with a domestic terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

The findings were both disturbing and debated. At that time, our colleague Mike Tanji wrote a post titled “Always There, but Always Ready?”. Among the observations cited in his post was that 88% of the Guard units were not prepared to fight, and were not trained or equipped adequately to respond to a “catastrophic” event.

My comment to Mike’s post included:

”…it seems to me to also be a combination of enabling military actions domestically, plus the need to anticipate the varied skill sets required to address a range of unpredictable “catastrophic” conditions. One of the keys also seems to be the defined role of the military in domestic homeland defense and the 1st responder issues (herein lies the differences between homeland defense and homeland security). It even gets further complicated when you factor in the military medical commands and their roles in domestic disaster response…”

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with a friend, retired Colonel Ken Allard. He and I met about a year ago and have frequently discussed issues regarding critical infrastructure, homeland security and homeland defense. It happens that Ken wrote an opinion piece last Thursday “At the ready?”

Allard referred to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, the commission chairman’s comments in a Washington Post interview in which he was spoke of "an appalling gap in readiness for homeland defense" — even compromising the Guard's ability to perform such basic missions as responding to a nuclear attack on American soil.

Colonel Allard’s view on the subject is pretty pointed, if not opinionated:

The reason for the appalling gap is appallingly simple. The Guard and Reserves have been used up by seven years of warfare that began on 9-11, military commitments from Kandahar to Kirkuk, while also responding to disasters from Eagle Pass to the New Orleans Ninth Ward.
He then discussed a few facts including that the manpower problem is solvable by withdrawing from Iraq. He cited the situation with the Texas Army National Guard, which just enlisted its 19,000th member, a female non-commissioned officer who transferred in after completing a hitch in the active force.

Last year, the Texas Guard logged some 72,000 man-hours supporting "civilian authority," everything from range fires to Hill Country flooding, tornado response to hurricane contingencies. Sixteen hundred other Guardsmen were called to active duty in places like Afghanistan. Still others took on the job of helping to guard the Texas-Mexico border, but maybe we could just withdraw from there, too.

Ken went on in his article to relate to a phone call he had with Punaro in which the General acknowledged “the Guard's serious problems, its equipment consumed by over-deployment, its people exhausted by over-commitment,” and then discussed a few of the Commission’s recommendations:

● tightening the sometimes ambiguous links between the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

● creating a more coherent system for training, promoting and compensating Guardsmen and reservists not just for 20 years "but for a lifetime of service to the nation."

● reorganizing the nation's reserves into operational and strategic forces for better management of the global support and homeland defense missions as well as a "strategic standby reserve" that could even include retired service members

Colonel Allard’s conclusion was this:

Know what's really happening here? The first, tentative steps toward a future system of tiered military service. Want to energize the presidential debates? Then let's start arguing about requiring a year of national service from every 18-year-old. And start thinking creatively about meaningful civilian service, a broadened array of voluntary military options (active and reserve) as well as a sliding scale of educational benefits tied to those choices.

Its certainly a striking, perhaps startling, perhaps debatable and also, perhaps, controversial end point to a commentary. But it just may be the kind of innovative thinking that is needed to deal with the troop strength requirements of the War on Terror, coupled with the domestic preparedness and response operations in which the National Guard have traditionally served. No one wants their sons or daughters to be drafted. However, in my opinion, the concepts raised by Colonel Allard are worthy of thought.

February 10, 2008

Registering Pre-paid Cell Phones – A Matter of Security

They’re innocuous and they are a convenience. At the same time, they could represent a security threat since they aren’t traceable. While the practice of registering pre-paid cell phones, requiring users to show ID when they purchase a SIM card already exists in places like Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur, just this week, Texas State Senator John Carona introduced a proposal in the Texas State legislature that would place restrictions on this pay as you go cell phones. . The legislation has the support of law enforcement and is intended to help fight crime and deter terrorism.

The legislation would require prepaid cellphone customers to present ID and limit purchases to three phones at a time. It would also require prepaid cellphone service providers to make phone records accessible to police.

"Prepaids are popular with criminals because they are cheap, accessible, untraceable and discardable," Carona, a Dallas Republican, said. "Criminal gangs have become a major threat to our quality of living," said Carona, who chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. "They reach from the street corners of Dallas to the four corners of the globe, literally."

The proposal sure makes sense to me. Its not just terrorists who use these pre-paid cell phones. They’re prevalent in the illegal narcotics trade too.

February 9, 2008

"Revelation" – Dirty Bomb Vulnerability

While admitting that the likelihood of a nuclear attack on a U.S. remains low, officials admit that they are not zero. But, we are finding out that defending cities against dirty bombs is difficult. That’s the conclusion reached by the Department of Homeland Security after an NYPD helicopter fashioned with sensitive radiation detection equipment flew over Lower Manhattan in December. The fly over was actually a block-by-block hunt to find a black SUV in the Wall Street area carrying the components of a homemade radiological dirty bomb. As written by The Washington Post's Spencer Hsu, the half hour training exercise failed to identify the SUV despite the fact that the vehicle had a purposely planted “sample” of cesium-137.

However, earlier in the day, a ground unit operating three kinds of vehicle sensors successfully detected the test sport-utility vehicle carrying cesium-137 on 42nd Street near Eighth Avenue, close to Times Square. The ability to detect even a radiological weapon is impacted by the sensitivity of the detector and the concentration of the material when a sample is taken. Being close to the "subject" and being able to detect the material is not really surprising.

The implication of this material in the context of a “dirty bomb” is that an explosion with cesium-137 would paralyze the Wall St. financial district, not so much with a high casualty rate, but on the infrastructure (the materials could fuse with asphalt and concrete and prevent access to critical urban areas such as buildings, train stations, or tunnels).

With time running short, police operators blamed technical glitches, and the pilot turned back to a West Side landing pad. The test sweep, which followed a secret, concerted search for radioactive materials in Manhattan by hundreds of local, state and federal officers before the city's New Year's Eve celebration, underscores the government's determination to prove this year that it can detect and disrupt nuclear threats to major cities.

Once again it seems to be a question of evaluating the cost benefit relationships of defending against a low threat that might have enormous and catastrophic consequences if the “unlikely event” actually occurred.

This is related to a program begun back in 2006 under the leadership of Vayl Oxford, director of DHS's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Called “Securing the Cities,” the program is intended to enhance the protection and response capabilities in and around the Nation’s highest risk urban areas by helping state and local officials to develop urban and regional deployment and operations strategies, identify appropriate detection equipment, establish the necessary support infrastructure, and develop incident management protocols to respond to a small scale “dirty bomb” attack.

However, it should be noted that in some of the references on this program that some officials recognize that it isn’t a perfect program, and that it needs to evolve. While that is true of almost any research program looking into uncharted areas, there has been a considerable amount of money spent on radiation detectors for our ports and transportation depots. But the question of addressing the threat of urban nuclear terrorism

To date, the Securing the Cities program has cost approximately $90 million, with critics raising questions about its value in light of its expansion without any clear and specific threat of urban nuclear terrorism. Additionally, while the “plan” is to use the New York City detection system as a model for other cities, as shown by the fly over episode, the program faces significant technical challenges. Frankly, developing sensors to detect things, even radiological materials, is not a simple task, especially given variable and unpredictable dispersal patterns of weapons components.

Michael Levi, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar and the author of the recently published book "On Nuclear Terrorism," said the Securing the Cities program may be useful but that its backers should be more open about its goals and limits. He also worries that too much is being spent on technology and not enough on coordination.

Thus, while acknowledging that the program is not perfect, supporters like Jonah Czerwinski, an IBM homeland security consultant believe that it will evolve over time (that seems to be a reasonable assumption). Oxford’s position, also reasonable, is that you don’t want to wait for an attack on “a city with a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb and wait to figure that out. Together with the high risk New York always faces, we feel this is a prudent step to help secure that city, as well as to determine, 'Does this model work?' "

In preparation for this unimaginable event, the DHS, NYPD, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and officials from three states and 91 localities have created a partnership in which local officers have been trained in radiation detection operations, and basic, hand-held radiation detectors have been distributed to thousands of police officers and others whose daily work has them crisscrossing the region. Additional funds have been allocated to purchase six half-million dollar trucks equipped with detectors distinguish different radioactive materials

The problems are many. Some experts comment that current detection equipment would have a difficult time finding a lead-shielded improvised nuclear bomb with weapons-grade uranium. This type of a device would emit a much smaller radioactive signal. Additionally, continuing difficulties in communications and data transfer to manage monitoring efforts and in developing new investigative procedures remain challenges.

This is just another chink in our defensive armor. Its not a criticism so much as it is a realization of the difficulties involved in detecting things like a radiological weapon in a densely populated area. None of this even touches on the very real question of air dispersion following an attack using a radiological, chemical or biological weapon. Attempts at modeling the air flow over the canyons in Manhattan have been performed. The actual results of course are classified. But imagine the difficulties in determining the direction in which a plume of just about any airborne toxin or agent, given the always variable wind directions up and down the avenues and the cross streets, and then stirred by the passing traffic or the subterranean rush of air up the Avenue of the Americas as a subways passes beneath.

February 8, 2008

Egyptian Threats, Gazan Counterfeiting: Unpacking Today's DailyBriefing

In today's DailyBriefing, we noted that Egypt has threatened Gazans that "[a]nyone who violates Egypt's borders will get his leg broken."

We then noted the Los Angeles Times' blog Babylon and Beyond, which wrote briefly of 'Egypt's change of heart' with regard to the Palestinians ahead of Hamas' Khaled Meshaal's Cairo visit. The Times' Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo cited new-found Egyptian doubts about the veracity of claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as stated by an Egyptian state-run newspaper's editor-in-chief. Abdullah Kamal wrote in the Rosa-al-Yousef paper, "Each [Gazan] comer spent an average of US$260 in three days....the total spending during that period [where the Gazans broke through Egypt] reached US$ 220 million. These figures raise real questions about the financial situation in the Gaza Strip."

Well, there's more to the explanation than questioning the financial state of Gaza, which was no metropolis before the incessant Hamas rocket attacks on Israel invited the 'siege' of Gaza.

Follow into the next item in the Egypt section of today's ThreatsWatch DaliyBriefing, and you will learn another state-run Egyptian newspaper reveals that there is a very different explanation for the inexplicably large sums of money spent by quite poor Gazans: counterfeiting. Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, editor of Al-Gomhuria daily, said that "money used by Gazans to shop in Egypt were mostly counterfeit."

And this, many lost (really stolen) millions at the expense of Egyptian vendors, is perhaps as much an inspiration for the sudden Egyptian ire than any understanding among the United States, Israel and Egypt. It makes more real sense than any other explanation offered or imagined. Readers may disagree here, which is why the DailyBriefing is offered sans commentary. But consider how the wheels fly off the wagon in traditional fashion with Ibrahim's logic as he attempts to explain Hamas' untrustworthiness.

"Do not believe Hamas, it implements an Israeli plan that aims at first to secure Israel's security ... and destroy the Palestinian Authority," Ibrahim wrote.

The populist and conspiratorial logic of Hamas furthering any Israeli 'plan' may be incredulous, but the published sentiment is wholly authentic.

The bottom line is that while Hamas may be the Palestinian extension of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, no friends to Mubarak's rule, the sudden (and violent) shift in quasi-official Egyptian tone (via state-run papers) regarding Gazans coincides sharply with revelations of an Egyptian ripoff at the hands of the Palestinians. And a sizable ripoff to the tune of potentially over $100 million. That's no small pile of beans. And the tone in response is also not necessarily a strengthening of Egyptian-Israeli relations. It's good old-fashioned anger.

These are the dots we see this morning, and we share them in our DailyBriefing today and connect them here. So when you read the DailyBriefings, do so knowing that while we are selecting the significant events and developments of the day, often the links are seen by us as inter-related and contextually connected, each revealing its own piece of a larger puzzle.

The entire Egypt section of today's is a perfect example of our attempt at providing this context. I've sought to share the logic behind today's selections here in order to assist readers in gaining the larger intended value from the DailyBriefings than a collection of news links.

Introducing Iran's P-2 Centrifuges

Those who have sought to downplay Iran's nuclear program for sake of conflict avoidance by noting that Iran is only using inefficient P-1 centrifuge technology for enriching uranium will not take comfort in the latest information from Iran. Reportedly as part of Iran's deal with IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei to 'clarify unresolved questions' is the leaked revelation that Iran has been testing P-2 centrifuges at Natanz.

They said that few of the IR-2 centrifuges were operating and that testing appeared to be in an early phase, with the new machines rotating without processing any uranium gas.

More significant, the officials said, is the fact that Iran appears to have used know-how and equipment bought on the nuclear black market in combination with domestic ingenuity to overcome daunting technical difficulties and create highly advanced centrifuges.

What's the significance? P-2's can enrich uranium 2 to 3 times faster than P-1's, requiring far fewer in cascade to get the job done.

Early reading suggests that there may at least be some comfort in knowing that the testing is only in its early stages. But should there be? Read on.

The diplomats, who agreed to discuss the development only if granted anonymity because they weren't authorized to divulge the confidential information, said it was unclear whether the new generation centrifuges were in the underground facility or an aboveground pilot site at Natanz.

If the IAEA does not know where the testing is taking place, then they have therefor not laid hands or eyes on the P-2 systems and facilities. The only thing that 'appears' is, in fact, Iran's word. The fact remains - as the very existence of Iranian P-2 centrifuges once again demonstrates - that we do not even know what we do not know. So draw any measure of relief with extreme caution.

Iran has apparently overcome significant metallurgical hurdles in order to create their P-2 model, appropriately named the IR-2. David Albright puts proper perspective on the situation.

The P-2 centrifuge sold by Khan can enrich uranium gas up to three times faster than a P-1, but it is made from maraged steel — a high-nickel, low-carbon steel that is difficult to manufacture and hard to smuggle through international controls.

One of the diplomats said the Iranians had circumvented that problem by making the centrifuge's rotor tubes out of carbon fiber, presumably using machines and technology developed for Tehran's missile sector and using a German version as a model.

A former U.N. nuclear inspector, David Albright, said the ingenuity demonstrated by such a development was impressive.

"If you learn how to make carbon fiber rotors, you are very far ahead," said Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks countries under nuclear suspicion. "They are much cheaper and easier to make, and you can learn to spin them very fast."

Using a hypothetical example of the efficiency of a P-2-based centrifuge compared with the P-1, Albright said 1,200 of the more advanced machines could produce enough material for a single nuclear warhead in a year, compared to 3,000 of the older model.

Very far ahead is right. Using missile production technology to master carbon fiber technology in order to advance Iran's P-2 centrifuge technology - with a German model. It puts a whole new spin on the term "dual-use technology." And it didn't happen overnight.

February 7, 2008

Niger Delta Update

Amid the latest news from Nigeria's volatile oil-producing Niger Delta region comes a pledge by several rebel groups, many of which are more criminal in nature than terrorist, to reengage in peace talks with the government. However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which is itself an umbrella organization of different factions, is still committed to waging attacks against Nigerian security forces and foreign oil companies. As reported by Reuters:

But the absence of a key faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has claimed responsibility for most serious attacks on oil facilities in recent months, means violence is likely to continue.

This faction of MEND, led by Henry Okah, currently being held in Angola on gun running charges, is the primary instigator of attacks in the delta at the current point in time. Okah's group took responsibility for a February 3 attack on a Nigerian military post guarding Shell Petroleum's Tora manifold in Bayelsa state. Three soldiers were killed in the attack while MEND denied the military's assertion that eight rebels had been killed as well. MEND's claim of responsibility follows:

"In the early hours of Sunday, February 3, 2008, fighters from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) attacked a military houseboat stationed at the Shell Petroleum Tora manifold in Bayelsa state of Nigeria," it said in an email to AFP.


"MEND carried out the attack. We did not suffer any casualties. That was not the original intended target, but we had to make do," it said, but did not say what the original target was.

Oil production was not affected. Certainly some curious word choice for a terrorist communique and it obviously leads to questions regarding the identity of the attack's initial target. In related news, MEND's campaign to halt oil production achieved success as Shell announced it would be unable to honor export contracts from Nigeria. According to AFP:

Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell said Thursday it would not be able to honour all of its export contracts from its southern Nigerian Bonny export terminal for two months because of sabotage.

Shell did not give figures on the expected loss in production but industry sources said it runs into thousands of barrels of crude.

Shell is Nigeria's largest oil operator, accounting for around half of the country's daily output of 2.6 million barrels at peak production, but unrest in the Niger Delta have slashed production by a quarter since January 2006.

Obviously, this represents a big blow to Shell and significant encouragement to MEND's operations. However, oil prices were not severely affected by the news as fears of a downturn in energy demand due to the slackening American economy counteracted any supply concerns emergent from the Nigerian disruptions.

Adam Gadahn Killed in Pakistan?

We advise that readers not hold their collective breath quite yet, but...

Following unconfirmed reports of killing of a high-profile al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi, there are now rumours that an American al-Qaeda militant Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, had been killed in the alleged Predator attack by the US on a house in Mirali, North Waziristan, a few days back.

32-year-old Adam Gadahn, who is American citizen belonging to southern California, has been accused by the US of praising the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and attending al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas.

Perhaps Gadahn was right in his last video, 'An Invitation to Reflection and Repentance,' in which he symbolically ripped up his US passport: Maybe he really won't be needing his American passport where he is traveling.

However, as my colleague and fellow ThreatsWatch member Nick Grace said in reaction, "I would imagine that if Gadahn got knocked off they would have announced his death just as quickly as they did al-Laith's. Having an American become a martyr would be a propaganda coup on their side. Gadahn would be more useful to al-Qaeda dead than alive. Imagine how they will play up an American who was martyred while fighting for al-Qaeda's Jihad."

For that reason, a quiet death of Adam Gadahn is - in my shared estimation - unlikely. We'd surely heard more of it sooner if it were true. Andthere is no 'chatter' indication that anyone significantly important besides al-Laith was among the dead in the recent attack. As I said, don't hold your breath. But stranger things have happened.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Sets Up Shop in Nicaragua

In today's New York Sun, Todd Bensman reports on the new joint Iranian-Venezuelan adventure in Nicaragua: a "deep-sea port" on the Nicaraguan shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Until recently, one local boxer's fortune was about the only story preoccupying the 300-odd Creole of Monkey Point. But perspectives broadened suddenly in March when Iranians and Venezuelans showed up aboard Nicaraguan military helicopters. They had come to scope out Monkey Point's bay for transformation to a $350 million deep-water shipping port. The port idea is part a new diplomatic relationship between Iran and the Sandinista revolutionary president, Daniel Ortega, that has flown largely under American press and broadcast radar since its August announcement. Iran has since issued fantastic promises that would include financing a rail, road, and pipeline "dry canal" from Monkey Point to an upgraded Port of Corinto on the Pacific, hydroelectric projects, and 10,000 houses in between.

With its latest diplomatic partnership with a time-tested American nemesis, Iran is now just a few porous borders away from President Bush's home state of Texas. All this matters because of fears the Islamic Republic can now project a threat close to America's borders and Mexico's petroleum infrastructure in the event of severe enough sanctions or even war.

I went to Nicaragua recently to see how all this is was playing out, and to take advantage of the fact that no American reporter had yet bothered. A visit made sense because so much has been written about a state sponsor of global terrorism like Iran deepening relations with Venezuela's America-hating president, Hugo Chavez. The only question is whether, in the event of war, Iran could deploy its Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard agents to hit American interests or allies in South America. It's been done before, under the cover of Iran's embassies, to Jewish targets in Argentina, Americans in Iraq, and perceived enemies elsewhere around the world.

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), recently designated a terrorist entity by the United States, are already filtering into Nicaragua. The imperative of the IRGC is to "spread the (Khomeinist) revolution," and they are now securing operational territory closer to Houston, Texas (our primary energy port) than Boston is to Phoenix.

Read all of Iranians Plant Their Flag In Wilds of Nicaragua in the New York Sun.

Embracing al-Qaeda's Propaganda

At The Tank on National Review Online, Gregory S. McNeal describes a terrorist family long loyal to al-Qaeda. The father, Ahmad Khadr, died in an attack on al-Qaeda in Pakistan. His two sons, Omar and Abdurahman Khadr, were raised to be terrorists by their own descriptions.

Murder, attempted murder, material support, conspiracy, and spying are the charges against Omar Khadr, who recently faced a military commission which heard challenges to its jurisdiction. I've blogged in detail about those charges here. As I've previously noted, Khadr comes from a dedicated al Qaeda family with a tradition of terrorism. Abdurahman Khadr, Omar’s brother, boldly stated “I admit it that we are an al-Qaeda family. We had connections to al-Qaeda.” and later revealed that he had been “raised to become a suicide bomber.”

Khadr’s fathAhmad Khadrer Ahmad was killed in a targeted missile strike (others say in a shootout) in Pakistan. Prior to his death, Ahmad Khadr was a longtime member of al Qaeda and rose to the highest levels of the terrorist network, commanding a region of Logar per the direct orders of Osama Bin Laden. Ahmad Khadr contributed to al Qaeda in the form of financial support and personnel assistance to further the organization’s international terrorism objectives. In particular, he encouraged his sons to join al Qaeda and to carry out its work. The recently released "Book of 120 Martyrs," an al Qaeda recruiting tool, states that Khadr married a Palestinian who "shared with him his march to jihad, and Allah granted them several sons who shared this long, tiresome march with him." Omar Khadr heeded his father’s call.

Omar Khadr and his family made yearly trips to the bin Laden compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, meeting with bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, and other senior leaders.

So as the captured videos released and stories from yesterday and today about al-Qaeda recruiting and training children in Iraq meet your eyes (see here, here, and here), do not be surprised. Repulsed, yes. Surprised, no.

This is the enemy which seeks to kill us wherever and whenever possible. His resolve must be matched - wherever and whenever he is found. As well, he must be ideologically confronted everywhere, consistently discredited by his barbaric means.

Nothing is more powerful than his own words and images and the wake of his own deeds. Embrace his often gruesome propaganda. Do not cede him the narrative of his own deeds. For evil in the name of God is never glorious. Never.

Training and using children for terrorist operations, kidnapping other children for ransom and strapping bombs to the mentally handicapped incapable of comprehending or objecting. None of these things can be explained away as glorious. No measure of moral equivocation can dislodge them from their evil roots.

Preying on children is evil, not glorious.

Meet your enemy.

Embrace al-Qaeda's propaganda. Take ownership of the narrative. Or surrender it to those who tout such acts as glorious obligation in attempts to widen the recruiting pool.

February 6, 2008

On Second Thought...

Having taken two months to digest the NIE report on Iran, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell has now changed his tone. As reported by Eli Lake of the New York Sun, McConnell retreated from the NIE reports key finding - that Iran had abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003 - during a hearing of the Selected Senate Committee on Intelligence. He said:

If I had 'til now to think about it, I probably would change a few things…
I would change the way we describe the Iranian nuclear program. I would have included that there are the component parts, that the portion of it, maybe the least significant, had halted.

McConnell now acknowledges that Iran is developing the most critical components for a nuclear weapon:

Declared uranium enrichment efforts, which will enable the production of fissile material, continue. This is the most difficult challenge in nuclear production. Iran’s efforts to perfect ballistic missiles that can reach North Africa and Europe also continue.

The original NIE report was far less direct on this point:

Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, as Lake rightly notes, most Western Intelligence agencies continue to view the estimate with great skepticism:

The estimate also drew rare rebukes from American allies, including Israel, France, and the United Kingdom who said their intelligence agencies did not concur with the American assessment that Iran had frozen its plan to produce an A-bomb.

Indeed, during a visit to the U.S. last week, French Defense Minister Herve Morin contradicted the findings of the NIE by asserting that Iran “continuing to develop” a nuclear program:

Coordinated information from a number of intelligence services leads us to believe that Iran has not given up its wish to pursue its (nuclear) program.

It is unclear if McConnell's retraction will have any real effect.

The Power of Amateur Hour

In a few months a US satellite is destined to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and at least part of it will make it to the surface of the planet. The government is not sure exactly where the satellite will land and it has said nothing about what kind of satellite it actually is. Enter Ted Molczan:

. . . a hobbyist who tracks satellites from his apartment balcony in Toronto . . . [he needs] little more than a pair of binoculars, a stop watch, and star charts, uncover some of the deepest of the government's expensive secrets and share them on the Internet.

In the case of the mysterious satellite that is about to plunge back to earth, Molczan had an early sense of which one it was, identifying it as USA 193, which gave out shortly after reaching space in December 2006. It is said to have been built by Lockheed Martin and operated by the secretive National Reconnaissance Office.

Molczan is one of many satellite-spotters worldwide who demonstrate the collective power of amateur intelligence gatherers. The government makes a concerted, and expensive, effort to keep the locations and paths of its satellites secret to avoid having adversaries take denial-and-deception efforts against them: to little apparent avail.

When a new spy satellite is launched, the hobbyists will collaborate on sightings around the world to determine its orbit, and even guess at its function, sharing their information through the e-mail network SeeSat-L, which can be found via the Web site Visual Satellite Observer.

As you might expect, the government is not terribly keen on the work done by these one-man tracking stations, but since you can't classify space, there is little that can be done to stop them. More importantly, if Tom on his balcony can do it with a pair of binoculars, any nation-state adversary with sufficient interest can do it as well.

February 5, 2008

On Privacy

When it comes to the debate over electronic surveillance and privacy, there seems to be no reasoned middle ground. Intelligence officers are woefully inadequate in their explanations of what is going on; privacy advocates who are ignorant of how intelligence works wear their paranoia on their sleeves and are consequently prone to over-blowing things.

In this case however I think we should be demanding that at least an effort be made to nominate a board.

The Bush administration has failed to nominate any candidates to a newly empowered privacy and civil-liberties commission. This leaves the board without any members, even as Congress prepares to give the Bush administration extraordinary powers to wiretap without warrants inside the United States.

The failure rankles Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), respectively chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee.

"I urge the president to move swiftly to nominate members to the new board to preserve the public’s faith in our promise to protect their privacy and civil liberties as we work to protect the country against terrorism," Lieberman said in a statement.

If congress doesn’t want to consent to the appointment of various members, that’s on them. Nominating a board however, at a minimum, reduces the sting of charges that the nation’s secret archives will now contain files of our whispered sweet nothings uttered over our cell phones (which they won't). Best-case scenario: practitioner concern about oversight helps reduce the most severe cases of misuse and abuse of intelligence derived from electronic surveillance that can plague otherwise well-intentioned efforts to defend the nation.

February 4, 2008

The Importance of the New Passport Rules

Hopefully by now, everyone is aware of the new travel document requirements that took effect on January 31st. Effective that date, the U.S. is ending oral declarations at the border, except in extraordinary situations and accepting a list of about two dozen types of documents at the border instead of the over 8,000 documents currently being accepted. This list is available here.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection faces a much greater challenge to identify and screen individuals at land ports of entry, in part because of the lack of advance traveler information and the high volume of traffic at many locations. Unlike travelers who enter the country at airports, travelers entering through land ports of entry can arrive at virtually any time and may present thousands of different forms of documentation, ranging from oral declarations of U.S. or Canadian citizenship, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, visas, permanent resident cards, or U.S. military identity cards." from Border Security Report, November 2007
Government Accountability Office

An explanation of the new U.S. Border Crossing rules can be found here.

For most American citizens getting or renewing your U.S. Passport is the easiest and most logical path to easy travel. Except for the price that continues to rise each year (about $110 if you’re not renewing), the process is painless and doesn’t take long (it took approximately two weeks for my wife and I to receive our new Passports). This is especially true given the expected implementation of the requirement for a passport for all travel out of the U.S. effective in mid-2009 (delayed by a year). Today, you need a valid travel document to enter or re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. While it cannot be used for air travel, a new card, the U.S. Passport Card, will be issued to applicants and will suffice for land and sea border travel.

There are simple, and then there are more complicated reasons why all of this is important. One example is this:

On December 30, 2007, a man by the name of Coronado Paez tried to enter the United States. He presented a State of California identification card and orally claimed to be a U.S. citizen. Officers suspected Garcia was not the rightful holder of the identification card and referred him for a more in-depth inspection. A routine data query and fingerprint check revealed that the man was actually Mexican-born Andres Garcia-Landeros and was wanted for homicide in California. Garcia was transported to the custody of the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

If you need further reasons for all of these new regulations and requirements, then you only need to look at the following. Today it was reported that Iraqis affiliated with al Qaeda and former Ba’athists entered Kuwait with counterfeit Norwegian passports.

Of course, this is no surprise. The problem of forged and counterfeit passports has been a high visibility issue for quite some time, even though with all of the changes being made, there are still questions of security.

Kunio Hatoyama, Japan’s minister of justice recently revealed:

"A friend of a friend is a member of al-Qaeda”, and had entered Japan numerous times using false passports and disguises. Moreover, he added: “This particular person was actually involved in the bombings in the centre of Bali.” He continued: “Although he is a friend of my friend, I was advised not to go close to the centre of Bali because it will be bombed.” Mr Hatoyama concluded by explaining that the fingerprinting policy would prevent such people from entering the country.

And then, finally, you have the article written by Olivier Guitta in the Weekly Standard, The Canadian Peril. The threat goes beyond the “millennium plot” and includes the fact that in the fourth quarter of 2007, the Customs and Border Patrol stopped over 1500 people at the Canadian border falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens. Further, Guitta wrote:

A June 2007 backgrounder on counterterrorism by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (a kind of combined FBI-CIA) concedes, under the heading "Canada as a base for terrorist activities": Our country's openness and respect for human rights also make it attractive to members of terrorist organizations bent on using Canada as a base to support their activities. International terrorist groups have been active in Canada for years but, more often than not, they were engaged in support of activities such as fundraising or acquiring matériel and equipment. In the last decade or so, the threat has evolved, and Canadians and Canadian interests at home and abroad are at increased risk.

While there will continue to be claims that the new security features in the U.S. Passports and Border Security Cards lead to “privacy” issues, and there are still questions about the credentials themselves, all of these steps are necessary to ensure the future integrity of our borders.

February 3, 2008

Questions Surround Israeli Embassy Attack

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for the shooting attack during the early morning hours of February 1 against the Israeli embassy in Mauritania's capital of Nouakchott. Three bystanders were wounded in the attack at an adjacent restaurant and disco called the VIP. The International Herald Tribune carried the group's claim:

"In this blessed raid that has been carried out by the champions of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, targeting the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott on Friday morning ... the mujahideen have attacked it with the fire of their weapons and their bombs and were able with the support of God to injure an unlimited number in the ranks of Jews and their guards," the statement said. "This attack comes at a time when the bastard Jews are tormenting our brothers in Palestine with an unjustified siege ... before a clear silence from the Western states, and collaboration of ... what is called the rulers of Muslims," said the statement, which appeared on a Web site that regularly carries messages from Islamist extremist groups.

Clearly significant for this attack, Mauritania is only the third member of the Arab League besides Egypt and Jordan to have diplomatic relations with Israel. The attack follows on a recent surge of attacks in Mauritania, a country previously little affected by terrorism of this variety. A family of French tourists was attacked by AQIM in December and a contingent of Mauritian soldiers targeted shortly thereafter. The heightened threat environment led to the cancellation of the Dakar Rally, a cross-desert auto race. Three people have since been arrested for the attack amid speculation that the embassy was not the intended target, but in fact was the VIP restaurant next door. According to another report:

Mauritanian officials, who have been eager to tamp down perceptions of a rising terrorist threat in their country, a vast, arid nation at the western edge of Africa, claimed that the target of the early-morning volley of gunfire in its capital, Nouakchott, was a popular nightclub that defies a national ban on selling alcohol and is often patronized by prostitutes, not the nearby Israeli Embassy.

Israel seems to support this conclusion as the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, Yuval Diskin, announced to the Israeli cabinet. Regardless of the intended target, the implications flowing from the attack remain the same. AQIM clearly finds Mauritania an inviting target as it seeks to expand its influence outward from its country of origin, Algeria. Further complicating the issue, in February 2007 Ayman al-Zawahri released a videotape urging for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Mauritania.

DHS: Searching for Non-Obvious Relationships

The government has mounds of information in multiple databases residing in law enforcement and security or counterterrorism agencies from around the country. Often, the data is organized and formatted differently. Over the last couple of years efforts to create data fusion centers, and more recently, central location data brokerages, have been established to help make sense of the information from these many disparate sources, and make the data useful to the myriad users from the federal level down to the local municipal level. While there is some disagreement over the “best” method to accomplish the goal of seamless integration of information exchange, the need for this is not disputed.

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced a program, the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection system (otherwise known as ICEPIC), to help identify illegal aliens, criminals or terrorists by identifying “non-obvious relationships.” DHS hopes that ICEPIC, a new analytic tool for immigration enforcement and counter-terrorism will overcome the problems of the current system that is cumbersome, time-consuming and prone to errors.

"ICEPIC allows ICE law enforcement agents and analysts to look for non-obvious relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that are indicative of violations of the customs and immigration laws that are enforced by DHS agencies, as well as possible terrorist threats and plots."

The Privacy Impact Assessment for ICEPIC can be read here.

With the objective of enabling law enforcement and security agencies to more efficiently research, collate, organize, validate, and analyze the information contained in numerous existing data bases, ICEPIC will combine and automate data analysis from existing sources including:

● the National Security Entry Exit Registration System or NSEERS (keeps track "special interest aliens"

● the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

● the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology or US-VISIT program (facial photos and fingerprints of foreign travelers entering/exiting the United States)

ICEPIC will employ "link analysis tools" to look for what it calls "non-obvious relationship patterns" that could help the department identify illegal aliens, criminals or terrorists to result in more timely leads in law enforcement and counterterrorism.

"ICEPIC allows ICE law enforcement agents and analysts to look for non-obvious relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that are indicative of violations of the customs and immigration laws that are enforced by DHS agencies, as well as possible terrorist threats and plots," explained a Federal Register notice the department released today.

The new ICEPIC system of records will become effective on February 29, 2008. DHS envisions granting a series of "exemptions" that would enable the ICEPIC program to withhold certain personal data, even when requested under the Privacy Act.

Almost certainly there will be objections and claims that a program like ICEPIC will in some way expose personal information of innocent citizens to scrutiny. The debate over security versus privacy will probably be one that continues for many years. However, much in the same way that other programs like the Human ID at a Distance Program (a DARPA effort to advance the state of the art of identification at a distance by combining different technologies, including facial recognition), or Automatic Gait Recognition, or any other form of biometrics (essentially, systems that identify individuals through automated measurements of a person’s unique characteristics), a program like ICEPIC will certainly enhance our abilities to preemptively “persons of interest” earlier. I’m pretty sure that there will be objections to the DHS taking this direction, just as there will likely be those who claim that there are “better” ways to accomplish the same end result.

While there is no publicly announced threat for today’s Super Bowl has been designated as a level one security event that brings the federal agencies into the picture to augment the local police and security forces.

There’s also a no fly zone, a secure perimeter, and spectators should expect to be vetted before getting through. And there’s a list of prohibited items ranging from beach balls to weapons. Fans can also expect scads of security cameras and aircraft flying above surveying the area, while trained dogs will be on the lookout for explosives.

While I have no specific information, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there is a “face in the crowd” technology deployed at the University of Phoenix Stadium as well. Enhanced security is a way of life since September 11th, and as time passes, these measures are being expanded. The trade-off between security and liberty will continue to be debated. Of course, in a quote attributed to the musician Neil Young, "Benjamin Franklin said that anyone who gives up essential liberties to preserve freedom is a fool, "but maybe he didn't conceive of nuclear warfare and dirty bombs."

February 2, 2008

Desperation, Sadness

Of all the sadness that war brings, perhaps nothing is as sad as the death of innocents. The unintentional deaths of those who fall victim to carelessness or the injudicious application of force is especially down heartening.

This makes news of the use of two mentally handicapped women as mules for a bomb attack in a Baghdad market today particularly agonizing, for not only did the intended victims have no idea what was about to happen, neither did those who inadvertently carried out the attack.

Some observers will focus on the terrorist's exceptionally despicable use of the handicapped to carry out this attack and label it "desperation:" which it certainly is. Others may seek to remind us of the whole point of unconventional warfare. While describing war in generational or tactical terms is a useful academic construct, it is perhaps most useful to see this event for what it is: simply evil.

February 1, 2008

Always There, but Always Ready?

A commission studying the military's readiness to respond to a catastrophic attack on the homeland reports that our domestic military units lack the training and resources to deal with such an attack.

Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel says in a new report released Thursday.

The military's response is less-than confidence-building:

Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, chief of U.S. Northern Command, said the Pentagon is putting together a specialized military team that would be designed to respond to such catastrophic events.

"The capability for the Defense Department to respond to a chemical, biological event exists now . . . it is not as robust as we would like because of the demand on the forces that we've placed across the country. ... I can do it today. It would be harder on the (military) services, but I could respond."

It is easy but only partially correct to blame the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for these shortcomings at home. A Guard combat engineer unit is highly capable at one primary mission; absent a dramatic influx of funds, equipment and training it will only be marginally effective at any other (the specialized skills of discrete unit members notwithstanding).

The real shortcoming here is the apparent assumption at the strategic level that given the military's willingness to do whatever it takes to get any mission done (part of the reason why the military is one of the most highly regarded institutions in the country), we could get by on the cheap. A few hundred first responders flying or driving in from across the country is only an effective response if an attack is modest and occurs in only one location. Multiple large-scale attacks – the working definition of "catastrophic" for this analysis – makes a 4,000-troop response unit woefully inadequate.

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