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March 31, 2008

National Guard – Airborne Security

Resources are stretched. Allocation of those limited resources continues to be a subject of discussion. Today, according to an article in Government Security News it is being reported that the National Guard’s aerial surveillance activities in support of federal, state and local law enforcement counter-drug efforts may be outsourced to private contractors.

The Domestic Operations Directorate of the National Guard of the National Guard has requested private aviation companies to provide information about how they might instead provide aircraft, pilots and crew for 4,000 to 6,000 flight hours per year, for a period of three to five years.

According to Lt. Col. Mike Shiels, chief of counterdrug aviation for the National Guard, “about half” of the 11 fixed wing aircraft used by the National Guard’s aerial surveillance efforts have been redeployed for use in the War on Terrorism. Shiels did not speculate on the effect of this redeployment on the Guard’s domestic counter-drug campaign. However, to provide the necessary support, the Guard is now considering outsourcing the program to a private contractor, but must overcome two obstacles; they must identify a commercial contractor with the aircraft equipped with surveillance equipment and crews to accomplish the Guard’s airborne mission; and the leadership of the National Guard needs to be willing to “outsource” the surveillance mission to a commercial contractor.

The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act generally precludes uniformed personnel from performing domestic law enforcement duties. However, Shiels believes that the Guard’s efforts fall under the narrow limitations under which the Guard operates in the area of domestic surveillance. Clearly, airborne surveillance is more costly than most local law enforcement agencies can afford. Also pretty apparent is that the Guard’s aerial resources have been redeployed to the war front. The challenge is to balance our border and domestic security needs with those of the multiple fronts in the War on Terror.

Net Push: The State of al-Qaeda at Ten Years Old

While Admiral Hayden warns us that al-Qaeda is training Europeans and Americans for Western infiltration and attacks, it is also true that al-Qaeda is waning on its 10th birthday. Friend of ThreatsWatch Olivier Guitta writes in the Middle East Times that "it is al-Qaida's failure in Iraq that has clearly inflicted the maximum damage to Bin Laden's organization."

Olivier looks at the competing camps of thought; one professing that al-Qaeda is weaker and the other that al-Qaeda is even stronger. The latter is believed by many who hold the view because America has made al-Qaeda stronger through wrong-headed policy.

The fact remains that Guitta is correct in assessing that "al-Qaeda is waning" and equally correct in pointing to al-Qaeda's bleeding in Iraq as one of the primary causes.

But at the same time, al-Qaeda is also stronger in ways. Take for instance its complete recovery to pre-9/11 levels inside Pakistan.

The lesson that should be drawn is that al-Qaeda, born the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders in 1998, struggles and is defeated where it is confronted aggressively. It thrives where it finds haven and freedom of movement and activity.

I would assess the status of al-Qaeda at a net push at this point in a complex and varied set of battlefields - physical and intellectual; The War of Arms and the War of Ideas.

The key to its long-term viability hinges on both aggressive pursuit as well as its credibility and level of acceptance among the greater Muslim ummah. The former condition is inconsistently applied (nor an easy feat, especially with tepid world support for boldness.) The latter condition is in the air, with signs of both acceptance and rejection and neither taking a decisive foothold. Yet.

Another Laptop Goes Astray

Another security breach involving sensitive information has occurred. This time, a laptop computer containing the unsecured data of about 2500 participants in a cardiac study of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Tissue Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was stolen from the trunk of a car owned by an employee of the NHLBI.

While the integrity of personal patient information is of critical importance, the fact remains that NIH and NHLBI still fail to follow the June 2006 recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of ensuring that laptops and mobile data bases be encrypted.

Important questions are raised by this incident.

1) Why is sensitive patient information being stored on a laptop that an employee is able to take home?

2) If the theft of the laptop occurred on February 23rd, why was it not until March 4th that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) determined that study participants should be notified about the breach.

3) Why did it take another two weeks, until March 20th, that the letter informing the patients of the breach go out to them in overnight mail?

NHLBI director Elizabeth Nabel said in a statement that the theft did not occur on the NIH's Bethesda, Md., campus, but she did not provide any other details about the alleged crime. She said the purloined computer was issued to an employee (as opposed to a government contractor); it reportedly contained the names, birth dates and hospital medical record numbers of each participant as well as information gleaned about them from cardiac MRIs taken during the study conducted from 2001 to 2007.

Considering the cyber-demand for sensitive information, it would seem that the protection of patients’ rights takes priority over a government employee’s convenience in transporting a laptop in the trunk of a car. Further, if this level of poor security exists with patient data, what other lapses of a National Security nature are possible?

March 30, 2008

Firing Illegal Immigrants

Earlier this month I attended a meeting of my local chapter of Infragard. Coincidentally, the presentation covered the IMAGE Program, or ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. IMAGE is a program of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm of DHS. The goal of the program is to assist employers in targeted sectors to develop a more secure and stable workforce and to enhance fraudulent document awareness through education and training.

Despite the fact that a 1986 law prohibited businesses from knowingly employing illegal aliens, the problem of determining whether an applicant for a job was legal or not has continued to plague businesses, especially in industries like construction and hotels. I asked the question, “if someone makes an application for a job and the employer receives a no-match notification, why is the applicant given the option of challenging the ruling (and supplying supporting documentation) or simply withdrawing. Why wouldn’t that person be arrested and deported?” The question was answered with the simple, “we don’t have the manpower to arrest and deport” people who receive no-match letters.

It appears that the ICE agents making this presentation weren’t talking about the revisions to the rule. While this does not directly address my point about directly deporting job applicants for whom employers receive a “no match” letter, this revised rule would threaten employers with prosecution if they didn’t fire an employee where there is a “no match” situation.

There is clear opposition from immigration proponents.

Opponents said the new plan, which like the old one would be based on discrepancies in Social Security records, would harm large numbers of legal workers, foster discrimination against the foreign-born and drive up business costs. "This misguided attempt to fit the square peg of immigration enforcement into the round hole of Social Security benefits is a guarantee of increased discrimination and erroneous terminations," said Kathleen Campbell Walker, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The new rule is intended to clarify the required actions by employers.

Employers who get no-match letters would have 90 days to resolve the discrepancy and an additional three days for an employee to submit a new, valid Social Security number. After that, an employer who failed to fire the worker would be subject to civil fines or criminal prosecution.

These proposed changes and the new rule still do not address the question of what will happen to the illegal immigrants who are fired because of a “no match” finding. We’ll see what happens following the public comment period.

Drug Cartels Training Just Across the Border

Long before the attacks of September 11th, many people recognized the terrorist aspects of the illegal narcotics activities just south of the border. To some, the parallels were obvious, yet to others, 2001 was too early to see the dilemma faced by the United States. Yes, it is argued by some people that were it not for the demand for illegal narcotics in the U.S., the drug trade would not be as "vibrant" as it is in Mexico. Perhaps this is debateable. What is not debateable, however, is that the proximity of the drug cartels to U.S. soil and the violence wrought by the internal wars being fought for territorial superiority, creates a threat to U.S. security. That threat now clearly goes beyond the proliferation of illegal narcotics on our streets. Today, the parallels between terorrism and illegal narcotics are no less obvious to me than they were in 2002 when I was interviewed by the MIT Technology Review.

Such similarities have not gone unnoticed by high-tech firms. Tracer and SAIC were two of thousands that responded to the Pentagon's call last October for new technologies to combat terrorism. "Isn't there a fairly strong feeling that narcotics in this country is a terrorist activity?" asks Fraser. Yes and no, says Houghton, who cautions against drawing too many parallels, or assuming that knowledge in one area bequeaths expertise in the other. "There are similarities, but [drug trafficking and terrorism] are two different things," he says. "Where they start to go apart is that drugs are such an epidemic. If all drug dealers and cartels were terrorist organizations we'd be in big trouble."

I dare say that the cross over between the drug cartels and terrorist organizations has already occurred. Further, the adoption of jihadist tactics by the narco-terrorists is more torubling today that it was nearly six years ago. Today's Dallas Morning News brings as much justification as is needed for stronger border security and control.

The ranch near this border community is isolated, desolate and laced by arroyos – an ideal place, experts say, for training drug cartel assassins.

Mexican drug cartels have conducted military-style training camps in at least six such locations in northern Tamaulipas and Nuevo León states, some within a few miles of the Texas border, according to U.S. and Mexican authorities and the printed testimony of five protected witnesses who were trained in the camps.

The camps near the Texas border and at other locations in Mexico are used to train cartel recruits – ranging from Mexican army deserters to American teenagers – who then carry out killings and other cartel assignments on both sides of the border, authorities say.

The Mexican Army deserters referred to are known more often as Los Zetas. Trained by our own special operations, the Zetas have been known to cross our border and even attack our Border Patrol units. One of my associates, a former Army special ops MSgt. was brought in about two years ago to help re-train the border patrol agents in special ops tactics so they might be better able to combat these incursions. Despite the fact that a spokeman for the Mexican attorney general's office tried to minimize these training camps as places where the recruits use the camps for "target practice," their proximity to the U.S. cannot be ignored.

According to the printed testimony, the training has taken place at locations southwest of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville; near the town of Abasolo, between Matamoros and Ciudad Victoria; just north of the Nuevo Laredo airport; and at a place called "Rancho Las Amarillas" near a rural community, China, that is close to the Nuevo León-Tamaulipas border. Two other ranches used as training camps, both east of Matamoros, have clandestine landing strips for cocaine shipments originating in Colombia and destined for the United States via Texas, according to the officials and testimony.

Over a period of about two years, nearly 5000 people have been killed in these narco-wars. Unfortunately, as politicized as the issue of border security has become, and as much attention has been placed on fighting the terrorists "over there" instead of on our soil, the situation on the nearly 2000 mile border with Mexico is often overlooked.

"I know we're fighting terrorism throughout the world ... but here along the border the narco-terrorists operate on both sides of the border, and so far it's gone largely unnoticed by Washington," said Webb County Assistant District Attorney Jesús Guillén.

A recent Mexican intelligence report numbered the hardcore members of Los Zetas at over 300. Frankly, its probably alot more than that. Yes, admittedly, there is no proof of Middle Eastern terrorists using the training camps. Recent reports of three Afghanis attempting to cross the border with altered, but genuine, Mexican passports, is probably just the beginnning. We need to pay attention to what is happening just across the border.

March 29, 2008

Outsourcing the E-Passport

About 18 months ago at the Blackhat Hackers Convention in Las Vegas, German hacker Lukas Grunwald cloned the e-chip (an RFID) that was embedded in the new Electronic Passport. At the time the State Department assured us all that while the chip could be copied, the security embedded in the chip itself could not be. Setting aside the derisive comments Grunwald made at the time, we now learn that the Government Printing Office (GPO) production of these e-passports has been outsourced to companies overseas (at least some components), including companies in Thailand (an unstable country with a history of corruption and increasing Islamic terrorism, especially in the south of the country) and China. Additionally, according to a March 26th report in the Washington Times, there have been allegations made that the production facility in Thailand is owned by a Dutch company that reportedly charged China with pilfering its patented e-passport chip technology.

The Netherlands-based company that assembles the U.S. e-passport covers in Thailand, Smartrac Technology Ltd., warned in its latest annual report that, in a worst-case scenario, social unrest in Thailand could lead to a halt in production. Smartrac divulged in an October 2007 court filing in The Hague that China had stolen its patented technology for e-passport chips, raising additional questions about the security of America's e-passports.

Again, putting aside the question of whether the GPO profits by off-shoring even a part of the production of the passport, the GPO immediately countered the allegations made in the Washington Times article. The article, the GPO's inspector general made a strong denial, saying that the article had misstated the facts. Further, a GPO spokesman stated that "The passports are not manufactured overseas," but that "a component with the chip and inlay [of the antenna] comes from various places overseas, but manufacturing is done in Washington and soon-to-be Mississippi."

In response to the Times article, GPO released on March 26 a document about work processes it used to produce passports. According to the document, and reiterated by GPO spokesman Gary Somerset, the agency manufactures passports at its facilities in Washington. The agency will soon produce passports at a second secure facility it is constructing in Mississippi. Production of the electronic chip, which is embedded in the cover and contains the same information printed on the passport, was outsourced to two overseas companies, Amsterdam-based Gemalto and Infineon, based in Neubiberg, Germany. No American company meets the standards developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization and required by the State Department for border crossing procedures that involve the computer chip, according to GPO.

Its pretty certain that there will be Congressional inquiry into this, especially given Chairman Bennie Thompson’s stated concerns.

Congress has yet to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate the issue. Unless a specific vulnerability is detected, Jess Ford, GAO director of international affairs and trade, doesn't expect that to change. "My understanding is that lots of chips used not only for passports but other forms of identification are manufactured overseas," he said. "Besides, I'm not sure if someone even got hold of the chip, how they would use them. There's a lot of security that happens here in the United States."

The situation bears watching and further scrutiny. The security of passports, especially the new electronic passports with embedded RFID technology is still new and evolving. The second and third installments of the Washington Times series on this matter are provided here. Especially considering the increased requirements for using passports as a proof of identity and citizenship, including leaving and returning to the United States from vacation locations previously accessible without passports, off-shoring any part of the U.S. passport is questionable at best.

March 27, 2008

Technology That Confounds the TSA

I’m not at all bothered by airport security, even though I’ve been traveling a lot more recently. It’s sort of routine to remove my laptop from the case, put it in its own bin, take off my shoes and get through the checkpoint as fast as possible. I’m a PC guy (that’s personal computer), but I’ve seen the commercials for the new ultra thin MacBook Air that fits into an interoffice type envelope. It seems, however, that the TSA was taken by surprise by one recently when an air traveler was delayed through security because his MacBook lacked some “standard features”.

In response to the growing complaints, a veteran, seasoned TSA supervisor at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport put the MacBook Air through an X-ray scanner and found that it “does look completely different than your typical laptop or DVD player. I can't get into specifics of course, but there were a couple of areas on the X-ray that could pique some interest for Transportation Security Officers,” he said.

TSA moved pretty quickly to inform its security officers about this new technology, and that it isn’t a security threat. But this incident does raise a question of how TSA will be able to keep up with technology as it evolves. From personal experience I can tell you that anything that is “not normal” (like an electronic prototype system that I carried through security at LaGuardia Airport a few years ago) creates quite a stir and will get you separated out of the queue for “special treatment” until TSA is satisfied that all of the wires, mirrors and the motor are innocuous (all justified).

CNETNews.com provides a list of their top five technologies to “confuse” the TSA (probably not an all inclusive list) including lead-lined pouches to carry standard film for an old fashioned SLR camera, homemade electronic devices, insulin pumps, certain types of mini-tablets or PDAs, and the new Hello Kitty Assault Rifle

This is a serious problem, and one that is bound to continue as the technology revolution continues. At the same time, however, while it is not publicized, the TSA has acknowledged that its goal is to clear 200 passengers-per-hour through security the checkpoints.

Defining Stunning: The United Nations Unabridged Dictionary

In the enduring spirit of Spy vs Spy, it's the real-life UN version: "Surprising" vs. "Stunning."

Surprising: (adj.) 1. The United Nations hands out military service medals to Pakistani soldiers.

Stunning: (adj.) 1. The United Nations appoints a new human-rights advisor who founded the Moammar Khaddafi Human Rights Prize in 1989.

According to Wikipedia, "Winners of the Qaddafi prize have included Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, and recently Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. In 2002, the awardees were '13 intellectual and literature personalities,' of whom the most notable were the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy and Jean Ziegler himself."

It would make for an entertaining comic strip, but for the simple fact that it's reality.

Previewing next week's Fiction Meets Life headline:

Hu Jintao Nominated President of International Olympic Committee

With today's UN 'Human Rights' appointment, you can no longer say that stranger things have not truly already happened.

Hu at the IOC... Perhaps if the UN were the nominating authority for the IOC...

Iran Demands Compensation for Sanctions

Because every day you need at least one good, hardy laugh.

In his response, Mottaki singled out the United States, Britain, France and Germany, accusing them of pushing new sanctions for political motives and "providing false and erroneous information" to the IAEA concerning Iran's nuclear activities.

"These countries should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran," Mottaki said.

Sometimes, following conflicts and world events can be a humorless toil. But even still, every day provides at least one good laugh, usually offered upon the altar of inanity by caricaturesque spokesmen of dictatorial rogue regimes.

Thank you, Mr. Mottaki.

'But We Didn't Know Saddam Arranged It'

We now learn that Saddam Hussein's IIS intelligence service arranged the 2002 trip to Iraq for three US Congressmen, each Democrats openly seeking to undermine the Bush Administration's efforts to disarm - by force if necessary - Saddam Hussein, who was rightly believed to be involved in international terrorism. Now they collectively claim that they did not know that Iraq's intelligence service arranged for their trip.

No excuses. The End.

The three - and their other colleagues - knew precisely what kind of individual and regime they were dealing with. They knew that their trip was intended to ultimately assist Hussein by going against their American President. No more talk of somehow being able to do things counter to the President of the United States without those actions simultaneously being of benefit to the enemy, be it Hussein, Bashar Assad and his Syrian regime or Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Iranian regime.

One cannot claim to be wise in the ways of nuance - if any of these elected officials' words and actions are to be interpreted as routinely transmitted - and then turn around and claim ignorance to the fact that the Iraqi regime was all for what they were doing. For it to the point of making their trip happen, such a media coup it was for the self-professed enemy of America.

The same applies to elected officials (and any others) who insist on 'diplomatic' junkets to have tea with the dictatorial leaders of states whom the official US policy includes no diplomatic ties. The congressional trip to Syria to meet with Bashar Assad is another prime example.

No excuses. None. You know what you were/are doing. Don't act surprised when you learn their intelligence services are busy arranging and facilitating your aid to them.

It is one thing to disagree with one's president and his policies. It's also one thing to have internal and public debate - even heated and passionate. But it is another to travel to the home of the enemy - regardless the course of action you argue for at home - and surrender a media and propaganda coup to those who are our enemies.

There is responsible dissent and conduct and there is irresponsible dissent and conduct. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), and former Representative David E. Bonior (D-MI) either did not know the difference or did not care.

If these three are shocked at the revelations about their irresponsible dissent and conduct, they are either disingenuous or far too naive to be embarking on international diplomatic junkets rubbing elbows with the enemies of America.

Neither is acceptable. At all.

March 26, 2008

Creating the Future of Homeland Security Through Partnering and Education

Last week more than 500 people from government, academia and the policy sector came together at the Second DHS University Network Summit to discuss what Jay Cohen, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology directorate, recognizes as the need to educate a new group of scientists and business managers who are educated to create the products, methods and systems to more effectively defend the homeland.

During this conference, such topics as explosives detection, event modeling, port security, border protection, biometrics and terrorism research were covered. Since 2002, a number of universities have created programs to develop curricula in the fields of homeland security. Some focus (or focused) on regional requirements while others looked at training and degree or certification programs. DHS also “encouraged universities and colleges to explore funding, research and other opportunities within vast consortia of schools linked by region as well as by area of activity.” The key, of course, is the funding of these programs. I’m familiar personally with at least one program that was pretty much abandoned because it didn’t become self-supporting within three years. Another program simply didn’t come together because of difficulties in gaining cooperation between the participants that included a local university and that area’s department of public safety.

Diana Beecher, chief technology officer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said:

”We have taken ideas from universities and turned them into real-life technologies. Both parties need to be cooperative. We cannot sacrifice our business practices [and] universities cannot sacrifice open inquiry. The needs of everybody at the table need to be clearly understood and addressed."

The social sciences aspects of achieving this public-private partnership cannot be understated. The problems are not unlike those experienced in the field of technology transfer. The director of one successful effort (even at its early stage), Warren Edwards of the Southeast Region Research Initiative (SERRI) that is managed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory stated that:

”the nature of homeland security projects requires schools to link with other schools, national laboratories or private companies to maximize their research and development capabilities.

The importance of creating these public-private partnerships was discussed almost a year ago in When Disaster Strikes - The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships. Among those already created, and discussed at the conference, were:

CREATE (the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events), led by the University of Southern California.

PACER (the National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response), led by Michigan State University and established jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

• The National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD), led by Texas A&M University.

START (the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism), led by the University of Maryland.

However, creating these consortia and gaining the level of cooperation is a lot easier said then done. While it is absolutely necessary for the pipeline of skilled and trained professionals and a supply of technologies be created, it is interesting that industry was apparently not included in the program. From experience, universities are a great place to do research, but not necessarily the likely place to commercialize the results of that research. DHS, of course, knows the importance of industry in the process of defending the Nation from terrorism.

Brought To Light, In The Dark

Steve Hayes at The Weekly Standard is not particularly stunned that part of the reason President Bush does not talk about known links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and international terrorism is because he apparently is not shown or consciously made aware of some important post-invasion evidence.

Next, someone should make sure that George W. Bush sees the IDA report on Iraq and terrorism. National Security Adviser Steve Hadley was supposed to have shown Bush the report before it was released publicly. But Hadley is cautious to a fault and believes that there is nothing to gain from revisiting the case for war in Iraq. And there are no indications that he shared the report with President Bush.

Bush would want to see it. Months ago, when we fought to have the Iraqi documents translated and released, Bush's White House staff kept him in the dark. Even after Bush told then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte that he wanted the documents out, the DNI slow-rolled the process and the White House staff argued against sharing the secrets of the Iraqi regime.

Those were mistakes and they have cost the president. But now we have enough of the regime's documents to know that Saddam Hussein support jihadist terror for years. And, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out Monday, it's clear that the CIA underestimated Iraqi support for terrorism. The White House should talk about it.

I have long held that history will ultimately vindicate President Bush, and hopefully within his lifetime. He could make significant strides toward his own vindication by simply discussing the evidence shown light in the Iraq Perspectives Project report.

But that is presuming he has actually seen it. And as Steve Hayes points out, that is not necessarily an accurate presumption. It may in fact be flat wrong.

Good Morning, Tehran

Apparently yesterday's RapidRecon is making the e-mail rounds in Tehran. (Yahoo! mail appears the favorite medium.) As night falls on Tehran, it appears Iran, Not al-Sadr, Leading Shi'a Attacks In Iraq must have struck a chord with our friends who like to kill us.

Good morning, boys.

Flashback: A New Course In Iraq....For Iran

This morning, I found re-reading portions of a September analysis interesting. Some may wish to see:

PrincipalAnalysis: A New Course In Iraq...For Iran
One thing that General Petraeus did not say was that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been pulled out of Iraq. This is the larger elite Iranian military branch of which Quds Force is a part. This is not likely an unintended oversight by an intelligent field commander who possesses a Ph.D. from Princeton. This means that the general is expressly not saying that all Iranian operatives are out of Iraq.

As recently as mid-August, Major General Rick Lynch said that his forces and military intelligence were tracking about 50 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in his area of operations, which includes the southern edge of Baghdad and some of the provincial areas to its south, including Karbala. Of the IRGC operatives known to be active in his region, Major General Lynch said, “We’ve got about 50 of those. They go back and forth. There’s a porous border.”

And just across those porous borders lie myriad Iranian terrorist training camps, teaching, arming and paying Iraqis to fight their proxy war against America and the Iraqi state, seeking instability in Iraq in the immediate and increased Iranian infiltration, influence and control in the longer term. And the better they can achieve this, the fewer of its own valuable and highly trained Quds Force operatives and terror facilitators need be put at physical risk of being killed or captured in Iraq by a new American commander clearly seeks to engage without hesitation those within his Iraqi theater of operations who kill his men, Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. Even the fearsome Iranians who never lack for threat and bluster.

So, while General Petraeus reported that Iran’s Quds Force and their Lebanese Hizballah terrorist facilitators have vacated Iraqi territory, he did not say that the Iranian threat has abated as a result nor did he say that all Iranians have left the theater. He, in fact, said just the opposite: The Iranian threat continues to grow.
And now it is time for another Iranian putsch. Again, the international perception game is not insignificant here.

Rarely has a combatant nation had so willing a partner in criticism of its enemy than Iran has in the Western media when it comes to President George W. Bush, his administration, and almost anything at all said or done by either. It's truly a Proxy Warrior's dream. Ho Chi Minh never had it so good.

Ventriloquism: Sadr Speaks...Sort Of

No sooner do I write that there are "no attributions of direct quotes, commands or comment from Muqtada since the Shi’a militia uprising began in earnest" than we 'hear' from Muqtada that he threatens a civil revolt in Iraq....sort of. It is a logistical challenge to personally address one's followers in Najaf, Iraq when one is busy shuttling between Qom and Tehran in Iran.

But Sadrist lawmakers and officials denounced the (US/Iraqi coalition) offensive and said they felt the government is targeting the Sadr organization, which is a powerful political force in southern Iraq.

The cleric's [al-Sadr's] aide Hazem Al-Aaraji read a statement on behalf of Sadr, demanding and end to the operation.

He said Sadr's group was calling for a nationwide strike, and then if the Iraqi government does not comply, he said, "the second step will be civil disobedience in Baghdad and other provinces." He said after that would come a "third step," but did not say what it would be.

Two things: First, Sadr does not want to raise his head from the gopher hole, which is a wise precautionary measure. It's pretty clear that Petraeus does not play games for political consumption (such as the decision to allow Sadr to survive a deathmatch he declared in 2004). It's also clear that the (largely Shi'a) Iraqi Army and police forces are shooting to kill.

Second, Sadr's gopher hole is, after all, in Iran. Having a statement read is what leaders do when they either want to remain in the shadows or are not present to make such. In this case, it's a bit of both most likely. Keep in mind that anyone could have written (or directed the writing of) the statement read.

Yesterday at The Tank on National Review Online, I closed a thought by attempting to reiterate that it is not up to us entirely whether we are to have conflict with Iran. Iran is, naturally, half of the equation: a non-scientific math problem that has been up on the board for all to see since 1979.

The other half has been decided, like it or not. But for goodness sakes, don't take General David Petraeus's word for it. Oh, no. Instead, cry out, "O Admiral Fallon, where art thou?" That should help.

Admiral Fallon, presented to the American public as the one sane mind between a dangerous Bush Administration and conflict with Iran, you should recall. (Again, not that Iran has any say in killing our men or anything like that.) Well, Richard Fernandez over at The Belmont Club draws an interesting parallel between the current Mahdi Army violence and Fallon's exit from CENTCOM.

One of the rumored frictions between Petraeus and former CENTCOM CINC "Fox" Fallon centered around how strongly to respond to threats from Iranian sponsored groups. And Sadr's men would fall under that category. Maj Gen Paul Vallely was quoted as saying CENTCOM may not have been done all that it could to prevent Iran from endangering American troops.
“The fact is that [Central Command] had the external responsibility to protect our troops in Iraq from the outside and under Fallon they failed to do it,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a military analyst. “We have done nothing to protect our soldiers from external threats in Iraq.”

That, as framed by Major General Vallely, is not insignificant and is something that we have criticized in this space and elsewhere.

So desperate are some, it seems, to avoid conflict with Iran that we ignore and tolerate Iran's conflict with us. In a street fight, that's a losing proposition and easy pickings for the aggressor. And this is a street fight.

March 25, 2008

Terrorism Disconnect?

It happened last Friday. In what is characterized as an informal meeting with reporters, U.S. Attorney General Mike Mukasey commented that he has been 'surprised' by scope of terrorist threats facing this country. The apparent disconnect with the true threat of terrorism by Mr.Mukasey is quite concerning. Frankly, this doesn't engender a lot of confidence in the lead lawyer of this country.

"I'm surprised by how surprised I am," said Mukasey, who as a federal judge presided over terrorism-related trials in New York.

"It's surprising how varied [the threat] is, how many directions it comes from, how geographically spread out it is," he said.

At the same time that he expresses concern over the expiration of FISA, and says that he's not hopeful for a compromise, he also remarks that the jihadi fatwas do not expire. What is really surprising is that Mukasey is as unaware as he seems to be about the breadth of the threats confronting us, and the ingenuity of our enemies.

If Mukasey receives terrorism daily updates, why is he surprised by the asymmetric nature of the threat?

Iran, Not al-Sadr, Leading Shi'a Attacks In Iraq

As Shi'a militias and armed groups strike out at US and Iraqi targets from Baghdad to Basra, it is curious to note how many news reports attribute the attacks to Muqtada al-Sadr, either directly or indirectly.

Rocket attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone may carry a message with implications across Iraq: rising anger within the Mahdi Army militia.

The Shiite fighters led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are reorganizing their ranks, taking delivery of new weapons from Iran and ramping up complaints about crackdowns by U.S. and Iraqi forces that could unravel the Mahdi Army's self-declared cease-fire, according to militia commanders.

But Muqtada al-Sadr was sidelined from any command by Iran weeks ago. There are no attributions of direct quotes, commands or comment from Muqtada since the Shi'a militia uprising began in earnest. And there is a very simple explanation for this: The puppet has had his strings cut. Iran is calling the shots.

The fact that his note exists is far more important than its specific wording.

“So far I did not succeed either to liberate Iraq or make it an Islamic society — whether because of my own inability or the inability of society, only God knows,” Sadr wrote.

“The continued presence of the occupiers, on the one hand, and the disobedience of many on the other, pushed me to isolate myself in protest. I gave society a big proportion of my life. Even my body became weaker, I got more sicknesses.”

In reality, the continued presence of his Iranian masters pushed him to isolate himself. Iran has changed other leadership positions and oriented other terrorist groups toward field operational leadership and away from political leadership. The IRGC commander was changed. Hizballah's military command was stripped from Nasrallah and handed to sheikh Naim Qasim in the Bekaa Valley. And Hamas is effectively run by al-Qassam Brigades military commander Ahmed Jabari in Gaza, not Khalid Meshaal in Damascus nor Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City.

As such, the militarily incompetent Muqtada al-Sadr has been yanked from control of the Mahdi Army. We are seeing the natural and intended progression of this change in Iraq today.

The shelling of the 'Green Zone' (or International Zone) in Baghdad in coordination with attacks throughout southern Iraq from Basra to Baghdad are not a reaction to an al-Sadr decision any more than they are the effects of his military leadership and command. They are the fruits of Iranian labor.

The rockets used in the Green Zone attacks "were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets," General Petraeus said.

Can we dismiss this from the most successful US commander in Iraq since the conflict began? Further, is it wise to also dismiss the trend of Iranian command changes across the board to operational ground commanders? And, is it wise to forget that Muqtada al-Sadr announced his seclusion and withdrawal from command (at the behest of his Iranian masters)?

In order to minimize or dismiss Iran's guiding hand in the fighting in Iraq, one must do all of these things. And this is completely illogical. Completely.

Yet, so desperate some seem to avoid any conflict with Iran, they ignore that fact that Iran has already chosen the conflict, whether we like it or not.

It is an 'Inconvenient Truth.'

Mind the Gap

As Jay points out this morning, our border with Mexico is about to suffer a severe manpower shortage. With the physical barrier between the US and Mexico and on-again, off-again affair and the virtual fence plagued with shortcomings, the significance of cases like this cannot be emphasized enough:

Three Afghan Muslim men caught posing as Mexican nationals last month while en route to Europe were part of a human smuggling operation and carried what now are believed to be altered but genuine Mexican passports for which they paid $10,000 each . . .

This would not be the first time terrorists or suspected terrorists have crossed the border from Mexico into the US, as Todd Bensman's reportage from Texas indicates.

You can secure nothing if you do not have control over what it is that needs protection. Border security – Mexican or Canadian – is not exclusively an immigration issue, and those that would frame it as such are well meaning but much too narrowly focused. While there are many ways to address the flow of benign people across geography who are motivated by economic factors, the futility of thinking we can negotiate with radical Islamists has been regularly demonstrated for decades. It is the latter class of border jumpers that deserves our attention and the primary reason why anything that reduces our ability to secure our sovereign territory should be thwarted.

Manpower to Guard the Border

Operation Jump Start began in mid-2006 with the intention of augmenting the manpower of the Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexican border. Since that time, about 6,000 Guardsmen have filled non-enforcement positions to allow Border Patrol agents to engage in “front-line” activities. This “back to the border” effort resulted in the Guard assisting in the arrests of 140,000 illegal immigrants, the seizure of 143 tons of drugs (mostly marijuana), the building of 111 miles of border fencing and more than 18 miles of new all-weather roads in addition to maintaining or improving more than 570 miles of existing roads.

The effort didn’t come without a cost.

Through January, the National Guard Bureau spent more than $1 billion on the program — nearly $212 million in the 2006 fiscal year, $687 million in fiscal 2007 and $136 million during the first four months of fiscal 2008.

Operation Jump Start is now scheduled to end this summer .

While is may be an unconnected coincidence, there is now a recruiting push overseas to entice returning military veterans to sign up for the Border Patrol in an effort to reach its manpower goal of 20,000 agents by 2009. While acknowledging that the Defense Department would like to retain its seasoned soldiers but also recognizes that many will leave the service. The recruitment effort by the Border Patrol offers those soldiers an opportunity to continue serving their country in a different capacity. Border Patrol recruiters plan to visit 12 Army posts and Air Force bases.

Intelligently Misleading on Saddam and Terror

ThreatsWatch's Michael Tanji has written an excellent piece published today at the Weekly Standard. In Intelligently Misleading, Michael addresses the cognitive dissonance in media coverage of the Iraq Perspectives Project report on the linkages between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Saying Iraq was not supporting al Qaeda, when there was no meaningful distinction between the EIJ and al Qaeda, strains credulity.

Therein lies the problem: this report--and every assessment dealing with intelligence or national security matters--is crafted with such extreme precision in an impossible quest to be "right" that they end up being absurdly wrong. This quest for false precision skews our understanding of very clear and simple truths. This is part of the reason why so many policymakers of all political persuasions hold intelligence in such disdain. The books and articles that document Saddam's relationship with terrorist groups that were published before this report was issued are numerous and draw largely the same conclusions that this review of classified material shows. Secrets are only valuable if they tell you something meaningful that you didn't already know.

With so many journalists latching onto the solitary line stating that the report found "no smoking gun" linking Saddam Huseein to al-Qaeda - while ignoring the rest of the report that details definitive linkages to international terrorist groups (including Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaeda's #2) - seemed to be a collective attempt to further the notion that, somehow, if it's not al-Qaeda and bin Laden, it just doesn't count. That's a dangerous, dangerous mindset.

Read the rest of Michael's article Intelligently Misleading at the Weekly Standard.

March 24, 2008

Pondering China's Military Buildup

Is China’s military buildup and suspected strategic orientation an unexpected boon for US-Russian relations?

With the latest ominous disclosure of China’s burgeoning military budget - a nearly 18% increase this year over last year, according to the most recent (and undoubtedly conservative) official estimate - security specialists invariably focus on its implications regarding the balance of military power in East Asia, the strategically sensitive Straits of Taiwan, and the concomitant risks to US forces in the region.

Although such a Taiwan-centric perspective on increased Chinese military expenditure is only natural given China’s fixation with Taiwan, not to mention prudent in that it represents perhaps the most combustible “sticking point” confronting US-China military relations, the Pentagon’s 2008 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China (pdf) offers perhaps a broader interpretation of the rationale behind the build up. Consider the following excerpt from that report:

China's near-term focus on preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait, including the possibility of U.S. intervention, is an important driver of its modernization. However, analysis of China's military acquisitions and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as conflict over resources or disputed territories. [Emphasis added.]

If natural resource considerations also inform the strategic orientation of China’s military, might we witness in the future a rekindling of the Sino-Russo rivalry? Renowned Soviet military scholar Col. (ret.) David M. Glantz does not discount the possibility.

“Two factors are operating here: China’s rapid economic development and the historical precedence of border incidents with Soviet Russia,” Glantz said. “China’s presently on a wild ride of economic development, and there exists grave doubts as to whether she has the resources to sustain her growth. China will be pursuing the resources needed to sustain that growth, and the Far East of Russia, formerly Soviet Russia, could very well be an area to which the Chinese look. Here’s where past border clashes with Soviet Russia play a role. Indeed, China has had border conflicts with other nations over the years, most notably Vietnam and India, but it is doubtful whether either of those offer the promise of alleviating China’s resource needs like the Russian Far East or the newly independent states of Soviet Russia that remain under Russian influence."

Col. Glantz continued, “At any rate, the Russian Far East probably won’t be fully developed and exploited for years. Thus, any talk of potential conflict between Russia and China over this resources rich area must be couched in the context of more a long term, not near term, timeframe. Certainly, the potential for conflict exists but it shouldn’t be misunderstood nor misinterpreted as an imminent potential confrontation.”

What, then, might the threat of a renewed Sino-Russo rivalry portend for the future of US-Russian relations and cooperation? Could it be the issue that cleaves the present China-Russian geo-strategic partnership?

Perhaps, though the existing dynamic—ie Russia and China acting more or less in concert against perceived US interests (see Iran)—is unlikely to change to anytime soon. Awash in oil revenues and at odds with the United States over a myriad of issues ranging from American missile defense components in Poland and Czechoslovakia, the possibility of further NATO expansion et al, contemporary Russia increasingly views the United States through the prism of Cold War lenses.

Still, China’s military and economic ascension, not to mention the mutual threat of Islamic radicalism, represents the makings of a breach that, if exploited by skillful American foreign policy and strategic sobriety on the part of both nations, offers the opportunity for a more harmonious US-Russian relationship in the future.

Issues with Intelligence Analysis

A recent RAND report formally documents a development that intelligence insiders have known about for several years:

The overarching generality about the U.S. intelligence analytic community today is that most of it is engaged in work that is tactical, operational, or current. By most accounts, the relative lack of longer-term analysis has long been bemoaned. In other words, most analytic resources and activities are dedicated to intelligence reporting instead of attempting to attain the “deep understanding” of our adversaries that constitutes analysis.

As noted previously, the delineation point when we stopped attempting to do analysis and started to repackage intelligence reporting was shortly after Saddam's regime fell to US and allied forces and it was noted that the road to Baghdad was not paved with artillery shells full of nerve agent. The fact that US intelligence analysts did their job – best conclusions drawn from incomplete, insufficient and occasionally inaccurate information – is lost in the midst of a grand blame-game. The response is typical bureaucratic short-sightedness mixed with a large dose of management philosophy of the moment: as long as we stick to re-packaging "facts" we can avoid being called "failures" in the future.

The fundamental problem of course is that you can train monkeys to sort documents and stack them into neat piles; humans have more highly developed gray cells and should be applying them accordingly. Analysts want to use their brains and perhaps the only thing more insulting to them than those who don't know how intelligence works calling them failures is their own management effectively turning them into apes performing rote tasks for treats.

In the long term, such thinking plays havoc with our ability to avoid honest failures in the future. By abandoning the whole concept of "lanes in the road" (Services and Commands should be supplying the bulk of current intelligence needs) and driving (intentionally or otherwise) national-level assets to become classified CNNs, the community is setting the nation up for more surprises. Fixing this doesn't require wide scale reform so much as it requires a more judicious deployment of existing resources.

March 22, 2008

Gaza: Plight, Hamas, and the Burdens of Democracy

From the English version of Asharq Alawsat, an ode to industry in the Gaza Strip.

A 'cemetery' in the neighborhood of al Rimal in Gaza is attracting the attention of motorists and pedestrians alike. Set up last Tuesday in al Katiba Square, this symbolic cemetery is comprised of 'graves' symbolizing hundreds of factories that have been closed down as a result of the economic embargo.

The forty 'graves', which have been adorned with flowers, each have a tombstone that bears the name of the factory and the number of employees who have lost their jobs in the aftermath. The Popular Committee for Resisting the Siege (PCRS) in Gaza is responsible for the creation of this cemetery as a protest against the economic blockade that has been imposed on Gaza following the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.

But "The Death of Industry," such that it was in 'life,' cannot be properly eulogized without the inseparable context of the "Rebirth of Hamas," an inextricably intertwined primary cause.

Freely and openly elected in a democratic process, actions have consequences and democracy, freedom and liberty all carry with them the heavy burden of individual (voter) responsibility, for there is no 'greater authority' upon which to place the blame for the consequences of aggression.

Democracy, freedom and liberty are not an instant ticket to peace, actions are. Democracy, freedom and liberty are the most reliable vehicles in which a people can assure such actions are taken by the chosen governing bodies. But they are not a guarantor.

Sometimes enough of the people are duped. Sometimes enough of the people choose leadership for actions other than peace. Sometimes there is not much to choose from at the ballot. Sometimes the people simply do not choose a peaceful path.

But their choices always have consequences, in America and in Gaza.

So when one reads Gaza: The Death of Industry, understand it within the context of "Gaza: The Re-Birth of Hamas."

Soviet Union or Bust for Georgians?

Vladimir Putin's aim has long been to re-establish as much of the old Soviet order as possible, preferably all of it, under Kremlin control. Within that context, the fight for Georgia appears about to get dirtier and nastier in short order as the Russian Duma (parliament) just handed Putin a mandate to support Georgian separatist movements in order to fragment the potential NATO member into splintered internal disarray.

MOSCOW: Parliament on Friday urged the Kremlin to consider recognizing the independence of two separatist regions in neighboring Georgia, stepping up Moscow's campaign to keep the former Soviet republic out of NATO.

The lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, voted overwhelmingly to adopt a statement calling on President Vladimir Putin and the government to "consider the question of the expediency of recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

The statement also says the government should speed up efforts to support the sovereignty of the two regions in case Georgia "accelerated" its drive to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, suggesting that Moscow should move swiftly toward recognizing the regions if the alliance puts Georgia on track for membership at a meeting next month.

The vote was 440 to 0 in the 450-seat chamber. [Ed. Note: In Russia, that's a mandate.]

The statement calls on the government to increase support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgian government control after the 1991 Soviet breakup and have made renewed calls for international recognition since Kosovo's Western-backed declaration of independence.

Moscow has granted most of the regions' residents Russian citizenship and has backed them in disputes with the government of Georgia's pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, but it formally recognizes Georgia's territorial integrity.

Military Cross for Jack Doe

A British SBS (Special Boat Service) commando who fought off 70 Taliban in Afghanistan is honoured in secret.

The firefight took place on June 27 2006, but the award of a Military Cross has only just been made because medals for special forces soldiers are treated separately for security reasons.

The Special Boat Service team had grabbed the Taliban they were sent in to collect and were on their way back to base, but were ambushed by a force of 70 Taliban who destroyed one of their vehicles. They were forced to flee the vehicles and became pinned down in an irrigation ditch.

"They had an OP [observation post] from which they were watching the targets," one special forces source said.

"They were expecting a meeting of just four key guys but the OP was compromised and they were ambushed by 70-odd Taliban."

Capt David Patten, 38, from Aghadowey, Co Londonderry, a member of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, was killed as the team tried to escape across the fields.

The leader of the patrol was badly wounded by a bullet that went through his forearm and passed through his watch and they were left pinned down in a ditch with their grinning Taliban prisoners, who were now certain they would be freed, one source said.

As dawn broke, one SBS commando, Sgt Paul Bartlett, 35, from Poole, made an attempt to get back to the vehicles but was shot dead. However, this allowed the patrol to see where the the Taliban fire was coming from.

The MC winner, one of two brothers in the SBS, took charge and led the men in holding off the Taliban, manoeuvring himself into a position from where he could throw a grenade into the main enemy position. The 13 fit men not only managed to hold off the Taliban until a Gurkha platoon arrived but killed dozens of the Taliban.

The leader of the patrol lost his forearm as a result of his wounds but is still with the service.

This Marine offers up a hearty "Semper Fi, Jack!" Here's hoping the entire team has been privately recognized for their collective and individual valour. They are so recognized here.

UPDATE: The good news: Britain plans to boost its Afghanistan force in Helmand province with 600 troops, most for additional reconstruction efforts following the recapture of Musa Qala. The bad news: "The move to send extra troops follows the failure to persuade NATO allies to contribute more towards operations in the dangerous areas of Afghanistan."

March 20, 2008

Iran's Sunni Enemy in Iraq: Not al-Qaeda

With all due respect, when I read 'Working with Iran to stabilize Iraq' this morning by Selig Harrison, I thought I was reading a satirical reprint from The Onion.

Iran and the United States have a common interest in a stable Iraq. Tehran does not want a breakup of Iraq along ethnic lines that would strengthen the movement for an independent Kurdistan embracing its own restive Kurdish areas. Before cooperating to stabilize Iraq, however, Iran wants assurances that the United States will not use it as a base for covert action and military attacks against the Islamic Republic and will gradually phase out its combat forces.

Cooperation will endure only if Washington lets the Shi'ites enforce the terms for the new ethnic equation in Iraq and, above all, if it recognizes Iran's right by virtue of geography and history to have a bigger say in Iraq's destiny than its other immediate neighbors, not to mention the faraway United States.

Harrison, in arriving at the above fantastical conclusion, makes some fair points, but wanders far from logic's reservation in attempting to illustrate a dynamic of an Iranian quest for a stable Iraq. A dynamic that does not exist, nor one which Iran seeks.

Unlike General David Petraeus, the writer chooses to navigate around the term "meddling." Nor, in characterizing the Sahwa (Iraq Awakening Movements) as "euphemistically called the 'Sunni Awakening,'" does Harrison acknowledge that there are Shi'a members of the movement as well. Regardless, Iran works to undermine Iraq's Awakening movement.

Of course, the fact that the movement is fighting (Sunni) al-Qaeda and not Shi'a groups is apparently also an inconvenient fact that doesn't serve to fit the apparently preferred pro-Iranian narrative. The Iraqi Awakening Movements have served to bring more stability to Iraq through their major role in quelling (and culling) al-Qaeda terrorists - the same terrorists responsible for 'Sunni' attacks on Shi'a Iraqi targets.

But al-Qaeda is not Iran's Sunni enemy in Iraq. Notice with open eyes and ears that Iran does not condemn al-Qaeda. It is clearly the Awakening Movements who are seen by Iran as their Sunni enemy in Iraq.

That is an extremely telling observation, is it not? It seems to have escaped Mr. Harrison. It has not escaped us at ThreatsWatch. And it should not escape you.

March 19, 2008

Flat Funding for R&D: A Threat to National Security

Daily, we deal with the many issues of National Security and World events. However, often policy, specifically funding policies, can also affect the Nation’s health, welfare and security. On a high level, the strength of our educational system, the vitality of our research institutions, and the creativity of its scientists impacts our global competitiveness and our security as well. Last week, the impact of the continued flat lining of the budgets for the National Institutes of Health came to the surface when Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) testified at the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Flat funding of NIH, combined with the effects of inflation, has eroded the purchasing power of the agency by 10% or more. With every excellent unfunded idea, we stand to miss or delay the critical discovery leading to therapies for our most debilitating health conditions."

For the last five years, the budgets for the NIH have been flat, making it difficult for researchers to pursue their innovative research. This funding trend continues with the projected 2009 budget.

The President's 2009 budget continues to propose large increases for the three physical sciences agencies related to the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) as well as human spacecraft development. It also offers mostly increases in other parts of the federal R&D portfolio, but with cuts in key agricultural and environmental R&D agencies and a flat line for NIH biomedical research.

Among the conclusions of an analysis of the FY 2009 research budget is that:

After more than a half-century of unchallenged superiority in virtually every field of science and technology, from basic research to product development, the United States is starting to lose ground to other nations. While we continue to lead the world in scientific innovation, the recent years of declining investment in NIH and fresh competition from abroad threaten to end our supremacy. If the United States is to continue its leadership role in achieving scientific progress, the President and Congress must commit to adequately supporting the basic, fundamental research that underlies technological advancement.

Highlights of how flat funding is affecting research:

● In 1990 young researchers received 29 percent of R01 grants (the premier NIH research grant needed to establish a researcher’s credibility and independence). By 2007 that dropped to 25 percent

● While the success rate has dropped for all R01 applicants, it is particularly low -- only 18 percent -- for first-time applicants

● First-time RO1 recipients also are older. The average age is now 43, up from 39 years in 1990

● “Applications for R01 grants from previously unfunded scientists showed an appreciable drop in 2007, declining by nearly 600 applications from the 2006 level. That represents a loss of hundreds of new scientists and all of the talent and intellectual capital that they bring to the system.”

An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is putting America at risk—slowing the pace of medical advances, risking the future health of Americans, discouraging our best and brightest researchers, and threatening America's global leadership in biomedical research. Unfortunately, President Bush's budget proposal recommends a sixth year of flat funding for the NIH in 2009.

In a recently released report, a group of concerned institutions (six research universities and a major teaching hospital) described the toll that cumulative stagnant National Health Institute (NIH) funding is taking on the American medical research enterprise. The leading institutions warned that if NIH does not get consistent and robust support in the future, the United States will lose a generation of young investigators to other careers and other countries and, with them, a generation of promising research that could cure diseases for millions for whom no cure currently exists.

The report, “A Broken Pipeline" Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk,” was co-authored by Brown University, Duke University, Harvard University, The Ohio State University, Partners Healthcare, the University of California Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University, poses the possibility that with the continued softness in U.S. R&D budgets, the U.S. will lose a generation of researchers.

Recent trends show China becoming the driver of the world's science, technology, and economy. As a whole, the European Union has also passed the U.S. in these areas. Noted is our inability to encourage and support the training of scientists and engineers. The funding of resources like the National Institutes of Health, contribute to this. Our loss of leadership in innovation is an impending threat to National Security.

No Easy Fix

Government service is largely self-less service, with top performers and those in top positions (not necessarily mutually exclusive conditions) volunteering to give up greater remuneration and other rewards in order to answer their country's call.

No matter what you call this conflict, such endeavors require leadership, and absent such leadership even the most intrepid at both the policy and operational level are bound to flounder.

March 17, 2008

Fatah MP Mourns at Yeshiva Massacre Mastermind's Mourning Tent

Aaron Klein reports from Jerusalem that a representative of Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority was at the mourning tent for the killed terrorist suspected of planning the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva massacre in Jerusalem. A member of the Fatah Legislative Council, Qadura Fares, went so far as to insist that Muhammad Shehadi was without doubt Fatah and not Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

JERUSALEM – An official delegation from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization this weekend visited the mourning tent of a senior Fatah terrorist accused by security officials here of planning the Jerusalem seminary shooting massacre two weeks ago in which eight students were killed.
The terrorist, Muhammad Shehadi, was eliminated in Bethlehem in an Israeli anti-terror operation last Thursday. The Israeli media has been portraying Shehadi as a senior leader from the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad terrorist organization even though Shehadi is a well-known Fatah activist.

"Of course he was Fatah," PA minister and Fatah Legislative Council member Qadura Fares told WND. "We were even in jail together as Fatah members."

Fares was among a delegation of eight other Fatah members who visited the Shehadi family's mourning tent in Bethlehem. Others included Kamal Hassouneh the PA Economic Minister, and Azzam el-Ahmad, a PA parliament member and a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council. Fadwa Barghouti, wife of imprisoned Fatah leader and intifada architect Marwan Barghouti, was also present.

Abbas has come under fire and viewed with increasing doubt not only for his inability to effectively control Hamas in the West Bank, but also for claims of his own Fatah's continued complicity in terror attacks on Israelis while The Olmert government and the West rely on him as the only available peace partner. This gives great credence to those concerns.

Readers may be wary of WND as a source for their reputation of being over-the-top. Be that as it may, do not apply that label to the work of Aaron Klein, perhaps the journalist with more direct access to terrorists in the Palestinian Territories than any other source or news agency. No matter what one thinks of WND, Aaron Klein's work stands on its own merits.

Thailand Bombing In Global Insurgency Context

At the Counterterrorism Blog, Zachary Abuza explains Saturday's car bombing in Thailand, where two were killed and nearly twenty others injured.

On Saturday night, a 20 kg bomb hidden in the back of a car was detonated in front of the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani, southern Thailand. Two were killed, three are in critical condition and 15 others sustained moderate injuries. It was the boldest attack by Muslim insurgents in southern Thailand in recent months. Some 3,000 have been killed since the insurgency got underway in January 2004. Violence peaked in June 2007, and has gone down, owing to stepped up counter-insurgent operations; but the average rate of killing today is still above the 4-year average. This is not the first car bomb in southern Thailand, but the first in over a year.

The CS Pattani is the hotel in southern Thailand. It is where every delegation from Bangkok stay, the meeting point for journalists and visiting academics, and a conference center, where much of the government’s reconciliation meetings have taken place.

It is important to understand the significance of the hotel in order to appreciate the significance of the attack and its intent within the context of the Thai Muslim separatist insurgency and their role within the global insurgency (pdf).

They'll Be Back: al-Qaeda Targeting Pak Police, FBI in Pakistan

Al-Qaeda is definitely stepping up its battle in Pakistan, as Syed Saleem Shahzad reports. Last week, terrorists struck the offices of the Pakistani police's investigative offices in Lahore, killing at least 30 with a car bomb.

However, according to Asia Times Online's investigations, the real target, an undercover office of the Special Investigation Authority (SIA), was missed as the suicide attacker hit the advertising agency.

The SIA is a joint initiative of US and Pakistani planners set up to eliminate the strong roots of radicalization in Punjab province which could easily be transformed into very strong al-Qaeda connections. The SIA will remain a target in Lahore as well as other parts of Punjab, including Multan.

The undercover counterterror investigative unit is not a secret, though indications are the bomber imprecisely hit his assigned target, primarily striking a marketing company instead.

The SIA's investigative partner, America's FBI, will also remain an actively pursued target in Pakistan as well. Yesterday, the Luna Caprese restaurant in Islamabad was struck as well, a popular gathering spot for Westerners. A Turkish civilian was killed and four American FBI personnel injured, including the FBI's top counterterrorism agent in Pakistan.

Officials said the bomb was thrown over the wall or was planted in the restaurant's garden, which had been crowded with diners. The restaurant has a single private security guard at its entrance, but none along its perimeter.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry identified the dead woman as Sacide Ender Baskaya, who was working for a Turkish aid group, Support to Life. A ministry statement condemned the attack and said Turkey would "maintain its solidarity with brother Pakistan."

A list of victims was posted in the reception of an Islamabad hospital. Five U.S. citizens were listed as undergoing surgery. One Japanese citizen, one Canadian, one Briton and three Pakistanis also were wounded.

The Islamabad attack after the Lahore bombing should leave no doubt that al-Qaeda, the Taliban and aligned terrorists are stepping up their attacks wherever possible, with the Pakistani police and Americans as the primary target.

Al-Qaeda missed their larger prize in Lahore last week. They have pursued FBI agents in Islamabad though they failed to kill them. They'll be back. Wherever possible.

March 16, 2008

Iranian Two-Step: Talk About Talks

Finding truth in Iranian statements can be like finding Waldo from ten feet away, aided by blurred vision. The latest is another example. Saturday, Iranian spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said that Iran rejects any future nuclear talks with the Security Council and Germany (5+1).

"The issue of nuclear talks with the countries of the 5+1 is over," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters. . . .

Mr Elham's comments confirm remarks made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month which suggested the Government was strongly against any new talks between Mr Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

"We will continue our path within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency as this is the only legal body for this issue," Mr Elham added.

Not so fast, Mr. Government Spokesman. Enter Sunday Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, with more clout from the Iranian Foreign Ministry than the aforementioned Gholam Hossein Elham. Lest we be confused by Iran's unwitting directness, Hosseini assures us that Iran most certainly seeks talks.

Iran has never said it would not talk over its peaceful nuclear activities, Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said on Sunday. "We are ready to hold talks with Europe about issues such as nuclear disarmament and economic cooperation with Europeans," Hosseini stressed, according to IRNA.

So ready, in fact, that the Tehran Times implores us that our own Henry Kissinger even backs direct U.S. negotiations with Iran.

“One should be prepared to negotiate, and I think we should be prepared to negotiate about Iran,” Kissinger, who brokered the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur war and peace talks with the North Vietnamese, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Asked whether he meant the U.S. should hold direct talks, Kissinger, 84, responded: “Yes, I think we should.”

There has been no response so far from Iran, he said.

“I’ve been in semi-private, totally private talks with Iranians,” he said. “They’ve had put before them approaches that with a little flexibility on their part would, in my view, surely lead to negotiations.” He didn’t elaborate on who was engaged in the talks.

The folly of it all is that talks have already been occurring. Kissinger himself acknowledges this. To the extent that 'talks' with Iran should achieve clarity of communication, it is a stretch to presume that Iran does not know where the lines that must not be crossed lay. (Whether you or I agree with where those lines are or are not is another question.) Likewise, it is not exactly a mystery what Iran's aims and goals are, either. Affording them direct (read: public) talks is to simply afford them another pulpit we need not cede.

The EU/5+1 forum on the nuclear issue is exploited by Iran as nothing more than a delaying tactic while their nuclear program proceeds unimpeded.

The IAEA, recall from its latest report, was powerless to do anything more than look on as Iran replaced P-1 centrifuges with new and advanced P-2 designs under IAEA “containment and surveillance.” All while Iran remains under UN Security Council sanctions and demand that Iran halt its enrichment program. Is it any wonder Iran prefers to deal with the IAEA and only the IAEA?

But of course, Iran is surely open to more talks and talks about talks. It keeps the IAEA gainfully employed doing what it can in Iran. Which, partly due to the agency's faulty leadership and partly due to its structure sans enforcement mechanism, remains just about zero beyond what Iran desires to be done.

March 14, 2008

Terror Net 2.0: Online 'Media Jihad'

Pay special attention to points 4, 8 and 9 as translated by MEMRI from an online posting of instructions for conducting 'media jihad.'

4. Find out where you can purchase weapons, especially small ones that can be easily concealed. Buy as many as you can, but not more! Keep [the weapons] hidden… Do not take them out [of their hiding place] under any circumstances, until it is time…

5. Stay away from demonstrations… Know that demonstrations are held for one purpose only: in order to give citizens the feeling that they have done something significant, when [in fact] they haven't. The only exception is violent demonstrations, which provide an opportunity to use the weapon…

7. Do not be too quick to judge people or things with which you are not familiar, the way some foolish people [judge] Al-Qaeda…

8. Do not wait for a call from an Islamic group like Al-Qaeda… so you [can] begin to receive orders and act. Act on your own, starting today. Create a secret media jihad cell... which will be ready to become operational at any moment, and will be like a time bomb [concealed] in your home, [waiting to strike] the enemies of Allah.

9. When the day comes on which you can set forth [and fight] for the sake of Allah, do not waste [even] a second. Seek to be among those who carry out martyrdom operations…

It's not a joke, the threat is real, and it need not have the rubber stamp of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Our enemies are not shy and they tend to tell us precisely what they intend to do and why...often even where.

That said, the intent here is not to fan hyperventilation. But it is to point out that the threat does not end with al-Qaeda and the need for us to pay attention.

Iran: Elections and Coup d'Etat

Be sure to head over and read Ali Alfoneh's Iran's Parliamentary Elections and the Revolutionary Guards' Creeping Coup d'Etat at AEI.

While the Council of Guardians has relegated reformists to minority status in the forthcoming election, it is more important for those seeking to understand the future direction of the Iranian government to examine the candidates who are allowed to compete. For several months, Iranian leaders have called upon Revolutionary Guardsmen and Basij Resistance Force militiamen to stand for election to counter the reformist presence.

Each year, the Islamic Republic commemorates "Basij Week" and the "Week of the Sacred Defense" to remind the Iranian people that the Islamic Republic is in a permanent state of war against enemies, real or imagined. The crisis atmosphere legitimizes the political elites and provides an occasion to communicate important messages to the regime's support base. Addressing members of the Basij in the northeastern Iranian province of Khorasan, Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Alam al-Hoda declared:

The idea that the Guards and the Basij as military forces should not intervene in politics . . . is the idea of the enemies of God, and of corrupt [political] movements who consider the Basij an obstacle in their path. . . . Non-intervention in politics equates to secularization of the Basij. The very essence of the Basij is one of religion, conviction, piety and belief in God.
Alam al-Hoda then called the eighth imam, whose shrine is in Khorasan, "the first Basij commander in [the] history of the world" and suggested that the "main obligation of the Basij as the guardian of the Revolution is the fight against internal threats . . . hypocrites and malignant movements."

When Sponsoring International Terrorism Doesn't Count

At National Review Online today I ask a fundamental question that simply must be answered in the minds of Americans going forward.

Are we, the United States, fighting a War on Terror, or are we just fighting a War on al-Qaeda Senior Leadership?

It is in context with a contrast between the latest Iraq Perspectives Project report on Iraq's pre-invasion links to international terrorism and the misleading media coverage on the same.

I hope you will give it a read and, more importantly, ask yourself and those around you, "Are we, the United States, fighting a War on Terror, or are we just fighting a War on al-Qaeda Senior Leadership?"

Trend: Al-Qaeda Foretold Violence Increase, Target Changes in Iraq

In a Voice of America news report, Major General Kevin Bergner said that "Even though violence is dramatically reduced from 2006 and 2007, this has unquestionably been a tough few days and reflects what we have repeatedly said, that al-Qaeda Iraq is a resilient, barbaric enemy." The VOA report goes on to say without direct attribution that "the U.S. military says the increased attacks can not yet be called a trend and is merely an upswing in violence that they hope will go down."

Not yet. But it may well be a trend if one watches closely for long enough. Why ? Consider a MEMRI translation of a February 12 Qatari daily Al-'Arab interview with an al-Qaeda in Iraq commander. 'Abu-Turab Al-Jaza'iri' noted the trouble AQI is in, particularly his Mosul cells. But the end of the interview is the most telling as he described weeks ago a change in strategy that is unfolding now. The MEMRI translation was cited initially as another sign of al-Qaeda in Iraqs' dire straits, which is quite true. But the final graphs foretold a strategy shift that we are seeing in play now and is unlikely to 'come to an end' without our forces putting it to an end.

The Next Few Months Will Prove Decisive

On the change in Al-Qaeda's strategy and the continuation of attacks, Al-Jaza'iri said: "It is clear that the strategy [of capturing cities and turning them into Al-Qaeda bases] has failed, so today we are fighting a guerilla war, or, as some call it, 'street fighting.' The efficacy of this [strategy] has been proven in various contexts. We have been instructed to focus our attacks on targets that are strategically and morally important to our enemies, on the eve of the U.S. election campaign."

He continued: "...It is the type of attacks and the way they are planned that will be changed. Accordingly, we will be focusing on operations that cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy. This [shift] will open a new page in the fighting, which you will notice on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq..."

Addressing Iraq's Sunnis, Al-Jaza'iri said: "The next few months will prove decisive, and by Allah! We have prepared for this - we have humiliated the Crusaders, and have made their blood flow in the streets... And what is to come will be even worse and more bitter. Therefore, I say to those who claim that we have failed, or are paralyzed...: You will receive our answer in the next few weeks..."

They (AQI leaders) "been instructed" to hit key targets "strategically and morally important to our enemies." This instruction comes from al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL), and "strategically and morally important" include a Catholic archbishop in Mosul, kidnapped approximately three weeks after the interview (fitting the timing that the AQI commander alerted to) and found dead yesterday.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is indeed in dire straits. But it is not dead. And it recognizes that, while tactically their condition is poor, the best way to improve this is to return to high profile strategic strikes to erode American public patience. If it can weather the storm, these strategic high-profile attacks aimed at the minds of Americans in an election season will be the most likely means to improving their tactical condition and position in Iraq.

Perhaps those who were prepared to declare al-Qaeda in Iraq defeated not long ago will quietly be recalibrating.

Likewise, perhaps American voters and news consumers will understand their intended role within al-Qaeda's psychological warfare strategy. The attacks are for you and your desired reaction - which they hope drives policy. The targets of the attacks (Christian clergy, US troops, etc.) are far less important than your perception.

March 13, 2008

Fighting the Long War with the Jr. Varsity

Let me preempt the inevitable brickbats by saying I never met a new/recent hire into the national security community that wasn’t better educated than I was at that age (and probably more inquisitive to boot):

The Department of Defense will face a worldwide civilian manning challenge in the near future, because roughly 22 percent of its work force will reach retirement age within two years, a senior Defense Department official said Monday.

This follows on the heels of an earlier report:

Some of Defense¹s most crucial civilian employees such as security and intelligence officials and human resources specialists are also quickly leaving the department. Attrition rates for employees in all those categories range from 8.5 percent to 11.7 percent, well above the department-wide rate of 7.9 percent, according to a recent Pentagon report.

Raw talent only takes you so far. There is a reason why any given year’s BCS champs would get blown out by the worst team in the NFL that same year. The primary difference between generations in any endeavor is the level of play and time on task, and that cannot be replaced no matter how sophisticated your knowledge management system (presuming you have a meaningful one in the first place).

Absent a dramatic shift to get mid-grade staffers back onto Uncle Sam's payroll to replace the old timers, it is not a stretch to say that your average member of AQAM has more time under his belt than any given government spook.

Volatile Mix: Ukraine, NATO and Putin

From an AP report carried by Ukraine's Kyiv Post:

A senior Republican senator who has worked with Russia on disposing nuclear materials questioned Tuesday whether NATO was right to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to its summit meeting early next month.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on NATO, Sen. Richard Lugar pointed to a recent threat by Putin to target Ukraine with nuclear missiles if the former Soviet republic joins NATO and accepts the deployment of anti-missile defenses on its territory.

At its summit in Bucharest, the alliance will consider whether to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join a program to prepare them for eventual membership.

"To invite President Putin into this situation, I suspect, is to give him a meeting in which he intimidates them further," Lugar said. "In this context this seems to be very dubious."

The wisdom of the move is indeed questionable in that regard.

An al-Qaeda-Taliban Fissure

From Radio Free Europe:

Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda Bloggers' Sparring With Taliban Could Signal Key Differences

Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan's Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad. Prominent Taliban have responded by lashing back with criticism of their own.

The development suggests a rift is emerging between the Taliban leadership and religious extremists in the Arab world -- including the Al-Qaeda network that the Taliban had hosted in Afghanistan while it planned the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Such a break could affect Afghan government efforts to convince Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and peacefully resolve their differences with officials, which could in turn influence whether non-Afghan Al-Qaeda fighters continue to be welcomed among the Taliban.

It is not a new fissure, as the Pashtun Taliban have always had their theological differences with bin Laden's largely Arab al-Qaeda. But it is a fissure that appears to be rising to the surface once again after being largely pushed aside by unifying conflict with America and others.

May also like to see:

Afghanistan: Ex-Taliban Commander Lectures Mullah Omar About Koran

A Problem for Europe

To a lesser degree, America has a similar problem with similar root causes, but it is a serious demographic problem that directly affects not just the current but future generations in Europe: Why Europeans Refuse to Reproduce.

March 12, 2008

Al-Qaeda Kidnaps Austrian Tourists

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Austrian tourists in Tunisia on February 22. Al Jazeera aired an audio recording from an individual named Salah Abu Mohammed, an AQIM spokesman, who stated that the kidnapping was a response to Israeli moves against Gaza and general Western support for Israel. The spokesman also issued a general warning to Westerners against visiting the North African country. Tunisian authorities have launched a widespread hunt for the two captured Austrians, Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber. According to Abu Mohammed:

Western tourists were "searching for pleasures in Tunisia while our folk in Gaza are being slaughtered by the Jews with consent from Western countries whose governments are killing our brothers in every (Muslim) country", he said.

A second report followed:

"We also inform the State of Austria that any military action by the apostate Algerian state to free the abductees will put their lives at risk," the group said, according to a statement reported by U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group.

The latest rumors hold that the kidnapped pair have been taken to Mali, a landlocked West African nation, implying that the Austrians were successfully moved across the length of Algeria, AQIM's place of origin. The kidnapping of Westerners is somewhat unusual for al-Qaeda linked groups. These terrorist organizations, unlike the FARC in Colombia or Hizballah in Lebanon, have generally eschewed such tactics, preferring more attention grabbing coordinated bombings of high profile targets. AQIM has kidnapped people in the past, but this incident should be seen more as a move in its campaign of targeting Westerners more generally, such as the killing of four French tourists in Mali in December 2007, as opposed to any sort of new kidnapping campaign.

The Fallon Fallout

ThreatsWatch readers may wish to go to The Tank on National Review Online, where I put down a few thoughts on the fallout still descending since Admiral Fallon's announcement that he intends to resign his post and retire prematurely due to 'perceptions' of differences between himself, the Administration and the Pentagon.

To be sure, Fallon's policy views surprised no one. Now, that doesn't mean that they were any more liked; but Fallon may have been quite surprised at how difficult the command of CENTCOM evolved into being.

A select few know for certain. However, the "Admiral Iran Sanity" red herring is precisely that.

You can read the rest at National Review Online.

The "Heparin" Problem

At this point, the FDA is maintaining its position that "we do not know whether the introduction was accidental or whether it was deliberate." There is the real possibility that the contamination of the Baxter International version of Heparin from its Chinese suppliers is inadvertant or coincidental. It may very well be. Even if it is, the lackness of FDA inspection of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry as recently described in my post, Substandard Rx Reaches the U.S. from China - FDA Lacks Resources remains an equally real problem.

Prices for prescription medicines continue to rise. Many Americans are faced with choice between taking their medications or seeking lower cost alternatives through imported alternatives or Rx products purchased over the Internet. The "scare" over the contaminated product has now spread to Germany and Japan. The health and welfare of our Nation's patients depends on the confidence they have on the quality and efficacy of the products they buy. That alone implies a need for the United States and the FDA to more tightly control and inspect pharmaceutical products entering the country. Now is a good moment to repeat a quote that I've used before and will continue to do so in the future.

Gerry Norris of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said: "Counterfeiters are the lowlife of bio-terrorism."

Sadly, but truly, the problem of counterfeit or contaminated medications remains one of the greatest threats to our Nation's citizens. It isn't getting better despite the FDA's Counterfeit Drug Initiative (my opinion) that started in 2003. Admittedly, the Rx industry has begun to adopt the "suggested" approach of RFID tags for tracking and tracing product through the supply chain. That alone does not acceptably address the counterfeit or contamination problem. We remain a Nation at risk.

March 11, 2008

Airline Safety Compromised

UPDATE: Southwest Airlines has now grounded 41 planes

It is hard to believe and the Congressional hearings on this will be quite interesting, but it has been revealed that FAA representatives gave Southwest Airlines a pass on safety checks. The allegations include the FAA officials ignoring safety violations, leaking information to the airline and attempting to intimidate two inspectors to head off investigations.

The House Transportation Committee is supposed to meet and hear testimony of the two whistle blowers on April 3. Based on early indications, the FAA officials overseeing Southwest allowed the airline to skip critical safety checks for a number of years. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, indicates that there is reason to believe the allegations of the whistle blowers.

As a result, on March 6th, USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines was fined more than $10 million for flying 46 jets without doing checks for cracks in the fuselages. The two FAA officials assigned to Southwest were reassigned. The two whistle blowers, FAA inspectors C. Bobby Boutris and Douglas Peters have said that they were reporting the laxness of supervision of Southwest’s maintenance and safety as long ago as 2003.

FAA inspector C. Bobby Boutris wrote in a memo to Congress last fall that only after congressional investigators began inquiring about the matter did the agency tighten oversight at Southwest. "After eight months, they (Southwest) are finally doing what they were required to do back in March, and this is not by choice," Boutris wrote. "It is very sad that somebody from outside had to force them to do the right thing."

The Democratic Chairman of the Transportation Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) called this the worst lapse in safety in 23 years. For the FAA’s part, they admit that the officials assigned to supervise Southwest Airlines had gotten “too close” to the people they were supposed to monitor. The airlines contends that safety was not compromised that that they acted with FAA permission.

I think that there's probably more to this than is being reported.

Third Attack in Lahore, Pakistan - The Baitullah Connection

In today's DailyBriefing, we included two reports on the bombings today in Lahore Pakistan that killed 28. Now the Pakistani newspaper DAWN reports that in addition to the two bombings in Lahore, Pakistan, multiple gunmen opened fire at a crowded train station in the same city, killing four more individuals in the day's attacks.

Gunmen kill 4 people at Lahore railway station LAHORE, March 11: A local TV channel reported that at least 4 persons were killed near Lahore railway station when armed men fired at a train. The train was coming from Faisalabad on Platform Number 4. The railway station is usually crowded as it is a busy hub. There was panic among the people as the gunmen opened fire. The gunmen then disappeared in the melee. Officials said the victims were killed due to personal enmity. (First Posted @ 19:34 PST Updated @ 20:18 PST)

On the bombing of Pakistan's FIA building in Lahore, former Indian intelligence official B. Raman adds the following.

2. The FIA is the Pakistani equivalent of India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It is the principal agency for the investigation of all corruption-related cases. It also co-ordinates terrorism-related investigations.It is one of the three central police agencies of Pakistan---the other two being the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Narcotics Bureau. The FIA is largely manned by police officers taken on deputation from the provinces and direct recruits. President Pervez Musharraf had inducted a number of serving and retired military officers into it to monitor the investigation of corruption-related cases against Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, Mr.Asif Zardari, Mr.Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders. Before the recent elections and thereafter, the investigations into all the corruption-related cases against Benazir and Zardari were discontinued on the orders of Musharraf, but not the investigations against Nawaz. Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani withdrew from it the serving military officers deputed for monitoring the investigations. [ . . . ]

6. They [Taliban/al-Qaeda] have also attacked provincial police units and officers. Many police officers performing physical security duties were killed when the jihadis attacked non-police targets. Now, for the first time, they have attacked an important office of a central police agency. Like the CBI in India, the FIA not only investigates cases of corruption, but also supervises the investigation by the police of important terrorism attacks. Where necessary, it investigates the terrorism cases itself just as the CBI investigated the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It has been monitoring and co-ordinating the investigation of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto allegedly at the instance of Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The attack on the FIA office came two days after the reported issue of a warrant by an Anti-Terrorism court for the arrest of Baitullah on a charge of masterminding her assassination.

More on the arrest warrants and Baitullah Mehsud below:

Warrants for Baitullah, four others issued - DAWN
Pak police charge Mehsud with Bhutto assassination - Hindustan Times
Baitullah Mehsud: Scapegoat or Perpetrator in Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination? - Jamestown

Muqtada: Another Change of Command Inside Iranian-Backed Terror

The Chicago Tribune reported that Muqtada al-Sadr addressed on Friday "in an unusually personal letter to his followers" that he is taking a break, seemingly hanging up ballots an bullets. It is of course difficult for a Baghdad slumlord to address his 'masses' in person. It's a long walk from Tehran.

"So far I did not succeed either to liberate Iraq or make it an Islamic society -- whether because of my own inability or the inability of society, only God knows," Sadr wrote.

"The continued presence of the occupiers, on the one hand, and the disobedience of many on the other, pushed me to isolate myself in protest. I gave society a big proportion of my life. Even my body became weaker, I got more sicknesses."

What Muqtada did not say was that, having outlived his usefulness, his Iranian masters have determined that he needs to stay out of the way. Sadr is apparently not the only one 'sick' and 'tired.'

While Muqtada's departure is significantly less beneath the shallow surface, there is a noticeable trend afoot for those keeping score. There has been a near clean sweep of defrocked leadership figures in Iranian terrorist and Iranian-backed proxy terrorist groups. The Iranian terror masters have been sweeping away the (quite relatively) more politically inclined and replaced them with more operationally skilled and militarily inclined leaders in their front lines of Iranian Foreign Policy.

It began with the removal of long-time IRGC commander General Safavi, suddenly retired and replaced with a more amenable operational commander, General Jafari. Then it was learned that in Lebanon, Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah was stripped of all military command, which was handed to sheikh Naim Qasim.

And of course there is the increased marginalization of Hamas' long-time public leaders Khaled Meshaal in Damascus and Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. Hamas' military wing (al-Qassam Brigades) commander Ahmed Jabari "rules," according the IDF. And for those unsure, this simply does not happen unless Iran desires it. Hamas is nearly completely beholden to the Iranian regime which props it up with cash, weapons stockpiles, training and trainers and other support.

Follow the trend and project forward. The Iranians are already shouldering a considerable workload of terror operations throughout the region - Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere. It is less than a reach to conclude that Iran would not make such a decided leadership sweep and install a more operationally inclined and militarily capable set of principal leaders and decision makers unless it foresees an even more increased operational tempo.

March 10, 2008

Focusing on the "Right" Biological Threat

There is an on-going debate about the threat of bio-terrorism and the roles that natural or manmade biologicals might play. Some believe that the attention being paid to man-made pathogens (or the so-called “designer” pathogens) is misplaced and leaves the greater population open to a greater threat, those from the natural world.

So, has the preoccupation with artificial microbes created a situation in which the government has focused more on a broad-spectrum approach to immunity instead of a “one-bug-one-drug” approach? How real is the threat posed by these synthetic germs? According to Michael Kurilla, the Director of Office of Biodefense Research Affairs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 'Mother Nature is the most dangerous terrorist. The microbial world is almost unlimited in its [terrorist] potential."

However, despite the emergence of new diseases like SARS and the H5N1 bird flu (pandemic flu), he is also concerned about the threat caused by developments in synthetic biology and the possibility that either rogue scientists or bio-terrorists could duplicate some of this laboratory work and use the product(s) against society. As he puts it:

"The threat and the reality of synthetic biology is becoming greater and greater every day."

The worry is over the emergence of new genomic based biological science developments spearheaded by a group of scientists including J. Craig Venter, whose team recently decoded the human genome in 2000, has succeeded in synthesizing a bacterial genome entirely from scratch.

Yet, the author of the LA Times article, Wendy Orent, argues that Venter's feat does not immediately translate to terrorists making new “bugs” to kill us since Venter hasn’t quite been able to duplicate the bugs, and what he and his group have accomplished is to duplicate the genome of known pathogens. Further, it is argued that the government should not be spending countless billions of dollars seeking antidotes for threats that are still theoretical

"Synthesizing a bacterium from an existing genome changes nothing fundamental in our understanding of synthetic biology," she writes.

The counter argument though is that Venter’s work, while still in the early stages could lead to the ability of bio-terrorists to develop a hybrid bacteria that could create a threat to human beings. Venter’s research does make the creation of lethal new life forms seem more believable. It is on this basis that there is a belief that there is an imminent danger created by synthetic germs that has moved the U.S. biodefense efforts toward the “one-size-fits-all” approach to developing countermeasures.

Now, in a number of presentations, I’ve argued that if you don’t know what chemical or biological agent will be the “weapon of choice” in a chemical or biological attack, then it difficult at best to war game the situation, and clearly near impossible to develop vaccine countermeasures for such an event.

Indeed, the fear of dangerous synthetic germs has prompted the enormous, cumbersome apparatus which is the U.S. biodefense program to lurch in a new direction. "If we don't know what pathogens are coming, the reasoning goes, we had better develop new ways of countering them -- not one at a time but all of them," Orent writes. After the anthrax letter attacks of fall 2001 the biodefense establishment's immediate response was to focus on the greatest and likeliest of bioterror threats -- anthrax, smallpox, and plague. Almost four years later, Project Bioshield has little to show for all the billions of dollars showered on it. The old "one-bug-one-drug" strategy -- designed to develop vaccines and therapies for anthrax, smallpox and plague separately -- has been abandoned in favor of "broad spectrum technology" -- drugs and methods that will, at least in theory, kill many types of germs.

Project Bioshield, which was jointly run by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. The program aimed to produce new, safer vaccines and treatments for anthrax and smallpox, in particular.

However, the argument remains whether the broad spectrum or the specific approach is the best. Some like Rutgers microbiologist Richard Ebright believe that as known bacteria and virus strains gain immunity from existing treatments, that a broad spectrum approach is best. The alternative, counterargument comes from those who believe in enhancing what is referred to as “innate immunity,” which involves creating ways to intensify or strengthen these immune responses so the body can fend off all infections, whether newly evolved or artificial, as soon as they appear. Ms. Orent concludes:

"Artificial germs remain an illusion. Venter, like scientists before him, has not made a new germ. He used a genome map to re-create an old one. Similarly, despite all the interest in enhanced innate immunity, no one has been able to show that the approach works. The wreckage of Project Bioshield shows that the one-bug-one-drug approach is a failure. But by banking on the possibility of boosting innate immunity, the U.S. biodefense leviathan could well be, once again, staggering in the wrong direction."

Either way, it is pretty clear that the advances of science are moving pretty quickly. Whether all of this leads to new threats remains to be seen. Related discussion on the question of filtering the work of scientists like Craig Venter or Mark Bueller was discussed in an earlier post, Scientific Dilemma – Security versus Publication. Either way, this subject is bound to remain controversial. This post in no way attempts to resolve that controversy.

Hamas Confirms: Hundreds Training in Iran at IRGC Camps

London's Times reported that Hamas wages Iran’s proxy war on Israel by training hundreds of Hamas terrorists inside Iran at camps run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. THis according to an unnamed Hamas source. We noted this in today's DailyBriefing, but its significance warrants more attention.

Israel has long insisted that Iran is behind this training. Last week Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, said as much when he claimed that Hamas had “started to dispatch people to Iran, tens and a promise of hundreds”. He provided no evidence.

The Hamas commander, however, confirmed for the first time that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been training its men in Tehran for more than two years and is currently honing the skills of 150 fighters.

The details he gave suggested that, if anything, Shin Bet has underestimated the extent of Iran’s influence on Hamas’s increasingly sophisticated tactics and weaponry.

Speaking on the record but withholding his identity as a target of Israeli forces, the commander, who has a sparse moustache and oiled black hair, said Hamas had been sending fighters to Iran for training in both field tactics and weapons technology since Israeli troops pulled out of the Gaza strip of Palestinian territory in 2005. Others go to Syria for more basic training.

“We have sent seven ‘courses’ of our fighters to Iran,” he said. “During each course, the group receives training that he will use to increase our capacity to fight.”

The most promising members of each group stay longer for an advanced course and return as trainers themselves, he said.

So far, 150 members of Qassam have passed through training in Tehran, where they study for between 45 days and six months at a closed military base under the command of the elite Revolutionary Guard force.

Of the additional 150 who are in Tehran now, some will go into Hamas’s research unit if they are not deemed strong enough for fighting.

Conditions at the base are strict, the commander said. The Palestinians are allowed out only one day a week. Even then, they may leave the base only in a group and with Iranian security. They shop and “always come back with really good boots”.

According to the commander, a further 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran. Sixty-two are in Syria now.

The Hamas source protected his identity in remaining anonymous. But it should not be discounted for this necessarily. We do not know who this source is or his position exactly, but as an analysis appearing in Ha'aretz shows, there is much we do not know about Hamas and how it operates - and under whom.

A failed attempt to get a clear picture from Hamas spokesmen Sunday was nothing unusual. Aides to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tried to market the deal as done. Other members of Hamas, those who are not part of the government, denied this, and argued that for now there is no clear agreement with Egypt or Israel.

IDF sources say that the person who really makes the decisions in Hamas has for some time not been Haniyeh, nor even Khaled Meshal, the group's politburo chief in Damascus. They say that Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of the group, rules. Jabari is the one who led the breach of the border wall at the Philadelphi route in Rafah late in January, in spite of reservations from Meshal. Jabari's stance is hard and uncompromising. It is unlikely he will be willing to make any ideological concessions.

While the tussle over what deal if any was made between Hamas and Israel focuses on whether or not the claims are true, the most valuable information is regarding whom within Hamas the brokers for such are - or are not.

And again, Iran is the common thread. Iran replaced its long-time IRGC commander months ago. Soon after, Khameini decided to strip Hassan Nasrallah of many responsibilities and turn Hizballah's military command over to a terrorist field commander. The same, it appears, has happened within Hamas - with Haniyeh and Meshaal sidelined in favor of a terrorist field commander instead of the public political figureheads.

This confluence should give you a sign of where things are headed in the region - and from where they are emanating.

Meanwhile, the word making rounds is that the West - with eager Iranian anticipation - is toying with the idea of establishing an international consortium to provide Iran nuclear fuel and co-manage its nuclear program and facilities. The Iranians, of course, are more than open to a whole new round of clock-ticking discussions.

Tick. Tock.

Musharraf's Smiling Ultimatum

The Hindu reports that Musharraf has convened a meeting among his top aids and officials to deal with the new developments that suggest the PPP/PML-N coalition is bounding toward impeachment and the reinstating of supreme court judges Musharraf sacked.

Pushed to the backfoot after the PPP-PML decision to reinstate the deposed judges, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Monday said relations with the new government will be "cordial" and asked the parties to "avoid confrontations" with state institutions.

A high-level meeting chaired by Musharraf at his camp office in Rawalpindi decided to have "smooth and cordial relations" with the new parliament and government and not to adopt a confrontational approach, official sources were quoted as saying by Dawn News channel.

Like his January invitation to the brother of rival Nawaz Sharif to join the government, Musharraf is making overtures of 'playing nice.' Such 'cordial' conduct is unlikely as the first task of the new government appears the reinstatement of judges, a sure confrontation. Musharraf is not negotiating from a position of power.

The winning parties should "avoid confrontations with the state institutions" and "let the system run in accordance with the constitution," sources quoted the President as saying.

But the coalition will almost certainly not be swooned away from the reinstitution of the Pak Supreme Court justices.

Push will soon come to shove and perhaps the above is Musharraf's smiling ultimatum. The question is whether Musharraf will ultimately go quietly, as he suggested previously. He does have other alternatives, none of them very palatable.

The dust stirs...

Will Musharraf Resign Before Summer?

The handwriting appears to be on the wall. The late Benazir Bhutto's PPP and the PML-N have come to agreement on forming the new Pakistani government and one of their first stated tasks is to restore the Supreme Court judges sacked by Musharraf. They were sacked because they were believed to likely challenge the constitutionality of Musharraf's election before the outgoing pro-Musharraf parliament lost its majority position.

Add to the PPP/PML-N agreement the coinciding words from Nawaz Sharif declaring in concert that Musharraf's presidency is illegal. Nawaz Sharif is the 'N' in PML-N and was Pakistan's Prime Minister until Musharraf's bloodless coup sent him into exile.

In January, ahead of the elections, Musharraf asked Nawaz Sharif's brother to join the government in what appeared a vain effort to stave off certain impeachment by embracing his rival. When he did this, we noted immediately in 'The Impeachment Impetus of Musharraf's New Friends' that Pervez Musharraf had also told The Australian in January that he would resign before facing impeachment from an opposition-majority parliament.

Musharraf said in January, "If that (impeachment) happens, let me assure that I'd be leaving office before they would do anything. If they won and they formed a government that had the intention of doing this, I wouldn't like to stick around." And this may have tipped his hand, with his nemesis Nawaz Sharif now calling the bet. Musharraf essentially said he would go quietly if challenged, and Nawaz Sharif looks ready to put that challenge forth.

Impeachment proceedings appear now all but certain with the agreement to reinstate the justices and Sharif's timely - and not coincidental - reiteration that Musharraf's presidency is illegal.

The power-sharing agreement calls for the reinstatement of the judges within 30 days of formation of the government - a government that will include PML-N cabinet members and a PPP Prime Minister.

An agreed-to PPP Prime Minister is key going forward, as the question then begs: if Musharraf is impeached or, as he said, resigns ahead of it, who will the new Pakistani Parliament elect as the new President? Nawaz Sharif, anyone? There will not be a PPP prime minister and president in a coalition government.

As we said in January, "For Nawaz Sharif, revenge is best served. Period. By any means."

March 7, 2008

Google Neighborhoods and Logical Security

Recently, we’ve had some discussions here about the potential dangers of the virtual world. Considering the amount of attention being paid these days to security in general, and specifically to infrastructure security, the Pentagon’s reaction when it came in direct contact with the blending of the virtual and live world is not surprising. Specifically, last week when the Defense Department learned that Google had captured “Street View” images of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio Texas, they banned Google Neighborhoods from their “neighborhoods.”

It is clearly one thing for this virtual tour capability to be used for people looking for landmarks as they plan a trip, or for it to be used in the real estate business (its nice to be able to see what my house looks like on the street where I live, especially for people who might be in the market to buy it from me), and yet another when it comes to putting virtual tours of a military base (or other critical infrastructure) onto the Internet.

In pursuing its mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google inadvertently ran afoul of the military's mission to maintain security for its personnel and sites.

The DOD took action when Street View images of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, appeared on Google Maps. Google introduced Google Maps Street View images for San Antonio in February.

Google removed the pictures at the request of the military. Fort Sam Houston is not open to the public.

The Street View feature allows users to zoom in on 360-degree, ground-level views of neighborhoods, landmarks and other places that Google photographs from vehicles with roof-mounted cameras.

Okay. Google says that it is their policy to stay on public streets and that the driver violated their rules. But did anyone stop to think before they permitted the Google vehicle onto the base?

A person familiar with the matter at Fort Sam Houston said a base official twice granted Google access, but only after he was assured that Google would not videotape or photograph the historic base, which serves as a medical-training and support post. The official had believed an online map would be useful to guide visitors.

Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before. With these light speed changes in technology comes the need for public, private and government security professionals to be more aware of the implications. Frankly, why Ft. Sam allowed Google onto the base in the first place is a big question.

As an "after thought," also not surprisingly, there are some who actually think that the Pentagon's action in some odd way reduces our freedoms. Fort Sam is a military base. What's the question?

March 6, 2008

Al-Qaeda's Media War: The Big Bang Theory

It's not a theory. It's a practice.

In presidential campaigns, 'making the news' is often regarded as free campaign ad space or a reach multiplier. For al-Qaeda, the dynamic is the same and is a primary driving factor in its quest for the spectacular. The spectacular gets camera time. In fact, many of al-Qaeda's attacks in Iraq are tactically useless, providing no gains on the ground. They are, however, strategic in nature.

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno lays this dynamic out well here today, as he described the continued decline of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"They are struggling to maintain a coherent capacity," added Odierno, who is soon to become the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army.

He went on to say that al Qaeda will likely try to keep its name in the news by executing occasional attacks, such as the Feb. 1 suicide bombing in which the organization detonated explosive belts on two mentally disabled women.

"What al Qaeda wants ... is to do an event where they can get on TV every once in a while," Odierno said. "That's what they're down to."

It's also what they've always been "up to." Al-Qaeda has always and will always seek the spectacular attack which gets wide international attention and coverage, where bloody imagery is a bonus. But what Odierno means here is that this is about all they've got left in their current state inside Iraq.

At the time of the surge's beginning, I noted in private that we would see a drop in the number of al-Qaeda attacks and operations, but a rise in the ratio of spectacular attacks (within the context of Baghdad). The reasoning then was that it would soon be more difficult to get human and material resources into the Iraqi capital city, and more difficult to transit from neighborhood to neighborhood (sector to sector). So when they did strike, it would be a (relatively) 'spectacular' attack - car bombings, etc. If they were going to expose themselves, they would make it 'worth the risk.' Such has been the case.

When a cell is rolled up - killed or captured - in a Diyala province village, the reportage is minimal, often relegated to added paragraphs to a broader story on Iraq. But when a cell in Baghdad blows up a car or human mules in a Baghdad market, the headlines sit atop newspapers, websites and news broadcasts. This is reality.

And it is why al-Qaeda seeks the spectacular - they can still leverage much from their beleaguered presence in Iraq.

Never discount the media component of al-Qaeda's war - in Iraq and everywhere else.

March 5, 2008

Immigration Becomes a Political Football (Again)

The question of border security and the threat to U.S. security is back on the table even as the Presidential campaign progresses to the next phases. Senate Republicans plan to introduce a package of as many as 11 bills (could actually grow to 14) that establishes a hard line on illegal immigration. Even though experts consider it unlikely that these bills will reach the floor for debate, they reflect a move toward harsher immigration rhetoric and legislative proposals from both parties since Congress failed to pass a comprehensive overhaul in 2007. While some of the language in these possible pieces of legislation echo House bills, they go further.

These bills include provisions to dock states 10% of their highway funds if they issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Another bill would extend the presence of National Guard on the border and still another would curtail language assistance at federal agencies and the voting booth for people with limited English ability.

Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala, one of the leaders of the Republican efforts is offering a bill that would impose a maximum two-year sentence for the second offense of crossing the border illegally. Other bills:

● Block federal funding from cities that bar their police from asking about immigration status.

● Give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use information from the Social Security Administration to target illegal immigrants.

● Require construction of 700 miles of fencing along the Southern border, not including vehicle barriers.

● Impose sanctions on countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens.

● Deport any immigrant, legal or illegal, for one drunken-driving conviction.

● Enable local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws

Its clear that immigration remains a political football in this Presidential election year. This includes the possibility of giving Senator McCain an opportunity to endorse one of the tougher bills to help distance him from some of his previous positions. Posturing or not, maybe some real immigration reform and border security measures will emerge from this, even though its an election year.

A Moment of Silence - When It Says a Lot

It's a fair question: Has the United Nations Human Rights Council ever held a moment of silence for Israeli civilians killed by rocket attacks or suicide bombers?

I don't pretend to know the answer to that question beyond a wild educated guess, but the UNHRC did observe a minute of silence for 'martyrs in Gaza' yesterday. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki asked for the observation.

Haaretz reports that Mottaki got thirty seconds and that no one stood. Mottaiki had "called for the gesture on behalf of the women and children who are 'nowadays under attack by the Zionist regime.'"

There have been women and children killed. But such has been on both sides.

Let's just not confuse civilian casualties that are a result of proximity to legitimate combatant targets with civilian casualties that are the result of intentional and indiscriminate targeting of the same.

Ignoring Progress: Fear and Loathing In America

In the Finanacial Times, Peter Wehner posits that al-Qaeda is losing the war of minds. As he points out, to whatever degree he is correct, you'd never know it by listening to America's ongoing presidential campaigning.

During a recent Democratic debate, for example, Mr Obama declared: "We are seeing al-Qaeda stronger now than at any time since 2001." Mrs Clinton says President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq have "emboldened our enemies". We should leave Iraq, she says, so we can better focus on the threat of al-Qaeda.

In fact, in large measure because of what is unfolding in Iraq, the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al-Qaeda - and this, in turn, may be the single most important ideological development in recent years.

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif ("Dr Fadl") published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a "catastrophe for all Muslims".

Mr Sharif's words are significant because he was once a mentor to Mr Zawahiri. Mr Sharif, who wrote the book in a Cairo prison, is "a living legend within the global jihadist movement", according to Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert.

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. It states: "I urge my brothers the ulama [the top class of Muslim clergy] to clarify the truth to the public . . . to warn [youth] of the consequences of being drawn to arbitrary opinions and [religious] zeal that is not based on religious knowledge." The target of the fatwa is obvious: Mr bin Laden.

That which he cites - and continues to cite more - is not insignificant. The issue is that most Americans have little clue.

The larger war before us - one which we did not declare - is long in duration and global in scope. It is, has been, and will remain full of ebbs and flows, highs and lows, and victories and losses.

But you'd seemingly never know it by following the 'popular narrative' created by the bulk of our own media coverage and political hay-making.

This is no way to win a war. It is, however, one hell of a way to lose it, with context escaping and victories obscured by relentless magnification of losses - both real and perceived.

My grandfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor. No, I should take that back. He was Pearl Harbor fighter, a soldier in the Army Air Corps who manned a machine gun pit on the airstrip taking aim at the buzzing Japanese Zeros. Surely he would be sick with grief over his nation that would certainly seem to him today so undetermined to defeat its enemies and ever eager - in some twisted measure of intellectualism - to criticize and debase itself.

Let us never forget that America, while imperfect, remains the freest nation on Earth, with more liberty enjoyed, earned and preserved than anywhere else. And with that comes enormous responsibility.

And let us never forget also that our enemies are not 12-foot giants of super-human strength. They are men. Men with powerful ideas and skill in religious persuasion. But their ideas are neither superior nor invincible.

Liberty - not to be confused with democracy - is far more powerful. It is universal and transcends even religious divides. And it must be wielded in this War of Ideas.

But so often, it is not. Instead, we are treated to the self-inflicted wounds of self-loathing oblivious to the very liberties which allow for this. Where else on Earth, ask yourself, can a press or people so freely and vehemently criticize their governmental leadership? And does such levels of regular and vocal criticism mean that we are the worst nation and unworthy of victory? Hardly.

It would be refreshing to see someone in the American Presidential campaigns speak of what's so great about America rather than the verbal onslaught criticizing failures and emphasizing brokenness. So uninspiring.

Instead, guys like me are left to query the graves of our grandfathers. We are ever determined to do something, but often resigned to feeling rather alone in doing so. Perhaps in living up to their expectations more so even than our own, we persist regardless. We are, after all, at liberty to do so.

Substandard Rx Reaches the U.S. from China - FDA Lacks Resources

Americans take for granted that the medicines that they take when ill or being treated are not only legitimate but are also quality products. The problem is that more and more drugs being imported from countries like China and then relabeled for distribution in the U.S. Often, even when manufactured in the United States, the ingredients for these drugs are made in China. The trouble occurs because the Food and Drug Administration does not have the resources needed to inspect the plants in China where these products and/or ingredients are made to ensure that they adhere to U.S. safety standards. The result is a threat to our patient population that gets ill from the very drugs they are taking to treat an illness, or worse, die.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune (David Greising and Bruce Japsen) revealed a quality issue with a drug called Heparin produced in one Chinese facility that no U.S. or Chinese government inspector had visited. This one plant is which is now blamed for more than 400 illnesses and potentially as many as 21 deaths in the U.S. When FDA inspectors finally went to this facility at the end of February they found evidence of poor hygiene and safety standards. Further, the inspection showed inadequate testing procedures; some tests results were missing and there was no way to actually trace the origin of some of the raw materials. The inspection also revealed that when batches of the product failed testing, workers were unable to diagnose the reasons for the failures.

Only the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is scrutinizing the FDA's oversight of the drug industry, and imports from China in particular and wondering if the FDA’s allowing of this plant to export to the U.S. without inspection or oversight is a symptom of a larger and much broader problem. The Chicago Tribune report suggests that the FDA’s resources make it difficult to inspect foreign manufacturing plants that send finished products or ingredients to the U.S., despite the agency’s insistence that it inspects them all.

While Congress and the GAO will now study if the FDA needs more resources to perform its role in assuring the safety of pharmaceutical products in the United States a recent FDA appointed commission concluded :

"Millions of FDA-regulated products are imported into the country each year from foreign facilities that have never been inspected by FDA and, with current appropriations, never will be," according to a report in November by the FDA Science Board's subcommittee on science and technology. The head of the FDA study group held out little hope the FDA is coming to grips with its challenges.
This is also covered here.

The FDA is charged with being our citizens’ first defense for drugs entering the U.S. The problem is that its resources are not up to the increased flow of imported products.

● the U.S. imported an estimated $72 billion in drugs and active ingredients in 2006
● the FDA spent $12.75 million inspecting foreign production plants
● approximately 3,250 non-U.S. plants were subject to FDA inspection last year, the agency has conducted only 1,445 foreign inspections in the last five years

This goes beyond the problem is dealing with counterfeit pharmaceutical products that the World Health Organization estimates represent more than 10% of all products sold worldwide. It also comes at a time when FDA drug safety warnings have dramatically increased with a total of fourteen in the three months since November, more than some entire previous years. The problem of counterfeit pharmaceuticals entering this country or being sold over the Internet is one thing. Substandard or ineffective medicines reaching the public because of an ineffective drug safety system caused by underfunding is an entirely different issue.

Self Inflicted INFOSEC Wound

It is amazing; in light of the impact foreign intrusions have had on a wide range of government information systems, and the renewed emphasis in defending those systems, that one of the people most responsible for securing such systems was placed in the job without a security clearance sufficient to allow him to understand the full scope of the threat.

March 4, 2008

National Security Trumps Privacy

At least according to a survey conducted in January by Quest Software among 474 employees of federal, state, local and municipal agencies, 53% considered national security more important than personal privacy. Only 33.8% felt that personal privacy concerns were more important than national security. 15% of the federal respondents came from DHS, DOJ and HHS

Paul Garver, Quest Software vice president commented:

“I would expect this type of finding if we had a large Defense Department audience, but our audience was mostly civilian agencies. A large part of the government’s position deals with national trust and security. This finding is a result of the focus on national security by so many civilian agencies.”

According to the Quest news release

The survey indicates that although most government IT professionals (69%) believe that identity management is “very important” to their organization or agency, even more overwhelmingly believe its importance will increase (72%) in the next five years. A large majority of government IT professionals report that their organization or agency has complied with the following steps: secured information systems (76%), secured personnel information (72%), and secured access to facilities (75%).

Highlights of the survey:

● About 35% of government IT professionals project that their organization or agency will be compliant with government identity management mandates within the next two years, while 37% report that they “don’t know” when their organization or agency will be compliant. This may reflect on the challenges inherent in the complexity of the requirements and the difficulty experienced by respondents in juggling ongoing and unfunded IdM efforts with existing priorities.

● Respondents point to real business and technology challenges that stand in the way of compliance. The top obstacles cited include the lack of funding, technological complexity and staffing resources.

● The majority of respondents believe Congress should play a more active role by providing more funding and/or require greater planning/collaboration among government entities.

● Over one-half of government IT professionals believe that national security should be the priority even if it means that Americans’ personal privacy could be negatively impacted.

● Over one-half of government IT professionals have either personally seen or heard about someone violating their organization or agency’s security protocols.

● According to about half of respondents, a heterogeneous (mixed-application) environment is “very challenging” or “somewhat challenging” for their organization or agency’s IdM system

The results of this survey suggests that at least among government employees, the adoption of Identity Management (IdM) is a good deal more acceptable than might have been anticipated. Of course, the focus of this study is on the government application of the FIPS201 and HSP12 requirements for Identity Credentials. However, the cross over of these requirements to the non-government world is being debated now.

DOD Looks at PRC Cyber Activity

This is not new:

China in the last year has developed ways to infiltrate and manipulate computer networks around the world in what U.S. defense officials conclude is a new and potentially dangerous military capability, according to a Pentagon report issued Monday.

In addition, computer intrusions in Germany, apparently by Chinese hackers, occur daily, along with infiltrations in France and Britain, the Pentagon said. Last year, British intelligence officials alerted financial institutions across the country that they were targets of "state-sponsored computer network exploitation" from China.

But this, refreshingly, is:

Computer network intrusions at the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies, think tanks and government contractors last year "appeared to originate" in China, according to the report.

For those not technically oriented, the idea that a computer probe from a Chinese network must be Chinese is roughly akin to saying that every car traveling west to east across the US must have just come from California. A skilled cyber operator who lives across the street from you can make it look like he is coming from China or Chile or Chad.

The discriminating factor in all such articles is not point of origin, but capability: can the nation alleged to have stolen sensitive data make use of it in some fashion? As noted previously, probes and attacks from nations who are no where near "near peer" status to the US are unlikely to be the true perpetrators of such activity. That's why we worry about China.

March 3, 2008

Al-Qaeda's Ongoing European Jihad

Olivier Guitta reminds in the Middle East Times that Europe, is very much on al-Qaeda's radar.

But the real challenge for AQIM is how to inflict massive damage in Europe. Zawahiri has frequently instructed them to do so. In order to keep its credibility alive and please its "masters," AQIM has been trying hard to orchestrate a terror attack on the continent. At the end of last year, the level of "chatter" increased dramatically, and has continued unabated through January. France, in particular has been specifically threatened. This led for the first time to the cancellation of the very popular Paris-Dakar motor rally and also compelled Belgian authorities to cancel the New Year's Eve fireworks in Brussels. Today, al-Qaida threats seem even more imminent and European security services are on high alert.

For a bit of background, consider the following resources on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - formerly GSPC - and European threats:

AQIM Renews its Threats Against France - Jamestown

AQIM - The Evolving Terrorist Presence in North Africa - MEMRI

Also, we spoke to Olivier Guitta in 2007 regarding the al-Qaeda threat within and to Europe in one of our first FireWatch podcasts. You can listen to the discussion with Guitta here:

FireWatch: Jihad In Europe (2007 Audio)

Iran on Nuclear Evidence: 'Lies, All Lies'

The New York Times recounts the conference in Vienna where intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program was presented in full view of diplomats.

For more than two hours, representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency were riveted by documents, sketches and even a video that appeared to have come from Iran’s own military laboratories. The inspector said they showed work “not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon,” according to notes taken by diplomats.

The presentation caught no one’s attention more than the Iranian representatives in the room, who deny Iran is developing atomic weapons. As they whipped out cellphone cameras to photograph the screen, Iran’s ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, nearly shouting, called the evidence baseless fabrications, the diplomats said, and warned that the agency was going down “a very dangerous road.”

Suddenly, the confrontation with Iran had reignited.

Today, one week later, the Security Council is set to vote on a third round of UN Sanctions for Iran, widely expected to pass muster.

It will be an interesting week.

March 2, 2008

Liquid Explosives – Another Look at the Threat

Ever since the disruption of the liquid bomb threat in the UK in August 2006, restrictions limiting what you can carry onto an airplane have been in place. The lines at airport security continue to be long. We are asked to remove our shoes and overcoats or sweaters. Most often when I travel, I need to remove my belt as well to go through the airport metal detector. The process is unpredictable and random, but I think all of this security is necessary, even if most of the time it looks pretty perfunctory.

Now an experiment conducted in the UK raises some serious questions about the 3-1-1 rules (volume of liquids, gels and aerosols to bottles 3 ounces or smaller, in 1 quart-sized zip top bag, and 1 bag per traveler). Early last week UK security experts conducted a test in which certain unnamed clear liquids were brought onto a mock airplane in the required 3-ounce containers. When the two liquids, reportedly easily obtained, were combined in a 500 ml water bottle and connected to a detonator (could be an I-pod), the bomb then blew a six-foot hole in the fuselage of a decommissioned plane - enough damage to bring down a jet in flight.

As a result, Philip Baum, editor of the International Journal of Aviation Security asked questions about the effectiveness of airport metal detectors and X-ray machines:

"I cannot cite a single example of a bomb being found using an airport X-ray machine alone,î he said. "X-rays were introduced to identify dense metallic items, not bombs. If you've got a well-concealed bomb, it's possible to get that through many an X-ray machine."

Mr Baum described a deeply disturbing trial he had run for a European government. "We took a woman through 24 different airports. On her body were the complete components of an improvised explosive device," he said.

"At each of those airports, she alarmed the metal detector and was subject to a pat-down search on her body. But not a single item was identified in any of the 24 searches."
Instead. Baum argues that enhanced intelligence and behavior pattern profiling would be more attention would be more effective.
"We should be looking more for behaviors. The person who has negative intent will show signs of stress and nervousness." Baum adds that trained spotters should be deployed in terminals to watch for suspicious behavior, passengers who do not fit the normal traveler profile for a flight should be flagged and software such as voice stress analysis should be used to select certain travelers for more thorough checks that stand a better chance of detecting a weapon. The technique, called behavior pattern recognition, is controversial because of fears that it will be used in a racist way.

A program like this was implemented in January 2006 at the Seattle airport (Sea-Tac Airport) using “behavior detection officers. Since that time, TSA behavior observers, operaitng in more than fifty U.S. airports have referred about 70,000 people for secondary screening with 600 to 700 of those being arrested on a variety of charges. Its pretty obvious that the thrust and parry of terrorist and terrorist countermeasure will continue.

Software to Pre-empt the Insider Threat

Researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base have been working on a method to identify threats from individuals inside of an organization based on changes in the words and terms certain people might use in their emails.

Apparently, by using data mining techniques to examine emails and develop a picture of a social network within an organization, Gilbert Peterson and his associates are confident that their work could help companies or organizations organization sniff out insider threats by analyzing e-mail activity or find individuals among potentially tens of thousands of employees with latent interests in sensitive topics.

Peterson and his colleagues have developed an approach to assist investigators looking for such insider threats based on an extended version of Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing (PLSI). This extended technology is designed to be able to determine individuals’ interests from emails and then graph the social network that shows their various interactions. By using this technique, Peterson’s team suggests that people who have previously been interested in sensitive topics without communicating with others within the organization are often the ones to be the likely “insider threat.”

The abstract of the paper:
Despite a technology bias that focuses on external electronic threats, insiders pose the greatest threat to an organisation. This paper discusses an approach to assist investigators in identifying potential insider threats. We discern employees' interests from e-mail using an extended version of PLSI. These interests are transformed into implicit and explicit social network graphs, which are used to locate potential insiders by identifying individuals who feel alienated from the organisation or have a hidden interest in a sensitive topic. By applying this technique to the Enron e-mail corpus, a small number of employees appear as potential insider threats.

It is interesting that the software was tested on emails from Enron, and was able to identify certain individuals likely to be an insider threat. But generally, insiders pose serious threats to all types of organizations ranging from multinational companies to military installations. As I posted a few weeks ago, however, nothing can stop a disgruntled employ from doing damage.

March 1, 2008

Extending the Discussion on Terrorism in a Virtual World

In a recent Commentary entitled Getting Serious about 'Virtual' Terror, my colleague Michael Tanji wrote about the threat associated with virtual environments like Second Life and Web 2.0. This is not the first time and will not be the last time that Mr. Tanji, a former DIA intelligence officer has lent his expertise to the analysis of this emerging trend (or is it a phenomena). His apt conclusion was:

Virtual worlds are a potential breeding ground for new threats, but as with any sufficiently technically advanced or inherently dangerous prospect, there are real hurdles to overcome. The greatest threat however is not that terrorists will achieve some quantum leap in capabilities by operating online; it is that so many are so quick to dismiss the seriousness of this issue thanks to the hype perpetrated by the ill-informed. Death from the ‘Net may never become reality, but there will be no forgiveness if we allow even middling capabilities to develop – and eventually launch – from cyberspace unchecked.

I have often commented to my friends in the academic community that I am surprised that more extensive studies on the sociology of the Internet, how people can interact and co-exist with each other in the virtual world has affected life away from the computer. Frankly, I have a hard time accepting the opposing point of view that virtual relationships cannot become very real. On a very simplistic level, the interactions between so-called “citizen journalists” in the blogosphere is a perfect example where they collaborate and mix and blend ideas, collaborate and believe in a common objective. But more to the point of the emerging threat posed by virtual worlds like Second Life, I think the question of “why not” needs to be asked and answered. In a place like a virtual world, remotely located individuals can collaborate in nefarious efforts, or establish ground rules and parameters in which operational scenarios can be gamed. To reject that as even a possibility leaves open the likelihood that such activities will occur.

This is not theory. It is a reality. The earlier Commentary did not reference the release of a Declassified Report on Data Mining from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This report, an action indicated by Section 804 of what is known as the Data Mining Reporting Act, summarizes the activities of the Office of Science and Technology’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and its portfolio of research projects. It describes these research projects as “some of which include the exploration of techniques that could be applied to data mining,” but emphasizing that they “have not been deployed for use in any operational or other real life environments.”

Recognizing that the report is the declassified version, and yet, still digging a little more deeply, we learn that because of the challenges posed by the “exponential growth of information faced by the intelligence analysts, IARPA has created the Incisive Analysis portfolio (a grouping of research projects intended to meet the goals of establishing a culture of collaboration, fostering collection and analytic transformation and accelerating information sharing. Contained in this portfolio are elements such as:

● Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination (KDD) which seeks ways to coordinate access to and effectively exploit the range of legally-collected data sources gathered across the disparate agencies of the IC.

● The Tangram project with the purpose of evaluating the use and value of a terrorism threats surveillance and warning system. Components of Tangram include a “surveillance and warning” system to report the threat likelihood of known threat entities and to discover and report on the threats from unsuspected threat entities.

● The Video Analysis and Content Extraction project that hopes to automate the human intensive process of reviewing video content, seeking intelligence value using subject based queries and possibly also use pattern-based data mining techniques.

● The ProActive Intelligence project that is intended to study the dynamics of complex intelligence targets (including known terorrist origanizaitons) by watching for causal relationships that are indicative of nefarious activity.

And finally, we get to a program called Reynard that is discussed recent Wired story. Reynard is described as a “seedling effort looking at the emerging social dynamics of virtual worlds and on-line games, and their implications to the IC:

The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.

If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.

Reynard will conduct unclassified research in a public virtual world environment. The research will use publicly available data and will begin with observational studies to establish baseline normative behaviors.

I guess the point of this is that there are, and should be, very real concerns about the virtual world and its potential for use as a tool of terrorism Both Michael and I have covered the topic and related issues a few times before. Obviously, he and I come at this subject from a different perspective. His is as a former IC operative. I come at this subject looking at it with fascination as I watch new technologies become reality because of some involvement I've had in programs in data fusion and information brokering. I’m pretty confident that if we were watching things like this before September 11th that we might have actually seen some patterns emerging that could have given us an early warning of what was to come. While I’m sure that there will be more discussions on the topic as time passes, it is also pretty clear that the subject will remain controversial. Personally, I think that Salon article referenced in Michael’s commentary is a bit naïve.

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