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May 30, 2008

Gaza Breakdown Is The Regional Aim

The Gaza Breakdown from the Baltimore Sun is worth your reading time this morning.

Psychiatrist Eyad el-Sarraj can be as caustic as any Palestinian in condemning Israel's 40-year occupation of the Gaza Strip. But he speaks with admiration approaching awe of Israelis' kindness during his own bone marrow treatment two years ago at Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, outside Tel Aviv. Other Palestinians there got similar attention, he says, adding, "This is something I will never forget."

Business consultant Sami Abdel-Shafi has heard sentiments similar to Mr. el-Sarraj's from older laborers who used to be allowed to work in Israel. But younger people haven't had the same exposure and harbor a darker view, he says. Indeed, the prospect that many Gazans will again recognize human qualities in Israelis is shrinking, and with it the chance of reconciliation between two peoples that is essential for lasting peace.

Those who drive the conflict from outside the Palestinian territories can ill-afford the younger Palestinian generation many glimpses into Israel and personal dealings with Israelis, lest they too begin to dismiss the conflict-driving propaganda. They cannot be allowed to lose their embrace of ideas such as that Israeli Jews are the 'descendants of pigs and monkeys' who drink the blood of Palestinian youths.

And so the rockets continue to fly from Gaza into Israel. And regional players preserve their patient, irrational drive "from the river to the sea." The Palestinian conflict is and always has been less about the Palestinians - whom few in the region reach out to beyond arms supplies and minimal sustenance - and far more about the interests of those who claim to champion their cause.

Parsing Pelosi: Military Usefulness

First emerging at Commentary's Contentions blog and at Ace of Spades, we learn of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating that "some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians - they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities - the Iranians." The sheer ignorance of that statement should be self-evident. It's as if to say that, if we were only negotiating with them (without preconditions, of course), just imagine the peace we could gain.

But it is also an unforgiving slap in the face to the United States and Iraqi military forces. For it was they who defeated the Iranians and their proxy militias in Basra. The victory was not negotiated in words scribed upon a mahogany table, but in blood on the streets of Basra. And it was not a 'peace' won by Iran nor even the Brits, safely barricaded away in a nearby airfield.

But if one cares to examine the shallow depth of Speaker Pelosi's admiration of our fighting men or her dismissal of the Iraqi people as worthy of defense, listen to the below audio, just 60 seconds early on in the 80-minutes generously given to the editors and reporters of the San Francisco Chronicle. It is difficult to describe the exchange as anything but disgraceful.

To download this audio file, click here or right click then select 'Save Target As'.

She went to Iraq last week to visit the troops "in preparation for Memorial Day." How does that work, exactly? How does visiting Iraq prepare one for Memorial Day? Forgetting the 'how' for a moment, perhaps it should be asked 'why.' Speaker Pelosi answers that question unequivocally, after a very flat and tellingly unarticulated "they're so great" reference to the troops, as she immediately spells out casualty figures of dead and wounded. Of course, she didn't meet any of the dead honored by the nation, but somehow her trip was "in preparation for Memorial Day."

And, just as she offered that the troops in Iraq are "so great" without articulating how they are so, she says, "We've lost, what's it - 4,075 - something like that now, every one of them precious to us." This is immediately followed by an uneasy silence, seemingly struggling for words and incapable of expounding on just why they are so precious to us. Not a word of what they have done. They're just dead. And I am just disgusted.

Unable to articulate, she breaks the pause by immediately reminding of the over 10,000 wounded. And, without pause, of course informs also that she has just been to the hospital and is in fact going right back yet again to the local VA hospital in San Francisco just as soon as her media brief at the Chronicle is over. One must wonder if the military patients there received the full 80-minute allotment afforded the Chronicle staff. Quite honestly, the Marine in me wonders if they would afford her such. It's not a flippant question considering the trouble she encountered with her Baghdad itinerary.

The transcribed quotes do not effectively convey her hollow words. They have to be heard as spoken in the brief audio above.

Perhaps it has not occurred to Speaker Pelosi that so profound is "the goodwill of the Iranians" that over 10% of the 4,075 dead American military men and women she speaks of were felled by the hands of the same. In fact, 18% of US combat deaths in the last quarter of 2006 came at the hands of the EFP, an Iranian "goodwill" gesture to their proxy Iraqi militias. If we're going to have a discussion of casualties and "the goodwill of the Iranians," Madame Speaker, let's please do. But let's first get the context properly framed.

Hopefully readers will forgive the rant, but I am just without patience for any more utilization of the troops for all the usefulness their casualty rates afford by politicians who lack the decency to acknowledge what they have done besides expire in their service. After all, if the surge is such a success that "there is nothing that is happening there that would justify continuation of the policy," then how was the enemy thus presumably now defeated?

Ah, yes. The 'message of peace' brought to Bashar al-Assad in Damascus is now bearing fruit in "the goodwill of the Iranians" in Tehran. And all that with no preconditions, apparently.

May 28, 2008

Clock Ticks for Musharraf's Ouster

Nawaz Sharif said in a speech today that he and the PPP's Asif Ali Zardari have agreed to begin talks on removing president Pervez Musharraf from power and exiling him as a traitor.

In his speech today, Mr. Sharif said there is no reason for Mr. Musharraf to have what he called a "safe exit" and called for the president to be punished as a traitor.

Zardari and Mr. Sharif met Tuesday to decide on constitutional reforms put forward by the PPP chief that would considerably weaken President Musharraf's powers. The talks ended without an agreement on that issue.

Musharraf's spokesman has denied rumors Musharraf is considering quitting.

Sharif, who was ousted himself by Musharraf nearly ten years ago, said, "A high treason case should be registered against him and he should be given the punishment of a traitor." To be sure, the personal axe is large and the grinding wheel spinning, powered by this year's Pakistani election results which swept Sharif's Pakistani Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) into shared power with Bhutto's PPP.

Meanwhile, the same ruling coalition's prime minister, the PPP's Yousuf Raza Gilani, is pushing pushing for an increase in US military aid to Pakistan.

The PML-N/PPP coalition was swept into power in large part by furthering the notion that Musharraf is too close to the US and in fact largely controlled by the US. Now they seek to try him for treason while incredulously soliciting an increase in financial grants already unparalleled in the two nations' historic relationship.

Now, I've been a sharp critic of Musharraf in recent years, but there's a word for that in the dictionary. I'll report back when I find it.

NOTE: Meanwhile, the Islamists in Pakistan are demonstrating, demanding the release of A.Q. Khan, popularly touted as the 'Father of the Islamic Bomb.' Pakistan, such a wonderful place. And we haven't even toured Waziristan yet today. It's one of those days when you just scratch your head in near-bewilderment. But it's not as if any of the above developments was unpredictable or unforeseen. It's just a day when they all converge.

Iran's 'Coalition Against Nature'

J. Peter Pham pointed out a new monograph by Dr. Ely Karmon for the US Army War College that I had initially missed. You should not, and I have been reading in sprints now and highly, highly recommend it in order to appreciate the context of rapidly unfolding events vis-a-vis Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Palestinian Territories.

In addition to accurately portraying the Iranian alliance network that spans across the over-emphasized Shi'a-Sunni ideological/theological divide, Dr. Karmon spells out succinctly the impact of a nuclear Iran beyond a nuclear attack on Israel.

But the other crucial question is, in case Iran goes nuclear, how dangerous and unstable would the Middle East be: how much, in any case, would those who potentially are in Tehran’s and its allies’ gun-sights suffer. It is reasonable to consider that the axis would critically enhance its subversion, penetration, and domination of most of the region’s unstable arenas and conflicts.

The potential of radicalization/Islamization of Iraq, at least the Shia Iraq, could quickly materialize and result in a more bloody sectarian war involving the neighboring Sunni countries. This could be a major step in the formation of the dreaded Shia Crescent.

The process of radicalization/Islamization of Lebanon through the good offices of Hizballah would be accelerated.

The process of radicalization/Islamization of Palestine, which began by the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, would also be accelerated, with immediate influence on the strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist groups in Egypt and Jordan.

Iran, with Hizballah and Iraqi Shia radicals’ support, could open a new front in the Gulf countries by inciting the Shia majority in Bahrain and the minorities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE, who live mostly in the oil-rich provinces, to fight actively and violently for equal rights, autonomy, or even self-determination.

Tehran would be tempted to spread its revolutionary message towards the Muslim republics in Central Asia.

Dr. Karmon's Iran–Syria–Hizballah–Hamas A Coalition Against Nature is very highly recommended and should be considered required reading.

May 27, 2008

Cedars Losing, World Watching

The Editors at National Review Online lament the seemingly inevitable death throes of the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and their opening graph says much while not quite getting it right.

Hezbollah is proving to be a very capable and determined force in Lebanon, and a great danger to the wider world as well. In July 2005 it overplayed its hand by attacking Israel and bringing retribution down on itself and on the Lebanon it claimed to be protecting. Since then, however, the main imperialist instrument of Iran has enjoyed running rings around the United States and the United Nations, neither of which has any coherent idea of what is to be done.

The UN certainly has no idea what to do, as it functions on consensus and near-consensus while little is to be found there regarding Lebanon. The UN cannot even complete an investigation into the bombing and murder of Rafik Hariri, the impetus of the Cedar Revolution.

But I would contend that the United States - certainly much of its leadership - knows full well what must be done: Remove the Iranian regime driving so much of the instability and violence there. Hizballah is, after all, little more than an Iranian foreign legion.

Rather, what the United States largely lacks is the political and moral courage and conviction to state such and begin in earnest a debate over means rather than ends.

Until we acknowledge openly that no change will occur in Iranian behavior without a change in the messianic regime, we will continue to flounder and drift in indecision as Iran grows more confident, more aggressive, more deadly and - soon - infinitely more (nuclear) armed.

It is not a pleasant reality, but it remains so. And procrastinating in the name of seeking (in futility) an alternative redress ultimately emboldens and empowers an enemy which fertilizes and germinates the fields of terror as a means of exerting its will.

And the world, seemingly paralyzed by its distaste for conflict, sits idly by watching Lebanon fall into the clutches of Iran and Syria as they meticulously and relentlessly execute their conflict. Successfully.

Again, it's not pleasant and there are no easy answers, but the reality is hardly deniable, though try as we might.

What About Regime Change?

In referencing Stephen Hayes' latest at The Weekly Standard, In the Driver's Seat, Michael Ledeen draws focus to what passes as our Iran policy, at least with regard to the Iraq context. Steve's article looks at Condoleezza Rice's role as both National Security Advisor and ultimately Secretary of State. Michael draws attention at National Review Online by quoting part of the discussion between Steve and Secretary Rice and adding his pointed observation.

RICE: We're not saying, "Please don't kill our soldiers." We're saying, "Don't kill our soldiers or your people won't be safe in Iraq." That's a slightly different message. And not only are we saying that, we're doing it.

TWS: Are there other examples besides the capture in Irbil where we are saying to Iran not only don't do this, but, "Here are the consequences. Look, you can see the consequences"?

RICE: Well, there are lots of consequences, I mean, many of which, of course, happen in military operations that I'm not going to talk about. But we're on the hunt for them all the time.

In other words, we're simply playing defense in Iraq, and financially squeezing the Islamic Republic. I wish Hayes had asked her, "what ever happened to regime change? Don't we want that in Tehran and Damascus?"

So far as I know, she has always said we do not want regime change, we want a change in behavior. A happy thought, to be sure, but not likely to happen so long as our only targets are the terrorists armed, trained and funded by the Iranians, and not the Islamic Republic itself.

But again, at the end of the day it's the president who makes those decisions, no matter how fond he is of the secretary of state.

We can debate until the cows come home the most effective response from us to Iran killing our men in Iraq, which should be viewed as hardly separable from its long history of killing of Americans in terrorist attacks. But we cannot constructively utilize any conclusions from such a debate without embracing at debate's onset the reality that there will be no significant change in behavior from the Tehran regime without changing the regime. We have a 30-year track record of consistency to draw from in this regime's behavior, yet seem insistent that the implacable can be placated.

Arguments are made that we are too stretched thin militarily, or that sanctions must be made stronger, or that incentives will ultimately sway Tehran. Regardless the conclusions, none of the reasons for arriving at such should dodge the inconvenient, troublesome fact that the Iranian regime is the head of the international terrorist snake, and that this snake's head is biting us and killing us in Iraq sans consequence. To do so is to embolden the regime and their terror patrons in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere.

Which brings me to the latest discussion surrounding Syria potentially supplanting Saudi Arabia as our primary Arab broker in the Middle East. The thinking, if true, must be that perhaps Syria can be split from its Iranian master. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," so the saying goes. But there is such a thing as too close for comfort and a not-new phenomenon called 'unrealistic expectations.' I harbor serious, serious doubts.

But with a pursued policy of regime change in Iran... Perhaps then Syria would fear our consequences more than those threatened by Tehran. But until such time the scales of fear tilt, splitting Syria from Iran is wishful thinking that is easily enabled through lauded talks and agreements that ultimately would serve Iranian long-term interests. Simple fact is that fear is the prime motivator of men in the region, be they leaders or soldiers.

But we skirt the Iranian issue every time, presumably because it's too hard on many levels. That may well be true, but it does not change the fact that moderation and behavioral change within Iran will not occur until the messianic regime itself is done away with. And until then, we will continue to absorb the violent brunt of the regime's behavior outside of Iran. There are no two ways about it, hard or not.

May 26, 2008

Getting Security (Clearances) Right

You can gage the relative importance being given this issue by the pace at which it is being solved . . .or not:

Slow security clearance processes and a lack of reciprocity between agencies are major inefficiencies that have huge unseen costs for agencies and contractors, Customs and Border Protection’s acting information technology chief told a group of industry executives today.

What makes this so frustrating is that there are myriad reasons for solving this problem that under normal circumstances would motivate a response from multiple directions. Whether the players are executive, legislative or industrial there are points to be scored bureaucratically, politically and economically; yet this problem is long and well known and unsolved.

Memorial Day Counsel: Accelerate

As we celebrate Memorial Day, the innocuously dubbed “unofficial start of summer,” let us pause to commemorate those for whom the day was intended—our fallen servicemen.

Over the years, some quarters have come to equate dissent with the highest form of patriotism. Such is one’s prerogative, emancipated as we are from the tyranny of despotism. Lest we forget, however, if not for the willingness of our forebears—and their equally heroic contemporaries serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today—to heed the trumpet’s call and leave home and hearth, often to far away shores, none of us would be sufficiently free to indulge our most public expressions of discontent. For that blessing and countless others, we are profoundly indebted to our soldiers and Marines, airman and sailors, who have made so selflessly the ultimate sacrifice.

More than forty years ago, in November of 1965, Colonel Hal Moore was summoned to shepherd his battalion, the 1st / 7th Cavalry Regiment, into a remote and desolate clearing near the Cambodian border. There, beneath a foreboding mountainous outcropping in the bowels of the Ia Drang Valley, Moore and his men waged a desperate battle for survival against a numerically superior NVA force. Ultimately, the skill and raw courage of Moore’s air cavalry troopers coupled with solicitous supporting fires permitted the beleaguered battalion to emerge from the battle triumphant but well blooded. Seventy nine American soldiers were killed during the course of the three day battle.

Years later, the deaths of his men continue to haunt and inspire Moore. “When the heartbeat of one soldier stops forever,” he firmly but patiently advises, “the heartbeat of our nation should accelerate, driving us to ensure that his life was not sacrificed in vain.”

On Memorial Day, and every day thereafter, may our citizenry exercise and enjoy the freedoms of this great country, while always endeavoring to thank the draftsmen of that birthright by honoring Moore’s eloquent counsel.

May 22, 2008

Peace Through Concession: Pakistan's New Taliban Accord

New peace. Same as the old peace.

As reported by Jane's, Pakistan plans to cut troops from the Waziristan border region while denying that any withdrawal of forces will take place.

Pakistan's newly elected government is planning for a 'thinning' of troops from some of the front lines in the country's northwestern tribal belt along the Afghan border, where the military claims that a decisive victory has now been won against Taliban insurgents.

Speaking to Jane's on 18 May as part of a media visit to the South Waziristan zone of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas arranged by the Pakistani military, Major General Athar Abbas, the military's chief spokesman and director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations service, said that "the army would still have a dominating presence" in the area and that a peace agreement would not be followed by a withdrawal. [Emphasis added.]

At issue, one would suppose, are the definitions and usages of the terms 'reduction' and 'withdrawal' as used by Pakistan and observers of Pakistan. Likely, the Pakistani ISI and government here view 'withdrawal' as complete. Also at issue are the types of forces that would remain after a Waziristan 'reduction' (as happened after the previous accords in North and South Waziristan.) Any forces left within territories agreed to would likely be Frontier Corps paramilitaries, which are more locally drawn and thus ethnically and regionally indigenous. But the Frontier Corps' paramilitary forces, while enjoying the not insignificant advantages of ethnic homogeneity and terrain and population familiarity, are less professionally trained, equipped and capable than the Pakistani regular army and special forces units.

This is what will likely be left behind and claimed as "a dominating presence" maintained, which is laughable, as Pakistani forces have never maintained "a [sustained] dominating presence" beyond occasional operational overpowering, making it hard to believe one could be left behind.

The point is essentially this: the Pakistani government, once again, was not negotiating from a position of strength in 2006, nor in 2007, nor is it now. Concrete territorial concessions in exchange for promises and vows are the fruit of negotiating from a position of either weakness or profound benevolence. The latter is not the case.

As stated, Pakistan has a track record of heavy concrete concessions - including force withdrawals, however defined - in exchange for the hope of promises. And, thus, it also has a track record of failed accords negotiated from a position of weakness with an enemy steadfast, determined and resolute. As noted at The Long War Journal, the 'peace accord' just negotiated in neighboring Swat and Malakand agencies includes troop withdrawals.

The peace deal in Swat and Malakand comes after several rounds of negotiations. A fifteen-point agreement was signed with representatives of the Northwest Frontier Province and representatives of Fazlullah’s Taliban. The major points of the agreement are as follows:

• Sharia law would be imposed in the Swat and Malakand districts.
• The Pakistani Army will gradually withdraw security forces from the region.
• The government and the Taliban would exchange prisoners.
• The Taliban would recognize the writ of the government and cooperate with security forces.
• The Taliban would halt attacks on barber and music shops.
• The Taliban cannot display weapons in public.
• The Taliban would turn in heavy weapons (rockets, mortars).
• The Taliban cannot operate training camps.
• The Taliban would denounce suicide attacks.
• A ban would be placed on raising private militias.
• The Taliban will cooperate with the government to vaccinate children against diseases like polio.
• Fazlullah's madrassa, the Imam Dherai, would be turned into an Islamic university.
• Only licensed FM radio stations would be allowed to operate in the region.
• The Taliban would allow women to "perform their duties at the work place without any fear."

Just yesterday, the government denied that security forces would be withdrawn from Swat and other Taliban hotspots such as South Waziristan.

A largely secular government does not cede Sharia law, government troop reductions and territory to an aggressive insurgent force from a position of strength. It just doesn't happen.

Pattern recognition is key to excelling in any endeavor, whether one is a defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers or an intelligence analyst for the NSA. The pattern here can be seen by the deaf, heard by the blind and felt by the mute.

NOTE: For the record, the 15 points agreed to above are - on paper - a reasonably balanced deal. The issue I have in my incredulous treatment of this is that Pakistan's accords in the past have been utterly disregarded by those with whom they have made them, or those with whom Pakistan has signed deals lacked the power to enforce. Either way one wants to read the causation, the net result has been the same. Paper accord, followed by more bloodshed and attacks than before the paper appeared.

I really want to be able to stand up soon and say, "Wow. Pakistan finally made the right deal with the right crew and made it stick. Progress." For if this deal sticks and is adhered to, it is a significant success for Pakistan. That much has to be noted. But I am simply pessimistic and do not see it here. Every time I stick my finger in the wall socket, I get shocked. Pavlovian, perhaps....

May 19, 2008

Stunned Silence

Kathryn observes polling data on American views regarding Iran. The following figure from Rasmussen Reports. should be absolutely stunning.

Sixty-two percent (62%) believe that Iran sponsors terrorist activities against the United States. Only 6% disagree and 32% are not sure.

32% are "not sure" if Iran sponsors terrorist activities against the United States? I don't even have a reaction at the moment. I am simply stunned.

May 17, 2008

Terrorism – Domestically Speaking

With all of the attention being paid to al Qaeda inspired terrorism, most people lose sight of the fact that we have had domestic, non-Islamic terrorists for a number of decades. What makes Americans turn against other Americans is beyond my understanding. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicols in Oklahoma City, Eric Rudolph who bombed women’s health care clinics and was responsible for the bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the madman acts of Theodore Kaczynski and even the Rajneeshis in Oregon are previous examples of domestic terrorism.

This past week brings another incident of an attempted act of domestic terrorism with the arrest of Jeffrey Don Detrixhe, a Texas man, in Oklahoma by the F.B.I. Jeffrey Don Detrixhe, 38, of Higgins, Texas, was arrested Monday in southeastern Oklahoma on a complaint of possession or transfer of a chemical weapon. The F.B.I. used an informant and covert recordings to implicate Detrixhe in the plot to supply cyanide to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Between March and April, the informant and Detrixhe allegedly held several discussions that were covertly recorded by the FBI. In many of the conversations, Detrixhe commented about mixing the cyanide with acid to release poisonous gas. According to the court papers, during a March 27, 2008, meeting, Detrixhe claimed, "I could kill a city with that son-of-a-bitch. Euthanize a whole village."

Courts records apparently indicate that Detrixhe had previous legal issues and drug use. Further, there are some reports that despite telling the informant that he had a 25 gallon drum of cyanide pellets, that he didn’t have any real intention to carry out an attack.

James O. Ellis III of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism says the arrest was for trafficking, but had someone tried to "weaponize" the cyanide it would've been a far more serious situation.

Detrixhe waived his initial court appearance Wednesday (May 15th) in US District Court, and a judge ordered US Marshals to extradite him to Texas. Somehow, I don’t see how this incident can be minimized ("I could kill a city with that son-of-a-bitch. Euthanize a whole village."). The fact that the situation was interrupted, or that some people claim that Detrixhe was “merely trafficking” the cyanide or that the chemical hadn’t been weaponized in my opinion is immaterial. A conviction for intent to sell a chemical weapon is punishable by up to life in prison.

May 14, 2008

With Apologies To Hizballah: Victory Is Yours

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Lebanese government has ceded victory to Hizballah in the latest episode in the power struggle that is Lebanon.

A Lebanese minister says the Cabinet has reversed measures against Hizbullah that triggered the worst violence since the country's 15-year civil war.

Hizbullah demanded the government reverse the decisions last week to sack an airport security chief for alleged ties to the Shi'ite group and to declare the militants' private telephone network illegal.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the moves amounted to a declaration of war and shortly after, he unleashed his fighters on the streets of Beirut. The clashes left 54 dead.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the Cabinet revoked the decisions "in view of the higher national interest."

Seconds after his announcement, celebratory gunfire erupted south of Beirut, a Hizbullah stronghold.

It could be said that the majority March 14 group in the Lebanese government had little choice, out-gunned by the Iranian foreign legion that is Hizballah and saddled with an army that is not only also out-gunned by the terrorist group, but at times appeared ready to fracture along Shi'a-non-Shi'a lines.

Yet with that said, with or without choice in the matter, the victory is clearly owned by Iran and Hizballah. And it is a victory that is in many ways more significant than that which it claimed for itself upon Israel's 2006 withdrawal. Likely, few in the West will recognize this quite yet. But Hizballah - at the business end of an AK-47 - has just beaten back its internal foe, a foe that is all that stands between Hizballah and yet another terrorist-run state.

And not even standing behind a wall of concealment is Iran, the terrorist puppet master, pulling the strings of jihad, just as it does with Hamas in Gaza, the Mahdi Army and terrorist cells ('Special Groups') in Iraq, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas in the West Bank. To coordinate and facilitate, Iran - as well as Hamas and others - keeps its forward management crews operating in Syria.

Iran is the nexus for terror and instability in the entire region. We can dance around this fact, but we cannot avoid it. For it is Iran's will. Yet it is American leadership, which does not lead its public in chants of "Death to Iran!" every Friday in the streets of Washington DC, which is so often portrayed as the unruly aggressor, rattling sabres and beating the drums of war.

As I wrote at The Tank on National Review Online, "If President Bush is "rattling sabres," then Iran is swinging them." This much must be recognized soberly in developing any policy going forward.

Lessons in Counterinsurgency

So far, the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia has been a bumbling, disjointed affair. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006 with tacit American approval in order to topple the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a conglomeration of Islamist militias, and to prop up the fragile Transitional Federal Government. The situation does not appear to be one from which Ethiopia will be able to extricate itself from anytime soon despite an expressed desire by Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister.

In the wake of the invasion, an insurgency has raged against the Ethiopians, predominately led by a group known as al-Shabaab, the militant remnants of the ICU, which was recently designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. The United States has avoided an overt presence in the anarchic nation, preferring instead to launch pinpoint strikes on an individual basis as typified by the recent successful targeting of Aden Hashi Ayro, commander of al-Shabaab and an individual with significant links to the broader al-Qaeda movement. As al-Shabaab has grown more brazen, the Ethiopian response has often exacerbated the situation. As an example courtesy of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the human rights organization Amnesty International accused members of the Ethiopian military in April of killing 21 Somalis at a mosque in Mogadishu, among them an imam and other Islamic scholars. Obviously, this situation is not one that shows any regard whatsoever for cultural sensibilities of the local population, an important facet in waging a successful counterinsurgency. However, there is at least some indication that the Ethiopians are perhaps learning from their mistakes. From the BBC comes this report:

Ethiopian troops in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, have distributed food aid bought with their own salaries. About 400 bags of sorghum were handed out to about 500 people in southern Baynile district. An Ethiopian soldier said his colleagues had organised the collection to help their neighbours in need. Ethiopian troops, who support Somalia's interim government, are not popular and the food was accepted with surprise, the BBC's Mohamed Ibrahim reports.

Though this appears to be far from a concerted effort on behalf of the Ethiopians, nor organized in any formal sense, this news is a vast improvement over previous Ethiopian actions. In view of the recent riots that raged in Somalia over rising food costs, this effort on behalf of Ethiopian soldiers, even on the individual level, to provide some relief for the general population offers some tiny degree of hope that we won't find ourselves with a case of Déjà vu circa December 2006.

May 12, 2008

Counterfeiting – A Matter of National Security

No matter how you look at the problem, counterfeiting is a serious issue. Counterfeiting affects companies, it serves as a means of funding of terrorist activities and it preys on the unknowing customer who is victimized by faulty products, phony documents or worse, substitute ingredients or parts of products whose quality is assumed and depended upon by the purchaser. The strange thing is that there are really no products that are immune to the counterfeiter.

Market globalization and the spread of technology have combined to create an environment where piracy is widespread and highly sophisticated. In this environment, manufacturers and intellectual property owners face increasing threats of counterfeiting, product diversion, licensing/royalty fraud and intellectual property theft.

According to the International Anti-Counterfeit Coalition, U.S. corporations alone lose approximately $200 billion annually. The breadth and danger created by counterfeiting is described in the IACC White Paper, ”Facts on Fakes.” If there is any doubt about the connection of counterfeiting to terrorism, here are a few important points:

· On February 28, 2003, Mohamad Hammoud was sentenced to 155 years in prison for helping to lead a cigarette smuggling operation that sent money to Hezbollah.

· The INTERPOL document presented to the Congressional Committee indicated that a wide range of groups - including Al-Qaeda, Hizbullah, Chechen separatists, ethnic Albanian extremists in Kosovo, and paramilitaries in Northern Ireland - have been found to profit from the production or sale of counterfeit goods.

· There have been recent media accounts reporting a link between the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and the trafficking of counterfeit goods. An investigation, involving several countries, into a shipment of fake goods from Dubai to Copenhagen, Denmark, suggest that Al Qaeda itself may be funding itself by trafficking in counterfeit goods. Danish customs, using sophisticated risk analysis software, examined one of the containers on board and discovered that it contained over one thousand crates full of counterfeit shampoos, creams, cologne and perfume. The goods were ultimately bound for the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom later revealed that the sender of the counterfeit goods was a member of Al Qaeda.

Additionally, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, counterfeit drugs represent over $6 billion in lost sales per year. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that counterfeiting of medicines has greatly increased in recent years. The WHO study estimates counterfeit drugs average as much as 10% of the worldwide trade in pharmaceuticals, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue for illegal traffickers. Other studies suggest counterfeit drugs comprise over 60% of all drugs in some foreign countries and encompass most classes of over-the-counter and proprietary medicines.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has stated that piracy costs the U.S. economy between $43 and $61 billion per year. The dollar impact is worsened by market share losses and loss of reputation with consumers/customers resulting from perceived product quality issues attached to brand name items. Fortune 500 companies are reported to spend approximately $1.5 billion per year to combat counterfeiting and protect brand names and trademarks.

On May 13th, I will be presenting a paper at the 2008 IEEE Conference International Conference on Technologies For Homeland Security.

With Technical Assistance from the Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate, the eighth annual 2008 IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST 08) focuses on novel and innovative technologies addressing pressing national security problems. The Conference brings together over 300 innovators from leading universities, research laboratories, Homeland Security Centers of Excellence, small businesses, system integrators and the end user community to discuss emerging technologies in priority areas of interest to federal and state governments, and fosters technology commercialization by providing a forum for networking with government and business leaders.

Of course, as any self-respecting entrepreneur would do, my paper discusses application of my company’s anti-counterfeit solution for homeland security, specifically in this case, identity credentials and papers. Our technology exploits random patterns of optically readable materials that are then matched to a machine-readable code making each and every protected item uniquely identifiable (essentially by its digital fingerprint) and able to be authenticated in real time. My associates and I see our anti-counterfeiting approach as both overt and covert, and as providing both a standalone technology, as well as one that can be combined with others. IEEE copyright restrictions prevent me from providing access to my full paper. However, the one-page abstract that was submitted in the pre-screening process, and was later accepted for presentation of a full paper, is shown below. While at the Conference (at least for the day that I will be attending), hopefully, I will also be able to bring back information about some of the exciting new technologies that are being developed.

“Exploiting Random Patterns of Optically Readable Materials to Ensure Authentication of Documents, Media and Substrates”

Despite attempts of first and second-generation technologies to address product and document counterfeiting, the problem persists. Further, most of these solutions either require infrastructure build-out or have shown security vulnerabilities. The patented and proprietary anti-counterfeiting system being developed by Tracer Detection Technology Corp provides theoretically foolproof ability to confirm the authenticity of a document or product label/package, even if the “past-gen” technologies have been compromised. Tracer expects its product to be market ready before end of 2008.

Exploiting non-deterministic random patterns of optically readable material(s) embedded into paper or substrate, Tracer’s solution provides highly reliable authentication of genuine documents and product labels, drastically reducing, if not mathematically eliminating the possibility of unauthorized duplication. The system’s ease of use permits manufacturers’ or government inspectors to check document or product authenticity in real time using Tracer’s reader. A prototype system exists and is the basis for the development of a reproducible commercial reader to serve as a standalone unit, or be adaptable to integration into existing readers for travel and identity documents, and brand name labels.

The random optical pattern is illuminated by a polarized light source and imaged by a high-speed scanner during the production process. The resulting fluoresced image includes the position and orientation of the optically readable material and is encoded via secure algorithm as an encrypted digital signature that is then printed on the document or label. This creates a unique, machine-readable digital fingerprint or “biometric” for each item. A barcode makes the validation process automatic. At any interrogation point, an inspector can validate the pattern with a hand-held version of the production scanner. The document or label/package is authentic only if the code appearing on the scanner matches the printed one. Tracer contemplates both wired and wireless connection to a database for a further level of security.

In a security credential, this can be on all or selected pages of the document, or solely within its cover. Strategic placement may play a role in the overall security afforded by integrating Tracer’s solution into the document. Potentially, the optical material could be placed in proximity with other credentialing information to enable coincident or tandem interrogation of existing biometric and/or radio frequency identity chip technology. Considering the issues of cloning of the radio frequency identity chip or duplication of biometric information that have been publicized, and therefore raise questions about the integrity of such security features, incorporating Tracer’s solution into the substrate provides the ability to confirm the authenticity of the document itself, perhaps even prior to the query of the traveler identity security feature. The result is a multi-level security system based on random and non-reproducible characteristics of the arrangement of the optically readable material(s) and the proprietary and secure encryption technology. The verification process is stand alone, since the scanner is verifying a code match that could only be produced at the secure production site, but can be integrated in the existing reader infrastructure.

Counterfeiting is a serious problem that transcends law enforcement (brand protection) and clearly has entered the realm of terrorism. If we didn’t see it before the morning of September 11th, we certainly found out that morning when forged (counterfeit) documents were used by the hijackers. In fairness, my company is one of many established and newer companies working to provide a solution to this pervasive problem, one which, as my paper points out, has not been satisfactorily solved by the first and second generation (or as I write, “past-gen”) technologies. If you happen to be in the greater Boston area and can attend, or are already planning to do so, please say “hello.”

May 11, 2008

Mexico – Beyond Illegal Immigration and Narcotics

While much of the attention on Mexico focuses on illegal immigration and the continuing drug wars, the reality is that these are only a pair of the problems contributing to the instability faced by that country. This instability stems from a culture of corruption as well as the geographic and economic spilt between Mexico’s North and South, the European and indigenous (Mexican Indians) populations, the resulting educational deficiencies and finally, the undercurrent of social rebellion.

Leaving the drug wars aside for another time, an examination of the economic and social issues that divide Mexico’s people can offer insight to some of the contributing reasons why concern about our neighbors to the south is warranted.

The southern most states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero (along with parts of Puebla and Veracruz), 95% of the people are predominantly in the lowest 10% of economic development. This compares to the Northern states, where 12% of the people live in rural areas and are extremely poor. Despite the plans of previous President Fox and current President Calderón to add highway infrastructure (a total of $28.7 billion over six years) to improve the ability of Southern states to move their goods and crops to the larger cities and to the ports, the results are questionable.

The economic stagnation in the southern areas of Mexico is complicated by its rugged geography, continuing ethnic discrimination and poor education. Further, the politics of these areas is complicated by powerful strongmen, incompetance and corruption. Only two years ago, the city of Oaxaca, a past tourist destination was wracked by strikes and violence seeking the removal of the state governor.

Even further, a 1994 Zapatista-style revolt by bands of ethnic Mayan Indian peasants from the highlands in the state of Chiapas brought attention to the issues of poverty, inability to preserve the indigenous culture, the lack of political or judicial rights (especially against the confiscation of their property, lack of education and medical services in this area. Today, Chiapas remains a poverty stricken area with the unresolved revolution in the balance.

● The Zapatista rebellion raised Mexicans' awareness of race discrimination. But this remains a problem. The majority of the population in every one of Mexico's 100 poorest municipalities is of indigenous descent

● One policy designed to help the poor Indians is bilingual education. But the flaws of the public education system are magnified in the south. In practice, the teachers' union rather than the government controls teaching appointments; the union sometimes appoints a teacher who speaks a different indigenous language to his pupils

● A typical adult in the south has only six years of schooling; the corresponding figure in northern Mexico is 8.1 and 9.7 in Mexico City. And those years of schooling are not full years: local education officials report that in urban areas in the south an average teacher spends only 110 of the notional 200 days of the academic year actually in the classroom.

The record is even worse in rural areas. Mexicans of indigenous descent face cultural barriers too, some of them self-imposed. Land remains the most important possession of the indigenous population. Yes, some of the incentives to switch from the traditional maize and coffee crops to more lucrative bamboo and fruit have not taken hold in this area. There is a concern over human rights abuses in Chiapas, including incarceration of some of the people for nothing more than being indigenous and poor . The clear warning from the Economist article is this:

With each passing year, the socio-economic gap widens. Monterrey, Mexico's northern industrial capital, is starting to resemble south Texas. Many parts of the south still look like a northern extension of Guatemala. But unless the government shows a greater ability and willingness to tackle its problems, the south will not just remain stuck in its poverty trap but risks handicapping the country as a whole.

The more visible problems in Mexico are, indeed, illegal immigration and the drug wars. However, as often as I and others voice strong opinions about the need to stop the flow and to enforce the border, without fixing the internal socio-economic issues, Mexico, in my judgment, cannot become an equal partner with the U.S.

May 10, 2008

Health Care – When Disaster Strikes

Almost seven years post the attacks of September 11th, one of the serious preparedness issues still facing the country is the state of its health care, especially hospital trauma centers that would not be able to deal with the surge of patients resulting from a mass casualty terrorist attack.

A recent controversial inquiry into the disaster preparedness of hospitals concluded that they are -- and will be -- incapable to handle even a modest terrorist attack in those cities (none of the 34 hospitals in the survey by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that none of them were found ready to act at the moment of an attack); one reason for the lack of hospitals' capacity was cited as the Administration’s cuts in Medicaid reimbursements that in turn create overcrowding in emergency rooms, compromising the hospital’s ability to absorb and treat disaster victims.

"The situation in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles was particularly dire. There was no available space in the emergency rooms at the main trauma centers serving Washington, D.C. One emergency room was operating at over 200 percent of capacity - If a terrorist attack had occurred in Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles on March 25 when we did our survey, the consequences could have been catastrophic. The emergency care systems were stretched to the breaking point and had no capacity to respond to a surge of victims."

The study has been denounced by Congressional Republicans as a “political stunt”. In response to the survey, Representative Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) said "We cannot afford to build and maintain idle trauma facilities, waiting for the tragic day we pray never comes."

Dr. Richard Bradley, an emergency physician and chief of the division for EMS and disaster medicine at the the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said it's incorrect to assume the city can't handle a surge simply because emergency rooms here often operate at capacity.

Related, we also learn that in the May edition of Chest, the Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, disaster triage recommendations are made.

Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:

- Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings
- People older than 85
- Severely burned patients older than 60
- Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease
- Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes

The ability of our health system to deal with a man-made or natural disaster should not become a political football. Even though these “recommendations” are problematic and likely violate federal laws against age discrimination and disability discrimination, along with other ethical and moral issues, the likelihood is that health care rationing will be needed in the event of a mass casualty disaster.

Irrefutable Evidence

It is not clear to me that stories like this can continue to be published without some action being taken on the part of Justice, Congress, the Executive or some combination thereof. The perception that CT work, much less tangential law enforcement work, is being hindered by such useless bickering is beyond comprehension.

First, it is important to note that there is not exactly a dearth of good CT work going on at the Bureau (I have no insight into ATF ops), but – at the risk of sounding cliché – it isn’t very glamorous and doesn’t get a lot of pub (which is good). Having said that . . .

Make no mistake: there is no functional reason why the responsibilities and equities of everyone involved could not be addressed when it comes to data, training, etc; this is about the powerful but ultimately useless issue of sentiment. It is a key reason why so many governmental mergers or attempts to team become fiascos: the irrational fear that somehow involving someone else will negatively impact the glory that falls on your shoulders. Newcomers to the business need only think back to the last time their Boomer supervisor told them to stop sharing or collaborating because “they might steal our ideas” to understand what I am talking about. The fact that not working together ultimately produces an inferior result, or that while we bicker the adversary gets better, never enters the calculus.

The fact that two important agencies (and truth be told you could insert any two random agencies in the IC and the story would still hold up) are at bureaucratic war with each other more than they are against the common adversary will be particularly hard to swallow if another significant terrorist attack occurs on US soil. That such conditions exist at all much less persist years after alleged reforms suggests either willful ignorance or a staggering level of conceit that – thanks to a “no fault” culture – no one in a leadership position will have to answer for.

Progress, like so many endeavors that involve more than one human being, requires getting over one’s self (on an individual and enterprise-level) and the idea that if you get hit by a bus tomorrow a given case or mission would come to an end. Most people in the national security establishment have careers filled with very small victories; the people with actual medals and high accolades is pretty small and the criteria for selection sometimes questionable. The best of the best (as far as I am concerned) are never going to become household names: that’s essence of the deal when you sign up for “selfless service.”

That serious, severe action on this front (as well as broader sharing and collaborative efforts IC-wide) has not been taken is really the only metric one needs to measure when assessing how much of a priority these issues truly are at the highest levels.

May 8, 2008

Israel Yes, American Soldiers No?

Recapping an appearance from Senator Barack Obama on the estimable Tim Russert’s Sunday morning talk show, The Campaign Spot on National Review Online began this past Monday with an attention-snaring opening snippet:

Russert says that NBC News has learned the U.S. has assembled military plans to strike targets in Iran because that country is assisting its agents/insurgents in Iran. He asks Obama, would you support "limited attacks in Iran"? Obama says he doesn't want to speculate yet. He says that as commander in chief, he doesn't take military options off the table, but that he wants to see the intelligence. After some pro-forma Bush-bashing, he points out that Iran has to change its behavior, but that he will offer "carrots."

Later on, we learn:

Obama says Hillary's use of the term, "obliterate them" in response to a question about the U.S. response to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, is the language of George Bush, of saber-rattling and tough talk. He says that as president, he would respond "forcefully and appropriately."

Eschewing commentary of a political nature—ThreatsWatch strives to remain apolitical—the juxtaposition of Hillary Clinton’s “obliterate them” remark and Obama’s more measured reply to Russert’s question about Iran was nonetheless sobering for it reflects the current schizophrenia of our foreign policy toward that country. Proposing, however inelegantly, a counterstrike against Iran in retaliation for a hypothetical nuclear strike against Israel is an eminently defensible position. Apart from the cold, hard (and some would rightfully argue callous) geostrategic calculations involved, the incontrovertible moral obligation to meet attempted genocide with overwhelming force would demand as much. Political unanimity on the matter would likely be quick and lasting. After all, who among our elected leaders would withhold their support for a military response under those circumstances?

Alternatively, Obama’s deliberate approach to a military response against Iran for assisting insurgent elements in Iraq that are responsible for the deaths of American soldiers embodies the “real politik” attitude of so many in our political establishment. As long as the Iranians don’t partake in the overt murder of American soldiers, everyone seems content to chastise the Iranians for being “unhelpful”, issue ambiguous warnings, or express the desire for more diplomacy. Any talk of military action to countermand Iran’s malevolent influence immediately invites charges of expanding the war and further destabilizing the region

Obviously, no one is advocating “obliterating” Iran. Yet, with the very best of our nation—the men and women of our armed forces—risking life and limb every day in Iraq, some on their third tours, is it too much to ask of or political leadership to form a consensus on the issue of protecting American troops, irrespective of the threat? Is the prospect of even a modest (as in, something well short of obliteration) military strike against Iranian assets/facilities engrossed in the indirect murder of American serviceman that unpalatable?

If so, then perhaps an orderly withdrawal from Iraq is indeed in order for no nation has the right to expect its sons and daughters to fight and die without a reciprocal commitment from the state to their welfare.

May 7, 2008

Terror in the Virtual World

Periodically, we have mentioned Second Life, and the prospects of the virtual world having real world impact. There is some indication that “extremist groups” are now operating on Second Life. One recent incident involved the vandalizing of the virtual headquarters of the Second Life parallel universe political headquarters of the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for President.

The term used is “griefing.” Griefers exist to disrupt and harass (among other tactics) Second Life by using such tactics as using scripts to damage/cause issues with objects in-world, attaching things to your avatar that follow you and chat spam. One such “griefing group” has written a sort of. handbook of online terror. They even have a “declaration of war” posted on their site. This particular effort appears focused on circumventing the banning of “griefers” by blocking IP addresses.

The real implication of this lies in the use of an anonymizer such as ShoopedLife to send false IP and other hardware information to Linden Laboratories, enabling “griefers” and other disruptive types to log on. An explanation of ShooperLife can be found at Opensource viewers

This is basically a viewer that people use who are concerned about their anonymity. Well, the original client sends some kind of information about your hardware (seems to be the MAC-address of your network interface and the primary partition ID of your first hard disk drive) to the LL server to identify your computer regardless of your login, so that they can permban you if necessary. ShoopedLife circumvents this by sending just some random address instead, so that you can still login even if banned. Griefers love this client very much because it allows them to still login in such a case. Of course, you cannot login with the old account but are then able to make just a new account with trash mail address since Linden Lab will be unable to identify your computer.

The issue is important enough that Congress recently requested a report on the subject that is titled, Avatars, Virtual Reality Technology, and the U.S. Military: Emerging Policy Issues. The summary of that report reads:

This report describes virtual reality technology, which uses three-dimensional user-generated content, and its use by the U.S. military and intelligence community for training and other purposes. Both the military and private sector use this new technology, but terrorist groups may also be using it to train more realistically for future attacks, while still avoiding detection on the Internet.

An article in Scientific American offers additional analysis and discussion.

Now, you can either dismiss activities like this as nothing more than a virtual world extension of pranking and mischief, or see it as a potential threat. What can be done by a group like “PN” can be co-opted by real life terrorists. It appears that the process of measures and countermeasures is now an on-going one. Our enemy (regardless of the label you choose to use to describe them) is smart and educated, and as much involved in the tools of the information world as most of us. Second Life - Real or not real?

May 6, 2008

OPEC Busting and Cowboy Diplomacy

Perhaps a sign that the batteries are nearly charged, rather than sleep like a normal human being as planned, Hillary Clinton's pledge to bust up OPEC got my goat last night. Within the context of her (and others') derisive statements lamenting 'Cowboy Diplomacy," I felt compelled to offer a bit of that context.

It is published at The Tank on National Review Online.

Logic Bomb: Rather than address what we can do and what is ours (such as our own undeveloped reserves), Hillary would rather pick a fight with OPEC and try to control what is not ours. Such a fight would net zero desired results and most likely result in even tighter export controls by ticked-off OPEC countries, yielding even higher oil prices.

Meanwhile, Obama wants to go "unilateral" on Pakistan. At the same time, without rattling a single saber, Hillary vows to "obliterate" Iran. (President Bush and Vice President Cheney must have all the sabers hoarded and secured in the War Room.) And now Clinton is swearing that she will apply an American wrecking ball to OPEC.

And you thought "The era of cowboy diplomacy is over."

Silly rabbit, it's a Diplomatic Offensive®.

I steer quite clear of political commentary. However, when candidates for President of the United States and Commander in Chief lecture us on unilateralism, "Cowboy Diplomacy" and all manner of foreign policy topics while simultaneously establishing the above rhetorical track record, it needs to be pointed out. In context.

Saudi Arabia: No Small Challenge, No Great Ally

There are few more pointed examples of the long-term problem with Saudi Arabia than a recent fatwa calling for the execution of two reporters for suggesting other religions deserve respect. One would expect a Wahhabi cleric to issue such, perhaps. But that the Saudi legislature voted down legislation (77-33) calling for the same respect is a fair and clear barometer that the problem does not simply lie with a few dozen clerics. It's systemic.

If a respected religious authority calls for the execution of someone who simply suggests that people holding other faiths deserve respect, doesn't that tell Saudis that the lives of Christians, Jews, Hindu and Buddhists are of lesser value?

Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a 75-year-old sheikh, issued the fatwa calling for the journalists' death. In Saudi Arabia, he is a leading authority on Wahhabism, the country's fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam.

"It's disgraceful that articles containing this kind of apostasy should be published in some papers in Saudi Arabia," he wrote last month. If the reporters do not repent, they "should be killed," he wrote.

Barrak is not just some cranky old miscreant. He is a member of the Saudi legislature, appointed by the king. Barrak spent a long career in senior positions at a respected government-funded university.

Soon after, 20 other senior Saudi clerics stood up to enthusiastically endorse Barrak's fatwa. Later, about 100 human-rights advocates from across the region condemned the edict, calling it intellectual terrorism. That had little visible impact in Riyadh.

But a striking feature of this episode is that the Saudi government has not said or done anything about it - probably because King Abdullah realizes that many and perhaps most members of Saudi Arabia's religious establishment agree with Barrak. After all, two weeks after he issued that fatwa, the legislature soundly defeated a proposal, favored by the Arab League, to adopt a law promoting respect for other religions. The vote was 77-33.

May 3, 2008

ITs Fundamental

A fundamental aspect of any security effort is knowing what it is you are trying to protect. In the information age, and the age of the massive, sensitive data breach, the idea that any organization much less one of this import would not have mastered this concept is mind boggling.

At the risk of being accused of crystal ball gazing, the odds that IT would generally get short shrift in an agency dedicated to largely intellectual pursuits is probably pretty high; particularly so if a Stimson-like attitude prevails. But like Stimson, who later saw the value in what he had earlier derided, recovering from this condition and securing future efforts is easily done if - in the wake of the inevitable congressional hearings - a budget request for hard disk encryption and device tagging/tracking is submitted.

May 2, 2008

Mexico – Violence Breaks Out Again – State Department Warns Americans

Last weekend marked the heightening of violence in Tijuana Mexico with an outbreak of gangland style shootings on Saturday, April 26. It appears that the gun battles that claimed 15 lives was a result of a continuation of the running drug wars.

The attorney general of Baja California, Rommel Moreno commented that he saw this as a confrontation between gangs. Tijuana is the home to the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.

What makes this an issue? It seems like with little notice, the State Department issued a Travel Alert for Americans. Two points in the alert are particularly striking:

(1) Dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007 and (2) Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles, particularly in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana. There is no evidence, however, that U.S. citizens are targeted because of their nationality.

Arguments will continue over whether Mexican President Calderon’s attempt to crackdown on the drug cartels by sending more military troops into the border region has resulted in the disruption of drug deals leading to turf battles. Either way, however, the border regions remain violent and murders continue. It’s probably wise to heed the warning of the State Department.

May 1, 2008

Heparin May Have Been Contaminated Deliberately

While confirmation is still required, Dr.Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's drug center testified in front of a House panel that they were working on the theory that the contamination was intentional.

A third of the material in some batches of the thinner heparin were contaminants, “and it does strain one’s credulity to suggest that might have been done accidentally,” Dr. Woodcock said.

This incident that caused 81 deaths brings back the bad memories of the 1982 Tylenol case that killed 8 people and led to the institution of tamper proof seals being placed on over the counter and prescription drug products.

Changzhou SPL, a Chinese subsidiary of Scientific Protein Laboratories, has been identified by the FDA as the source of the contaminated heparin. In what could be seen as the worst part of this story, it may have been done for profit!

A Congressional investigator said the contaminant, oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, cost $9 a pound compared with $900 a pound for heparin.

Back in March, it was discussed that the FDA lacked the resources to conduct the required periodic inspections of the plants supplying manufactured Rx products. When the FDA finally did the inspection of this plant, they found numerous problems and blocked it from exporting products to the U.S. The identification of chondroitin sulfate as the contaminant and the plant resulted from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

One of the things that this situation shows is that sourcing of ingredients or finished products overseas where there is less oversight and control and be risky. The other thing is that such "doctoring" of pharmaceutical products is as much an act of terrorism and the poisoning of a food or water supply. The issue of substitution of ingredients or the outright counterfeiting of products (as previously written here, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 10% of all pharmaceutical products are counterfeits and that the problem of counterfeits is a dangerous and pervasive problem.

When it comes to counterfeited medicines or, in the case of substituted ingredients for profit (as in this heparin case), the responsible parties are indeed bioterrorists.

Al-Qaeda's Ayro Killed in US Strike in Somalia

As reported by the New York Times:

Aden Hashi Ayro, one of Al Qaeda’s top agents in East Africa and the leader of the Islamist comeback in Somalia, was killed Thursday morning by an American airstrike, according to American and Somali officials.

Mr. Ayro was one of the most feared and notorious figures in Somalia, a short, wispy man believed to be in his 30s who had gone from lowly car washer to top terrorist suspect blamed for a string of atrocities, including ripping up an Italian graveyard, killing a female BBC journalist and planning suicide attacks all across Somalia.

He was a military commander for the Shebab, an Islamist militia which the American government recently classified as a terrorist group.

Somalia officials said his death could be a key turning point in defeating the Islamists, who have seized several towns in recent weeks, and in bringing peace to the country.

This is a very significant terrorist target liquidated on his chosen battlefield.

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