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June 30, 2008

SpecOps In Iran? Cheering A Concept

While Seymour Hersh is (again) busy telling us breathlessly about what the US military and intelligence is supposedly up to inside Iran, let's keep in mind that this is not necessarily a brand-spanking-new thought process. Sometimes it is difficult to tell where Uncle Seymour's base fact(s) morph into another gripping novel for the beach, but for the moment, let's flashback to October of last year.

RapidRecon: Special Forces Ops in Iran

Britain’s Sunday Times reports that British SAS and American and Australian Special Forces have been engaged in operations inside the Iranian border to interdict weapons shipments.

There have been at least half a dozen intense firefights between the SAS and arms smugglers, a mixture of Iranians and Shi’ite militiamen.

The unreported fighting straddles the border between Iran and Iraq and has also involved the Iranian military firing mortars into Iraq. UK commanders are concerned that Iran is using a militia ceasefire to step up arms supplies in preparation for an offensive against their base at Basra airport.

An SAS squadron is carrying out operations along the Iranian border in Maysan and Basra provinces with other special forces, the Australian SAS and American special-operations troops.

They are patrolling the border, ambushing arms smugglers bringing in surface-to-air missiles and components for roadside bombs. “Last month, they were involved in six significant contacts, which killed 17 smugglers and recovered weapons, explosives and missiles,” a source said. It was not clear if any of the dead were Iranian.
That this is happening is less surprising than its reporting. Of course the US and allied forces would want to keep this quiet. But, considering the apparently nasty engagements, Iran’s silence on it is more telling than might otherwise meet the eye.

Besides all that silly 'stopping the flow of Iranian weapons' mess in order to protect American and Iraqi forces, Seymour Hersh is going to have to work harder to convince me that destabilizing the regime that commands the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism is somehow a bad thing.

Fact or fiction, three cheers from here on the concept. Sorry, Uncle Seymour. Not quite the reaction you may have been hoping for?

Update: The doctor is 'IN.'

And so I imagine his doctor saying to him: “Well, Mr. Hersh, it seems you’re an obsessive/ compulsive neurotic, doesn’t it? You keep writing the same story over and over again, with minor variations, year after year.”

And I hear Hersh saying: “Yes, but it feels so good when I finish writing it, Doctor. Every time. And they even pay me for it.”

Economic Warfare: Hitting bin Laden's Target

Usama bin Laden's target price for Arab crude oil ten years ago was roughly today's price: $144.

Of course, this figure is not adjusted for inflation and was made at a time when the market price of crude was in the neighborhood of $20 per barrel. But the Congressional testimony of Anne Korin should grab your attention today, as we hit bin Laden's goal.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, about ten years ago, Osama bin Laden stated that his target price for oil is $144 a barrel and that the American people, who allegedly robbed the Muslim people of their oil, owe each Muslim man, woman, and child $30,000 in back payments. At the time, $144 a barrel seemed farfetched to most. Today, bin Laden is a mere $20 a barrel short of his target and there is little doubt it will be attained. I would like to impress upon this Committee that $144 a barrel oil will be perceived as a victory for the Jihadist movement and a reaffirmation that the economic warfare component of its campaign against the West is a resounding success. There is no need to elaborate on the implications of such a victory in terms of loss of U.S. prestige and our ability to prevail in the Long War of the 21st century. It is therefore imperative that the U.S. Congress do its utmost to forestall such a setback.

When the president of Iran says the United States can and will be defeated (and Israel destroyed) soon, when bin Laden and others say that the United States will be defeated, when Hugo Chavez makes his obscene grand gestures of impending American doom, this is how they intend to do bring about the fall of America - economically through our Achilles heel: Energy.

We fail to exploit our own resources at our great peril. We fail to develop alternatives in parallel and in earnest at our great peril.

Most importantly, we continue our own infighting on energy policy in a zero-sum death match at our great peril. The solution is decidedly not one or the other. It is both approaches simultaneously.

Yet so many who argue publicly for more drilling do so without the inclusion of alternative development. Or, just as often, they do pose this context but are not portrayed as such. Likewise, those whose energy policy solution is alternative development far more often than not complete dismiss exploitation of our fossil resources, demonizing the energy companies in the process.

We'd better get a grip on this in short order and stop the economic lunacy of zero-sum all-or-nothing approaches. Such only feeds our enemies through our own inaction.

North Korean nuclear deal may signal internal shift?

That's the headline, sans question mark, at the International Herald Tribune. It may be the phrase of the week that best represents a 'reach.' There is little if any indication that any so-called 'moderates' in North Korea have gained any influence of significance at all. But there it is, your headline.

North Korea's deal over its nuclear program with the Bush administration could strengthen the hand of reformers in the isolated nation, though any further steps forward in denuclearizing, or opening up the country, will be painstakingly slow.

People with knowledge of North Korea's leadership said that its long-delayed nuclear declaration Thursday - followed by its destruction Friday of a massive concrete cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor - did not signal a broad shift in its approach to the outside world or a clear renunciation of its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Instead, they said the North's concessions - in return for its long-sought removal from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism - amounted to one important step made possible by the Bush administration's decision to engage in full-fledged negotiations in early 2007.

For what it's worth, I wonder if I am the only one tiring of the meme projected by the sentiment in the last paragraph: Diplomacy, once eschewed by President Bush and his administration, has at long last yielded dividends. As if the Bush administration needed to be squeezed reluctantly into the process.

A quick history lesson: Recall the infancy of this process, when President Bush was being lambasted by the same media and commentators now praising the diplomacy, that those same commentators and journalists excoriated Bush for not unilaterally engaging North Korea in direct talks.

President Bush, amid unending criticism, stuck to his guns and demanded that any negotiations involve regional powers, such as China, South Korea and Japan. He did not stumble onto this process reluctantly. In fact, it was his critics who needed to be dragged to the table. Rather than go it alone (engaging our enemies in talks without preconditions?), President Bush - the unilateralist - created a negotiation and diplomatic coalition. Perhaps he will be awarded credit posthumously.

We can and should debate whether North Korea should have been lifted from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list (a serious error in my view), but let's let's keep our history straight on this process - how it began, how it unfolded, and where it is today - and who demanded what when. The revisionist history has seemingly already begun.

Military blogger EagleSpeak links to a couple of interesting pieces to be considered in criticism (North Korea: Odd Agreement for 'Peace in Our Time?), but one criticism that fails the smell test is the one in which President Bush was a reluctant employer of diplomacy.

This gets lost as his usual critics paint him as the surprise - even accidental - diplomat, and his usual allies criticize the ill-advised decision to lift North Korea from "The List."

Diploma Mills Facilitating Terrorist Infiltration?

The Counterterrorism Blog's Michael Cutler adds some first hand insight on how Diploma Mills Could Enable Terrorist Infiltration.

When I first began working for the INS as an immigration inspector, students who sought entry into the United States were required to produce Form I-20 issued by the school they intended to attend. They were admitted for a period of one year that had to be renewed every year. Several years later, the INS changed the one year admission policy to call for the admission of foreign students for the duration of status as students. Today inspectors simply note the arriving student is admitted for D/S (Duration of Status). This removes a potential area of monitoring whether or not a student is still enrolled in school. There is a program known as SEVIS that is supposed to keep track of foreign students and exchange visitors in our country.

The problem is that with the lack of resources at ICE, a student who stops attending school may well be reported to our government, but in the game of “hide and seek” the student who decides to drop out of school may hide but the government has precious little in the way of resources to “seek.”

The news report on the diploma mill is disturbing but it only addresses one area of immigration fraud while there are many other areas in which the bad guys, including terrorists, are easily able to game the immigration bureaucracy through committing fraud that goes undiscovered.

The news report Cutler refers to is from yesterday's New York Times, titled Diploma Mill Concerns Extend Beyond Fraud.

Radio: Talking North Korea and Diplomacy

A guest on Crane Durham's Nothing But Truth radio show in St. Louis Sunday evening, we discussed the developments surrounding North Korea and President Bush's decision to remove them from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list as a reward for their (incomplete) cooperation on the nuclear front.







[To download the interview audio, click here or right-click, then select 'Save Target As'.]

Key points made in the discussion were that North Korea was sponsoring state sponsors of terrorism (Iran, Syria) by jointly building the plutonium facility in northern Syria while the 6-Party talks that netted the NoKor concessions were going on; that credible diplomacy requires give and take, but the removal from the State Sponsors list is far too great a reward for the incomplete cooperation thus far; that in our initial reactions (mine included), many were too critical of the President's decision to reward North Korea (with exception of criticizing the specific decision to remove them from "The List"); and that warfare is conducted against us on many levels beyond kinetic combat, and we require all segments of the federal government to be engaged as well as a more informed civilian American society.

Readers may question or wonder what I mean in saying "many were too critical of the President's decision." With the total runtime (with breaks edited out) about 28 minutes, these readers may like to skip to the 19:00 mark for my rationale.

Thanks to Crane Durham and 97.1 FM TALK - St. Louis for the invitation to discuss. The station's motto is "younger. smarter. better." They do a good job at that and as such it's always great conversation.

June 29, 2008

Iraq To Sue Over Oil-For-Food Corruption

Iraq is expected to file an oil-for-food lawsuit in U.S. courts, seeking to recover damages against the Iraqi people brought upon them by the corruption within the UN program under Saddam's rule.

The Iraqi government announced today that it intends to file suit in United States courts to recover funds allegedly embezzled from the United Nations oil-for-food program during Saddam Hussein's rule.

A statement by government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said the lawsuits would target companies and individuals that conspired to corrupt the U.N. program.

Dabbagh did not name any companies or say how much the government hoped to gain by going to court, but his statement cited the findings of a 2005 U.N. inquiry into the program.

That investigation, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, concluded that 2,400 companies and individuals participated in fraud that included $1.8 billion in kickbacks to Hussein.

After the inquiry several of those named were prosecuted in the U.S. and Europe, resulting in prison sentences for two Texas oilmen and restitution from several companies totaling 10 of millions of dollars.

But little has been done to recover larger sums from those named in the Volcker report in countries including Russia, China, Yemen, Egypt, Vietnam, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iraq is right to do so. But rest assured this will get ugly, and fast.

June 27, 2008

Sanity on Surveillance

From the White House comes this reminder:

Today, the Senate could consider amendments that would strip or weaken the retroactive liability protection provided by the bipartisan FISA modernization bill that passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 293 to 129. Failure to pass the liability protection contained in the House bill for companies that assisted our intelligence professionals after the 9/11 attacks will undermine our partnership with the private sector. Such cooperation is essential to protecting the country from another terrorist attack. The Senate should pass the bipartisan House legislation so our intelligence professionals can better protect Americans from foreign threats.

Its not new, its not news, its not something ACLU and EFF can't figure out why people don't care about their campaign for personal solitude. I'll tell you why: it gets them $.50 off Apple Jacks. As if the NSA had tens of thousand of people doing nothing but listening in on your party line. There is an intelligence agency that does that, its called the Ministry of State Security.

Years later, here we are criticizing firms who in the heat of battle, back when no one knew much of anything except that we had baddies in the wire (so to speak), opted to do what sounded reasonable at the time. It was not knee-jerk, it was not CHAOS, it was not COINTELPRO, it was not Manzanar, and it was not Kristallnacht . . . it IS about time we passed this legislation.

June 26, 2008

IAEA In Syria: Who Are The 'New Crazies'?

The headline reads "U.N. expert: Deeper Syrian nuclear inquiry needed." Initial reaction rings, "You don't say..."

An initial probe of U.S. allegations that a Syrian site hit by Israeli warplanes was a secretly built nuclear reactor is inconclusive and further checks are necessary, a senior U.N. atomic inspector said Wednesday.

Olli Heinonen, a deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he was satisfied with what was achieved on his four-day trip but "there is still work that needs to be done" in following up on the claims that Syria was hiding elements of a potential nuclear arms program.

A senior Syrian official saw it differently, however. Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa told the Hezbollah-owned Al Manar TV station that his country allowed the inspectors to visit the site in the remote eastern desert to prove the accusations from Washington are false.

Once again, the IAEA lags far behind the operational curve. And once again, a recalcitrant state is prepared to drag 'process' to its outer limits to forestall and potentially avoid consequence. The frustrating process is unfolding before your eyes. And the Syrians, North Koreans and Iranians are smiling at our reluctance.

The Iran-NoKor-Syria plutonium endeavor is but the latest program - nearly operational before it was bombed and halted by "new crazies" - the IAEA was clueless about. We should not necessarily expect the IAEA to sniff such things out. They are not an intelligence organization, after all. But by the same token, the IAEA organization and its leadership should stop projecting themselves as the sole valid guarantors against proliferation.

Readers will have to forgive my cynical tone lately regarding the IAEA and their dealings in Iran and Syria. It's simply frustrating to watch while the IAEA Director, Mohammed ElBaradei, continues to inject his politics into his apolitical position and mandate (inspections) and insist that he and an IAEA with a near-zero success record on non-proliferation are the only valid defensive barriers between Iran and nuclear weapons.

Insane is defined as repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. When looking at the IAEA's past failures in detecting and/or stopping past nuclear weapons programs (name one it halted), one has to wonder precisely who the "new crazies" are within context of the definition.

NOTE: May like to see - NRO: Whew! IAEA 'Satisfied' With Syria Trip

June 25, 2008

What Precedent To Believe ElBaradei's IAEA Is 'The Way'?

Answer: None.

Few words are minced at The Tank on National Review Online, a reaction to IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei's assertion that the same IAEA that has not stopped a single aspiring nuclear weapons program is the only defense against a nuclear-armed Iran.

The buzz circulating now is that IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei said on al-Arabiya that Iran could be months away from producing a nuclear weapon, as noted by AllahPundit at Hot Air and Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly. Hot Air actually nails it in interpreting that ElBaradei is not so much making a statement about the state of the Iranian nuclear-weapons program as he is projecting himself and the IAEA as the world's only line of defense against a nuclear-armed Iran. Frankly, there is no substantiative historical reason to place faith in such a claim.

What's more, just about all analyses completely ignore Iran's pursuit of a plutonium-based weapon through external acquisition and production beyond Iran's borders and beneath the IAEA and Western international radar. With nearly ten months of scrub time, Syria is only now entertaining the idea of limited and restricted IAEA inspections of the nuclear facility destroyed by Israel last September 6.

This "only line of defense" claim comes from the same UN "nuclear watchdog" that has no enforcement mechanism and the same one that failed to detect and/or deter North Korea, India, and Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons.

This is also the same IAEA which failed to stop Saddam Hussein's domestic program, destroyed by the Israelis at Osirak. Should it be mentioned that ElBaradei and the IAEA also failed to detect and prevent or stop Saddam's outsourced program, uncovered and halted by others in Qaddafi's Libya?

The short article goes on to list more failures of the organization that is supposedly 'The Way' to stop Iran's quest. It's not a proud track record in context with insistance that the IAEA can somehow stop Iran.

ElBaradei has threatened to quit as the head of the IAEA if there are any military strikes against Iran's (domestic) nuclear facilities. While stopping short of calling for such strikes just yet, ElBaradei's exit would not be unwelcome, now or then, in this writer's humble view.

June 24, 2008

Germany To Increase Troops In Afghanistan By 1000

Yes, this is good. But the issue is far less the number of NATO troops (including Germany's) and more their operational orders (including Germany's).

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung has asked for 1,000 more German troops to strengthen the International Security Assistance Force serving in the north of Afghanistan. Jung said the government wanted to raise the number of troops to 4,500 this autumn. A parliamentary mandate for German troops operating in Afghanistan foresees a maximum of 3,500 non-combat troops. That mandate expires in October and any changes are subject to approval by the German parliament. Germany has been under pressure from NATO partners to bolster its troop contingent in Afghanistan and deploy troops to the south to help battle Taliban insurgents.

I really don't mean to crab when we should all cheer, but an increase in the number of troops ordered to avoid actual combat is far less effective than any numerical increase will ever suggest. Perhaps an adjustment in operations and German rules of engagement may follow.

Illegal Arms Sales to Iran

An indictment was announced yesterday naming two naturalized citizens, one originally from Iran and the other originally from Romania, charging them with selling U.S.-made parts for fighter jets and attack helicopters to buyers in Iran in violation of the Emergency Economic Powers Act, the United States Iran Embargo, and the Arms Export Control Act.

Hassan Saied Keshari, 48, of Novato, Calif., and Traian Bujduveanu, 53, of Plantation, Fla., face between five and 20 years in prison if convicted of violating arms export laws and circumventing the U.S. embargo against Iran.

Prosecutors said Keshari, an Iranian who became a naturalized U.S. citizen, acted as the middleman between aircraft parts buyers in Iran and Bujduveanu, one of his suppliers. A Romanian by birth, Bujduveanu is also a naturalized U.S. citizen, they said.

"In essence, they are charged with helping Iran build up its military," said U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of Miami.

These two individuals were selling parts for F-14’s, F-4’s, C-130’s, as well as for Chinook and attack helicopters. According to ICE the Iranians depend on a network of brokers and suppliers around the World to find the parts that it needs to keep its military operating. They say that individually, each part is relatively harmless, but are also critical to the operation of the equipment.

In recent months there have been 17 instances of American citizens (residents) selling critical technology to Iran. The simple question that should be asked is whether these people try to circumvent the laws against selling critical technology to our enemies (I guess Iran isn’t a declared enemy at the moment) for profit or disloyalty to the United States, and whether they act out of arrogance or stupidity. As experience proves, they will be discovered and indicted, and then, as the two men will find, will be imprisoned.

ElBaradei: Iran Possibly "Months Away" From Nukes

Over at Congressional Quarterly's SpyTalk, Jeff Stein remarks about IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei's recent remarks in an al-Arabiya Arabic broadcast that Iran may be only months away from a (uranium) nuclear weapon.

But my colleague Chuck Hoskinson, a CQ editor and former U.S. Army Arabic linquist, noticed something else in the interview that the English-language media evidently missed.

When he listened to the interview, broadcast only in Arabic, Hoskinson was startled to discover that ElBaradei had suddenly sliced years off his previous estimates of how long it would take Iran, if left alone, to build a bomb.

This should not come as a surprise - even from ElBaradei - as it is consistent to what he said just over two years ago in December 2005. He said then that it would take Iran about two years to get the Natanz enrichment plant fully operational, and then a matter of months to produce the fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb.

As we noted at the time, media reports misquoted ElBaradei then in saying he was stating in 2005 that Iran was "months away" from a nuclear weapon.

While the title of the UK Independent article is: UN chief urges West and Iran to cool brinkmanship over nuclear programme, IAEA Director General ElBaradei does little to allay fears and the sense of urgency on the Iranian nuclear program by offering up one of the shortest timelines (if not the shortest) to a nuclear-armed Iran yet.
Although IAEA officials have said it would take at least two years for Natanz to become fully operational, Mr ElBaradei believes that once the facility is up and running, the Iranians could be “a few months” away from a nuclear weapon.

He said then that it was two years (for Natanz to be online) and then a period of months before Iran could produce a bomb. The "two years" have now gone by, and his timeline now reflects a matter of months - which is consistent. Unsettling, but consistent.

In the PrincipalAnalysis written later in December 2005 (PrincipalAnalysis: The IAEA Tree That Fell and No One Heard), at the time ElBaradei made his remarks, he was stating the shortest nuclear timeline made by anyone at the time - including US NIE's, Israeli estimates as well as European projections.

This is at great odds with other widely publicized and debated timelines, most notably the National Intelligence Estimate that stated that Iran was likely 10 or more years out from developing a nuclear weapon, and others proffering that Iran is at least five years away.
A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis. The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal. The new estimate could provide more time for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
That ElBaradei’s assessment, potentially one-fifth that of the NIE, seems to have fallen on deaf ears should be more than a little troubling. Many should be asking precisely where this game-changing assessment was when the five to ten-year estimates were being publicly debated. An estimate of a potential two-year window significantly changes the dynamic and sense of urgency regarding the Iranian Nuclear Crisis.

Final thought for now until time permits more contextualized analysis: All of the estimates are for a uranium based nuclear weapon. Keep clearly in mind that Iran is pursuing a plutonium based weapon beyond the purview of the IAEA and any other concerned party. The latest intelligence report that the Syrian nuclear facility destroyed by Israel last September was a joint Iran-Syria-North Korea plutonium weapons endeavor should not come as a shock. Recall that Iran had senior officers from its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in North Korea to observe the North Korean underground test detonation of a small plutonium-based nuclear weapon. It was a nuclear weapons open house demonstration, with North Korea's principal client on hand.

More soon. For now, just some quick context.

Radar Evasion: Like Saddam & Libya, Iran & Syria Nuke Partnership

Perhaps you missed this from over the weekend in Germany's Der Spiegel:

The background to this surprising flurry of diplomatic activity is the fact that, according to intelligence reports, Syria has been working alongside North Korea for years to support Iran in the development of a military nuclear program. However, there are strong indications that Assad is now rethinking this policy.

According to intelligence reports seen by SPIEGEL, the Syrian facility at Al Kibar that Israeli jets bombed last September was the site of a secret military project. The report states that North Korean, Syrian and Iranian scientists were working side by side to build a reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Sources say that the Iranians were using the facility as a "reserve site" and had intended sending the material back to Tehran. While the Iranians had made great progress in the development of uranium, it is alleged that they required the help of the North Korean experts when it came to plutonium technology.

Iran, Syria and North Korea are also alleged to have cooperated on the production of chemical weapons. Indeed, in July 2007 an explosion near the Syrian city of Aleppo killed 15 Syrian military officials as well as dozens of Iranian rocket scientists and, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, three North Koreans. According to Jane's Defence Weekly, the accident released quantities of mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin.

Iran is the world's Gold Standard at employing proxies and avoiding consequence. This should not come as a surprise. I and others have suggested precisely this likelihood in the past.

All that aside, interpreting Assad's moves as a drift from Iran is interesting dangerous conjecture. The simple math is this: Syria will drift from its alliance with Iran when it fears regional Sunni (read: Saudi Arabian), Israeli and/or American consequence for not breaking with Iran more than it fears Iranian retaliation for breaking away, including an Iranian-fostered domestic upheaval and perhaps even insurgency that would include Sunni groups aided by Shi'a Iran.

Considering this simple math, there is no indication that there has been a message of US/Israeli/Saudi 'pain and consequence' sent. Carrots will not dissuade. Fear motivates men such as Assad, and this is the currency Iran trades in.

June 23, 2008

Hunt For Bin Laden: Getting The Right President

A week ago, the UK's Times Online published an article in which the details were as shallow as the accompanying headline, which read, "Get Osama Bin Laden before I leave office, orders George W. Bush." The article was penned with numerous anonymous intelligence sources offering their conjecture as to why the current push to target al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) inside Pakistan should be attributed to President Bush's desperate drive to solidify that segment of his legacy.

Any informed observer will note that they got the target right but the president wrong. There can be little debate that the current push to increasingly target AQSL - namely Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri - is because the tenure of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf may well be nearing its ultimately inevitable end. And when Musharraf goes, so goes much of Pakistan's cooperation with the United States in permitting strikes against senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership within Pakistani territory.

In an interview with Crane Durham on the Allman & Crane Show on 97.1 FM Talk in St. Louis this past Friday morning, I made this observation. One that, frankly, I just do not hear from Washington.







[To download the interview audio, click here or right-click, then select 'Save Target As'.]

Over at The Corner on National Review Online, Larry Kudlow had said last week, "I really like the sound of all this, but I’d like to know if people more knowledgeable than I am about such things read any significance into it."

The short answer is yes, there is significance to the reality of the increased tempo of what has been an ongoing hunt. But it must be a "yes" qualified with proper attribution to the end of Musharraf's presidency, not George W. Bush's. One is an easier sell and the other is simply more correct.

A more detailed analysis will be published shortly.

UPDATE: Now published: PrincipalAnalysis - The Clock Ticks for the President.

June 20, 2008

Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership: Central Command or Leaderless Jihad?

ThreatsWatch recently participated in a symposium on the significance of al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) published today by FrontPage Magazine. It is a pretty good conversation on the subject with Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Sayed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and me.

Following Dr. Gunaratna, the first question posed to ThreatsWatch and my response is below.

FP: Steve Schippert, what accounts for the failure to successfully target and neutralize the core leadership of al-Qaeda? And how relevant is this core leadership?

Schippert: There is no single point of failure, if we want to use that term, to successfully target and liquidate bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and the rest of al-Qaeda's principal actors. There have been many dynamics involved. In my view, beginning in 2002, it simply came down to choices.

Step back in time and recall that, in the midst of cries - much from within America itself - of impending doom and quagmire for us in Afghanistan, our military made rather shockingly short work of the fabled mujahideen on their home turf in Afghanistan. The problem after was one of invisible lines in the sand. As spectacularly as our military and intelligence performed, they were not and are not omnipotent. Much of the very wily and experienced terrorist leadership chose to stay ahead of the sword's edge and fled into Pakistan or Iran, where they largely remain still today in welcoming or forged sanctuaries.

We could have invaded Pakistan and we could have invaded Iran. But even still, there are no assurances for the armchair generals that the senior leadership of al-Qaeda would have stood still in either place for us to kill. They fled for a reason and they likely would have continued to move. How far do we then send ground forces from the original center of gravity in military pursuit? How many invisible lines do we cross into other sovereign territories?

There are no Panzer lines and this is not the European campaign of World War II.

As to the relevance of al-Qaeda's senior leadership (AQSL), they are as critical today as they were September 10, 2001. Many like to further the notion that AQSL is no longer important, that al-Qaeda has transformed into a 'leaderless jihad' and a global decentralized movement from a centralized controlled cadre of terrorists. To put it succinctly, it's not one or the other and it's not a zero sum game.

Today, al-Qaeda resembles a fan. The senior leadership - bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Abu Hafs (Atef), et al - are the motor in the center. They drive the speed and direction of activity. Their aligned movements (AQAM) such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are the blades of the fan, most directly attached to the AQSL motor and most immediately reactive to its drive. The AQAM blades' mission is to push the wind. And that air around the blades represents the broader and less connected 'movement' of al-Qaeda. And the closer each individual molecule is to one of the blades - physically and ideologically - the more likely they too will become influenced and driven, once removed from the AQSL motor. The farther outlying air away from the blades sees some movement, but is more scattered and moves with decidedly less velocity. Yet still capable of blowing nonetheless.

For those who would still contest that al-Qaeda is simply a decentralized movement, they must then also answer why the movements are still reactively driven by Internet propaganda communications that still come primarily via al-Qaeda's senior leadership through al-Qaeda's established - and quite centralized - production organizations, such as as-Sahab. Nothing is official - such as the recent death of Abu Laith al-Libi - until as-Sahab says so...because as-Sahab is AQSL. And AQSL has lost zero relevance.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Kyle Dabruzzi have written an excellent article on their continued significance, and I hope that Daveed will elaborate more here.

Be sure to read the rest, including the excellent exchange among the other notable participants.

June 19, 2008

Africa Security Roundup

A number of significant developments have taken place on the African continent of late that deserve attention due to their ramifications beyond the mere locale in which they were perpetrated. Instead of focusing on just one issue as usual with the RapidRecon format, I will address and offer analysis on two important events.

First, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Nigerian insurgent group that has been battling security forces and foreign oil companies for redistribution of oil revenues, successfully launched what may prove to be a watershed attack over the night of June 19. MEND assaulted Royal Dutch Shell's Bonga oil platform, the group's first attack on Nigeria's primary offshore oil field. What is notable about this attack is the fact that the oil platform lies 75 miles off the Nigerian coast. Previously, the majority of MEND's attacks have focused on oil installations in the Niger Delta, a tangled maze of creeks and swamps, an environment like the Louisiana bayou, that affords the group safe haven. The ability to attack this oil platform such a distance offshore demonstrates that the group has developed a frightening sophistication and maritime capability. The attack has halted Royal Dutch Shell's offshore production, chopping off a full 10% of Nigeria's production.

An American, Jack Stone, is reported captured by MEND during the course of the attack. In an emailed statement, MEND also called for oil and gas tankers to avoid the area or risk attack.

In light of the assault on the offshore rig, this is a threat that should be taken seriously as MEND clearly has demonstrated the ability and willingness to perform such a strike. Needless to say, this is not good news for the price of gasoline. If further evidence of the need for the United State Navy's Littoral Combat Ship was necessary, this attack proves that there truly is a need for a fast vessel capable of operating against lower-grade threats close to shore.

Turning now to the Horn of Africa, clashes broke out earlier this week on June 17 between the armed forces of Eritrea and Djibouti. News reports hold that nine Djiboutian soldiers were killed and more than 60 wounded. Eritrea was blamed internationally for instigating the violence. A statement from the UN Security Council condemned the Eritrean action and urged the nation to show "maximum restraint" in the affair. U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff had harsh words for the Eritreans:

"We call on all the parties to cooperate, particularly Eritrea, with all efforts designed to help minimize and reduce tensions on the border."

[...]

"There's been a pattern of irresponsible, destabilizing behavior by Eritrea in the past," he told reporters. "This latest incident ... was launched from the Eritrean side."

Predictably, Eritrea denied American criticism. Though the situation is unlikely to escalate further, the situation is notable as the United States has a significant military presence in Djibouti, which is located on some strategic real estate adjacent to the Red Sea's outlet into the Arabian Sea. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is based at Camp Lemonier and is the jumping off point for operations in Somalia and the wider region. If clashes continue to escalate between the two neighbors, there exists a slight chance of direct American involvement, though slim at the current point in time.

June 18, 2008

Identity with a Purpose

Our Nation's security and the business of security are unavoidably linked. As the implementation of the Real ID Act of 2005 remains in limbo because of various states objecting to the unfunded mandate of getting their ID documents compliant, it occured to me to look at the companies involved in a program expected to cost in excess of $10 billion. Until recently, three companies were responsible for manufacturing the drivers' licenses for all 50 states. Two, Digimarc ID Systems and L1 Identity Solutions (formerly Viisage) represented 92% of all of the licenses produced. According to the Digimarc 10-K, the company issues over 60 million ID cards worldwide annually, and yet Digimarc lost money in 2007.

L1 for its part has been aggressive in promoting itself as an identity document company and until recently was the number two company in the field, representing approximately 1/3 of all U.S. drivers licenses.

L-1 is the number two manufacturer of state driver's licenses and identification cards in the United States. Among other things, its driver license Web page touts its role in "laying the foundation for the use of face recognition technology." It is interesting to learn that this foundation is being laid.

In March, L1 announced the acquisition of the Digimarc ID business for $250 million.

Digimarc has been very aggressive in promoting the REAL ID Act. The Digimarc website has an entire section dedicated to REAL ID, and the company spent $350,000 in the first half of 2007 on federal lobbying for the national ID law. It has also hosted conferences where state DMV bureaucrats trained up to promote REAL ID. Regrettably for Digimarc, Congress hasn't funded REAL ID and not a single state complied with the May 11, 2008, deadline for implementation.

That's $250 million for a division of a company that lost money in 2007. While the information was not readily available, some private estimates suggest that L1 paid between 8 and 10 times revenue for the acquisition of this division of Digimarc. Clearly, L1 believes that the Real ID Act will eventually be implemented. Personally, I continue to believe that a uniform drivers license, or at least drivers' licenses that have a number of common security features will become reality sooner than later, and is a an important element of National security, even if it is perceived as a defacto National ID. "Just saying."

June 17, 2008

Ceding To Terrorists Through Incoherent Courts

So you think the United States has problems with its courts, namely the Supreme Court, when it comes to dealing with terrorism and terrorists?

Step aside, SCOTUS. Britain just saw your habeas corpus and raised you one bail and threw in government subsidies for good measure when it awarded bail to Abu Qatada today and was then freed at 10PM London time.

Abu Qatada, the radical Islamic cleric described as Osama bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe”, has been released from jail after a judge ruled that there were no grounds to keep him in prison.

The decision to allow him to return to his home in London – where he will receive around £1,000 per month in state benefits – made a mockery of the government’s promise to crack down on terror suspects, and embarrassed the Home Office, which had pledged to deport Qatada to Jordan to face terror charges.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she was “extremely disappointed” at the court’s decision to bail Qatada, while the Conservatives branded the decision “offensive”.

Mr Justice Mitting signed an order to release Qatada on bail, with strict conditions, following an earlier Court of Appeal decision to refuse his deportation on the grounds that it would breach human rights law.

Ah, but there's more.

The taxpayer will also fund at least £12,000 per year in benefits for Qatada, his wife and five children, even though Qatada was once found to have £170,000 in cash in his possession when he was stopped by police.

He has already been convicted in absentia in Jordan, a regional ally, for his part in planning and facilitating plans for multiple bombings there. And a British judge frees him on bail while police are ordered to stand watch over his home "to protect him from vigilante attacks." Well done, chap.

Worse, Not Better

In the long run, I think this is going to mean bad news:

In order to declare jihad, Fadl writes, certain requirements must be observed. One must have a place of refuge. There should be adequate financial resources to wage the campaign. Fadl castigates Muslims who resort to theft or kidnapping to finance jihad: “There is no such thing in Islam as ends justifying the means.” Family members must be provided for. “There are those who strike and then escape, leaving their families, dependents, and other Muslims to suffer the consequences,” Fadl points out. “This is in no way religion or jihad. It is not manliness.” Finally, the enemy should be properly identified in order to prevent harm to innocents. “Those who have not followed these principles have committed the gravest of sins,” Fadl writes.

A theory to consider - if you are thinking that those down with AQ are theo-philosophically inclined - is that big stuff is no longer legit. That it increases you chances of detection and detention notwithstanding, the only way big stuff works is if you send a Zeppelin into Charlotte Motor Speedway. The only way to kill "legitimate" targets is to get up close and personal to legitimate targets.

You do not want to know what that looks like; we are not prepared to discuss, much less react to that scenario . . .

Nawaz Sharif Calls for Musharraf To Be Hanged

While I have sharply criticized Musharraf in the past, I have also warned about the potentially dangerous nature of Nawaz Sharif, his past associations and his burning drive to exact revenge on Musharraf, who overthrew Sharif's government in a bloodless coup. Sharif's revenge will likely come at any cost - to Pakistan or individuals. Yesterday, Sharif whipped a crowd into a frenzy just a few hundred yards from the Pakistani parliament and the offices of the president, asking "Is hanging only for politicians?" With the crowd whipped into chanting "Hang Musharraf," Sharif called for Musharraf to be hanged, saying, "These blood-sucking dictators must be held accountable."

Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif stepped up his attack on President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday, suggesting he could be hanged while addressing thousands of protesters outside the presidency.

"We asked you to quit with honour after the election but you didn't," Sharif told the crowd, referring to U.S. ally Musharraf, who overthrew him in a 1999 coup. "Now people have given a new judgement for you ... they want you to be held accountable," he said in the early hours of Saturday.

The crowd, officially estimated at up to 20,000, chanted "hang Musharraf" as it listened to the two time former prime minister's fiery speech. "Is hanging only for politicians?" asked Sharif, referring to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged by a military dictator in 1979. "These blood-sucking dictators must be held accountable."

June 16, 2008

Millennial Hazards Already Upon Us?

Estimates vary but just about half the IC workforce has been hired since 9/11/01. This is more or less the same generation that participates in the activities about to be studied. Question: If such practices are a serious concern, why only look into them now?

To be sure, people can get a little too open and careless with their online activities and persona, but like any pursuit or domain, there is the norm and then there are outliers.

The community draws from the workforce available and sometimes you get an Ames or a Montes, but just hiring nuns and alter boys isn’t an option. Treating as suspect those who communicate and share naturally could put a serious damper on nascent collaboration efforts.

Iran Sanctions: The Cecil Fielder Strategy

We are so darn smart, we announce finally freezing the assets of the mullah-run Iranian Bank Melli, but only two days after Iran withdraws $75 billion and who knows how many days before the EU actually gets around to 'freezing' whatever might be left in EU banks. If I may summon faint whispers from a favorite childhood television show, "I love it when a good plan comes together."

With President Bush by his side, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced new sanctions against Iran this morning, finally looking to freeze the assets of the mullahs' Bank Melli. Good news, except there's a very real problem in implementation: It comes two days and $75 billion short. You see, once again the West — ever reluctant to act decisively, even on sanctions — has missed the boat which the Iranians captain masterfully, less concerned about public perceptions and much more interested in effective operations.

In Sanctions: EU Horse Chases Iranian Cart at NRO, I offer up a very basic time line. Any further elaboration within it would probably only serve to obscure the point.

Are you embarrassed? You should be. And if someone tries to explain that this is just the way these things work, don't accept it. Change 'the way things work' or cede the war declared on us nearly 30 years ago. Watching ourselves play this game is like watching a lumbering, plodding Cecil Fielder trying to leg out an infield single with all the alacrity of a sloth, while Iran darts about, moving first base and throwing bats at our knees...and laughing.

Glass Half-Empty: Iraq Good News "Grim Gauge" Pointing To Afghanistan

From the Associated Press, a report that US casualties in Iraq have dipped below that in Afghanistan seemingly cannot be expressed without reference to the contrast as "a grim gauge."

It's a grim gauge of U.S. wars going in opposite directions: American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan in May passed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates used the statistical comparison to dramatize his point to NATO defense ministers that they need to do more to get Afghanistan moving in a better direction. He wants more allied combat troops, more trainers and more public commitment.

More positively, the May death totals point to security improvements in Iraq that few thought likely a year ago.

But the deterioration in Afghanistan suggests a troubling additional possibility: a widening of the war to Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have found haven.

Without minimizing the rising level of conflict in Afghanistan, it remains nearly impossible for much of the media to cite conditions in Iraq in any positive light without finding some mechanism through which to diminish the same.

The above Robert Burns report is not inaccurate. In fact, it's a good report in total. But its introduction is striking as an example of the subtleties of negative reporting and selective framing. The complaint is not simply on style and slant, but on a technical omission as well.

The Associated Press account would do well to draw into such a comparison the shift of al-Qaeda's resources since the joint US-Iraqi offensive still ongoing has decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq and isolated them to remote corners, save for disjointed cells still capable of the spectacular attack. But since losing virtually all Iraqi territory once held by al-Qaeda's Mesopotamian branch, the shift of resources elsewhere has been undeniable.

Unfortunately, the AP report carried by thousands of news outlets does not provide this context. This report and many others would do well to inform the public of this reality within its reports in the same manner such reports draw on pertinent past quotes from relevant individuals for context.

June 15, 2008

Cusack And 'The Gospel of Democracy'

With the advent of the general election now upon us, we can expect an avalanche of “informed” opinion from the usual suspects. Associated Press writer John Rogers captured one of the latest salvos - a politically charged snippet from actor John Cusack.

Why has John Cusack jumped into the political arena with a video saying John McCain is a clone of President George W. Bush who would continue policies the actor says benefit war profiteers?

"I know my opinion doesn't matter more than anyone else's and I just make films," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday. "But I do feel you have to speak out, and that's what I'm doing." The 30-second video, which went out to members of the liberal political activist group MoveOn.org on Wednesday, will begin airing on television Thursday. In it, Cusack offers a "pop quiz" to voters, asking them among other things: "Who supports keeping our troops in harm's way in Iraq but not the bipartisan G.I. bill of rights to support them when they return home?"

McCain and Bush both do, Cusack says, adding, "Bet you can't tell them apart."

The cost to air the ads is $45,000. They will appear nationally on the Bravo cable channel and in Washington, D.C., on CNN, MSNBC and Comedy Central.

In his latest film, the war satire "War Inc.," Cusack makes no secret that he believes the Iraq war was created to profit private businesses like Blackwater Worldwide, Bechtel Corp. and others that hold war-related contracts worth millions of dollars.

"I'm not going to pretend this thing in Iraq was some kind of free market utopia to spread the gospel of democracy through the Middle East," he told the AP from London, where he's at work on another project.

Cusack says he supports Democrat Barack Obama.

Long accustomed to the ideological excesses of the Hollywood glitterati, most Americans reflexively ignore the political musings of actors and actresses. “Who cares what they think?” regular folks reason. “Nobody listens to them, anyway.” And why does it matter? Well, to put it bluntly, we do not live in a vacuum.

From the outset of the War on Terror, the jihadists have waged a relentless, and increasingly sophisticated, propaganda war against our military efforts to eradicate the scourge of Islamic extremism and its nation-state abettors. The jihadists have endeavored to de-legitimize the architects, executors, and supporters of America’s armed response to terror. The war in Iraq, for instance, has been characterized as a “War for Oil” and, alternatively, a “War against Islam.” Their manifest inadequacies vis a vis the US Marine and soldier on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan notwithstanding, they certainly understand the significance of perception.

Thus, wholly apart from their abject absurdity, comments such as those made by Cusack are injurious to our efforts on “non-kinetic” fronts, namely the oft regurgitated battle for “hearts and minds” and the more appropriately labeled “war of ideas.” If McCain is somehow akin to a war-profiteer enabler, how then do the military actions he embraces escape the stench of illegitimacy? And if those military actions are deemed, at least implicitly, to be illegitimate, how does that differ fundamentally from the arguments proffered by our jihadist enemies?

Is it altogether illogical to suppose that if such comments (that the war was simply for profiteering purposes) were heard on the 'Arab street' then the jihadist argument might resonate just a little bit more, bombarded as the 'Arab street' is by manipulative government news agencies and outfits like Al Jeezera that have more in common with a Ministry of Propaganda than they do with respectable media outlets? Coming as these statements do from Americans of prominence and privilege, is the foreign impact not amplified? Or are we content to offer our dissent in a self-congratulatory stupor, naively unaware of the propagandistic value of our words? Whether intentional or not, and many are doubtlessly unintentional, self-inflicted wounds of this kind only reinforce the public relations fabrications of our enemies.

Critics will surely cite the intrinsic value of internal dissent to a healthy, self-sustaining democracy. They are correct to do so. Spirited domestic debates nourish the root of liberal, democratic societies. But we must also condition ourselves to speak without such unnecessarily damaging hyperbole. Words matter profoundly. Choose them wisely, for our enemies are listening.

June 13, 2008

Revisiting the Virtual Fence and Immigration Policy

It looks like plans to erect an "operational configuration" of Boeing's virtual fence, also known as Project 28 are moving ahead. This apparently will include the installation of towers, radar, ground sensors, cameras and what would be expected to be upgraded software to make the system more usable by Border agents. It should be remembered that one of the complaints about the prototype P-28 installation was unusable images and software glitches.

Simultaneously, this comes with the announcement that President Bush had recently signed the Executive Order implementing the E-verify program, a mandate that makes all federal contractors participate to verify that employees are not illegal immigrants. The notice for this EO was published in the Federal Register on June 12th and indicates that the federal contractors will foot the large majority of the costs of implementation (estimated at $550 million over ten years, with $308 million in start-up and training costs).

“The E-Verify System is expected to help contractors avoid employment of unauthorized aliens and will assist federal agencies to avoid contracting with companies that knowingly hire unauthorized aliens,” the rule states.

It is important to understand that the E-verify program is not fool-proof with 7% of the queries being unable to be confirmed by Social Security checks, 1% not being immediately confirmed by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services and the system not being immune to compromise through identity theft. Still, each step toward a more secure border and toward at least minimizing federal contractors hiring illegal workers, is a positive step,

CNN's Story on al-Qaeda in Iraq Falls Flat

Yesterday, we told you about how the Anbar leaders of the Iraq Awakening shared al-Qaeda intelligence with Michael Ware and CNN. As well, we urged readers to tune in last night and watch the full report. Knowing what Ware had stumbled onto,it is needless to say that we expected something wholly more substantial in his report than that which it actually included. The analysis was flat and at some points even self-contradictory.

Readers can make their own judgment after viewing the segment in its entirety below.



After sitting through 40 minutes of a CNN broadcast with much anticipation, the above was more than a minor disappointment. I rarely watch television news, cable or broadcast, because it is entirely too frustrating. Last night, for reasons beyond Ware's disappointingly shallow analysis of al-Qaeda in Iraq, I was reminded again why I stopped.

More analysis to come, but for now consider a few points.

• The brief report stresses the conclusion that al-Qaeda in Iraq is and was an Iraqi-led and manned organization, yet makes no mention of al-Masri (Egyptian), Zarqawi (Jordanian) or other imported AQ leadership. Only of foreign suicide bomber cannon fodder.

• What of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who brought with him to al-Qaeda many officers in Saddam Hussein's army and intelligence services. Many of them were brought to al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and elsewhere, where their roles surely were split between pupil and student in an exchange of skill sets. Certainly many of them returned to Iraq for mid-level leadership roles.

• The report stresses the structured and very detailed bureaucracy - including membership application forms, expense reports, and the like - without once drawing a systematic parallel to AQI's equally bureaucratic parent organization, with al-Qaeda's parallel examples of the same in Afghanistan and Pakistan exposed by West Point's Harmony database.

• Ware contradicts his own analysis by telling viewers that al-Qaeda in Iraq is just a tiny portion of the insurgency, yet minutes later describes how this brutal and deadly group controlled entire swaths of Iraq. How is he measuring the 'insurgency,' by numbers or effectiveness? And at what point is he drawing from the data for the ratio, 2004, 2005, 2008? He explains neither to the national CNN viewing audience.

To be fair to Michael Ware, there is only so much that can be discussed in a 6-minute segment. And perhaps the segment was shortened due to breaking news coverage. The subject and the material deserve at least a one-hour investigative look in the mold of "CNN Presents."

But, at any rate, considering the amount and nature of the data provided to him by the Iraq Awakening in Anbar province, the report was a huge disappointment, not only in length and depth, but also in the overall tone and conclusions. Most viewers to whom such information is new probably walked away not so much with the impression that al-Qaeda in Iraq is a murderous and bloodthirsty group of terrorists who made sport of killing Iraqi civilians. Rather, the overriding sense left with the viewer is probably that Washington and the Bush Administration have still got it wrong.

Being left with merely six minutes is not on Michael Ware's shoulders. His weak analysis, however, most certainly is. (Sorry, but it's weak.)

Two weeks of poring over the "mother lode of information" with his Baghdad bureau colleagues and this is all you've got?

June 12, 2008

Anbar Iraqis Share Al-Qaeda Intelligence

[Updated below.]

CNN reporter Michael Ware stumbled onto a treasure trove of al-Qaeda in Iraq document and multimedia archives recently, supplied to him by the leaders of Sahwa al-Iraq (Iraq Awakening) who seized them from captured al-Qaeda terrorists in Anbar province. His full report is scheduled to air during the 10PM (EDT) hour on CNN, and this morning his report was teased by the cable network during its morning show. The relevant preview clip is provided below.



The documents and digital footage reveal the true nature of al-Qaeda in Iraq, specifically its Anbar province manifestation, and Ware and CNN share the tip of the iceberg of what they were provided by our Iraqi anti-al-Qaeda allies. It is proof of what can be learned when journalists actually venture beyond the wire and leave the Green Zone and their hotels behind. Ware should be commended for that.

That said, he still gets it wrong in the sense that he concludes that al-Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi terrorist organization. It is true that the vast majority of the AQI footsoldiers are and were Iraqis recruited locally. However, it cannot be discounted that leadership and strategic direction comes from and came from al-Qaeda Arabs originally from other countries. The current leader's nom de guerre, al-Masri, means 'the Egyptian,' while Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was from Zarqa, Jordan. Furthermore, there were 'Iraqis' who had been with al-Qaeda since pre-9/11 who were sent in and elevated to leadership roles.

Thus, it should also be considered that those 'Iraqis,' not unlike those from other countries who also trained at al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, shed their 'nationalist' identities in the transformation process into what al-Qaeda glorifies as 'mujahideen,' truly Terrorists Without Borders - or Irhabi Sans Frontier.

So how 'Iraqi' are these AQI leaders, really? Ask a Ramadi member of Sahwa al-Iraq, or ask the terrorist himself, and both will most certainly respond the same: Not much, or not at all.

It is this non-Iraqi leadership and strategic direction which dictated the necessity to import foreign al-Qaeda suicide bombers to implement the ruthless strategy employed. Native Iraqis simply would not blow themselves up - not for Allah, not for virgins, and not for al-Qaeda. It is not a stretch of logic to conclude that if al-Qaeda in Iraq were truly an Iraqi group - of Iraqis, led by Iraqis - the strategy would reflect such. It does not. Because it is not, regardless the number of Iraqi footsoldiers.

After all, the fact that AQI is not an Iraqi entity is precisely why the leadership of al-Qaeda deemed it necessary to create the fictional role of a notional leader for the equally notional Islamic State of Iraq, "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi." The 'part' is known to be played by an Iraqi actor. This is so because al-Qaeda desperately needed the organization to take on an Iraqi face in order to hide the obvious; that - as reflected by its leadership and strategy - al-Qaeda in Iraq is and was a foreign invasion with foreign leadership and much local recruiting.

So just keep that in mind when watching what looks to be an otherwise illuminating report tonight at 10PM (EDT) on CNN.

UPDATE: Last night's CNN segment on AQI can be seen in full along with brief initial analysis here:

CNN's Story on al-Qaeda in Iraq Falls Flat

June 10, 2008

Senate Intel Report and Swiss Cheese

At The Weekly Standard, Tom Joscelyn's latest article Harboring al Qaeda demonstrates ' What the new Senate Intelligence Report says about Saddam's hospitality." There has been a lot written about the latest Senate Intelligence Report in the past week, but I think Tom boils it all down effectively, noting that the report even contradicts itself in a partisan effort to lay another stone in the foundation that seems intent on supporting a future punitive process against members of the current administration under a potential Democrat-run legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

It is not overly lengthy, but the money graphs (in my humble view) are below:

Despite all of these findings, however, the myth that Zarqawi and other al Qaeda operatives lived in Saddam's neo-Stalinist state without receiving at least the dictator's tacit support has lived on. But now, even in a partisan report designed to attack the Bush administration's credibility, the Senate Intelligence Committee has admitted that Bush and his officials were right to argue that Saddam was harboring al Qaeda fugitives. Both prewar and postwar intelligence assessments confirm their view.

But no one should take the Senate Intelligence Committee's word one way or another on these issues. In fact, the only reason that we know the committee got the story of Saddam's safe haven for al Qaeda members right is because so many other sources have already confirmed it. And while the Senate Intelligence Committee got this issue right, it got many others wrong. The report is not even internally consistent and the committee simply ignored numerous pieces of information that got in the way of some of its conclusions.

Insofar as this representing another stone in a foundation for future legal/punitive process against the current administration - including 'war crimes' charges - such is not a far-flung speculation. Presidential candidate Senator Barrack Obama has spoken recently of his potential administration immediately looking into 'war crimes' that may have been committed by its predecessor administration. Former Democrat presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has just introduced formal impeachment articles to Congress against President Bush.

And the Senate Intelligence Report, in its blatant disregard for self-contradiction in facilitating its utilization to potentially support such aims - its own content poking holes in the proffered conclusions like Swiss cheese - is an embarrassing example of the politicization of the intelligence community, process and 'oversight.' This committee needs 'oversight.'

June 9, 2008

Fighting Al-Qaeda From Iraq To Afghanistan

In response to a post earlier today regarding Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi's offer to assist the US in creating a mirror anti-al-Qaeda movement in Afghanistan similar to Sahwa al-Iraq (Iraq Awakening), I added an update post that looks back at the words of al-Rishawi's late brother, Sheikh Abdul Sattar. I titled the update "Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi: Acting On Late Brother's Pledge," and the term 'pledge' was perhaps not the most accurate choice of words.

It is a mission in which he needs little guidance from sitting U.S. senators and traveling members of Congress. What he needs are resources. “I swear to God, if we have good weapons, if we have good vehicles, if we have good support, I can fight al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan,” Sattar said. Naturally, there is bravado in his words. But let it be known that what he possesses is a determination equal to or greater than that of al Qaeda in Iraq.

As you can see in the pertinent quote from the original article, Sheikh Adul Sattar al-Rishawi was making a statement to demonstrate his effectiveness if only the United States would stop eyeballing him as a former Sunni insurgent (which he was not) and trust him as an effective indigenous ally against al-Qaeda. The wisdom of ultimately supporting him as such has borne itself readily evident.

However, his words that he 'could' fight al-Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan obviously should not be interpreted as a promise or commitment. By using the word 'pledge' I perhaps unintentionally implied this.

But to be sure, it should not be discounted that defeating al-Qaeda's core leadership elements where they lie was a logical ambition - capacity or not - for a man who endured so many al-Qaeda murders of men in his own immediate family, those of his tribe, his province and his country. Al-Qaeda eventually assassinated Abdul Sattar, but not before he inspired and lead a movement that has proven deeper and larger than his own leadership, splendid as it was.

June 7, 2008

The Long-Term Price of Rushing to Misjudgment

When you don’t take time to think, when you are living in the moment, when everything is considered a crisis, you get nonsense like this:

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

This is not a single data point, but one of many failures – some of which end tragically – that illustrate that not only is not everything a crisis, when you think that way, you actually create real crises and negatively impact your effectiveness (whether it be in practice or reputation).

It is not that, with AT/CT/LE/Mil efforts producing positive results, there are no more dangers in the world; its that unless we start to look critically at what the real problems are – and which problems actually merit a real-time response - we run the risk of spinning into a retrograde orbit that detriments our ability to deal with threats over time. To wit:
Fusion centers are collaborative law enforcement and intelligence organizations that were established all over the country after 9/11 to share intelligence and counterterrorism information. But in the absence of a widespread domestic terrorist threat, they have not consistently demonstrated their value, according to a recent study.

In the military and national intelligence spheres the phrase is “intelligence drives operations;” in law enforcement its “intelligence led policing,” but whatever the domain the point is the same: More data collected and analyzed effectively is more effective than tripling the number of trigger-pullers. Terrorism is a waning issue? Perhaps, but while Islamists feel the heat and lay low you have suburbs turning into ghost towns (with all that that implies crime-wise) and narco-gangs defeating state forces at the border (the list goes on). Does anyone think that going back to dozens of discrete entities each operating autonomously to tackle these problems is a smart idea?

Collaboration and networking, in case you’ve been asleep in a cave the last few years, is ascendant if not unstoppable. The investment we’ve made in this arena in the last few years is at risk if we continue to look at the myriad problems we face though the lens of the "ticking time bomb."

June 5, 2008

Mexico – Failed State/Failed Policies?

It is a harsh, but probably true, reality. If Mexico is not yet a failed state, it could well be on its way to that end. Arguably, if a country cannot quell violence within its borders, it is on its way to failure; if a country has multiple gangs, in this case drug cartels operating seemingly freely within its borders, it is on its way to failure; if, despite increasing the deployment of troops to combat the drug cartels, the cartels continue to kill, the state is on its way to failure; finally, if thousands of its citizens are murdered by the unceasing drug violence and hundreds of its law enforcement officers are killed in the process, the state is on its way to failure. Yes, it is a harsh reality.

My position on the situation in Mexico has been clear since before I began writing on ThreatsWatch. The unrelenting drug violence south of the border represents a threat to our National Security.

Despite Felipe Calderón’s efforts to take on the drug cartels, he seems to be losing. Since taking office, 4000 people have been killed, with 450 law enforcement officers have died, including 4 of the top anti-drug officers being gunned down last month alone.

One of the problems is that the drug cartels and their militia are better trained and better equipped than the Mexican military. And perhaps even more problematic is that the drug cartels are often better equipped and armed than our own Border Patrol agents.

The United States has a clear interest and a clear obligation to help. This country is the main market for the methamphetamine cooked in Mexican labs and the cocaine moving through Mexico from the Andes. It is also the source of the traffickers’ weapons. And no fence will stop the gun battles from moving across the border.

Not only is the $1.4 billion dollar anti-drug package proposed by the Bush Administration paltry compared to the funds available to the drug cartels, but Congress (both the House and the Senate) have allocated less than the funds requested. This happens at a time when the drug cartel related violence has not only bled across the border, but is now occurring in places like New York and Florida cloned police cars are intercepting opposing cartel drug shipments. Often, the cartels are using extreme violence to extract information regarding drug shipments and locations of drug and arms caches.

So, in the final analysis, the question must be asked, who controls the country of Mexico? By some accounts, Calderón has committed 30,000 troops to the battle against the cartels, and yet, the violence continues and in many parts of the country, the cartels “influence” local politics. The battles and the bloodshed is both cartel against Calderón’s troops and the cartels against each other in an ongoing internecine war to control territory and the overall and lucrative drug transport to the United States.

According to the U.S. military, a civil war is a "war between factions of the same country; there are five criteria for international recognition of this status: The contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces, and engage in major military operations." Mexico's drug cartels control, albeit unofficially, vast expanses of the country that are out of the range of government supervision. Even the U.S. government, which under the Merida Initiative plans to give $1.4 billion to Calderón to fight the cartels, seems to recognize that the criminal enterprises endanger the stability and sovereignty of the Mexican state. The hired guns of the Gulf cartel, known as the "Zetas," are black-clad Army deserters and vets who engage in regular major military operations, often against their former peers.

Recently, there was a discussion of whether Mexico was experiencing an “insurgency.” At that time, I commented that I believed that the situation was beyond the point of an impending insurgency, especially since the drug wars involved multiple disparate players and was really a turf battle. As discussed in one of my earlier entries, Mexico is a country of great instability, widely separate economic classes, and corruption. We need to pay attention to what is happening South of the border. Be assured that this is a problem that will last past the next Presidential election.

Flying Solo?

Unless I have missed dissent placed elsewhere, I wonder why I feel like the only one expressing disbelief that two US Congressmen are demanding two Uighur fighters captured in Afghanistan be freed - in the United States. Not moved for trials. Freed.

An uneasy feeling continues to grip me as the nature of our domestic political climate continues to careen onward in a self-destructive path, evidenced in many ways, great and small. I will save the dark commentary in hopes that I will wake one day soon to realize that my optimist nature really hasn't been beaten into submission.

June 4, 2008

With Great Complexity, Comes Great Responsibility

Stories like these, not new, just more frequently repeated, are just as dangerous as any kinetic threat:

The Defense Department's inspector general says he needs more staff and money to monitor sharply rising spending by the Pentagon on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader fight against terrorism.

. . .

"The rapid growth of the DoD budget since FY 2000 leaves the Department increasingly more vulnerable to the fraud, waste, and, abuse that undermines the Department's mission," the report said.

and

The Defense Department has laid out a monthly milestone system for the Joint Strike Fighter program, in which the prime contractor ... will be fined $10 million every month it is behind schedule, the Pentagon's top weapons-buyer told lawmakers today.

The best technology in the world - and I have seen and heard discussion of a lot of it at the DHS S&T conference - is useless if not quickly and effectively employed. That condition is in turn driven by factors unrelated to technology or engineering, but of much softer skill sets. Absent mastery of the management process, which is an intregal part of the development and deployment of any platform, system or device, we might as well not bother designing much less fielding new capabilities.

Afghanistan and 'The Other Enemy'

In the Armed Forces Journal, friend Ralph Peters writes an important piece on The other enemy in Afghanistan. It opens as it remains and concludes: cogent, direct, hard hitting and on the money.

Can we win in Afghanistan? It’s an odd question, considering that we’ve already won, by historical standards. Yet unrealistic metrics of success continue to pile up, fabricated in ignorance — often willful and even spiteful — of Afghan reality. Political partisans intent on scoring points and media figures desperate for headlines demand the impossible (and not only in Afghanistan.) Increasingly, the greatest obstacle to success in trouble spots where our troops are engaged is our own unwillingness to accept that wars never yield perfect results and rarely yield permanent change.

Unaware of historical precedent and dismissing practical limitations, we increasingly insist on ideal transformations of broken states and regions where reasonable progress is the only fair measure of success. Staying with the Afghan example, a sensible assessment of the possible begins with the recognition that no such country exists or ever has in the sense of statehood familiar to us. The vast clots of miserable territory we label “Afghanistan” (maps, like nature, abhor a vacuum) really consist of the city-state of Kabul, tributary cities along timeless caravan routes and tribal areas that Alexander, the Mongols or any other conqueror, shah or king never fully controlled.

It's another bit of required reading - and associated thinking on the part of the reader - from Ralph. Be sure to read it all.

(With thanks to Small Wars Journal's 4 June SWJ News, Op-Ed, Blog, and Events Roundup for this and many other references every day. If it's not already on your feed or daily visit list, it should be.)

Sustaining Zero Tolerance at the Border

Since 2005 when a program known as Operation Streamline went into effect, the policy of zero tolerance has led to the arrest, detainment and deportation of people crossing the border illegally. Often filing minor charges against border jumpers, law enforcement agencies cite record levels of prosecutions. This is detailed in a new report showing 7251 arrests in February 2008, up nearly 90% from the previous month.

While some people argue that the threat of a criminal record acts as a deterrent, and is one of the drivers to reducing illegal crossings, critics also argue that the US hasn't got the resources to sustain this effort for too long, lacking, among other things, jail beds and public defenders. Other critics also comment that this program also misses the point of targeting the employers who would hire the illegals.

Criminalizing illegal immigration while turning a blind eye to employers who provide the jobs that lure migrants makes for good election-year politics but poor policy, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "This strategy pretty much has it backwards," he said. "It's going after desperate people who are crossing the border in search of a better way of life, instead of going after employers who are hiring people who have no right to work in this country."

Still others claim that the crack down is simply pushing the illegals to attempt their crossings in other locations along the border.

"They're finding other routes," Ricardo Ahuja, the Mexican consul in Del Rio, Texas, tells the Star-Telegram, which reported on the program last week. "It's a question of supply and demand. If there weren't jobs waiting for them in the U.S., they wouldn't cross."

Before Operation Streamline, most Mexican nationals caught at the border were fingerprinted and returned to Mexico without criminal charges. Since 2005, people other than Mexicans are generally held until removed.

There are two separate but related issues here at play. The first is the obvious one. There is a job market for illegals, and without stricter enforcement against the employers of programs like the ICE Image program, workers seeking jobs will continue to find ways to stream across the border illegally. The second is that those people known as "other than Mexicans," have serious implications on National Security.

Frankly, until there is a "better way," zero tolerance, even to the straining of resources, seems to be a worthwhile effort.

June 3, 2008

UN Move Taken Against Somali Pirates

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on June 2 allowing for the pursuit of pirates by foreign navies into Somali territorial waters. Since the collapse of Somalia's central government, the anarchy on land has been accompanied by anarchy in its waters. With the lack of an effective maritime force to patrol this area of the Indian Ocean, piracy has been rife, with twenty six ships attacked by pirates in the last year. The resolution provides a six month timetable for foreign navies and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government to work together in combating piracy. According to AFP:

The draft would give a six-month mandate to states cooperating with Somalia's transitional government (TFG) in fighting piracy to "enter the territorial waters of Somalia for the purposes of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

The states must do so "in a manner consistent with such action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law," it added, while the TFG must provide advance notification of such action to the UN secretary general.

The draft also urges states whose naval vessels and military aircraft operate on the high seas and in airspace off the coast of Somalia "to increase and coordinate their efforts to deter acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea in cooperation with the TFG."

The United States Navy has been particularly active in patrolling the ocean off Somalia, even coming to the aid of a North Korean cargo ship that had been boarded by pirates in October 2007. In adopting the resolution, which was drafted by the United States, France, and Panama, the UN is providing useful cover under international law for those foreign forces that are helping secure the vital shipping lanes that abut Somalia in light of the TFG's inability to do so. As the vast majority of international trade continues to be transported by sea. Keeping these routes open and secure is a necessity for the health of the world's economy.

June 2, 2008

'There Can Be No Deal' With Pakistan for Mehsud, Either

There is a pretty good profile of South Waziristan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in the New York Times and it is worth the reading time to digest. In reading, early on in the article a paragraph seemed to leap from the pages for all it told about the prospect of 'peace' in the assorted 'truces' made between the new Pakistani government and various Taliban factions in various agencies throughout the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and pieces of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that lie between the rest of Pakistan and the Afghanistan border.

“Islam does not recognize boundaries,” he [Mehsud] told the journalists, in accounts published in Pakistani newspapers and reported by the BBC. “There can be no deal with the United States."

This comment is far less significant for what it means regarding the US conflict with the Taliban, be they on the Afghan or Pakistani side of the unrecognized border, and far more significance for what it means for the Pakistanis and the future and paths of the various peace accords that continue to be reached. For, if in the eyes of violent and powerful leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, his brand of "Islam does not recognize borders," this includes ultimately internal Pakistani borders as well. The 'truce' agreements reached will be manipulated by men such as Mehsud for the convenience they offer now and eventually, as they see their religious duty, swept aside when conditions are ripe for the spread of their radically envisioned Islamic rule is applied within what is now Pakistan enroute to the greater caliphate restoration.

Rest assured, if the United States and the whole of NATO vacated Afghanistan, the surge direction would ultimately turn more quickly toward Islamabad vice Kabul. Surrendering Afghanistan, as a hypothetical, would not quell the conflict Mehsud, other Taliban leaders and the largely Arab al-Qaeda terrorist organization there is currently prosecuting. Always remember that the ultimate goal is the restoration of the caliphate, and the state most at risk is the one within closest proximity to what must be seen as a cooperative (though not at all homogeneous) power core, and that is Pakistan. If al-Qaeda had chosen or in the future moves significant power structures to Yemen, the discussion would thus become Saudi Arabia as the envisioned first block.

Mehsud is significantly powerful within his operating environment, and the next passage should be considered soberly.

In South Waziristan, they run training camps for suicide bombers, some of them children, according to the former Taliban member. Their realm is so secure that in April Mr. Mehsud’s umbrella group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, held a conference of thousands of fighters that culminated in a public execution, according to a local resident.

Local Pakistani authorities say they are helpless to deal with Mr. Mehsud’s group. In a measure of their despair, on Wednesday the authorities in the Mohmand district, where the conference and public execution were held, announced a truce with the Taliban.

Mehsud and others are significantly powerful, dangerous and capable within their respective areas of dominance. As well, they are clearly capable of projecting terror attacks against its enemies in relatively near-proximity. The challenge for them is to be able to project that power in a manner that manifests itself in gained territory or political capitulation outside their finite strongholds. Sufficient space afforded by ceasefires and peace accords can be expected to be used by them as time and space for solidification, growth and building.

Embassy Bombing In Pakistan Demonstrates Al-Qaeda Strengths And Weaknesses

A very powerful car bomb detonated outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan today. Latest figures cite 8 killed and more wounded in the blast which severely damaged the embassy of Denmark, destroyed several other vehicles in the street and ripped away the fronts of several buildings nearby.

Confusion lingered about the extent of the casualties hours after the blast in the capital city of Islamabad.

Police at the scene said a suicide car bomber pulled up next to the embassy about 1 p.m. and detonated explosives. But Senior Superintendent of Police Ahmad Latif told CNN that authorities could not immediately label it a suicide attack.

Likewise, a medical personnel told CNN that the explosion killed eight people, including a young child and at least one foreign national.

No one has claimed responsibility, but al-Qaeda should be considered the top suspect based on the nature of the attack, proximity to al-Qaeda's Pakistani global base of operations, and past threats against Denmark over the 2006 Muhammed cartoon controversy as well as the rest of Europe for participation in the war in Afghanistan.

In an audio message earlier this year, bin Laden threatened Europe regarding participation in Afghanistan as well as the Muhammed cartoons and said, "Don't listen to our words, watch our actions."

The militant leader said publishing the controversial caricatures of the Muslim prophet was a greater offense than the "bombing of modest villages that collapsed over our women and children," in a reference to the invasion of Iraq by US and European forces.

"The punishment will also be more severe," he said, addressing the "intelligent ones" in the European Union: "Don't listen to our words, watch our actions."

There is little room for doubt that today's attack on the Danish embassy is intended for Europe and the rest of the West to watch al-Qaeda's actions. That said, several points can be taken from the attack.

• The attack on Danish interests occurred close to al-Qaeda's powerbase and not in Europe, where the execution of such an operation and a blast of such power is magnitudes more difficult to pull off.

• Al-Qaeda ideally seeks to strike with such force on Western soil and does have assets in such regions. However, resorting to a more localized attack demonstrates that the risk-averse organization likely still assesses that it does not have the capability yet to reliably execute on such a scale in tougher security environments.

• Converse to the groups relative level of tactical challenge abroad, the successful attack - a relative term, as it appears the driver may have been stopped by Pak security forces just short of ideal placement - demonstrates al-Qaeda's strength within its 'wheelhouse' inside Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

• The attack also demonstrates the ill-advised nature of CIA Director Hayden's assertions that al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened globally. Al-Qaeda remains capable of replacing mid-level to upper-mid-level commanders, strategists and operators that are liquidated and removed from circulation.

Al-Qaeda remains a highly motivated, well-funded and lethal terrorist organization with an under-appreciated depth chart. We risk much in overstating our successes and understating the state and nature of this enemy.

The Islamabad bombing may demonstrate some areas of weakness, such as comfort of reach, but it also demonstrates remaining al-Qaeda strengths, such as raw lethal capacity and intent, maintained within its havens inside Pakistan. We would do well to acknowledge both without overstating either.

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