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October 29, 2008

Over the Border

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the drug violence in Mexico that the FBI issued a warning via a joint assessment bulletin on October 17th that there is a danger of it spilling over the border. Known as Los Zetas, these paramilitary forces work for the Gulf Cartel and have shown themselves to be especially brutal and violent. Some of these reports are talking about the Zetas gathering arms on the U.S. side of the border in preparation for confrontation with U.S. officials. It was only a few years ago that the Zetas were firing on U.S. Border patrol units on the U.S. side of the border.

This report comes on the heels of the capture of one of the heads of the Arellano Félix drug cartel last weekend. Some law enforcement officials believe that this arrest could weaken this West Coast cartel and create a competition to fill the void.

“He is pretty much the last major player of what was once the powerful Arellano Félix organization,” said Eileen Zeidler, San Diego spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The situation is complicated by corruption inside of the Mexican government. It was reported last week that 35 public officials had been removed from their positions in the anti-crime unit for selling intelligence to the drug cartels. One of the more disturbing parts of this element of the story is that the sale of intelligence was to the Beltran Leyva organization. Not only do the brothers of Beltran Leyva run one of the groups of the Sinaloa Cartel, but they have also recently been linked to Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

The drug war violence is spreading across the border, just as easily as the illicit narcotics flow up Interstates 10 and 35. The alignment of the Gulf Cartel with Texas based gangs, along with their stockpiling of weapons presents another security challenge for the United States, and especially for the new Administration. Last week, 21 people were killed in drug violence in Juarez (across from El Paso Texas), in Nogales (across from Nogales Arizona) and in the northeastern city of Monterrey. It is hard to imagine any good coming from these events. Objectively, Mexico remains an unstable country in which violence continues unabated despite the efforts of its President Calderon. Given our porous border, there is serious reason for concern. It looks like places like McAllen Texas could be the next battleground.

Consider what the logical actions would be if Mexican nationals start firing on U.S. law enforcement or Border Patrol agents.

October 28, 2008

Entering a New Era

While the next election nears and the transition of power will occur as seamlessly as it has in all of American history, we may well be entering a new era of the 21st Century. Fearfully, the question is if complacency may have crept into our future foreign and domestic security policy at a time when our first post-September 11th President takes office. The implications of this complacency could lead to decisions relating to appropriations and spending priorities. With all of the effort made by both Presidential candidates to distance themselves from the policies of President Bush, the reality is that the World and its conflicts remain, and will remain and possibly expand, regardless of the results of this coming election. The concern is to what degree will some or any of the security initiatives established by President Bush in the aftermath of September 11th will be changed, reduced or outright abandoned and leave this country more, rather than less vulnerable to a repeat attack. Are we trading security and preparedness for political rhetoric?

It is apparent that the differences between the two major party candidates is considerable, as are their potential policy positions vis-à-vis foreign policy, the Defense Department and the budgets for Defense programs. While it may be winding down on unspecified schedule, the Iraq will remain an area of concern. The reality is that the unresolved issues make any premature withdrawal unnecessarily messy. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia are only four of the many battlefronts on which the GWOT is being fought.

However, to consider that the War on Terrorism and its battles are over simply because the United States has not had to withstand another direct attack on our soil would be naïve. The Taliban in Pakistan/Afghanistan and al Qaeda are not defunct, Russia is exerting its influence again and using oil as a weapon, and the Middle East, with Israel remaining in the midst of Arab countries with similar if not common goals, will remain a hotbed of activity. Regardless of which candidate emerges as the President on November 5th, Pakistan and India continue to argue over Kashmir, and the U.S. entered into a groundbreaking agreement covering the civil use of nuclear energy with India. All of this while China watches.

There is no shortage of potential flare-ups for our military to become engaged. And the World is a much more complex place than it was eight years ago.

When George W. Bush became president nearly eight years ago the world was largely at peace, the U.S. military was largely at rest, oil was $23 a barrel, the economy was growing at more than 3 percent, $1 was worth 116 yen, the national debt was just under $6 trillion and the federal government was running a sizable budgetary surplus. The September 11 attacks, for all they cost us as a nation, increased the world's willingness to cooperate with us. You, by contrast, will inherit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tired and stretched armed forces, a global struggle with terrorism, oil that has ranged as high as $150 a barrel, a weaker dollar (now worth 95 yen), substantial anti-American sentiment, a federal budget deficit that could reach $1 trillion in your first year, a ballooning national debt of some $10 trillion and a global economic slowdown that will increase instability in numerous countries.

While admittedly an editorial, this piece from Investors’ Business Daily gives anyone involved in security reason to pause. Might it have been campaign rhetoric or could such programs like the F-22 Raptor, the V-22 Osprey, the Virginia-class sub, the DDG-1000 destroyer and the Army's Future Combat System actually be on the chopping block? Cutting back or eliminating hardware development programs is a serious step. As we have already learned, once a “stand down” occurs, it is harder to ramp back to a position of readiness. Potentially eliminating a program like the Future Combat Systems effort is still another thing to raise concern.

The Future Combat Systems (FCS) is the cornerstone of Army Modernization. FCS is the Army’s promise to provide Soldiers the best equipment and technology available as soon as practical. FCS is not just a technology development program-it is the development of new Brigade Combat Teams-these new brigades, with more infantry, better equipment, unmatched situational awareness and communications allowing complete domination in asymmetric ground warfare while allowing the Army to build a force that can sustain itself in remote areas.

Not discussed on the FCS site are the numerous supporting, strategic and operational technologies and development programs that might fall prey to budget cuts or reductions. The question, ladies and gentlemen is whether politics will transcend the importance of National and Homeland Security, and whether political rhetoric will result in important technology programs being abandoned because of “promises” made during a campaign.

October 25, 2008

Larijani Will Not Run for Iranian President in 2009

According to an article published this week by Iran's Fars News Agency, former nuclear negotiator and current Speaker of the Majlis (parliament) Ali Larijani has ruled out running for president in 2009.

"I will not stand in the presidential election, and I have said this many times and it is not a secret issue," Larijani told FNA on Tuesday. Larijani is the first prominent conservative to explicitly rule out standing in the election scheduled for June 12, 2009.

The news may come as somewhat of a surprise to those who follow Iranian politics closely. Larijani has been at odds with President Ahmadinejad over his handling of the nuclear file, an issue that lead to Larijani's resignation as chief negotiator, and the economy. Indeed, Larijani made it clear during his campaign for parliament that he would hold the president accountable for his policies. To some, including myself, the parliamentary campaign was likely to be a stepping stone to a presidential campaign just over a year later. As Speaker of the Majlis, Larijani has been afforded an excellent platform to establish himself nationally as the leader of the conservative opposition to Ahmadinejad.

So why the change of heart? Two possibilities:

1) Larijani is simply clearing the way for Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran and an even more vocal opponent of the President (Qalibaf was left to clean-up quite a mess in the municipality after Ahmadinejad's tenure as mayor), to run for President. Qalibaf has not discounted the idea of running and would be drawing on a number of the same groups of support that Larijani would have engaged. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, Larijani, Qalibaf, and former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief Mohsen Rezaie joined forces to form the Broad and Popular Coalition of Principlists as a direct challenge to Ahmadinejad's United Front of Principlists (Iran does not have political parties, simply political factions). Larijani's refusal to run could simply be a move to ensure that the opposition to Ahmadinejad does not get fractured (as it did in 2005) and thus not have a candidate in the second round of voting. 2) Larijani is responding to a request or order from Supreme Leader Ali Khameini to step aside and allow Ahmadinejad to earn a second term. The relationship between Larijani and Khameini is close and well known, with the former serving as an influential adviser to the latter. Khameini's support for Ahmadinejad has waned since 2005, particularly over the economy (Khameini has called for the privatization of Iran's economy under Article 44 of the Iranian constitution. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have been holding up the legislation that would implement this policy). However, recent statements by Khameini suggest that he may once again be supporting Ahmadinejad in the presidential race. If Khameini is truly supporting Ahmadinejad, and I remain skeptical of that fact (it could simply have been a public statement intended to calm reports of internal divisions), then it is entirely possible that he would ask Larijani not to oppose the incumbent - particularly during a time when analysts claim there are significant divides amongst the hardliners in Iran.

Perhaps the most telling sign will be how aggressive Larijani in opposing the President's policies in the Majlis. It should be a very interesting campaign.

October 24, 2008

A Domestic Intelligence Agency?

This question was raised nearly two years ago in an On-line Debate at the Council for Foreign Relations. So it’s a returning question, and one that is certain to raise some controversy, both pro and con. The question is “Should the United States have a domestic intelligence agency?” And if the answer to that question is “yes,” what form should it take?

Ever since September 11th and its immediate aftermaths of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the Patriot Acts, and the on-going discussion over FISA, domestic intelligence, from some points of view, domestic spying and surveillance has been debated. At least according to mission, the roles of the CIA and the FBI are not supposed to superimpose or cross.

Undoubtedly, there will be arguments that the domestic security structure, now including the Department of Homeland Security, is flawed and not as streamlined as was originally hoped. It could be argued that the creation of the DHS has made it harder instead of simpler to implement security programs. It is also true that the domestic and international security and intelligence infrastructure still suffers from inefficiencies and cultural dissonance, creating difficult working arrangements among the legacy agencies.

A recently released report by the RAND Corporation discusses a framework to follow along one of two separate paths. The first would create a new agency using the intelligence components of the FBI, the DHS and the Intelligence Community. The second option would create an agency within an agency.

This all presents some very complicated policy questions and at the same time is concerning in its implications. Congress apparently asked the DHS to enlist an outside study to look at the feasibility of creating a separate counterterrorism intelligence agency, but to not make any recommendations. The report makes some very “interesting” statements:

There is no “right” balance among the many factors that intelligence affect and, even if there were, differences among individual citizens’ preferences would mean that right balance would differ from person to person. Any balance will also be unstable over time: The costs that society is willing to pay will be driven in part by how grave the threat is from terrorism. The threat will change, and, even at a single point in time, judgments about its magnitude can both differ greatly across citizens and be volatile in response to events across the body politic. Major events, such as the September 11 attacks, can cause seismic readjustments in public perceptions of threat and risk, leading to demands for major expansion in security and intelligence activities that can overwhelm other concerns—at least in the short term.

My own question is why the RAND study was contracted in the first place. Aside from the reality that the DHS has difficulties, what is the motivation behind looking for new intelligence solutions? Further, there seems to be a broadening of the intelligence gathering role of the F.B.I.

October 23, 2008

Book Review: In a Time of War

In a Time of War , by Bill Murphy Jr.

To be perfectly honest I have not read a lot of books about the recent conflicts our nation finds itself involved in. Events and situations that are as complex as war rarely lend themselves to comprehensive analysis at so early a point. In a Time of War however is not a history of Iraqi Freedom or Afghanistan, but a poignant, satisfying snapshot of the lives of the men and women who graduated from West Point in 2002, and the impact that experience had on their lives and the lives of those close to them.

For those who have never served – in war or peace – the military is an enigma at best; at worst a caricature of martial reality. The military is a place where even cynics find themselves at least temporary true believers in the slogans and watchwords of military life and lore. And while even the most reverent find their faith tested in battle – a situation War brings up on several occasions – there is always a part of a soldier that can still find honor in the midst of horror. The book does nothing to hide the fact that the Army offers only a love-hate relationship, but it is neither expose nor fluff piece; simply a factual narration of life as an American warrior.

It was hard to find any serious nits to pick, perhaps because as a former soldier my experience (absent the attendance at West Point) was not all that dissimilar to the subjects of the book: I cannot see myself back in uniform today, but I still miss the service; I have felt the rush of pride in accomplishment, and the crushing blow of bureaucracy; I have risked being plowed under after witnessing the evil that men can do, and yet found salvation in amazingly dark places. What few notations dealing with politics or policy there are in the book are less diatribe than they are statement of fact and heart-felt response.

While the Army prides itself on turning out soldiers with certain commonalities, the portraits painted of the primary subjects of the book reflect distinct individuality. There are no automatons here, only people dealing with a litany of tough choices that they willingly took on in a quest to become a part of something greater than themselves. Having sampled that life their paths diverted, much as they probably would have had they all gone to the same college and been members of the same fraternity (though no frat I'm aware of challenges their members on par with the crucible of war). Soldiers are people too, and this is as good story about the soldier's life as any I have read.

To paraphrase a bit of graffiti noted in the book, which you have probably seen elsewhere, West Point's class of 2002 went to war, while most everyone else who graduated from college that year went to the mall. In a Time of War is the communiqué between this generation's "greatest" class and everyone else.

October 22, 2008

Muqtada And Iran's Forming Iraqi Hizballah

I've said this before here at ThreatsWatch, and have suggested the same today at The Tank on National Review Online. Muqtada al-Sadr, from Iran, has laid down the Mahdi Army's arms not due to any genuine change of heart or admonition of violence. Rather, Iran has determined the best path to an Iraqi Hizballah foreign legion is first through political legitimacy, and then the force of terrorism. Too few recognize what's going on here.

Most reports that covered Muqtada al-Sadr made note that he had "given up arms" and chosen to instead have his "Mahdi Army" join the Iraqi political process. And they just left it at that, apparently uninterested in or disoriented by what has really been going on: The patient Iranian establishment of the next Hizballah.

Iran had to find a use for their well-sired little drug addict. Running anything to any degree referred to as an army was out. To put it bluntly, he was a load. But he was still his father's son, a very influential figure among Iraq's Shi'a. After yanking him out of Iraq, lest he screw things up any worse, they have found his utility.

The guise of laying down arms to join the Iraqi political process is an internationally acceptable cover for forging the next Hizballah, a terrorist organization that fronts itself as a political party and provider of social services. The Lebanese Hizballah started out as a terrorist organization and the original masters of not only suicide truck bombings, but simultaneous suicide truck bombings. But because of the dominant presence of American combat power and allied Iraqi forces, Iran's implementation of another foreign legion requires the opposite approach: political organization and governmental legitimacy first.

Then, once the Americans are no longer the lethal impediment that we are currently, the arms will return bigger and more lethal than ever, with the master right next door.

Muqi is a buffoon, a spoiled daddy's boy who reminds no one of the leadership of his father — who was not a terrorist. But due to his lineage and inherited position, Iran has seen fit to utilize him as the public face of what we will one day call the Iraqi Hizballah, another extension of the messianic Iranian regime.

Just wait until we leave. Iran is waiting. You won't see it overtly before then.

October 21, 2008

How Will Iran 'Target' London?

Jules Crittenden makes interesting note of this report from MEMRI, a translation of an October 18 article by Wahid Karimi, the director of the Europe and U.S. department in Iran's Foreign Ministry. Karimi recommends Iran target London - overtly - in order to deter an American attack between election day and inauguration day: The Bush Window.

"Although a U.S. military attack on Iran's nuclear installations is not likely... the last two months of Bush's presidency, from late November 2008 to January 20, 2009, will be the worst possible days of his presidency [for Iran, and during them he can] exploit his power to carry out political adventurism and a ill-conceived operation. If so, how can we restrain him?

"It is possible that after the next president of the United States is determined in November - that is, [either John] McCain or [Barack] Obama - Bush and the president-elect will reach an agreement about an ill-conceived operation against Iran.

"In the worst-case scenario, George Bush may perhaps persuade the president-elect to carry out an ill-conceived operation against Iran, prior to January 20, 2009 - that is, before the regime is handed over and he ends his presence in the White House. The next president of the U.S. will have to deal with the consequences...

"If we agree that such a scenario - with America, England and Israel at its center - is conceivable, then it would seem that the most appropriate means of deterrence that Iran has, in addition to a retaliatory operation in the [Gulf] region, is to take action against London. Experience proves that the [part played] by politicians in Tel Aviv and in London, in the [fanning of the] flames against Iran and in the urging of America to strike Iran, is no less than [the part played] by Bush."

Jules points to some great resources regarding Iran's current missile threat, many of which ThreatsWatch readers should already be aware of from past discussions. He also points to some pretty good analysis of recent Iranian posturing. All of this is important to consider for context.


Iran does not have nuclear capability yet, and its conventional military reach does not extend far beyond its own borders, limited missile resources aside.

So what are the effective means for Iran to "target" London?

Terrorism. It's what they know. It's what they do.

Just in case that bit escaped observers.

NOTE: With regards to Karimi stating that "a retaliatory operation in the [Gulf] region" is necessary in conjunction with the necessity to "take action against London," it should be kept in mind that the rise in oil prices in recent years has been pinned to perceptions of potential disruption of supply more so than actual rises in consumption. (While oil consumption has risen, the rise in demand was not nearly in direct correlation with the spike in crude oil price.) Considering the precipitous drop in crude costs over recent weeks, an "operation in the region" - either in action or threat - should be expected from Iran in order to influence oil prices back upwards on renewed fears of supply volatility.

Iran's fear of low oil prices is both real and, unlike perceived threats of an American (or Israeli) attack, present. Iran's already dismal economy is being crippled by low oil prices.

Iran’s Oil Weapon is not the actual closing of the Strait of Hormuz, which would choke it's own sales and destroy its economy, but rather the threats of such and the effect on the market price of oil, which serves to enrich Iran.

With regard to any threats to or actions against London, we should keep in mind that Terror is Iran's Chief Export, regardless of its economic dependence on hydrocarbon trade.

October 20, 2008

Wither Defense: Expansion Is Dead

The critically needed expansion of the United States Military, which had already been set into motion as dictated by necessity, is dead - the first (and only governmental) casualty of the massive bailouts directed by Washington politicians.

The effective cost of the various bailout packages is that the expansion of the U.S. military that had been set in motion is now effectively dead. D-E-A-D.

That's the word in Washington that no one wants to talk about, proving once again that regardless of which party's administration sits atop the Executive, the military is the only federally mandated 'program' ever under consideration for real and meaningful cuts.

And it is alarming that the military has been the only source of budget cuts planned by presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who proposes in parallel additional government expansion virtually everywhere else by well over $1 billion. Republican candidate John McCain has not articulated specific departmental and program cuts and has made massive new spending proposals himself. Yet, he has made it clear that cuts would not come at the expense of the military and national security.

Your Defense Department is always the first - and seemingly often the only - governmental agency to feel meaningful budget cuts. Yet is that not the federal government's principle Constitutional charge?

Why, yes. It is.

Couching SOFA In Disagreement: Relax

Over at The Tank on National Review Online, I remarked on what to make of today's headlines (and those like them certain to come in the next 2 months) regarding the ongoing negotiations between us and Iraq on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Essentially... Relax. It's politics.

[A]t the end of the day, none of this jockeying and internal Iraqi politicking will jeopardize the ultimate signing of a Status of Forces Agreement equitable to all, except for perhaps al-Qaeda.

In an NSC briefing I attended at the White House a couple of weeks ago, I remarked to Ambassador Adam Ereli, in from the Baghdad embassy for a few days, that the process in the Iraqi parliament is different from the spectacle of a "bipartisan" action in the U.S. Congress only in the sense that there are more than two sides at play. After much posturing and reporting of certain "deal killers," something will be signed at the eleventh hour of the last day.

Ambassador Ereli looked at me and grinned. "Exactly."

When the Lowest Bidder is a Chinese Company

Eyes should be opened wide when it comes to the process of awarding contracts for the security of our ports and critical infrastructure. It was noted last week in Government Security News that a Chinese company had underbid two other companies (Smiths' Detection and Rapiscan Systems) for an x-ray scanning system for the Port of Los Angeles.

The Port of Los Angeles is the Nation's largest port (I didn't know that), and just purchased a $1.7 million system from a Chinese company named Nuctech to "inspect trucks delivering food, groceries and other supplies to cruise ships that are scheduled to depart from the busy West Coast port.". It is interesting to note that the Nuctech proposal was actually submitted by a U.S. based company named DULY Research.

While there are the almost expected questions of "reverse engineering," no IP infringement issues are either alleged or identified. Further, according to reports, the Port of Los Angeles appears to have followed all procurement procedures, and there was no "Buy America" provision in its regulations.

It is never easy to determine whether a company is submitting formal bids at prices below its own production costs, actions which could lead to charges of illegal dumping, but few observers doubt that Nuctech has an extremely close relationship with the Chinese government. The fact that the president of Nuctech, 37-year-old Hu Haifeng, is the son of Hu Jintao, the President of the People’s Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Communist Party in China, only fuels such suspicions.

There is no allegation of wrong doing here. However, this sort of comes under the heading of it "Doesn't Look Right."

Not Either, Or

The problem with so much national-security thinking – among other things – is that everything is viewed as a zero-sum equation. "I can't do mission X if you want me to focus on mission Y." Well, some discrete missions that may be true, but when there are nexi (foci?) between missions (e.g. terrorism, financial fraud, border security, etc.) its not a question of either-or, it’s a question of how do you work together?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country’s economic crisis, according to current and former bureau officials.

The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation’s economic woes . . .

So depleted are the ranks of the F.B.I.’s white-collar investigators that executives in the private sector say they have had difficulty attracting the bureau’s attention in cases involving possible frauds of millions of dollars . . .

According to previously undisclosed internal F.B.I. data, the [agent manpower] cutbacks have been particularly severe in staffing for investigations into white-collar crimes like mortgage fraud, with a loss of 625 agents, or 36 percent of its 2001 levels.

Its situations like this that make collaboration and share-by-default policies so critical. Manpower may be finite, but you can overcome many physical limitations by adopting a virtual way of work. Hey, eight guys in their respective garages just did as well as our Uncle ever has.

Dominance based on technology is a fantasy . . .

. . . if the adversary owns your technology:

The theft of sensitive but unclassified information from defense contractors has prompted Army officials to step up efforts to ensure crucial data on its weapon systems are protected.

October 16, 2008

Will It Be Honored?

In times of economic uncertainty, the American people revert back to a sort of philosophical provincialism. The great questions of war and peace, victory or defeat, give way to more pedestrian calculations like household budgets and necessary expenditures. Butter, in other words, trumps guns. It should come as no surprise, then, that in the midst of our current financial miasma, the endgame in Iraq has receded from the public eye.

Yet there is another, equally important reason for the diminution of Iraq as a hot button issue: the U.S. military has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Two years ago, the prognosis was bleak. “By the spring of 2006,” wrote Marine veteran and esteemed former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West, “the coalition was losing on the two major fronts that accounted for most of the fighting. “In Anbar Province, to the west, the extremist Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq controlled the population; in Baghdad, to the east, death squads drawn from the Shiite militias and the police were driving out the Sunnis, while al-Qaeda’s suicide bombings continued.”1 West further labeled the situation “grim.” Clearly, regrettably, America’s project in Iraq was failing.

By the summer of 2008, however, the situation in Iraq appeared diametrically different than the benighted backwater depicted by West. Violence had declined, American military casualties had dropped precipitously, and the promising if still inchoate makings of civic order and stability had emerged. What happened? In short, a host of interrelated events: Anbaris rejected the excesses of al-Qaeda’s rule; President Bush authorized and dispatched a “surge” of American ground forces to Iraq; General Patreus and others crafted an authentic counterinsurgency strategy and the oft cited “boots on the ground” implemented it flawlessly. Together, these developments retrieved Iraq from the precipice and in the process induced the mainstream media to seek bad news elsewhere and cause the American public to temporarily forget (pre-financial meltdown) all about Iraq.

Americans are understandably concerned about the economy. To the extent that worries about personal financial health may at times overshadow other considerations, let no man cast the first. That said, Americans would do well to ponder what destabilizing effects a failed state in the heart of the Arab world might have had on the present global financial crunch. Thanks to the men and women serving in Iraq, we can avert our collective gaze. But will we one day acknowledge and embrace their achievement, and if we do not, what does that say about us?

October 15, 2008

Right Sentiment, Right on Time

I'm not aware of anyone who doubts the commitment Melissa Hathaway has to the cyber security cause, and she does a nice job of hitting the highlights here: (h/t to Bob for posting the op-ed in its entirety, ahem, ODNI web site . . .)

[Cyber crime stories] such as that aren't only sobering news for consumers. For folks charged with securing and protecting the nation's defense and intelligence infrastructure, however, increasingly sophisticated cyber assaults are a chilling -- and increasingly familiar -- challenge.

The same devices that thieves use to sneak into bank accounts, the same techniques that hackers use to disrupt Internet service or alter a digital profile, are being used by foreign military and spy services to besiege information systems that are vital to our nation's defense.

The cyber security issue that garners the most attention in the news cycle tends to be data breaches (credit cards, ID theft and the like) but even today I bet you would be hard pressed to find someone who remembers what major retail chain is linked to the nation's largest loss of personal information; none of them would know that most of the identities in the British military are now up for grabs; and even if you stuck a gun to their heads they've have no idea that the Bureau just got done pwning a bunch of online miscreants. This is a war we've been fighting here, there and everywhere for so long most people have forgotten about it.

The fact of the matter is that every 5-10 years, with sine wave like regularity, we go through this same drill of talking about the importance of cyber security and then doing very little practical about it. Having said that, it is important to note that the current administration is putting its money where its mouth is in a way that I don't believe any previous administration has, and if there is one thing people who work in this domain are chronically short of, its cash.

Why? Because securing systems tends to impede the primary reason why people use such systems: to get things done. This is particularly true in the secrets business, where security concerns can mean that actually driving across town with a satchel full of paper is a better way to get information to a colleague than trying to email it to them.

The cyber security initiative, new information sharing and collaboration policies, and related changes all indicate a coordinated shift in the right direction, though if the shift is tectonic or just a shimmy remains to be seen. While we see the right kind of changes in some parts of the government, in others we have increased focus on factors that complicate the security issue and potentially nullify any positive gains . . . and of course a flood of money can bring out the worst in people.

Some things Melissa didn't mention but that could prove useful to anyone driving this train:

If industry and government need to work together better (and they do) then we need to IPA the heck out of industry's best and brightest. There is no getting around the talent=cash calculus so if we're serious we need to ante up.

Deliver serious penalties for serious crimes. People are going to "pirate" movies and music (what, you never made a mix-tape?) and if they're egregious then punish them accordingly, but stop chasing kids and moms. At least domestically, send the message that screwing with networks can have serious repercussions, and the punishment will fit the crime. This does nothing for the international problem, but it does take one pot off the stove.

Don't over think the solutions and drop the façade. Nation-states use non-state proxies to carry out their dirty work. It's true for terrorism, its true for cyber crime/espionage. Everyone knows this but no one wants to go on record. Its the Wild West, its high-seas piracy, and like the terrorism; you fight this lot on their terms, not with an org chart.

October 13, 2008

ThreatsWatch Radio Appearance: North Korea, Pakistan, and Surging Afghanistan

On 97.1 FM Talk - St. Louis, on Crane Durham's Nothing But Truth, we discussed the decision by the Administration to remove North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list; both from the perspective of the Administration's rationale as well as from our perspective that it is a misguided endeavor regardless. At the end of the interview, he asked for my personal assessment of the two current presidential candidates within a National Security context. While pointed, it is my personal assessment and not representative of ThreatsWatch or the Center for Threat Awareness. I stand confidently behind the assessment given, regardless.

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

In last week's segment, Crane Durham and I discussed developments in Pakistan. I offered my assessment of a way forward in terms of applying aspects of the Iraq Surge which are applicable to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as acknowledging what isn't applicable (primarily social, religious and cultural differences between Afghan/Pak Pashtuns and Arab Sunnis of Iraq) and learning how to develop better cultural understanding as we did in Anbar and the rest of Iraq.

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

I will get better at posting a note with a link before we go to air on Sundays, as the segment is Crane's regular first segment on Nothing But Truth and often extends beyond as developments and discussions warrant. Our thanks to Crane for sharing his air time for such discussions. He's a good man - and he gets it.

October 12, 2008

UK Enforces Chemical Weapons Ban Against Pharma Company

Although their violation of the law was seemingly innocent and benign, two directors of a British company have been sentenced and fined for failing to notify officials that their company was producing a material that is controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The two were found guilty and fined for producing more than a ton (tonne) of a material that is beyond my ability to pronounce, N, N-dimethylaminoethyl-2-chloride hydrochloride (DMC), and yet, even though it is a precursor chemical for pharmaceutical antihistamines. In making the announcement of the sentencing, British Business Minister Malcolm Wicks said:

"The UK has a very good record and around 400 firms routinely comply with the requirements, but this sentence should convey to other companies, and to liquidators of companies that are wound up, the importance of meeting the requirements of the Act and the Convention. Legal requirements relating to controlled chemicals must be fully met - and where organisations fail to do so, prosecution is likely.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention and the UK’s corresponding Chemical Weapons Act 1996 requires reporting of any material in Schedule II. Further explanation of the British position on the Chemical Weapons Convention and details on this incident can be found here, especially in the Notes to Editors . Frankly, it seems pretty clear that as a company operating in a regulated industry, that the executives of companies would not only be aware of the regulations, but also ensure compliance.

October 11, 2008

The Role of Technology and the GWOT

There are those who are naïve enough to conclude that because there have been no attacks on U.S. soil in seven years, that we can safely lower our guard. There are still others who believe that the prosecution of the Global War on Terrorism can depend upon conventional methods. Even Secretary of Defense Gates has commented that there are limits to the effectiveness of military force and advanced technology.

"Be modest about what military force can accomplish and what technology can accomplish," Gates said. He urged his audience to have an "appreciation of limits" of military power, arguing that although the U.S. has achieved huge advances in targeting and intelligence that have made attacks more precise, warfare is "inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain."
The comments amounted to a critique of a military theory called "effects-based operations," which argues in part that the government can carefully craft military interventions to have a predictable effect.

With all due respect to Secretary Gates, our very devious, determined and asymmetric enemies in this ever-evolving war will not be constrained by rules of engagement or by limitations on defense budgets. At the same time, he observed, and in my opinion, is correct in saying that the types of war, “regular and asymmetric” are blurring. However, given that “blurring” it could be argued that more and not less technology is needed.

In an article written in April 2002, Dr. Ruth David, formerly Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the Central Intelligence Agency and now President and CEO of Analytic Services Inc. (ANSER), wrote about the importance of technology in fighting the War on Terrorism was made quite clear. ANSER is a related organization to the Homeland Security Institute (HIS), currently a Federally Funded Research & Development Corporation (FFRDC) of the Department of Homeland Security,

Some asymmetric threats simply cannot be effectively countered given today's technologies; a sustained research program is needed to discover or invent the requisite tools. But such problems are rarely unique to the homeland security mission, so a significant opportunity exists to leverage investments made elsewhere—by government as well as by industry—through cooperative research portfolio management. The challenge will be to ensure that research results are adapted to the homeland security mission and implemented as an enterprise solution… …What is needed today is a homeland security laboratory enterprise that supports implementation, innovation, and invention of solutions for the homeland security operational enterprise. The purpose is not to replicate what is more effectively accomplished by commercial industry or academia, but rather to complement and facilitate their efforts—to maximize our national return on investment.

Why is this important? It is important because no matter which of the candidates emerges on November 5th as the next President of the United States, any diminution of our commitment to fighting the War on Terrorism, not just with our troops, but with the creativity and inventiveness of our American ingenuity, could well lead to unimaginable consequences. We have to stay ahead of the jihadists by continuing to develop measures and countermeasures to whatever tactics they develop.

Of course, the development and then transition of technology to use by the “good guys” is a double-edged sword. In this edited version of a lecture delivered by Sir Richard Mottram, Former UK Permanent Secretary for Intelligence, Security and Resilience, at the Euroscience Open Forum Conference in Barcelona, in July 2008

“The role of science and technology in helping to counter terrorism is very important and of significant potential value. But science also potentially contributes to the problem.

No matter the risks of technologies falling into the wrong hands, the risks of not continuing the development of new technologies, analytical tools and weapons is an imperative. Just one of many new approaches being funded by the Defense Department is the Behavioral Trajectories program. The objective of this new system is to predict shifts in enemy behavior by developing a decision aid that captures and analyzes both spatial location and time dynamics of events and background processes.

In this evolving War on Terrorism, each element is important and contributes to the ever-changing picture of the threat. Any change in policy toward defending this nation using new technology or enhancing the capabilities of the future warfighter, could have horrible results. Just that we are now on a Continuing Resolution through March 2009 is a bad sign in my opinion.

October 9, 2008

Iran's Fear of Low Oil Prices

The price of crude oil has hit an 8 month low, dipping to just under $90 a barrel. The decrease in price is being attributed to the global financial slowdown, which analysts believe will lead to a reduction in the consumption of gas. The decline in price should come as some relief to the average American and the numerous industries that are struggling to cope with the ripple effects of high energy costs.

Iranian leadership, however, view the decline in the price of oil with great concern. Speaking at the Second International Gas Conference in Tehran, a gathering that includes leading oil and gas producers, Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari called on OPEC members to stabilize prices at over $100 a barrel. "A price of US$100 and below is not suitable for anybody, neither oil producers nor oil consumers... OPEC members need to respect their output quota to avoid a worsening of the oversupply."

At this point, Iran stands alone in its concern over the current price level for oil. But what is there motive? Is it simple greed - the higher the price of oil, the greater the revenues? To an extent, greed does play a role. However, there seems to be real fiscal concerns at hand for the Islamic Republic. Mohsin Khan, Director of Middle East and Central Asia at the International Monetary Fund, argues,

Iran’s break-even price is $90 a barrel, and that is a big issue in Iran right now. ... If prices dip below $90 a barrel, and we have seen it touch $89 earlier this week, then they would have to tighten their public expenditure policy, and probably cut subsidies, which would be an issue for the government there – the public would not be content.

For other oil producing nations, Khan believes break-even threshold is much lower. "The UAE will have a fiscal balance at an oil price of $23, if it goes below they would run a deficit. For Qatar, the break-even price is $24 a barrel." Saudi Arabia's standard of $49 a barrel is the highest amongst the Gulf Cooperation Council countries on account of its high spending "on a lot of projects right now, and oil money is used to fund these projects."

Iran's struggling economy might not be able to sustain a prolonged period of low oil prices. The economy is the primary issue in the upcoming presidential elections and the political factions are fractured over how to fix it. Seeing the strain that subsidies have put on his inflated budget, President Ahmadinejad is considering abolishing many of them - a move that could cause inflation to spike if not done slowly and cautiously (the official inflation number is already at 26%).

If there is a positive to take from the credit crisis fallout, this just might be it.

October 7, 2008

Familiar Refrain Regarding Cyberspace

Nothing against the General, but there are some fundamental flaws here:

Uncle Sam is looking for a few good computer hackers.

The U.S. military needs a two-edged cyber capability that can not only defend its .mil and .smil domains from outside attacks but, if necessary, launch cyber attacks against intruders. To do that, the individual services need to recruit and train more cyber-qualified personnel, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, chief the U.S. Strategic Command, said today.

The military is dependent on its .mil and .smil domains for everything from e-mail exchanges to employment of its nuclear arsenal. StratCom’s vast portfolio includes operating and defending those domains.

For starters, every one of the general's predecessors going back more than a decade has said the same thing. The fact that this refrain is still repeated is a not-so-subtle indication that a long-standing need is not being met. We can have a side-bar on the inherent difficulties associated with trying to recruit people with "'l33t skillz" into the military if you like, but that's almost beside the point.

Secondly, there is this prevailing assumption that we can achieve "dominance" in cyberspace like we have in meat-space. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, no one has demonstrated that the monstrous power of any hierarchical or military force can withstand an onslaught from a distributed cadre of otherwise undisciplined geeks. This is not building a weapon for a fight that will never come; it's building a Mark I when the other side is armed with AT4s. Who is talking survivability, resilience, alternate channels? Post-EMP blast – or errant backhoe – the nation's best cyber warriors are very under-trained Infantry.

Finally, while there is no fixing the military assignment system, it would be exceedingly helpful if the Pentagon could keep flag officers in this domain on station longer than 2-3 years without damage to their careers. This talking-points recycling shows the folly of treating this area of emphasis like any military discipline. The number of people at this level who get it is small and we've been lucky recently. This is an area where a real visionary and "risk" taker can accelerate meaningful change and head off expensive, disastrous mistakes.

October 6, 2008

New AIC Think Tank Offices In Iran Replace Spurned US 'Diplomatic Presence' in Iran

Previously, we examined the words of the head of an organization cleared by the United States Government to open think-tank offices in Tehran. A bit of background puts the move into perspective, albeit no more comfortable perspective. First, recall again the words of Rutgers Professor Houshang Amirahmadi with respect to Iran and his dismissal of their responsibility for terrorism.

“Unfortunately, a large part of the problems between Iran and the U.S. are not based in reality, but are based on myths. The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”

Many Americans may be asking where Amirahmadi came from, why he is significant and what his organization is doing authorized to operate in Iran. Valid questions and equally valid concerns going forward, particularly as America faces the prospects of a next Administration open to direct talks with Iranian terror sponsors. Here's how it happened.

Do you recall this summer the trial balloon floated about apparent US plans to station diplomats in Iran for first time since the 1979 Khomeinist revolution? Refresh yourself.

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section - a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

That was a mid-July 2008 story. Where, you might ask, was Professor Amirahmadi? Funny you should ask. He was at the mid-point of a month-long visit to Iran "to closely examine the domestic circumstances of Iran, especially with respect to a possible normalization of relations with the United States." He was a part of the 'shuttle diplomacy' seeking to bring about formal US offices in Tehran.

"Iran is gradually readying itself to embrace a more normal relationship with the United States. However, Tehran has little hope that it could resolve its nuclear enrichment issue within the multilateral channel of the UN Security Council. In sharp contrast, Iran is increasingly interested in engaging the United States bilaterally, which it now thinks is a better channel to resolving its disputes with both the United States and the UNSC."

Iran's positive reaction to the idea that the United States might wish to establish an Interests Section in Iran is a reflection of this new Iranian perspective. Dr. Amirahmadi told the AIC Update that "Iran seems even prepared to have the office staffed with American diplomats in return for a similar upgrade of the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, DC. Iran recently agreed to a meeting of law makers of the two nations, a development that was torpedoed by the US side."

In essence, since the larger response to the floated idea of formal diplomatic offices in Tehran drew wide, resounding criticism, Dr. Amirahmadi's American-Iranian Council has been green-lighted to operate in its stead. The AIC in Tehran is the US diplomatic offices, in effect, and headed by a man who has proclaimed that "Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization" because "[n]either Hizballah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations."

Just one more development to signal to Israel that they are increasingly alone in confronting the looming Iranian nuclear menace.

October 5, 2008

Security, Surveillance and Satellites

Last week as part of the Continuing Resolution that funds the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security through March 2009, Congress provided partial funding for the first phase of a controversial satellite surveillance program run by the National Applications Office

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) is the executive agent to facilitate the use of intelligence community technological assets for civil, homeland security and law enforcement purposes within the United States. The office will begin initial operation by fall 2007 and will build on the long-standing work of the Civil Applications Committee, which was created in 1974 to facilitate the use of the capabilities of the intelligence community for civil, non-defense uses in the United States.

Not unexpectedly, groups opposed to any elevation of security are citing concerns over privacy and the separation between military and civilian assets, and invoke the Posse Comitatus Act that has set the limitations on the use of military forces in civilian law enforcement operations since the 19th century. Of course, the concern is that the encroachment of military surveillance assets into civilian law enforcement could be step toward establishing a national military police.

Whether or not the line has already been blurred, the question of the relevance of the Act in the post-September 11th world in which homeland defense and homeland security have nearly become synonymous was raised in a piece written in 2002.

However, the purpose of the current implementation of the NAO program is to provide officials with imagery needed in emergency response and reveal where ports or borders might be vulnerable to terrorism, and not to eavesdrop. That disclaimer does not stop the House Committee on Homeland Security from raising concerns.

Turning America’s spy satellites on the homeland for domestic law enforcement purposes is no trivial matter. Although we support any Department effort to engage in more effective and responsive information sharing with our nation’s first preventers, the serious privacy and civil liberties issues that the NAO raises are manifold and multifaceted.

A GAO report that has not been made public raises concerns that the DHS "lacks assurance that NAO operations will comply with applicable laws and privacy and civil liberties standards." As a result, Chairman Bennie Thompson of the House Committee on Homeland Security has vowed to fight expanson of the NAO program until privacy issues are addressed and resolved.

Additional background on the issues srrounding domestic use of surveillance satellites is shown in this report. The essential conclusion of the CRS Report is that the "proper use of IC products for homeland security and
domestic law enforcement have not yet been resolved."

Indeed, as the War on Terrorism evolves, so will it be necessary for the tools used to fight it to do the same.

October 3, 2008

Think Tank 0.2: Ties That Bind

We continue to make our own tasks measurably more difficult. In essence, it is no different than Congress and a past president mandating the mortgage industry to make risky loans to under-qualified buyers in their oversight and then convincing the American people more Congressional oversight and spending is necessary to clean up the mess of failure in its wake.

So too we act self-defeatingly regarding Iran. Again. Men who say such untruths as below do not have at heart American interests.

"Unfortunately, a large part of the problems between Iran and the U.S. are not based in reality, but are based on myths. The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations…."

Yet, that is exactly what Rutgers Professor Houshang Amirahmadi said. Why is that important?

Because Amirahmadi is the first director of The American Iranian Council, a think tank which "was given a license to establish a presence in Tehran by the US Treasury Department. "

It's simply unbelievable. There is no logic to it. There are explanations. But there is no logic.

Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah themselves have each bragged at the level of support Iran gives Hizballah in Lebanon, including braggadocio about restoring its missile counts higher than in 2006 when they were loosed on Israeli cities and civilian populations. Iranian support for Hamas, in arms, explosives, ammunition, training and cash is no guarded secret. In fact, it has funneled through Hizballah at times.

Either the Rutgers professor has an otherworldly definition of terrorism, or he denies that Hizballah and Hamas or terrorist groups, or he is woefully under-informed.

On the other hand, perhaps it better he take residence in Tehran than so nearby 'teaching' university students at Rutgers in New Jersey.

Al-Qaeda's Pakistan Plan: Public Faces, Private Ownership

In Al-Qaeda's Progression On Pakistan's Demise, I described the logical progression of events and leaders best suited and most likely to find al-Qaeda arrive at a point of control over Pakistan. Among the cast of characters to be flipped though like discarded cards in a long round of 5-card draw poker, I left out a couple that are worthy of note due to their sizable public images and national recognition within Pakistan.

The first is an obvious omission - Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's nuclear hero and 'Father of the Islamic Bomb.' For all that we may dislike in holding him as the master nuclear proliferator worldwide, he remains a Pakistani hero and a source of national pride.

But also, I am reminded in reading an old Weekly Standard article by James Forsyth and Jai Singh that I have overlooked and undervalued Imran Khan, the greatest Pakistani cricket player ever and still the country's most recognized and lionized sports star, even in athletic retirement.

In the appropriately titled piece, Khan Artist, pay special attention to the name of Imran Khan's political mentor.

After his playing career ended in 1992, Khan entered politics under the tutelage of Lt.-Gen. Hamid Gul, the former Pakistani intelligence chief famous for fueling the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan. (Gul believes that September 11 was a U.S. conspiracy.) Khan, a man who once captained the Oxford University cricket team and was a feature at London's trendiest places, now turned against the culture he had previously enjoyed.

For what it's worth, Hamid Gul does not believe the September 11 attacks were a US conspiracy any more than he believes mangoes grow on the moon. He knows precisely the source of the attacks. He is, after all, a close friend of Usama bin Laden's and a fellow believer. Just as is putting forth a public Pakistani face after gaining control, Gul's conspiracy theories have always been about creating perceived gaps of plausible deniability. It's called Information Warfare.

The two men presented above, for those following along in the analysis of Pakistan, are a pair of significant nationally recognized and revered Pakistanis not in the original analysis. And each provides similar utility to al-Qaeda and their Taliban insurgents: A popular, national public face to put on their intended ownership of the state of Pakistan that would keep bin Laden, Zawahiri and other top leaders off the public stage, affording Pakistani 'ownership' and a useful degree of plausible deniability. Just enough to give pause.

But artificial plausible deniability didn't work after September 11, and it may not work if Pakistan finds itself under new ownership. And the existence of nuclear weapons under this new ownership cannot serve to give pause in reacting, it must serve a decisive urgency. We will not be dealing with a rational or even functional state. Such things and contingencies must be thought out and planed in detail well in advance. Acting on it decisively depends on the Commander in Chief at the time.

Khan & Khan. Add 'em to the short list.

Iran's IRGC: Rogues Or State Arm?

It is, in my view, a purely rhetorical question which answers itself in reading.

At the Middle East Quarterly, Michael Rubin writes a good backgrounder titled Iran's Revolutionary Guards - A Rogue Outfit?. The answer, of course, is "Hardly."

The perception otherwise was one of my principal objections to labeling its Quds Force as a State Department-defined terrorist organization. Terrorist organizations are non-state actors, and it is dangerous to begin the process of potentially delineating the IRGC and/or its revolution-exporting Quds Force from its rightful state arm. Both, in my view, are State-Established Sponsors of Terrorism - regardless of whether they sponsor and at times execute terrorist attacks as well.

Rubin writes, in part, describing what we know of how the IRGC functions and receives its orders. It is as virtually impossible to extrapolate this from state control just as it is to separate Marine Force Recon from American state control.

On a day-to-day basis, the supreme leader exerts control through the Office of the Supreme Leader and a system of handpicked representatives who act as his commissars. Very little is known about the internal functioning of this office, but it probably controls at least 2,000 clerical commissars who permeate every bureaucracy and power center inside Iran and, quite possibly, a few Iranian embassies and cultural centers outside the Islamic Republic's borders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's network of representatives allows him to manage the structure and trajectory of state policy without controlling every lever of power. Should any political or policy problem arise, Khamenei's network warns him long before the news would reach his level through the formal hierarchy of power. Khamenei can, therefore, maintain control through veto.

If Khamenei's will is supreme, the IRGC is his Praetorian Guard. It emerged in the wake of the Islamic Revolution as a privileged counterpoint to the Iranian army, which the first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, distrusted. Throughout the twentieth century, the Iranian army was subordinate to the person of the shah rather than acting as an institution charged with defending the state. Especially after the challenge from and, eventually, the coup against Mohammad Musaddiq, the shah became dependent upon the army to maintain his rule. He placed family members in key commands and lavished patronage upon senior officers to buy their loyalty. Junior officers and enlisted men felt no such loyalty, however, and as the tide turned ahead of Khomeini's return, many defected to the revolutionary mobs. Upon seizing power, Khomeini may have needed the army to ensure order and national defense, but he never trusted it. At best, he felt the army was comprised of opportunists who joined the revolutionary forces to save their own lives. At worst, he believed they had been loyal to the shah even if they did not choose to fight for him. As Khomeini purged what remained of the senior officer corps, he formed the Revolutionary Guards as the ideological guardians of his new theocracy and a trusted counterbalance to the army.

The IRGC's structure suggests the organization adheres closely to the Islamic Republic's values and goals, if not outright to regime command and control.

I don't argue with the Administrations aims in designating them at all. There has been some additional measure of at least targeted sanctions success in this regard. But I have always wondered why we could not achieve precisely the same by calling the IRGC what it is: A state arm sponsoring terrorism. It's our definition and our sanctions.

Nit-picky? Perhaps.

October 2, 2008

Hayes: New "Choreography" on North Korea

My friend Steve Hayes nails the "choreography" afoot in the State Department's dance with North Korea at The Weekly Standard.

Do you ever get the sense that if North Korea actually used a nuclear weapon in an offensive attack that Chris Hill and the State Department would still be trying to make a deal?

In response to the latest provocation from the North Koreans, Hill and his colleagues are proposing a new "choreography" for the futile negotiations. Dancing seems somehow appropriate at this stage, given the stories about Hill's collegial drinking with his North Korean counterparts and his friendly toasts to honor them. ("We pulled out all the stops," one US diplomat told author Mike Chinoy about the festivities.)

It's hardly worth going back over all of the twists and turns of US-North Korean nuclear diplomacy in order to look at the Bush administration's current embarrassing position. The pattern has been set, with relatively minor interruptions of sanity, since 1994: the US makes tough-sounding threats, North Korea cheats/provokes/lies, the US expresses disappointment and then offers second-chances accompanied by generous concessions.

He calls it the "New "Choreography" on North Korea." I'd simply contend that it's not all that new, just a progression. Give it a read.

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