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November 29, 2008

Mumbai - Some Thoughts on Prevention

Rather than focus on the “who” or the “why,” this is to focus on the “what.” From all appearances, the terrorist siege in Mumbai began with a brute force attack on selected targets using conventional weapons. Included in the questions being asked since the bloody siege began is what the implications might be on the United States. Could it happen here? Eerily, that is all too similar to the attack on the Israeli Olympic wrestling team at the Munich 1972 Games. Regardless, these terrorists, may have pre-scouted their targets and then hit ten separate locations; Leopold Cafe, Hotel Oberoi and Taj International, Trident hotel, Colaba Wadi, the BMC office, Cama Hospital, GT Hospital, Nariman House, Vidhan Bhavan. Yes, Americans, British, Westerners and Jewish people may have been the targets, yet most of the victims were Indians.

Another of the questions, among many others I am sure, is what if anything can actually be done to prevent such attacks? Ask, what is our insulation from this type of attack?

● Human Intelligence? It’s generally suggested at this point that Indian and other intelligence agencies “missed” the possibility of a Pakistani militant attack.

● Armed guards at major hotels and other “soft” targets? Notwithstanding the manpower requirements, of course, it is not a practical solution to place guards or metal detectors (or magnetometers) at hotel or convention center entrances.

Having said that, it is now being reported that the Taj Hotel actually had warning of the attacks , had hardened security, but eased their positions just prior to the attacks. Afterward, the owner of the hotel chain admitted that even the security that they had placed would not have been enough. Surprising to me, also, is that they actually had metal detectors at the front entrances. Would American or European hotel guests tolerate that degree of intrusion?

Regardless of who is ultimately “credited” with these attacks, the fact is that it represents a change in approach.

"This is essentially a small army sent into the heart of society with orders kill and keep killing as long as possible. And they're technically capable of creating a lot of damage and death before they can be killed. So this is more like terrorism fused with insurgency and guerilla warfare."

Even though there is some speculation that al Qaeda was responsible, for the two groups more widely mentioned, particularly an organization known as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), the motive may still be the issues surrounding Kashmir. Others will probably discuss the political and terrorism backdrop of this in the coming days. One of the key issues will be identifying who provided the training and support for the terrorists in Mumbai.

November 28, 2008

Mumbai: Info Tech Comes Through

Despite the concerns of some, the importance of information technology as applied to the Mumbai attacks cannot be over-stressed. As noted in other outlets, the use of applications like Twitter and Flickr to provide real-time coverage is simply fantastic. Individuals and their gadgets beat traditional media and, dare I suggest it, probably bested the accuracy, volume and granularity of intelligence reporting (because we can probably count on one hand the number of human collectors who were on the ground to provide post-attack coverage, much less pre-attack warning).

But of course there are nay-sayers. Extracted from a private conversation are the following concerns:
  • Use of such technology will mean policymakers will rush to adopt untested, unreliable applications
  • What good are text messages/alerts for the nearly 1/3 of the population that is functionally illiterate?
  • Use of such apps in past warning/alert situations have fallen short
  • Not everyone has the tech/bandwidth to participate or benefit

To which I say: BS.

For starters, there is nothing that will stop ill-informed, ill-advised seniors from chasing after the latest shiny new thing, so whether its Twitter or UAVs, let's throw out that red herring.

A good number of people on the planet may indeed be unable to read to a given standard, but that doesn't stop people from learning and employing the highly non-standard language used in text messages, SMS, Twitter and the like.

Municipalities that have used SMS and similar technologies to help out in emergencies and have experienced failures are often looking at the wrong root cause. Because your people aren't adequately trained or available is not a fault of the technology. As with most sufficiently advanced or new tech, management, policy and procedure are the last to catch up.

The lack of bandwidth is only an issue if you're on a static platform. Phones are the largest growing computing platform - not just communications - in the world, period. That a given tech may be better experienced on a 22" LCD isn't the point.

Is this a "2.0 revolution?" I wouldn't go overboard, but I think we need to definitely chalk one up on the win column for this most recent demonstration. Naturally there are drawbacks - volume and reliability jump out at me for starters - but imagine the feeds places like the NMJIC and various intelligence watches could have if vetted collectors and trusted sources were adequately equipped, trained and deployed (a major concern WRT training sources is making sure they have tools that won't make them stand out from the norm. Solution: cell phone). Imagine the big-screen-adorned watches in our IC agencies not tuned to CNN (breaking news isn't intelligence, always a great annoyance to me) but RSS, Twitter, etc. Imagine real-time intelligence reporting, not IIRs and cables that are hours or days late.

Mumbai: Three Groups Targeted In Attacks

About 24 hours ago, John Batchelor posted Mumbai Pogrom fairly early in the news cycle, and noted "Unconfirmed Reports That Jews Were Targeted at Nariman House." We now can conclude, long after his original posting, that Jews were indeed targeted and not victims by chance.

I left the following note, which likely deserves its own post here as an analytical update.

Three target groups:

Indians - the Cama Hospital and nearby Railway station, as well as the drive-by shootings from hijacked police van. As well, any Indians along assorted paths to below targets.

Americans & Brits - Terrorists entered the Taj (and presumably Oderoi) specifically asking for Americans and Brits, bypassing others while searching the 5-Star hotel's 'target rich' guests.

Jews - The team that took the Nariman House did so simultaneously to the Taj, Oderoi and Railway/Cama hospital ops. It was not by chance during an interrupted egress.

This was a coordinated operation with primary mission of media force multiplier effect beyond India. Had it been about India, it would have included, perhaps nearly exclusively, systems: Power, water, fuel, railways (the system/tracks/cars rather than simple killing spree there).

Which means to me that the 'Deccan Muj' is an undeniably false front to put an Indian face on an external operation. Think 'The Fiction of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi'.

The taking of hostages spins some for a loop as they argue in folly whether AQ has/had a role. Matters only in the micro. In the macro, the blur displays the folly in any such argument at this point.

Keep in mind, the hostages were not taken for negotiating leverage. They were taken 1.) because they were American or British in (terrorists') best case scenario, and 2.) to prolong the siege on Mumbai to occupy multiple entire global news cycles with hot ongoing ops with the destructive power of a few dedicated suicidal maniacs on every television screen.

This was a Global PSYOP executed locally with live ammo. With Dead Indians and (intended anyway) American, British (and others) and Jew hostages to ensure prolonged Global exposure.

A Virginia father and his daughter are missing after the Mumbai attacks. They were with a religious group "hosting a meditation program at the Oberoi Hotel, one of the luxury hotels targeted by the Muslim militants."

Within minutes of leaving the comment above, John posted another update, NSG Nightmare Mumbai. In conclusion, he paraphrases Swati Parashar of the South Asia Analysis Group.

Just rage and mayhem and mass murder for no end. Yes, the effect will be to weaken the state, to drive it to fear and despair, but that is an indifference to the killers. These are not state actors. These are pure homicides who regard the innocent as aliens. They kill innocence to kill innocence. The nightmare scenario is that India will come to believe that the Mumbai nightmare is normal and acceptable and deserved. A global financial center stunned, frozen, undone by four dozen killers and accomplices who intend to keep killing until they are killed.

In the minds of the trigger pullers and bombers, yes, they are simply murderous beasts who "regard the innocent as aliens." But in the minds of those who trained and sent them, no. Their aim is greater. And their murderous foot soldiers know their roles.

November 26, 2008

Plausible, Uncorroborated (Vulnerable?)

“Plausible but Uncorroborated” is the way the newest revealed threat by al Qaeda against the New York City subway system is being described by authorities.

Despite the economic downturn and concerns that “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) will show paltry retail sales, it is the Holiday Season once again, and throngs of people will crowd the streets of New York City. While various threats and countermeasures have occurred in the past, in light of the multiple hits against Mumbai, it might be unwise to dismiss this one, even as “officials” are trying to downplay it.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday downplayed the seriousness of the plot, describing it as "plausible but uncorroborated information." The threat was not connected to the carnage in India, which took place after the possible plot was reported.

The new report about the New York City subway comes as an intelligence bulletin was sent about a September intercept in which al Qaeda cells “may have discussed” attacks against the city subway system. It is important however, that intelligence analysts are referring to this threat as "aspirational and not operational."

While it is not an affirmative solution to this threat, last week it was announced that New York City opened a new Counterterrorism center in the financial district. This $100 million project is focused in the financial district and is intended to monitor data from radiological and biological threat sensors around Manhattan and on/in its tunnels and bridges.

Although there is no firm evidence that al Qaeda or any clones have acted upon the threat, an increased police presence in New York City will be apparent this weekend.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said: "Neither FBI nor DHS has any specific information to confirm that this plot has developed beyond aspirational planning." The nation's terrorist-threat level was not increased in response to the plot.

It is, no doubt, as pointed out by the new articles, that this is a vague and uncorroborated threat with no indication that any terrorist cell is carrying out any plan. At the same time, both Washington DC and Los Angeles have tightened security.

What truly worries me is a recent unclassified but not for distribution report emphasizing that al Qaeda would continue to pursue major explosive attacks against well known and visible targets with well trained and security aware operatives. The report further warned that if al Qaeda decided to pursue a campaign of multiple and frequent attacks on "softer targets," the implications on homeland security would be significant. Another observation was that the continued hardening of security at some targets could cause a shift in strategy toward the softer targets. The possible use of homemade explosives and IEDs was also discussed as a possibility.

The visible presence of NYPD armed with M-16’s is expected for the foreseeable future. Happily, my kids are traveling above ground this weekend.

Mumbai Under Terrorist Siege

Islamic terrorists have launched an organized multi-faceted attack on Mubai, India. Ten locations have come under attack, including hotels, hospitals, a housing complex, bus stations, cafes and other locations. Latest figures indicate 85 known dead and approximately 200 wounded, figures sure to climb after control restored and buildings cleared of terrorists and their hostages.

The attack is ongoing and the situation is still fluid.

Shlok Vaidya said of the attack, "Think Manhattan under assault by jheavily armed small units with grenades, explosives and AK-47's." Mumbai is currently in a state of mayhem as security forces have scrambled to respond. Shlok has initial analysis of the Mumbai terrorist siege at India’s Naxalite Rage.

The Indian state has apparently decided to restart its very vulnerable railway system. This is decidedly a bad move because it is extremely vulnerable and has itself been a frequent target of attacks in the past. Order must be restored before such moves are made risking the public safety.

See also the live feed from IBN News' Live Streaming video coverage from India.

In keeping informed going forward, also include Shlok's Twitter feed for one of the best sources of rapid analysis, context and developments on the unfolding situation in Mumbai.

Fake Boarding Passes Fixed?

It was only last week that we learned of a problem with bogus boarding passes. In what was a relatively simple work around for a potential terrorist, what were needed were a home computer, a printer and some skill with HTML. On the one hand, it’s a pretty scary situation of simplicity circumventing all of the added security since September 11th along with the inconveniences and long lines. And taking to opposing point of view is Bruce Schneier who argues that cockpit security doors were more important than any of the other measures that were taken. But this boarding pass loophole as it is referred to is now the subject of a newly announced effort newly announced test program to use virtual boarding passes. Once up and running it will be introduced to eleven airports, enabling passengers to download boarding information to their PDAs or cell phones.
The electronic boarding pass pilot enables passengers to download their boarding pass on their cell phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs). This innovative approach streamlines the customer experience while heightening the ability to detect fraudulent boarding passes. Each paperless boarding pass is displayed as an encrypted two-dimensional bar code along with passenger and flight information. TSA security officers use hand-held scanners to validate the authenticity of the boarding pass at the checkpoint.
Late last week TSA and American Airlines announced a program at LAX (already in place at O'Hare in Chicago and Wayne Orange County airports). Of course, the use of this new “convenience” is limited to those with Internet addressable PDAs or cell phones. Among the remaining questions is when other security measures that are not digitally dependent will be adopted to ensure the authenticity of critical documents like a simple boarding pass.

Rumsfeld Revisionism?

Our friends at the Small Wars Journal look at the latest New York Times Op-Ed by Donald Rumsfeld and they - among others - ask, is this Rumsfeld Revisionism? They conclude, with others, in part that it certainly is.

The bottom line for Wehner (and we agree) is that there are a handful of individuals - including Jack Keane, Raymond Odierno, David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, Fred Kagan, Stephen Hadley, and the President - who deserve credit for the turnabout. Rumsfeld is not one of them.

And I agree with Small Wars Journal in this regard, as well as with Peter Wehner and Herschel Smith.

And while critical on this point (and others not unrelated in the past) I do still, however, like Donald Rumsfeld a great deal for other reasons. Reasons such as the core principles on display in the below response offered at a Pentagon town hall meeting in September 2006.

To be sure, America is 'Not What’s Wrong With the World'.

What Is Wrong With Boston's Airport?

As Jules Crittenden says introducing the story, "From The Airport That Brought You 9/11," the latest episode in what seems a bad cartoon series.

Alleged fed wannabe/medical supplies salesman flashed his assistant harbormaster badge, told the airline ticket agents and the state trooper at Bosto's Logan International he was an armed Homeland Security agent, and was escorted around TSA security checks onto the plane, where the flight crew helpfully pointed out who the air marshals were. Alleged impostor who claimed to have a gun was even let into the cockpit. Al-Qaeda, you listening?

No further comment from here. You shouldn't really need it, right?

Hizballah: Equal Opportunity Terrorists

At The Tank on National Review Online, I added a few thoughts on the 'news' that Hizballah is paying Palestinians to attack Israel. In part, I took aim at the popularly held myth that Sunni terrorists and Shi'a terrorists - and the states that sponsor them - do not and will not cooperate in significant ways.

Yes, serious theological differences exist and will remain between Shia and Sunni terrorist groups. But we dare not discount the level of cooperation among them against a common foe, be it America, Israel, or other Western nations.

That, of course, was the whole point of the Sudan conferences that took place in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Sunni and Shia terrorist groups and the states that sponsor them were brought together by the Pope of Terrorism, Sudan's Hassan al-Turabi, and urged to shelve their differences and cooperate against their common American and Israeli enemies. Present were delegations from Hamas, Hizballah, and the states of Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as well as bin Laden and what would later become al-Qaeda and others. (See Tom Joscelyn's Pope of Terrorism Part I and Part II at The Weekly Standard.)

So today's report that Hizballah has been paying Palestinians to attack Israel comes to most of us as no surprise, and not even a new development. They have not only been paying Palestinian terrorists of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, they have armed them, trained them and coordinated attacks with them. Sunni and Shia alike.

Their war is against Crusaders and Jews, as al-Qaeda put it bluntly in their 1996 formative fatwa. While they maintain their differences and still fight amongst themselves, they will settle their larger scores later. For now, cooperation is possible. And you are their target.

Consider the words of Zakariya Zubeidi, a young Sunni al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander who laid out the cooperation between Shi'a Hizballah and Palestinian terrorists of both Sunni and Shi'a faiths.

“Without the help of our brothers in Hezbollah we could not have continued our struggle. They give us money and weapons. We coordinate our military operations.”

That was nearly three years ago. Hizballah (and Iranian) payment for Palestinian attacks on Israel is far from news.

November 25, 2008

Woe The ElBaradei Policy Initiatives

I don't know about you, but I am tiring rapidly of what I call the ElBaradei policy initiatives. Latest case in point, the friction over his insistance that Syria be allowed to pursue nuclear technology. What is it with this man and state sponsors of terrorism being "innocent until proven guilty"?

The Syrian request was harmless, he said.

"This project did not parachute out of the sky. We have been working with Syria since 1979 with a view to introducing nuclear power. Thirty years!" he said. "All the equipment that is provided is relevant to the project, and is of an innocuous nature. None of it requires any [nuclear] safeguards."

Above all, ElBaradei said the Western pressure reflected poorly on the agency's independence.

"I am concerned about the concerns expressed because they cast doubt on the ability of the [IAEA] secretariat to conduct itself with the necessary professionalism and impartiality," he said.

ElBaradei has reacted strongly at other times when he felt that nations were impugning his credibility. Last year he walked out of board meeting after perceiving too much criticism of a plan he had brokered with Iran to examine that nation's past nuclear activities (see GSN, Sept. 12, 2007).

"This latest clash between Dr. ElBaradei and the Bush administration and some Western powers is reminiscent of other clashes in recent years," said a senior IAEA official. "It goes back to his insistence on maintaining the agency's independence, following due process and preventing the IAEA from becoming a kangaroo court" (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Nov. 25).

Despite ElBaradei's complaints, U.S. officials yesterday continued to rail against the Syrian request.

Providing IAEA assistance would be "totally inappropriate, we believe, given the fact that Syria is under investigation by the IAEA for building a nuclear reactor outside the bounds of its international legal commitments," U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday. "And then for the IAEA to be involved in providing technical information concerning nuclear activities would seem to be contradictory, if not ironic."

Well, I have other more colorful adjectives to describe the IAEA's provision of nuclear technical assistance of any level to a state sponsor of terrorism.

But then, one American Cowboy Nation's state sponsor of terrorism is another UN agency's "innocent until proven guilty" purveyor of electricity generation.

As ElBaradei himself said with such conviction, "Thirty years!"

Indeed, sir. Thrity years.

November 24, 2008

Stopping Iran: Moving Forward

We discussed Iran last night on Crane Durham's Nothing But Truth, Crane's weekly program which airs live Sunday nights at 7PM EST on 97.1 FM TALK - St. Louis. At issue was the latest 'revelation' that Iran has enough nuclear material - if enriched further - to produce one nuclear weapon.

I took two approaches:

First, this isn't really news. Iran does not have enough material enriched to weapons grade - so far as we know. We've always known they have enough raw or low enriched material. Getting it to weapons grade has always been the trick, not possessing incomplete materials, which they have had plenty of for some time. Then there's the question of constructing a device that works even after they have ample amounts of HEU.

Second, at the same time, this should serve as a wake-up call. If you did not realize they had enough material awaiting weapons-grade enrichment and are now alarmed to learn this, welcome to the club of the alarmed. We must acknowledge that the only thing worse than war with Iran is a nuclear armed Iran - chief state sponsors of international terrorism. And they are proceeding apace.

The full interview from last night can be heard below.

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

The most important point made was that we simply must begin materially supporting Iranian dissident groups within Iran. There will be no stopping Iran without stopping the regime itself, and the only administration with a lower level of domestic public support than the Bush Administration is that of the mad mullahs and Ahmadinejad. We should be leveraging that - and exacerbating the drop in oil prices - to make governance for the regime increasingly difficult, requiring it to divert shrinking resources to the people of Iran and governance and necessarily away from their nuclear weapons gambit.

And we have to have the courage to stand against the regime and with the Iranian people. This is, after all, a regime which leads its people in chants of "Death to America" on a weekly basis. Mustering domestic American popular support for their internal undermining can be achieved with the most basic communications skills. And, of course, the actual will to do so among American political leaders.

November 23, 2008

Guantánamo: For Good Reason

In this week's cover story for The Weekly Standard, Clear and Present Danger, my friend Tom Joscelyn says that "[t]he Obama administration is about to discover that the terrorists detained at Guantánamo are there for good reason."

Whatever happens to the detainees, the important point for much of the commentariat is that Guantánamo will be shuttered. For Guantánamo's many critics, the facility long ago became a symbol of all that is wrong with the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror-from its cowboy-like unilateralism to its alleged widespread torture and abuse of terrorist suspects. That many dangerous enemies lurk in Guantánamo's cells has often been a secondary concern, if a concern at all. Thus, when President-elect Obama spoke of regaining "America's moral stature in the world," he was endorsing the widespread perception of Guantánamo as an American sin that originated in the Bush administration's overreaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

This perception, however, was always skewed. The new administration will soon discover from its review of the Guantánamo files what motivated its predecessor: The scope of the terrorist threat was far greater than anyone knew on September 11, 2001. But for the Bush administration's efforts, many more Americans surely would have perished.

This conclusion is based on a careful review of the thousands of pages of documents released from Guantánamo, as well as other publicly available evidence. In 2006, the Department of Defense began to release the documents to the public via its website. The files had been created during the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) and Administrative Review Board (ARB) hearings held for nearly 600 detainees. This unclassified cache includes both the government's allegations against each detainee and summarized transcripts of the detainees' testimony. Although the documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Associated Press, the intelligence contained in the files was largely ignored by the mainstream press for more than two years. Thus, the New York Times reported only the day before the recent presidential election that the files contain "sobering intelligence claims against many of the remaining detainees."

Sobering indeed. Read it all. You'll see but a small sampling of what the Times was reacting to, even though they continue to deride the facility and the President who established it.

Modernize Nuclear Arsenal?
Not. Gonna. Happen.

At the Wall Street Journal, Melanie Kirkpatrick explains how and why USAF General Kevin Chilton is sounding the nuclear alarm regarding our aging arsenal. (With thanks to Glenn Reynolds.)

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear weapons program has suffered from neglect. Warheads are old. There's been no new warhead design since the 1980s, and the last time one was tested was 1992, when the U.S. unilaterally stopped testing. Gen. Chilton, who heads U.S. Strategic Command, has been sounding the alarm, as has Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So far few seem to be listening.

The U.S. is alone among the five declared nuclear nations in not modernizing its arsenal. The U.K. and France are both doing so. Ditto China and Russia. "We're the only ones who aren't," Gen. Chilton says. Congress has refused to fund the Department of Energy's Reliable Replacement Warhead program beyond the concept stage and this year it cut funding even for that.

Gen. Chilton stresses that StratCom is "very prepared right now to conduct our nuclear deterrent mission" -- a point he takes pains to repeat more than once.

Modernize our nuclear arsenal by replacing old weapons with new designs? Three words: Not gonna happen.

During the campaign, Barack Obama famously made a forceful pledge that, "I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons, I will seek a ban on the production of fissile material, and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBM's off hair-trigger alert and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal." See the full statement in context below.

Still atop the Foreign Policy page at BarackObama.com is the #1 listed priority; a fanciful pledge of securing "all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years" and banning all new nuclear weapons production. In the real world, the former is a wholly unattainable ideal rather than an achievable pledge, and the latter is achievable only unilaterally.

Obama and Biden will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years, and will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

So, while President-Elect Obama has been accused by supporters of "selling out" on Foreign Policy within the context of Iraq, going against his campaign promises there (which we applaud), it is highly unlikely he would go against his campaign pledge to not develop any new nuclear weapons.

For one reason, modernizing our nuclear arsenal will cost a not-so-small sum of money while government tax receipts are in decline. For another, it provides Obama no political advantage. The nuclear arsenal can be ignored - or even shrunk, as Obama pledged - without any short term consequences. For politicians, think of stewarding the aging American nuclear arsenal as managing Social Security program, only with far more dire potential consequences. It is, nevertheless, a rusty can that can be kicked down the road for someone else to inherit. Just like... Social Security.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jules Crittenden and Glenn Reynolds for sharing this with their readers. Jules, while concluding similarly, has much more on this.

November 22, 2008

Obama 'Selling Out' On Foreign Policy?

The headline in the UK's Telegraph says it all: "Barack Obama accused of selling out on Iraq by picking hawks to run his foreign policy".

If elaboration is needed, read the first graphs.

Mr Obama has moved quickly in the last 48 hours to get his cabinet team in place, unveiling a raft of heavyweight appointments, in addition to Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State.

But his preference for General James Jones, a former Nato commander who backed John McCain, as his National Security Adviser and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a supporter of the war, to run the Homeland Security department has dismayed many of his earliest supporters.

The likelihood that Mr Obama will retain George W Bush's Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has reinforced the notion that he will not aggressively pursue the radical withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq over the next 16 months and engagement with rogue states that he has pledged.

Chris Bowers of the influential OpenLeft.com blog complained: "That is, over all, a centre-right foreign policy team. I feel incredibly frustrated. Progressives are being entirely left out of Obama's major appointments so far."

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos site, the in-house talking shop for the anti-war Left, warned that Democrats risk sounding "tone deaf" to the views of "the American electorate that voted in overwhelming numbers for change from the discredited Bush policies."

Look, President-Elect Obama knows that Iraq is won, regardless his campaign rhetoric. To his credit, he is loathe to trade in victory already won before his inauguration for defeat just to appease fervent supporters, such as Markos Moulitsas and Chris Bowers. With the slightest patience, he can take credit - rightly or not - for removing US troops from Iraq and increasing the force levels in Afghanistan.

Naturally, these events would have occurred regardless the election's result. The war in Iraq has been essentially won, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater is in need of an infusion of both forces and a new ground-up strategy. And Obama - with David Petraeus in charge at CENTCOM and Robert Gates at Defense - will be able to politically take credit for it in his first term.

Moulitsas and Bowers (et al) seemingly much prefer defeat and the abandonment of the Iraqi people. Kudos to Barack Obama for ignoring them.

November 20, 2008

Escaping The Predators In Pakistan

Earlier today in Kiyani Keeps Pakistan Ship Righted, I remarked that the longer range predator strikes are a reaction to Taliban and al-Qaeda movement deeper into Pakistan.

US predator drone missile strikes are reaching farther into Pakistan. This is most likely a reaction to an enemy which has been attempting to shift from under the watchful and lethal eyes of the American predators.

Just ran across this Daily Times (Pakistan) report on a deep strike in Bannu, and found a degree of verification of the logically deduced:

Taliban movement: AP reported two other intelligence officials based in Bannu as saying that the Taliban had begun moving away from the border, including districts and other settled areas, in an apparent bid to avoid the missile strikes. Pakistani officials say they are rarely warned of such attacks.

For what it's worth.

Iran: The Genie Has Left The Building

For Iran and its nuclear weapons ambitions, the genie has left the building. And she took her bottle with her. The New York Times reports today that Iran has enough nuclear material for at least one bomb. There are some important caveats to consider before going batty over this report, but first, the pertinent graphs of the report.

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design — a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.
A few points. Not quite cold water, but perhaps cooler water.
  1. 1. Was there ever any doubt that Iran had enough material to produce at least one nuclear weapon? The question has not been to materials, but the process. Keep that in mind.
  2. 2. Enriching uranium to military grade levels is one hurdle the Iranians can achieve with enough time to do so in their (known) limited capacity uranium enrichment cascades.
  3. 3. Constructing a technically functional spherical mass for a warhead is another process altogether, and one in which they almost certainly have no trial-and-error experience yet.
Now, for the gasoline on the fire.
  1. 1. Every report is about Iranian advancement, never about any curtailing or concessions.
  2. 2. Too many presume Iran is seeking uranium-based nuclear weapons. Why then the heavy water plant at Arak? It has a singular purpose of producing plutonium (for smaller weapons, larger blast.) Why also then the Iranian partnership with Syrians and North Koreans on constructing the now-destroyed plutonium facility in the Syrian desert? Why then the IRGC generals invited to observe the NoKor plutonium weapon test in October 2006? Forget the enrichment cascades at Natanz. Watch the Arak facility.
  3. 3. All it takes is one nuclear weapon to achieve the psychological advantages that equate tangible defense gains, and thus even bolder offensive actions via Hizballah and Hamas surrogate terrorists.
I said after last year's release of the Iran NIE that the genie is out of the bottle. This report, while really not news, should signal to many that the genie is not simply out of the bottle. She has left the building and taken her bottle with her.

Seriously. Who is going to stop the Iranians? With the exception of Israel, whose conventional reach and thus capabilities are limited, the rest of the world remains transfixed on arriving at a global consensus that will never happen. Not on Iran. Not on any issue.

And that's why I say the genie has left and taken her bottle with her.

Israel's Existential Threat

Israel has frequently described a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish State. For the most part, analysts have interpreted that classification as the danger of Iran launching a nuclear attack against Israel to "wipe it off the map." That, in turn, has led scholars to debate whether Iran would in fact use their nuclear arsenal, and thus question how much of an existential threat a nuclear Iran is to Israel.

But is our view of the existential threat too narrow?

Dr. Michael Oren, author of the Six Days of War and currently at Georgetown University, would argue yes. Offering the Israeli perspective to the Iranian challenge during the concluding panel of the Hudson Institute's conference "Iran, Hezballah, and Hamas: Tehran's War against the West by Proxy?", Oren provided a more expansive take on the existential threat that a nuclear Iran could pose to Israel - without even launching a weapon.

Oren argues that Iran could economically cripple Israel by simply going on a permanent state of nuclear alert - a move that Israel would feel compelled to reciprocate. That sense of impending conflict, with a potentially catastrophic end result, would likely bring a halt to Israel's lucrative tourism business. In 2001 and 2002, when the violence of the Al-Aqsa Intifadah was at its peak, hotels is Israel remained desolate and the economy suffered. Foreign investment, which is a critical component of Israel's thriving hi-tech industry, among other sectors, would significantly be reduced. In essence, Israel would be choked economically without a single nuclear weapon being launched.

Israel's ability to defend itself would also be significantly diminished. Consider this scenario:
"Hizballah would fire Katusha rockets into Northern Israel. Israel would want to respond and Iran would go onto nuclear alert and immediately deter Israel and it would give Hizballah and Hamas almost a free reign, perhaps moving Katusha rockets into the West Bank, in which case they would pose very much an existential threat."

Oren also notes the ramifications of further nuclear proliferation amongst Israel's neighbors - which makes the overall scenario even more daunting.

The full audio from the conference is available on the Hudson Institute's website.

Kiyani Keeps Pakistan Ship Righted

Not even under Musharraf has the United States and NATO enjoyed this level of operational support against the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. One indicator is his assurance that the NATO-Afghan supply lines will stay open. He may not be able to deliver such perfectly, given the length of the route and the pervasive nature and persistence of the enemy, but his words carry more weight than Musharraf's did as Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff.

Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has assured NATO commanders meeting in Brussels that he will keep supply lines to their troops in Afghanistan open after a surge in attacks along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

A top NATO officer, Italian Navy Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, told reporters afterward that Kayani also urged the alliance to work with local tribal leaders, rather than just trying to seal off the border through force, which he said cannot be done.

General Kayani's presence at the meeting indicates how interlinked security developments in Pakistan have become with those in neighboring Afghanistan, where NATO has about 70,000 troops.

Pakistani and NATO officials say they are pooling their efforts to fight militants on both sides of the border. They say the ongoing "Operation Lionheart" involves U.S.- led coalition forces in Afghanistan giving assistance to Pakistani troops fighting militants in Pakistan's tribal district of Bajaur.

US predator drone missile strikes are reaching farther into Pakistan. This is most likely a reaction to an enemy which has been attempting to shift from under the watchful and lethal eyes of the American predators.

And with Kiyani's trust and confidence, notice that the strikes are almost always netting multiple bad guys and not evacuated huts and buildings. That oft-overlooked change from the past is as significant an indicator of US-Pakistani military cooperation as any other out there.

November 19, 2008

Deductive Reasoning: Syrian Facility Was No Inland Water Treatment Plant

The Washington Post headline reads "Bombed Syrian Site Appears to Have Been Nuclear Reactor." My initial response was, "Gee. Ya think?"

The Syrian facility bombed by Israeli planes last year bore multiple hallmarks of a nuclear reactor, and the ruined site was contaminated with uranium, United Nations nuclear inspectors confirmed today in a report that largely backed Bush administration accounts of a secret atomic program in the Syrian desert.

The report stopped short of declaring the Syrian facility to be a nuclear reactor, noting that Damascus had taken extensive steps to sanitize the site before officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency were allowed to visit. But agency officials said Syria had failed to provide blueprints or other documents to support its claim that the destroyed building had a non-nuclear purpose.

For the record, I expect an official IAEA report to be worded in such a manner as to stop short in declaring the site a nuclear facility.

But also for the record, I expect the IAEA and Elbaradei not to label as half-baked lunatics those of us outside the report's official process who conclude that it most certainly was a nuclear facility.

For what it's worth, the Israelis had soil samples before and after the attack, long before the IAEA was permitted to perform its post-scrub inspection of freshly renovated barren desert soil.

Perhaps the long water supply lines to the Euphrates River leaves open the possibility that the facility was a rare inland water treatment plant. The North Koreans and Iranians are surely on the cutting edge of water treatment technology.

Peaceful water treatment technology, of course.

Where Is Stephen Decatur When You Need Him?

I don't have any particular love for cold warriors who block the progress that is so desperately needed these days, but it is situations like this that remind me that the old timers might have a point about longing for a world where things were clear cut:

In a dramatic escalation of high seas crime, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi supertanker loaded with crude hundreds of miles off the coast of East Africa — defeating the security web of warships trying to protect vital shipping lanes.

I mean, when was the last time anyone on the short list for a national security or defense position had to deal with pirates? If you listened to some, this is a problem so serious as to cause vapor lock:

Operations undertaken by the coalition fleet are fraught with legal difficulties, ranging from restrictive rules of engagement to rights of habeas corpus, as the British Navy discovered when it detained eight pirates after a shootout last week. Yesterday the detainees were passed on to Kenya, where efforts to prosecute them will be closely watched for precedent.

Powerless? Really? Has it come down to this; the world's most powerful nations are helpless against brigands in a john boat? I mean why all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth when that's demonstrably untrue:

Somali pirates attempting to hijack a Japanese oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden were thwarted in part due to the intervention of German Navy frigate . . . the Takayam oil tanker was attacked early on Monday, April 21, by a small boat off the northern coast of Somalia . . . The tanker sent out a radio distress call, which was received by the [German frigate]. The frigate headed straight for the scene, sending ahead a helicopter to intercept the pirates. By the time the helicopter arrived, the pirates had fled in their speedboat, the spokesman said, adding that the mere threat of the naval force had been enough to scare off the bandits.

Feel free to do your own interpretation of the "Run away!" line from The Holy Grail.

No one likes war and no one wants to deal with excessive risk, but from a military standpoint this isn't any kind of contest. As with most martial issues however, it's not the fighting but the aftermath that tends to be a problem. Perhaps if we didn't largely ignore the 'small stuff' (a'la Somalia) we wouldn't have to worry about $100M in crude going missing or being held hostage by armed ragamuffins. People scoff at efforts like Africa Command, but you can trace a lot of evils (and project out even more serious ones) back to Africa. We can debate whether the outgoing administration would be doing a favor or disservice to the incoming one by laying the smack down on pirates, but it's an issue that will need be addressed decisively soon or we can stop debating about the need for more Joint Strike Fighters because they won't be effective against the next pressing military threat.

November 17, 2008

Drug Wars in Mexico Rage On

Americans use drugs, some of them illegal. Americans use guns, and sometimes they even ship arms to foreign countries. Those are unfortunate realities. Another reality is that the Mexican government, despite all of the promised financial aid from the Mérida Initiative to fight the drug problem in Mexico, is unable to control the gang violence. The death toll has reached over 4,000 since Calderon started his anti-drug offensive (some estimates reach 4,500 with 1,300 in Juarez alone). Unfortunately, because of disagreements over how to prevent corruption and protect human rights, none of the money has yet reached Mexico.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said delayed assistance might jeopardize Mexico's offensive against vicious drug cartels in domestic warfare that has killed nearly 5,000 people over the last two years as gangs battle for turf to smuggle billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States.

"Mexico is an important ally," Jackson Lee said. "We should support our strong alliance with them as quickly as we can."

A State Department official, speaking to the Houston Chronicle on condition of anonymity, said bureaucratic hurdles will still be in place when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa in Washington near the end of November for what may be their last summit.

Rice had assured her Mexican counterpart in late October that the bureaucratic process would be completed "quite soon" because the United States considers implementation "an urgent task."

A Mexican diplomat said his government remains realistic about red tape delays.
"I wouldn't say people in Mexico are disappointed or frustrated. They understand that this is just bureaucracy," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, the violence from the Mexican drug war is now spilling over the U.S. border. What is even more disturbing is the extent to which the influence of the Mexican drug cartels has spread around the country. If you look carefully, you may find your own town in the path of the Mexican drug lords.

We face a serious problem. Making it worse is that the youth gangs are now involved in trafficking and enforcement for the cartels on the U.S. side of the border. Further, there are reports of increased anti-law enforcement activities on the U.S. side of the border, especially following recent raids against cartel warehouses.

Part of the problem I have with all of this is that some people in Congress actually “Blame America” for this problem. This, despite some reports that drug use among American youth has declined by over 20% since 2001.

The IAEA's Curious Uranium Find At Destroyed Syrian Facility Site

A strange note to make about IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei's confirmation that traces of uranium were found at the Syrian nuclear site destroyed by an Israeli airstrike.

It was reportedly - according to intelligence sources - a plutonium plant; a joint operation consisting of Syrian hosting, Iranian funding and North Korean construction.

So, how is it that uranium is found?

Either the reports of it being a plutonium facility were false, or the uranium source could be traces of depleted uranium from Israeli ordnance, or perhaps something more, or at least different.

But that was my first thought on reading the uranium find in Syria.

Syria has, of course, weeks ago suggested that nuclear material was planted by Israeli intelligence for the IAEA to find. I find that about as believable as suggesting the Iranians and North Koreans killed in the strike were innocent tourists looking for the Disney Syria theme park.

That said, a curious bit of information that I've heard no one yet question.

For a flashback reference, readers may like to see the following from earlier this year as well:

  1. NRO: At The Improv: IAEA Righteous Indignation
  2. NRO: Whew! IAEA 'Satisfied' With Syria Trip
  3. Der Spiegel: Assad's Risky Nuclear Game

UPDATE: I am surprised that no one has challenged and asked me, "Well, how do you think they were going to make plutonium, from sand?" The answer to my own unasked rhetorical question, of course, is by recycling spent uranium fuel. So the enrichment level and traceable origins of the uranium traces sampled is important. Not conclusive either way, but important.

The Audacity of Victory: How To End a War

Over at The Tank on National Review Online, I laid out a thought going forward as Michael Yon - a straight shooting and cautious man by all measures - confidently called in from Iraq to say, "The war is over and we won."

After noting that there are a lot of people - known and unknown to the public - who deserve measures of credit for the successful strategy that made victory possible, we dare not forget one important man amid all his criticisms, due and undue.

But the fact remains that only President George W. Bush made or would have made the command decision he made. Only President George W. Bush, derided and vilified, had the conviction and determination to allow a path to victory when nearly everyone else had written Iraq — and her people — off to defeat. Call it "The Audacity of Victory."

Imagine life as an Iraqi in Baghdad or Ramadi or even Fallujah or Najaf or Baquba and all points between had President Bush relented to common popular domestic and international wisdom, opinion and sentiment and left the Iraqi people to the wolves among them, only to abandon them by "ending it," executing an "honorable withdrawal," or "redeploying" our forces. Our defeat would have been theirs ten-fold. Ask one.

Our current narrative-defining trifecta of media, political elite, and academia will surely not credit George W. Bush with achieving victory in Iraq while they are afforded the more palatable option of crediting a President Barack H. Obama with a draw-down of forces. But it is with certainty afforded by said trifecta's predictability that without President George W. Bush's steadfast determination and leadership, the events, discussion and reporting surrounding Iraq today would be horrific in nature.

The audacity of victory. You have to want it.

Those were my two cents ending the week Friday, and they're my two cents beginning this week on Monday.

November 16, 2008

Secretary of Defense McCain In Obama Administration?

Have you considered the possibility of Senator John McCain as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense? I must admit, I have not. But No Quarters blog says it has a source close to the situation that this is precisely the context of a meeting Monday between Obama and McCain in Chicago.

A source in Chicago informed me earlier today that John McCain will be meeting with Obama and his handlers tomorrow in Chicago in order to discuss the possibility of a Secretary of Defense appointment. That McCain will be in Chicago tomorrow is corroborated by an article London Times published one hour ago. The Times, however, claims McCain will most probably not be appointed to a Cabinet position. But he will be consulted on topics on which he and Obama have “common ground.” This certainly does not preclude the possibility of an appointment of McCain to Secretary of Defense.

Our source maintains that McCain will visit Chicago tomorrow in order to discuss the Secretary of Defense appointment. Even if Obama chooses not to appoint McCain to this position, it raises a series of questions:

Read the questions at No Quarter.

Thanks to The John Batchelor Show, where I heard it first.

Chew on that for a while.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that the No Quarters blog is the only source suggesting a McCain SecDef conversation, and tht nearly every other discussion has centered around Robert Gates being asked to stay - something that makes far more sense for several reasons. For whatever it is or isn't worth, the Washington Post this morning goes on about a Gates transition.

Taliban Kidnapping of Iranian Is Something Else

A "senior militant" told Adnkronos international that the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar this past Thursday was a form of retaliation for Iranian transgressions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda that reach back to before 2001. He cites nothing recent to cause the sudden aggressive move, which - if the "senior militant" is to be believed to be precisely that - signals that the real cause for the abduction is something quite different and far more precise.

The kidnapping of senior Iranian diplomat Hashmatullah Atharzadehon Thursday could signal the start of a regional war between alleged al-Qaeda militants and the Iranian government, a senior militant said. "This is payback time for Iran and for its active involvement in destabilising the Taliban government in Afghanistan and for facilitating the US-led invasion on Afghanistan through pro-Iranian Afghan groups," a senior militant told Adnkronos International (AKI), speaking on condition of anonimity.

The militant said Atharzadeh's abduction was due to "the arrest of top Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran, for facilitating the US invasion on Iraq through pro-Iran militias and last but not the least for waging the war on the Taliban in Pakistani Khurram agency where Iran provided arms and ammunition to the Shia tribal groups to fight against the Taliban,"

Atharzadeh, who is based at the Iranian Consulate in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar was abducted by gunmen on Thursday.

Atharzadeh is the commercial attache at the consulate and was reported to have been kidnapped by four armed men on his way home in Hayatabad district where the consulate is located.

"More attacks and actions will be carried out against Iranian interests in coming days and we shall settle each and every dispute through negotiations," concluded the militant.

So what really has caused the Taliban and al-Qaeda to make such an aggressive move against the Iranian regime, which still holds senior al-Qaeda terrorists under 'house arrest' since they fled Afghanistan?

Well, that's the puzzle. But significant pieces are missing from view, and it may well have to do with the al-Qaeda terrorists still in Iran. A release deal gone bad? Actual imprisonment for some? A simple but highly unlikely case of mistaken identity on the part of the Taliban kidnappers?

Whatever the actual catalyst, it didn't happen over seven years ago.

US Supply Line Hampered By Pakistani Truck Ban On Route

As reported in the Washington Post, the Pakistanis have once again banned fuel and cargo trucks from a main supply route due to attacks along the route by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It's not the first time and will be temporary while some measure of security is once again restored. Long supply routes are the toughest points of defense and are necessarily preferred targets for enemy attacks.

At any rate, one passage within the Post's report raised an eyebrow and garnered a subtle chuckle.

Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters are behind much of the escalating violence along the lengthy, porous Afghan-Pakistan border, and both nations have traded accusations that the other was not doing enough to keep militants out from its side.

Come again? The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies are behind "much" of the violence along the border? Who is behind the rest, the Philippine Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Colombian FARC?

Just asking.

November 14, 2008

Damascus' Deadly Bargain: Still Feeding Terrorists Into Iraq

At The New Republic, Lee Smith asks, "Why does Syria insist on harboring terrorists?" He does well to answer in a language that is readily accessible to those well outside the professional counterterrorism community.

To better understand Syria's motivations, I visited Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syria's former vice president, in Brussels, where he was leading a meeting of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a Syrian opposition group. Having served under both Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, Khaddam is well-acquainted with the strategic and political exigencies driving the regime's support for terror. "Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous," he tells me. "But it also makes Bashar popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular."

Thus, it seems the first reason Syria backs these militants is because it wins public acclaim. As is the case in many countries across the Arab world, most Syrians distinguish between terror and resistance. They define the former as violence that hurts Syrians and Syrian interests--such as the Muslim Brotherhood's war against the Syrian state in the late 1970s and early '80s, for example. But resistance is the violence that the Syrian regime makes possible at the expense of other states--from Lebanon to Israel to Iraq--strengthening its position as the self-described "capital of Arab resistance."

For instance, when Hezbollah went to war against Israel in the summer of 2006, it hurt not only Israel but the majority of Lebanese, who were not standing with Hezbollah. But Syria's logistical, financial, and political support for the Islamic resistance burnished Assad's credentials at home, while also earning him respect across the region. If other Arab rulers, like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Saudi king Abdullah Al-Saud, were, in Assad's words, "half-men," the Syrian had shown himself to be a citadel of anti-Zionist, anti-Western resistance, the most popular Arab leader after Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah.

Head over and read it all.

Technology Policy and Campaign Rhetoric

In another lifetime, a musician-poet wrote "The Times They Are a-Changin." Today, they are indeed changing. A nearly year-old position paper by the President-elect is circulating that touts the creation of a Chief Technology Officer for the country. Like the rhetoric speaking to defunding many of the Defense Department's programs, one can only hope that the creation of a CTO position in the government is at least diluted by the realities that face this country.

Ask the question of whether the country needs a Chief Technology Officer. For years, the White House has had an Office of Science and Technology Policy , most recently headed by Dr. John Marburger. So, I truly wonder if the appointment of a CTO is a new idea, or just another re-wrapped present. The mission statement reads:

"The Office of Science and Technology Policy advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The office serves as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans and programs of the Federal Government. OSTP leads an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets. The office works with the private sector to ensure Federal investments in science and technology contribute to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and national security."

Recreating a position that already exists is not change, but it is re-packaging. As the White House and the Executive Branch, it is difficult to set priorities for the Nation's S&T efforts in anything more than a general way. The government is generally not the right entity to select a technology that is targetted to a particular technology need. That's why when a government agency has a requirement, it goes to a Publicly Announced request for proposals on topics and then goes through a rigorous competitive and then peer review process.

So, let's take a step back and look at what the fundamental problems are, noting that the following list may well be limited by personal opinion and thus, inadvertently leave off a critical program area:

Overall, there is an inherent and growing need to find new means of fighting the fights that will always be out there in the world. To naively believe that diplomacy will enable waving of a magic wand to eliminate global conflict is not an option. Further, the campaign rhetoric of the President-elect to de-fund the defense department is irresponsible in the face of the reality ot today's world. New and advanced systems and methods to fight the War on Terrorism must not take a back seat, or worse, be taken off the radar screen.

(1) US competitiveness has been waning because of a lack of STEM concentraiton among US citizen students. So reinforcing the importance of STEM, not only as a career to pursue, but as a National priority is key.

(2) The US needs to take a very hard look at its patent laws and determine if it is making it possible for entrepreneurs who are innovators to protect their ideas. The move to first to file, rather than first to invent, in my opinion is faulty on its face, and counter to the US regaining its leadership in S&T.

(3) There needs to be a focus on new materials, especially those materials that reduce the drain on petro products during their manufacturing. A forward looking S&T program that dove tails an energy policy with a new materials initiative would make sense.

(4) An investigation into new sources of energy goes without saying.

Essentially, the current Office of Science and Technology Policy is already doing a CTO role. The setting of priorities is a fine idea. Just like when JFK set the goal of going to the Moon. He set the goal but did not determine the methods.

Without a recognition of the great danger this country faces in the War on Terrorism, much of this becomes moot. If there is one thing and one thing only that this new government should do is to ensure that United States students are encouraged to pursue careers and curriculum in STEM. Without that, the US will become a third world country from the science and technology perspective, and will then be at the mercy of the rest of the World for solutions to the 21st Century problems that we now face, and those that have yet to emerge.

In soliciting ideas from the public on the priorities for this new CTO, high on the list of suggestions are things like repealing the Patriot Act and repealing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. For one thing, both of these issues are not for a CTO to change. These are policy issues, and not questions to be answered by Science and Technology. One also commented about returning the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to its former prominence. On that, anyone who understands the important role of innovation and the enabling of high-risk research solutions to be brought to bear on critical problems, would be in favor. Perhaps a new perspective is needed. Afterall, the current head of the OSTP is "only" a physicist and former head of a major research university. Who will be the Nation's CTO? The speculation includes mostly executives from the Internet world. There is no denying the inherent economic and job development value of the Internet. However, as shown by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, the word "technology" covers a vast range of capabilities that go far beyond Information Technology and the Internet.

November 13, 2008

Stopping Iran Peacefully

Iran's nuclear program continues to progress unabated and analysts are becoming increasingly concerned about the limited options available to peacefully halt Iran's pursuit. Despite this pessimism, options still remain. In today's Wall Street Journal, Orde F. Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (the same policy institute that I work out of), argues that "Tehran has an economic Achilles' heel -- its extraordinarily heavy dependence on imported gasoline. This dependence could be used by the United States to peacefully create decisive leverage over the Islamic Republic."

Indeed, Iran's dependence on imported gasoline is quite astonishing. Despite being an oil rich nation, Iran lacks the refining capacity to meet its demand for gasoline. Thus, it imports approximately 40% of its gasoline needs, some at above market price. The cost, combined with the price subsidies offered on gasoline domestically (the current price is 11 cents a liter), is enormous and eats up a significant chunk of Iran's oil revenues - an important factor in Iran's current fiscal crisis.

But it is also a major strategic vulnerability. As Kittrie writes:

In recent months, Iran has, according to the respected trade publication International Oil Daily and other sources including the U.S. government, purchased nearly all of this gasoline from just five companies, four of them European: the Swiss firm Vitol; the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura; the French firm Total; British Petroleum; and one Indian company, Reliance Industries. If these companies stopped supplying Iran, the Iranians could replace only some of what they needed from other suppliers -- and at a significantly higher price. Neither Russia nor China could serve as alternative suppliers. Both are themselves also heavily dependent on imports of the type of gasoline Iran needs. Were these companies to stop supplying gasoline to Iran, the world-wide price of oil would be unaffected -- the companies would simply sell to other buyers. But the impact on Iran would be substantial.

The idea of trying to halt oil exports to Iran has strong bipartisan support in Washington. Both President-elect Obama and Senator John McCain indicated their support for the policy during speeches at the AIPAC policy conference this past June. Mr. Obama went so far as to discuss it during the second presidential debate:

[I]f we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The U.S. House of Representatives also included similar language in the 2007 Iran Counter-Proliferation Act.

While there seems to be support behind the policy, few have laid down ideas as to how to achieve the stated objective. Kittrie provides a few:

Consider India's Reliance Industries which, according to International Oil Daily, "reemerged as a major supplier of gasoline to Iran" in July after taking a break for several months. It "delivered three cargoes of gasoline totaling around 100,000 tons to Iran's Mideast Gulf port of Bandar Abbas from its giant Jamnagar refinery in India's western province of Gujarat." Reliance reportedly "entered into a new arrangement with National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) under which it will supply around . . . three 35,000-ton cargoes a month, from its giant Jamnagar refinery." One hundred thousand tons represents some 10% of Iran's total monthly gasoline needs.

The Jamnagar refinery is heavily supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars. In May 2007, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a government agency that assists in financing the export of U.S. goods and services, announced a $500 million loan guarantee to help finance expansion of the Jamnagar refinery. On Aug. 28, 2008, Ex-Im announced a new $400 million long-term loan guarantee for Reliance, including additional financing of work at the Jamnagar refinery.

Or consider the Swiss firm Vitol. According to International Oil Daily, Vitol "over the past few years has accounted for around 60% of the gasoline shipped to Iran." Vitol is currently building a $100 million terminal in Port Canaveral, Florida.

Last year, when Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty discovered that an Indian company, Essar, was seeking to both invest some $1.6 billion in Minnesota and invest over $5 billion in building a refinery in Iran, he put Essar to a choice. Mr. Pawlenty threatened to block state infrastructure subsidies and perhaps even construction permits for the Minnesota purchase unless Essar withdrew from the Iranian investment. Essar promptly withdrew from the Iranian investment.

Florida officials could consider taking a similar stance with Vitol.

Clearly, this is just a start. But if the policy can succeed, Iran might finally feel the pressure that economic sanctions have aspired, but failed, to produce.

November 11, 2008

Just What Are We Defending?

Asking exactly what it is we are defending is an alarmingly more substantive and less rhetorical question with every passing week. Take, for instance, California, where a ballot measure won a majority vote, yet members of the state's legislature are drafting a petition to the state supreme court in an effort to overturn the measure - effectively usurping the democratic process. And process - not the measure - is exactly what is in greater peril here.

Be afraid, because California is Circumventing Democracy.

"The citizens of California rely on the Legislature and the courts to safeguard against unlawful discrimination by temporary, and often short-lived, majorities," the legislators said in the document, written by attorneys at the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

The measure won with 52.3% of the popular vote, nearly the same percentage of votes won by Barack Obama in the presidential election.

Two questions:

1. Should Congressional Republicans hire Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to write a petition to the Supreme Court to "safeguard" against "temporary, and often short-lived, majorities" and usurp the presidential election?

2. Are legislators - who write California's laws - incapable of writing their own petition?

This is patently absurd and should amount to a Constitutional crisis in California if successful.

Check that. It would be absurd if usurping the vote through the courts was patently implausible. Instead, it is nothing short of alarming.

It's affects will reach beyond California. You know how the US Supreme Court loves precedent, even European precedent, when "interpreting" the US Constitution.

Americans should care not a wit what the vote was about - gay marriage or the election of a local dog catcher. Democracy is being circumvented.

I am absolutely stunned that this effort to usurp the majority of California voters is getting yawns thus far in reaction.

Think about this for a clear-minded minute. California legislators and their hired attorneys are making a false claim that "[t]he citizens of California rely on the Legislature and the courts to safeguard against unlawful discrimination by temporary, and often short-lived, majorities."

Majorities need to be protected against?


Long and hard.

Is this, on Veterans' Day, what we veterans fought and sacrificed for? For the courts and elected legislators to protect us from "majorities" which they selectively deem to be "temporary, and often short-lived"?

Never in my years have I felt this country's foundation under such blatant assault in so many ways.

I shudder. Most others seem to yawn. Which, in turn, makes my shudders even more pronounced.

November 10, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I understand that it is Haaretz, Israel's far-left major newspaper, but seriously.... What is wrong with Bradley Burston?

I have been trying in the last few days to make clear to Israelis the enormity of the meaning of the presidential election in the United States.

Only one thing works.

"Imagine," I tell them, "that Israel elected an Arab prime minister."

At first there is, without exception, a stunned silence. Then something dawns. Something unformed. And, in general - even with leftists - something deep inside that seems unable to wrap the head around the thought.

One should hope not, at least.

In Israel, when one thinks of an Arab, the image first to mind is of a suicide bomber or a Qassam-launching terrorist, or an Arab elsewhere in the region that supports such. It may not be a fair image to some, but it is not unreasonably arrived at by those living in a state under siege since its founding. Which is the whole point of Burston's analogy to begin with, fair or unfair.

"Imagine," I tell Mr. Burston, "that Americans do not think of African-Americans as combatant enemies or the supporters of such." We have a very open and tragic history, yes. But to compare our election of the first African-American President of the United States to an Israeli election of its first Arab prime minister is patently ludicrous.

I read Haaretz for its excellent news coverage. On days like today, I am reminded why I do not read its OpEds.

Dissent Is Highest Form Of Dissent

Dissent, we have been duly educated since 9/11 and President Bush's 2004 re-election, is the highest form of patriotism. At what point, then, does dissent cross the line into criminality? Never, it seems, if one asks the writers and editors of the New York Times. I strongly disagree, as the apparent motivation for the latest leaking of classified information to the media made its way onto the cattle-fecal-matter radar screen this morning.

If dissent is truly the highest form of patriotism, where does breeching the protocols of security and betraying the trust of granted clearances fit into the equation? Can we give these patriots their medals and just make it official?

No. We should instead track them down and prosecute them, and prepare their Patriots Day parade welcoming them to the friendly confines of Fort Leavenworth Prison.- a "Castle" fit for 'patriotic' Kings of Dissent who do so by disclosing classified documents.

No sympathy, no praise. Only ire.

Today's Daily Double: When is the last time the leaking of classified information or documents was pursued to an end resulting in prosecution?

Is the answer Scooter Libby, who was prosecuted and jailed for a leak we now know to have been of Richard Armitage's origin? How's Rich (and his former boss) doing these days?

Yet the trampling and blatant disregard for public trust via the trashing of security clearance oaths continues unabated. And the writers and editors of the New York Times are all too happy to provide the venue for such courageously anonymous malcontents.

Perhaps the oath sworn by those awarded security clearances just doesn't apply so long as the aim is to take political swipes at unpopular men.

Perhaps the legal system should take a swipe back. Not in the defense of Bush or Rumsfeld. But in the defense of the integrity and discipline of security, and the acknowledgment of who is not worthy of such trust.

It should sicken you. That it doesn't to enough Americans perpetuates the un-policed conduct of those who divulge (and publish) with reckless abandon and selfish political ire.

'Unproven Missile Defense Systems' Are 'Proven' To Russians

Last week in 'Fettering' the 'Unfettered' Defense Budget at The Tank on National Review Online, I included Barack Obama's campaign pledge to "cut investments in unproven missile defense systems" as part of a look at new Defense priorities under an Obama administration. In a message one year ago to supporters, Candidate Barack Obama pledged the following:

I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.

I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.

And I will institute an independent defense priorities board to ensure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is not used to justify unnecessary spending.

Third, I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons, I will seek a ban on the production of fissile material,

and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBM's off hair-trigger alert and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal.

The Russians were listening attentively. And they have beaten President-Elect Obama to the negotiating table, announcing their plan to deploy Iskander missiles to the Polish border. In keeping with the traditions of international negotiations, the Russians have said that this deployment is inextricably linked to the deployment of a defensive American missile shield to defend Europe against a missile threat from the rogue Iranian regime fast tracking its nuclear development.

Placing missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian region wedged between Poland and Lithuania, would be "a responsive measure'' taken only if a U.S. anti-missile defense system is located "in the form of interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic,'' Grushko was cited as saying today by state-run television channel Vesti.

"Russia won't deploy Iskander if the U.S. decides against plans to locate the system in eastern Europe,'' Interfax news agency quoted Grushko as saying in a separate interview.

Unfortunately, President-Elect Obama has abandoned clarity and pursued a path of dueling messages, publicly remaining "uncommitted" to the Bush policy of a European defensive shield agreed to with Poland and the Czech Republic, while privately telling Poland's president that the plan will proceed.

As noted at Environmental Republican, "This was not an easy plan for Lech Kaczynski to get his country to accept and he probably spent massive political capital to do so and Obama leaves the man hanging on an issue of great import." And likewise, the absence of clarity on such matters will be noted by - and reacted to - by friend and foe alike.

But what should be acknowledged by all observers - particularly those who subscribe to Obama's thinking that missile defense systems are "unproven" - is the fact that they are indeed quite proven as a deterrent. If they were unproven and ultimately a squandering of Defense funding allocations, why are the Russians so adamantly opposed to said "unproven missile defense systems" being deployed in Eastern Europe?

The font-end purpose of missile defenses are to serve as a deterrent - that is, a psychological impediment to the concept of launching missile attacks by bad actors. The back-end purpose, not unlike our nuclear arsenal, is to be able to perform designed functions if/when required to do so should deterrence fail.

The front-end purpose has been achieved. Cutting "unproven missile defense systems" negates the front-end deterrence already gained as evidenced by Russia's actions. But even more importantly, conflicting messages to (and of) our allies erodes a sense of defensive unity among us; a unity far more important to allied states under direct threat, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia and Ukraine.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, he once said at the prospect of foreign policy under his new administration that it is "time to start treating our allies as allies and start treating our enemies as enemies." The absence of clarity and conflicting messages to different parties from an apparently unsure Barack Obama is in direct conflict with this principled approach. The effects of this approach going forward will be negative, pervasive and harmful - not simply to us and our position, but to our allies in the shadow of danger.

November 9, 2008

Questioning the Vulnerability of Federal Buildings

There are moments in life that form foundations for future actions. Perhaps, on a personal note, the moment of the announcement of the bombing at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was that moment for me. When Terry Nicols and Timothy McVeigh detonated the ammonium nitrate truck bomb that killed 168 people, including 15 children, and injured more than 800 the morning of April 19, 1995, it moved me beyond any moment in my life until September 11th. At the time it was the worst terrorist attack on American soil and it remains the worst act of domestic terrorism. It was a personal moment made more so by the fact that a friend, an F.B.I. agent counseling local businesses on industrial espionage, was originally from Oklahoma City and immediately rushed home to be part of the team.

In the immediate aftermath of the Murrah attack, there was an increased visible presence of security at federal office buildings. X-rays machines, magnetometers and credentials checks became the norm at federal buildings.

Tightened security soon became a familiar sight at federal buildings throughout the nation, with policies quickly implemented to prevent similar attacks. Facilities in major cities were ordered to immediately erect Jersey walls to restrict the proximity of vehicles, and construction standards for new federal buildings were changed to require car bomb-resistant barriers and setbacks from surrounding streets.

From that point forward, unencumbered access to federal buildings and later, after September 11th, many civilian/corporate facilities was no longer possible. The attack on the Murrah Building also led to the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L.No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996)(the Act), is the culmination and amalgamation of disparate legislative efforts, some them stretching back well over a decade. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and to a lesser extent the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, supplied the most obvious stimuli for its enactment, but concern over other issues like habeas corpus and immigration contributed to its passage as well.

Following September 11th, the Federal Protective Services charged with providing guards and law enforcement personnel to federal buildings was moved from the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service to the Department of Homeland Security under Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Recently, a report from the GAO was publicized criticizing the federal protective service and highlighting the fact that federal buildings were unguarded and therefore vulnerable to attack (the actual report can be found here).

The Government Executive article highlights the fact that under DHS, budget constraints have led to a 20% reduction in force, with a virtual elimination of the in-house law enforcement officer position.

"There are not Federal Protective Service officers or inspectors at every building; in fact, many buildings do not have FPS officers at all and some do not see FPS officials for months at a time," Goldstein says (Mark Goldstein is with GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure). "Clearly, the main line of defense and protection and security at any federal building is the contract guard force."

The continuing issue is one of budget, safety and allocation of resources according to risk. A physical presence is logically more important than some of the new ID credentialing requirements that are now in place. One thing is clear however. Without adequate professional staffing to provide security, and maybe more importantly to be aware of those people who might be surveilling the areas, these buildings are vulnerable. Federal buildings are the so-called “soft targets.” In more than one briefing, the importance of being able to “watch the watchers” was raised.

It is odd how certain events lead one to take personal actions of life changing magnitude. The bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995 led to my own exploration of various types of sensor and tracking technologies. This led me to seek out solutions and opportunities at one of our federal laboratories, and then brought me to meetings at the Force Protection Battlelab. Eventually, that resulted in my moving here after meeting my wife. Thirteen years has passed since the Murrah Building tragedy. The question is whether we’ve actually come full circle and whether, through budget cuts and bureaucracy, our federal buildings are now vulnerable once again.

November 7, 2008

Down on the Border

The last week hasn't changed the situation on our southern border, and in fact, has brought continued brutality and violence. Yet, in the face of all of the bloodshed, there was a dose of exaggerated irony when a report on the local news revealed that a company in Mexico was selling bullet-proof designer clothes for those fearful of becoming targets of the drug war.

At Miguel Caballero, named after its Colombian owner, all the garments are bulletproof. There are bulletproof leather jackets and bulletproof polo shirts. Armored guayabera shirts hang next to protective windbreakers, parkas and even white ruffled tuxedo shirts. Every member of the sales staff has had to take a turn being shot while wearing one of the products, which range from a few hundred dollars to as much as $7,000, so they can attest to the efficacy of the secret fabric.

Politicians, businessmen, doctors and even a newspaper distributor are their customers. Members of upper class families are increasingly vulnerable to kidnappping for ransom and death threats. For some, though, even bullet-proof golf shirts aren't enough, but the sheer disregard for life and limb of the drug gangs sends a clear message to those of us too close to the border.

In the past few days, eight people have been murdered in Juarez Mexico in the Northern state of Chihuahua across the border from El Paso Texas. One victim had been beheaded with the body hung fro an overpass.

With the drug violence ramping up and the recent incursions across the border, a question could be asked if the "challenge" for the new Administration might not come from our southern border.

Defending Defense: Practicality v. Popularity, Rationality v. Rhetoric

Over at The Tank on National Review Online, I've dropped a few thoughts about the looming - and likely massive - cuts in the Defense Department budget under the new Obama administration. By 'Fettering' the 'Unfettered' Defense Budget, President-elect Obama's stated plans for Defense cuts are - as stated - untimely and dangerous.

It is indeed unfortunate, to put a kind face on it, that "all manner of things are on the table for additional federal funds and a bailout already expanding beyond the already offensive scope and depth. Your Defense Department, however, is to be constricted and slashed."

During the campaign, Mr. Obama pledged that he "will not develop new nuclear weapons, I will seek a ban on the production of fissile material, and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBM's off hair-trigger alert and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal."

The alertly observant will note that Russia has already begun the negotiations. Russia's plans to place missile systems next to Poland were not announced the day after Barack Obama's American election by chance. Russia is probing the new lines.

Now is certainly not the time - if there ever is one - for such deep cuts and transitioning these pledges into policy.

As my friend Ralph Peters said succinctly before the election, America's Burden is that "[w]e're condemned to lead." And leadership is not a popularity contest.

Here's hoping that with the burden of leadership soon squarely on Barack Obama's shoulders, some of his most important policy decisions will defy his campaign rhetoric.

Ahmadinejad To Obama: Get Out

With a perceptible smile in his written words, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sends a congratulatory letter to President-elect Obama and essentially tells him, too, to get out.

“People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and noninterference in other countries’ affairs,” the letter said, according to ISNA.

“They also want the U.S. intervention to be limited to its borders, especially in the sensitive region of the Middle East,” it said. “It is expected to reverse the unfair attitude of the past 60 years to restore the rights of people in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

What rights for the people in Afghanistan and Iraq Ahmadinejad is referring to is curious. Presumably the rights they enjoyed under dictatorship and tyranny of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.

Between them, over 50 million people enjoy newly-established rights under representative democracies, albeit still developing and maturing. Restoring something else in lieu and calling it 'rights' is a curious statement form the Islamic 'Republic' of Iran.

With regards to 'Palestine,' Gaza was vacated several years ago and turned over for direct and full Palestinian control and governance. How's that going?

Aside: When contrasting the democratically elected government (Hamas) in Gaza with other emerging democracies, it is important to distinguish between democracy and liberty.

Liberty is protected by Democracy.

Democracy does not establish Liberty.

Democracy without Liberty begets Tyranny.

Bringing 'democracy' to the Middle East or anywhere in the world will always fail the people and fail at establishing or preserving peace unless its predecessor is quite necessarily individual liberty, and not the other way around. And it must be acknowledged that liberty without security is an illusion of such.

So, to cap the general thought, the order must be:
1. Ending Tyranny

2. Establishing & Maintaining Security

3. Securing Liberty

4. Introducing Democracy to Preserve Liberty
When the order is altered or ignored, peace will always be fleeting if ever present. See: Gaza, Iran, or Iraq circa 2005-2006.

November 4, 2008

Brain Drain

Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap is not expressly a national security-related book, but the revelations he communicates in its pages made me wish it was on the reading lists of strategists and policy makers outside of the Department of Education and similar circles. Whether you have kids or not, the implications a half-baked education – increasingly the standard even in allegedly "good" schools – will directly impact our ability to defend the nation and preserve the principles we all hold dear.

I am all for high standards, but NCLB – admirable on its face – is measuring too much of the wrong things and none of the right ones. We can argue about what constitutes an "education," but if you're an average high school graduate you just won't be able to argue very well if the discussion is not framed in multiple-choice format. Wagner argues that US public schools don't teach the skills that matter most in the 21st century and he presents disturbing data to support his claims. I would quibble ever so slightly given the fact that critical thinking and problem solving skills, along with the ability to communicate effectively in oral and written form, are skills that have been important for centuries. Regardless, I am with Wagner when he argues for a "2.0" version of the current educational standards regime because what passes for education today – rote memorization and regurgitation of data – is leading us to create a nation of drones, not problem solvers. Why data is important beyond passing a test, how to use that data in a meaningful fashion, whether or not you can trust the data in the first place isn't tested so it isn't taught. Maybe two years or more of college (the latter two, the first two being remedial high school) will break young minds from this 12-year bad habit, but if it cannot then the national security community (Wagner focuses largely on the business community) will be faced with a situation where it must fill its ranks with second-rate intellects. National security problems, indeed anything associated with the real world, may be multiple choice, but you have to come up with the answers yourself and you're not safe picking "C" all the time.

Consider what this means to a workforce like the intelligence community, where 50% or more have been on the job for less than seven years (all of them under the NCLB regime). The percentage of analysts – whose raison d'être is to think critically and solve problems – who have not been exposed to the skills necessary to succeed is only going to increase. To be sure, intelligence agencies run all new hires through their own training programs, but at their core, analytic methodologies are variations of basic critical thinking, argument evaluation and related skills one should have been exposed to in high school and mastered in college. If most students are not prepared for college, then most college graduates are largely un-prepared for work in the national security arena.*

When the bulk of your educational experience is regurgitating data, it leads to a default mental setting that is accepting and uncritical. That is all well and good as long as the world's bad actors always tell the truth and world events play out according to some master plan laid out in a international relations textbook. What happens when the uncritical face a sufficiently weird or challenging situation?

"We are concerned about apparent connections between al-Qaeda and Iran."
"Don’t be ridiculous; everybody knows Sunni and Shia don't mix."
"Radar reports Zero's over Oahu."
"Must be a mistake; everybody knows the Japanese can't project power this far out."
"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time."

Well, you get the picture.

The problem may be less pronounced for those who work in scientific and technical positions – geeks of all sorts manage to overcome flawed systems that fail to exploit them - but even they will not fully escape a shoddy education. Collectors as well will feel the impact as they attempt to cross swords with sources that have gone through much more rigorous education systems. Future high-level agents may very well ask themselves why in the world they should risk their lives to work for such dim bulbs.

Some commenter's may be tempted to do so, but it would be a mistake to assume that such a state of affairs would in fact be a boon to one major part of the national security apparatus: the military. The canard of a life in uniform being the only option for dullards has repeatedly been shot down. In case you have noticed, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are more "thinking" wars than conflicts that rely on mass movement of troops and indiscriminate destruction. The most common wars are "small wars," where a soldier has to know when his brain or mouth and not his rifle are the best weapons to use in a given situation. Soldiers may be trained largely by rote (your author, 22 years after basic training, can still perform most basic soldier skills from memory) but if they do not know how to apply those skills selectively in a dynamic environment – where failure is fatal – all our future wars will be lost.

Fixing our education system may seem like a tangential issue when one considers the serious problems our national security apparatus faces today, but from a strategic perspective this is not something we can ignore for long. Eventually the gray beards that didn't fall under NCLB will be gone and who will mentor and train up the data-regurgitators? Who will explain that reciting the tenants of Realism to a rogue regime or increasingly aggressive near-peer adversary is a recipe for a beat-down? Who will remind future analysts that repeating raw intelligence reporting without some intellectual value-added is actively contributing to the next intelligence failure? The security of our nation depends on a lot of things, but at its core it depends on the intelligence of the people sworn to protect it against her enemies; if those people cannot truly think there is no weapons system in our arsenal that can save us.

(*)To avoid offending my friend Kristan, obviously there will be exceptions to the rule, but unique institutions like Mercyhurst cannot meet the demand for skilled graduates alone.

November 3, 2008

Change and Hope for INFOSEC

D/DNI Don Kerr preps the political and intelligence battlespace for another term of the same old song and dance:

"I have a deep concern . . . that the intelligence community has still not properly aligned its response to what I would call this period of amazing innovation -- the 'technological Wild West' -- by grasping the full range of opportunities and threats that technology provides to us," …

"Major losses of information and value for our government programs typically aren't from spies . . . In fact, one of the great concerns I have is that so much of the new capabilities that we're all going to depend on aren't any longer developed in government labs under government contract."

The inability of seniors to truly grasp the scope and scale of related issues, much less come up with (and see through) an effective plan of attack is highlighted about every five years (with a major effort surfacing every 10). Most of these ideas have been tried and found wanting – or what fruits they did bear were allowed to fall to the ground and rot.

It would help if info-based missions didn't get short shrift, but no info-age mission seems able to withstand the power of industrial-age thinking and operation. There is always some 30-year tank-counter with seniority to squash anything sufficiently useful.

Cashing the 'collaboration' and 'sharing' checks that policy writes but operations fails to honor is the next most meaningful step to take. My most meaningful exchanges were clandestine affairs between like-minded partners in sister agencies; had we let mgt in on what we were doing we'd all have been chained to our desks. Word from the inside is that little on that front has changed, so some real muscle behind policy is essential.

There is also a very fundamental problem associated with the gov't taking an equity stake in commercial concerns; namely the fact that industry and governmental goals don't mesh well. In the former security has to be good-enough to allow business to happen; in the latter security is paramount and if it hinders operations then so be it. The idea that federal best-practices imposed upon pretty much any business model would work is difficult to swallow.

Besides, popping a box in a company that lives and dies by its IP takes serious work; all it takes to bust into NIPR (and then sneaker-net into higher networks) is a sufficiently humorous viral video, or well-crafted (in a social engineering context) email. This is not a ding against COMPUSEC/INFOSEC folks; it speaks to policy enforcement and management outlook. You can get away with a lot more misuse and abuse online than you could in meat-space (hold open a security gate for your un-cleared pals to walk through so you can go have lunch in the cafeteria and see what happens). Noah exposed the world to the CI posters most current and former practitioners are familiar with; where is the corresponding poster for INFOSEC violators?

Some suggestions for whomever rides into power tomorrow night:
  • Get the DICE Man or a reasonable facsimile thereof in front of every industry forum/conference/seminar. Communicate both horror stories and successes and stop with the hand-waving and vagueness. Industry can handle the (sanitized) truth and would reward genuine sharing on the government's part.
  • Radically expand gov't-industry partnerships. Used to be a special, rare thing for an intel officer to get to spend a year in industry; you should be rotating the entire (functionally appropriate) workforce in-and-out to partner companies every 4-5 years. The first-hand knowledge and new ideas gained is worth more in the long run than any short-term staffing pain up front.
  • Hold people accountable and publicly so. If you want people to take information security as seriously as they do any other aspect of security then you need to rap some knuckles (or worse) - and everyone needs to know about it - otherwise the attitude that bad behavior on a computer is of no consequence will lead you down a path towards a spectacular failure.

Solutions to most of the problems that continue to plague us in this area were generated in the aftermath of a major event several years ago. Of course the attitude that "compromise = shame" ruled the day and only about 20 people actually know how the nerds came up with a plan to save the virtual world (or at least make it easier to do so). The real shame here is that we continue to stand athwart the digital security divide . . . and do next to nothing.

Revisiting the Chinese X-Ray Machine

The controversy over the Port of Los Angeles purchasing a cargo x-ray security device from a Chinese company (but actually through an American go-between) has continued. This device is intended to scan large commercial vehicles for potentially harmful materials and devices. This was covered October 20th in an earlier post titled When the Lowest Bidder is a Chinese Company

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher whose Congressional District includes the Port of LA commented that "this contract should be declared null and void." In addition to media coverage of this sale (characterized by some people as "questionable"). perhaps the most revealing result of this is that Rapiscan, one of the two companies to lose out to the dramtically lower bid by Nuctech (the Chinese company), "has decided to save money by moving a portion of its own manufacturing to the People’s Republic of China."

Talk about unintended consequences. This issue probably isn't over. The real question is whether DHS and the new President will pay attention to the incongruity of a port security contract being awarded to a Chinese company.

November 2, 2008

Terrorism and Technology

The battlefields of the Global War on Terror have expanded. That is a reality. Earlier attention raised to the possible use of new technology including social media, virtual life spaces and the evolving use of blogs by terrorist organizations was often met by disbelief and derision among the communities of users. Now, however, there is a growing concern among security professionals and some in Congress that the “new media” could become part of the jihadist arsenal. Some, however, still argue that while the concept of virtual terror is important and real, that it represents proportionately a lower risk.

However real or not the potential of virtual space being used for real life terror, the Department of Homeland Security is giving the new media credit for the potential of being used. Just this week, there was a Sources Sought Notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website to determine capabilities to study the use of blogs among terrorists groups.

In very simple form, this FBO posting is likely only the beginning of the federal government capturing information and data from certain identified websites and blogs, focusing on key words and phrases. It looks like a veiled approach to a research program, especially in its requirement to have at least one team member possessing a Ph.D. in social sciences. It is however recognition by the DHS and others that special interest blogs can easily offer information and intelligence. There is no shortage of methods to hide messages within other messages known only to the sender and then intended recipients. Also, even amidst the anonymity of the Internet, methods of determining origins, based on phrasing for example are being explored. As stated in the FBO release:

"As the use of the internet by terrorists has increased, blogging and message boards have played a substantial role in allowing communication among those who would do the United States harm," the agency adds, in a solicitation for contractors. That's why "it is necessary to identify speech acts in near to real-time which proceed the decision by terrorists to use an IED."

As the phenomena of “social networking” has spread, so has the suspected use of such tools as “Twitter.” While some people see Twitter as a useless and intrusive method for teenagers and some “tech-savvy” business people to stay in constant communication, others worry that it could morph into the next way for terrorists, criminals and gang members to coordinate their nefarious activities.

Reported in an early September 2008 article to which our colleague Michael Tanji contributed, was a presentation made by Dr. Dwight Toavs at the Director of National Intelligence titled “Emerging Media – Its Effect on Organizations.” One of the essential elements of this article and the accompanying presentation offers insight to the world of virtuality and how plots could be hatched with the discussion of the plans being hidden within games. Clearly dramatized and fictional, the scenario describes a possible plot in which some of the newer applications for cell phones, digital maps, GPS locators and tools like Twitter could be utilized in an attack on the White House (described in the scenario as “White Keep”). Though based on Open Source Intelligence (see OSINT discussion in Open Source Intelligence and Homeland Security and Open Source ).

The impact of the use of Twitter to communicate to a network of Twitter enabled cell phones or to an on-line Twitter networking web site is further explained in this presentation put together on the Army's 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and found on the Federation of the American Scientists website.

Maybe the concept of “twittering terrorists” is still in the future, and maybe it is not. Observing the organic growth of social media tools among expanding communities of interested parties, especially among those who use these tools, makes it more of a reality than not. Perhaps the larger question is whether anyone wants to bet on the negative, that terrorist organizations are not already at least experimenting with real time communication in ways that today’s teenagers (and others) find as a normal part of everyday life.

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