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December 30, 2008

The "Z" is NOT for Zorro

The gruesome violence will not stop with the tolling of the New Year's bells, nor will it stop at the U.S. border. Many have written about the nexus of crime and terrorism; the fact is that drug crime and terrorism, mixed in with a healthy dose of youth gangs lies in front of us. Ask local law enforcement officials, but don't necessarily look for it to be reported in your local newspaper. You won't find much either about the increase in home invasions.

Earlier this month, the former girlfriend of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel showed up dead, and with a "Z" carved on her body as a reminder from Los Zetas. This is no warning. It is, regrettably, a sign of things to come. It is reality.

In El Paso where the Sun Bowl between Oregon State University and Pittsburgh will be held on December 31, the normal excursions of fans across the border to Juarez are being discouraged in direct response to the 1500 drug related murders that have occurred in Juarez in 2008. Some border towns are beginning to report a drop off in retail sales from people seeking bargains.

To make matters worse, a movie, billed as a "reality horror movie" titled "Drug Wars" is opening this weekend. Not surprising to me, the other day the sheriff of Hudspeth County near El Paso remarked that his men were outgunned and that the drug gangs had high-tech tools like satellite communications and imagery.

The habits and behaviors of "normal" Americans are changing because of the drug cartel violence. People continue to die because of drug cartel violence. People are reconnecting their home intrusion detection systems because of fear. By definition, this is terrorism, and a threat to our ways of life. And yet, they show a movie. Sure, the movie is intended to show the gruesome aspects of the drug wars. I can't help but think that some people will watch the movie and see it as glorifying that way of life.

December 28, 2008

How Insightful

Our Uncle flogs an expired equine:

The terrorism threat to the United States over the next five years will be driven by instability in the Middle East and Africa, persistent challenges to border security and increasing Internet savvy, says a new intelligence assessment obtained by The Associated Press.

While I am hesitant to comment too extensively on an assessment I haven't seen in full, if this report hits the highlights then someone is really doing a disservice to the consumer. Cyber threats, home-grown radicals, Jihadists . . . wow, how insightful. I am sure the version at a higher classification has a few juicier tid-bits, but enough to justify the level of effort put forth for such a publication? Unlikely.

Forget real or alleged politicization, this is the real reason why people who have to make hard decisions so often dismiss "intelligence." Intelligence, in a nutshell, should be telling you something you don't already know in a format or fashion that allows you to make better decisions and take more effective action. As far as one can tell this does none of that; it is a digest of the news and last time I checked news was more or less free.

The real threat here is not the bad actors being described, but a culture that lacks the fortitude to do things properly for fear of (largely misguided) slings and arrows. The perception that intelligence can or should never be wrong has probably cost more lives and caused more political-military disasters than any actually wrong intelligence report ever has. Telling people what they already know tells them nothing, and that's not silent, self-less service, that's malfeasance.

December 26, 2008

Meeting a Security Milestone - So?

It happened on December 6th. One of President Bush's objectives for border security was met when the total numbers of Border Patrol Agents surpassed 18,000. Yes, it is a significant number, yet, while it is slightly short of the goal, it does reflect a 47% increase in force. There are now over 800 of the Border agents are in Texas alone, but they have not prevented the spread of violence across the border. The results have already been shown a change in arrests of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the country.

Still, important and serious questions are raised as to whether manpower on the border with Mexico is the only alternative, and whether by focusing on the Mexican border, we are left vulnerable on a largely unprotected border with Canada, where with far fewer agents (now numbering 190 at the Blaine Washington U.S.-Canadian border checkpoint), the Border Patrol has resorted to setting up road blocks and questioning passengers about citizenship. The results of these roadblocks are being questioned, of course, by the ACLU, that wonders their Constitutionality.

Since the end of February, there have been 53 roadblocks set up at the Anacortes ferry terminal, state Route 20 near Newhalem and U.S. 101 on the Olympic Peninsula. Agents have arrested 81 illegal immigrants and turned 19 people over to other agencies for state crimes. They did this by stopping 24,524 vehicles and checking 41,912 people in those vehicles, records show.

Increasing the Border Patrol headcount alone is not the solution to protecting U.S. citizens from terrorists entering the country along with the continuing flood of illegal workers. There is some validity to the argument that a fence along the border is not the generally practical solution either. However, those who argue for open borders ignore the real danger that the World presents to a free society as we have here in the United States. Lacking is a border security solution that protects even the unguarded parts of our borders and a comprehensive immigration policy reform that avoids turning a blind-eye to people who have broken our sovereign laws.

Further, outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff is quoted in a "leaked" For Official Use Only report that the U.S. faces significant threats over the next five years. Related to this is the speech Chertoff gave last week at Georgetown University. Excerpted from the FOUO report:

Terrorists will continue to try to evade U.S. border security measures and place operatives inside the mainland to carry out attacks, the 38-page assessment said. It also said that they may pose as refugees or asylum seekers or try to exploit foreign travel channels such as the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 34 countries to enter the U.S. without visas.

It is possible that the stark reality is that many Americans see increased security measures, now 7 ½ years after the tragedy of September 11, 2001 as impositions. We haven't seen a successful or publicized terrorist attack in the U.S. We've only heard of the hidden cells. All too many Americans have grown complacent, maybe because, as before September 11th, we only see the violence and bloody results of terrorism in Mumbai and in Israel and other places where security measures have not worked as well as they have here. And yet, the notable blending of youth gang violence with the horrendous viciousness of the Mexican drug cartels serves as "fair warning" of domestic issues and "homegrown" terrorism. Solving the border security and immigration policy issues will fall to the next Adminstration. Our complacency could well be our undoing, despite contrary arguments.

December 23, 2008

We've Never Been Ready

It is not clear to me what I should be most concerned about; the fact that this sort of boilerplate still passes for news, or that despite the billions spent, the hours worked, and the rash of appointments of "czars" and other high-speed belly buttons we're still in the pickle we are in.

Not that people's hearts are not in the right place, but either we're serious about this or we are not. If we are not, stop talking and spending and start spending and acting. CNCI? I love it, if it means a dramatic boost in actual security and utility. As guys more observant than me have pointed out, we're not exactly building better mousetraps here.

My (functional) holiday wishes? That we only see new, meaningful stories on this issue in '09 and beyond, and that whomever we get to herd the INFOSEC cats is focused on serious solutions and not more gadgets.

December 18, 2008

When Private Interests Combat Piracy

The continuing piracy off of the coast of Somalia has created a flurry of activity to neutralize the attackers. From the sidelines, much of it seems like a lot of bureaucratic and political dust being kicked up without real action being taken. When considering the serious nature and implications of the pirate attacks on shipping and cruise lines across the Horn of Africa, the delayed response is “interesting.”

Let us look at two points of interest before getting to the crux of the event. Last week it was reported that shipping lines were reverting to the convoy tactics of World War II to help deter pirates off the coast of Somalia. These particular convoys are carrying food for the U.N. World Food Program. Initially, it might be remembered that the pirates claimed that by seizing the cargo, they were ensuring that the land-based warlords would not be able to divert the food shipments. While world navies have committed to protecting and escorting not-for-profit shipments, the for profit sea trade remains unprotected.

One of the things that exacerbates the problem of fighting the pirates is that the large Worldwide Somali expatriate population that not only feeds information to the bad guys, but also buys into syndicates and shares in the proceeds.

Somali Pirates own and operate a world-wide information gathering network, putting emphasis on searching for illegal cargo, such as the thirty-three tanks being carried on board the MV Faina, hijacked a couple of months ago.

Today, as noted by Doug Farah speaking to the UN Security Council Resolution 1851 authorizing land-based military actions in Somalia by countries fighting the pirates:

The only thing worse than taking no action when it is required is to promise action, and then fail to deliver. It reveals the weakness to do anything other than talk and threaten. If you have to do that, than you are likely not actually going to act.

Into this breach leaps American entrepreneurship and straightforward seizing the opportunity. A Texas based private security firm is now engaged in providing armed security escorts to deal with “open water threats and provide an electronic command center for threat detection and response, leveraging their teams between many vessels across the region.” While the mission was made public a week ago, there is no current indication of deployment or any engagement with pirates. However, while the United Nations, NATO and the affected nations and shipping lines await decisions to be made, a private company has taken the initiative. Rash actions? It’s hard to tell. Effective actions? We may never know.

December 15, 2008

Mexican Violence Continues to Unfold

As the year draws to a close, the drug related violence in Mexico continues.

Last week in Ciudad Juarez Mexico, four police officers were murdered in four separate attacks. This brings the 2008 murder toll in Juarez alone (across the border from El Paso) to 1,300; in all of Mexico, the death toll has reached more than 5,300 – more than twice 2007. This is based on government figures.

All of this happens in a year following the deployment of over 20,000 military troops across the country by President Calderon in an attempt to quell the violence of the drug cartels. The change in Administration will not change the danger posed to Americans by the continuing and expanding drug cartel violence. At the same time, reports of drug cartel-related violence crossing the border to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas continue. Further, the blending of the drug cartels with youth gangs now threatens to spread to border cities. The question of border (in)security is much more than the continuing flow of illegal immigrants.

If it wasn’t such a serious situation it might not be believable. In an unrelated crime, last week anti-kidnapping consultant Felix Batista was kidnapped in Mexico.

U.S. security consultant Felix Batista was in Saltillo in Coahuila state to offer advice on how to confront abductions for ransom when he himself was seized, local authorities said.

At this point, and understandably, no one is offering comment about the situation including who or what group is suspected in the crime or whether negotiations are occurring.

December 12, 2008

Right Idea, Wrong Approach

In the latest edition of Democracy Journal, John Nagl identifies the right idea, but wrong approach for solving the hard problems of tomorrow. Writing about Jonathan Stevenson (of the Naval War College) and his idea of a new type of think tank, Nagl says:

[Stevenson] proposes, instead, creating a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation, or FFRDC, dedicated to thinking about the Islamic terror threat in the same way that RAND thought about the Soviet nuclear threat. Stevenson suggests the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a model. It is undeniably a good and long-overdue idea, with likely payoffs hugely exceeding the few hundred million dollars such an organization would cost the taxpayer every year . . .

If escaping the bureaucratic model is the goal, an FFRDC (bless them for the work they do) is not the answer. Nagl argues from a different angle:

. . . RAND was so influential not least because it was the brains behind an enormously large and powerful set of muscles called the Strategic Air Command . . . DARPA provides thinking that feeds the mammoth U.S. defense industry. Stevenson’s proposed think tank would need similar need bone and muscle. But unlike the Strategic Air Command or the Department of Defense, the muscle we need today would motivate soft power, rather than hard steel.
I don't disagree in principal, but here's the problem in three easy steps:
  1. A few hundred million dollars brings out the worst sorts as well as the worst sorts of problems.
  2. A think tank to feed everything not DOD? You'd certainly need the hundreds of millions to run it in the traditional sense and you'd create a dozen fiefdoms that would focus largely on the next hundred million dollar appropriation, not the work at hand.
  3. The standard think tank model doesn't necessarily bring in the best minds or ideas available, usually just the "right" thinking.

For an amount of money several orders of magnitude smaller than previously proposed, one could operate a global think tank that the world's more original thinkers could produce the most disruptive and effective ideas. You might have heard of this idea before, maybe not. The point is that if you're thinking of a model that anyone in Washington is comfortable with, you're not thinking nearly big enough, smart enough, or powerful enough to deal with the threats of tomorrow, much less the ones of today.

December 10, 2008

Another Anthrax Hoax

It starts with a rather brief and almost innocuous news release from the FBI. Eight governors received envelopes containing a white powder. All of the letters were postmarked Dallas, Texas. This started yesterday with only seven, and as of a few minutes ago, now Texas governor Rick Perry had received one (now the tenth such letter).

If the potential implications weren’t so serious, it might be easy to dismiss this as a rash of pranks. But as we approach the Christmas rush and the onslaught of Holiday mail it is a problem that impacts public safety by distracting personnel from other duties.

Hoaxes of this type are dangerous at any time of the year. Hopefully, the FBI will identify the perpetrators and provide them with a small room in which to spend the next few years.

Political Turmoil in Canada: Should Americans Care?

It is likely a fair assumption that more Americans are familiar with Stephen Aboutman, the fictional head of the WGA made famous by South Park, than Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister (in the interest of full disclosure, I am Canadian and proud of it). To be fair, Canada has done little to garner any real international attention, thus evading the notice of many Americans (despite the fact that the U.S. and Canada are neighboring - spelled neighbouring up north - nations). But over the past few weeks, Canada has been embroiled in a political crisis that would rival anything the U.S. political system could conjure up - the opposition parties (the Liberal party, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois) have formed a coalition aimed at removing the ruling conservatives from power less than two months after federal elections. In fact, the calamity even garnered a feature on the Daily Show (see here and here).

Humor aside, why should American's care? The answer is not so obvious. In an editorial in today's Globe and Mail (Canada's leading national newspaper), J.L. Granatstein, a senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, offers the best elucidation yet as to what the consequences of the collapse of the conservative government might mean for America:

The implications are serious, primarily because the level of governmental anti-Americanism, recently held in check, may well increase substantially if the coalition comes to power. The reasons are obvious: The New Democratic Party has always been soft on defence and has historically trafficked in anti-Americanism; the Bloc has used anti-Americanism when it suited its purposes, which include pacifism and neutralism; and elements of the Liberals, up to and including foreign ministers and prime ministers, have not ordinarily been interested in the Canadian Forces and, when it suited their purposes, have deliberately played the anti-American card.

This has serious implications for the Canadian Forces and for relations with the United States. In the first place, the re-equipment of the armed forces, already slowed by an unwieldy procurement system, may not proceed under the coalition. The acquisition of new supply ships and Arctic patrol vessels; replacements for the navy's aged destroyers and for its frigates; the finalization of contracts for Chinook helicopters; new Hercules transports, unmanned aircraft and fighters; a replacement for the Aurora surveillance aircraft; new search-and-rescue aircraft, trucks and light armoured vehicles - all had become stuck in the sclerotic processes of the departments of National Defence and Public Works and could be killed. The Liberals have been lamentably soft on defence for the past 40 years; there is little doubt they will be even less interested in spending the very large sums that are necessary to restore the Canadian Forces if they are dependent on the NDP and Bloc.

The most immediate effects will be felt in Afghanistan, where Canada continues to play a crucial war in fighting the Taliban in Khandahar province. During the elections, the conservative government stated that it would end its military mission in 2011. The coalition has stated its support for this policy, but as Granatstein notes, "to do what? Will the battle group will be allowed to fight? Or would a new coalition government oblige it to pursue the passive, purely defensive role wanted by the NDP and Bloc?"

There are also more long-term consequences. Russia's resurgence and its desires to control the Arctic passageway, among other factors, have put an emphasis on a perimeter defense policy for the U.S., in which Canada will play a critical role. As noted earlier, the Canadian armed forces are not prepared to defend against emerging threats and are in desperate need of substantial capital investment - something which is unlikely under the coalition. As such, the burden for continental security could fall solely with the U.S.

Recent events, including the resignation of Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion (who would have served as Prime Minister under the coalition) and the appointment of Michael Ignatieff (who has never endorsed the coalition) as interim leader make it less likely that there will be a change of government in Canada. Nevertheless, Americans would be wise to note that the meager Canada is not such an insignificant part in the U.S.'s national security calculus.

December 9, 2008

Not a Promising Start

In a Sunday interview on NBC's Meet the Press, President-elect Obama reiterated his Iran policy:

Well, I've said before, I think we need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran... and present a set of carrots and sticks in, in changing their calculus about how they want to operate. You know, in terms of carrots, I think that we can provide economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that, despite being a net oil producer, is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot of unemployment problems there. They could benefit from a more open economy and, and being part of the international economic system. But we also have to focus on the sticks, and one of the main things that diplomacy can accomplish is to help knit together the kind of coalition with China and India and Russia and other countries that now do business with Iran to agree that, in order for us to change Iran's behavior, we may have to tighten up those sanctions. But we are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and, and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or, or the easy way.

Those remarks should not come as a surprise - Mr. Obama has been consistent in his Iran policy over the course of the election season. The question is, will it work?

Iran's initial response does not seem promising. On Monday morning, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi condemned the policy as a mere reiteration of the failed Bush administration approach: "What Mr. Obama said is the same old carrot-and-stick approach... He must be able to change this policy based on his slogan of ‘change.’" Today, while speaking at an 'Eid Qurban' (Feast of Sacrifice) prayer services, former-President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani took the condemnation further:

Iranian nation and government neither want the US incentives nor sanctions because they (the tactics) will prevent the country treading the path to peaceful use of nuclear energy and science...

For 30 years you have been calling for talks with us and we refused. Now, you lay tough conditions to make us talk with you? Have you forgotten the time when the US hostages were in Iran and your envoys came (here) for talks to secure their (the hostages') release and the late Imam (Khomeini) in Qum ordered (the envoys) to return? Have you forgotten (former US National Security Advisor) Mr. (Robert C.) McFarlane coming to Iran with an Irish passport and our officials declined to talk with him and the second and third grade directors talked with him instead? We are the ones who should call for talks with you.

We do not expect a person, considering himself representative of the African continent and of the oppressed US blacks, to parrot others such as (the outgoing US President George W.) Bush. We do not wish to quarrel with the US or go into war and fighting with it. We want to defend our right to benefit from global sciences and technology and stand on our own feet. ...

You are advised to take a right course, acknowledge to Iran's right and not to deny Iranians' rights. Let Iran, as an exemplary independent Muslim state, stand on its feet and serve as model of independence and freedom for other countries. ...

Such issues as human rights, terrorism and nuclear are mere pretexts.
With regards to Iran's support of terrorism, Ayatollah Rafsanjani offered this defense:
The terrorists they claim are Hizbollah and Hamas. Hizbollah is a resistance force in Lebanon which has rid people of the country of Israel's occupation and Hamas too is representative of the world's most oppressed people (Palestinians), who defend themselves.

Are these terrorists? ...

Terrorists are either those coming from overseas to the region and have put people there in misery or their agents in Israel which has come into existence and formed through terror.

Rafsanjani's comments clearly indicate that Iran feels it currently has the upper hand in the nuclear debate. Carrots will not work unless Iran has something to fear. Since the international community has failed to show it has the sticks to punish Iran, the Islamic Republic is unlikely to relent until such leverage is established. How to do that is up for debate.

December 8, 2008

The Limits of U.S. Sanctions

An interesting, if not depressing article in the Boston Globe this weekend that highlights the limits of sanctions in stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions. Recognizing the shortcomings of the international process, the U.S. has imposed its own sanctions aimed at cutting off Iran's access to American technological innovation - a move that has hindered the Islamic Republic's ability to develop critical infrastructure.

It seems, however, that Iran is still getting its hands on some things. The Boston Globe reports:

In the oil fields of Iran, a 2,000-pound drilling tool shaped like a metal pipe probes deep under the earth for fresh supplies of crude, the lifeblood of one of the most formidable foes of the United States.

While helping to enrich Iran's economy, the drilling tool also presents a potential risk to American security, were it to fall into the wrong hands. It is powered by a radioactive chemical that scientists say could fuel a so-called "dirty bomb," capable of spreading radiation across many city blocks.

The tool is the type of sophisticated technology that the United States has sought for 13 years to prevent from reaching Iran, a country the US government says is financing terrorism with its oil profits.

But the device - developed by the oil-services firm Schlumberger in labs in Connecticut and Texas - was brought to Iran through a legal loophole that allows multinational corporations to use foreign subsidiaries to sidestep US sanctions, according to a Globe investigation.

And how is Schlumberger conducting business with Iran without facing penalties from the U.S. government? The answer is apparently quite simple:

Since 1995, federal regulations have barred Americans from exporting goods, technology, or services to Iran, and also prohibited non-Americans from directly exporting US-made equipment there.

But the regulations leave the door open for companies to stock the warehouses of their overseas subsidiaries for general international commerce, after which the subsidiaries can "reexport" the goods to Iran, so long as no Americans were involved in the transfers.

Such "reexports" are generally regarded as legal if the goods are not on a Commerce Department list of items with potential military applications, according to current and former Commerce Department officials.

"If a company has got all their ducks in a row, they can take advantage of [the reexportation exception] and I'm sure that they do," said Richard Modesette, a former special agent with the Commerce Department's Office of Export Enforcement in Houston.

The regulations were designed to allow companies to avoid penalties if they happened to send low-tech items, such as light bulbs or tires, to stock warehouses overseas, and the goods inadvertently ended up in Iran, the current and former officials said.

But over the years, sophisticated oil machinery, including devices that contain radioactive material, began to be sent to Iran in this way, seriously eroding the impact of the sanctions.

The vast majority of US exports - an estimated 96 percent - are not on the Commerce Department list, and therefore could potentially make their way to Iran. Schlumberger's radioactive drilling tool, called the azimuthal density neutron tool, is not on the list, according the company.

Moreover, while much of the Schlumberger's R&D is conducted in its Texas and Connecticut laboratories and its CEO is based in Houston, it is not a U.S. company. Rather, it is registered in the Netherlands Antilles.

Congress is working to close some of the loopholes by "holding US companies accountable for the work of their foreign subsidiaries in Iran." Such a move, however, will not effect Schlumberger or other non-U.S. based companies.

The outlook is not promising and only emphasizes the need for greater multilateral cooperation if Iran is going to be stopped (a difficult task on its own).

"It is getting harder and harder to make sanctions effective," said Michael Lynch, an oil market analyst and director at Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc., an energy consulting firm based in Winchester. "It has gotten to the point where keeping the technology away from [Iran and other countries under sanctions] is almost impossible."

President-elect Obama is going to have his hands full when he takes office in January.

KSM To Plead Guilty at GITMO

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has offered to plead guilty "in full" to charges against him and four of his followers regarding the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks. From Bloomberg:

The five reached agreement to “announce our confessions and plea in full,” according to a document read in court by Judge Stephen Henley, an Army colonel.

“I do not trust Americans,” Mohammed, who has previously said he wanted to be martyred, told the judge today. He claimed the existence of an “agreement between Bush and CIA who tortured me,” and the court, though he didn’t explain what he meant.

Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the five alleged Sept. 11 conspirators including Mohammed, who has said he organized the al-Qaeda attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania seven years ago. Relatives of five victims of the attacks sat in the gallery; it was the first time victims’ relatives were present in the courtroom with the terrorism defendants.

“Are you prepared to enter pleas to the charges against you today?” the judge asked Mohammed.

“Yes,” Mohammed responded.

The document read today in court was filed by all five defendants on Nov. 4 following a series of meetings among them.

“Our success is the greatest praise of the Lord,” the judge read from the document.

‘Without Any Pressure’

“All of these decisions are undertaken by us without any pressure or influence by Khalid Sheikh,” co-defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali told the judge. “What was said or will be said by Khalid Sheikh will be repeated by us, also.”

Seven years on, movement on the legal front.

December 7, 2008

Inevitability of a WMD Attack?

Earlier this week Vice President elect Joseph Biden was briefed on the just released study by the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism that a WMD attack was likely sooner than later and that the supposed “margin of safety” was narrowing. The “top line” of the report is that while terrorist groups (with al Qaeda still being the prime concern and suspect) lacked the technical capabilities to actually make the weapon, the ability to find cooperating scientists could enable such an attack is increasing. Further, the Commission warned that all roads lead to Pakistan when it comes to weaponizing a WMD. Specifically, the Mumbai attacks last week, of necessity, raise the specter of an attack being planned and launched from inside of Pakistan, and more specifically, from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

In a sense, the release of this new government report, is new, but it is not necessarily news. The warnings about bio-terrorism have been a part of a clarion call since November 3, 2003 when an unclassified CIA Report discussed the risks inherent in the super-accelerated biotechnology sector. The earlier report, “The Darker Bioweapons Future” went just so far. If told us that the fear was the proliferation of weapons, of labs going research and of the growing number of people engaged in the science of developing new “bugs” so that countermeasures could be developed. They talked about the development of elixirs of combinations of a mild pathogen with its antidote (a virulent mixture); or of designer pathogens designed to challenge existing antidotes to force the development of new ones; or most scary, a stealth virus that could lie dormant until triggered. What “The Darker Bioweapons Future” did not cover was the possibility of scientists becoming turncoats and offering weapons skills and capabilities to terrorists, and that the origin of the threat might be in Pakistan. Frankly, it took the passage of a few years and some history to conclude that the threat might be real, and that the enemy might lie in the guise of a lab coat. In 2003, no one really considered the possibility that a scientist might “go to the dark side.”

Some of the highlights and recommendations of the report to take away from the report were:

- Nuclear and biological weapons are proliferating: Yes, indeed, they are. The question of course relates to their availability to access of terrorists organizations to them. The statement that as proliferation continues (that more countries come into possession) the more likely a nefarious end occurs, is obviously true.

- I think correctly, although disturbingly, every terrorist act anywhere in the world brings us closer to the moment that an attack with a WMD occurs is unfortunately true. It is in this case, inevitable. While tactics do merge and evolve and morph, the reality is that with every incident, the “terrorists” are emboldened by successful attack and will seek to expand.

- The conclusion that a terrorist organization would obtain a biological as opposed to a nuclear or radiological capability is likely, especially considering the proliferation of biological research and testing laboratories worldwide. As a side note, regardless of where the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility is located (recent announcements were that the NBAF will be located in Kansas, rather than San Antonio with some people concerned that the decision has more to do with politics than actual capability), the existence of new biological research capabilities logically increase the possibility that a scientist could be lured by money or other to “cross the line.”

As noted by the Report, even though the Biological Weapons Conventions Treaty was signed in 1972, a number of countries blatantly violate it, and still there are countries like Egypt, Israel and Syria that never signed it. Further it is feared the Russia, China, Iran and North Korea may be secretly pursuing programs. Even though it is acknowledged that terrorist organizations like al Qaeda likely lack the technical skills to weaponize a biological agent (like anthrax), the fear is real that as more countries violate or circumvent the BWC, or as more companies in the United States and elsewhere work with such pathogens, that a rogue scientist, for whatever motivation, might lead to combining with a terrorist organization.

"The United States should be less concerned that terrorists will become biologists and far more concerned that biologists will become terrorists," the report states.

Thus, as with other scientific skills and perhaps not unlike the beginning of the proliferation of the nuclear arms race and the race into space, the acquisition of talent can propel a country or now, a terrorist organization from being a non-player into a power.

The potential scenarios are as endless as they are believable. The question is plausibility. No one should doubt the goal of al Qaeda and its followers to eventually gain the ability to mount a WMD attack on the West. The question is how it will acquire the capabilities and whether through policy and actions, those countries now in possession of the tools of a new holocaust will protect the rest of the world. Until now, the nonproliferation efforts have focused on nuclear weapons. One of the shirts needed it would appear is an increased diligence in the vetting process of hiring scientists at facilities that handles biological toxins. The question then extends to research universities. Who gets to work at the myriad BSL3 and BSL4 laboratories around the country?

Of course, while anthrax remains the most likely biological weapon, the report also highlights the potential of contagious diseases — like the flu strain that killed 40 million at the beginning of the 20th century — are looming threats. That virus has been recreated in scientific labs, and there remains no inoculation to protect against it if is stolen and released.

Another area of concern is the ongoing monitoring of global outbreaks of infectious diseases. Surveillance of diseases and outbreaks, and ensuring that infected individuals do not cross borders becomes an important element in preventing biological terrorism in the United States. Of course, this brings to mind the case of Andrew Speaker in May 2007 who knowingly returned to the U.S. while suffering from an especially drug resistant strain of tuberculosis by taking a flight from Europe to Montreal and then crossing the border by car.

“There’s a lot of international coordination that has to get done, and questions about what the triggers are for doing so,” she said. “It seems like there needs to be a really clear standard if someone is a risk or not, and if someone is a risk, there ought to be a clear trigger for quarantine or isolation.”

The thirteen recommendations made in the report are listed below.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States should undertake a series of mutually reinforcing domestic measures to prevent bioterrorism: (1) conduct a comprehensive review of the domestic program to secure dangerous pathogens, (2) develop a national strategy for advancing bioforensic capabilities, (3) tighten government oversight of high-containment laboratories, (4) promote a culture of security awareness in the life sciences community, and (5) enhance the nation’s capabilities for rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The United States should undertake a series of mutually reinforcing measures at the international level to prevent biological weapons proliferation and terrorism: (1) press for an international conference of countries with major biotechnology industries to promote biosecurity, (2) conduct a global assessment of biosecurity risks, (3) strengthen global disease surveillance networks, and (4) propose a new action plan for achieving universal adherence to and effective national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, for adoption at the next review conference in 2011.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The United States should work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, reaffirming the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons by (1) imposing a range of penalties for NPT violations and withdrawal from the NPT that shift the burden of proof to the state under review for noncompliance; (2) ensuring access to nuclear fuel, at market prices to the extent possible, for non-nuclear states that agree not to develop sensitive fuel cycle capabilities and are in full compliance with international obligations; (3) strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, to include identifying the limitations to its safeguarding capabilities, and providing the agency with the resources and authorities needed to meet its current and expanding mandate; (4) promoting the further development and effective implementation of counterproliferation initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism; (5) orchestrating consensus that there will be no new states, including Iran and North Korea, possessing uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capability; (6) working in concert with others to do everything possible to promote and maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing; (7) working toward a global agreement on the definition of “appropriate” and “effective” nuclear security and accounting systems as legally obligated under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540; and (8) discouraging, to the extent possible, the use of financial incentives in the promotion of civil nuclear power.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The United States should work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, reaffirming the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons by (1) imposing a range of penalties for NPT violations and withdrawal from the NPT that shift the burden of proof to the state under review for noncompliance; (2) ensuring access to nuclear fuel, at market prices to the extent possible, for non-nuclear states that agree not to develop sensitive fuel cycle capabilities and are in full compliance with international obligations; (3) strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, to include identifying the limitations to its safeguarding capabilities, and providing the agency with the resources and authorities needed to meet its current and expanding mandate; (4) promoting the further development and effective implementation of counterproliferation initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism; (5) orchestrating consensus that there will be no new states, including Iran and North Korea, possessing uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capability; (6) working in concert with others to do everything possible to promote and maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing; (7) working toward a global agreement on the definition of “appropriate” and “effective” nuclear security and accounting systems as legally obligated under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540; and (8) discouraging, to the extent possible, the use of financial incentives in the promotion of civil nuclear power.

RECOMMENDATION 5: As a top priority, the next administration must stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. In the case of Iran, this requires the permanent cessation of all of Iran’s nuclear weapons–related efforts. In the case of North Korea, this requires the complete abandonment and dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. If, as appears likely, the next administration seeks to stop these programs through direct diplomatic engagement with the Iranian and North Korean governments, it must do so from a position of strength, emphasizing both the benefits to them of abandoning their nuclear weapons programs and the enormous costs of failing to do so. Such engagement must be backed by the credible threat of direct action in the event that diplomacy fails.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The next President and Congress should implement a comprehensive policy toward Pakistan that works with Pakistan and other countries to (1) eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic, and diplomatic means; (2) secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan; (3) counter and defeat extremist ideology; and (4) constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The next U.S. administration should work with the Russian government on initiatives to jointly reduce the danger of the use of nuclear and biological weapons, including by (1) extending some of the essential verification and monitoring provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that are scheduled to expire in 2009; (2) advancing cooperation programs such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, and the Proliferation Security Initiative; (3) sustaining security upgrades at sensitive sites in Russia and elsewhere, while finding common ground on further reductions in stockpiles of excess highly enriched uranium; (4) jointly encouraging China, Pakistan, and India to announce a moratorium on the further production of nuclear fissile materials for nuclear weapons and to reduce existing nuclear military deployments and stockpiles; and (5) offering assistance to other nations, such as Pakistan and India, in achieving nuclear confidence-building measures similar to those that the United States and the USSR followed for most of the Cold War.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The President should create more efficient and effective policy coordination structure by designating a White House principal advisor for WMD proliferation and terrorism and restructuring the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Congress should reform its oversight both structurally and substantively to better address intelligence, homeland security, and crosscutting 21st-century national security missions such as the prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Accelerate integration of effort among the counterproliferation, counter-terrorism, and law enforcement communities to address WMD proliferation and terrorism issues; strengthen expertise in the nuclear and biological fields; prioritize pre-service and in-service training and retention of people with critical scientific, language, and foreign area skills; and ensure that the threat posed by biological weapons remains among the highest national intelligence priorities for collection and analysis.

RECOMMENDATION 11: The United States must build a national security workforce for the 21st century.

RECOMMENDATION 12: U.S. counter-terrorism strategy must more effectively counter the ideology behind WMD terrorism. The United States should develop a more coherent and sustained strategy and capabilities for global ideological engagement to prevent future recruits, supporters, and facilitators.

RECOMMENDATION 13: The next administration must work to openly and honestly engage the American citizen, encouraging a participatory approach to meeting the challenges of the new century.

To a degree, none of this is a surprise. But it does serve as a reminder that that lack of an attack on the U.S. homeland does not ensure that such an attack will not occur. The recent commando style attack in Mumbai also lays open a number of previously undiscussed scenarios that warrant consideration moving forward. Finally, the implications of the unsettled political and terrorist climate in Pakistan create a situation that must be watched.

December 2, 2008

Operational Metamorphosis: Mumbai, ISI, LeT and al-Qaeda

[Update below.]

To understand how the Mumbai attack seems to have been an original small-scale ISI plan for Kashmir which was then 'hijacked' by al-Qaeda and turned into a three-day display of urban terrorism, read Syed Saleem Shahzad today in the Asia Times. After a superbly concise (and essential) background history of the al-Qaeda-India-Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) dynamic, Shahzad cuts to the chase.

India has never been a direct al-Qaeda target. This has been due in part to Delhi's traditionally impartial policy of strategic non-alignment and in part to al-Qaeda using India as a safe route from the Arabian Sea into Gujrat and then on to Mumbai and then either by air or overland to the United Arab Emirates. Al-Qaeda did not want to disrupt this arrangement by stirring up attacks in India.

Nevertheless, growing voices from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and from within India for the country to be a strategic partner of NATO and the US in Afghanistan compelled al-Qaeda, a year ago, to consider a plan to utilize Islamic militancy structures should this occur.

Several low-profile attacks were carried out in various parts of India as a rehearsal and Indian security agencies still have no idea who was behind them. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda was not yet prepared for any bigger moves, like the Mumbai attacks.

Under directives from Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kiani, who was then director general (DG) of the ISI, a low-profile plan was prepared to support Kashmiri militancy. That was normal, even in light of the peace process with India. Although Pakistan had closed down its major operations, it still provided some support to the militants so that the Kashmiri movement would not die down completely.

After Kiani was promoted to chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj was placed as DG of the ISI. The external section under him routinely executed the plan of Kiani and trained a few dozen LET militants near Mangla Dam (near the capital Islamabad). They were sent by sea to Gujrat, from where they had to travel to Kashmir to carry out operations.

Meanwhile, a major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago officially shelved this low-key plan as the country's whole focus had shifted towards Pakistan's tribal areas. The director of the external wing was also changed, placing the "game" in the hands of a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) and the LET's commander-in-chief, Zakiur Rahman.

Zakiur was in Karachi for two months to personally oversee the plan. However, the militant networks in India and Bangladesh comprising the Harkat, which were now in al-Qaeda's hands, tailored some changes. Instead of Kashmir, they planned to attack Mumbai, using their existent local networks, with Westerners and the Jewish community center as targets.

Zakiur and the ISI's forward section in Karachi, completely disconnected from the top brass, approved the plan under which more than 10 men took Mumbai hostage for nearly three days and successfully established a reign of terror.

The attack, started from ISI headquarters and fined-tuned by al-Qaeda, has obviously caused outrage across India. The next issue is whether it has the potential to change the course of India's regional strategy and deter it from participating in NATO plans in Afghanistan.

He goes on to explain what few have well: That the fighting in Karachi since the Mumbai attacks that has left 35 killed and over 200 injured is between the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), "comprising people who migrated to Pakistan after the partition of British India in 1947," and the Pashtun sub-nationalist ANP (Awami National Party). This ethnic dynamic is critical to understanding the conflict in Karachi, and another indication of just how much a tinderbox Pakistan is.

A couple points on what Shahzad has written. If accurate (and Shahzad is normally uncannily so), then:
1. ISI fingerprints are on the genesis of the attack plan.

2. Upper echelons of ISI delegated seemingly unsupervised to a junior officer, who signed off on the LeT/al-Qaeda alterations from small Kashmir assault to large scale Mumbai killing spree.

3. Upper echelons of ISI & military perhaps unaware of alterations, but not with clean hands. Kashmir or Mumbai, they planned terror attacks.

4. That "major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago," recall, was when Lt. General Nadeem Taj, a relative of Musharraf, was forced out as Director General of the ISI. It was a Pakistani intelligence shake-up largely by American insistence.

5. While the US had hoped the 'double dealing' of Taj would have left with him, it has to be understood that General Kiyani - head of Pakistan's military and thus effectively its military intelligence (ISI) - while admirably stalwart against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the North West and tribal areas, has always been equally stalwart regarding the Pakistani conflict with India over disputed Kashmir.

General Kiyani may have intended a minor operation for Kashmir and was almost certainly in the dark about the metamorphosis of the operation into a Mumbai massacre, but the law of unintended consequences holds little acquittal when leaders play with the fire of terrorism.

Even while the ISI political wing was disbanded just days before the Mumbai attack, the shakeup atop the ISI is irrelevant without a trickle-down impact. And so long as 'mid-level' men such as Major Zakiur Rahman man posts and sign off on al-Qaeda affiliates' massacres, there is little hope for Pakistan's emergence from the tinderbox of terrorism without itself being consumed by the very fires it tolerates.

Westerners call it a 'come to Jesus' moment. Whatever the South Asian equivalent, Pakistan has yet to have its own. When it does, the fighting inside Pakistan, among Pakistanis (and assorted imported radical travelers) will be fierce and bloody. May the jihadiyun not be the only ones armed and willing to fight.

UPDATE: Also later included more at The Tank on National Review Online.

I have remarked before that America's natural ally in the War on Terror is India. Elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence sympathetic to al-Qaeda will do the terrorists' bidding and drive the final wedge. This probably isn't it. But "the final wedge" will look very similar unless Pakistani leaders truly have a "come to Jesus" moment, as we Westerners like to call it. I am quite sure Pakistani Muslims would prefer a different choice of words. I am also quite sure that many of us presume a "come to Jesus" moment for Pakistan would be a moment where terrorists are categorically rejected. Yet it may well be in quite the opposite direction.

Either way, it will be a moment of clarity. That much, at least, will be welcomed by many, if not the events that follow.

UPDATE II: A reader asked via Twitter earlier for some clarification that others may similarly wonder.

Is the ISI major and LeT's Rahman TWO different guys, or is it the SAME guy? Shazad wording confused me on that point.

I responded via Twitter the following.

Major Rahman is ISI and its 'liaise' to LeT. Commander from ISI's perspective, not necessarily LeT's. Make sense?

Further, as Syed explains: The level to which the ISI dog wags the LeT tail is very diminished. And vice-versa in this case, actually.

December 1, 2008

Mumbai: Islamist Terror's New Modus Operandi

No sooner than I state that one should "[e]xpect the Mumbai tactics to be duplicated and replicated in large cities throughout the region when al-Qaeda affiliates launch attacks going forward," than I read my friend Olivier Guitta today in the Middle East Times calling Mumbai Islamist Terror's New Modus Operandi.

Mumbai, India's financial capital is now only barely waking up from its worst nightmare. Last week in simultaneous attacks, Islamist terrorists killed at least 195 people and injured another 300 during a 60-hour killing spree. The tactics used by the terrorists were different from the classical jihadist playbook. Does it mean that Mumbai-style attacks are the new jihadist modus operandi?

Olivier answers the rhetorical question with a resounding 'yes.' I violently agree, clearly.

New Delhi Threat: More Terrorists Loose in India

Fresh reports that more terrorists are 'on the run' in or around Mumbai. In addition to the unknown number of terrorist facilitators, planners, coordinators and collaborators that set up shop in Mumbai before the attack of last week, five more infiltrators are suspected to be on the loose.

Officials in Mumbai have failed to account for the movement of the terrorists believed to have been part of the operation to attack multiple high profile targets in the commercial capital.

Diplomats said the primary focus of the terrorists is likely to shift outside the city. The Intelligence Bureau was reported to have circulated a warning that four prominent targets in Delhi were under imminent threat from the Deccan Mujahideen, including Indira Ghandi International Airport and the city's main railway.

An intercepted email from the group also revealed plans to use auto-rickshaws in a fast-moving blitz on the city. Police have stepped up spot checks on Delhi's tens of thousands of three-wheeled taxis.

Eight men that were said to have paved the way for last week's attacks by infiltrating Mumbai, taking a flat and carrying out reconnaissance missions in the targeted hotels have not been traced.

Officials also revealed that five more men, in addition to the 10 who carried out the attacks, are suspected to have arrived on the fast dinghies used by the attackers. A total of 15 life jackets were found when the dinghies were recovered.

In addition to the 15 life jackets, there were also fifteen sets of other items found aboard the Indian fishing vessel hijacked to transport the terrorists from Pakistani waters to Indian waters near Mumbai, including 15 toothbrushes and similar items.

Reports of the one live captured Mumbai attacker stating he was a part of a team of 10 brings questions to the fore:

Was he telling the truth or continuing his jihad by deception?

Were some of the items aboard the Indian vessel possibly that of the original crew (which was 5, one found beheaded and four others missing - likely tossed overboard) in addition to the ten referenced?

Was there more than one infiltration, with terrorists making their way to New Delhi posing as Bangladeshi students, as the Mumbai attackers had in dry runs?

Regardless, let's acknowledge that the aim of these attacks, as initially observed early on, is and will remain going forward the instigation of a state-on-state Indo-Pak war. Such serves the Islamist terrorist groups feeling the pinch from US and Pakistani military forces in northwest Pakistan.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba, a signatory to bin Laden's International Islamic Front agreement issued in 1998 which officially formed al-Qaeda, has as its stated purpose the breakup of India and control of Muslim-majority areas - then the rest of India - as an early part of the establishment of a greater global caliphate. To intellectually separate Lashkar-e-Taiba from al-Qaeda is to intellectually separate the Buffalo Bills from the NFL. No matter what its members say publicly.

Earlier this evening, I spoke via telephone with the official representative of JUD, Abdullah Muntazir, to discuss the situation in Mumbai and mounting allegations of involvement by LET and/or Pakistani Islamists. Muntazir strongly denied these charges, referring to the attacks as an "internal problem" for India. He repeatedly insisted to me, "we have nothing to do with it", and blamed Indian "propaganda" for "divert[ing] the attention of the public media" --- which he described as "their usual practice." Interestingly, during our conversation, Muntazir went even further and actually condemned the events that have taken place in Mumbai as needless "carnage": "Islam does not permit killing civilian people." He added, "I don't think that this is a legitimate tactic."

Other leaders of the LeT have clarified in the past, quite literally, that when they say "innocents" are not permitted to be killed, by "innocents we mean Muslims." Muslims were not under attack in Mumbai. Indians, British, Americans and Jews (also expressed to attackers as "find white people") were under attack and murdered. Dismiss Muntazir's above statement as the deflective disinformation that it is. LeT is a signatory to bin Laden's International Islamic Front - ie al-Qaeda. And for al-Qaeda, even Muslims are permitted to be killed on their 'Holy' quest.

Expect the Mumbai tactics to be duplicated and replicated in large cities throughout the region when al-Qaeda affiliates launch attacks going forward. The near term, according to intercepts, appears to indicate the Indian capital of New Delhi as the next target.

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