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February 27, 2009

Media Complainers Can Pound Sand

In highlighting Matt Burden's response at Blackfive to the change in rules regarding the media photography of flag-draped coffins of our fallen brothers, I am somewhat less polite at The Tank on National Review Online in response to the media complaints.

I am paraphrasing from memory here, but absolutely confident in the recollection. After noting the decision as a victory for the media, who have long simply wanted to "honor the fallen troops," the article noted objections from the media regarding the requirement of permission from families because it "made it nearly impossible to photograph the planeloads of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover."

That early graph is quite telling. If the aim is to honor the fallen, then with the permission of the surviving family, the best way to honor a fallen American man or woman is to capture their indiviual coffin and procession. Name them. Explain who they were, what they did, why and where they served. That's honoring them.

But most of the media simply doesn't want to get dragged out to individual funeral processions. It's quite a bother. Instead, their objectives are often disconnected from honor and instead focused on journalism critical of war efforts.

Don't take my word for it. Look at the coverage of the Iraq war sans images of draped coffins. How many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were you introduced to? How many reports of individual stories of sacrifice, courage and honor did you hear? How many of the fallen did you actually get to know as they were dutifully honored by the national media?

Now, contrast that struggle with how many times you have read daily and cumulative U.S. body counts on the morning paper's front page, heard the numbers on the radio on the way to work, or seen the figures displayed on the evening news?

Quite a revealing exercise, no? Well, images of groups of coffins being unloaded from the backs of millitary cargo planes at Dover are the graphic equivalent of the same: body count. Rarely is that image intended to honor. If it were, there would be some honoring within the accompanying text of precisely who rests beneath the Colors, what they did, and how they served.

So those who object to the family permission requirement being applied to media photography of both the Dover arrivals and the individual ceremonies at the resting places of the fallen can, quite frankly, pound sand.

When it comes to protecting and respecting our fallen brothers-in-arms from self-serving media exploiters, we do not operate with "no-income-verification loans." We've followed your history and find you with a record of bankruptcy and unworthy of credit.

Seriously. Pound sand.

Please, media whiners, just shut up already. Show me the money. Show me - and the rest of the American public - where the media "honoring the fallen" has occurred in the past in comparison to incessant body count figures and anonymous, nameless mentions of casualties.

I don't mind disagreeing. We can argue point-counterpoint like adults with differing views.

But I do mind being lied to and will not accept - at all - the false premise that pictures of coffin-laden cargo planes are needed to "honor our fallen heroes." That's such a load of crap it would be laughable if the honor and memory of the fallen were not so closely and passionately guarded by brothers-in-arms.

Indeed, the media's 'military honor fund' (generally speaking, with a few exceptions) has a credit history that reaches back over four decades to Vietnam. It has maintained a consistent history of bankruptcy and default throughout the duration. We are not inclined to reducing the honor of the fallen to junk bond status in exchange for another extension of credit that will immediately go into default.

Go shop crazy some place else. We're all stocked up here.

A Son's Homecoming and Reflection

Upon the safe return of his Marine son from deployment in harm's way, a good man - Herschel Smith at The Captain's Journal - has a few Thoughts on the New Media and Military Blogging that you might take the time to consider today.

One of the brighter sides of blogging like this is the exchange of e-mail that occurs between bloggers and professional military. Guys like the Godfather of Milblogging, Matthew Currier Burden, knows who I am and is happy to talk with me. TCJ has enjoyed the witty quips back and forth between Andrew Exum who blogs at Abu Muqawama. It has been a pure pleasure to get to know Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal. TCJ absolutely cherishes the long, thoughtful, scholarly and very personal notes back and forth with Col. Gian Gentile, Academy Professor and Military History Division Chief at West Point. TCJ also appreciates all of the trust various professional military have placed in us, giving us first hand accounts, personal perspectives, good analysis and sometimes OPSEC (which of course TCJ doesn't divulge). This is always good for creating the right perspective, even if the information is too sensitive to share. And TCJ is smart enough to know when something is too sensitive to share.

Mostly, TCJ is thankful to God for the safe return of our very own warrior from Iraq, and soon-to-be safe return from the 26th MEU. This blog existed as an outlet on sleepless nights waiting for that fateful knock at the door by a Marine Chaplain that didn't happen. If there is a single bit of worth to this blog it will be continued. But this is so very difficult to measure. What metric would one apply, and how would data be gathered to assess that metric?

There are still many questions, and this article hasn't yielded any answers.

For the rest of us, one important question was answered by Herschel's article. "How's your Leatherneck son doing?" Glad to have the answer provided above, and we are also very grateful for your own efforts and diligence through The Captain's Journal.

To father and son, Semper Fi.

We've Been In Denial

I find it extraordinarily hard to accept the denial of the Bush or Obama Adminstrations emergence of the problems in Mexico (that began at least 3 years ago with the first of many cross-border incursions). Its is most frustrating to know that while billions of dollars have been spent on the War on Terror(ism) that awareness and recognition of the threat so much closer to home has struck with such "suddenness"

Even still, former Governor Janet Napolitano, now entrusted with the responsibility as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is expected to appear on this Sunday's 60 Minutes and praise the efforts of the Mexican government, blame the upsurge in violence on the export of firearms to Mexico from the U.S., and have the epiphany of revealing corruption in the Mexican government and police. That is laughable, and ignores the fundamental fact that the core of Los Zetas were trained by the United States in special operations tactics before they went rogue.

It should also not be lost on American citizens that a crackdown on the purchase of firearms and ammunition is on the horizon.

Mexico's Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. "Two thousand and 200 grenades, missile and rocket launchers, .50-cal sniper rifles," says Medina Mora. The vast majority of these guns - 90 percent - are being purchased just over the border in the U.S. Medina-Mora wants this stopped. "The Second Amendment was never designed to arm criminal groups, especially not foreign criminal groups," says Medina-Mora. "We believe that much more needs to be done. We need a much more committed effort from the U.S.," he says.

To his credit, Texas Governor Rick Perry has called for the U.S to put 1,000 troops on the Mexican border. Recognizing that the federal government is now only going to hold hearings to "study" the problem, he has also asked the Texas legislature for $135 million to support border security.

"We're (also) asking the (Texas) Legislature for $135 million for border security - to go after transnational gangs, for technology and aviation assets."

The drug violence in Mexico killed more than 5,800 people last year; since January 1, 2009, the murder rate has already hit 1,000! The revelation of warning students on Spring Break to avoid "crossing the river," is ludicrous. All of a sudden this is "sage advice"? That anyone would vacation or worse, send a child to a university in Mexico given the lengthy trail of violence in Mexico is beyond my imagination.

Yet, in contrast, el Presidente Felipe Calderone audaciously denies that his country is a failing state and that the cartels do not control any part of the country.

"To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false. I have not lost any part, any single point, of the Mexican territory," he said.

"Colombia lost [territory] during several decades... and even today huge parts of its territory [are] in the hands of the criminals, or the guerrillas, or some combination of drug traffickers and guerrillas.

"But in Mexico, all the territory is in the hands of the Mexican authorities."

To Señor Calderone, I would ask, "and in whose hands are the Mexican authorities?"

Finally, it is imperative to note that the practice of "express kidnappings" has penetrated the United States with a marked increase kidnappings and armed home invasion in Arizona as far north as Tucson. The same has been experienced in South Texas as far north as San Antonio. And this does not even touch the reality of the cross over of youth gangs with the drug cartels.

For more than 15 years I have been involved, more peripherally than directly, in the War on Drugs, a term ridiculed by many people. The battle to identify the drug tunnels on the border near El Paso and elsewhere predates my involvement. In a way, I am relieved that narco-terror has reached our National Security radar screens. But this is not "new", but it now becoming news. We have a problem and we have, until now, been in denial. Now, unfortunately, we face an uphill battle.

Damage Control for Calderon

When Mexican President Calderon says drug lords are not in control of any part of Mexican territory, you have to understand that he is in pure damage control mode from earlier in the week when he said precisely the opposite thing.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, he rejected U.S. government reports that questioned whether the Mexican government is losing control of its territory to drug cartels.

Calderon said his government has not "lost any part -- any single part -- of the Mexican territory" to organized crime, and called it "absolutely false" to label Mexico a failed state.

Of course, it wasn't just a US government report which made the claim. Calderon himself said as much in a speech to graduating cadets earlier this week.

Calderon, who has sent more than 45,000 troops to fight the cartels, said the military would remain on patrol until the government had control of the most violent parts of the country and civil authorities were fully able "to confront this evil." Only then, he said, "will the army have completed its mission."

To be fair, much of that is inferred by the Washington Post rather than a direct quote. But to be logical, a government does not deploy 45,000 army troops within its own borders if its police forces have control of major areas. This is underscored by the deployment yesterday of an additional 5,000 troops to Juarez alone.

And while the humorist in me instinctively wanted to spoof President Filipe Calderon's denial in a Baghdad Bob-esque manner ('Juarez Juan' came to mind), I had to blunt my criticism of his denial and step back long enough to garner the appropriate measure of empathy for the situation he and his country are in.

But humor and empathy aside, Mexico is in a sad state. It has not lost all of its territory and writ to the cartels, and it is not a failed state, but those conditions require a modifier: "Yet." it is, however losing control of its territory, including major portions of its cities and perhaps the whole of Juarez on the US border. And it is a failing state, fully capable of either collapse or resurrection. The trending is not good, but Mexico has Calderon going for it - who gives every appearance of a decent man and certainly the best choice Mexicans could have made for themselves in the last election. Quite frankly (and logically), if he were as corrupt as his challengers and predecessors, he would not have a price on his head.

Consider the following from just today when judging Mexico as a failing state:

  1. Mexico's Peso Falls to Record Low on Pared Interest-Rate Bets - Bloomberg
  1. Mexico to send up to 5,000 more troops to Ciudad Juarez - Los Angeles Times
  1. Texas Gov. Perry wants U.S. troops guarding Mexican border - El Paso Times
  1. Ahead of Spring Break, U.S. State Department warns of travel to Mexico - MSNBC

February 24, 2009

Post Inauguration Threats (v2) - Asymmetric Convergence in Mexico

What we now face in Mexico (clearly one of the most unstable countries in the World today) is a convergence of asymmetric threats. The threats posed by the instability in Mexico are many. It is not only the flow of drugs to the U.S. It is not only the violence related to the cartel turf battles. And frankly, it is not only the inability of the Calderón government to exert any real control over the violence or stem the flow of illegal narcotics across the U.S. border that is troubling. What this means is a combined and ever blending threat and overlay of:

● Mexico's inability to quell the drug violence on its side of the border

● the parallel spill over of that violence to U.S. border cities

● the constant, but often unreported incursions of Mexican military and civilians into U.S. sovereign territory

● the very clear lack of a cohesive and viable border security plan from the U.S. government

● the inability of the U.S. to control illegal immigration across the Mexican border and the apparent forgetfulness that a portion of the illegal crossings are those of people described as "OTM" (other than Mexican)

● the dramatic and widening spread of the upper and lower classes in Mexico

● the deepening unrest in places like Matamoros and Chiapas

● and finally, the reality that beyond Mexico's southern border lies greater danger and Islamic terrorist training camps.

So, this is not a simple matter of adding Border Patrol agents (this was discussed in one of my earlier posts, Meeting a Security Milestone - So?. By the end of 2008, the Border Patrol had increased its forces by 18,000, raising the number to over 800 on the Texas border. Nor is it a question of whether the Merida Initiative will provide functional benefit in the counter-drug efforts. But both questions need to be examined under the broader scope of National attention to the serious convergence of asymmetric threats on the other side of the U.S.-Mexican border.

I repeat one of the statements that I wrote in a recent post :

"...perhaps a 21st Century, North American version of the domino theory in raising the point that instability in Mexico might also lead to unrest in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the potential for opening a door for either or both of Venezuela and Nicaragua to step in (with neither of these countries being friendly with the U.S., and both being connected with Iran and Russia to name just two)."

Since the mid-90's, the recognition of the illegal narcotics activities was seen as a threat to U.S. citizens from both public health and security perspectives. This is when I first became involved in the counter-drug technology area and began attending Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Counter-drug Technology Assessment Center (CTAC) conferences. Even back then, the tunnels of El Paso and other pathways from Mexico to the United States were being discussed as serious threat issues.

That it has taken the very visible and publicized drug cartel violence in Mexico to bring attention to this threat is unfortunate. Why unfortunate? The answer could lie in the lack of strong policies toward border security and control of illegal narcotics into this country. Those people who choose to blame the Cartel activities on Americans' proclivity to use illegal narcotics, and even more so, the attitude that the firepower of the Cartels is being exported to Mexico from the U.S. notwithstanding, the explosion of violence South of the border is no surprise. As we have looked the other way, Mexico has continued to show its inability to solve the social and economic problems that plague its people. And this situation is not one of the last five years, or ten years. Mexico's very nature is based on a culture of revolution and unrest.

In fact, it was my writing of the growing violence in Nuevo Laredo nearly three years ago that originally brought me to ThreatsWatch. Thus, it is no revelation that the Mexican government has no control over its border states and no real control over Mexican military and civilian incursions across the border, often claimed to be innocent mistakes. It is also no surprise that the Cartels have coerced Mexicans living on the border to act as human shields for their battles against the Calderón government.

But it can be argued that the problem with Mexico is that it has been allowed to devolve over time, probably the last 30 years or so since my first wife and I started to go to Mexico for vacations. It was during the presidency of President Luis Echeverría Álvarez that I have my first memories of Mexican unrest. One striking image is from a trip to the then very unknown spot of Puerto Vallerta on Mexico's mid-west coast in 1973, I believe. It was at that time, when the population in Chiapas first began to express it displeasure with the central government's treatment of the indigenous Indians. That lasting image was one of two armed guards, Mexican military, dressed in black and carrying the 1970's equivalent of automatic weapons patrolling the beach in the early morning hours. Looking back, they were there, probably completing their overnight patrols to protect the vacationers in the sparsely distributed hotels along that beach.

As I remember the history of the times, the economic recession of the early 1970's spurred a series of events including the rise of a a student movement, strikes, and demonstrations. There has always been an undercurrent of conflict between the European Mexican and the indigenous, Mexican Indian population. The questions of wages, working conditions and rights of the indigenous people has a long history in Mexico.

This is not a new development, but many are only now seeing the unraveling of Mexico as a security threat to the US. It arose again in 1994 when the Chiapas rebellion flared and truly took hold when the Zapatistas exerted their influence.

It must be remembered that revolution is the touchstone of Mexican politics. The Zapatista uprising coincided with the signing of the NAFTA agreement at the beginning of 1994. Mexico sought to convince the U.S. and other nations that it was no longer a country of widely disparate economics and classes. This was further complicated by the Mexican government's and its military shunning aid from the United States, thereby maintaining a degree of independence from U.S. influence. This independence remains today. It is possible that this lack of transparency led to the spinning out of the Zeta paramilitary group that now terrorizes and tortures civilians as well as their adversaries in the other cartels.

In Mexico - Beyond Illegal Immigration and Narcotics, I referenced an article in the Economist. Its first paragraph warrants a repeating here as part of the fundamental analysis of the overarching problems confronting Mexico.

It is not a place where misery reveals itself immediately. Fields climb over mountains, green as Ireland. A smattering of attractive hotels cater to tourists visiting the local waterfalls. Bells ring out from the two churches that dominate opposite ends of Cuetzalán, a small town in the northern mountains of the state of Puebla. But the appearance of a pastoral idyll conceals a poverty trap.

President Obama faces a threat more far reaching south of the border than continuing efforts like the Merida Initiative to try to help Felipe Calderón fight the cartels and stem the flow of drugs to the American end-user. This is Think Tank 2.0. That means thinking out of the box, and going beyond the analysis of a complex problem by looking at a single issue. The time for out of the box thinking is now, not later. And while missions to Afghanistan and Iraq are necessary for the new Administration and its Cabinet to do, the real question is whether the Administration sees what is obvious to some people. It is time for the "Administration of change" to actually change our policies and look closer to home when it comes to National Security issues.

I close with a quote from Doug Farah's recent post:

"My point is that the cross-pollination among terrorist groups, secular and religious, has greatly accelerated and now any group will deal with almost any other group in the mix if the situation is mutually advantageous to do so. We can no longer compartmentalize among them and pretend they don't deal with each other. They do, and often it does not have to be face to face at all. Chat rooms, electronic bulletin boards and virtual classrooms make that unnecessary. The Tigers, FARC and others are far ahead in information sharing than the law enforcement and intelligence community is."

The real question is whether the same skills required to analyze and predict the evolution of conflict in Mexico, a very complex society is at all related to the Middle East.

Other referenced articles from ThreatsWatch:
Mexican President: Gov't Does Not Control Areas on US Border

Mexico - Failed State/Failed Policies?

February 23, 2009

Mexico: A Narco-Insurgency At America's Border

Go to YouTube and watch this BBC report on protests organized at US/Mexico border crossings. It's important in order to get an opening grasp of the situation.

In this BBC report, the journalist says that "the Mexican government says there's more to these protests than might first appear. It says everything was staged by the drug cartels, which is feeling the pressure as the army takes them on."

This is the basic definition of an insurgency. Armed opposition to the sitting government, enlisting popular support against the same, and an infrastructure that not only includes violence, but a cash flow and other resources to sustain its fight.

Most might hesitate to call Mexico a nation in the middle of a narco-insurgency, but that's exactly where it is. And its troops and police forces are learning counter-insurgency tactics and operations on the fly via on the job training. They have no choice.

This is the state of America's southern border.

February 20, 2009

Mexican President: Gov't Does Not Control Areas on US Border

This warrants your undivided attention, and you will have to read beyond the rather innocuous Washington Post headline (Mexican Leader Vows to Press Fight Against Cartels) to get to what was really said by Mexico's President Filipe Calderon. Mexico's president acknowledged that the Mexican government does not have control of its most dangerous areas, which happen to be along the US borders in the regions of Juarez (El Paso, Tucson and the Texas and Arizona borders) and Tijuana (San Diego's southern California border). I will emphasize the most important parts below.

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 19 -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday defended the deployment of the military in his fight against drug cartels, vowing that the army would continue to patrol cities until the country's weakened and often-corrupt police forces were retrained and able to do the job themselves.

In a speech commemorating the founding of the Mexican army, Calderon suggested that drug bosses had paid marchers who took to the streets this week to protest the army's presence in a dozen cities, where soldiers man roadblocks, search houses and make frequent arrests.

Calderon, who has sent more than 45,000 troops to fight the cartels [Note: For context, this is more than we have deployed in Afghanistan.], said the military would remain on patrol until the government had control of the most violent parts of the country and civil authorities were fully able "to confront this evil." Only then, he said, "will the army have completed its mission."

Turf battles involving the drug traffickers, who are fighting the army, police and one another in order to secure billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States, took the lives of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The pace of killing has continued in 2009, with more than 650 dead, most in the violent border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. In the past few days, a running gun battle between soldiers and gunmen through the streets of the northern city of Reynosa, captured live on television, left five people dead. In Ciudad Juarez, the assistant chief of the city police department was ambushed Tuesday and assassinated with three other officers.

Language acknowledging a government's inability to control and extend its writ to its border regions is what we have come to expect from Pakistani leaders regarding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas dominated by al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the Afghanistan border. Folks, this is the president of Mexico essentially saying the same thing about Mexico's regions on the American border, dominated by Mexican drug cartels - narco-terrorism that brings its violence (and drugs) into our cities and towns.

To give you an idea of just how serious the situation is, and to put this into perspective, consider the numbers presented in the Washington Post article to those in the Afghanistan war.

Mexico: 6,000+ killed in 2008 narco war
Afghanistan: 8,600 killed in 2008 (UN figure)

Mexico: 45,000 Mexican troops deployed
Afghanistan: 38,000 US troops deployed

That should get your attention.

Mexico is a serious problem, transitioning from an immigration problem to a significant physical security threat - one which will only exacerbate the immigration crisis, which contributes to the economic crisis, which impacts budgets, which impacts (always first before all other governmental departments) defense and security. You see where this is going.

With all of the millions and millions of jobs supposedly being created with the recent massive 'stimulus' bill, I'll give you one guess at how many additional Border Patrol agent billets were created. (Hint: It's less than 1.)

Pay attention to Mexico and America's southern border. It should not be an after-thought, even if your government often dismisses the severity of the crisis and risk.

NOTE: Readers may also want to see Jay Fraser's recent posts:

RapidRecon: Border Battles Continue (but on the other side)
RapidRecon: America's Unacknowledged War

Time Better Spent

Operating on the assumption that everything documented here is true (and we've all been involved in enough stuff like this - usually on a much smaller scale - to know that it has that ring to it) it begs the question: when everyone knows you're not perfect, why the façade?

The PRB issues notwithstanding, there is no shortage of cases of intelligence officers coming up short. Sometimes those shortcomings are major, sometimes much less so, but the point is that you find this sort of thing happening in every agency in the government yet the response is the same: nothing to see here; shoot the messenger.

When you foster this kind of behavior (and let's be clear: not cleaning house is tantamount to approval) it just accelerates the departure of people with standards and ethics and all the other traits you need when you're trying to retool for present and future challenges. The only people who will be left are the detriments, those with no other options, and those who haven't witnessed the mayhem and depravity.

Wouldn't we all be just a little better served if the time and energy spent on shutting up good people and protecting the bad were redirected towards purging the latter and nurturing the former?

February 18, 2009

Border Battles Continue (but on the other side)

The situation south of the border is becoming even more worrisome with the border protests (on the Mexican side of the border) leading to the deaths of 5 suspected drug traffickers and the wounding of four police officers and three civilians in Reynosa (just a short distance from McAllen Texas). According to at least one report, as many as ten people died. It is also believed that the street protests may actually be the work of Los Zetas. This is attributed to the Governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.

One taxi driver said other taxistas were told by the cartels to demonstrate at the bridges or risk losing their cars or their ability to operate. "Everything has a price," the driver said. "If the military left ... I wouldn't be happy, but the cartel would."

One must question the merits of the Merida Initiative (the U.S. spending to help stem the flow of narcotics) when the Calderón government seems unable to control the cartels. While an opinion, it would seem a deflection from the bullseye issue to blame the violence in Mexico on either American use of illegal narcotics or the transport of fire arms across the border from Texas to Mexico.

In other news from Mexico, CBP seized $4 Million worth of marijuana in El Paso.

February 17, 2009

Black Hat Hacker Hacks Facial Recognition

Every year at this time, the Hacking Convention, aka Black Hat DC (2009) reveals another vulnerability in a security technology, challenging the industry to get better at what they already think is "better."

It is now being reported that a team of Vietnamese researchers have cracked facial recognition technology in Lenovo, Asus, and Toshiba laptops.

The researchers cracked the biometric authentication embedded in Lenovo, Asus, and Toshiba laptops by spoofing the biometric systems with everything from a photo of the authorized user to brute-force hacking using fake facial images.

In a paper to be presented at the Black Hat conference, Nguyen Minh Duc from Hanoi University writes that your face is not your password. He and his asscociates by passed the computer authentication systems using a photo of the real user as well as by creating phony facial prints.

"The mechanisms used by those three vendors haven't met the security requirements needed by an authentication system, and they cannot wholly protect their users from being tampered," the researchers wrote in their paper on the hack.

Whether or not Duc and his associates are right when he says that "There is no way to fix this vulnerability" might be debated. In fact, each time that I write about a vulnerability of one form of security technology or another, someone writes to counter the argument (often by saying, "well, this is being addressed in version 2.0). The fact, however, is that in our increasingly security conscious society, we are depending more and more on technology to protect us. Sometimes (not always), these technologies are not mature and yet are marketed. It is also true to say that the fact that these Vietnamese hackers broke through a facial recognition system on a Windows XP and Vista laptop does not immediately imply that all facial reconition systems can be compromised in the same way.

It might be remembered by ThreatsWatch readers that a few years ago, the MobilPass with an RFID had been spoofed. Later, the RFID in an e-Passport was cloned (at least one reader has assured me that v 2.0 is expected to be better).

There are two comments that I use in my own presentations relating my random pattern, anti-counterfeit technology.

● Where no negative consequence exists or is perceived, consumers are willing to sacrifice some degree of quality for substantial price differences. Dangerous corollary is that most consumers do not have a completely informed view on all of the negative consequences.

● Instead of asking if it is possible to break the code, one should ask whether it is feasible to break it, ask if the code is broken once (the relationship between the random patterns), what value does that offer the counterfeiter for the determining the "nth" pattern?

Hackers and counterfeiters are resilient and resourceful. Most importantly, they have our complacency and sense of well-being on their side to enable them. As the value of something increases, so to does the willingness of the "bad guys" to try to circumvent the technology fences that we build.

February 16, 2009

TSA & Whispering

According to a just released GAO report, TSA inspectors spent 33% of their time inspecting, 8% on incidents, 5% investigating and 5% on outreach. Of the remainder, it is reported that 49% of their time was classified as "other." This means that:

TSA officials "could not provide documentation identifying how TSIs spend their time on activities that are not captured in TSA's regulatory reporting system."

Note that an anonymous comment made clear the difference between TSA Inspectors (who deal with regulatory compliance issues) and Screeners (who we see at checkpoints), and that the GAO report refers to "insprectors." Nonetheless, almost from its inception, there have been questions about resource allocation within the TSA. Often, especially early in its lifetime, small airports had an abundance of agents while larger airports had longer lines. This imbalance was supposedly eventually corrected. However, it is also clear from a DHS letter attached to the GAO report that DHS is sensitive to the question of appropriate balance and allocation of personnel.

DHS has contracted with Lockheed Martin Corp. to perform a "comprehensive TSI staffing study" this year. The study will have "two prongs," according to the letter: one, a "full workforce analysis," and two, a "determination of the number of TSIs needed and effective placement." The study is scheduled to be conducted in the second quarter, with a report due back to TSA in the third quarter of this year.

Separately, in an effort to reduce shouting between their security officers at checkpoints, TSA is planning to purchase 20,000 land mobile radios to allow the agents to "whisper" to each other. The purchase of these radios is subject to a February 27th call for information by the TSA.

February 15, 2009

DARPA "Untethered"

There is no disrespect intended in this play on words. Others have written about it, including Noah Schactman at Wired.com's Danger Room. But it would be difficult to come to anything but a political conclusion when looking at the departure of Tony Tether as the Director of DARPA, and its apparent suddenness (an argument can be made that our Nation's science and technology should not be politicized).

A quick look at the DARPA Mission, and recognizing that Tether has successfully guided the Agency in the eight years since the attacks of September 11th, can shed some light on how important the role of DARPA and the man who has led it is to our Nation.

DARPA's mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use. Over the years, DARPA has responded to issues of national importance with new ideas and technology that have changed the way wars are fought and even changed the way we live. Since the very beginning, DARPA has been the place for people with ideas too crazy, too far out and too risky for most research organizations. DARPA is an organization willing to take a risk on an idea long before it is proven.

With the new President, it was expected that a change at the top of the Defense Department's research organization would certainly occur, and that Dr. Tether would be replaced. However, even he was seemingly surprised when asked to vacate his office by February 20th prior to the new Administration identifying his replacement as shown by a now well-circulated email.

The Time to Go has Been Settled

As you know, I had said that I was asked to stay on at DARPA until replaced.

It turns out that that was not the case.

I was informed last week that the Administration had decided that I was to leave now with February 20th as a two week notice.

So it's over.

But it has been a good ride and we have many, perhaps thousands, of technology developments most of which are yet to come, but also many which are out being used saving our Soldiers lives yet making them far more effective than the adversaries they face.

I want you to know that I am proud of all of you, current and past, and will never forget what you have done.

Once I know what I am doing, I will let you know.

God bless all of you, and most of all, God Bless America.

Tony

In a post earlier this week, S&T and the Stimulus Package, I commented that "the exploration of new things and the unknown is essential to the growth of what we know. Without it, we might as well be monkeys. Basic science is not intended to make money. It is what follows the basic research that leads to solutions." DARPA takes the risk on visionary technologies and solutions when no one else will do so. In that same post, Dr. Ruth David, CEO of ANSER and former Deputy Director of Science and Technology at the CIA, was paraphrased when I wrote that "one of our advantages in fighting this War on Terrorism is our capacity to innovate and invent."

Whoever becomes Dr. Tether's successor will certainly have big shoes to fill.

February 14, 2009

Computers that Walk out of the Door

The number of computers missing from Los Alamos ranges from 70 to "almost" 100. In reality, the actual number of machines doesn't mean as much as the lax security that allows this to happen at one of our Nation's nuclear laboratories.

It starts with a theft in January:

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) , a watchdog group, Wednesday released a memo from the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) expressing concern over the theft of three computers from the home of an employee at Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) in January.

Apparently in follow-up investigations, as many as 67 computers were unaccounted for.

The watchdog group POGO (Project On Government Oversight) disclosed on Feb. 11 a memo from the Department of Energy's NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) (PDF) sharply critical of security at Los Alamos, particularly regarding a failure to treat lost computers as a cyber-security issue.

The issue of course is not whether the missing computers actually had sensitive or classified material on their hard drives, but the apparent lack of security and oversight of the computers from Los Alamos. This is not the first time that Los Alamos has had a security breach of this type. The Department of Energy lodged multi-million dollar fines against Los Alamos in 2007.

Considering the budget cuts that are rumored to be on the blocks for the Department of Energy Labs, and the possible merger (actually blending) of certain labs, it is surprising that security lapses like this would occur. At best, it is embarrassing.

America's Unacknowledged War

Headline: Grenades that were used in three attacks -- the first two in northern Mexico, the last in Texas -- over the past four months all trace back to the same source, the paramilitary group known as Los Zetas. The attempted bombing in Texas occurred in January in a small town named Pharr, just outside of McAllen and Brownsville, and not all that far from the Mexican border and places like Matamoros and Monterrey. It so happens that another grenade failed to detonate in a January attack in Pharr. Three men, members of two gangs, Tri-City Bombers and the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, were arrested this week and charged with felony drug charges.

Focus remains on the drug violence, the murders and the cartels in Mexico. Concern over whether Mexico is on the verge of being a failed state was expressed in January when the Joint Operating Environment (aka J.O.E.) report from the United States Joint Forces Command was finally released and the comment that the potential for failed states in Mexico and Pakistan represented significant security issues for the United States. However, it could be argued that the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mexican state should come as no surprise. It is also arguable that the outright failure of the Mexican government is the not only threat to U.S. security. Mexico is a country of great instability, widely separate economic classes, and corruption.

Of course, by now, this is not the first of the many commentaries on this subject, but "day job" circumstances and deadlines delayed this writing. Often, and perhaps too often, I've focused on the constant and persistent rise of violence across our border with Mexico. But it hasn't just been my move to the "Republic" that prompted my concern over the instability in Mexico affecting us here in the United States.

The question of How Seriously Should we Take The Mexican Crisis? was covered earlier by Doug Farah on his own blog and on the Counterterrorism Blog. He makes a few important observations including the continuing violence and bloodshed attributable to the drug cartels and their turf battles. Also noted is perhaps a 21st Century, North American version of the domino theory in raising the point that instability in Mexico might also lead to unrest in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the potential for opening a door for either or both of Venezuela and Nicaragua to step in (with neither of these countries being friendly with the U.S., and both being connected with Iran and Russia to name just two.

But recognizing that a grenade connected to Los Zetas was found in Pharr is more than troubling because it shows that the reach of the cartels has extended beyond the border. Also, when you realize that so-called incursions into the United States by Mexican military and paramilitary troops has been occurring for a while and attracted the attention of Rep. Peter King in early 2006 who at the time was the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. In a letter to his constituents he wrote:

Dear Mr. Fraser:
It is bad enough that millions of illegal aliens have crossed our borders in recent years. Even more disgraceful are reports that Mexican military personnel - or those posing as Mexican military personnel - have illegally penetrated our southern border hundreds of times while assisting Mexican drug runners. There have even been reports of Mexican troops firing on American Border Patrol agents.

If true, this is one more example of inexcusable conduct by the Mexican government. That is why I have joined with other members of the Homeland Security Committee in demanding that the Mexican government and our own government provides us with all the details of these incursions.

Additionally, as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I am scheduling hearings to make sure that we get the complete truth and nothing but the truth about the actions of the Mexican military. We cannot allow the Mexican government to get away with this violation of American sovereignty.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

All the best.

Sincerely,

PETER T. KING
Member of Congress

The Incursion Report for FY2006 can be found here.

Might it come as a surprise to anyone that those of us familiar with the counter-narcotics technology arena have known of and been dealing with these drug cartel tunnels since long before Sept. 11th? Frankly, going back to my first presentation at an ONDCP Conference in the early 90's, I've heard discussions of the multiplicity of tunnels running under the borders of Arizona and Texas (Nogales, Tucson with El Paso being most prevalent). Some of these tunnels have been especially elaborate, not too different from the one discussed in this thread. But IMO, this is an issue that now goes far beyond drug runners and drug cartels...its an issue of National Security.

In May of 2002 I was interviewed by the MIT Technology Review about the convergence of Counter-narcotic and Counterterrorism. I commented about the similarity of border issues when it came to fighting drug traffic and blocking terrorism. Perhaps not surprisingly back then Brian Houghton, director of research for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism said, "Terrorists and people in the drug industry are constantly searching for the weak link." He further stated, "There are similarities, but [drug trafficking and terrorism] are two different things," he says. "Where they start to go apart is that drugs are such an epidemic. If all drug dealers and cartels were terrorist organizations we'd be in big trouble."

America is at war, not a War on Drugs, and not the War on Terrorism. We, as our neighbors to the South of the border, are at war with the drug cartels. And maybe more specifically, we are at war with Los Zetas. The Zetas are a paramilitary operation that was originally based on renegade Mexican special forces elements trained and armed by the U.S. The multiple and continuing incursions of Mexican military and Mexican nationals across our border, and the infrequently reported engagements of our Border Patrol with such factions, raises serious questions. At one point recently, it was posed that Los Zetas were acting more independently of the cartels. So, also raised is the question of whether Los Zetas should be designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization and dealt with as such. Perhaps this is a "radical" idea right now, but how long is it before it becomes an idea whose time has come?

February 13, 2009

Surprise!

Once again, the call goes out to help keep track of the leading edge of the curve:

Defense Department leaders should create a new kind of organization tasked with monitoring nascent foreign capabilities in an attempt to minimize the chances of an unexpected and potentially devastating attack against the United States, according to a panel of Pentagon advisers.

Establishing a Capability Assessment, Warning and Response (CAWRO) office is one of several recommendations made by the Defense Science Board in a new report. Their goal is to introduce a "surprise management mechanism" at the highest levels of the Pentagon, according to a briefing the DSB panelists compiled last month.

The new office's mission should be to provide defense leaders with timely assessments of "high-risk potential red capabilities" and propose options for addressing them, DSB members wrote. In Pentagon jargon, officials often use the term "red" in conjunction with enemy formations or capabilities.

The new office's "diverse and creative staff that challenges the mainstream" should craft "decision packages" along with supporting threat analyses directly for the defense secretary, panelists wrote.

Not a bad idea, except for the whole "new" aspect of it. There is nothing new about strategic warning, unless you want to consider the near sheer ignorance about warning methodology and the universal disregard strategic warning has in the community.

See, everyone has a warning office of one kind or another. As the article points out, DIA is the home warning in the DOD (and much of the IC by default) and has had an office of this nature for years (I actually helped run one aspect of it for a time). You don't need a new organization on top of the current warning system we have today; if you want to refocus a bit, then adjust what you've got and enhance it a bit with some additional personnel and technical capabilities (colab tools, etc.).

The real problem here is that in the crying-wolf business, nearly everyone skips the part where they actually run to the shepherd boy's aid and they jump right to the dismissive hand-wave. Call it ignorance, poor training, a lack of imagination or whatever you want: even ostensibly smart people prefer what they can see in front of them over what someone tells them is around the corner. In all the time I spent in the warning business, I never met a decision-maker who didn't think I was talking out of my fourth-point-of-contact when I said "this is coming soon, you need to prepare." Those were usually the same people who came back a little while later - after what had been forecast came to fruition - asking for study groups and tiger teams and solutions to this "wake-up call."

And to a certain extent I can see things from their point of view. If I'm going into a dangerous part of the world I am going to focus on the things I know can cause problems: deployed weapons systems, state of the road infrastructure, training and skill of the opposing force, is there water/power/comms, etc., etc. That the adversary has been working on a "wonder weapon" for the past ten years sounds just too far fetched to worry about . . . until it is employed of course.

Had someone bothered to ask, I would have included on the list of to-dos (in addition to beefing up existing warning units); mandatory course work on strategic warning, mandatory reading of Grabo and Wohlstetter and Hughes-Wilson, and a formal written response to any substantial warning product by all entities impacted by said warning. The best way to get people to take warning seriously is to make them think about it and to voice their concerns/issues/responses. "No one told me..." isn't an acceptable response and neither is "I didn't think that...".

Sometimes the wolf doesn't show up, or he does but he's short on teeth, but that's small comfort when you wake up one morning and all the sheep are gone.

February 12, 2009

Developing: Collision in Space

They say that it was bound to happen. But in what can only be described as a high speed crash on the Intergallactical Highway between a Russian military satellite and an American commercial satellite from Iridium, has created what officials are describing as a shotgun cloud of space debris. The crash created thousands of pieces of space debris that now threaten the International Space Station, the space shuttle and Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists note that it could take decades for these fragments to start to hit the Earth. The increased risk however, is not being assessed as significant. It may affect the space shuttle Discovery mission.

The U.S. and Russian communications satellites collided at an altitude just below 500 miles, or on the fringes of a belt around the Earth extending to 625 miles high. The region is populated with weather and other Earth observation satellites as well as military spy satellites and some unmanned communications spacecraft. The region looms just above the Hubble Space Telescope.

What may be more significant is the reaction of Russian space experts to this first known example of a satellite collision in space that occurred above Siberia in the lower earth atmosphere.

It was unclear yesterday why the US and Russian satellites collided. One expert questioned why the Iridium satellite had not manoeuvred to avoid the defunct Russian satellite.

"The American Iridium apparatus, unlike the Russian satellite, had an engine and enough fuel supply. It is unknown why the American satellite did not manoeuvre upon coming into the vicinity of the Russian satellite," said Igor Lisov, a Russia-based expert on space rockets.

"Perhaps the company Iridium did not receive the warning of the probability of a collision, or perhaps they ignored it. The fact is, however, that the American satellite could have been moved to avoid the collision and for some reason it wasn't."

Surprising is that the US tracks over 18,000 pieces of space objects including debris and 800 satellites launched by over 40 countries. Notable also is that the Russian satellite stopped operating in 1995.

This may not relate directly to a "threat" or homeland security per se, but does begin to describe a future problem.

S&T and the Stimulus Package(s)

There may actually be a silver lining in all of this bailout and stimulus package spending that could be beneficial in the long run after all. Even though some of this could be lost during the Conference Committee meetings to reconcile the differences between the House and the Senate versions, more than $17 billion is designated for scientific research (biomedical research is among the beneficiaries while physical sciences are de-emphasized).

A breakdown of how the funding is allocated has been provided by the lobbying group, Scientists & Engineers for America Action Fund. A good deal of the funding is for infrastructure improvements and programs. The actual breakdown of the proposed spending is found here.

Someone asked me whether I thought that "science should be funded only if it makes money." My answer was simple: "The lack of funding for basic science and research is one of the critical issues for the United States going forward. The exploration of new things and the unknown is essential to the growth of what we know. Without it, we might as well be monkeys." Basic science is not intended to make money. It is what follows the basic research that leads to solutions.

One of the things that is quite clear as the War on Terrorism moves into the next phase is that one of our advantages is our capacity to innovate and invent. This was brought our by Dr. Ruth David, former Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the Central Intelligence Agency and now President and CEO -- ANSER (Analytic Services Inc.) in her paper for the Journal of Homeland Security, "Homeland Security Technologies: Creating an Asymmetric Advantage".

Silver Lining

Jeff Stein provides a little more detail on this tragic, potentially dangerous case.

The CIA officer arrested for credit card fraud worked in the spy agency's most sensitive seventh floor executive suite and had previously been a CIA station chief in an American embassy, reliable sources tell me.

The new details paint a portrait of Steven J. Levan as a far more important official at the agency than previously reported.

As recently as last summer, "he was sitting on the 7th floor as a key aide," said a former CIA official. "Before that he was a chief of station," or top CIA representative, in an unidentified foreign country.

The way agencies pick rising stars notwithstanding, we should be thankful that the mechanisms used to detect his fraud worked (at least to a certain extent). A damage assessment is necessary of course, but we should be considering ourselves lucky that - as far as we know now - he didn't get a chance to sell out his country.

Urban Siege in Kabul and Mumbai

Danger Room reports that a Taliban assault unit hit government offices in Kabul, killing around 20. As other observers have noted, the attack demonstrates the Taliban's advancing tactical abilities in Kabul as well as the strength of their intelligence-gathering apparatus. Comparisons are already being made to the attack on Mumbai.

Coincidentally, the RAND Corporation just released a comprehensive report on the tactical and operational lessons of Mumbai. Main lesson: the attackers achieved and maintained relative superiority by generating multiple fronts, using the media itself as a force multiplier to make the security forces overestimate the number of terrorists in the city. They avoided any serious contact with police officers until they were entrenched. This suggests that forceful efforts to crush each developing front could have cut off the attack's momentum and caused the attackers to lose relative superiority. Perhaps the most interesting observation the report makes is the psychological appeal of the slaughter to the terrorist:

"Indiscriminate bombings, as in the London and Madrid bombings, have been criticized, even by some jihadists, as contrary to an Islamic code of warfare. So it is possible that by relying on shooters, the 2008 attack would appear to be more selective, even though the vast majority of those killed in Mumbai were ordinary Indians gunned down at random. This pretension of selectivity was underscored by the terrorists' purported search for Americans and Britons, by the brutal murders at the Chabad Centre, and by what appear to have been considered decisions to kill certain hostages. It also enabled the attackers to eventually engage the police and soldiers in what their supporters could portray as a heroic last stand."

The current focus on paramilitary terrorism isn't new. Paramilitary terrorism was the dominant operational mode for the "urban guerrilla" movements of the 60's and 70's. With few exceptions, these urban terrorist groups were eventually crushed by the state. But while pure terror may not accomplish strategic objectives, it can still kill hundreds.

CIA Contractors: Shrinkage Proposed

CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta wants to shrink the agency's contractor workforce. This could be a good idea for a number of reasons:

  • For shops that have long used contractors to back-fill positions they could not fill with feds thanks to manpower caps, well, there you go.
  • Contractors are expensive if you use them in the fashion noted above, so blue-ing contractors may save money.
  • If you can afford to do it, blue-ing contractors can result in an influx of very talented and motivated people.

But the idea is not all sunshine and lollipops:

  • Some people won't want to go blue, so the idea that you're going to get the best candidate by filling out some paperwork and waving a wand is questionable.
  • Adding more feds to the payroll at grades and salaries that are even close to their current paychecks isn't going to be cheap. The normal path to filling out the roster (hiring more 7s, 9s and 11s) isn't going to work if the goal is bringing in top talent.
  • Contractors bring with them new ideas, innovations, and experiences; once they are blue they're going to have to deal with the codgers who are stifling ideas, slow-rolling innovation an dismissive of outside experience (pretty much the whole reason most feds left for contractors in the first place.

What I would much rather see along with or in addition to proposed changes:

  • A shifting of "lesser included" missions to reserve military intelligence units, universities, think tanks, and maybe even NGOs. These are things that are still worth doing, just not with the same urgency or priority as other missions.
  • A reduction of the option years associated with base+option year contracts. If you are just greening/yellowing formerly blue missions, five years is fine, but if the job is anything technical or innovative, two years is about the time it takes for a solution to become obsolete.
  • Taking the advice of Matt Burton and leveling the playing field for smaller shops. Big contractors end up behaving and thinking like the bureaucracies they serve. If it is innovative AND nimble AND cost-effective, your answer isn't a behemoth, but a start-up or a one-man shop.

February 10, 2009

Illegal Immigration and the Border of the Ridiculous

The lack of security on our border with Mexico is so lax that the situation now borders on the ridiculous. Roger Barnett owns 22,000 acres (35 square miles) along the border in southeastern Arizona. He is now being sued for defending his property.

This subject was brought to my attention this morning at a meeting of security professionals (Infragard). The source was unquestionably credible. The subject was still unimaginable and almost nonsensical until I realized that it was true. You see, Barnett is being sued by 16 illegal immigrants who attempted to cross his land. When he intercepted them, he detained them (at gun point) until Border Patrol agents could arrive,

Our southern border is so out of control you can now be sued by those illegally entering the country and trespassing on your property. Illegal aliens, it seems, have a right to interstate travel.

Apparently, the illegal immigrants and their lawyers are claiming that because Barnett failed to inform them that they were trespassing on his land, and that while holding them at gunpoint, he also threatened to release his big dog, and that he would shoot any of them that tried to escape.

The immigrants are represented at trial by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which also charged that Sheriff Dever did nothing to prevent Mr. Barnett from holding their clients at "gunpoint, yelling obscenities at them and kicking one of the women." In the lawsuit, MALDEF said Mr. Barnett approached the group as the immigrants moved through his property, and that he was carrying a pistol and threatening them in English and Spanish. At one point, it said, Mr. Barnett's dog barked at several of the women and he yelled at them in Spanish...

This law suit goes back to an incident that occurred on March 7, 2004. The suit has been upheld by a U.S. District Judge, John Roll who refused to dismiss it. And yes, I fully realize that this situation is a function of the courts and lawyers, and not the actions of the illegal immigrants.

However, the Mexican government is on the verge of collapse, the economic spread between the wealthy and the poor in Mexico continues to grow wider, and yet, apparently, people who have entered this country illegally, still have the rights of free passage across private property. Change? I'd like to see a change that I can believe in with stricter enforcement of our immigration laws and security at the border.

Welcome to ThreatsWatch

It is with considerable pleasure that we welcome Adam Elkus, Mark Safranski and Shlok Vaiyda as contributors to ThreatsWatch. Friends of ThreatsWatch will know these gentlemen from their work at Rethinking Security, Zen Pundit and Naxalite Rage, respectively. We are honored that such astute, creative intellectuals find value in collaborating with us in our efforts to build Think Tank 2.0, and we are looking forward to the discussions that will inevitably flow from the analysis and opinions they will be sharing.

February 9, 2009

Dire Report: Not Much Changed But The Reporting

The Washington Post headline reads. "National Security Team Delivers Grim Appraisal of Afghanistan War. First of all, it is not as if this is a sudden change at the White House present only since January 20, 2008. Hardly. The appraisals of Afghanistan have been less than encouraging, to say the least, for some time. That is why, mind you, General David Petraeus currently runs the theater from CENTCOM command. But there is, nonetheless, what appears in the media as a sudden new narrative building effort afoot to some degree. In reality, nothing much has changed about Afghan assessments but the reporting.

President Obama's national security team gave a dire assessment Sunday of the war in Afghanistan, with one official calling it a challenge "much tougher than Iraq" and others hinting that it could take years to turn around.

U.S. officials said more troops were urgently needed, both from America and its NATO allies, to counter the increasing strength of the Taliban and warlords opposed to the central government in Kabul. They also said new approaches were needed to untangle an inefficient and conflicting array of civilian-aid programs that have wasted billions of dollars.

"NATO's future is on the line here," Richard C. Holbrooke, the State Department's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told attendees at an international security conference here. "It's going to be a long, difficult struggle. . . . In my view, it's going to be much tougher than Iraq."

I am officially on board with Jules Crittenden's observation.

"Yeah, well. That's pretty much what they ... Holbrooke in particular ... said about Iraq."

There's much more to be said and much more context to be provided, but for now, I felt compelled to at least drop that note to readers this Monday.

In the absence of available time, a quick scan of my notes made via Twitter this weekend provides some additional context for the time being. Feel free to click over and follow my Twitter feed, which is necessarily more active during night hours.

Twitter: Steve Schippert

February 8, 2009

GITMO Contradictions (?)

Over the last week or so there have been some interesting, if not contradictory happenings when it comes to the War on Terror(ism) and the ways in which the new Administration will either adhere to, or alter the policies, practices and procedures of the previous one.

First, there was the question of military tribunals for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. In an Executive Order signed on January 22, 2009, President Obama declared that he would follow through on his campaign promise to close the detention center in Cuba. That is all well and good. But later that week, the military judge at Guantanamo contradicted the order and declared that the trial of one of the detainees suspected in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole would go ahead as planned.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent, is facing arraignment Feb. 9 on capital charges relating to the al-Qaeda strike on the Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. service members and injured 50 others in October 2000. The chief military judge at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Army Col. James Pohl, said that he found the government's arguments "unpersuasive" and that the case will go ahead because "the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment."

Of course and expectedly, the surprising decision by Col. Pohl was reversed by the Administration and the charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were dropped.

In the same Executive Order, there was an interpretation that the President would allow the continuation of what are referred to as extraordinary renditions. However, during the second day of his confirmation hearings, DCI designate Leon Panetta made it clear that he questioned the value of these "enhanced interrogation techniques" (as described by outgoing DCI Michael Hayden), and would evaluate these "harsh" techniques.
Panetta retracted the assertion he made Thursday that the CIA had sent prisoners to other countries to be tortured. He also clarified the Obama administration's stance on the use of so-called "renditions," or secret transfers of prisoners to other countries.

The agency will no longer send prisoners to its own secret detention sites, which are being closed, Panetta said.

But "there is a second kind of rendition, where individuals are turned over to a country for purposes of questioning," he said. "There were efforts by the CIA to seek and to receive assurances that those individuals would not be mistreated."

Panetta made it clear that those renditions could continue, largely unchanged from Bush-era policies.

"Using renditions, we may very well direct individuals to third countries," Panetta said. "I will seek the same kinds of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely."

On September 11, 2001, I saw the acrid smoke rising in the sky to my west, and knew that the World had changed. Soon, there was the smoldering of the Pentagon. Other instances and examples of inhumanity litter the recent history of the last 7 ½ years.

February 6, 2009

Port of Los Angeles to Correct Security Mistake?

In a surprising, but pleasing turn about, it seems that the Port of Los Angeles is going to reverse what was correctly characterized by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher as a deal that "should be declared null and void." may actually be reversed.

What possessed "officials" to award a criticial security contract to a company owned by the son of Hu Jintao , the President of the People's Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Communist Party in China is imponderable.

Anyway, it is reported now in Government Security News that this decision is about to be reversed with a directed ruling that Duly Research is in default.

"Cancellation of the purchase contract is recommended because after delivery of the mobile scanning unit to the Port of Los Angeles on July 8, 2008, field tests and other research revealed that the manufacturer and vendor failed to meet the requirements of the Purchase Contract," said a staff summary submitted to the board.

The risk to National Security for what turned into a $2.4 million award is dwarfed by the risks and the clear lack of performance by Duly.

The staff memo says that, if the board cancels the Chinese contract, "The Port Police will evaluate current technologies to determine how best to reprogram these funds."

David Yu, the president of DULY Research told GSN that the board is "thinking of cancelling the contract," but no final decision has been made yet.

"The result of your publication has generated a lot of negative feelings," he said on Feb. 3.

How do you say chutzpah in Chinese (or is it Mandarin?)?

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