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March 30, 2009

Another Attack: More Al-Qaeda PSYOP and Managing Pak-India Tension

In the latest challenge to the Pakistani government, a police academy in Lahore, Pakistan, was attacked by terrorists today. (Can we also begin to call them insurgents, please?) Pakistani sources said 8 cadets and 4 terrorists were killed. The AK-47 and grenade-wielding insurgents were eventually overpowered, but their aims achieved: Further sew doubt about the government among Pakistanis as well as fear among them, including specifically among current and future members of various Pakistani security forces. That's the PSYOP component of this latest kinetic assault.

Also from the Washington Post article, a partial context.

It also followed a suicide bombing Friday in a northwest Pakistan mosque that killed more than 50 people. But such attacks have been common in the turbulent northwest region near the Afghan border. In contrast, the growing number of attacks in Punjab, once considered relatively safe, is arousing new alarm among Pakistanis who once viewed terrorism as a distant regional problem.

Analysts speculated that Monday's attack was intended to challenge Pakistan's anti-terrorist resolve, just as Islamabad has embraced a major new U.S. strategy that offers generous economic aid in return for tougher, more effective actions against violent Islamist extremists.

The attack on the police training center also raised the prospect of new tensions between Pakistan and India, longtime nuclear-armed adversaries and neighbors who have accused each other of abetting Islamist terrorism. The site of the assault was less than five miles from Wagah, the major border crossing point with India, and was reminiscent of a three-day siege by gunmen in Mumbai last November that killed more than 160 people.

Not so sure about the India conflict-stoking angle to this. Not that it doesn't exist (in this attack), though certainly it does in others, specifically the Mumbai assault, where that was the primary objective.

On one hand, the al-Qaeda-Taliban insurgency definitely seeks open conflict between the Pakistani state and India. India and mistrust and often hatred for Indians is the single greatest unifying factor among Pakistanis of various stripes. Such an open hot conflict serves to unify the Pakistani population against an enemy shared by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. Also, as was visible after the Mumbai assault, it would serve to force the Pakistani military to redirect its fire away from al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the wild west border region.

However, such a hot conflict with India also serves to unify Pakistanis behind its government and military, a consequence the bad guys would much prefer not exist. But it does. And so it is possible - if not likely - that the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance is actually attempting to manage a degree of tension between the two. Enough to keep the military with at least one eye peeled away from them and toward the perpetual Indian enemy, but not enough to cause a wide nationalistic support for the Pakistani government - at least not under its current leadership.

What supports this idea? For me, if the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance really wanted a shooting war between the Pakistani state and India, it could have (and would have) at least attempted another Mumbai-styled attack elsewhere in vast India by Pakistani members while the tensions were highest. But they did not even attempt such.

Which tells you what? That they were not capable of penetrating Indian security anywhere in the country? Hardly. They were and are managing a degree of tension. Fairly well, too, actually. Or so it appears.

Los Zetas and the Denial of Mexico's Failed State Status

The softening of words and the aversion to stating the obvious by the Administration simply obliterates the reality that President Felipe Calderón of Mexico "leads" a country dominated by the cartels and not governed by the federal government. The transparent denial of the recent Joint Operating Environment report is troubling at best.

To better understand just how close to the precipice he is, it might be worthwhile to take another look at the organization (and movement) of Los Zetas. As a reminder, Los Zetas are a paramilitary group tied to the Gulf Cartel. Their origins and their evolution from being deserters from the Mexican special forces to a criminal organization is chronicled in a report from International Relations and Security Network

From the original 31 members, the Mexican organized criminal faction Los Zetas has grown into an organization in its own right, operating separate from the Gulf Cartel and just as violent.

With each of the original members training at least another ten, they grew to over 300 strong by 2003. In just the first quarter of 2009, Los Zetas (the organization) has been linked to a death threat against the president of Guatemala, the hand grenade tossed in Pharr, Texas and various other criminal acts. The ranks of Los Zetas has grown, and strikingly, they have broken ranks with the Gulf Cartel. Over time however, and with the deaths of some of the original Zetas, they have morphed into an organization. This is a very important distinction to note.

"Most of the original Zetas are gone, but the legacy of the Zetas still lives on," Jose Wall, Senior Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told ISN Security Watch. He added that the current version of the Zetas carries a "more brutal mindset" and apart from military and police deserters relies on a force of regular guys who have very little training with no future and no job to speak of.

The brutality of the Los Zetas has been transformed into a willingness to engage in open gun battles by the Zetas Organization through which smaller groups have spread across the Mexican landscape. That their members are found throughout the towns along the Mexican border is not surprising, but it is no less distressing. Last week Mexican federales arrested Rolando "El Roli" de los Santos Guerra, a suspected Zeta on weapons smuggling and illegal monitoring of phone calls of government officials in Reynosa (located conveniently about 10 miles from Pharr and McAllen Texas).

Also last week, a Zeta training camp was discovered by Guatemalan security forces. Although two Zeta commanders and 37 recruits escaped, they left behind a cache of arms including 500 grenades, six rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. There have been some reports that the Zetas have joined forces with Guatemalan special forces deserters known as the Kaibiles.

Despite the denials of the Administration, the Zetas Organization continues to threaten not just the stability of Mexico, but the U.S. citizens in areas in which it operates. While admittedly sourced from a pro-gun website, this article argues against the recent flurry of accusations that the weaponry of the cartels is originating in the United States is belied by some of the photos found in this video on the Zetas showing grenades, land mines, RPG rockets, rocket launchers and fully automatic military weapons, which I understand cannot be purchased in the U.S., even with a federal weapons permit.

Considering the recent "revelation" that the terrorist group Hezbollah is using drug trade routes to enter the U.S., there is a fear that the flow of weapons is actually the reverse, from Mexico to the U.S. The reality is that the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexican border is a war zone, and it is going to be a battlezone for freedom if we are not careful. All of the denials to the contrary cannot change the fact that armed conflict is raging just south of our border and that the Mexican government has not been able to stem the tide of violence and its spread to U.S. cities.

Exposición Perro y Caballo de la Administración Obama

Mark Safranski calls it A Mexican Standoff with Reality. Catchy. I call it a Dog & Pony Show. Exposición perro y caballo, if you will. With Wolf & Bear consequences.

Thursday, in a statement that was issued in part for public diplomacy purposes, DNI Adm. Dennis Blair, dismissed any strategic implications regarding the strength of Mexico's drug cartels that the Mexican government is struggling to suppress:
Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. [Let me] repeat that. Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. The violence we see now is the result of Mexico taking action against the drug cartels. So it is in fact the result of positive moves, which the Mexican government has taken to break the baneful influence that many of these cartels have had on many aspects of Mexican government and Mexican life.

While it might be tempting to ask what the good Admiral is smoking, Blair is neither a naif nor a fool but a very experienced and saavy intelligence manager who is engaged in pushing a political line of the Obama administration, in deference to the wishes of the government of Mexico. [TW Editor's Note: The second half of Adm. Blair's comment is precisely correct. However, the open of confidently declaring "Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state" takes the express train off the reality reservation.] The line is being peddled on many fronts; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has just declined offers for increased appropriations for improving border security in favor of "surging" Federal agents on a temporary basis (i.e. a political show that will accomplish nothing). Here is SECSTATE Hillary Clinton on the same subject on the same day as Adm. Blair while on an official visit to Mexico:

On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton noted that no official of the Obama administration had ever used the phrase "failed state." She said Mexico faced a "public safety challenge," likening it to the surge of drug violence in American cities in the 1980s. And she lavished praise on the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, for taking strong measures against the drug cartels.
This line that Mexico is fundamentally sound, while helpful to President Calderon's political standing when expressed in public, is analytically speaking, sheer nonsense, and if enforced in private, counterproductive to having sober USG interagency planning sessions to make certain that worst case scenarios, like the one imagined above, never come close to materializing. Such politicized groupthink also interferes with effective cooperation with Mexico to address a 4GW type problem that has already metastasized to a dangerous degree into American territory.

In an interview on Nothing But Truth with Crane Durham this past Friday, Crane asked if I thought the Obama administration would make any significant moves to secure our border states amid the torrent of violence. I said simply, "No." After reading Mark's piece above, any questions?

Crane also asked if I was confident in Janet Napolitano's leadership of DHS. (Ahem.) I'll let you fish my answer out of the audio. (Hint: It's the last question.)

[Each Friday I spend an hour on the air from 5PM to 6PM (EDT) with Crane Durham talking National Security. The show is broadcast on about 200 stations nationwide and the audio streams via the Net at American Family Radio. Tune in and check it out this Friday. The world never stops and there is always more to cover than an hour affords. The discussion is always lively.]

March 29, 2009

Turning Up The Heat On Pakistan

There is a flurry of reports regarding the US turning up the heat on Pakistan with regard to ISI complicity with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and linking US support to Pakistan with conduct and performance. The explanation for this in a moment. First, the flurry.

'American generals turn their guns on Pakistan' - BBC
Pakistan must cut ties with Afghan extremists: SecDef Gates - Daily Times (Pakistan)
Cut ties with al-Qaida, LeT and Taliban: US tells ISI - Times of India
US trying to give everything Pakistan needs: Holbrooke - Daily Times (Pakistan)

Meanwhile...

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban Close Ranks To 'Surge' in Afghanistan - New York Times
Brit Defence chiefs battle Treasury over Afghanistan troop levels - Telegraph (UK)
Strikes to be with Pak consent: Obama - Daily Times (Pakistan)
Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani creates new set of problems - Times (UK)

Why is the US turning up the heat now? Because the Obama administration is just now getting its bearings? Because the new Afghanistan-Pakistan plan has just been settled and announced, and this is part of it?

In a word, no. Those wondering must have missed the massive demonstrations earlier in March just a few short weeks ago. On the surface, they were about reinstating the unseated Chief Justice Chaudhry. But that, while huge to most Pakistanis, is window dressing.

The protests were organized by Nawaz Sharif, who along with his brother had just been banned from holding public office. The idea is for a restored Supreme Court to not only reverse the decision and reinstate Sharif's brother as governor of Punjab province, but also to reach back farther and allow Nawaz Sharif to run for office, likely the presidency.

The protests won out, the Chief Justice is reinstated, and the Zardari PPP government was weakened enormously in its retreating decision to reinstate. And so path will soon be cleared for Nawaz Sharif to finish the job on Zardari and grab the reins of power in Pakistan. It's nearly inevitable.

Why is this important, and what does it have to do with the new push to link US support to Pakistani performance and the very public (once very private) demands that the ISI unhitch itself from the Taliban and al-Qaeda?

It's simple. Say what you will about President Obama's knowledge on foreign affairs, but Defense Secretary Gates and CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus know exactly what they are doing and have an absolute grasp of the dynamics afoot. And Nawaz Sharif, who once accepted significant campaign contributions from Usama bin Laden and is currently Saudi Arabia's 'man with (their) plan,' will soon be the face of the Pakistani government. He will be soon leading the same government which will have been - up to that point - an ally of the United States, politically and militarily.

So the field is being prepared ahead of time, affording for both a reading of reactions and at least the consistent application of very public policy once Sharif, in the worst case, attempts to turn the Pakistani tables on America and NATO.

That's why it's important.

You should take much comfort in having Gates and Petraeus as key leadership figures in this conflict. They will not be there forever. The alternative strategy, said to be pushed by Mr. Foreign Policy, Vice President Joe Biden among others, was fraught with ill-conceived notions and poor application and allocation of resources. Kudos to President Obama for listening to the adults on the playground.

Going forward, watch Nawaz Sharif - who has never (I mean never) criticized the Taliban or al-Qaeda - and keep an eye on the courts. They will clear his path to power in a quid pro quo for their own restoration. Then it gets interesting.

Pakistan: Hamid Gul Predicts US Defeat In 2 Years

Former Pakistani ISI General Director and al-Qaeda's man in Pakistan has predicted the Unites States and NATO will be defeated by the Taliban and al-Qaeda in two years.

"The speech of American president indicates that he is suffering from inferiority complex and leading towards imperial arrogance. The system has overshadowed him," said Lt. Gen. (retd) Hamid Gul.

The former director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) told reporters that increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan will only add to the problems of America and predicted a defeat for foreign forces within two years.

He said that no super power could change the destiny.

He said that the US interferes in affairs of other countries and even it opposes the restoration of judges sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf.

"But the US had to submit to the will of Pakistanis," Gul said.

Anyone make a mental note that last week's mosque bombing in Pakistan was one nearest a Frontier Corps barracks with many FC killed (The FC are Pakistani localized paramilitaries similar in recruiting/organization to our National Guard) and that Pakistani police were also kidnapped and beheaded?

The common denominator? The Interior Ministry.

See September 2007 PrincipalAnalysis: Understanding Al-Qaeda's Pakistan PSYOP and Insurgency.

AQ Targets Police for Violence and Army Soldiers for Influence

The al-Qaeda Information Operation (IO) is designed to support the insurgency's incremental march on Islamabad. The key to understanding the al-Qaeda IO and its insurgency goals is to understand how al-Qaeda primarily targets Pakistani Interior Ministry forces (police, constabularies and the Frontier Corps) for physical attack while targeting Pakistani regular army forces for influence and subversion.

The persistent mention of Pakistani police forces - rather than Pakistani Army forces - is expected in any Pakistani Interior Ministry report, as the Police forces fall under the Interior. But Pakistani police forces also decidedly bear the brunt of al-Qaeda's lethal attacks and not the Pakistani Army. It's not that al-Qaeda and their indigenous Taliban allies cannot attack the Pakistani Army with expectations of success. They most certainly can and have. With bin Laden's latest audio message delivering a combination invitation and ultimatum to Pakistani Army soldiers, al-Qaeda's designs for the Pakistani Army are more clearly visible. The reason for attacking Pakistani police forces is two-fold and - in this writer's view - also the most elusive and yet perhaps most important indicator of the ongoing al-Qaeda insurgency.

First, the Interior Ministry is widely regarded as the one segment of the Pakistani government with unwavering loyalty to Musharraf, whom al-Qaeda has sought to assassinate several times. Unlike the military and the military's intelligence arm (ISI), the Pakistani police forces, constabularies and Frontier Corps of the Interior Ministry do not have historical ties to Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Interior Ministry loyalty to Musharraf makes their ranks logical targets for the Islamists who seek to kill and replace Musharraf atop an Islamist-run Pakistani government.

Secondly, and most importantly, al-Qaeda at the same time seeks to avoid open bloody conflict with the Army. Not because it fears the deadly consequences of such a confrontation, but rather because al-Qaeda senior leadership wants the Pakistani military intact - for themselves. Ideally, they do not want to ultimately find Musharraf killed or oustered only to have the military splintered internally between pro-government and pro-al-Qaeda commanders. Al-Qaeda is executing an insurgency to gain control, not to touch off a civil war.

In the end, al-Qaeda's design is also to co-opt an intact military in order to gain command of a military force with the assets of a state (aircraft, armor, etc.) and direct control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Recent reports of defections of Pakistani military elements since bin Laden's latest message to them indicates a level of success in the al-Qaeda IO campaign targeting them.

Musharraf may be gone, but the PSYOP continues apace, as does the killing of Frontier Corps paramilitaries, police and constabularies.

March 27, 2009

Terrorism and Drug Routes

Once again we are reminded of the seriousness of border security and the terrorist implications by the revelation that Hezbollah uses Mexican drug (cartel) routes to gain entry to the United States.

Hezbollah is using the same southern narcotics routes that Mexican drug kingpins do to smuggle drugs and people into the United States, reaping money to finance its operations and threatening U.S. national security...

The article attempts to reassure us that there have been no known terrorist events perpetrated by Hezbollah as a result of using these routes. But if you examine the statements of Michael Braun, former Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations of the DEA, the implications are clear:

● Hezbollah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels."

● "They work together...They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected.

● "They'll leverage those relationships to their benefit, to smuggle contraband and humans into the U.S.; in fact, they already are [smuggling]."

Is it that difficult to project trouble looming on the near horizon given that Hezbollah, with the support of Iran, and perhaps in concert with our "friends" in South America (Hugo Chavez and Danny Ortega) and operating in the Tri-Border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, might be working to destabilize Mexico? Or perhaps be a source of the weapons and ammunition flowing to the drug cartels in Mexico (instead of Texas being the source)?

While awareness of the nexus of narcotics and human smuggling with terrorism seems to have "suddenly dawned" on U.S. officials, it has been clear for more than ten years that the illegal narcotics trade flowing from Mexico represented a serious flaw in U.S. security. The blinders however are not new. In fact in May 2002, in response to a rhetorical question, "Isn't there a fairly strong feeling that narcotics in this country is a terrorist activity?" a representative of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism remarked:

"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."

Yes, this same article has been referenced a number of times before (it bears repeating). Knowledge of the drug tunnels crossing the border dates to the early 1990's. That Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations could be blending with the narco-terrorists in Mexico should be no surprise. Rather, the "surprise" is in the revelation.

Mission Before Me

At The Tank on National Review Online, I have written an article likely of interest to ThreatsWatch readers: Mission Before Me: On Supporting Vets Running for Public Office. It is a continuation of a conversation with a friend on Twitter.

I argue that, military veteran or not, it is unwise to seek specific expertise in a potential elected official. Rather, seek sound principles and character, because the issues facing today's elected representatives are too vast and each of vital importance to hang any hat on narrow expertise. Qualities that apply to sound judgment and solid decision-making in general are far more important than understanding the minutiae of any single given set of crises.

Below is why I tend to give the veteran the initial benefit of the doubt on that front, followed of course by full and proper vetting and judging of any and all candidates for office.

But there is also something unique about those who wear and have worn the uniform. And that is, on the whole, that one can comfortably expect the military individual to possess a certain set of core values and convictions that is on another level. They have put their money -- and their personal physical safety -- where their mouth is, in a sense. As I explained earlier in encouragement to a friend experiencing some professional stresses, there is an admirable -- and in times of stress and duress, irreplaceable -- sense of "Mission Before Me" that is sporadic in American civilian society, but commonplace in military service.

This reasonable expectation of character and principles is why more military members and veterans, when they begin thinking politically, find that they fall on the conservative side. Not all, by any stretch, but a majority. Many of them would actually be more along the lines of "classical liberals," but there is no room for them in the leftist-led Democratic party of today.

Saying so from experience, in most instances the military member joins with a sense of duty and these principles already largely in place, consciously recognized or not. It is only later that they take interest in or become aware of politics. And they find that, when they do, they happen to be conservative. It's not the other way around. And this is why they are confident in their views rather than responsive to rhetoric.

With the challenges facing us, from those already in existence to those being recklessly placed before and upon us and our children yet unborn, that sense of "Mission Before Me" will be the ingredient that pushes back the tide of encroaching socialism and the economic erosion that has followed every embrace of socialism in history. And with economic failure goes security and civil society as we have known it. Take a look around the world, or perhaps barely as far as Mexico, and have a look at the effect economic collapse has on both security and civil society.

To be sure, one's veteran status is no blanket assurance of character and principled conduct and decision-making. There are many examples. Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA) comes immediately to mind, along with former Congressman Duke Cunningham (R-CA).

But there is something about the character of our men and women in uniform that affords us to both generally and quite rightly elevate them in certain regards with confidence. And in a nutshell, it is the common quality of "Mission Before Me," and attribute too rare by comparison among America's general civilian population.

March 26, 2009

Redefining the Obvious

General William Tecumseh Sherman said that "war is hell." Apparently, the War on Terror(ism) has now become the Overseas Contingency Operation.

Despite politics, words mean alot to the general population. Why? Because a large portion of the population depends on the words that they read to formulate how they think about the issues of the day and the events around the world. However, (and clearly only a personal opinion), employing the beauty of the nuances of the English language (American style) in an attempt to alter the truth and reality of what is, is simply transparent.

Whether aware or accepted by the "masses," the reality is that we are engaged in a global conflict against terror(ism) and that war, is being waged against "people" like Osama bin Laden and his many minions. Whether a slip of the "Ethernet lip," or a telegraphing of a policy change, we remain engaged in a Long War which is being waged against an Islamic Fundamentlaist jihad, and the parsing of words cannot and should not, change our resolve to fight and win the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Note that if it isn't the GWOT, someone should tell the people at the Pentagon whose programs focus on fighting it.

March 27, 2009

The WSJ on Pressuring Iran

Teddy Roosevelt once opined: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."

President Obama's Norooz message to the Iranian people clearly indicates that his administration intends to moderate its rhetoric towards the Islamic Republic. But rhetoric alone will not convince Iran to abandon, or even halt, its nuclear development. In order for this diplomatic effort to succeed, the Obama administration is going to have to increase the pressure on Iran. In a March 25 editorial, the Wall Street Journal offers its thoughts on how President Obama can persuade the Iranians to change their behavior vis-a-vis the nuclear file.

As a general rule, economic sanctions are a poor foreign policy instrument: hard to enforce (think Burma), prone to corruption (think Oil for Food), rarely effective (think Cuba). But in the case of Iran, let's make an exception.

We say this after five years of futile diplomatic efforts -- spearheaded by the Europeans and backed by the Bush Administration -- to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear programs and comply with binding U.N. Security Council resolutions. Now the only thing standing between the mullahs and a bomb is either punitive sanctions or a military strike, probably Israeli, which could engulf the Middle East in a regional war. Which option do you prefer?

So here's a fact: Despite being a leading oil exporter, Iran imports roughly 40% of its gasoline because it lacks adequate domestic refining capacity. Any cut-off in supply would do immediate damage to the fragile Iranian economy and could bring about social unrest, as happened in 2007 after the regime imposed gasoline rations. Here's another fact: Iran is supplied with gasoline by a mere handful of foreign companies, all of which do substantial business in the United States.

Final fact: There is a growing bipartisan consensus in favor of gasoline sanctions. As candidate Barack Obama put it in the second Presidential debate last October, "If we can prevent [Iran] from importing the gasoline they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis [about the advantages of a nuclear arsenal], that starts putting the squeeze on them."

Well, amen to that. So it's too bad that as President, Mr. Obama is now putting tougher sanctions off indefinitely in favor of pushing the rock of diplomacy up the mountain once again. He's likely to be strung along like George W. Bush and the Europeans were, allowing the mullahs to get closer to a bomb. Diplomacy will have no chance without the threat of sticks, so Congress could help by passing two significant pieces of legislation affecting Iran's energy supply.

One of them, an amendment to the Senate omnibus appropriations bill from Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, would forbid federal funds from going to companies involved in Iran's energy industry. On the House side, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Rob Andrews sponsored complementary legislation in 2007 that would have expanded the Iran Sanctions Act to companies selling refined petroleum to Iran. The value of this latter legislation is partly symbolic, since no company has ever actually been sanctioned under the Iran Sanctions Act. But symbolism can also have its practical uses: The mere existence of the act has helped persuade a number of energy multinationals, such as France's Total, to stop investing in Iran.

As for the Kyl Amendment, it takes aim at companies like the Swiss-Dutch oil trading firm Vitol, currently Iran's largest supplier, which has a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to help fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Vitol, which in 2007 pleaded guilty to grand larceny charges in New York state court for its role in Oil for Food, is also building a $100 million fuel-storage facility in Florida. Just by the way.

The good news is that Iran's suppliers are starting to get the message. Until recently, Indian giant Reliance Industries provided Iran with as much as 25% of its gasoline imports, even as it was building a giant refinery in India with over $500 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. In December the guarantees came to the attention of Mr. Kirk and Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who wrote a letter of protest to Ex-Im Bank President James Lambright. The letter later leaked to the Indian press, and, last month, Reliance did not supply Iran, according to the International Oil Daily.

Reliance's departure will likely not affect Iran's gasoline imports, since other suppliers can pick up the slack. But the number of firms willing to incur legal or reputational risks to supply Iran is limited, especially given the relatively small size of its domestic market. Would-be suppliers could also work through proxies, but again this raises costs and risks both for them and Iran, where the economy is already under severe strain from the collapse of oil prices and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inflationary economic policies.

Critics of gasoline sanctions argue that they amount to a game of whack-a-mole, and to some extent that's true. But the goal of the sanctions isn't to create an airtight regime so much as to sharply raise the costs to Iran for pursuing its nuclear programs. "This is no silver bullet but it may be silver shrapnel," says Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has brought the idea of gasoline sanctions to political attention.

With Iran now fast approaching the nuclear threshold, an Administration that doesn't want bullets to fly needs more than diplomacy. The only way Iran's regime is going to stop its nuclear program is if it feels some pain it can believe in.

March 23, 2009

Foreign Policy Bewilderment: Messages to Iran and From Poland

In air defense terminology, the gear apparently out of whack right now is the Identification Friend or Foe radar system used to differentiate hostile from friendly aircraft in the prosecution of an air campaign. We are developing a poor habit of giving hostiles a pass while taking shots at friendlies in an utterly bewildering execution of foreign policy under the new administration.

Over at Faster, Please!, Michael Ledeen says exactly what has been on my mind since seeing Barack Obama's misguided 'message to the Iranian people,' which was most importantly a message of legitimacy to the Iranian mullah regime, the kingpins of international terrorism.

To the country's leaders, Obama offered still more hope for change: "We seek...engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." I don't know exactly what that means, except that the "conflict management" crowd insists that Iranian leaders want to be respected. My own view is that they want to be feared, but let's move on.

"The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right...and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."

The mullahs no doubt loved the first sentence, not because of the happy thought about the "community of nations," in which Iran's leaders most assuredly do not believe (they want Islamic domination of the whole thing), but because you can read the phrase as a coded message that means "we're not going to try to change the nature of the regime." If so, it was a foolish concession, both because it condemns the Iranian people to continued oppression and misery, and because the very existence of America threatens the Islamic Republic. The Iranians would rather live like Americans, and despite thirty years of pathetic fecklessness from one president after the next, they still hope that the day will come when we rescue them-or at least help them rescue themselves-from the hated mullahcracy.

That's surely exactly what the regime - and I - extracted from the video message, which was more through the Iranian people and to the mullah regime.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, true allies like Poland question the wisdom of close alliance with America, as Poland's Prime Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stated aloud, "We hope we don't regret our trust in the United States."

The Poles are not alone, joined by the Czech Republic, Georgia and Ukraine; each and all seemingly expendable in the pursuit of the new administration's bewildering foreign policy moves.

March 19, 2009

Info Sharing Woes (Again)

Why, in 2009, we are still having this conversation is beyond me. If anything has been proven in this area in the last few years it is that one-more-network to access isn't the solution, in fact it's usually an impediment. When accessing your daily dose of "sharing" becomes a chore, the importance of logging on quickly fades. Sure, separate bureaucracies like to run their own shows, but that model isn't getting us anywhere. One open system that anyone could contribute to in the fashion they chose is a model that we know works. Incentivize separate bureaucracies by making uniqueness-of- and quality-of-contributions and not size of infrastructure the metric of success.

March 17, 2009

A New Way of Detecting Explosives

By probing the thermal signatures of chemical vapors, a renowned research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and his associates at the Technical University of Denmark have discovered a new method of detecting explosives. It should be noted that Dr. Thomas Thundat and his team at ORNL have been working on this technology for a number of years and have now, hopefully, reached a point where the work will be put to good use.

In their paper, the scientists show that their technology is capable of trace detection of explosives. They also show that it is capable of distinguishing between explosive and non-explosive chemicals and of differentiating between individual explosives, such as TNT, PETN, and RDX.

Known as a MEMS device, or more familiarly, a Microcantilever, the sensor works by attracting a molecule of the substance of interest to the cantilever. By heating the cantilevers in a fraction of a second, these sensors can discriminate between explosives and non-explosives, a superheating process causes a thermal response, allowing for the sensor to differentiate in microseconds.

For those so inclined, the full paper can be found here.

Full disclosure: I have known and worked with Dr. Thundat since 1996. Frankly, I am proud to know him, and that his research (and that of his team) into the Microcantilever to detect explosives may finally reach fruition. At one point, my own company held licenses (both exclusive and non-exclusive) to this technology for multiple applications (including explosives detection). The vision then, as I suspect now, was to install arrays of these super-sensitive chips in places where advanced detection of vapors from explosive materials could prevent a terrorist event (a series of presentations and meetings with a "certain" federal agency were arranged by us in 1997).

Dr. Thundat has been referred to by some of his peers as a National Resource. I call him my friend.

March 16, 2009

Flames Near Pakistani Tinderbox Doused - For Now

Pakistan's PPP government led by President Zardari and PM Gilani had little choice but to cede the bulk of the mass protesters' demands and announce the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry, unseated by Musharraf when the justice intended to rule the Musharraf presidency unconstitutional. If they government did not cede, it was all but certain that the standoff between protesters and Pakistani security would become bloody in Islamabad and the whole country would erupt in flames in reaction. This would have spelled the end of the PPP government, perhaps even the end of civilian governance and may have sparked civil war embers.

So in the interest of self-preservation, PM Gilani announced in a pre-dawn national address that Chaudhry was back in. The pre-dawn timing is evidence of the reluctance, announcing outside the hours most Pakistanis would view it live, perhaps hoping to blunt celebrations - a sign of the PPP government's defeat.

But quite curiously, one Pakistani commentator shares that he has it from reliable sources that Chief Justice Chaudhry will resign days after his reinstatement "in the interest of peace" and stability of Pakistan.

If so, the tangible gains of the massive Long March protests will be minimal. Or will they?

It has been reported that one of the effects of the Long March has been that Nawaz Sharif's legal status, currently banned from elected office, will be reconsidered by the courts. This is a development of great significance going forward, especially for US interests within Pakistan in the context of the Afghanistan theater and future relations with Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif was reported to have received massive campaign donations from Usama bin Laden in his first runs for Prime Minister in Pakistan, and I have described him as al-Qaeda's useful 'bought and paid for' tool, though not a 'fellow traveler.'

Indicative of this, you will find no reports where Sharif has criticized the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Not in the course of discussion, not after bombings or attacks, not ever. And clearing the way for him to elected office - either as Prime Minister or President of Pakistan - bodes very ill for the United States and the West.

What does this mean to you and why should you care? The potential removal of even a Pakistani thorn from al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's side only makes them stronger in their havens, increasing their ability to plan, coordinate and train for attacks on Western populations on Western soil. Also, it would likely spell the ned of any use of Pakistani soil as a critical supply route for food, fuel, weapons, ammo and materiel for US and NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan, crippling operations there as well.

In the next RapidRecon entry today, I will explain the relationship of the four sides of the latest Pakistani internal conflict: the PPP government, the Nawaz Sharif-led political opposition in the government, the 'Lawyers,' and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. Understand this and you will be able to decode reports of the next flare-up. And it's coming.

And next time, the Kiyani-led Pakistani military may emerge from its relative quiet and assert itself.

March 15, 2009

Mexican "Superman" and "Other" Contradictions

The last week has brought more and more proof of the absolute lunacy that sits yards from our Sovereign border with Mexico. Some of the information I receive is "open source" and some of it comes from "gang task force" sources.

Rosalio Reta sits at a table inside a Laredo Police Department interrogation room. A detective, sitting across the table, asks him how it all started.

Reta, in Spanish street slang, describes his initiation as an assassin, at the age of 13, for the Mexican Gulf Cartel, one of the country's two major drug gangs.

"I thought I was Superman. I loved doing it, killing that first person," Reta says on the videotape obtained by CNN. "They tried to take the gun away, but it was like taking candy from kid."

Rosalio Reta and his friend, Gabriel Cardona, were members of a three-person cell of American teenagers working as cartel hit men in the United States, according to prosecutors. The third was arrested by Mexican authorities and stabbed to death in prison there three days later.

Just eight days ago, a shoot out in Reynosa led to the deaths of 4 teenagers. On February 17th six people were killed. Last Saturday, on March 7th, the Edinburg Valley Central reported that four teenage girls had been caught in the cross fire of a shoot out between gang members.

For those who actually read Spanish, articles can be found here and here.

The actual gang intel read something like this:

Saturday's midnight clash leaves four dead and three wounded in Reynosa TA, Mexico. A chase of a dark colored Chevy Tahoe bearing Texas registeration ensued when Federal Police attempted to stop the vehicle in the colonia of "La Canada". Occupants of the vehicle opened fire as Mexican Police pursued the vehicle...Three teenagers bodies were visible lying lifeless in front of the Hotel Paradise as Mexican military and Federal Police blocked off sections of the area..."

Texas seems to be the first line of defense against the violence that now plagues our neighbor just south of the border. And yet, there is another instance of dissonance within the new Administration because on the one hand, we have new Secretary of Homeland Security saying that she would consider sending border patrol agents, wouldn't militarize the border with Mexico and we also have President Obama indicating that he would consider putting National Guard on the border (recognizing that the initial discussion was militarizing the border and not deploying National Guard which I thought was a discretionary act by a State Governor).

Honestly, I am bored with writing about this. But "certain" shortages abound in Texas.

UK Lawmakers Intend to 'Force' Brit Talks with Hamas

The CNN headline reads "UK lawmakers aim to 'force' Hamas talks". And indeed they do.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A group of British politicians is trying to force the government in London to talk to Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement considered a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, one of the politicians told CNN.

Baroness Jenny Tonge, a member of the House of Lords, met the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, in Syria along with other British politicians on Saturday, she said.

"There are many politicians in Britain... who are increasingly frustrated that Hamas are not included in talks about peace," she told CNN by phone from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

"If we can get enough of them to talk to Hamas, we may be able to force the British government to talk to Hamas," she said. "We want the Brits and the European Union to put pressure on the United States" to meet Hamas as well.

Between the American president's pledge of $900 million to rebuild Hamas' Gaza - even while rockets fly into Israel - and British politicians' gambit to 'force' negotiations with Hamas, Israel must feel quite on an island. Even before the American elections, the prospects of this led me to predict that Israelis would finally choose Benjamin Netanyahu. They did, of course. And for a nation that simply seeks to survive, surely it's understandable given recent context.

Pakistani Coup-Coup Clock Revisited

Writing for Adnkronos, Syed Saleem Shahzad tells you in three sentences why Pakistan's President Zardari, husband of late Benazir Bhutto and known unaffectionately as "Mr. 10%" for his history of graft and bribery, and the Pakistani Peoples' Party (PPP) has very few days left in the Pakistani government.

There are many other scenes that underscore the country's current upheaval. On Friday, the late Benazir Bhutto's most trusted aide and her former political secretary Naheed Khan, surprised everybody when she joined the lawyers' rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi in Punjab.

Her husband, a leader of the Pakistan People's Party and senator Safdar Abbasi joined her and they announced their support for the lawyers' movement.

Khan and Abbasi are most likely acting in order to save their own skins and stake in governmental power going forward. They see, most certainly, that the tide is irreversible.

What's next? No one knows. But it will not have much to do with the current - and soon to be former - Pakistani president at the helm.

See also for background:

  1. Start Your Kiyani Coup-Coup Clock, Boys - The Tank on National Review Online
  2. ISI Flashpoint: Kiyani-Zardari Conflict - ThreatsWatch

UPDATE: The current upheaval is being led by former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who I have described as a 'bought and paid for' political tool of Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. See the sections discussing Nawaz Sharif in the September 2008 PrincipalAnalysis below for proper background.

  1. PrincipalAnalysis: Al-Qaeda's Progression On Pakistan's Demise - ThreatsWatch

We will be monitoring developments and providing context as the situation in Pakistan continues to spiral, with our constant focus continuing to be answering the important questions: 'What does it mean to you, and why should you care?'

March 14, 2009

Another Day, Another Challenge

Before the election, the future Vice President, Joseph Biden predicted that his future boss, Barack Obama, would be "tested" early in his Adminstration. We're not 60 days into the new Adminstration, and we learn this morning that both Cuba and Venezuela have offered the re-emerging Russian bear the opportunity to base some of their long range bombers in their countries.

The news agency, Interfax, has been told that if both Cuba and Russia "have the political will," then the air base deal could happen.

The agency reported that chief of staff of Russia's long range aviation Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev said Saturday that President Hugo Chavez had offered "a whole island with an aerodrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers."

Recognizing that Russia has relationships with not only Hugo Chavez but with Iran's Ahmadinejad, and that Iran has relationships with both Chavez and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, it would seem that this emerging situation will bear watching over the next few days and weeks. Echoes of the Cold War and of the Cuban Missile crisis are loud and obvious.

March 9, 2009

Chinese Maritime Provocation

In November of 2007, a Chinese Song Class submarine surfaced uncomfortably close to the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk during an American naval exercise, engendering a degree of disquiet that an anonymous NATO official likened to "as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik." Predictably, a fair amount of Western analysis and explanation accompanied the incident, and Washington expressed hope that the Chinese would abstain from similar behavior in the future.

Unfortunately, and some might add predictably, the Chinese have resumed their maritime chicanery. From a piece posted on the March 9th on-line edition of the Wall Street Journal:

The Pentagon charged Monday that five Chinese ships shadowed and maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass the American crew.

Defense officials in the Obama administration said the incident Sunday followed several days of "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships in the region. The incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

....."On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters," the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

Couched in the perpetually disarming tongue of the modern diplomat, the behavior of the five Chinese vessels involved would be characterized as unhelpful to Sino-American relations. However, though admittedly well shy of an act of war, this latest episode reflects a pattern of maritime provocation on the part of the Chinese and should be referred to as such forcefully and repeatedly until Beijing gets the message. Otherwise, the risk of a misunderstanding, and the potential for shooting thereafter, continues to rise unchecked.

What Do Phoenix and Atlanta Have in Common?

By now the pattern is obvious. The surprising thing is that generally, we wouldn't connect U.S. cities like Phoenix and Atlanta with Mexican drug cartel violence, but, we need to change our context. Late last week, we learned that Phoenix was fast becoming a center of cartel related kidnappings. Now, thanks to a heads-up from reader Fred W., we hear of how the Mexican cartels now plague Atlanta.

Their presence and ruthless tactics are largely unknown to most here. Yet, of the 195 U.S. cities where Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are operating, federal law enforcement officials say Atlanta has emerged as the new gateway to the troubled Southwest border. Rival drug cartels, the same violent groups warring in Mexico for control of routes to lucrative U.S. markets, have established Atlanta as the principal distribution center for the entire eastern U.S., according to the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center.

The LA Times has a great series on Mexico Under Siege - The drug war at our doorstep. Extracted from that is the following chilling map that shows just how far the influence of Mexican cartels has penetrated into the U.S.

Mex Gangs Move North.JPG

Have your attention? I hope so.

March 4, 2009

Cartels' Overwhelming Force, Intimidating Implications

Let us put all of Presidente Calderon's denials aside while recognizing that the U.S. Department of Defense now believes that the drug cartels have fielded more than 100,000 foot soldiers. This revelation comes as the brutality of the cartels, both against each other and against the Mexican military and law enforcement, ramps up to unsightly and unseemly proportions. I was recently sent a video tape from a law enfrocement source that showed a dozen decapitated corpses that were discovered in an unnamed Mexican border town (I have no links and doubt that I would post it even if I could).

Somehow, I have been writing about this emerging problem now for nearly 4 years, and have been aware of the reality of narco-terrorism to our south since the mid-1990's. I have been paying attention. The question is who else has been watching this situation, and why is it suddenly on the radar screen.

It is essential to remember that almost 6,000 people were killed in the Cartel Wars last year, and the death toll this year has now exceeded 1000. Most troubling is that the more violent of the inter-cartel battles are happening between the Sinoloa and Gulf cartels (Los Zetas are somewhat aligned with the Gulf cartel). There are now two other potential developments. The first was mentioned in an earlier post; that Los Zetas, rogues from the Mexican special forces from the beginning might break from the Gulf Cartel and run their own business. Whether or not that happens. this new article from the Washington Times suggests that there may be a truce in the making between the Sinoloa and Gulf factions. So, take heed:

"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades," the advisory said.

Independent analysts warn that narco-terrorists have infiltrated the Mexican government, creating a shadow regime that further complicates efforts to contain and destroy the cartels.

"My greatest fear is that the tentacles of the shadow government grow stronger, that the cartels have penetrated the government and that they will be able to act with impunity and that this ever stronger shadow government will effectively evolve into a narco-state," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.

Someone I know pointed to last week's arrest of 755 Sinaloa cartel associates as a significant event. While this might be true, the bleeding-over of the violence and narco-related crime to the United States is astonishing. But now, because drug cartel related kidnappings are turning Phoenix Arizona into a kidnap capital, people are starting to pay attention to it. And it not just Phoenix!

Phoenix is the second worst place for kidnapping on earth, after Mexico City; 359 people were kidnapped there last year, all of them with links to trafficking. But it's getting worse all over. In New Mexico last week, police unearthed a mass grave of 13 bodies, reminiscent of 1990 Medellin. Other cartel-linked crime has been carried out in San Antonio, Anchorage, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Diego and Tucson, with huge rings operating.

Yet, there continue to be contradictions in policy. With new Secretary of Homeland Security stating that she won't militarize the border in response to Texas Governor Perry's request for federal reinforcements on the border, there is a veritable run on arms and ammunition in South Texas expecting that the first battles of the border war will be fought somewhere north of Laredo, or east of El Paso.

Denial at this point is fruitless. This situation has to be taken seriously, And yes, I know that my position is that a number of elements, not just the out of control drug cartel violence, are feeding the concern that Mexico is devolving to a failed state. The cross-border violence, however, is staring us in the face.

March 2, 2009

Cyber Security: Less Advice, More Action

On the heels of a new policy recommendations and new audit recommendations for cyber security issues comes this news:

Tiversa employees found engineering and communications information about Marine One at an IP address in Tehran, Iran.

Bob Boback, CEO of Tiversa, said, "We found a file containing entire blueprints and avionics package for Marine One, ...

"What appears to be a defense contractor in Bethesda, MD had a file sharing program on one of their systems that also contained highly sensitive blueprints for Marine One," Boback said.

Tiversa also found sensitive financial information about the cost of the helicopter on that same computer.

Boback said someone from the company most likely downloaded a file-sharing program, typically used to exchange music, not realizing the potential problems.

"When downloading one of these file-sharing programs, you are effectively allowing others around the world to access your hard drive," Boback said.

Which drives home this point: Organization's associated with national security don't need more advice; they need better awareness, stronger control, and the will to act.

"Defense contractor in Bethesda" is code for a well known beltway bandit that needs no introduction. It is worth noting however that such organizations know a little bit about computer security given that they've also probably got a contract to advise the government on the topic. Still, they didn't realize that someone on staff was giving the RIAA or MPAA fits and at the same time leaking proprietary information about a craft that is supposed to carry the President of the United States.

I've no doubt that the firm in question has lots of security policies, but clearly they lack the ability to enforce them, or they choose to let a lot slide. Either way, it should come as no surprise that there is a major disconnect between the three-ring-binder full of policies collecting dust on a shelf and the reality of system defense.

All of this leads up to my argument that computer security is really just another checklist item for most organizations. Bought an AV solution? Check. Firewalls? Check. IDS? Check. An ArcSight license to watch it all? Check. Someone with "CISSP" after their name to run it all? Check. OK, we're good. Checklist compliance means nothing in the real world. Everyone with the power to act seems to forget that security isn't like the coffee service; sign a contract and as long as the joe is flowing everything is cool. For once, I'd like to see a business of any size or import focus on their security operation the way they do their A/R operation. Because you know the CEO doesn't know why Network+ might be important, but it's a lock he knows why Net 30 is important.

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