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April 30, 2009

Petraeus Gives Stark Warning of Potentially Imminent Pakistani Collapse

Pay attention here, from FOX News, as General David Petraeus sounds the warning of Pakistan's potential imminent political collapse. The next couple of weeks, he says, are critical to Pakistan's very survival.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, has told U.S. officials the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive, FOX News has learned.

"The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that "we've heard it all before" from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is "superior" to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari's government falls to the Taliban.

This is the culmination of a long, patient slow-motion insurgency by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance suddenly propelled into a fast-moving and aggressive push on many fronts and forms. The jury is still out on the level of commitment of the Pakistani military push to take back Buner and, presumably, the Swat district from Taliban-al-Qaeda control.

The manner in which the Pakistanis pursue that push is critical. Will they continue to rely heavily on area weapons, such as artillery and helicopter gunships which cause much collateral damage and limited precision? Or will it shift to a boots-on-the-ground fight between men for Pakistan's survival? And will those boots continue to be the less capable Frontier Corps paramilitary forces and local constabularies, or will the more professional and capable Pakistani Army assume the tip of the spear? These are important questions that we will learn the answers to over the coming days.

Pakistani military leaders, as we noted in today's DailyBriefing (April 30, 2009), are concerned that "if it ratchets up fight against the Taliban too much, the Army itself may disintegrate." See below, including a link to our earlier analysis on the effectiveness of al-Qaeda's psychological operations targeting rank and file members of the Pakistani Army to "come home to Islam" and abandon their roles as servants to the polytheist American infidels.

PAKISTANI ARMY DISINTEGRATION FEARS

There is trouble ahead. And, as General Petraeus is trying to warn, the next two weeks will by critical to whether Pakistan survives in the short term, let alone the long term. The clock is ticking and time is running out.

That said, there is still little we can do to mend or shape the internal Pakistani condition. We are not all-powerful, and Pakistanis must be allowed to determine their own course - though we must continue to assist those within Pakistan not aligned against us. They understand the consequences, and we - and they - must be prepared for them however this plays out.

Pakistan remains as it has been since 2001: An unlikely, unnatural and unreliable ally in the War on Terror, however critical and necessary that status continues to be.

The phone lines into New Dehli should be lit in the mean time. India is a much more natural American ally, sharing more of the same values, principles and systems. India is more stable, more reliable and does not suffer from an acute case of societal 'schizophrenia.' And, critically important, there is no question whether we share, face and defend against a common terrorist enemy.

Another Scathing Rebuke: This Time of Somalia Policy

In expanding on the news context provided yesterday on Somalia (DailyBriefing: April 29, 2009), another scathing rebuke of current policy appears at The Tank on National Review Online. Titled "Somalia & September 12th: The New Groundhog Day," the existing context combined with our current policy with regard to Somalia has America on a collision course with "man-caused disaster," as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano insists on calling terrorist attacks.

I hope readers will pay special attention to the excerpted context provided at The Tank on National Review Online and consider the resulting conclusion reproduced below.

Somalia is lost, and was lost because we lacked clarity and principle at the State Department. The Pentagon, for the record, objected to State's insistence that 'moderates' among the ICU be included in any new government and instead sought to directly aid the secular TFG government.

This is what you get. What we got. It would be ugly either way. It is Somalia, after all, that needs a generation to recover at best. The question is when that starts.

As it stands, Somalia is now al-Qaeda's eastern toehold on Africa (matching al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] to the west) and growing in size, strength, and scope. Its al-Shabaab franchise, which Aweys founded and still in effect leads, controls more territory than the hapless government.

When we are attacked again -- and the day will come, for they desire it -- it will have deep al-Shabaab Somali roots.

Piracy is a popular topic these days. Once an American captain was taken hostage, anyway. Will anyone ask the president in his third prime-time presser what the course and direction is for our Somalia policy, and through which means and to what ends?

Maybe we should wait until a few shopping malls and train stations go boom to be curious enough to ask. Then it will be in vogue and all the rage, and sitemeters will burn right off of Web pages and magazines will fly right off racks for those who hop on board when it's too late to prevent tragedy, but not too late to share episodes of supposed pure genius.

I don't pretend to have all the answers tucked away inside a partitioned MENSA mass. But I know at least one thing when I see it . . .

Welcome to September 12th, the new Groundhog Day sans the comedy of Bill Murray.

There are no laughs to be had. We must remain in a constant and vigilant state of awareness and self-evaluation. Have we learned from the lessons made evident on September 11th, 2001? Or is September 12th now perpetually upon us as truly the new Groundhog Day, with September 10th in constant replay?

When we stop asking, the answer forms itself.

April 29, 2009

New Study on the Radicalization Process of Homegrown Terrorists

Today, the Center for Terrorism Research (CTR) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where I serve as Deputy Director, released its latest study, Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process. Authored by CTR Director Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and CTR Research Analyst Laura Grossman, the study explores the radicalization process of homegrown terrorists--Westerners who have chosen to take up arms against the society in which they were born or raised. It examines six different steps are particularly significant as homegrown terrorists radicalize: the adoption of a legalistic interpretation of Islam, coming to trust only a select and ideologically rigid group of religious authorities, viewing the West and Islam and irreconcilably opposed, manifesting a low tolerance for perceived religious deviance, attempting to impose religious beliefs on others, and the expression of radical political views.

It is a worthwhile read for those interested in religious radicalization, terrorism, and homeland security issues.

We also held a close-door, off the record, roundtable on the study with government and law enforcement officials, policy experts, and private-sector practitioners. A short summary of the event should be up on the FDD website by the end of the week.

To view the study directly (PDF), click here.

Searching for a Biodefense Dashboard

A variety of great data-sets and visualizations have sprung up in response to the swine flu outbreak. Most are useful mash-ups, such regularly updated maps, while others are public dissemination of proprietary data, such as Veratect. Notably missing, however, is a quality way to aggregate this productivity.

Along with top DoD analyst 'Wiggins,' I have spent the last few days looking for what's called a "biodefense dashboard." Essentially, this is a smart piece of software that pulls data from a variety of sources (in real time) and visualizes it in a way that makes it easy to manipulate.

The goal of having such a system in place is to generate insight that is then used to make better decisions. The beauty of such a flat system is that it allows distributed decision making (which is absolutely necessary for a rapidly changing environment such as during a pandemic). Individuals, families, communities would be all be able to access pertinent data, make decisions, and execute strategies to help mitigate the threat.

Unfortunately, instead of empowering citizens, the government has chosen to place their own dashboards (the few that exist) and, more importantly, data, behind a 'secrecy wall'. This is not different from a 'pay wall' in any meaningful way.

Even if this variant of the swine flu burns itself out, we would do well to lay out the grid-work that enables citizens to tackle tough problems. Building the dashboard is critical, but freeing those data sets would be a more useful first step.

April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Outbreak - An Update

Contrary to any conspiracy theories or beliefs that there might be ulterior motives, the sudden onset and rapid spread of the A-H1N1 strain of Swine Flu is a local, national and global concern. Perhaps this will be one of the challenges faced by the new Administration. Clearly, preparedness and response are issues to be tested for the government, the general population and for business.

In the event of pandemic influenza, businesses will play a key role in protecting employees' health and safety as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society. Planning for pandemic influenza is critical. To assist you in your efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed the following checklist for large businesses. It identifies important, specific activities large businesses can do now to prepare, many of which will also help you in other emergencies.

This check list is provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to help businesses plan for continuity of activities in the event that employees are affected.

At this point, one of the biggest concerns is the unknown extent to which the spread of this flu variant could go, if it will continue or simply fade away (or come back in the fall). Still, the number of cases in the United States continues to rise, with people in California, New York, Texas, Kansas and Ohio all now confirmed cases. There are also reports of confirmed cases in Canada, Europe, Israel and New Zealand. Schools in affected areas of California, Texas and New York City have been closed as a precaution.

Still, despite the spread and the fact that the U.S. has recommended the postponement of non-essential travel by U.S. citizens to Mexico, the CDC is also saying that travel advisories by the EU was premature. Additionally, it should be emphasized that neither the CDC nor the WHO are even close to declaring this a pandemic.

Also see the CDC-Swine Flu Fact Sheet here.

Oddly, people who might seek to find "hidden agendas" and consider the attention being paid to the quick response to this outbreak as unnecessary, would probably be the same ones who would fault the government if nothing was done, and the spread of the virus went unchecked. This is another case of "you can't have it both ways."

April 26, 2009

In The Path of a Storm

On June 11, 2008 an EF4+ tornado touched down in Manhattan Kansas. Not coincidentally, Kansas State University in Manhattan Kansas is the proposed site for the new National Agro and Bio-Defense Facility. On that night, the campus of Kansas State University was in the path of the tornado. The damage from the tornado that night was extensive. Reportedly, the design plans for the facility call for it to be able to withstand an EF2 level tornado.

Not coincidentally, two events relate to this event that occurred nearly ten-and-a-half months ago. The first is that violent storms and tornadoes are once again threatening sections of Kansas. The second is that the group of facilities that came in second in the competition for the NBAF in San Antonio, Texas, have lodged a suit to reverse the decision, claiming, among other issues, that "grossly irresponsible, the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature," due to the frequency of tornadoes in the state.

In defense, the Kansas delegation states that the decision was not influenced in any way, and that San Antonio is not immune to tornadoes. Without addressing whether the decision was influenced in any way, I can say that despite pretty strong winds when hurricanes have hit the Gulf Coast, nothing close to an EF4 tornado has struck San Antonio, by some memories, ever. Further, it is important to note that San Antonio is the FEMA location for evacuation of Gulf Coast residents in the event of a hurricane. In addition, the recent outbreak and spread of Swine Flu (strain A-H1N1), among the zoontic diseases to be studied at the NBAF, has already impacted on the San Antonio area.

Mother Nature is unpredictable and definitely not something to tempt.

DISCLAIMER: I live in San Antonio, and have supported the location of the NBAF at the proposed site in town.

Unmanned Sniper Copters

Common elements in recent encounters with Somali pirates have been helicopters, sharpshooters and the use of drones. To whatever degree it could be operationally successful, it is intriguing that the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System (ARSS) is being tested by the Army and combines all three. Although the So, it is being suggested that the ARSS is being developed for urban environments, some thought is now being given to deploying such drones to combat piracy. Apparently the ARSS is capable of precision targeting and actually combines UAV technology with adapted Xbox 360 video game controllers.

Sniping from a chopper currently takes tons of skill and training. But ARSS is literally point-and-shoot for the operator on the ground, using a videogame-type controller. The software makes all the necessary corrections, and the system should ensure first-round kills at several hundred yards. The secret is in the control system and stabilized turret.

Of course, precision targeting and shooting from a moving, let alone airborne platform is difficult at best. However, the Coast Guard has been using its Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) to shoot out the motors of vessels that refuse to stop when they are suspected to be smuggling contraband (illegal drugs mostly).

Imagine that. Drone helicopters being used over open waters to stop Somali piracy. Its far from being farfetched.

April 25, 2009

Piracy - More than Somalia

Despite the attention being paid to high seas piracy off the coast of Somalia (see Firewatch interview with Espada Logistics and Security), piracy is a problem in a more wide spread area as shown by this Live Piracy Report showing that piracy plagues Africa and Southeast Asia. This map that is periodically updated shows the locations of the most recent attacks (or attempted attacks).

Finally, piracy warning areas are shown here.

A Commentary: "War is Hell"

This commentary is bound to be controversial. Have we forgotten the images of human beings throwing themselves from 100 stories high to avoid being burned alive as airplanes obliterated the World Trade Center Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001? People literally were flying from the broken windows of the buildings to avoid being burned alive or crushed into nothingness as the buildings collapsed.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said, without a question, "War is hell". Some people make a distinction between war and the tactics of interrogation.

This is not in any way an attempt to justify torture, and in fact, the question posed here is not whether the "coercive interrogation tactics" were legal or not. There is a real time debate regarding whether or not the release of the papers relating to the "extreme interrogation techniques" used on known terrorists to extract information from them. To what lengths are we to go to avoid another attack, and to what lengths are we to go to extract information from suspected terrorists? Perhaps the question is not whether the techniques were successful, but whether they were humane. Or whether their use was un-American. Again, on the morning of September 11, and then in the aftermath of the attacks, one would be hard pressed to conclude that the "certain death/almost certain death" choices made by some of the occupants of the World Trade Center Towers was anything but humane.

While initially avoiding outright condemnation of the interrogation activities of the CIA to interrogate terrorists (and therefore criminalizing the actions of the agents who performed the interrogations), the current Administration began distancing itself from the tactics of the previous Administration. Today, there is a possibility of legal steps being lodged against those who knowingly authorized the use of such tactics. Some, who originally acknowledged that they had been briefed on the actions, are now back peddling and claiming no prior knowledge.

This is no doubt a dicey issue. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates who supported the release of sensitive memos on the interrogation techniques because he saw their release as "inevitable," also made clear his position that CIA operatives should be exempt from prosecution.
"I felt very strongly the importance that they be protected and against all different kinds of possible prosecutions," Gates told reporters during a visit to this Marine Corps base in North Carolina. Another concern, Gates said, was the possibility that the Obama administration's release of the memos would cause a "backlash in the Middle East" that could adversely affect U.S. forces operating there. In discussions, he said, senior administration officials realized the disclosure could be "used by al-Qaeda" to generate opposition against the United States.

What specifically are those "extreme interrogation" techniques? Some are listed here.

BUSH-ERA INTERROGATION

● Waterboarding: Aimed at simulating sensation of drowning. Used on alleged 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

● Insect: Harmless insect to be placed with suspect in 'confinement box', suspect to be told the insect would sting. Approved for Abu Zubaydah, but not used

● Walling: Detainee slammed repeatedly into false wall to create sound and shock

● Sleep deprivation: Detainee shackled stading up. Used often, once for 180 hours

This segues to another question of to what lengths are we to go to seek "peace" with those who, based on their publicly stated views, cannot be our friends, and at best can be undependable? The Administration believes that reaching out to our enemies strengthens our National Security.

Two contrasting comments on the subject of our "friend" Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

President Obama: "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."

Hugo Chavez: The United States "is the devil that represents capitalism."

Next, examine the alliances being forged by another of our "friends," Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, especially that with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"We have common interests, common enemies and common goals", he said as he visited shantytowns in Managua with the Nicaraguan leader, Daniel Ortega.

And finally, in the words of Ahmadinejad himself:

"Following World War II," he continued, according to an official English-language text of his remarks, "they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question" of the Holocaust. "They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine," he said, "and in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists, in Palestine."

Do we sleep with the enemy? And if we do, do their fleas and bed bugs bite us? Indeed, "War is Hell." Then again, the concept of war, and whether we are waging a War on Terror(ism) is in the process of being redefined. The fear of course, is that it will take another catastrophic attack on the scale of September 11, 2001 to jolt our collective memories and counteract the complacency that has seemingly set in.

April 24, 2009

Swine Flu Outbreak - Human Transfer

A new strain of swine flu, A (H1N1) has reportedly sickened more than 600 people in Mexico, and possibly killing as many as 60 people there. At the same time, the number of cases in thr United States has risen to eight, with 6 in California and 2 in Shertz, Texas

This seems to be a very fluid and rapidly changing situation. While the CDC is working quickly to try to stay ahead of the spread and to develop a vaccine, acting Director Dr. Richard Besser is expressing concern that this strain of Swine Flu could be so new that it could lead to a pandemic saying that "it's really critically important we learn more about what's going on in Mexico because what's going on in Mexico is raising concerns about much more severe disease."

"What we expect to be seeing is that people start thinking about their own preparedness. What would they do if there were a pandemic? What would they do if there were a new disease in their community? It's all about preparedness," said Besser.

In order for a flu strain to cause a pandemic, you need a virus that is new so the majority of population has no immunity to it. You also need a strain capable of causing severe disease and easily transmitted from person to person.

So far, the Mexican strain seems to fit the bill, but Besser said it will take time to learn more about it.

It must be emphasized that at this time, neither the World Health Organization or the CDC is calling this a pandemic outbreak. Mexico's Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said, "We're dealing with a new flu virus that constitutes a respiratory epidemic that so far is controllable." Having said that, there is current information suggesting that the U.S. and Mexican cases are from the same strain. It should be noted however that the CDC has begun developing a targeted vaccine but has not ordered production at this time.

This situation is bound to change by tomorrow.

Border Troubles: A Variation

Outnumbered, under-equipped, stressed, strained; and yet some express surprise at this news.

April 20, 2009

Cyberspace, Targeting, and The Human Firewall

GhostNet is still getting an extreme amount of press coverage. The idea of a giant malware surveillance network definitely has a futuristic ring to it, and whoever came up with the name "GhostNet" definitely had Hiro Protagonist, Willis Corto, and Maj. Kusanagi in mind. But the problem with the "GhostNet" image is that it encourages us to forget cybercrime's crucial human element. The objective is information produced by humans, for which the machines are merely conduits. And the means of getting to that information is always either force or fraud.

Chinese information warfare theory, for all of its illusions to Sun Tzu, is intensely focused on the notion of "informatized" war. When reading about hacks like GhostNet, there is a great temptation to lapse into a kind of cybernetic dualism that posits a separation between the floating world of information and everyday "meatspace." In this light, Russian information warfare theory, more tied into human psychology, may prove more illuminating to practice. The Russian focus is on the use of technology as a means of manipulating the target's orientation--the mindframe and normative organizing system from which he perceives the world and makes decisions.

Timothy L. Thomas, the Foreign Military Studies Office's tireless chronicler of OPFOR information operations, wrote an interesting article in Parameters about Russian information military theory. He aptly titled it "The Mind Has No Firewall." Thomas' major point was that while US IO theory seeks to dominate information systems, the Russians see the human mind itself as an information-processing system to be hacked.

Richard Szafranski expands on this idea in his chapter on "Neocortical Warfare" in Networks and Netwars:

"Neocortical warfare is warfare that strives to control or shape the behavior of enemy organisms, but without destroying the organisms. It does this by influencing, even to the point of regulating, the consciousness, perceptions and will of the adversary's leadership: the enemy's neocortical system. ..[I]t strives to present the adversary's leaders--its collective brain--with perceptions, sensory and cognitive data designed to result in a narrow and controlled (or an overwhelmingly large and disorienting) range of calculations and evaluations. The product of these evaluations and calculations are adversary choices that correspond to our desired choices and the outcomes we desire."

Szafranski also argues that our own decisionmakers are "critical nodes, the targets of neocortical warfare, and they must be prepared for the adversary's assaults." If human beings are nodes within nodes of a system, then the penetration of computer networks (especially those organized a certain issue or cause) for espionage is not really all that far removed from penetrations of human networks, social engineering, or influence operations directed at specific individuals. This approach to psychological operations and cybersecurity de-exoticizes cyber-influence and allows us to conceptualize it within the "meatspace" spectrum of OPSEC, counterintelligence, and deception operations. While there are important differences between digital and analog deception, the key is the human element.

April 16, 2009

Virginia Tech +2 Years

Today is the second anniversary of the massacre of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg Va. That incident was not the first, and sadly was not the last mass killing at a school or public place. Actually the number of incidents and the casualties is startling. Next Monday will also be ten years since the Columbine shootings.

There are many questions still left unanswered. Some still wonder if incidents like Columbine or Va. Tech could have been prevented. An ABC News article titled "Psychology of Virginia Tech, Columbine Killers Still Baffles Experts" starts off with the statement that not all psychotics, psychopaths will become school shooters; Mental Health Education Needed." It also references a report written in 2002 regarding the Columbine shootings as it related to the events at Virginia Tech.

Some of the conclusions of the federal report were borne out in the Virginia Tech tragedy: shooters tend not to snap, but usually plan months or years in advance and often tell a friend or classmate. Cho reportedly began planning his attack more than a month before the 2007 massacre, when he purchased his first gun. His video, made in combat gear, appears to have been made at least six days before the attack.

Certainly, there have been lessons learned from these tragedies. At least one public university that I am aware of now uses Twitter to communicate with its students to provide real-time alerts about class changes, closings due to weather, and hopefully never, about another campus shooting incident. Others have either adopted or developed their own emergency communications systems throughwhich campus security or the adminstration can send alerts to students on there computers, cell phones or PDAs. But the problem remains and is a serious one.

The Secret Service found that 71% of shooters they studied felt "persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others." In several cases, they'd experienced school bullying and harassment that was "long-standing and severe."

"These kids didn't pick the local movie theater to blow people away, and there's a reason they picked school," says David Osher, a sociologist and vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

Schools that tolerate lots of bullying and look the other way from petty acts of violence are more vulnerable to escalating violence, including rampages from shooters, he says.

And where relations between teachers and kids with emotional problems are harsh or distant, violence becomes more likely.

"These are rage shootings," he says, "kids suffering from depression largely creating public suicides in school environments where they feel alienated."

Yet, it was recently asked if we had become numb to mass murders?

"Tragically, I think many Americans have become more desensitized, more numb to the mass murder, to the massacre, because it is no longer that unusual," said Howard Kurtz, a media critic for the Washington Post. "It doesn't mean that everybody doesn't get a feeling in their gut when they hear that a bunch of innocent people have died at the hands of one crazy gunman, but it is no longer a story that we've never heard of before," said Kurtz. "So there's a certain ritual to it. We know what to expect."

A related issue is now being debated in states like Texas that allow people to carry concealed hand guns. Should students be permitted to carry concealed hand guns on campus to prevent the "next" Columbine or Virginia Tech? Student at the University of Texas marched in protest against Texas House Bill 1893 that would permit hand guns on campus. Some people argue that if the campus at Virginia Tech had not been declared a "gun free zone" fewer people might have been killed. Perhaps yes, but possibly no. The argument being given by the legislators against allowing students to carry weapons on campus is as follows:

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, spoke during the rally against the bill. "Someone with a concealed handgun license is not a deputy sheriff or a police officer," Rodriguez said. "If a campus police officer arrived at a school shooting, how will that person decide who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in that situation?"

Actually, I think that the more compelling argument is that it is one thing to own a hand gun and to practice on the range, and an entirely different case to be in a tense and emotional situation and know when, or if, the use of deadly force is warranted. Further, anyone less than an expert marksman could fire and miss, injuring or killing an otherwise safe and innocent bystander.

The articles written by ThreatsWatch regarding campus killings can be found here and here.

Anti-aircraft Weapon Seized in Sonorra Mexico

Mexican police have seized a 50 caliber machine gun capable of shooting 800 shots per minute up to 1,500 meters away at a house in Sonorra Mexico, across from Arizona. Also seized were a grenade launcher, five shotguns, a hand grenade, and scores of magazines and cartridges.

Reports are that a "nice" young lady named Anahi Beltran Cabrera has been detained. One very important comment from this report should be noted: "Stunned federal police said they had never before seized such an awesome, military-grade weapon in Mexico."

The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has traced many guns used by the cartels back to the United States. But ammunition like grenades is smuggled in mostly through Central America, and has been traced back to the militaries of many nations, from South Korea to Spain to Israel, the ATF says. Mexican authorities have suspected the cartels of using anti-aircraft guns in the past.

So, the open question remains if and to what degree the weapons being used by the Mexican cartels is coming from the U.S., or as indicated by the ATF, there are other external sources of these weapons. No doubt that some of the weapons are coming from the U.S. But instead of blaming American gun owners for some of the heavy fire arms showing up in the hands of the cartels, it might be best to look to some of "our friends" to the south and elsewhere. See: Of Drones, Guns and Cooperation

April 11, 2009

Post Inauguration Threats (v3) - How Many Fronts?

While we await the outcome of the hostage negotiations between the FBI and the Somali pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama (and wonder if the hijacking of an American owned Italian flagged tugboat and even the balancing of the risks of insuring versus arming the ships traversing the shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia), one must question the foreign policy and security implications now facing the new Adminstration.

Who would have guessed that one of President Obama's biggest foreign tests in his first 100 days would come from a ragtag band of pirates and a high-seas hostage drama? Other foreign threats, such as the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, may pose greater concern for national security, but the problem of Somali pirates is proving just as difficult to address.

Yes, there is a dichotomy of issues facing us today. Do we now face a fourth front in the War on Terrorism (some dispute the merits of calling this a "war" and wonder if we are fighting Islam or "radical" Islam); think of the unfinished business in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as the related issues in Pakistan); add the conflict south of the border in Mexico where the new Adminstration would cite illegal arms shipments from the U.S. rather than look to the south, to Guatemala, Venezuela and Nicaragua as sources of illegal arms; and then wonder if the escalation of pirate attacks against U.S. interests in those waters are not both provocation and distraction.

One of the most important things to remember, in my opinion, about the World wide conflict against terorrism and radicalism that we face today is that it is asymmetric and it is disconnected, and yet with a common goal. It also remains to be seen how the role of the F.B.I. in both negotiating the release of Phillips and investigating the criminality of these acts of piracy will conclude. However, how can the piracy of the Maersk Alabama and the holding hostage of an American martime captain be seen as a criminal act, when in fact, these are acts of terrorism on the high seas?

Ask yourself the question of on how many fronts this Nation now faces conflicts against terrorism? And then ask, if this Nation has the ability, the resources and resolve to fight on those multiple fronts.

More on the role and activity of the F.B.I. later.

Insuring Armed Security More Expensive Than Piracy?

In a New York Times article carried by the Seattle Times, maritime shipping executives apparently choose not to hire boarded security teams (or arm their own crews) to protect against piracy off the coast of Somalia because the cost of insuring the vessels with armed security aboard is significantly higher than insuring them against piracy unprotected.

Shipping companies victimized by the bandits have been wary of a military confrontation that could disrupt the crucial shipping lanes that run from the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean. Experts said companies would rather pay hefty ransoms than arm merchant crews and pay hefty liability-insurance premiums; in 2008 alone, experts estimate merchant-shipping companies paid some $40 million to the Somali pirates.

Instead, have a peek at what the firms do.

Rather than arm their crews, most of the major merchant lines with ships transiting the Gulf of Aden have contracts with professional crisis teams that are called when hijack situations occur.

These teams include former special-forces commandos and trained hostage negotiators who deal with the hijackers and their ransom demands, deliveries of food and supplies to ships during lengthy negotiations, the delivery of ransom payments (usually in U.S. $100 bills), and the safe release of hostages.

After a careful read, it is unclear whether the insurance cost skyrockets for arming the existing crew or hiring professional security aboard the ship or both.

But one thing is for sure. There is a serious problem here when insuring a crew exposed is less expensive than insuring it protected. At any rate, insuring an armed sea-faring crew is surely higher than insuring with trained professionals handling the weapons.

Insurance is, however, an endeavor of odds and probability. It is unlikely - from an odds perspective - that a ship will be hijacked in the Indian Ocean. And perhaps the odds of an accident by untrained men handling arms is higher. However, at some point, the risk to employees becomes great enough that a moral obligation to protect them should become undeniable. That's from a business perspective.

From a governmental perspective, when the majority of American flagged ships become hardened targets enough to turn the pirates' perception into one of a losing proposition rather than the current perception of being profitable to take on, then the threat of piracy (for at least those ships) diminishes or ceases to be.

Nonetheless it is stunning, if perhaps logical, in the final calculation that insuring a protected ship is a greater expense than insuring against defenseless piracy at sea.

April 10, 2009

Somali Situation: Reinforcements on the Way

Overnight, Captain Richard Phillips attempted an escape from the lifeboat and his four Somali pirate captors by diving into the water. He was quickly recaptured.

Was this another heroic act by a man whose friends and family described as "rough and tumble," and "very tough and take charge," or an attempt by Phillips to defuse a rapidly escalating situation? Consider that he may be the only one in direct contact with the pirates and probably knows more of their intentions. This is at the time when the U.S.S. Bainbridge is being joined by another American warship, the Halyburton (along with its two helicopters). This is the escalation in my opinion, not the involvement of a negotiating team or the possible future presence of a HRT.

"The pirates have summoned assistance -- skiffs and motherships are heading towards the area from the coast," a Nairobi-based diplomat, who spoke on condition on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told the Associated Press. "We knew they were gathering yesterday."

A Somali pirate identified as Mohamed Samaw in the pirate stronghold in central Eyl, told the AP that among the ships heading to their colleagues' rescue was a Taiwanese fishing vessel seized Monday and the German cargo ship Hansa Stavanger, seized earlier this month.

"They had asked us for reinforcement and we have already sent a good number of well-equipped colleagues, who were holding a German cargo ship," said another pirate who asked that only his first name, Badow, be used to protect him from reprisals.

"We are not intending to harm the captain, so that we hope our colleagues would not be harmed as long as they hold him," Badow said.

As the density of vessels and armed adversaries increases in the area, does not the possibility of an outbreak of shooting also increase? As for negotiating with the Somali pirates, what inducement other than saving their own lives can there be? The Alabama has already left the area. This is not a land-based hostage situation where an HRT storms a building or camp to rescue the hostage. This is in the open waters with direct line-of-sight for both sides. So, what should we expect? That the pirates will simply "stand down?"

We are not there, while Captain Phillips in literally in the middle of it. So this entry is only observing and commenting on reports as they occur.

April 9, 2009

RE: Piracy Escalation - A Note On Resolutions and Resolve

Jay made note earlier that the Somali piracy situation has escalated, with the involvement of one of the FBI's hostage negotiating teams working in conjunction with the US Navy on scene. We should be thankful that such men and women stand at the ready to do the work others would (and do) shrink from. Those that are at arm's reach of the situation are working diligently to do what must be done, in their estimation and analysis, in order to safely bring home the Maersk Alabama's captain.

Don't expect such diligence from elsewhere, however. Even if genuinely well intended, Washington is likely going to find themselves wholly unable to cobble together any more (or any different) of an international cooperative approach to the Somali piracy problem.

I caught just enough news earlier to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describe the pirates as just "criminals" and go on, as SecState's generally do, about the need for an "international resolution." Two observations on that, really quickly.

1. The root word of "resolution" is "resolve," to mean either a solution or sheer determination. International "resolutions" fly out of the UN building at Turtle Bay with all the alacrity of a printing press in overdrive. Yet none of them contain a workable "solution" or have the necessary teeth to accommodate any "sheer determination." Two of the most pressing crises the UN has been grappling with for years have been the Iranian nuclear program and the various threats and human rights violations emanating from a belligerent North Korean dictatorship. How are those working out?

2. The Secretary of State might prefer to refer to barbarous pirates off the Somali coast as "criminals," but as I wrotelast night it is more appropriate to consider them "maritime thugs - terrorists at sea." And, as noted at The Tank on National Review Online earlier today, "the potential of al-Qaeda in (or entering) the mix must not be ignored."

What's more, the last UN "resolution" where resolve and solution were actually employed, the American President was the one widely derided as "criminal" for actually doing so.

Expect little "resolve" or "solution" from any UN "resolution," though one would receive wide media fanfare and photo ops.

The "solution" will necessarily fall upon the "resolve" of the private shipping firms who must operate their vessels in the danger zone, taking action themselves in protecting their property and crew members. The US Navy can only do so much and is, as on display today, quite necessarily reactive in nature. This does not deter the maritime thugs - terrorists at sea. It presents a solvable obstacle.

That's what my thoughts in Somali Piracy: A Solution are all about. The best way to prevent successful piracy and defeat the pirates is to harden and defend the mosquitoes' targets, not sparsely occupy a space with sledgehammers.

Somali Piracy Situation Escalates

The most recent events in the piracy of the Maersk Alabama indicate an escalation. Earlier this morning the media reported that the U.S. Navy had called in the F.B.I. hostage negotiating team to attempt to free the Alabama's captain who was afloat in a lifeboat along with four pirates, now stalled in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The F.B.I. is now described as fully engaged with the military in seeking the release of Captain Richard Phillips.

The assault on the U.S.-registered Maersk Alabama freighter, loaded with food for Africa, far off Somalia's coast marked the first attack against a U.S.-flagged vessel off Africa since the days of the Barbary pirates more than 200 years ago, a maritime official said.

It is interesting that the hijacking occured in what was a second attempt. Apparently the first attempt was thwarted.

Although now closely guarded by the U.S.S. Bainbridge and being monitored by a P-3 Orion surveillance, the Somali pirates are no less audacious. One of the priates, a thug going by the name of Da'ud has declared that reinforcements were already on route to the scene and that "the situation will end soon." Ominously, the scenarios painted by Da'ud include the U.S. retrieving Phillips and sinking the lifeboat with the pirates aboard, or the pirate reinforcements arriving in time to maintain control of the situation. The alternative, according to Da'ud is if the U.S. uses military force, then, as he said, "I am sure that nobody will survive."

As yesterday, this situation will continue to unfold and it will be interesting to see how rules of engagement with the Somali pirates changes now that an American vessel has been seized. It should also be noted that at least one company, Espada Marine Services is positioned to deploy teams onboard ships to discourage pirate assaults.

April 8, 2009

Somali Pirates Seize U.S. Ship - Updated

There is likely to be some uncertainty over the appropriate response to the seizing of a U.S. cargo container ship carrying 20 Americans. The ship, the Maersk Alabama was attacked, boarded and hijacked more than 300 miles off the coast of Somalia in open waters. The Alabama was reportedly carrying "general cargo." However given that the Maersk Line is a Defense Department prime shipping contractor, it is possible the ship was targeted because the pirates believed there might be military materials on board.

So, now here is the question. The Alabama is a U.S. flagged ship and 20 American sailors were on board when it was hijacked. Who has jurisdiction over the affair, and would the U.S. Navy pursue? While written in 2006, this article suggests that the F.B.I. might indeed have jurisdiction over this event.

When a crime does occur at sea, several factors determine whether the U.S. has legal jurisdiction. A complicated weave of international law applies, but as a rule, the FBI leads investigations of the following scenarios:

● If the ship is U.S.-owned, regardless of the nationality of the victim or perpetrator;

● If the crime occurs in U.S. territorial waters (within 12 miles of the coast);

● If the victim or perpetrator is a U.S. national on a ship that departed or is arriving at a U.S. port;

● If it's an act of terrorism against the U.S.

Somalia is a lawless country with, as the CIA Factbook says has no permanent national government, and currently has a transitional, parliamentary federal government.

It is unclear who has the jurisdiction here or even what the rules of engagement are in a case where an American ship with an American crew is hijacked. This should be "interesting" to watch as the situation unfolds.

UPDATE: This comes as no surprise to anyone who sees the "inadequacies" of the UN in dealing with non-state actors ("only"???). This morning, the nearest USN ship was 300 nautical miles away. Now, after holding the Captain of the Alabama hostage, the destroyer USS Bainbridge has reached the site.

Joe Murphy, whose son Shane is the ship's first officer, said the hijacking is "a wake-up call for America."

"They're making more money in piracy than the gross national product of Somalia, so it's not going to go away any time soon until there's international concern and international law enforcement," said Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

The Maersk Alabama is the first U.S. ship to be seized in the latest wave of piracy off largely lawless Somalia.

The merchant sailors are unarmed. So I wonder about the rules of engagement and how we protect American interests in this "new World."

April 7, 2009

Dilemma - To Aide the FBI (or not)

This doesn't seem to be much of a problem for me. Do I assist the FBI and other National Intelligence organizations or not? Seems like a pretty easy decision to make. Quite honestly, a strange thing happened a few weeks ago. A very new acquaintance (actually someone I haven't even seen since the first "meeting") asked what I did, and after I explained, he said that he was in the import/export business and was interested "in exporting military equipment to Mexico." That made my next phone call a pretty easy decision, actually.

But the "hesitancy" expressed by the American Muslim community seems to stem from the November 2008 Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development case that led to the convictions of five leaders of the organization.

The men were convicted in November of 108 criminal counts, including support of terrorism, money laundering and tax fraud. The group was accused of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas, which the government declared a terrorist group in 1995. As part of the trial, the government labeled roughly 300 different individuals and groups as "unindicted co-conspirators." The label does not affect anyone's rights, but Muslims complain it functions as a public smear.

Cooperation brings to mind a different case, but one that is of great personal concern. Recognizing that this article is from a source in Abu Dhabi, the concern about cooperation is an imperative. Consider the perspective and then re-consider the dilemma of whether or not to cooperate with the FBI.

We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with radical Islamic jihadist terrorists. No one should forget that. "I saw the smoke rising in the sky, just 30 miles to my West on the morning of September 11, 2001." Cooperate with the FBI? Is there really a choice?

April 6, 2009

The 'New' New Spanish Inquisition: Garzón v. Bush 'Torture' Advisors

At The Weekly Standard, a new article is well worth your time today. The New Spanish Inquisition: Judge Launches Gitmo Crusade v. Bush Administration.

The Spanish Inquisition was established in the late 15th century to stamp out heretical deviations from Catholicism. By the time it petered out in the early 19th century, the Inquisition had expanded to cover political deviants. It is this latter tradition that Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón--scourge of dictators, Basque terrorists, and democratic politicians everywhere--has made a career of reviving.

Garzón won fame in 1998 when he issued an arrest warrant for the aging Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, then still holding office as senator-for-life, and on travel in Britain. The British government refused the extradition, but not before the House of Lords decided to sanction it. People wondered how soon it would be before such a prosecution was turned on American officials. The answer came in the summer of 2003, when the Belgian government was embarrassed to discover that one of its courts might indict General Tommy Franks on crimes against humanity for leading the invasion of Iraq. The squirming Belgians quickly repealed the enabling statute, but the genie was out of the bottle, and a rash of sham proceedings followed in the wonderland of Europe.

The latest chapter in this fantastical tale began last week when Judge Garzón decided to forward a complaint against former Bush officials to the prosecutor of Spain's national trial court. The prosecutor is said not to care much for Garzón, and given the diplomatic embarrassment for the Spanish government, the case is not likely to proceed much farther--but a dangerous precedent has already been set.

The complaint alleges that the defendants--six former administration officials, all lawyers, including former attorney general Alberto González and former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith--were instrumental in creating the "legal framework" used to establish the Guantánamo detention facility as well as the allegedly illegal interrogation practices used there. With all the hyperbole and vagueness of a typical Spanish legal document, the complaint strings together a bunch of familiar myths into a conspiracy theory: The Bush administration's lawyers indispensably facilitated its supposed crimes against humanity.

They key line is that "the case is not likely to proceed much farther--but a dangerous precedent has already been set." The second part of that sentence is why you should go and read the entire article by Jeremy Rabkin & Mario Loyola.

Also see Jules Crittenden from last week, who coined the current usage of the phrase. Jules knows a thing or two about Spanish Inquisitions. A few of his friends were witch-hunted by the Spanish courts over the Palestine Hotel incident during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Turks Arrest Obama Assassination Plotter With Media ID

Turkish security forces have arrested a Syrian national living in Istanbul with an al-Jazeera media identifiaction card who admitted to plotting to assassinate President Obama with a knife. He apparently intended to get close enough to the President to stab him to death and, as teh story reports, he in fact had been "regularly attending all conferences and events relating to the Middle East held in the city" until he was discovered and arrested.

The Saudi Arabian newspaper al-Watan reported today that Turkish security services have arrested a man of Syrian origins Friday in connection with a plot to assassinate President Barack Obama during his current visit to Turkey.

The man, who was carrying an Al-Jazeera TV ID card in the name of M.G., confessed after his arrest that he was planning on stabbing the U.S. president with a knife during the Alliance of Civilizations summit held in Istanbul, adding that he had three other accomplices to help him execute his plan.

According to the paper, Turkish investigators were trying to verify whether the Qatari-based Arab TV channel has truly issued the ID card produced by the man, or if it's a forged copy.

The suspect, a permanent resident of Istanbul, has been regularly attending all conferences and events relating to the Middle East held in the city.

Adnkronos Security broke the story before the above CBS account, and also noted that the Syrian national was arrested on Friday before the president's arrival.

April 5, 2009

Broken Time, Alternate Comm

My time has been very broken as of late and my ThreatsWatch posting spartan at best as a result. As an alternate line of communication, I have been taking advantage of the utility of Twitter's micro-blogging. Readers may take some interest in the bits and pieces I've shared via my Twitter page in my broken avails.

Steve Schippert on Twitter

Links shared recently include 'realists' considering accepting reality of a nuclear Iran, first US-based pro-al-Qaeda magazine pubbed by a known genius in North Carolina, Pak PM Gilani laments foreign terrorists kicking up dust in Pakistan (but no mention of Pakistani terrorists) and a link to the audio archive of my Friday radio appearance that concluded with an essential primer on why it is important to know who Nawaz Sharif is today, not after he becomes Pakistan's Prime Minister again or president.

April 3, 2009

Of Drones, Guns and Cooperation

Through numerous articles over recent months, arguments have been presented exclaiming the devolution of the Mexican state, and at least on one occasion, referred to it as a "failed state". So, the question must be asked if by changing of White House occupants, that the perceived realities of the "unrest" in Mexico is real, or imagined (fabricated)? While I have been preoccupied by other responsibilities, others have addressed one of the issues that will be discussed in this article. This entry, in reverse order, covers the opportunities of cooperation between the United States and Mexico in combating the drug cartels that have threatened to rend Mexico apart, the realities (or "myths") associated with the origins of the weapons arming the Mexican drug cartels, and finally, the ultimate wisdom of selling Predator drones (UAVs) to Mexico to help fight the war that rages within its borders.

It is admirable that the U.S. and Mexico have announced once again that they intend to work together to fight the drug cartels. Of course, through the last years of the previous Administration, the passage of funding for the Merida Initiative was intended to "... combat the threats of drug trafficking, transnational crime, and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere." A question of focus and strategy is of course, warranted.

Emerging from a conference with U.S. officials, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said more meetings are needed to develop plans to bring warring drug cartels under control along the border. Medina-Mora said Mexico planned to begin checking 10 percent of the vehicles entering the country from the U.S. for illegal weapons and will more closely check outgoing vehicles for drugs and money.

Early in the process, however, little progress is being reported on reaching any bilateral accords. This follows an announcement earlier this week by President Calderón of Mexico that he didn't see the two countries working side by side on the effort.

It is important to note that throughout the months since Calderón mounted his effort to combat the drug cartels, one theme has been repeated. That theme? American guns and ammunition were being smuggled to Mexico from the border states and fueling the violence. A repeat of an article from an admittedly pro-gun website is warranted here. Some people might simply reject that statement as the rantings of "2nd Amendment wackos." Time and again, it is repeated that American weapons and drug use are the cause the violence in Mexico. However, as with many statistics, the statement that 90% of the guns in Mexico originated in the U.S. is faulty. In fact, according to a clarification published by Fox News, only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S. The key distinction is that serial numbers show that only 17% of the weapons can be traced to the United States.

The fact is, only 17 percent of guns found at Mexican crime scenes have been traced to the U.S.

What's true, an ATF spokeswoman told FOXNews.com, in a clarification of the statistic used by her own agency's assistant director, "is that over 90 percent of the traced firearms originate from the U.S."

But a large percentage of the guns recovered in Mexico do not get sent back to the U.S. for tracing, because it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S.

"Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market," Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told FOX News.

To think that the cartels are not able to fly shipments of guns and ammunition from other sources. like South America (Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela) or Europe using their own airplanes would be naïve. And yet, part of the newest initiative to assist Mexico with its problem is to earmark $400 million to help search more vehicles heading south across the border.

On a final note. Although not included in the official announcement by the Adminstration about aid to Mexico in fighting the war against the cartels., according to former U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, consideration was being given to selling Predator drones to Mexico

Discussing Mexico's war against the drug cartels, Cisneros said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered U.S. military equipment and aircraft to the Mexican government during her Mexico City trip Wednesday. Mexico would buy the equipment and operate it, not U.S. military forces. "Predator attacks on Mexican drug lords in Mexico are just around the corner," Cisneros said.

We should probably take a deep breath before considering selling military equipment to Mexico where the infiltration of the military by the cartels has long been a problem.

Yes, America has a drug problem. That fact alone, however, does not make the narcotics trade and the associated violence an American made problem. Yes, some weapons from the U.S. side of the border are finding their way illegally to Mexico. Ignoring the fact that weapons will find their way to an armed conflict from many sources would be a mistake. Selling high-end military equipment to Mexico and permitting that equipment to be operated by the Mexican government may also present a problem. Although with hesitation, allowing for the benefit of the doubt for now is perhaps in order.

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