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September 30, 2009

Gaming Intelligence: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Opponents of Gen. McChrystal's requested increase in troop levels for Afghanistan are gaming intelligence to attack the new Afghanistan theater commander's recommendations and assessment. And the opponents in question are most likely within the White House. An article in the Washington Post, Success Against al-Qaeda Cited, tells you just about all you need to know. Astonishingly, in the fourth paragraph rather than the last, if at all.

U.S. and international intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorist organization's effectiveness.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said that the combined advances have led to the deaths of more than a dozen senior figures in al-Qaeda and allied groups in Pakistan and elsewhere over the past year, most of them in 2009. Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks.

Recent claims of significant success against al-Qaeda have become part of White House deliberations about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, centering on a request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander there, for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign that will require more U.S. troops. Discussions began in earnest Tuesday as senior national security and military officials met with President Obama.

Those within the administration who have suggested limiting large-scale U.S. ground combat in Afghanistan, including Vice President Biden, have pointed to an improved counterterrorism effort as evidence that Obama's principal objective -- destroying al-Qaeda -- can be achieved without an expanded troop presence.

And there you have it. The answer to AJ Strata's question, "How Dumb Is This Administration?"

However, there's a difference between dumb and reckless. And dumb this administration is not.

Before readers go nuts on this for the wrong reasons, implying that moles and spies are now in jeopardy, this bland release of an overarching statement likely does little if anything to risk anyone in particular. Al-Qaeda already knows there are spies and traitors in their midst. How else does al-Qaeda explain its recent inability to dodge the bullet and/or keep high value target movements entirely secret?

The citation of recent high value targets meeting their Maker (with or without envisioned virgins) at the working end of a Hellfire missile tells al-Qaeda nothing they don't already know. And, curiously, the ensuing paranoia has also likely even caused a few who are not spies to meet a fate befitting one. This is a good thing.

But what it is decidedly not is cause to abandon a ground force strategy in Afghanistan, one which would create a vacuum. And vacuums are invitations for jihadi homesteading. This is what drew them to the wild west FATA lands in northern Pakistan, once the vacuum in Afghanistan was filled by American firepower.

Because we can send a few terrorists to confirm or obliterate their deeply held views of God and His Will first hand in Pakistan is no argument - none - for the abandonment of Afghan territory, ceding authority to those who would come in and wield power. This is a recipe for disaster.

Didn't we already, as an entire united nation some years ago, decry the counterterrorism strategy of sending a few Tomahawks into bin Laden's vacated lairs? Why, suddenly, after all we've learned, is this now seemingly a good idea? Because our intelligence is better? Really? That's it?

To argue that because our intelligence on HVT's (High Value Targets) is much better and more effective and thus a ground surge to secure Afghanistan is not necessary is akin to arguing that you have learned that sunlight is good for your roses, so forget all that silly water business. It's simply asinine on its face.

If readers are going to make hay about the usage of intelligence and sharing it with the Washington Post (et al), be sure to make the right hay. The shared remarks are of little harm in and of themselves. But that the vague intelligence (which is no secret) is used to further a stupid strategy with a track record of failure... Well, that's the hay to make here.

When Technology and Terror Converge

It is said that "necessity is the mother of invention." Often, incidents like the recent body bomb attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef lead to adaptation of existing technology as an immediate response. Although the Prince, who also serves as the Chief of anti-terrorism operations in Saudi Arabia, was only slightly injured, the bomber died when the explosives were (prematurely?) detonated, apparently by remote mobile phone. However, the implications of this incident on security at airports and other venues where traditional bomb detection and magnetometer equipment screen people, are obvious.

An expert on airport security said, "If it really is true that the metal detectors couldn't detect this person's hidden explosive device, that would mean that the metal detectors as they currently exist in airports are pretty much useless."

Some of the issues and alternatives were discussed in this article from the Digital Journal.

Possible detection countermeasures:

1. X rays calibrated for soft materials. Not easy, but it's a readily available detection method.
2. MRI scans. Expensive, but possible. MRI can detect and analyze non metallic materials.
3. Thermal profiling may be able to be calibrated to receive anomalous signals. All materials have distinct thermal signatures. Probably the cheapest, and certainly the most effective if it can be done on a large scale.

Operational countermeasures:

1) If phone services can read anomalous signals to unspecified locations, they can locate the sender and the receiver, at least in theory. A GPS reference would be easy enough to create.
2) Sensitive areas could be subjected to jamming measures.
3) Airports could simply require phones to be turned off, or confiscated, to reduce local phone traffic within the security zones.

In a somewhat unrelated technology development we learn of the State Department gifting a new non-invasive scanning system to El Salvador to assist in detection of hidden weapons in the prison systems. The State Department made a $155,000 contract to a Texas company to purchase these "Body Orifice Security Scanners," or B.O.S.S. chairs. The B.O.S.S. chairs are credited with dramatically reducing attacks in the New York State prison system.

Despite the obvious jokes that can be raised by this situation, it is very serious nonetheless. Regardless of whether or not we now are destined to be subjected to new variations of security at the airports, the reality of creative methods of terrorists trying to kill innocent people is very real. But it has to be remembered that for every security measure taken, there are likely to be countermeasures taken. Our enemies, no matter the name they are called (al Qaeda, jihadist etc.), are still very resourceful and resilient.

Iran, Negotiations and Sanctions: A History Lesson

That I count Michael Ledeen among trusted friends is an honor. Once again I am reminded why. Take the time to read his succinct history lesson in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years.

You may not be aware of this particular bit regarding our intransigent warmongering unilateralist cowboy forty-third president's efforts.

Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush--invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs--negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West." At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

But do read it all, please. And challenge your adversaries in debate to look you in the eye and answer Michael's concluding graph.

Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.

The three part BBC documentary, Iran and the West, can be seen below.

Part three references (all by its lonesome) the deal President George W. Bush thought he just might have struck. But alas, the theocratic and messianic Iranian regime simply does not want a deal. They want nukes.

The end.

September 28, 2009

A Manufactured Debate - Is Iran Designing Warheads?

In the New York Times is a curiously worded article about the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons headlined "A Nuclear Debate - Is Iran Designing Warheads?" It is confirmation that the disaster-in-a-binder 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has legs far longer than the year the report was produced.

Astoundingly, due to this report - authored by three State Department transfers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - it is presented that "American spy agencies have stood firm in their conclusion that [Iran] halted work on weapons design in 2003." This is a position that even the French scoff at, to say nothing of the Israelis or the Germans.

More importantly for your digestion, it is simply fiction to write that "American spy agencies" hold this position. I know for a fact that most American intelligence shops - if not all but one - vehemently disagreed at the time of the report's crafting. They insisted that this conclusion was pure fantasy and inserted by its former-State Department (and not intelligence) authors who had a political axe to grind and an end to achieve: Preventing what some wrongly saw as a potential for President George W. Bush to take military action against Iran.

The key graphs excerpted below.

Behind their show of unity about Iran's clandestine efforts to manufacture nuclear fuel, however, is a continuing debate among American, European and Israeli spies about a separate component of Iran's nuclear program: its clandestine efforts to design a nuclear warhead.

The Israelis, who have delivered veiled threats of a military strike, say they believe that Iran has restarted these "weaponization" efforts, which would mark a final step in building a nuclear weapon. The Germans say they believe that the weapons work was never halted. The French have strongly suggested that independent international inspectors have more information about the weapons work than they have made public.

Meanwhile, in closed-door discussions, American spy agencies have stood firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted work on weapons design in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort -- a judgment first made public in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The phrase "in closed door discussions" reveals that the reporters are being fed this version of the tale, likely from within the White House. It is absolutely incomprehensible to suggest that now or in 2007 that "American spy agencies" stand firm on an issue that was derided by most in the intelligence community when it was first floated in 2007 and remains unresolved to this day because the NIE is the "official record" of sorts until a new one is produced.

The suggestion that Iran "halted its nuclear warhead design research in 2003" appeared in the opening paragraph of the executive summary of the lengthy report and stood unsupported throughout the detailed body of the document. In fact, in the body of the 2007 NIE on Iran was contradictory to that opening statement.

But it didn't matter. The damage would be done and the authors knew it. And its ill-effects are clearely still being felt today. This is what you get when you have three career State Department employees with political axes to grind author an intelligence estimate.

Does it not strike as at least odd that the United States is the only one who holds this view? That Germany, Israel and France - France - think this is crazy? I am not sure how the New York Times can suggest that this is an all too familiar scenario that, "in essence, is a mirror image of the intelligence dispute on the eve of the Iraq war. " No reasonable state not allied with Saddam Hussein or an American strategic adversary suggested that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction. The debate in 2002 and 2003 was not on "whether" - such as the American administration is now making it - but on "what to do about it."

This debate is wholly different. And the outcome hinges on politicized American NIE fiction from 2007 and a foolish measure of faith and trust that the Iranian regime can be reasoned with or strong-armed out of their nuclear weapons program through infamous strongly worded statements from Turtle Bay or sanctions that have never worked and will always be neutered by Russia or China or both.

It's delusional. Clarity, logic and history stare us in the face. We can't call it something else and make it so, no matter what approach one would take from that point forward. Can't we at least get to a common sense starting point and debate what matters rather than argue the delusional?

UPDATE: Before the Times' report, I spoke this morning about the current implications of the disastrous opening graph to the 2007 NIE in my weekly podcast, which focused primarily on Iran. For the audio stream or MP3 download, go here:

The Steve Schippert Show - September 28, 2009

My weekly National Security podcast, The Steve Schippert Show, is also available via iTunes. You can subscribe for automatic downloads each Monday morning.

September 25, 2009

Listen to the Footsteps, Watch the Dust

This is not a paranoid outburst of anti-jihadism. Listen carefully and you must see the increasing frequency of individuals and groups coming out of the closet and into the open. Right now it is a "short list," but a list nonetheless, and it is growing.

● Of course in June 2007, there was the the JFK Terrorist plot involving three men from Guyana and one from Trinidad and the case of the Lackawana (Buffalo) Six, Yemeni-Americans (by birth) who were convicted of providing support to al Qaeda. Additionally, we've had the Detroit Sleeper Cell and the planned attack on Ft. Dix, NJ.

● In May 2008, we had the case of Jeffrey Don Detrixhe who was arrested because he had "innocently" purchased cyanide pellets saying that with it he could euthanize an entire village.

● Nearly a year ago, in November 2008, there was the arrest of the five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

After a nearly year-long investigation, a plot to attack and blow up a Jewish Syngogue in RIverdale New York was pre-empted.

More recently, in July 2009 we had Bashir al-Ameriki on Long Island. Also in July, there was the arrest of eight men in North Carolina, two of whom are now suspected of somehow planning a delusional attack against the Marine Base at Quantico, Va.

It is now becoming a bit more clear that the case against Najibullah Zazi is expanding. Now officials are indicating that he had purchased amount of hydrogen peroxide and acetone as components of a bomb. Meanwhile his father and his F.B.I. informant imam are accused on "merely lying" to law enforcement. But now, as more facts emerge, the Zazi case is being called one of the most serious in years.

But now, in an apparently unrelated case, there is the arrest just yesterday of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi in a sting operation in which he parked a government supplied vehicle with fake bombs in front of Dallas office building. Let us not hear of entrapment! Smadi had "pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and expressed a desire to kill Americans" to undercover Arabic speaking agents.

Some of Smadi's co-workers at the Texas Best Smokehouse (they're all the "best") expressed disbelief at his arrest and involvement in a plot to kill Americans.

Friends, who knew him as "Sam," said he lived there for about a year and that he was fun, easygoing and always willing to lend a hand. Several said he regularly offered them rides in his Honda sedan.

"This comes as a shock to us; he was just an awesome person," said friend Tabatha Rogers. "He was good to us."

He loved techno music, had earrings in both ears, and he was often seen wearing a belt buckle decorated with rhinestones that formed a gun. Rogers said he looked just like "your average American rock star."

"Sam" was just a "regular guy." Wanna bet? How many more "sleeper cells" are lying in the bushes or in the dusty confines of their closets waiting for a signal to launch an attack against our citizens? How many might act independently? They could be just "Regular looking guys." The question remains, how do we determine who is a terrorist, and who is a "regular guy?" Indeed, how do you tell the difference between a terrorist, and someone like "Sam" who looks like "your average American rock star?"

No, it is not paranoia, but reality. This great country enables the free flow of people from all over the Globe within the constraints of immigration laws. Some, however, enter the country illegally. Surveillance of people doing things that "don't look right" is one of the ways to keep us safe from "regular guys" like Hosam Maher Husein Smadi ("Sam"). The threat is here, even if it comes from "there." When people can go to training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, learn about bombmaking,become indoctrinated in the beliefs of the ant-West jihad, the War on Terrorism is in your town, it's on your street. If something doesn't look right, report it to the authorities. But don't wait because you think that it might be paranoid.

September 22, 2009

Denials, Lies and Arrests

For days since the initial raid on the apartment there have been a series of denials, lawyers defending clients and then arrests for falsely answering questions of the F.B.I. in Queens New York. There has also been noticeable hand wringing over whether the New York City Police Department acted too swiftly, and in so doing, might have compromised a longer term investigation by the F.B.I.

To wait or not to wait, that is the question. And waiting, how long is too long?

If US law enforcement waits for bombs to be made, it may act too late, and innocent people could be hurt. If it acts too soon, it may not have an airtight case, or maybe any case at all... ..."The critical issue is, when should the government intervene and intercept?" says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who follows terror investigations. "In all cases, it's a different calculus.

The allegations, now becoming more and more clear, are that one of the suspects, Najibullah Zazi, had various incriminating evidence including bomb making instructions on his computer and admitted to having received training from al Qaeda while he was in Pakistan. An F.B.I. Press Release made it pretty clear that while being arrested for making false statements, that there was an on-going terror investigation.

So how widely does this plot cast its net?

Law enforcement officials described the investigation as fluid, with critical questions unanswered. Among them: Who else may have known about the alleged plot, the identities of others who may have been involved, and if there was a plot, how close Zazi and his alleged confederates had come to carrying out an attack. Two legal sources labeled as false a news report that seven other men in the New York area had been arrested in connection with the probe. But investigators continue to conduct interviews in New York and Colorado.

To believe that there is nothing to these arrests and that having plans to make a peroxide bomb in his possession makes the younger Zazi "innocent" is beyond logic. Another related point of view is expressed by Jeffrey Addicott, Director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

"It's the Al Capone syndrome. Prosecutors were able to convict Capone only of tax evasion, not of being the gangster they suspected he was.

Federal prosecutors continue to follow a similar strategy in pursuing terrorism suspects, he said.

They rarely have enough evidence to convict someone of plotting a terrorist act, Addicott said. Instead, they get them for forging identification or lying to the FBI.

By exposing his client to three days of intensive inquiries, Denver lawyer Art Folsom used a risky strategy that his client had nothing to hide.

"This guy hung himself. Tactically, perhaps, the attorney was lackadaisical," Addicott said. "If you are naive, you will operate on the assumption your client is telling the truth. It makes the attorney look silly."

Federal officials are now warning transit systems to be especially alert to possible terrorist attacks.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force believes raids it conducted in Queens last week disrupted a plot by Najibullah Zazi, 24, to set off homemade bombs possibly in the subway, at a stadium or even at a Fashion Week event. Backpacks, cellphones and a battery-powered scale -- all possible components of bombs -- were confiscated during the raids on Queens homes that Zazi had visited.

There is much more to this than interagency competition or premature arrests. Should we let it go until an act is perpetrated? Think again. As Jeffrey Addicott said, "These guys don't wear uniforms. They are trained in deception. They are a tough nut to crack." Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law commented, "It's a really delicate balancing act for the government because if they wait too long, someone can be hurt, so they tend to err on the side of safety."

September 16, 2009

Mistaken ID? Terrorism Pre-empted?

"Another Enemy Within?" or a case of mistaken identity?

The raid turned up no explosives. A number of empty backpacks and cell phones were confiscated. The primary "person of interest" says that he did nothing wrong, but it is alleged that he was "schooled in demolitions and military tactics." At the same time, there are questions of whether the NYPD "jumped the gun" on a broader FBI investigation. It seems that one thing is certain, the authorities were paying a great deal of attention to the suspects.

There is probably alot more to this than we now know.

September 14, 2009

Another Enemy Within (II)

The complacency of many of Americans who equate the lack of attacks since September 11th, 2001 with safety was again blurred by the announcement of the raids by the Joint Terrorism Task Force on a suspected al Qaeda connected cell living in Queens New York.

Senator Charles Schumer made a reassuring statement after his briefing by law enforcement officials.

"The things I can tell you are these. First, there was nothing imminent. Second, there was nothing related to President Obama's visit. Third, the FBI is very good at tracking down people who might cause some kind of problem and this was preventitive. In other words, preventing something from happening instead of cutting off something quickly that might happen immediately."

While calling the threat very real, no evidence of weapons has been found so far. The raids, for now, are being characterized as "preventative." With search warrants in hand the raids were conducted on three locations. They say that cell phones were confiscated (should be pretty revealing actually). One raid was on a location at 41st Street and Parsons Boulevard, not too far from Citi Field, the new home of the NY Mets. Anyone who knows that section, understands that it is a very "melting pot" area

Espousing a militant ideology aligned with al Qaeda in no way suggests that these suspects were in fact aligned with al Qaeda. But it does continue to reinforce the reality that direct connection to al Qaeda (as in Al Qaeda in Iraq, or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria) or newly, al Qaeda's clone in Somalia) does not suggest that these groups are either inept or incapable of wrecking havoc.

We need to get it through our complacent minds that this so-called "Overseas Contingency Operation," formerly known as the Global War on Terrorism will not cease simply by a change in words. In fact, a point was made at a meeting last week that the erasing of the word "war" from the description of our on-going counterterrorism efforts might actually deligitimize some of the tactics we might employ if that word is reinstated (see Jeffrey Addicott's Terrorism law: The Rule of Law and The War on Terror).

No, this is not a marketing campaign for the book, but words indeed do matter. And whether connected directly or indirectly by ideology, would-be terrorists are here. No, this is not a call for pre-emptive arrests. But it is a reinforcement of the importance of vigilence and on-going investigations of situations, people and things that simply "don't look right." Looking the other way will not work.

And finally, a question must be asked, "how did these suspects gain entry to the United States?"

September 13, 2009

Crescendo: Iran's Frantic Race To Nuclear Arms

Significant events swirl around Iran. The pace of information is dizzying. But it is when you begin to feel dizziness coming on that bearings are most important. And the information can be found in almost innumerable places, including editorials, which these days can contain as much hard news as most news reports contain editorialized content.

Consider this opening from Investor's Business Daily's editorial from Thursday, September 10, Iran And The Khan Con.

"Iran is now either very near or in possession already of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons grade," Glyn Davies, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, told the IAEA's board of governors this week in Vienna.

That means, Davies added, that Iran is now "closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity." And he expressed the U.S.' "serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option."

Well, no kidding. Anyone not in a deep sleep for the last five years knows that. Yet Davies' statement gets reported as if it should be some kind of shock.

For a bit more, see also David Sanger's New York Times article from the day prior, "U.S. Says Iran Could Expedite Nuclear Bomb".

It may well be a shock to those reporting it. It should not be to you. Iran has been racing to enrich as much uranium within its borders as possible virtually unabated for years. That they most probably have enough low-enriched material to create one highly-enriched uranium device if they so choose only follows the course of logic, not bewilderment.

Be sure to note that the above read "uranium" and "within its borders." You can be assured that the tasked among America's (and Israel's) intelligence agencies are deeply concerned about "plutonium" Iran is engaged in attempting to produce "outside its borders." In, say, Syria.

The plutonium facility in Syria that Israel took out in an air raid was of North Korean design, and North Korean and Iranian scientists and military were killed along with Syrians in the strike. Any questions?

Now, with that mindset consider a report in the Jerusalem Post in which former US ambassador to the UN's IAEA nuclear watchdog agency, David Schulte, shares logic in saying that Syria likely has more than just the one nuclear facility Israel destroyed. And that, in turn , would also most probably mean that Iran is just as deeply entrenched in those facilities as well. This is their "beyond the eyes of the IAEA" farm team. Or was until Israel dragged the IAEA to a former plutonium reactor in the Syrian desert.

Syria may be operating more nuclear sites, apart from the reactor at Deir Azour which was bombed by Israel on September 6, 2007 in what came to be known as Operation Orchard, former US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Gregory Schulte told Channel 10 Thursday evening. "I think there were other activities that gave us concern, that gave the IAEA concern... IAEA inspectors actually asked to go to a number of other sites, and the Syrians wouldn't let them go there; they claimed they were military sites. They claimed the uranium particles that the inspectors found at the destroyed reactor came from Israeli bombs," Schulte said.

Don't let the mention of uranium particles throw you in regards to the plutonium reactor. Uranium is the source fuel that is enriched into its plutonium by-product.

And what's the big deal, the layman observer may ask, between uranium and plutonium? Essentially, uranium is to plutonium as the Sundance Kid's dynamite is to plastic explosives. Smaller, much lighter amounts required for a 'bang' exponentially greater in scale. And with Iran's missile challenges, this is important to them.

But they can't do this with the IAEA crawling around from time to time. Sure, the IAEA isn't exactly the most motivated or capable lot. At least its leadership, that is. The inspectors are generally quite highly regarded and proficient. Those whom they report to? Not so much. The IAEA stands accused of hiding damning weapons research evidence under ElBaradei's charge recently.

So they are building in Syria. The destroyed plant there was ready to go online, which gave Israel the impetus to bomb it.

And Iran is attaining uranium under the radar from various places in Africa, and utilizing its newfound kinship with Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, among others. To get a grasp of that dynamic, consider the two important columns below by Claudia Rosett and Michael Ledeen, respectively.

Claudia Rosett: It Takes A Nuclear Village - Forbes
Michael Ledeen: The End of the World: Evidence of a Global Alliance - Faster, Please!

Those are just a few of the dots to connect, like stones across a stream to get you from one side to the next. Readers would do well to also consider the following, still very partial in scope.

US Envoy Says Iran Has Nearly Enough Low-Enriched Uranium for a Nuclear Weapon - Washington Post
Does the Obama Admin know what Venezuela is doing to assist Tehran's weapons programs? - Washington Post
Russia Rejects New Iran Sanctions - Wall Street Journal
Iran nuclear package 'not really responsive,' U.S. says - CNN Wire
Iran Urges Worldwide System to Eliminate Nukes; Plan Ignores Tehran's Enrichment Efforts - Washington Post
Iranian Nuclear Proposal Text (PDF) - Propublica
US rejects Iran nuclear proposals - BBC

There's so much more, such as the latest intrigue surrounding Israel's intervention of Russia's supply of anti-aircraft missile defense systems to Iran. The pace is becoming like an Olympic downhill skiing race at breakneck speeds.

The wind in your face is almost always the first thing felt before the storm.

September 12, 2009

On Nerves, Sensitivity and Timing

Eight years is too short a time to erase the memories of the attacks of September 11th, or at least it should be. Four months is too short a time to believe that peoples' nerves and sensitivities are any less frazzled than they were when a photo-op over Manhattan scared the daylights out of many people.

So, yesterday, on the morning of September 11th, while the Nation spent somber moments considering their emotions and memories, and while many listened to the reading of the names at the World Trade Center site, a "routine" Coast Guard exercise on the Potomac River set off a panic when CNN monitored an unencrypted radio transmission and reacted to what seemed at the time to be shots fired on the river.

Before officials understood what was happening, breathless reports on CNN and Fox News Channel sent F.B.I. agents and police officers to the riverbank and prompted a 20-minute halt to flights at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport.

[Note that the Washington Post has a "slightly" different take on the events.]

On the one hand, the Coast Guard's position was that its "operations people saw no reason not to train" yesterday. On another hand, CNN claimed that it had an obligation to report what "they were seeing and hearing." On still another hand, the position of the White House was that the media reacted too quickly (Press Secretary Gibbs: "My only caution would be that before we report things like this, checking would be good."). The White House also rejected comparisons with the April 27th fly-over in the skies over Manhattan. And on the final hand, several Members of Congress questioned the "timing and location of the drill."

Probably the best summation of these events comes from Vice Admiral Currier of the Coast Guard when he said, "in retrospect, of course, we're going to look at the sensitivity" of conducting such an exercise on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

While this is not actually the same as the April 27th photo-op, ask the question if it was really necessary to perform a routine, "low profile" training mission on September 11th on the Potomac River between the Memorial Bridge and the 14th St. Bridge. It is doubtful that the passage of any amount of time will eliminate the frayed nerves and heightened sensitivity to things like this, especially on September 11th.

September 7, 2009

Redefining the GWOT (and a comment about Afghanistan)

This week commemorates the morning of the attacks that struck our Nation, September 11, a somber day in the memory of many, and a day, when it happened, that seemed would change our lives forever. But as time has passed, some memories have faded, and to others, a way to disavow policy is to alter the words used to describe history.

According to the White House, the terms 'Jihadists' and 'global war' are no longer acceptable.

Not since the 4th day of his Administration has our President used the term "war on terror." And John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office made it clear in his speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that a new way of fighting terrorism. We fight a war, instead against al Qaeda. according to the new policy positionThe United States is at war with al Qaeda and its violent allies, and those who would carry out their "murderous agenda." Thus, we do not fight against jihadists, or terrorism, since "jihad" is a word that many use to convey a self-purification or "to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal."

Perhaps Juan Zarate, President Bush's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism expressed best the sentiment of those who would dismiss Brennan's speech as cosmetic in nature.

The focus on terminology, he said, is "almost a nonissue." "It's a straw man. The question is, how do you deal with the policy?" Mr. Zarate said.

On the otherhand, it is hard to debate the belief that countries were more vulnerable to the influences of terrorists and extremists when the region was in economic crisis or experiencing social stratification. Clearly, the economic and social environments of a country make it more or less likely to become a hot bed of violence.

From Brennan's address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

At the same time, the president understands that military power, intelligence operations and law enforcement alone will never solve the second long-term challenge we face - the threat of violent extremism generally, including the political, economic and social factors that help put so many individuals on the path to violence.

The current "conventional wisdom"is that while the threat posed by al Qaeda will continue for two decades, it is more likely to pose a convention, rather than WMD threat. That's a fairly bold prediction considering a 20 year predicted threat, and the uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow. Further, continued instability in the world, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Taliban ruled and then protected and spawned al Qaeda, suggests that the extremism of September 11, 2001 remains unchecked.

Boldly, the Taliban claims to have sabotaged the election. While some people argue the merits of the U.S. even staying in Afghanistan because of the allegations of corruption in the recent and still undecided election, many others would question the alternatives.

With 74 percent of polling stations counted, incumbent President Hamid Karzai leads with 48.6 percent. Top challenger Abdullah Abdullah has 30.1 percent. Karzai needs more than 50 percent to avoid a second round. The count is due to be completed this week, but results won't be final until a complaints commission investigates the claims of major violations. Separately, the election commission has already thrown out results from 447 of the 26,000-plus polling sites because of fraud.

Charges of fraud and "good old" ballot stuffing raise doubts of the validity of the election in which the warlords and Taliban held such sway. In fact, one recent articlestrongly underscore the fraudulent nature of the election.

"We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day," the senior Western diplomat said. "But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai." Besides creating the fake sites, Mr. Karzai's supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.

While the strategic importance of Afghanistan is debated, this flawed election might well re-emerge the influential warlords from the background. A run-off election could pose serious security issues and further challenge stability.

The question of Afghanistan's strategic importance was asked of General Petraeus. His response was as obvious as it was important.

"To be fair," he responded, "all of us should be asking that question more, in view of allegations of electoral fraud" in the recent Afghan election. "I don't think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won't work out if we don't."

The people of Afghanistan know the tyranny under which they lived by Taliban rule. To be fair, poverty and destitute living conditions enable the growth of extremism and make it possible for terrorism to become the avocation of choice among those trying to scratch an existence from the soil. Terrorism exists and has for sometime. It will continue to exist. The tactics may change, the importance of neutralizing the effects of the forces of extremism around the World, not just in Afghanistan, remains a challenge that will likely persist beyond the current Administration.

Michael Gerson ends his article with this:

Can we make Afghan lives better? There are no guarantees, but there are precedents. And this much is clear: It is not a serious strategy to exaggerate American obstacles in Afghanistan, to discount hopeful alternatives, and to speak with airy vagueness about how it will all work out if we retreat. It is a fantasy world of our own unmaking.

The war on terrorism and extremism continues, no matter the words used to describe the conflict and no matter the tactics employed.

September 2, 2009

Schippert on Jones, Obama and Counterterrorism Leadership

Last night's overnight RapidRecon post, Jim Jones: Another Job 'Created or Saved'?, was an exercise in frustration. I had initially done an interview last night on Dr. Melissa Clouthier's popular show, The Right Doctor.

The first I heard of National Security Advisor Jim Jones's claim that President Obama has effected a more productive global counterterrorism strategy than President George W. Bush had was when Melissa Clouthier read it to me in the opening of her show. Clearly, by 2:00AM, my reaction here at ThreatsWatch hadn't changed or been tempered in pondering more.

Who's going to tell me this is because of Obama? I will laugh in your uninformed face. Out loud and in public.

Tuesday afternoon, I was asked by Crane Durham to discuss the subject on his nationalradio show, Nothing But Truth. Clearly, as you can tell in the audio archive of the interview published below, there has yet to be any tempering of the reaction.

Your money quote: "For a guy who has lived with the name Jim Jones for all of his life, he should know better than to drink the Kool-Aid."

Harsh? Not nearly as harsh as the effects of duping the American public into buying that President Obama's suddenly-found foreign policy and counterterrorism prowess has somehow netted a measurably more effective fight against terrorism and terrorists - dare I say, the War on Terror.

I hold no ill will towards or disrespect for General Jones. Hardly. But he said a very stupid thing and, in an apparent effort to solidify his position on the Obama team, made political hay where there need be none.

General Jones should just do his vital job and ensure that our forces continue to kill terrorists in an efficient, violent, will-breaking manner. Leave the stupid political comments to the politicians, Marine. Or, carry on and get fired already.

Either way, make stupid, self-conflicting politicized comments and they will continue to be challenged. Sometimes with a harshness commensurate with which such comments are received.

Note: Readers may also like to consider GWoRIT vs. OCO: Which has made/is making America Safer? at Flopping Aces.

September 1, 2009

Jim Jones: Another Job 'Created or Saved'?

This has me seeing red, having tried in vain to refrain from much comment until after watching another sunrise. One of the best journalists in Washington, ABC's Jake Tapper, shares an exclusive interview with National Security Advisor Jim Jones in which the White House advisor gives every appearance of a man desperate to save his job. With apologies to Jake Tapper, heavy excerpt below from his story in Political Punch, National Security Adviser Says President Obama Is Having Greater Success Taking Terrorists Out of Commission Than Bush Did.

Responding to criticism from former Vice President Cheney that President Obama is making the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, the president's National Security Adviser, Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), told ABC News in an exclusive interview that actually the reverse is true: President Obama's greater success with international relations has meant more terrorists put out of commission.

"This type of radical fundamentalism or terrorism is a threat not only to the United States but to the global community," Jones said. "The world is coming together on this matter now that President Obama has taken the leadership on it and is approaching it in a slightly different way - actually a radically different way - to discuss things with other rulers to enhance the working relationships with law enforcement agencies - both national and international."

Jones said that "we are seeing results that indicate more captures, more deaths of radical leaders and a kind of a global coming-together by the fact that this is a threat to not only the United States but to the world at-large and the world is moving toward doing something about it."

The former Marine General didn't provide any specific numbers to back up his claim, but he said "there is an increasing trend and I think we seen that in different parts of the world over the last few months for sure." He added that he was not "making a tally sheet saying we are killing more people, capturing more people than they did -- that is not the issue."

So, what is the issue, exactly? According to Jones, "The numbers of high value targets that we are successfully reaching out to or identifying through good intelligence." So much for not making a tally sheet.

Well, that's all well and good. But what does that intelligence have to do with President Obama's "international" successes? Which countries supposedly now immensely more cooperative were not so because of President Bush's apparent abrasiveness?

Someone is going to point to Pakistan to help him out here, where Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was finally introduced to the working end of a Hellfire missile.

That's a load of garbage the instant anyone attempts to take that easy way out. The cooperation within Pakistan has got jack to do with President Obama's suddenly deft foreign policy prowess nor his wild popularity with global media and resulting coverage - which is to be astutely distinguished from wild popularity among world leaders. Pakistan's cooperation was being lined up mostly by the Taliban itself, which made its insurgency against the government of Pakistan so bold that the Pakistanis could push it off no longer. They simply had to deal, and have been for the better part of the year.

"Dealing" meant, in part, not only tolerating US drone attacks in Pakistan's Taliban/al-Qaeda controlled wild west, but feeding the Americans a bit of actual intelligence every now and again instead of feeding the enemy ahead of attacks every damned time so they can scamper off safely.

Who's going to tell me this is because of Obama? I will laugh in your uninformed face. Out loud and in public.

Anyone besides me remember when General David Petraeus and other senior level military and intelligence officials went and had a sit down with Pakistani Army commander General Kiyani shortly after Petraeus took over CENTCOM? Do you think they were discussing the likability factor of then-candidate Obama?

Or do you think today Jim Jones is hoping that his is another job "created or saved" in that funky PR-lingo math practiced by White House economic advisors and media spokesmen?

Either way, Jim Jones should make lunch reservations at the Mayflower down the street with George Will, who's having a genius moment of his own today.

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