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January 28, 2010

Pirate Fighting in the Gulf of Aden (Revisited)

The January 18th Daily Briefing highlighted the resurgence of piracy off of the coast of Somalia. Actually, the observation made related to the paying of a ransom to the pirates and that paying rewards begets more piracy. Apparently, a total of $9 million was paid in ransoms in the hijacking of the Greek tanker.

The most recent incident has Somali pirates attacking a Cambodian cargo ship. At this writing, there are few details on what happened.

So it seems that very little has changed since last April 29th when Firewatch had the chance to interview Jim Jorrie, president of ESPADA Logistics and Security. Actually, it seems that a great deal has changed since then. ESPADA has expanded its capabilities by acquiring five additional armed, fast-patrol vessels for use in the Gulf of Aden.

As Jorrie told local San Antonio television station KSAT-12 some of the basics of his company's work. With al Qaeda trumpteting its involvement in Yemen based terrorism, as things heat up in the Horn of Africa region, it is companies like this one that are on the line. This disconnect, if there is one, is that ESPADA is based in San Antonio. Then again, the historic military presence in the city makes almost anything possible.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Jim Jorrie and I are friends and we operate in similar circles.

January 23, 2010

Indefinite Detention at GITMO

Some semblance of reality may have set in regarding the "closing" of the terrorist holding prison at Guantanamo. A task force led by the Department of Justice has concluded that 47 prisoners should be held indefinitely without trial. While there is objection and "dismay" being expressed from certain quarters, it seems clear that people are taking a deep breath.

"Just as important as closing the prison quickly is closing it right, and that means putting an end to the illegal policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial," said the ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero.

There will likely be more to this story as time progresses. For now, maybe this will lead to a reconsideration of holding the trials for the September 11th mass murderers in Manhattan.

January 18, 2010

Horrid 2007 Iran NIE To Be Revised

A big part of today's DailyBriefing is the developing story that the authors of a grotesquely incorrect 2007 National Intelligence Estimate is about to get revised. Finally. And begrudgingly at that.

U.S. intelligence agencies are quietly revising their widely disputed assertion that Iran has no active program to design or build a nuclear bomb. Three U.S. and two foreign counterproliferation officials tell NEWSWEEK that, as soon as next month, the intel agencies are expected to complete an "update" to their controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Tehran "halted its nuclear weapons program" in 2003 and "had not restarted" it as of mid-2007. The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive information, say the revised report will bring U.S. intel agencies more in line with other countries' spy agencies (such as Britain's MI6, Germany's BND, and Israel's Mossad), which have maintained that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon.

What the November 2007 Iran NIE (PDF) said was the following (and unsubstantiated anywhere beyond the initial report paragraph).

A. We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran's announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work.

The principal authors - Department of National Intelligence employees previously transfered from the State Department - made point that Iran actually had a weapons program, but only in the false context that it had halted it in 2003. They were making political hay and, at the time, trying to derail what they perceived as a possible Bush attack inside and on Iran. That this perception was itself also patently false is of no consequence. What was written is what was written, and it armed Iran's Russian and Chinese allies to undercut any diplomatic efforts - diplomatic efforts - through the UN and the UN Security Council.

Why do I say the NIE will be "begrudgingly" revised? Pay attention to the last sentence from Mark Hosenball at Newsweek.

Yet two of the U.S. sources caution the new assessment will likely be "Talmudic" in its parsing. They say U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed "research" on nuclear weapons--theoretical work on how to design and construct a bomb--but that Tehran is not engaged in "development"--actually trying to build a weapon. "The intelligence community is always reluctant to make a total retreat because it makes them look bad," says the third American.

Well, that's just too bad. It's not about who's right, but about what's right. Get that backwards and you are incapable of adjusting and playing a game of career defense instead of intelligence offense. This is pervasive throughout the intelligence community (and others, mind you) and leads to intelligence failures and the compounding of errors for the sake of some fool's efforts to cover a turd in the sand.

If you're not man enough to admit when you got it wrong, you're not man enough for intelligence. The end.

Just hours after the public version of the 2007 NIE on Iran was released, John Batchelor and I spoke about it on his radio program - and its intended and unintended consequences.

You'll see, regarding the handcuffing of sanctions, that this analysis was spot on. And the after-effects remain. To wit, China still balking on Iran sanctions.

Important archives regarding the 2007 Iran NIE are referenced in today's DailyBriefing. And, at risk of seeming like I am tooting my own horn, the news today of its revision is a passive admission by its authors that I was spot on in my criticism and analysis. Some archives reproduced below.

Coming Around On Iran: Bad 2007 NIE Now To Be 'Revised' - Newsweek
Explaining Why 2007 NIE Was So Bad: NIE: Cutting of your nose to... - NRO (2007)
Lingering Bad NIE Effects: A Manufactured Debate - Is Iran Designing Warheads? - ThreatsWatch (2009)
China balks at Iran sanctions - CS Monitor
Schippert Interview: The China-Russia-Iran Axis - FrontPage Magazine (2008)

In a December 2007 RapidRecon entry, I asked the following very straight-forward question which still remains.

"[A]sk yourself why Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was in North Korea to watch every rogue state's weapons farm team hold an intramural scrimmage with their first nuclear bomb test detonation."

Crickets from the 2007 NIE authors at the time and since. Now, perhaps, they are forced to get it right, even though they are loathe and unlikely to overtly admit being dead wrong. We are not. They were wrong and we were right. Save face if you must, but let's just start getting it right.

UPDATE: I overlooked a simple yet critical part of the 2007 NIE for ThreatsWatch readers: the NIE's politically motivated authors. From Sweetness & Light, meet the three primary authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: "[H]yper-partisan anti-Bush officials" Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

January 17, 2010

Going Back to Look Forward

Often it is astounding how accurately you can "see the future" by looking back at some of the observations made in the past, even while noting that those observations might have been controversial "back then." It was about four and a half years ago that a wave of political correctness shrouded Congress when it first tried to avoid the impression that we were engaged in a war against all of Islam. Then, for the first time, emerged the concept of the "global struggle against violent extremism" to replace the Global War on Terrorism.

In a Washington Post article, Terrorism as Virus, the War Against Islamist Militancy was actually described by drawing parallels between terrorism and a mutating virus or metastasizing cancer. Indeed, the realization that the threat of al Qaeda spawned global terrorism was not a conventional one, and was one that lacked a singular identity, structure or geographic center led to the observation of it being more like a social contagion. The authors posed that dealing with the global spread of Islamic Militancy with similar context as the World deals with the spread of the H1N1 virus or the fear of a Global Pandemic would lead to asking similar questions.

1. What is the nature of the ideology, how does it spread and what population segment(s) are most vulnerable?

2. What are the dynamics that cause it to spread?

3. What is the long-term approach to stemming its spread?

Whether you, the reader or my colleagues, find this view dissonant in any way, the fact is that the jihad against the West is spreading "like a virus."

Still another report published six years ago, the Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project spoke to a number of factors that predicted the future spread and emergence of Islamic Militancy. Among those observations was this:

The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. Facilitated by global communications, the revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology inside and outside the Middle East, including Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Western Europe, where religious identity has traditionally not been as strong. This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity among Muslims caught up in national or regional separatist struggles, such as Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Mindanao, and southern Thailand, and has emerged in response to government repression, corruption, and ineffectiveness. Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrassas, hawalas1, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements; alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.

It went on to project that in the years ahead, al Qaeda could be superseded by other, similar, extremist groups with greater decentralization.

So out of the "global struggle against violent extremism" came the DoD FY 2010 Budget Request Summary Justification clearly referred to what had been the Global War on Terrorism as the "Overseas Contingency Operation."

In August 2009, John Brennan the President's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and presented A New Approach to Safeguarding America Admittedly, some of the elements outlined in this speech make sense, especially those that target economic development in areas of the world that are subject to violence and extremist tendencies. But the predicate principle of the speech was this:

Today--as the President's principal advisor on counterterrorism--I want to outline the President's efforts to safeguard the American people from the transnational challenge that poses one of the greatest threats to our national security--the scourge of violent extremists who would use terrorism to slaughter Americans abroad and at home.

Mr. Brennan went on and stated the assessment of al Qaeda:

Al Qaeda and its affiliates are under tremendous pressure. After years of U.S. counterterrorism operations, and in partnership with other nations, al Qaeda has been seriously damaged and forced to replace many of its top-tier leadership with less experienced and less capable individuals. It is being forced to work harder and harder to raise money, to move its operatives around the world, and to plan attacks.

And the focus of this policy was to push the Taliban out of their lairs in Afghanistan to prevent the return of al Qaeda. He also said that casting the "conflict" as a "global war" played into the "warped narrative" of al Qaeda and that it reinforced al Qaeda's view that it was a global entity. Struck from the Presidential vernacular also was the word "jihad" and thus emerges the concept of an "Overseas Contingency Operation" to fight violent extremists.

Not calling it what it is can be a misleading and potentially damaging. Attempting to separate al Qaeda from the Taliban, or posing that the Pakistani group, Lashkar e-Taiba is an unaligned with al Qaeda as was stated by Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in an address at the CATO Institute seems to ignore the existence of al Qaeda or al Qaeda clones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria (and North Africa), infiltrations in Europe and in Southeast Asia. Again, while debated, the al-Suri approach of a decentralized model of self-sustaining and autonomous cells driven by a common ideology behind the al Qaeda jihad is difficult to deny. In fact there is some evidence and belief that al Qaeda has cells in or influences groups in as many as 60 countries. And this discounts the likely existence of "sleeper cells."

It is hard to see this global battle against Islamic extremism as anything but a Global War on Terrorism. No matter what you call it, terrorism is spreading, as they wrote in August 2005, like a virus.

January 13, 2010

New ATF List of Explosives

From an article published in GSN Magazine comes a list of most of the explosives and explosive materials (detonators and blasting agents) that are covered by federal law.

If for no other reason than as a placeholder and a reference, Federal Register.

237 items listed.

January 7, 2010

Interview: Schippert On Iran, Terrorism

Wednesday, I spoke with Crane Durham on his radio program, 'Nothing But Truth' broadcast nationally on the American Family Radio Network. Crane asked what I thought of President Obama's approach to terrorism. My response was level but firm: I disagree wholly with a law enforcement and legal system approach to terrorism, as that is what largely led to our closed eyes and false sense of security going into September 11, 2001. We also discussed Iran, where President Obama's approach there compounds the failures already tallied by the Bush administration and all others before it.

The audio of our discussion is below.

Many thanks to Crane Durham and the American Family Radio Network for lending their airtime and allowing us to communicate with their over 2 million listeners.

It was an honor to have guest hosted for Crane for several days in December. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity. Hosting a national radio show is a strange mix of an easy and natural-feeling blast, yet exhausting. Once that mic goes cold, you need either a power nap or half a gallon of orange juice and coffee. (I've never tried the power nap approach, so I'm assuming that would do the trick.)

Mission First

Mr. Leiter is held in high regard in many quarters, which makes this story, if true, exceedingly disturbing:

The top official in charge of analyzing terror threats did not cut short his ski vacation after the underwear bomber nearly blew up an airliner on Christmas Day ... Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center since 2007, decided not to return to his agency's "bat cave" nerve center in McLean, Va., until several days after Christmas, two U.S. officials said.

Granted, its the information age and working remotely is a reality for a lot of people; I just don't think the head of NCTC is one of those people.

At the risk of casting an unwarranted aspersion, it used to be that you'd cancel evening or weekend plans if you even thought that something was going to happen, and you purposefully left gaps in the calendar during periods when you knew things could get hairy (such as major holidays). Being an intelligence officer means making sacrifices. That doesn't mean you can't have a life, but it also means you lead a life interrupted for as long as you answer the call.

January 3, 2010

My Safety & Security Versus "Your" Privacy

There is one essential truth that must be understood as we enter the New Year in the wake of the failed Christmas airline bombing. It is time to banish any thinking that there is a right to privacy when you enter an airport or when you are flying on public airlines or frankly, any other form of public transportation. Short of a mechanical issue, my right to arrive at my destination without being blown up by a jihadist dedicated to exploding himself to smithereens in an act of his exercise of religious freedom is more important than someone else's privacy.

So, what do we "make" of airport security and technology? Magnetometers and baggage x-ray machines are old technology and should have been replaced years ago, if not after September 11th. Besides, there are numerous other scanning techniques that have been developed in the scurry for security since 2001, even if they haven't yet been deployed on a wide basis.

Frankly, it is time for all of the privacy concerns about backscatter imagery to be set aside. Is it expensive? Sure. Is it foolproof? No. Earlier this year French officials indicated that they were considering more intrusive detection and scanning methods to address potential "inside the body" suicide bombers. Even though "experts" were split on whether such terrorist methods were realistic, the fact is that one of the constants of this War on Terror is that the tactics used remain unpredictable.

Whether it is "too little too late" or political grandstanding, Gordon Brown has given the go-ahead to install full body scanners at Britain's airports. However, the last thing needed right now is to find a "quick fix" to what went wrong with our systems on Christmas Day.
Lee Hamilton, former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said the president must take the lead in creating a sense of urgency about the threat. "In looking for a better way to share information and developing better detection techniques, managing the international aspects of this problem, we've simply got to give it a high priority, an urgent priority, because we know they're coming after us," he told Fox News.

Despite Janet Napolitano's on and off "the system" worked proclamation, it clearly did not. But one of the things not noted elsewhere (at least not read by me) is that the chain of security leading to the United States starts at the point of origination. If security in Africa and Europe are not up to "U.S. standards" then the system cannot work, even if all of the information sharing being discussed (again) is finally accomplished.

"Intelligence itself and collection thereof is always going to be difficult and not always going to result in complete information and (Obama) understands that," a senior administration official said Thursday. "But, by the same token, when we do have information and when we have good information -- and we often, do given how good our intel professionals are -- the failure to share that information is not going to be tolerated."

It is pretty clear at this point that short of full cooperation internationally and within the U.S. IC when it comes to terrorist intelligence, the likelihood is that some jihadist focused on dying for the cause will somehow avert the attention of the authorities and slip through the security net and attempt to blow himself and a plane load of people to the stratosphere. Since it comes down to those basics, it is my safety, security and survival that is paramount, not your "privacy."

Because of a newly revised security policy that treats visitors to the U.S. from 14 specific countries differently than U.S. citizens civil rights groups are complaining about profiling. Those 14 countries:

Citizens of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, countries that are considered "state sponsors of terrorism," as well as those of "countries of interest" -- including Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen -- will face the special scrutiny, officials said. Passengers holding passports from those nations, or taking flights that originated or passed through any of them, will be required to undergo full-body pat downs and will face extra scrutiny of their carry-on bags before they can board planes to the United States.

Profiling? This actually sounds like a reasonable starting point.

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