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Mexico on Edge

Tijuana Will Use High-Flying Drones Made-In-USA

December 12th 2013

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If Tijuana's new municipal government has its way, drones will fly over the northern Mexican border city in 2014. In an interview with the Mexican press, Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci, a member of President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party who took office at the beginning of December, said his administration is working with a California firm to deploy small drones as a means of fighting crime and carrying out other public safety tasks like detecting fires.

“It’s a strategy against delinquency. The public complains about home burglaries and robberies on mass transportation,” Astiazaran said. “These aircraft are very inexpensive compared with other types of technological instruments.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

9/11 Link To Saudi Arabia Is Topic Of 28 Redacted Pages In Government Report-- Congressmen Push For Release

December 11th 2013

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims' loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers - 15 of them Saudi nationals - and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue. 

But earlier this year, Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

In the Cyber Domain, the Best Defense Is Defense

December 10th 2013

Downtown LA Neighborhood

The media's pre-occupation with Edward Snowden's stolen NSA documents contributes to furthering our vulnerability to cyber attack, if only because it sucks the air out anything else reported. If the damage caused by stripping the U.S. of its national secrets isn't enough, headlines with new revelations.

Since the media thrives on bad news, it could raise the public's awareness by changing their focus from Snowden to exposing the lack of protection of the civilian infrastructure.

This Administration, which famously failed to create a working website for ObamaCare, has done little, if anything, to build a solid, fast-responding defense mechanism to shield the country's infrastructure from being hacked. A constant diet of headlines exposing these failures should not only sell more newspapers, but also create a public outcry, hopefully pressuring the government into action. Read more ..

Broken Government

Evidence Emerges that NATO Allies Assisted in NSA Eavesdropping

December 9th 2013

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NSA Building

National Security Agency (NSA) chief General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on October 29 that the collection of European phone records occurred as part of a NATO intelligence sharing program. Washington gathered these phone records with help of allies in the region, according to the intelligence officials.
U.S. surveillance programs had already faced increased criticism set off by reports that the NSA had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and those of up to 34 other world leaders.

This was followed by media reports that the NSA had collected millions of French and Spanish phone records and intercepted millions of calls, stirring outrage and intense criticism from Europe. French President François Hollande voiced a diplomatic protest in a phone call with President Obama during the week of October 20-26, saying that espionage should not occur between allies and friends. Spain's prosecutor's office said it had opened a preliminary investigation on the NSA's surveillance techniques. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Police Move Against Pro-Europe Demonstrators

December 9th 2013


Ukrainian riot police moved Monday to curb pro-European demonstrators in Kyiv by dismantling barricades set up by protesters outside government building and storming the headquarters of the largest opposition party.

The actions came a day before a senior EU official is to visit. Police broke doors in the headquarters of the Fatherland Party run by Yulia Tymoshenko. She is a former prime minister who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election and was later put on trial for abuse of power and jailed.

Monday’s crackdown looked like an attempt to roll back opposition gains made Sunday during a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in the nation’s capital.

In that protest, masked militants from Svoboda, or Freedom Party, used steel cables to pull down a Soviet-era Lenin statue. The statue has stood in central Kyiv for 66 years. The fall decapitated the statue, then young men took turns bashing the polished granite into pieces.  Protesters grabbed chips as souvenirs.

Monday’s police action appeared designed to restore access to government offices downtown without causing major bloodshed. On Tuesday, President Viktor Yanukovych plans to welcome EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for a two-day visit. Ashton plans to meet with government officials and opposition leaders in an effort to defuse the political standoff. Read more ..

The Media Edge

Donnelly's Law and the Analysis of Breaking News

December 7th 2013

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In Stratfor's Security Weekly, Tristan Reed and I provided a little bit of an "inside baseball" look at how we analyze the transnational criminal cartels in Mexico. We tried to explain some of the challenges that analysts face while analyzing a human network -- Los Zetas in this instance -- that is by its very nature a criminal and clandestine organization.

But cutting through the misinformation and disinformation surrounding murky human networks is not the only difficult task Stratfor analysts are faced with. Indeed, perhaps one of the most difficult things we are asked to do is untangle, decipher and contextualize breaking events for our readers and custom intelligence clients. Sometimes we are able to do so pretty well -- a rapid reaction piece I wrote on Sept. 14, 2012, "Understanding What Went Wrong in Benghazi," continues to be a highly read analysis. Read more ..

US and the Ukraine

The U.S. Approach to Ukraine in Turmoil

December 6th 2013

Ukraine homeless

Ukraine has plunged into political turmoil following President Victor Yanukovych’s decision to delay signature of an association agreement with the European Union and the authorities’ use of force to break up a peaceful demonstration on November 30. The main players now are Mr. Yanukovych, opposition leaders and the many thousands of citizens on the street. The European Union and Russia are the outside players that can exercise the most influence, while the United States sits more in the background. That is understandable. And in the current situation, it may not be a bad place for Washington to be.

As the crisis has played out in Kyiv over the past two weeks, the European Union has taken the lead as the voice and face of the West. That is appropriate. At the core of the debate in Ukraine is whether and how quickly the country will move to align its norms with—and join a free trade area with—the European Union. Right now, Europe has great attraction for many Ukrainians, who envy European living standards and its rule of law. Moreover, the European Union acquitted itself well in mediating a settlement during the Orange Revolution in 2004. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Kissinger and Schultz Sound the Alarm about Obama's Iran Deal

December 4th 2013

For 10 years, U.N. resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency directives called for a full halt to all of Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production, and unconditional compliance with nuclear inspections, but now, what “was previously condemned as illegal and illegitimate has effectively been recognized as a baseline,” former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on December 4.

“And that baseline program is of strategic significance. For Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is coupled with an infrastructure sufficient to enrich it within a few months to weapons-grade, as well as a plausible route to producing weapons-grade plutonium in the installation now being built at Arak,” the two experts in statecraft wrote of the recent agreement reached between wold powers and Iran. Read more ..

Nuclear Future

'Dangerous' Radioactive Material Recovered in Mexico

December 4th 2013

A truck carrying “extremely dangerous” radioactive material was reported stolen in Mexico Wednesday, according to nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency. Mexico told the IAEA the truck was carrying cobalt-60 teletherapy from a Tijuana hospital to a radioactive waste storage unit. The material is used in medical treatments.

The truck was found on December 4, according to NBC News, which reports it’s unclear if the material was still in it. The truck was first stolen Monday in a town near Mexico City, the IAEA said.

When it was stolen, the radioactive material was properly shielded, the report says. The source, however, could become “extremely dangerous” to people if the shielding is removed or if it is damaged. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran's Deep-Water Navy to Extend to the Atlantic Ocean

December 3rd 2013

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Iranian Naval Admiral Afshin Rezayee on Tuesday said Iran’s Navy plans to deploy warships in the Atlantic Ocean, the semi-official FARS News Agency reported.

Commander of the Navy’s Fourth Naval Zone, Admiral Rezayee said, “The previous flotillas of warships were sent to the Mediterranean Sea and passed the Suez Channel and even sailed through the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. Now we intend to enter the Atlantic Ocean and this will be materialized after dispatch of the next flotillas of warships.”

Rezayee said the warships are sent to international waters for a three-month stretch, and this would be Iran’s 29th flotilla, which would include two logistic and combat warships, as well as one subsurface vessel. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Violent Narcoterrorist Zetas Remain a Threat to the World

December 1st 2013

During the question-and-answer portion of our quarterly Mexico Security Monitor webinar, we were asked a question pertaining to the current status of Los Zetas. The question was something to the effect of: "Some Mexican media outlets and analysts claim that Los Zetas have been dismantled as an organization and are now little more than a 'ragtag operation.' Why do you disagree with that assessment?"

This question apparently came in response to our quarterly cartel report (an abbreviated version is available here), in which we wrote that despite the leadership losses suffered by Los Zetas, including the arrest of their leader, Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, there were no signs that other leaders were challenging the current leader and Miguel's brother, Omar Trevino Morales. We also wrote that we believed Los Zetas have maintained their operational capabilities in terms of drug smuggling and other criminal activity, and that they have retained the ability to defend their operations and to continue conducting offensive operations deep in their rivals' territory. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Are Americans Fighting in Syria a Future US Security Threat?

December 1st 2013

Security Against Terrorism

The recent arrest of a young American who was on his way to Syria to allegedly join Jihadist fighters seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad may add to worries among U.S. law enforcement circles. Basit Javed Sheikh, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant living in North Carolina, was arrested as he attempted to board the first in a series of planned flights to Syria. He had told an FBI informant on Facebook that he was going to join the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria.
In a recent background briefing for reporters, U.S. intelligence officials said dozens of Americans have joined the thousands of other foreigners who have flocked to Syria to fight against al-Assad’s forces. Intelligence officials say that more Americans will likely follow as the conflict continues and they worry that these ‘American jihadists' could pose a grave threat once they return to the U.S.  Who are these American fighters?  Should the U.S. be concerned—or are these fears overstated? Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Reading Karzai's Mind

November 30th 2013

Obama - Karzai

A contentious security deal between Afghanistan and the United States looked all but signed.

The Loya Jirga, a key national gathering of Afghan elders, had given its unanimous backing. All that was left was for both parliament and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to approve it.

But Karzai has stubbornly refused to sign the deal, a move that has infuriated Washington and baffled many Afghans. Here are several reasons why Karzai might be dragging out the process:

Reason No. 1: Karzai Thinks He Has Leverage
Karzai has played a high-stakes game over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) -- making new demands, breaking promises, criticizing Washington, and defying the wishes of the Loya Jirga.

He says he will only sign the deal after April’s Afghan presidential election -- and only if his new terms are met. These include the release of all Afghan prisoners held in the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay and a complete halt to controversial U.S. raids on Afghan homes. Read more ..

The War on Terror

The Lucrative Business of Funding Terrorism in North Africa

November 28th 2013

Financial resources and funding methods of the North African terrorist organizations have been largely influenced by two factors. The first is their longtime strategic and tactical independence. Despite the fact that several of these organizations emerged in the aftermath of the Afghan conflict, including the historical GSPC – Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (now AQIM), the LIFG and the MICG to name a few, they have mostly followed a regional agenda since their inception.

While traditional financial resources have declined, post 9/11, including support from charities and individual donations, these groups had already shifted to more local sources of revenue generated from various traffics in the Sahara and Sahel regions, the most common being cigarettes, cars and arms. This is not say that charities have disappeared. Qatari and Saudi charities are active in Mali and provided support to the jihadists, especially to Ansar Dine and the Mujao.

Drug trafficking is repeatedly mentioned as a source of revenue for these groups, but various investigations reflect the fact that none of them were directly involved in this traffic. Instead, they indirectly benefited from drug trafficking by receiving payments, protection money, to allow dealers to freely move in the regions they controlled. Read more ..

Broken Government

Dangerous Chemical Weapons Stockpiles Coming to the U.S.

November 25th 2013

The Panamanian government announced an agreement November 21 between the United States and Panama that could involve the disposal of old chemical weapons in the state of New Mexico. Panamanian Chancellor Fernando Nunez Fabrega told the international press that old weapons will be removed from San Jose Island and buried in the desert of New Mexico in 2014.

“In this way, Panama will be free of bombs without exploding them on the island of San Jose, and this place will regain its tourism value,” Nunez said.

Located in the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles off the coast of Panama, San Jose Island was used by the military forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada to test and store both conventional and chemical weapons during the World War Two and Vietnam War eras. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

NSA Infected 50,000 Computer Networks with Sleeper Software

November 24th 2013

Fiber Optics

The American intelligence service - NSA - infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden prove this. A management presentation dating from 2012 explains how the NSA collects information worldwide. In addition, the presentation shows that the intelligence service uses ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software.

One example of this type of hacking was discovered in September 2013 at the Belgium telecom provider Belgacom. For a number of years the British intelligence service - GCHQ – has been installing this malicious software in the Belgacom network in order to tap their customers’ telephone and data traffic. The Belgacom network was infiltrated by GCHQ through a process of luring employees to a false Linkedin page. The NSA special department employs more than a thousand hackers. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Growing Infiltration of Islamists in Spain's Military

November 22nd 2013

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An investigation initiated by the CIA and FBI in 2009 revealed that at least 100 Islamic extremists had infiltrated the U.S. military, and that some of these individuals had been in touch with Islamic radicals who had infiltrated military units in Spain, as well as Britain, France and Germany.

The military is an attractive employment option for many young Muslims born in Spain, where the unemployment rate is stuck at 27%, and the jobless rate for individuals under 25 exceeds 60%. Often, a stint in the military opens doors for civilian jobs with national or local police or other security-related occupations.

The Spanish military is quietly monitoring its Muslim soldiers in an effort to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism within its ranks, according to a classified Defense Ministry document that has been leaked to the Spanish media. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

A Shrinking Turkish Military and How it Affects Regional Security

November 21st 2013

A large, conscripted military may no longer be the most appropriate way for Turkey to protect its interests and defend against external threats. Ankara appears to have acknowledged as much Oct. 21, when it voted to reduce the length of time conscripted soldiers are required to serve. The measure, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, will effectively shrink the military by 70,000 members. This is no small diminution, considering that Turkey, with its 750,000 soldiers, has the second-largest military among NATO members. Political and economic considerations may have informed Ankara's decision, but ultimately the move was made to reflect the changing geopolitical conditions under which Turkey now finds itself.


Historically, Turkey's location and geography has necessitated a robust military. Located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, the country was critical terrain during the Cold War. In 1952, Turkey became a member of NATO, serving as the southwestern bulwark against the Warsaw Pact. It mustered a large standing military by establishing compulsory service for all Turkish men. Though the Cold War ended two decades ago, Turkey has maintained this practice. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Nuclear Narrative Needs to Be Challenged

November 20th 2013

Iran Long-Range Missile

The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear program, released November 14, has generated a profusion of optimistic news reports and editorials. According to the IAEA, Tehran has not increased the number of centrifuges installed at declared installations or put more advanced centrifuges into operation, and its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride remains below a crucial red line. Meanwhile, work has been proceeding slowly at the Arak reactor, which will be capable of producing plutonium, an alternative nuclear explosive. And three days before releasing the report, the IAEA announced that Iran had agreed to give the agency access to information on some previously blocked aspects of its nuclear program.

Much less emphasized in the report, and the coverage of it, are the IAEA's persistent suspicions of Iran's true motives, as detailed under the heading "Possible Military Dimensions." As page 10 of the thirteen-page report noted, "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related organizations, including activities related to the development of a payload for a missile." The agency also received information indicating that Iran has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." The report deemed this intelligence to be "credible," noting that the IAEA has obtained more information since November 2011 that "further corroborates" its analysis. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorist Sent Coded Message via official PA TV to Kidnap Israeli Soldier

November 19th 2013

Mahmoud Abbas and Yassir Arafat

In September 2013, Israeli soldier Tomer Hazan was kidnapped and murdered by terrorist Nidal Amar. According to the indictment submitted last week, the murderer's brother, Nour Al-Din Amar, who is already imprisoned in Israel for terrorist activity, had asked his brother Nidal to kidnap an Israeli soldier and hold him hostage in order to secure Nour Al-Din's release. The indictment stated that the murderer, Nidal Amar, passed a coded message to his brother in prison prior to the murder via official Palestinian Authority TV, informing him of his intention to kidnap a soldier for use in negotiating the brother's release. Palestinian Media Watch checked its recordings of the PA TV program For You, which regularly broadcasts greetings from Palestinians to security prisoners in Israeli prisons, and has indeed found the coded message. During a broadcast in May 2013, the host read a letter from Nidal to his imprisoned brother, in which he indicated in code his plan to kidnap a soldier: "The calf will soon be in the cage, and we'll celebrate the freedom of all prisoners."

The Battle for Syria

Al-Nusra Front Played A Major Role In Takeover Of Syrian Army Arsenal Southeast Of Homs

November 18th 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

On November 5, 2013, organizations of Syrian rebels, including the Free Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front took control of a Syrian army precinct in the village of Mahin, southeast of the city of Homs. They took over an arsenal considered one of the largest in Syria. The takeover occurred during a large rebel military operation called the "The doors of Allah which are not slammed shut." The Al-Nusra Front, which glorified its role, issued photographs of scores if not hundreds of crates of weapons seized in the operation (See below).

According to statements issued by the rebels, they seized large quantities of anti-tank  missiles, rocket launchers and Grad rockets. In addition large quantities of light arms and ammunition were also seized. The Free Syrian Army forum listed the weapons as follows: 10,000 Grad rockets, 10,000 107mm rockets, more than 20,000 120mm mortar shells, more than 10,000 anti-tank shells, thousands of Kornet anti-tank missiles, thousands of RPG launchers, thousands of hand grenades and mines, thousands of Kalashnikov assault rifles and machines guns, and large quantities of ammunition (Syrianfreearmy.com, November 9, 2013). On YouTube, one of the rebel leaders said that "the next stage will be to move the weapons to a secure area and then to distribute them to all fronts." Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

NGOs Call to Stop Development of "Killer Robotic Drones"

November 17th 2013

Flying Robot

The so-called "international community" should seriously consider taking steps to prevent the creation of state-of-the-art, fully-autonomous robot weapons and pull the plug on "killer robot" development, according to human rights advocates during a convention this week. On Friday, at the United Nations in Geneva, Austria, attendees to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) debated whether or not to take up the issue of these futuristic weapons that, once activated, would select and attack targets without direct human involvement, according to Human Rights Watch.

International attention to the subject of fully autonomous weapons has grown rapidly over the past year, especially with the recent controversy of United States agencies using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, to attack terrorist targets in Islamic countries. While not fully autonomous, drones are creating fear among citizens of many countries and even those living in the United States.


The Edge of Terrorism

The State of Bioterrorism Surveillance

November 16th 2013

Test Tubes

"Part of what keeps programs like this alive is the concern that if we take it down and defund it, and then, God forbid, something happens in that narrow sliver of threat space, there will be hell to pay."

A week after the 9-11 attacks, five threatening anonymous letters were sent to media outlets. Two weeks later, reporter Robert Stevens became the first person to die from inhaling anthrax that was enclosed with the letters. The case widened as anthrax-laden letters were sent to two Senators-one of the letters arrived at a Capitol Hill office and the other was routed to a mail facility, where it infected postal workers. Before the terror ended, 22 people developed infections and five died.

In response, the federal government set up the BioWatch program, an early warning network of sensors that would detect biological attacks before widespread public infection could occur. By the time President George W. Bush publicly announced the program in 2003, BioWatch filters had been deployed in 31 cities and more than $60 million had been spent on the program. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Sets Conditions for Peace Talks

November 15th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

Syria's main opposition alliance voted Monday to attend peace talks in Geneva. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced its decision in a joint statement after two days of talks in Istanbul. In the face of an increasing food crisis inside Syria, engendered partly by the government's control of access for humanitarian organizations, SNC leaders set conditions for negotiations that include establishing safe corridors for humanitarian aid delivery and the release of women and children from government controlled jails.

The coalition's statement dropped its previous demand for a guarantee that President Bashar al-Assad and certain of his allies would have no role in a transitional government or in Syria's future, a condition the government has consistently opposed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry characterized the coalition's announcement as encouraging, but according to unnamed coalition members, American and British diplomats have heavily pressured rebel leaders to take part in the process. The coalition remained in Istanbul for an unscheduled third day of meetings, leaving room for a further diplomatic negotiations. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Finally Designated as Terrorist

November 14th 2013

Boko Haram

The State Department's designation of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nigerian Boko Haram group (aka Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad) as terrorist, came after two years of Congressional hearings and repeated requests to do so. The growth of Boko Haram and the spread of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups throughout Africa was helped by weapons from Muammar Qaddafi's stockpile, including Libyan SA-7 and SA-24 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (MANPADs), which, according to the State Department, "have been accounted for."

The logic behind suspending the designation makes you wonder. Seventeen months ago, the Sate Department listed Boko Haram's leaders Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi as Specially Designated Global Terrorists because they led an al-Qaeda-linked terror group that "threaten[s] the security of US nationals or national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States." However, the group itself wasn't designated until today. Read more ..

Terrorism on Edge

Haqqani Leader Lived, Died In The Open In Pakistan

November 13th 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

Haven't we been here before? The assassination of a high-profile militant living large under the noses of the authorities has rekindled suspicions that Pakistan shelters known terrorists.

The November 10 killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, considered to be the financier of the Haqqani network, drew obvious comparisons to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death on Pakistani soil in 2011.

Both were considered masterminds of their terrorist organizations, both were wanted by the United States, and both were living in large homes among the local population.

But even compared to bin Laden, who hid in a safe house within sight of a prestigious military academy in Abbottabad, Haqqani's case stands out. He appears to have been living luxuriously in Islamabad, with several homes there, and often frequented the capital's markets and restaurants.

Retired Pakistani Army Brigadier General Mehmood Shah says the circumstances of Nasiruddin Haqqani's death -- he was shot on the street as he bought bread at a bakery -- are deeply troubling for Pakistan. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Drone War Pilots Open Up About the Crushing Stress That Lingers

November 12th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

 In the final years of his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Slim spent 10 to 12 hours a day in a cool, dark room in the Arizona desert, stationed in front of monitors that beamed back aerial footage from Afghanistan. Slim's unit operated around the clock, flying Predator drones thousands of miles away over Afghanistan, to monitor — and sometimes eliminate — "targets" across the war-ridden country. As a sensor operator for these remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, it was his job to coordinate the drones' onboard cameras, and, if a missile was released, to laser-guide the weapon to its destination.

These types of missions are part of the military's expanding drone program, which has developed a reputation for carrying out shadowy and highly classified operations — ones that sometimes blur legal or moral lines. As such, their use in warfare has been steeped in controversy.

Critics say firing weapons from behind a computer screen, while safely sitting thousands of miles away, could desensitize pilots to the act of killing. What separates this, they argue, from a battlefield video game? Read more ..

The Defense Edge

New Super Carriers: Chance to Retain Naval Supremacy

November 11th 2013

U.S. Naval Carrier

A decade of counterinsurgency and counter-terror operations has created doubts about the utility of the aircraft carrier. Today’s budget cuts threaten to shrink the Navy’s carrier force — already reduced from eleven to ten — to as few as eight or nine.

Yet whether in a direct or supporting role, aircraft carriers have taken part in almost every U.S. major military operation since the Second World War.  They have served as diplomatic tools to ratchet up or ease political pressure.  They have given our military unparalleled freedom of action to respond to a range of requirements.  They have supported several missions simultaneously, guaranteed access to any region in the world, and reduced the nation’s reliance on others for basing rights. If the U.S. Navy is to continue to secure the high seas, trade routes and shipping lanes around the globe long into the 21st century, it needs a robust fleet — both in quantity and quality. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Cyber Insecurity Unchallenged

November 9th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

A recent report on U.S. business community’s acute vulnerability to cyber attacks—96 percent according to Ernst & Young—is alarming. This report is troubling not only because of its findings—lack of proper cyber defense capabilities—but because it reflects the prevalence of a passive approach that keeps the best cyber defense systems a few steps behind.

It is hard to imagine that 96 percent of Ernst & Young’s 1,909 polled executives would deliberately choose to expose their businesses to cyber attacks because of budget constraints. Interestingly, 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that their security policies are now handled at the highest level in the business, “with the person in charge of security reporting directly to the CEO in 1 in 10 companies.” This begs the question of what the 70 percent really means. One in ten is not 70 percent. Generally speaking, the businesses surveyed wish to be seen as “doing something” about cyber, when, in fact, they are doing very little. The survey found that only 23 percent of the businesses put cyber security in their top two priorities. However, 32 percent considered it the least important item among their security concerns. Read more ..

Justice for Terrorists

Muslim Brotherhood Suspects on Trial in UAE

November 8th 2013

UAE Abu Dhabi Courthouse

Thirty Islamists were charged in an Abu Dhabi courtroom on Tuesday, accused of illegally establishing a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Prosecutors contend that the defendants recruited members inside the UAE while maintaining an alliance with the group's leadership in Egypt. The 20 Egyptians and 10 Emiratis also face charges of collecting donations without permission.

The defendants, who include doctors, engineers and university professors, were arrested between November 2012 and January 2013, but they did not appear in court until now. During the hearing, the judge appointed a medical committee to perform physical check-ups on defendants, and provided more time for lawyers to call in witnesses. The UAE's Federal Supreme Court plans to resume the case on November 12. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Pakistani Taliban: Who Seems Set To Take The Helm?

November 6th 2013

Taliban soldiers

For the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the issue of succession has always proved divisive and often bloody.

So it might prove again for the TTP following the death of charismatic and ruthless leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on November 1.

Days of secret meetings and discussions have yielded an interim leader, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the current head of the TTP's shura, or council. But Bhittani is widely considered to be merely a short-term fix until a permanent leader can be named.

With a decision looming, an internal struggle for power can be expected among the several prominent factions within the umbrella militant group, some of which have a history of bad blood between them. According to Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, internal divisions within the TTP have often led to violence. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Critics Call New Russian Counterterror Law A Return To 'Collective Justice'

November 4th 2013

Moscow Rally 2011-12-24

Critics say a new law designed to quell the insurgency in Russia's restive North Caucasus region revives the Stalin-era principles of collective guilt and collective justice.

President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation on November 3, requiring "close relatives and acquaintances" of those who commit acts of "terrorism" to pay damages -- both material and moral -- resulting from those acts.

It also empowers authorities to seize property from friends and relatives of suspected militants and provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years for those convicted of receiving training "aimed at carrying out terrorist activity." Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames from a Mobile Home in Florida

November 4th 2013

Financing the Flames

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?

Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.

At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egypt on Edge Ahead of Morsi Trial

November 3rd 2013

Tahrir Square protest

Security is tight ahead of the trial of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi, set to open Monday in Cairo.  Animosity is running high on all sides, and a renewed wave of anti-Americanism prompted by the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry adds to the tensions.

Morsi is charged with inciting murder during clashes outside the presidential palace last year, sparked by his temporary claim of extraordinary powers.  Fourteen other senior members of his Muslim Brotherhood and his former government are also being tried.  Other charges are pending.

It is unclear if Morsi will appear in person, or by video link.  He has been held in an undisclosed location since he was toppled by the military July 3rd, following mass protests. A member of his legal team has rejected the court's jurisdiction. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Security Forces Pass First Test, But Questions Remain

November 2nd 2013

Afghanistan Spec Forces

This year's fighting season was a crucial test for Afghanistan's nascent army and police forces, which had assumed full responsibility for the country's security for the first time.

With the fighting season nearly over, the results are mixed. While the Afghan security forces have managed to hold off the Taliban, they have been unable to make any major gains themselves and have suffered record numbers of casualties.

The casualty figures released this month by the Afghan government will do little to quash doubts about the ability of Afghanistan's security forces to maintain order after the majority of international combat troops leave at the end of 2014. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

New Leaks Highlight Internet Security Weakness

November 1st 2013


The latest revelations from exiled former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden highlight security weaknesses in some of the world’s most popular Internet networks.

According to the Washington Post, the NSA and its British counterpart have tapped into links between Google and Yahoo data centers and collected text, audio, video and vast amounts of other data.

“Technologists and people who work on privacy in general have known that this can be done and may have been going on for a long time,” said Lance Hoffman, head of the George Washington University Cyberspace Security Policy and Research Institute.

Hoffman says that while the companies store data in secure facilities around the world, and even have some of their own fiber optic networks, at certain points they travel through the same cables as the rest of the Internet’s data. “Whenever you’re moving things from point A to point B, there’s a possibility of an intercept,” he added. Read more ..

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Edge

DRC Seeks M23 Rebels’ Extradition from Neighboring Countries

October 31st 2013

Congo M23 Rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister says Kinshasa is seeking the extradition of M23 rebels who fled to neighboring countries following recent clashes with the national army (FARDC).

Lambert Mende says the request is part of a government effort to end armed insurgencies.

“We need to fight impunity among the few [rebels] who have criminal records,” said Mende. “Secondly, we need to give a chance to others who are not criminals to re-insert themselves socially and professionally. This is for us the only way to avoid the restart of insecurity in the region.” Mende’s comments came after the FARDC recaptured the country’s eastern town of Bunagana, one of the last remaining strongholds of the M23 rebels. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Briton Arrested for Hacking US Military Computers

October 30th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

A British man is free on bail after being charged with hacking into U.S. government military and civilian computer systems.  The case highlights the difficulty of securing sensitive data, and could be complicated by anger in Europe over revelations of U.S. intelligence agencies tracking millions of emails and phone calls. 

The 28-year-old from a rural village in eastern England is charged with cybercrimes in the United States and Britain.  He allegedly worked with hackers in Sweden and Australia to repeatedly break into the computer systems of thousands of U.S. organizations, including the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the NASA space agency, over the past year.  Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Groundbreaking Ceremony for US Missile Defense Facility Held in Romania

October 29th 2013

patriot missile

Romania and the United States have inaugurated a military site that will be part of the NATO missile defense system that protects Europe from attack. Russia has vigorously opposed having a U.S. missile system so close to its borders, and a Russian analyst told VOA that Moscow is sure to retaliate. 

The land-based missile defense facility is located in a former air base near Deveselu village, 180 kilometers east of Romania's capital, Bucharest. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller attended the groundbreaking ceremony there on Monday.

"When phase two is completed here in the 2015 time frame, Europe will be safer, U.S. forces will be better protected, Romania will be safer, and the NATO alliance will be stronger," said Miller. Romanian President Traian Basescu also attended the ceremony. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

UN's Eliasson Calls for More Efforts Against al-Shabab

October 28th 2013

Al Shabaab

A top United Nations official visiting Nairobi has urged Kenyans and Somalis not to relent in the battle against Somali militant group al-Shabab. The group continues to threaten and attack security forces and civilians in both countries.

As Kenya and Somalia plot out ways to fight terrorism and subdue al-Shabab, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says the terrorist threat is not only about killing and destruction, but also a threat to basic rights of the people.

“We have to see this threat as a threat also to the values and the principles that we stand for, both laid down in your constitution and laid down in something I always carry with me - the U.N. Charter.  This is the threat to the basic principles that are in here, and if we start to diminish these rights and the principles that are in here, they could say they could have succeeded,” said Eliasson. Kenya has boosted security in Nairobi shopping malls following text messages sent to shoppers warning them to keep away from some upscale shopping centers.  Read more ..

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