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The Defense Edge

How U.S. Military Power Holds the World Together

July 18th 2013

B-1 Bomber

Nations, like nature, abhor a vacuum. It must be filled. How it is filled, by whom and with what are the challenging questions. Unlike nature, which seeks to fill a vacuum with whatever is handy and can be stuffed or sucked into the space available, nations rely on power, relationships and institutions to fill vacuums that arise in the international system. Political vacuums can readily be filled by raw power and the domination of the strong over the weak. Or they can be filled by the rule of law and a community of nations.

Twice in the last 60-plus years the United States chose to fill the vacuum caused by the collapse of old institutions, relationships, and power centers. After World War II, along with key allies, the U.S. created an entirely new international order with a set of democratic institutions and international agreements that have endured to this day. America, again in concert with many allies, also built a security apparatus and military machine of global reach and power unlike any seen in peacetime. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States did not simply declare victory and go home. Rather, even while reducing the size of its military, America chose to remain in the world, forward deployed, and committed to maintaining and even expanding long-established alliances and security relationships. As a result, the world was able to weather difficult and dangerous transitions and create or maintain a viable international system. In both cases, nations, including America's former adversaries, had the opportunity to become part of that system and to flourish. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Lawmakers Question Collection of Americans' Phone Records

July 17th 2013

NSA

Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on the Judiciary have questioned why the National Security Agency is collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, when the majority of the calls are not relevant to any terrorist investigations.

The focus on Capitol Hill is shifting away from the former contractor who revealed the surveillance programs, Edward Snowden, to privacy and civil liberty concerns.

Edward Snowden, who has now applied for temporary asylum in Russia, unleashed a firestorm of controversy in the United States and abroad when he revealed massive phone and email surveillance programs conducted by the NSA. The House Committee on the Judiciary focused on the program authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was designed to prevent another major terror attack on the United States after September 11, 2001. Under Section 215, the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and can store them for five years. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Huge Drone That Could Not Be Grounded

July 16th 2013

MQ-1 Sky Warrior drone

With large budget cuts looming in the next decade, top Air Force officials knew last year they needed to halt spending on some large and expensive programs. So they looked for a candidate that was underperforming, had busted its budget, and wasn’t vital to immediate combat needs. They soon settled on the production line for a $223 million aircraft with the wingspan of a tanker but no pilot in the cockpit, built to fly over vast terrain for a little more than a day while sending imagery and other data back to military commanders on the ground.

Given the ambitious name “Global Hawk,” the aircraft had cost far more than expected, and was plagued by recurrent operating flaws and maintenance troubles. “The Block 30 [version of Global Hawk] is not operationally effective,” the Pentagon’s top testing official had declared in a blunt May 2011 report about the drones being assembled by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, Calif. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazil Takes No Chances in Security Preparations for Papal Visit

July 15th 2013

Brazilian firebase

The Brazilian military will deploy more than 13,000 troops during Pope Francis’s July 23-28 visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (WYD) — an event likely to attract 1.5 million to two million people.

The Coordination Center of Area Defense (CCDA/RJ) will manage defense and security actions in Rio and in the “Campus Fidei” [Field of Faith], venue for the closing vigil and Papal Mass, which is located in the Guaratiba region, about 70 kilometers west of central Rio.

Gen. José Alberto Costa Abreu, coordinator of the CCDA/RJ and commander of the First Army Division, said the recent Brazilian protests did not change WYD security planning. Read more ..


The Way We Are

US Public Split Over NSA Surveillance

July 15th 2013

computer keyboard woman hands

An Internet privacy group has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to look into the government’s surveillance of phone records over the past seven years. Polls show Americans are divided over this issue. 

The American public is split over whether the National Security Agency, or NSA, should continue phone and email surveillance to stop terrorists. Some say the concerns are overblown; others maintain that what people do in the privacy of their homes and on the Internet should be their business and nobody else's.

A recent Quinnipiac survey shows a reversal in public opinion. Three years ago, Americans overwhelmingly supported anti-terrorism actions over civil liberties. Pollster Peter Brown says a slight majority now think those efforts are eroding freedoms. "That’s a really big change and it’s significant,” says Brown. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

A Flood of Democracy will Overcome Egypt's Jihadists

July 14th 2013

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

As soon as the Egyptian military asked President Mahmoud Morsi to step down and dismantle his Islamist regime, millions in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns celebrated the end of what they felt was a dangerous, fascistic regime. But despite an overwhelming popular support for the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, some U.S. leaders, starting with President Barack Obama and later joined by Republican senator John McCain, expressed their rejection of the move because they argued it was “directed by the Egyptian military against a democratically-elected government.”

Awkwardly, the United States executive branch, along with some of its supporters in the legislature, sided with the Muslim Brotherhood, known to be hardcore Islamists, against a wide coalition of democratic and secular forces which called on the military to help them against what they perceived an oppressive regime.

Why would Obama and McCain end up backing the Muslim Brotherhood while the liberals and secular forces of Egyptian civil society rise against the Brotherhood? The chaos in Washington has several roots but one global fact is clear: U.S. foreign policy has lost momentum in the Arab Spring. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

No Taliban Reprieve During Ramadan In Afghanistan

July 13th 2013

Taliban soldiers

As Afghanistan welcomes Ramadan in the spirit of worship and forgiveness, the Taliban has vowed to step up its campaign of violence during the holy month.

This is a reversal from the norm in Afghanistan, where the near-continuous fighting traditionally slows during Ramadan. But this summer, which has already seen a worrying uptick in violence, the militant group has pledged no letup.

Ramadan carries extra religious significance for the Taliban, which claims that jihad provides more rewards during the period of religious observance considered one of the five pillars of Islam. According to Islamic teachings, Allah multiplies any good deed during Ramadan by 70. "During the holy month of Ramadan, jihad has major rewards," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said in an e-mail statement sent out on July 5. "Mujahedin will continue to employ all their fighting techniques to mount attacks on the enemy." Read more ..


The EMP Threat

Focus on Hacking Neglects Existential Threat of EMP Attack

July 13th 2013

EMP

A recent study by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board concludes that cyber warfare poses such a serious ³existential threat² to the United States that Washington should be prepared to retaliate against an all-out cyber attack with a nuclear response. At least 33 nations are developing cyber attack and defense capabilities and integrating this new dimension of warfare into their military organizations, according to a United Nations survey.

Skeptics claim that the catastrophic scenarios envisioned for cyber warfare are grossly exaggerated, in part to justify costly cyber programs desired by the Pentagon and defense contractors. However, it is not widely understood that foreign military doctrines define cyber warfare as encompassing kinetic attacks, including electromagnetic pulse attacks that do represent an existential threat to the United States. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Attack on Hezbollah's Beirut Stronghold

July 12th 2013

Damascus Car Bomb 11-28-12

More than 50 people were injured Tuesday in a car bombing targeting Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut representing the largest attack against the powerful Lebanese Shi'a Islamist militant organization in its near 30-year history. While no parties have stepped forward to claim responsibility for the explosion, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star declared Israel had a hand in the incident. More significantly, discrepancies permeate the Free Syrian Army's (FSA) response to the bombing. While the group's mainstream leadership denied any involvement in the affair, an FSA battalion issued a Facebook statement declaring it had conducted the attack and vowed to continue such operations until Hezbollah ceased its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

IDF: Hezbollah Weapons Cache Exceeds 60,000 Rockets

July 12th 2013

Rockets

On the seventh anniversary of the start of the month-long Second Lebanon War, marked Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has dramatically expanded its arsenal of weapons, exceeding 60,000 rockets and missiles in 1,000 military facilities, making the terrorist group capable of striking any part of Israel with continuous, precise attacks.

The organization’s missiles endanger Israel’s entire population, the IDF said. Hezbollah’s upgraded stockpile can strike at any of Israel’s civilian centers, including its southernmost city of Eilat. Thousands of missiles can strike targets within 40 kilometers, placing Israel’s northern region at risk of a devastating attack.

Seven years ago today, Hezbollah terrorists abducted two IDF soldiers in an unprovoked assault on Israel’s northern border. The attack sparked the Second Lebanon War, a month-long conflict in which Hezbollah fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Complains About Congressional Delay on US Arms

July 11th 2013

Syrian Fighters

The U.S.-backed Syrian opposition coalition is calling out Congress for blocking U.S. arms from reaching Syrian rebel fighters.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces issued a statement Thursday urging the House and Senate Intelligence committees to allow the arming of Syrian rebel groups “without delay.”

“The urgency of delivering these arms cannot be overstated as the regime continues to intensify its attacks on civilians and opposition forces in Homs, Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria,” said Najib Ghadbian, the coalition’s special representative to the United States. The congressional Intelligence committees last month voted to block the Obama administration from providing the military aid to the opposition over fears that that weapons would wind up in the hands of al Qaeda-affiliated groups. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Defense Cuts Bite into IDF's Operational Platforms

July 10th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

The Israel Defense Forces has begun implementing government-mandated cuts to its budget, announcing Tuesday that several of its operational platforms will be reconfigured, while others will be retired in an effort to slash its expenditures.

The defense establishment has been asked to slash some 22 billion shekels ($6 billion) from its budget over the next three years.

As part of the operational restructuring, the Israel Air Force will shut down one of its veteran squadrons, as well as fuse two other squadrons into one. One of the IDF's ground units will be shut down as well, and several brigades will be reconfigured accordingly.

IAF Chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel met Tuesday with the servicemen assigned to the squadron that is scheduled to be dissolved and broke the news to them.

"The IAF would rather forfeit a jet than cut back on flight hours. We would rather have well-trained pilots and advanced equipment than hollow capabilities," a senior IAF officer said. The IDF has yet to finalize the restructuring of some of its ground units, but a military source familiar with the issue said the army would retire outdated tanks and other equipment whose operational relevance had significantly reduced over the years, ahead of making any changes that would affect personnel. Read more ..


The Middle East on Edge

Iran's Incoming President and the New Middle East Cold War

July 9th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

The election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran has generated a boomlet of optimism, not only about the prospects for a deal on the nuclear question but also about the chances for a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia regarding the increasingly intense and increasingly sectarian regional struggle for influence. President Rouhani himself went out of his way to signal his willingness for a new relationship with Riyadh. Even Saudis skeptical about Iranian intentions are encouraged by the new Iranian president.

One source of this boomlet was Rouhani’s involvement in a past, successful effort at improving Saudi-Iranian relations. As a top aide to former President Rafsanjani, Rouhani negotiated directly with the Saudis in the mid-1990’s in an effort to improve relations after the Iran-Iraq War, where Riyadh supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran. That effort continued under President Khatami, who was elected in 1997, culminating in the signing of an agreement to cooperate on criminal issues like smuggling and drug trafficking during a visit to Tehran by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif in April 2001. Note that this was a bilateral agreement on criminal matters, not a security alliance or even a common understanding of regional international politics. It represented an improvement in bilateral relations, but not a meeting of the minds on foreign policy. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

The Nile of Democracy Will Flood Egypt's Jihadists

July 8th 2013

Islamist Protest PostMorsi

As soon as the Egyptian military asked President Mohammed Mursi to step down and dismantle his Muslim Brotherhood regime, millions in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns celebrated the end of what they felt was a dangerous fascistic regime. But despite an overwhelming popular support for the ousting of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) from power, some U.S. leaders, starting with President Barack Obama and later joined by Republican Senator John McCain, expressed their rejection of the move because they argued it was “directed by the Egyptian military against a democratically elected Government.” Awkwardly, the United States executive branch, along with some of its supporters in the legislature, sided with the Muslim Brotherhood, known to be hard core Islamists, against a wide coalition of democratic and secular forces which called on the military to help them against what they perceived an oppressive regime.  Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egyptian Army Defends Shooting of Pro-Morsi Protesters

July 8th 2013

7.2.2013 Egypt Protests

Shootings in front of a military facility Monday in Cairo have left dozens of people dead and dozens more wounded, according to an Egyptian health ministry official.  Reports about who ignited the shoot-out are conflicting, with Muslim Brotherhood supporters accusing the army, and army officials insisting it was a “terrorist attack.”

Witnesses said the shootings began just before the end of dawn prayers Monday.  The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators and the Egyptian Army each accused the other side of starting the violence.

The Health Ministry said Monday at least 51 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the early flare-up near Republican Guard headquarters.  Military officials said one soldier was among the dead and several more were in critical condition. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood doctors at a field clinic held a news conference in which they claimed the army had used excessive force. Clinic doctors said they treated more than 400 serious wounds, including 150 gunshot wounds. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Report: Hamas Weakened by Leadership Change in Egypt, Qatar

July 5th 2013

Hamas at Press Conference

Terror group Hamas will be weakened by this week’s “second revolution” in Egypt, as millions of Egyptians forced President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power, and by the inter-generational transfer of power in Qatar, where Hamas leadership has been based, Al-Monitor reported in two articles, citing unnamed officials and policy experts.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym Hamas, shares its ideology with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, although the two groups are not formally linked; with the Brotherhood’s loss of power, analysts believe Hamas will also suffer. Al-Monitor referenced news reports that some 7,000 Hamas militants were thought to be in Egypt to support the Brotherhood, although Egyptian and Hamas officials denied those claims. Al-Monitor reported that, like Hezbollah, Hamas is accused in Egyptian courts of organizing the jailbreak of several senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including former president Muhamed Morsi, in 2011. Read more ..


The Edge of Crime

Fluorescent Fingerprint Tag: Increase IDs Prints from Bullets and Knives

July 4th 2013

Fingerprint

Neutron scattering at ILL and ISIS delves inside new crime scene forensics technique developed by the University of Leicester; research to address the fact that only 10 percent of fingerprints taken from crime scenes yield identifications usable in court.

Wednesday 28th June 2013, Durham: A new way of detecting and visualizing fingerprints from crime scenes using colour-changing fluorescent films could lead to higher confidence identifications from latent (hidden) fingerprints on knives, guns, bullet casings and other metal surfaces. The technique is the result of a collaboration between the University of Leicester, the Institut Laue-Langevin and the STFC's ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source, and will be presented today at the Royal Society of Chemistry's Faraday Discussion in Durham.

When your finger touches a surface, it leaves behind deposits of sweat and natural oils in a pattern that mirrors the ridges and troughs found on your fingertips. The odds of two individuals having identical fingerprints are 64 billion to 1, making them an ideal tool for identification in criminal investigations.

The greatest source of fingerprint forensic evidence comes from latent fingerprints, i.e. those not immediately visible to the eye, because they are less likely to be 'wiped'. However, visualizing these prints with sufficient clarity for positive identification often proves difficult. Despite the availability of several enhancement techniques, only 10 percent of fingerprints taken from crime scenes are of sufficient quality to be used in court.

The classical approach to enhance latent print visibility is to apply a coloured powder that adheres to the sticky residue and provides a visual contrast to the underlying surface. However, these techniques require significant preservation of fingerprint material and are therefore vulnerable to ageing, environmental exposure or attempted washing of the fingerprint residue. Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

Military Coup Bodes Ill for Egypt’s Future Stability

July 3rd 2013

Cairo, 2 July 2013

Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced July 3 that the country’s president, Mohammed Morsi, had been removed from office in the wake of popular unrest. In a short media statement, al-Sisi, who was flanked by the three armed services chiefs, opposition leaders, the sheikh of al-Azhar Mosque and the pope of the Coptic Church, announced that Adly Mansour, chief justice of the Constitutional Court, has replaced Morsi as interim president. He also announced that the constitution has been suspended. Mansour’s appointment is notable in that one of the key demands of the Tamarod protest movement was that he become president. The provisional government will be holding fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.

The arrangement was made without the involvement of Morsi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, or of anyone representing the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has effectively been thrown out of power, must now figure out how to respond. The group probably will not respond violently, but it will engage in civil unrest that will lead to violence. Though the Brotherhood is unlikely to abandon the path of democratic politics, Morsi’s ouster will lead elements from more ultraconservative Salafist groups to abandon mainstream politics in favor of armed conflict. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Popular-Driven Coup in Egypt

July 3rd 2013

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Egypt's army took power from President Mohamed Morsi and suspended the constitution. Army tanks are surrounding the presidentail palace, and Morsi's whereabouts are unknown. The head of the constitutional court will be sworn in to run the county's affairs, form a technocrat government, and call for early elections, the Army chief said. In a live televised statement, Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the action was taken to resolve the political crisis in Egypt. Al-Sisi said the move had to be taken after Morsi refused the military's unlimatum to reach an agreement with Egypt's opposition. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Why Would Anyone Want To Become An Afghan Police Officer?

July 3rd 2013

Afgan Police

Just how dangerous it is to be a police officer in Afghanistan was brought home this week when the Interior Ministry released figures showing that nearly 300 local and national police officers were killed in the span of just one month. That's a jump of 20 percent over the same period last year, as the Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces.

With risks like these, who would want to join the ranks of the police force? Interviews were conducted with three police officers working in different parts of the country (none of whom wanted to be photographed for this story).

'ONE INCIDENT CHANGED MY LIFE'

Jan Muhammad, 31, Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province
"I've been serving as a police sergeant for the past three years in Spin Boldak, one of the most volatile areas in Kandahar. Military operations, witnessing deaths and injuries, and facing constant threats of roadside bombs have become an everyday reality for me. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Weighs War, Amnesty for Boko Haram

July 2nd 2013

Boko Haram

As the Nigerian government battles Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast, officials are also grappling with how to end the fighting and what to do with the rebels once peace is restored.  New York-based Human Rights Watch says when the battle is done there will be no peace without justice.  But some Nigerian leaders say the battles will never end without compromise.

How to stop Boko Haram insurgents from killing people has become a national debate in Nigeria.  The most common answers are: crush them with military might or, find out why they are killing people and negotiate a peace deal.
The Nigerian government is currently trying both approaches.

Three northeastern states have been locked down in a state of emergency for more than six weeks now and thousands of troops have been deployed.  Meanwhile a presidentially appointed committee is trying to get Boko Haram leaders to come out of the shadows and talk. “Constructive discussion that will lead to dialogue.  Dialogue that will lead to peaceful resolution of the security challenges in the north," said Amnesty Committee Chair Kabiru Tanimu Turaki explaining how the process will work. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Reading the Tea Leaves in Instanbul

July 1st 2013

Taksim Gezi Park protests

Rebellion has shaken Turkey since May 31: Is it comparable to the Arab upheavals that overthrew four rulers since 2011, to Iran's Green Movement of 2009 that led to an apparent reformer being elected president last week, or perhaps to Occupy Wall Street, which had negligible consequences?

The unrest marks a deeply important development with permanent implications. Turkey has become a more open and liberal country, one in which leaders face democratic constraints as never before. But how much it changes the role of Islam in Turkey depends primarily on the economy.

China-like material growth has been the main achievement of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the party he heads, the AKP. Personal income has more than doubled in the decade that he has been in power, changing the face of the country. As a visitor to Turkey since 1972, I have seen the impact of this growth in almost every area of life, from what people eat to their sense of Turkish identity. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iran's Foreign Legion: The Role of Iraqi Shiite Militias in Syria

June 28th 2013

Syrian Fighters w/RPGs

As the war in Syria drags on, external actors may play an increasingly important role in tipping the balance through material support and sponsorship of individual armed units. One of the most significant international brigades currently fighting on the Assad regime's side is the Damascus-based Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), a collection of predominantly Iraqi Shiite fighters organized and supported by the Qods Force, an elite branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Though relatively small in size, LAFA could have a strategic impact on the war's course. More broadly, its expansion marks a potentially dangerous turn for the region, giving Tehran a transnational Shiite militant legion that it could use to bolster its allies outside Syria. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Government Braces for New Protests

June 27th 2013

Jump at Cops

In a display of widespread public dissatisfaction with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the nation's first elected leader, opposition groups plan to hold anti-government protests on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi's inauguration. With increasing demands for his ouster following economic difficulties and executive overreach, government officials have been preparing extensive security measures in the weeks leading up to the potentially volatile demonstrations.

Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced last week that tunnels and ferries on the Suez Canal would be shut down, blocking jihadists from capitalizing on the protests, effectively sealing off the Sinai Peninsula from the rest of Egypt. Furthermore, clan chiefs in Sinai have joined together to ensure the protection of public property. The dramatically increased security is intended to avert a repeat of the chaos during the 2011 protests that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Shabab Leader 'Captured' in Somalia

June 26th 2013

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys

Somali officials say they have captured a leading al-Shabab commander designated a terrorist by the United States. The new development underscores a growing rift within the group. Local officials in central Somalia say Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was captured in a coastal area around three in the morning.

A spokesman for the Himin and Heeb administration, which controls the region, said the militant commander was apprehended without a fight. “After long negotiation with him and his fighters we were successful to convince him to hand himself to the authorities,” said spokesman Mohamed Omar Hagafey The spokesman added the administration is now discussing a handover with the Somali federal government. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban Political Office Raises Alarm Bells In Kabul

June 25th 2013

Afghani Taliban

It was heralded as a significant step toward reaching a negotiated peace with the Taliban, so why has the opening of a modest political office in Qatar been met with such fierce opposition by the Afghan government?

For Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it's because the Taliban's Doha office stands as a threat to unravel everything his government has worked for over the past 12 years.

"[Afghan officials in Kabul] will see the Americans negotiating with the Taliban, while they're left on the sidelines with no central role," says Anatol Lieven, a professor and Afghanistan expert at King's College London.

"President Karzai and his immediate followers, in particular, see a very strong risk that they will find themselves completely sidelined in Afghanistan and even eliminated politically as a result of a deal made between the Taliban and the United States -- and any other Afghan forces that want to climb on board -- with essentially no role for the present Afghan government at all."

The fact that the office was opened with all the trappings of an official embassy did not help things. Before preliminary discussions could begin between U.S. and Taliban officials, Karzai objected angrily to the presence of the Taliban's flag and insignia on the grounds of the building. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Snowden Took NSA Job to Gain Access to Classified Programs

June 24th 2013

Snowden

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has admitted the only reason he took a job at the National Security Agency was to gain access to the agency's most sensitive programs.

Snowden said he sought out the NSA contractor position with the goal of exposing the agency's domestic intelligence operations. He made the comments in an interview with the South China Morning Post published Monday.

“My position with [contractor] Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
Snowden had been an employee with Booz Allen Hamilton when he leaked details of the NSA domestic intelligence programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post. The former CIA analyst added that he accepted a significant pay cut to join Booz Allen and later the NSA as a contractor “in the course of pursuing specific work" to uncover details of the agency's programs.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Take First Shipment of Foreign Weapons

June 23rd 2013

Syrian Jihadis

Syrian opposition forces have received the first tranche of foreign-supplied arms, marking a new chapter of international involvement in the country's three-year civil war. Gen. Salim Idris, the top commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said his forces recently obtained the weapons but refused to say who supplied the arms. 

"I would like to thank the brothers and the friends whom I don't want to name," he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Friday. 

The FSA is the largest and most organized of the rebel factions battling to overthrow longtime Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the country. The rebel commander was pressed on whether the weapons were the first deliveries of American arms the Obama White House announced would begin in within the coming months.  Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Obama's Nuclear Targeting Revisions Create a Path to Smaller Arsenals

June 23rd 2013

Nuclear Missile in Silo

President Obama disclosed in Berlin on June 19 that he has ordered the Pentagon to revise its plan for targeting America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons in wartime, a decision that opens the door to negotiated reductions in all three categories of these devastating weapons: strategic or long-range; tactical — meaning those deployed in Europe; and the large U.S. inventory of bombs and warheads held in reserve.

Obama signed the classified directive to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on June 18, a senior administration official said. That was one day after Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin had what several officials describe as a difficult private conversation about nuclear weapons policy, the conflagration in Syria, and other thorny foreign policy issues.

Obama’s speech thus signaled his determination to press for deeper bilateral arms reductions despite Russia’s often-stated reluctance to trim its nuclear forces beyond the cuts called for by the New START treaty both countries signed in 2010. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraqi Militias Make Comeback Amid Surging Sectarian Violence

June 22nd 2013

Iraqi Militia

With the rising wave of sectarian violence in Iraq, militias that were thought to have disbanded have reemerged and new armed groups have taken root. The development has ignited fears among Iraqis that the country could descend into civil war. As sectarian violence surges across Iraq, militias that once pushed the country to the brink of all-out civil war have reentered the scene.

Iraq has seen a sharp increase in retaliatory Sunni-Shi'ite attacks in recent months, with a wave of deadly bombings and assassinations resulting in a death toll not seen since 2008, according to the United Nations. Almost 2,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed as a result of the violence since the start of April, and nearly 200 have died so far this month. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The Boom in the Pentagon's Civilian Workforce

June 21st 2013

The Pentagon

What is most remarkable about the Pentagon’s massive growth in its civilian workforce is not that it expanded after 9/11, alongside the military’s much smaller increase. Rather, it has been the unchecked boost in Pentagon civilian manpower that has occurred since the financial collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.

While the rest of America — particularly private-sector companies and many U.S. families — tried to constrain their budgets and spending since the recession began … the nation’s largest employer just kept on growing.

Even more astonishing was that this growth in people — the Pentagon’s single most-expensive weapon system and asset — occurred as defense budgets were coming down. Since President Obama took office, he has cut the defense budget by 10 percent. The President has significantly reduced the planned sizes of the Army and Marine Corps. He has overseen the cancellation of dozens of major equipment programs, and ended production at several long-standing marquee manufacturing lines across the country. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obstacles to a Syrian Regime Victory in Aleppo

June 20th 2013

Tanks

In the wake of their seizure of Qusair in western Syria, Syrian loyalist forces are bent on capitalizing on their newfound momentum by wresting more of the loyalist core from the rebels and advancing on rebel-held territory. In order to continue their advance, however, loyalist forces will have to address logistical difficulties, potentially fight through powerful rebel blocking positions and overcome increasing U.S. weapons aid to the rebels.

The regime has by and large proved that the loyalist core is not seriously threatened at the moment. However, for their resurgence to seriously undermine the rebellion, the loyalists would need a victory in Aleppo. Seizing Aleppo would simultaneously give the loyalists effective control of the vast majority of Syria's population centers, defeat perhaps the largest concentration of rebel forces and inflict a terrible blow to the rebels' morale. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazil Ramps up Coordinated Anti-Terrorist Operations

June 19th 2013

Brazilian SWAT police

When two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, it felt as though the shrapnel shot all the way to Brazil. For those responsible for security during the Confederations Cup and other major events to be held in the country from now until 2016, the tragedy in Boston reaffirmed the need to be prepared to handle terrorist threats. Brazil historically hasn’t been a target of terrorist attacks, but the high-profile event has put authorities on alert.

In addition to the Confederations Cup (six cities, June 15-30), Brazil will host World Youth Day (Rio, July 23-28), the World Cup (12 cities, 2014), and the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Rio, 2016). “We’re working to ensure that these major events transpire without incident, and integration [among the security forces] will be one of the most important factors,” Defense Minister Celso Armorim said in March upon approving the Strategic Security Plan for the 2014 World Cup. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Security Lapse Provokes Criticism of Role of Intelligence Contractors

June 17th 2013

Snowden

The Obama administration promised four years ago that it would significantly shrink the number of private contractors working for U.S. intelligence agencies. But a key member of Congress said this week she remains unconvinced the administration has done enough to shift critical intelligence-related jobs back to government employees.

The most recent public data from the intelligence community depict a one-year decline of 1 percent in the number of contractors holding security clearances, leaving private-sector workers still holding about 22 percent of all those clearances.

In the wake of new controversy about such work, stemming from the recent leak of secrets about U.S. surveillance tactics by a federal contract employee in Hawaii, officials this week cited the decline as a sign of the administration’s commitment to reduce the outsourcing of intelligence work, reversing a hasty expansion of the contractor population after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Read more ..


Lebanon on Edge

Hezbollah Upsets The Balance in Lebanon

June 16th 2013

Hezbollah

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says the nation’s militant Shia movement, Hezbollah, is risking the “fate of the nation” by taking on an expanded front-line role in neighboring Syria’s civil war.

The warning from Hariri comes a week after Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon, fighting beside Syrian government troops, led the attack on Qusair a strategic Syrian town on the main highway into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The government’s capture of Qusair is considered a major blow to the Syrian rebel movement, which has been trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah, the militant arm of a Shia Muslim movement considered stronger than Lebanon’s own army, has been closely allied with Assad, whose Alawite religion is an offshoot of Shia Islam. Most Syrian rebels belong to the Sunni branch of Islam.

The United Nations estimated about 93,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, which has been going on for more than two years. On Thursday, the Obama administration in Washington said it had concluded that Assad’s forces had been using chemical weapons in the fighting and that the United States would begin helping to arm the rebels. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat Edge

Kerry: Deadly Attack on Iranian Dissident Camp 'Brutal, Senseless'

June 15th 2013

John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday called an attack on a former U.S. Marine base in Iraq that houses Iranian exiles “brutal, senseless, and utterly unacceptable.”

A mortar attack on Camp Hurriya killed three people in Baghdad on Saturday, police sources told Reuters. The Mujahidin-e-Khalq group said Iran was probably to blame, with Iraqi complicity, according to the news service.
“At the highest levels, we have personally urged the Government of Iraq to render all possible medical assistance to the victims and ensure the safety of the camp’s residents, consistent with its commitments and obligations.” Kerry said in a statement. “We’ve also called on the Government of Iraq to investigate this attack and bring the terrorists responsible to justice.” Kerry said officials are also consulting with Iraqi officials and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) “to ascertain the full extent of this unprovoked terrorist attack.” Read more ..


Book Review

Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community

June 14th 2013

Making War at Fort Hood

Making War at Fort Hood. Kenneth T. MacLeish. Princeton UniversityPress. 2013. pp280.

Fort Hood, in Texas, is named after Confederate General John Bell Hood, who lost his arm and leg at Gettysburg and Chickamauga but was defeated at Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. It employs 50,000 troops and civilian employees and is close by the city of Killeen, population 130,000, and which, like most military satellite cities and towns, thrives because of its location, selling food, goods of all sorts, housing, and loans, some no doubt predatory. In fact, as Kenneth T. MacLeish writes, Killeen is “more prosperous than Austin, the state capital, home to a large university and a booming tech sector.” When he asked soldiers what impression off-base civilians mistakenly held of them he was told “That we have a lot of money.”

What McLeish, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society at Vanderbilt University, has done is explore the impact of our recent wars on the military men and women and their families and loved ones. For those who have never served in the military and been burdened by its demands, Making War at Forth Hood is a humane and penetrating look in some depth at a huge military base and its military and civilian inhabitants. Some of his material is very familiar, given the combat experiences of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But what he does that is different is put it all into context.

MacLeish frankly admits at the outset that we -- presumably himself too -- Americans “don’t know as much as we think we do about what the violence done by and visited on soldiers means for them or for us “ Dime -- a pseudonym, like all his interviewees -- is a thirty-five-year-old veteran of Iraq, married with kids, who joined up at age thirty-one so his kids would have health insurance, who tells MacLeish the first time they met,” Don’t fuckin’ leave any of this shit out.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorist Attacks in Afghanistan Get Bolder

June 14th 2013

Islamist terrorists

Terrorist attacks in Afghanistan appear to be getting bolder in recent days.  The Taliban also increasingly is targeting the civilian population, including children.

A suicide bomber blew himself up right outside the Supreme Court building in the capital, Kabul, Tuesday, killing 17 people and wounding almost 40 others.  Mohammad Zahir, Chief of the Kabul Police Criminal Investigation Department, said all of the victims were civilians, including women and children.

"There are children and women among those who were martyred (killed) and wounded, all the ones who are martyred [killed] and wounded are civilians and there aren't any military personnel among them," said Zahir. The United Nations said Tuesday that the civilian death toll in Afghanistan has increased by almost 25 percent compared to the same period last year. 

U.N. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Jan Kubis said that more than 3,000 people in Afghanistan have been killed or wounded since the beginning of this year, mostly by insurgents. "What is even of more concern is the fact that the children account for 21 percent of all civilians killed or wounded in 2013," Kubis noted. "This is an increase of 30 percent compared to 2012 and 34 percent compared to 2011.'' Read more ..


Ethiopia on Edge

Egypt's Limited Military Options to Stop an Ethiopian Dam Project

June 13th 2013

Dam

Ethiopia's initiation of a dam project on the Blue Nile has quickly drawn the ire of Egypt, which is critically dependent on it as a source of much of the country's freshwater needs. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said June 9 following Ethiopia's refusal to halt construction of the dam and ahead of his trip to Addis Ababa to discuss the project, Egypt will not give up a "single drop of water from the Nile." "No Nile, no Egypt," he said.

While Egypt has struggled to attract diplomatic intervention on its behalf to thwart Ethiopia's dam construction, tensions have reached the point where Egypt has suggested the use of force to keep the dam from potentially lowering the Nile's water levels downstream to unacceptable levels. There will be serious international pressure to keep the dispute over the dam in the realm of diplomacy, but there are also fairly significant constraints on the physical possibility of an Egyptian military solution. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Rising Terror Risks Against Western Africa Energy and Economic Infrastructure

June 13th 2013

Taureg dude

The continent of Africa, and in particular the countries south of Sahara, are center of wide scale activity for Israeli companies who have been acting at the area since the end of 50`s. The activity was first led by the Israeli Foreign Office, who in a very short time established tens of Israeli representation offices in African countries, and in this way laid the foundations for activity in the fields of agriculture, security and infrastructure development. Later on, more and more private companies from Israel entered Africa, and performed impressive projects in various areas. During the years the business relations had their ups and downs that were influenced by political moves and events like the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. Nevertheless, along the entire period a massive Israeli business presence was established in Africa in various fields. The present deterioration in the level of terror threat and crime at the continent of Africa is a blinking red light considering the substantial risk requiring security arrangement against it. Read more ..



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