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The Battle for Syria

Obstacles to a Syrian Regime Victory in Aleppo

June 20th 2013


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


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


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


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 ..

Broken Intelligence

Security Lapse Provokes New Criticism of Costly Intelligence Contractors and Their Huge Role

June 13th 2013

New NSA Data Ctr.

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 Washington, 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 ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Massacre Shia Village

June 12th 2013

Rebel fighters

Syrian rebels have attacked a village in the country's east, killing dozens of Shias, activists said. A Syrian government official on Wednesday denounced the attack that occurred a day earlier, saying it was a “massacre'' of civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 60 people were killed in the village of Hatla in the oil-rich province of Deir al-Zour bordering Iraq.

A video supplied by the Observatory showed masked fighters shouting, “Here are the Mujahidin [Islamist fighters] celebrating entering the homes of the rejectionists, the Shias.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified. The fighters added that they “burned the homes” of the Shia residents. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

State Shows A Marked Resurgence of Iran’s Global Terrorist Activity

June 11th 2013

Iranian clerics

The U.S. State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012 in late May. This report provides the Department of State’s annual assessment of trends and events in international terrorism that occurred during  2012. The findings of the report indicate that the year 2012 saw a “marked resurgence” of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Iran or its proxies. Iran’s terrorist activity in 2012, the report says,“reached a tempo unseen since the 1990's”. Iran sponsored terrorism through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Hezbollah, Tehran’s ally in Lebanon. Iran’s terrorist activity in 2012 included attacks and attempted attacks in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.

In January 2012, Hezbollah, in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, attempted to attack tourist sites in Bangkok visited by Israelis, using IEDs. A month later, on February 14, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards attempted another terrorist attack in Bangkok, this time using a magnet to attach an IED to the car of an Israeli diplomat.  On February 13, a terrorist attack occurred in New Delhi. An Israeli diplomat’s car was attacked using a magnetic IED that was attached to it. An Israeli diplomat’s wife driving the car was severely injured when the car blew up. Three Indian civilians were injured as well.  Read more ..

The Middle East on Edge

Losing the Middle East

June 10th 2013

Syria Pro-Assad demonstration

After a three-week siege, the combined forces of Hezbollah and the Assad regime have taken the important crossroads town of Qusayr, which is just south of the even more important city of Homs in east-central Syria. “Whoever controls Qusayr controls the center of the country, and whoever controls the center of the country controls all of Syria,” crowed Syrian brigadier general Yalya Suleiman.

While that boast is as much propaganda as military fact, the capture of Qusayr is a happy moment for Bashar al-Assad—who has had few of them in recent years—and for Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, whose heavy investments in propping up the Syrian dictator appear to be paying off. Indeed, the Iranians “felicitated” Assad on the gain. As well they might, since the Syrian regime is becoming ever more dependent on Tehran; Assad’s army on its own had been unable to retake Qusayr. The specter that looms is nothing less than the near-complete collapse of the U.S. position in the Middle East. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Muslim Brotherhood Gains Foothold in Boston

June 9th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

U.S. authorities are still piecing together how the two brothers behind April's Boston Marathon bombing -- Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- became Islamic terrorists. Tamerlan had traveled to al Qaeda hotbeds in southern Russia, where authorities believe he may have met with known jihadists.

Closer to home, he and his brother attended a Boston-area mosque with radical ties. "The fact is that these fellows attended, blocks from their house, a radical mosque that has been the center of controversy in Boston for 10 years," said Charles Jacobs, who heads Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a group that has closely monitored Islamic radicalism in the Boston area. Jacobs said the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge has seen convicted Islamic terrorists pass through its doors. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

A Thaw Seen in U.S.-Venezuela Relations

June 9th 2013

John Kerry and Elias Jaua

The announcement that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on June 5 is extraordinarily good news. The meeting, held in the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, came as representatives gathered for the General Meeting of the Organization of American States.  Warm smiles and friendly conversation were everywhere.  It marks the “start of a good relationship of respect,” offered Jaua, and a step toward creating “a more constructive and positive relationship,” echoed Kerry.

What makes this diplomatic initiative so encouraging is that until this development United States relations with President Hugo Chávez’s (and now Nicolás Maduro’s) Venezuela too often seemed only to feature irate political blasts from both sides. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

EU Backing Away from Blacklisting Hezbollah

June 8th 2013


The European Union in reneging on its plan to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem have told Israel’s Maariv newspaper.

As recently as two weeks ago the EU was planning to name Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization following reports of its involvement in Syria. However, a meeting held this week quickly became political, and the plan was met with strong opposition from both Ireland and Sweden, as well as several other countries, the diplomatic sources said.

The official reason given for retracting the move is a fear of instability in Lebanon, but the diplomatic sources say it was a matter of Ireland and Sweden fearing for the safety of a UN peacekeeping mission in the region.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that another main concern is the clarity of evidence linking Hezbollah to the Burgas bus bombing last year. Officials from member states in favor of the blacklisting have admitted that the evidence appears circumstantial. The new Bulgarian government’s hesitation in fingering Hezbollah has also weighed on discussions, several diplomats said, according to the WSJ. Read more ..

Honduras on Edge

The Killing Fields of Honduras: Repression of Workers in Bajo Aguán

June 8th 2013

Honduras police badge

An update from Rights Action (rightsaction.org), issued on May 24, reports that on the evening of May 22 the armed forces opened fire from their posts on the Paso Aguán plantation “in what appears to be attempts to intimidate and scare the community of ‘La Panamá’ that lives inside and adjacent to the finca.” Although no current members of La Panamá’s community were killed or wounded in this raid, the attack appears to be part of a pattern of human rights abuses committed by the Honduran security forces and the Dinant Corporation’s security guards. At this point the members of the La Panamá community are almost certainly being wrongfully targeted by key state and corporate figures and are being deprived of their rights to their land.

Miguel Facussé, owner of the Paso Aguán plantation and one of the largest landowners in Honduras, has “accumulated land through coercive and fraudulent land purchases” since 1995. La Panamá formerly owned a fraction of the Paso Aguán plantation and the African palm growing on the plantation was originally planted by the community during the 1970s and 80s agrarian reform initiatives. Today the livelihood of campesinos is in jeopardy as their labor has been reduced to subsistence agriculture. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

How to Meet the Threat from China's Cyber Guerrillas

June 7th 2013

Hacker keyboard

When President Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday and Saturday in Southern California, a major topic of conversation between the two will be Chinese cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage against American commercial and government targets.

According to U.S. counterintelligence officials, billions upon billions of dollars worth of information has been “lifted” out of American computers and servers in recent years.

In fact, only last week, newspapers were reporting that an internal Defense Department review had concluded that China had used cyber attacks to gather data on more than three dozen key U.S. military programs, including the country’s most advanced missile defense systems, naval warships and even the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the stealthy, fifth-generation jet that will be the backbone of the American military’s ability to sustain air superiority in the decades ahead. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Importance of Assad Regime to Hezbollah and Iran

June 6th 2013

Asad Ahmadinejad 2
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Bashr Assad of Syria

For Iran and Hezbollah, the preservation of Bashar Assad’s regime is of supreme strategic importance. Syria is Iran’s greatest “resistance camp” ally, providing it with a firm foothold in the heart of the Middle East, as well as political and military influence. Syria also plays a vital role in Hezbollah’s military buildup, helping it to build offensive and deterrent capabilities against Israel. For Iran and Hezbollah, the fall of the Syrian regime would be a disaster, it would weaken Iran’s regional position against the United States and Israel and damage Hezbollah’s military capabilities and political influence in Lebanon.

Iran and Hezbollah’s strategic interests are accompanied by religious-sectarian solidarity with Syria’s Shi’ite population (an estimated 400,000-450,000 strong) and also with the Alawite sect that rules Syria. That solidarity, which as been pronounced in Nasrallah’s recent speeches, has became stronger since the Syrian Shi’ites and their holy sites in Syria became targets for harassment by the rebels (particularly organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda, such as the Al-Nusra Front, which considers Shi’ites as infidels). Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Seeing the World through Putin's Steely Blue Eyes

June 6th 2013


Few people comprehend Russia's vulnerabilities like its leader, Vladimir Putin. He must try to govern a country that extends through nearly half the longitudes of the earth but that has fewer people than Bangladesh. What's more, Russia's population is declining, not increasing. All the Arctic seas to Russia's north are ice-blocked many months of the year, so with the exception of its Far East, Russia is essentially a landlocked nation.

Moreover, Russia's flat topography affords little natural protection and is therefore bereft of natural borders. Land powers, as they have no seas to protect them, are more insecure than island nations and continents like the United States and Great Britain.

But Russia is particularly insecure.

The Defense Edge

Target Malfunctions Imperil U.S. Missile Defense Effort

June 5th 2013


Shortly after 11 a.m. local time, a U.S. ballistic missile target loaded with a mock nuclear warhead blasted off from Narrow Cape, a low-lying coastal area of Alaska’s Kodiak Island. A network of radars from Alaska to California tracked the target, watching for the release of metal chaff, Mylar or aluminum balloons, or other objects like those that North Korean missiles might use to fool U.S. defenses.

This simulated attack on the United States on Dec. 5, 2008 was the first time massive sea- and ground-based defenses would try to penetrate the decoys or countermeasures that might be used to hide a warhead in the near-vacuum of space. As the Pentagon had wanted, a rocket interceptor launched from a silo at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base destroyed the warhead and the radar network performed well, prompting officials to declare the test a success in a press release the same day.

But the real test of U.S. defenses against the countermeasures that North Korean missiles might eventually carry — the primary objective of that exercise, which was estimated to cost taxpayers between $200 million and $300 million — never happened. The target malfunctioned and failed to release them. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkish Riots Grow as World Watches

June 4th 2013

Turk flags

Protests in Turkey entered a fifth day as demonstrators called for more freedoms in a nationwide steering toward strict Islamic rule. What began as a protest over the removal of a city park in Ankara has become a nationwide social movement. Hundreds have been injured in demonstrations and at least two killed. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said Monday the protesters were "arm in arm" with terrorists, but a trade union called for a strike of its 250,000 members Tuesday in solidarity with the protesters. The White House said it was concerned with reports of excessive force used by police to quell the protests and defended the demonstrations as part of the democratic process, the Voice of America reports.

The White House stated: "The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly including the right of people to peaceful protest, because that is fundamental to any democracy. And we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police." Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Palestinian "Popular Resistance"

June 3rd 2013

Palestinian Rock Attackers

This study examines the concept of the Palestinian "popular resistance" (al- muqawama al-sha'abiya) as it was formulated during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then adopted by the sixth Fatah conference in August 2009, and has since been implemented in Judea and Samaria by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah. Thus the concept of "popular resistance" has become a main component of PA policy, utilized to promote PA interests when interacting with Israel and in both the international and internal Palestinian arenas. The "popular resistance" is a prominent strategy implemented on the ground and integrated into the political, economic, propaganda and judicial campaigns currently waged by the PA against Israel. As far as the PA and Fatah are concerned, the "popular resistance" creates constant, controlled tension in the Palestinian relations with Israel. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Satellites Support Deployment of Remote Control Drones in Commercial Airspace

June 3rd 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

European defense and research companies have successfully demonstrated satellite control of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in commercial, non-segregated airspace, opening up wider use of such drones. A demonstration involved the deployment of a Heron-1 RPAS controlled by satellite for maritime surveillance applications offshore Spain. The project demonstrated the safe operation of RPAS in non-segregated airspace using satellite communications. Several partners, such as the GUCI (Spanish "Guardia Civil") and AENA (Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea), supported the project.  The demonstration was part of the DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) initiative, an ESA-EDA (European Space Agency-European Defence Agency) project which includes European headquartered satellite operator SES, together with partners such as ThalesAleniaSpace and AT-one (an European Economic Interest Group consisting of Dutch Aerospace Laboratory NLR and German Aerospace Centre DLR). The initiative follows another ESA study (ESA SINUE) during which SES was already partnering with INDRA, the Spanish information technology and defense systems company. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Is Egypt Heading Toward a Military Regime?

June 1st 2013

Jump at Cops

In August 2012, barely two months after being elected as the first civilian president of Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi generated a surprise showdown with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which had ruled Egypt de facto since President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation following the popular revolt against his regime. Since being elected on June 30, Morsi had been forced into a power struggle with the military; analysts were divided over whether he could surmount the immense hurdle posed by the SCAF. Would it interfere in his decisions? Would he have to cohabit with the military and accept sharing his power with it? The struggle between Morsi and the military came as no surprise and was the culmination of a longstanding conflict. On the one hand, the military fought the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is part and parcel, so as to maintain its dominance in what had been a military society since the 1952 revolution brought the army to rule. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Hagel Calls out China on Cyberattacks

June 1st 2013

hacker keyboard

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called out China on June 1 for alleged cyberattacks against the U.S. government and several industries. Speaking at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue, where Chinese officials were present, Hagel urged China to work with the United States to establish “international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace.” Hagel said, “The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military.”

The remarks addressed what U.S. officials say is a growing threat from international cyberattacks seeking state and industry secrets that are stored online. The Pentagon has blamed China for many of the attacks, allegations China has denied. Read more ..

Broken Economy

America's Ten Biggest Economics Mistakes from the Depression to the Recession

May 31st 2013

Click to select Image

I have just finished teaching a graduate course on the management of the U.S. economy from the Great Depression to the Great Recession. Given that economic crises bookended the syllabus, student interest in the review session unsurprisingly focused on discussing macroeconomic policy errors more than successes.

This set me thinking as to what I would adjudge the ten greatest economic policy errors from the late 1920s to the present. My list and rationale appear below. But first some caveats.

Such a listing tends to focus on short-term rather than long-term consequences because the latter are more difficult to track and link to specific policies. It can also be difficult to separate policy effects from broader structural movements in the U.S. and world economies that would have produced similar outcomes anyway. Furthermore, judgements about whether policy outcomes are good or bad reflect the values of the assessor -- people with different political views to mine would likely produce a different list. Finally, a list of failures has a pathological focus on economic sickness. It tends to overlook the reality that the American economy has been broadly healthy for a good many of the last eighty-plus years. But maybe a list of policy successes that generated and sustained prosperity can be a subject for a future blog. In the meantime, here’s my take on policy failures in ascending order of magnitude: Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria And Russia’s S-300 Missile System

May 31st 2013


Russia's S-300 missile system could dramatically change the stakes in the Syrian conflict if it is sent to Damascus, which Russia has signed a contract to do. RFE/RL lays out five things to know about the air-defense system.

What are the capabilities of the S-300 system?
The S-300 missile system is designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at a range of 5-to-150 kilometers. That gives it the ability to destroy not only attackers in Syrian airspace but also any attackers inside Israel. It can track and strike multiple targets simultaneously at altitudes ranging from 10 meters to 27,000 meters.

"The S-300 is Russia's top-of-the-range air-defense system," says Robert Hewson, the London-based editor of "IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons." "It is a surface-to-air missile system that's capable of shooting down any modern combat aircraft or missiles, including cruise missiles. In a way, it is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. Patriot system. And what it does for Syria is it adds a whole new level of capability on top of the existing Syrian air defenses. Syria already has a lot of Russian [surface-to-air] missiles, but the S-300 would be the most advanced." Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Israeli Won't Let S-300 become Operational in Syria

May 30th 2013

Jet air show

Israel will prevent the S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery from becoming operational in Syria, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror told European Union ambassadors in Israel. Amidror's strong message, delivered in a briefing to all 27 EU ambassadors last week, bolstered Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's statement earlier this week that Israel would "know how to act" if Russia goes ahead with its plan to provide Syria with the S-300 system.

Israel's vow to act against the fearsome weapons system come as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted on Thursday as saying that his country had already received the first shipment of the S-300 system from Russia. "Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar quoted Assad as saying in an interview due to be broadcast later in the day. "The rest of the shipment will arrive soon." The Prime Minister's Office declined official comment on Amidror's statement to the EU ambassadors. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

More Research Needed to Foil Cyber Criminals

May 30th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

Virtually non-existent two decades ago, cybercrime has become one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises around the world. Estimates peg the global cost of crimes ranging from malware to data theft at about $100 billion a year. And it's growing. Efforts to combat the problem have taken on urgency, but, there is growing debate on how best to foil hi-tech offenders.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live - if you have access to a computer, you are a potential target for cyber criminals. And it’s not just individuals at risk. 

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, charged eight people for launching cyber attacks on foreign banks that could have netted $45 million. “This was a 21st century bank heist that reached through the Internet to span the globe.  But instead of guns and masks, this cybercrime organization used laptops and malware,” Lynch said. Read more ..

After the Arab Spring

Finishing the Job: Security Sector Reform After the Arab Spring

May 29th 2013

Riot Police

The Arab Uprisings were principally sparked by the brutality of the security sector in almost every single country where they occurred. In Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation following an insult by the police in December 2010 triggered the revolution. In Egypt, the June 2010 murder by two policemen of Internet activist Khaled Said, followed by the brutality of police during the fraudulent parliamentary elections of November-December 2010, set the revolution’s context. In Libya, the arrest in February 2011 of Fathy Terbil—a human rights lawyer who had represented the families of the victims of the June 1996 Abu Selim Prison massacre, in which more than 1,236 political prisoners were gunned down by Moammar Gadhafi’s security forces—sparked that country’s revolution. In Syria, abuses committed in March 2011 by Assad’s security forces, which included the pulling out of the fingernails of children and teenagers in Deraa, triggered the protests that ignited that country’s ongoing civil war. In many ways, the Arab Spring was a region-wide reaction against violations by the security services. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Crisis Deepens With Arms Race, Assad Gains

May 28th 2013

Bombing in Syria Mar 2012

It has been a tough couple of days for the Syria conflict, with announcements on arms for the rebels and the government, and more delays in the U.S.-Russian effort to convene a peace conference.  

Britain and France won a significant victory at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers Monday, with an agreement not to renew an embargo that prevented them from sending arms to the Syrian rebels.  EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced the decision after a day-long meeting in Brussels.

“Everybody is trying to work out how best to support the people of Syria, and how best to ensure that we get to a political solution as quickly as possible," she said. But the EU members agreed not to actually send any weapons to the rebels at least until they see whether the United States and Russia succeed in convening a peace conference. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Jerusalem Experiences Wave of Political Arson

May 27th 2013

Jerusalem-Dome-of-the Rock


Broken Banking

Inside the Shell: Drugs, Arms and Tax Scams

May 27th 2013

Indian Currency

On December 11, 2009, a former Soviet air force transport plane flying from North Korea to Iran stopped to refuel in Bangkok. The flight listed its cargo as spare parts for oil-drilling equipment. Instead police found 30 tonnes of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and components for surface-to-air missiles, all being transported in breach of United Nations sanctions.

Three months later in a Miami courtroom, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the country's largest money-laundering scheme involving billions of dollars from Mexican drug lords. Then, last April, documents emerged in London concerning Russia's largest tax fraud, an alleged $230 million heist that led to the untimely deaths of four people and threatens to damage the Russian government.

The story behind the three events is many degrees stranger than fiction, but it includes one common element – a number of shell companies associated with 68-year-old Queensland businessman Geoffrey Taylor or members of his family. Shell companies – that is, corporations with no apparent operations, no apparent employees and no apparent physical assets – are used by those who register them for a range of nefarious activities around the world. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Washington Fury Over Military Sexual Assults Hits the Pentagon

May 26th 2013

Claire McCaskill D-Mo

A storm of outrage over sexual assaults within the U.S. military struck the Pentagon with intense fury in May, with public expressions of regret by top military leaders about a rising number of reported assaults and blunt, quick condemnation from members of Congress and President Obama.

The tempest was stirred primarily by the Defense Department’s disclosure that 26,000 military personnel said in a recent confidential survey that they had been the victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a term used to describe incidents ranging from sexually-related touching to rape.

That represents an alarming average of more than 70 episodes a day, and a 36 percent increase since 2010, when the last survey was performed. The victims amount to 6.1 percent of all active-duty women and 1.2 percent of the men in the 2.2 million member  American military. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Chaos in the Sinai: Will International Peacekeepers Be the Next Casualty?

May 25th 2013

Multinational Force Observers (MFO) in Sinai

Earlier this week, seven Egyptian security officers were released after being held hostage for a week by Bedouin tribesmen in the Sinai. The abductions are the latest in a series of now commonplace hostage events and armed attacks in the Sinai that highlight the deterioration of security in this desert expanse. While most of these incidents have been aimed at Egyptians, Sinai peacekeepers -- the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) -- are high on the target list. Rising insecurity in this increasingly unstable region, along with a ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo overtly hostile toward Israel, could test the durability of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The MFO was deployed in 1982 to monitor the Sinai security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, but for the past two years, the contingent has come under frequent attack from local Bedouin and Islamist militants affiliated with Al Qaida. Just last month, a Hungarian peacekeeper was kidnapped by tribesmen. The detained soldier was subsequently released, but the trajectory of these developments is not promising. Read more ..

Guinea on Edge

Violence Continues in Conakry Over Upcoming Elections

May 24th 2013

Moussa Dadis Camara

Guinea's government says it deployed extra soldiers and police to the streets of the capital, Conakry, Friday, as youth in several neighborhoods set up makeshift barriers, vandalized cars and attacked private businesses. The unrest comes the day after an opposition protest during which the government says one person was killed and at least ten were injured. The opposition puts the death toll at four and says dozens were injured. The main opposition parties accuse the government of trying to rig upcoming elections, and say they will not take part in the polls scheduled for June 30.

Opposition protestors once again clashed with security forces in Conakry Thursday. The protests, and the subsequent violence, have become a weekly event since the government announced the new poll date in mid-April. Monday was the last day for candidates to sign up for legislative elections. Several key opposition parties did not put forward any candidates, saying to put their names on the list would have validated the poll date. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Israeli General Warns Of Imminent War

May 23rd 2013


Israel's military, struggling with a shooting war with Syria, has warned of an imminent multi-front conflict.

Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel issued one of the starkest warnings of an imminent war that could include Hizbullah and Syria. In an address to a combat air conference, Eshel said Israel faces a range of low- and high-intensity threats from virtually every front.

"It's not as if we can say we have two weeks go prepare [for war]," Eshel said. "I am not sure we have two weeks to prepare."

In an address on May 22 to the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, Eshel said the next war with Hizbullah in Lebanon would exhaust the air force's capabilities. He warned that the next war would include missile strikes on Israel's cities, which would require a strategy to end fighting quickly. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Friend of Boston Bomber Shot Dead After Turning Violent During Confession to Triple Jewish Homicide Role

May 22nd 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

A friend of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot dead by an FBI officer last night while preparing to sign a confession to playing a role in the gruesome slaying of three Jewish men back in 2011, according to investigators cited by NBC.

The Chechen man Ibragim Todashev, 27 was being interviewed by law enforcement officers in his Orlando, Florida condo when he is said to have turned violent, pulling a knife on an agent.

“The agent, two Massachusetts State Police troopers, and other law enforcement personnel were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual,” the FBI said in a statement, adding that “During the confrontation, the individual was killed.” One official told ABC news that the FBI agent was stabbed several times, although the injuries sustained were not life threatening. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

How North Korean EMP Could Cripple the U.S.

May 22nd 2013

North Korean Missile

Over the past three days, North Korea has launched six short-range guided missiles or projectiles in tests that landed in the Sea of Japan. The launches were of a piece with Pyongyang's springtime custom of muscle-flexing, undertaken to extract concessions from the West in exchange for stopping the provocations. The Obama administration would do well to ignore these minor fireworks and focus on the much greater threat of a long-range North Korean missile carrying a nuclear warhead.

So far President Obama has seemed content to parry North Korea's thrusts, much as his White House predecessor did. The George W. Bush administration did not distinguish itself in recognizing, or acting on, the danger from North Korea. Last month, in a worrying sign of similar detachment, Mr. Obama essentially dismissed the Defense Intelligence Agency conclusion that North Korea has probably been able to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile. He certainly did not suggest that he would consider a pre-emptive strike to halt the North Korean nuclear program. The president may want to rethink that position. Read more ..

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