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The Edge of Defense

Hagel Orders Review of Military Strategy

March 18th 2013

B-2 Bomber

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a fresh review of the U.S. military strategy adopted last year in light of the budget cuts under sequestration. Hagel instructed senior Pentagon leaders last week to conduct a two-month review in order to provide the framework for the 2015 Pentagon budget and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that’s due in February 2014.

“The review will take the 2011 Defense Strategic Guidance as the point of departure, and it will examine whether the assumptions made in that strategy are still applicable,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

Senior military leaders have warned that the across-the-board cuts under sequestration would force them to abandon the strategy rolled out at the beginning of 2012 that places a new emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. Pentagon officials have said that the current strategy was designed to grapple with the $487 billion in cuts that were part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, but cannot withstand the deeper sequestration cuts. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Airline Bomber Set to be Released from Prison

March 17th 2013

airplanes shadows

The Associated Press has reported that a 1980s-era airline bomber is soon set to be released from prison. AP correspondents Eric Tucker and Randy Herschaft reported it this way: "Mohammed Rashed slipped a bomb beneath the jetliner seat cushion, set the timer and disembarked with his wife and child when the plane landed in Tokyo. The device exploded as Pan Am Flight 830 continued on to Honolulu, killing a Japanese teenager in a 1982 attack that investigators linked to a terrorist organization known for making sophisticated bombs.

"It would be 20 years before the bomber — and one-time apprentice to Abu Ibrahim, currently featured on the FBI list of most wanted terrorists — would admit guilt in an American courtroom."

The AP went on, "Now, credited for his cooperation against associates, Rashed will be released from federal prison within days after more than two decades in custody in Greece and the United States. The release does more than spring loose a convicted terrorist. It also could deprive the government of a star witness in the event that Ibrahim, a Palestinian master bomb-maker who authorities say orchestrated the Pan Am attack and similar strikes around the world, is ever captured. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Rebels Appear to Make Big Weapons Seizure

March 17th 2013

Seized weapons in Mexico

Syrian rebels appear to have seized a large number of weapons from a government arms depot near the northern city of Aleppo. Activists posted several videos to YouTube on Saturday and Sunday showing crates of weapons and ammunition they say were seized from the arms depot in the town of Khan Toman.

In one video, Islamist rebels loaded dozens of the crates onto a truck. In another, rebels inspected the interior of a seized building containing crates of rockets and other arms. There was no independent confirmation of the rebel seizure of the arms depot.  Other activist videos posted on YouTube in recent days appeared to show rebels trying to seize the compound.

Rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have seized large areas of northern and eastern Syria in recent months, including parts of Aleppo and the towns surrounding Syria's commercial capital.  But Assad's forces remain in control of central Aleppo, his power base in Damascus and western regions dominated by his Alawite sect. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Bahrain's Royal Politics and the U.S. Navy Base

March 15th 2013

U.S. Naval Carrier

On March 11, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain announced the appointment of his eldest son, Crown Prince Salman, to the new position of first deputy prime minister, with responsibility for monitoring the performance of several government agencies. The move was seen as a signal to the political opposition that the palace is willing to compromise in the crisis that began two years ago, when government forces cracked down on mainly Shiite Bahrainis calling for a greater political voice. The crown prince is viewed as more receptive than other royals to reconciliation efforts that could defuse ongoing tensions. As Washington continues looking for ways to help mediate the crisis, it should avoid rash moves that would only embolden the island's hardliners and jeopardize the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters, located in the capital.

Bahrain has been wracked by near-daily violence since early 2011. Originally imitating Tunisia and Egypt's Arab Spring demonstrations, the island's protests quickly developed into sectarian affairs. The majority of Bahrain's roughly one million citizens are Shiite, but the Khalifa royal family is Sunni, as are most members of the military and security forces. On February 14, 2011, troops moved against demonstrators who had occupied the iconic Pearl Monument traffic circle in downtown Manama, while neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent additional forces to protect strategic installations. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Power in the Sea Lanes

March 14th 2013

Iranian-made Submarine

The United States and Iran have never officially been at war, but several recent incidents between the U.S. and Iranian navies have had the potential to escalate into armed confrontations. In January 2012, three Revolutionary Guards speed boats harassed the USS New Orleans. The small craft came within 500 yards of the amphibious transport ship as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, Iranian small boats also harassed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak, operating east of Kuwait City.

Most of the close encounters involved the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is distinct from the conventional Iranian Navy. In contrast, U.S. Navy commanders routinely say their interactions with the regular Iranian Navy are professional. The U.S. and Iranian navies had several hostile encounters in the 1980s. Iranian attacks on commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf triggered armed exchanges between their navies during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The United States responded in Operations Nimble Archer (October 1987) and Praying Mantis (April 1988). Read more ..

Defense Edge

The Ghost Fleet of Military Aircraft: a Saga of Pork and Mis-expenditure

March 14th 2013


When I was a kid obsessed with military aircraft, I loved Chicago's O'Hare airport. If I was lucky and scored a window seat, I might get to see a line of C-130 Hercules transport planes parked on the tarmac in front of the 928th Airlift Wing's hangars. For a precious moment on takeoff or landing, I would have a chance to stare at those giant gray beasts with their snub noses and huge propellersuntil they passed from sight.

What I didn't know then was why the Air Force Reserve, as well as the Air National Guard, had squadrons of these big planes eternally parked at O'Hare and many other airports and air stations around the country. It’s a tale made to order for this time of sequestration that makes a mockery of all the hyperbole about how any spending cuts will "hollow out" our forces and "devastate" our national securty. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Power in the Air

March 14th 2013

Iran Missiles

Iran has the largest and most diverse inventory of long-range artillery rockets and ballistic missiles in the Middle East. It is estimated to have between 200 and 300 Scud-B and Scud–C missiles, which Iran has renamed the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2. It also owns hundreds of Zelzal rockets and Fateh-110 semi-guided rockets (see below). 
These systems allow Iran to threaten targets throughout the Gulf littoral, but they are not accurate enough to be decisive militarily. Iran would need at least 100 missiles armed with 500-kg conventional warheads — and potentially many more — to destroy a specific target with a moderate level of confidence. If fired in large numbers, Iranian missiles might be able to harass or disrupt operations at large U.S. or GCC military targets, such as airfields, naval ports or fuel depots. But such attacks are unlikely to not halt activities for a significantly long time.   Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Kurdish Rebels Free Eight Turkish Captives

March 13th 2013

Turkish Soldiers on patrol

A Kurdish rebel group has released eight Turkish citizens who had been held captive for almost two years.  The move is part of ongoing peace efforts to end the decades long conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The handover occurred in neighboring northern Iraq where the captives, a mix of Turkish soldiers and civil servants, had been held.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul welcomed the release. "We are happy that our citizens who had been away from their country for so long, and from whom we had not received any news, are returning," he said.

The release of the captives is part of a government-led initiative to bring an end to the 29-year conflict with the PKK. Speaking ahead of the captives' release, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay described the PKK move as an important goodwill gesture and said peace efforts remain on track. Government talks with Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is being held in a Turkish prison, began last year. Ocalan called for the release of the captives last month. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Iranian Shiite Terror Cell in Nigeria Followed a Familiar Pattern

March 12th 2013

Nigeria car bombing
Car Bombing in Nigeria

On February 20, 2013, Nigeria’s State Secret Service (SSS) paraded with grand fanfare a local Shiite cleric, Mallam Abdullahi Mustaphah Berende, 50. According to Nigerian authorities, he headed a terrorist group backed by “Iranian handlers” that was plotting to assassinate former Nigerian president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and the deposed Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, father of the current national security adviser, Col. (ret.) Sambo Dasuki, and to attack Israeli and American targets in Nigeria.

Previous Iranian Operations in Nigeria

This new crisis in Nigerian-Iranian relations comes barely less than three years after an Iranian weapons shipment was discovered in Lagos Apapa Port (on October 26, 2010) concealed in thirteen containers aboard a ship sailing from Bandar Abbas, in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (of June 2009) imposing additional sanctions on Iran. (This episode was followed by the discovery of $10 million worth of heroin hidden in engine parts shipped from Iran that was seized at Lagos Airport that same year.) Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Cyberspace and Terrorist Organizations

March 12th 2013

Hacker keyboard

In a scene in the 1990 movie Die Hard 2, terrorists take control of computer, traffic control, and aerial communications systems, impersonate flight inspectors, and feed in false data, thus leading the pilot and passengers to their death in the midst of a snowstorm with the plane crashing on the runway. Security personnel are helpless, incapable of providing a response; the movie’s hero, John McClane (played by Bruce Willis), lacks the means to save the doomed flight and is left standing powerless in the fog on the landing strip, waving two improvised beacons at the approaching aircraft.

At first it would seem that the movie is nothing but another Hollywood fantasy, dismissible as a wild exaggeration carried to yet further extremes in the sequel, Die Hard 4. However, the events of 9/11 and the changes in the nature of security threats over the last decade indicate that even the most far-fetched scenarios crafted in Hollywood studios are liable to find real-life expression in the public and security sphere in this day and age. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda Threat to U.S. Not Diminished, Data Indicates

March 11th 2013

Osama bin-Laden preaching

Conventional wisdom holds that the threat to America posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates is greatly diminished compared to 9/11. Today, it is claimed, al Qaeda is less well organized, with many of its top leaders eliminated, and is so broken into geographically disparate franchises that it is unable to recruit, train, and deploy a specialized cell to carry out a comparable catastrophic attack against America.

The fact that no al Qaeda terrorist attacks have been carried out in America over the last two years, while some 20 individuals have plotted to carry out attacks but were arrested and convicted during the pre-incident phases, is seen as evidence that this terrorist threat is decreasing domestically. Therefore, according to this thesis, security authorities should prepare for more numerous and frequently occurring but low casualty attacks mounted by less well-trained and capable homegrown operatives, particularly by what are termed "lone wolves." When a more complete compilation of all the components involved in terrorism are taken into account, however, the magnitude of the threat becomes much clearer and includes a higher likelihood of attempts to carry out catastrophic attacks as well as evidence that al Qaeda continues to recruit and prepare terrorist operatives in the United States. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

Joint Military Exercise Goes Forward Despite North Korea's Threats

March 11th 2013

South Korean marines

American and South Korean forces have begun an annual military exercise, labeled "Key Resolve,"despite North Korean threats to respond by voiding the armistice that ended the Korean War.

Pyongyang has also made a threat to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, although analysts believe North Korea is not currently capable of such an attack.

In an immediate response to the start of the military exercises on March 11, the North apparently carried out another threat to cut off the hot-line between Pyongyang and Seoul. Two checks of the phone connection by Seoul today went unanswered. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

18 Killed in Afghan Attacks During Hagel's Visit

March 9th 2013

Kabul Car Bomb

A suicide bomber riding a bicycle blew himself up outside the Afghan Defense Ministry Saturday while U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Kabul, but the Pentagon chief was nowhere near the scene. Another suicide bomber in the eastern city of Khost killed a policeman, children and other civilians. Together, the two incidents claimed 18 lives, and highlighted serious concerns about security in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the international forces in Afghanistan, Charlie Stadtlander, said Hagel was not in the defense ministry at the time. He said there was no apparent connection between the bombing and the Pentagon chief's visit to the Afghan capital. "I don't see any link at all. He was inside... a briefing and continued with his briefing," he said. "If you want to talk about the intentions of the attack, you're going to have to talk to the Taliban. We can't speak for their intentions." Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Pentagon Criticizes F-35 Contractors But Pays Nonetheless

March 8th 2013


Early returns are in from the first major flight tests of the new F-35 jet fighter, and they are not pretty. The radar malfunctioned, the fancy helmet visor didn’t work properly, and the radio and navigation systems were hard to operate. It was difficult to get the test planes ready for flight and keep them aloft — with just four hours of flying time between critical failures, on average.

And did we mention that it was, well, hard for the pilots to see out of the cockpit?

These shortcomings are  listed in a 48-page, Feb. 15 Pentagon report obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington, and published online this week. Signed by J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief testing officer, the report amounted to a detailed and damning “I told you so” by his office.

Gilmore had warned last July, in an earlier report leaked to outsiders, that the F-35 was not close to being ready for its “operational” flight tests. He said the plane’s many shortcomings at such an early stage of its development — it is just a third of the way along, he said — posed excessive risks for the pilots, and he expressed skepticism that the Air Force would learn much of anything useful. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Spillover Worries Iraqi Officials

March 7th 2013

Rebel fighters

The deepening sectarian conflict in Syria is aggravating an already tense sectarian divide in neighboring Iraq. Syrian rebel fighters and Iraqi government soldiers clashed near the Rabiya border post as it was captured by rebels last weekend.

Then on Monday, Iraqi officials said at least 42 Syrian soldiers who had sought refuge in Iraq were killed in a well-coordinated ambush by Iraqi Sunni insurgents. That attack in Iraq's restive western province of Anbar raised concerns that Iraq could be drawn into the Syrian civil war.

Iraq's Parliament Speaker Osama Nujaify, a Sunni, blasted the Iraqi army for allegedly taking sides in the conflict in Syria. Nujaify said that border incidents must be avoided and that the Iraqi army must not meddle in internal Syrian affairs so that Iraq's own deep internal conflict is not exacerbated by outside conflicts. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Report Says 54 Countries Offered Rendition Support

March 6th 2013

airplanes shadows

An international human rights group says 54 foreign governments participated in the U.S. intelligence agency's secret detention and rendition operations following terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The new report, prepared by the New York-based Open Society, is the most extensive description yet prepared by a nongovernmental organization concerning a highly classified program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The report details the fates of 136 known victims of the CIA's program to detain suspected terrorists and transfer them without legal process across national borders. Many of the suspects were transferred to foreign governments that used torture or sent to clandestine sites operated by the U.S. intelligence agency itself. The report, which comes more than 10 years after the 2001 attacks, says the CIA's goal was to place the detained suspects "beyond the reach of law" where they were subject to human rights abuses. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Kabul's Frustrations With Pakistan Boil Over

March 5th 2013


Pakistan's checkered role in Afghanistan has long attracted the anger and mistrust of Afghan officials. But while some might go so far as to privately accuse Islamabad of orchestrating violence in their country, such sentiments were routinely suppressed.

That all changed this week, when high-level Afghan officials publicly accused Islamabad and its notorious intelligence service, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI), of covertly supporting the Taliban and other extremist groups working against the government in Afghanistan.

First came Afghanistan's ex-spy chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, who on March 3 took the unprecedented step of calling for the United Nations to place the ISI on its global list of terrorist groups.

"A terrorist is blacklisted, but the person who issues the fatwa for them to act or who provides them with safe havens is not blacklisted. Any entity that gives support and shelter to terrorists must be blacklisted," Nabil said.

Nabil, who is deputy chairman of Afghanistan's National Security Council, also said Pakistan should not be allowed to participate in negotiations to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban.

"The Afghan government and people have done their outmost to forge a good relationship with Pakistan so we could, as Muslim neighbors, live together and create peace in Afghanistan and in the region," Nabil said. "But, unfortunately, we have never seen any positive steps from Pakistan. Instead, they fire rockets that shell our people and land while our clerics, tribes, and children are martyred by their terrorists." Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

What Sequestration Will Do to the Military

March 1st 2013

SS Independence

Sequestration, the automatic spending reductions scheduled to take effect March 1, will affect the U.S. military's ability to project force around the world. The current continuing resolution that Congress is using to fund the entire government until March 27 has already affected U.S. forces. The longer these funding cuts continue, the more degradation the U.S. military will incur, with longer-lasting effects.

The U.S. military, and particularly the Navy, is the most powerful force projection instrument in the world. When the sequester takes effect, it will immediately reduce military spending by 8 percent, with more than $500 billion in cuts to defense spending over 10 years divided equally among the military branches. The continuing resolution is already affecting the military since it has locked the military budget into 2011 spending levels and prevented spending increases or reallocations among various budgets. On March 27, Congress will have to have a new budget in place, extend the continuing resolution or force a government shutdown; the most likely decision will be to maintain the continuing resolution.

It is not the overall amount of the reductions that is damaging, necessarily; it is the way in which the cuts will be implemented. The across-the-board cuts required by the sequestration coupled with the limits set by the continuing resolution are constraining budget planners' options in how to absorb the spending reductions and thus are damaging all the military branches, programs, training, deployments and procurement. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Israel and U.S. Test Arrow 3 Interceptor

March 1st 2013

Arrow Missile System

Israel tested the Arrow 3 missile for the first time according to an Israeli Defense Ministry statement released Monday. The test, said to be completely successful by one Israeli official, took place along with U.S. forces over the Mediterranean Sea. Arrow 3 is designed to detect and destroy long range missiles headed towards Israel from countries like Iran.

Arrow 3 is "the most sophisticated system of its kind," according to Uzi Rubin, who oversaw development of the project. Unlike its predecessors, these new missiles can reach higher altitudes. The recent test flight was designed for the rocket to reach an exo-atmospheric trajectory, a path with the rocket leaving the atmosphere. The system can also target warheads carrying non-conventional, WMD payloads. The rocket is still in early stages of development with its propulsion and tracking systems also going through evaluations last month. Arrow 3 has not yet been tested against striking incoming projectiles but officials expect it to be deployed by 2016. Read more ..

The Edge of Security

Fire: The Overlooked Threat

February 28th 2013

Carmel Fire Winter 2010

People sometimes obsess over the potential threat posed by terrorist attacks that use things such as chemical weapons, electromagnetic pulses or dirty bombs. Yet they tend to discount the less exciting but very real threat posed by fire, even though fire kills thousands of people every year. The World Health Organization estimates that 195,000 people die each year from fire, while according to the Global Terrorism Database an average of 7,258 people die annually from terrorism, and that includes deaths in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are also instances in which fire is used as a weapon in a terrorist attack. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and embassy communications officer Sean Smith, the two diplomats killed in the attack on the U.S. office in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, did not die from gunfire or even rocket-propelled grenade strikes but from smoke inhalation. This fact was not lost on the U.S. Department of State Accountability Review Board that investigated the Benghazi attack. In an interview published by Reuters on Feb. 24, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the head of the Accountability Review Board, said more attention should be paid to the threat fire poses to diplomatic posts.  Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Denies Death of Nasrallah as Rumors Spread He is in Iran for Cancer Treatment

February 27th 2013

hassan nasrallah - hezbollah

Lebanon-based Shiite terror organization Hezbollah denied the death of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, Tuesday amid reports that he had been flown to Tehran to undergo cancer treatment.

The rumor of his death spread quickly on social media site Twitter, where purported screen shots of the Hezbollah-affiliated website Al Manar announcing Nasrallah’s death were posted. Hezbollah said the photos had been doctored, with the organization calling them a “cheap forgery.”

Monday a report emerged from Lebanese radio station the Voice of Lebanon that Nasrallah had been flown to Tehran for emergency medical treatment for severe cancer-related complications.

A different report from Lebanon claimed that Nasrallah had been flown to Iran after he was wounded in an attack by Syrian rebels during a meeting he was attending. The reports were attributed to “senior Hezbollah officials,” but there were no official confirmation of the reports from any other source. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel's Border Fences Go Hi-Tech

February 26th 2013

Border Fence

The Israeli website I-HLS.COM reports that fifteen soldiers have joined the ranks of the technicians maintaining the advanced fences that protect Israel, following the conclusion of the most recent cycle of the 'Border Alert Systems' training course. These technicians are responsible for hundreds of kilometers of fencing fitted with touch and motion sensors, which protect Israel from threats in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Lebanon and Sinai.

During the three-week training course, which took place at the Tzrifin training base, the participants learned to recognize every detail of the fences. According to the IDF, before being accepted to the training course, each of the new technicians was evaluated and given a sufficiently high physical profile to serve as a combat soldier who can respond if attacked on the border during a maintenance mission. The training course includes a broad range of content, but the emphasis is on the practical aspect. For that purpose, a fence of several meters was built at the instructional base for participants to practice locating and repairing malfunctions. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Tiny Flybots That can Hover, Stalk and Kill Targets

February 25th 2013

Cyber warriors

The U.S. Air Force is developing tiny unmanned drones that will fly in swarms, hover like bees, crawl like spiders and even sneak up on unsuspecting targets and execute them with lethal precision. The Air Vehicles Directorate, a research arm of the Air Force, has released a computer-animated video outlining the the future capabilities of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs). The project promises to revolutionize war by down-sizing the combatants.

'MAVs will become a vital element in the ever-changing war-fighting environment and will help ensure success on the battlefield of the future,' the narrator intones. 'Unobtrusive, pervasive, lethal - Micro Air Vehicles, enhancing the capabilities of the future war fighter.' Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

US, Allies Consider Leaving Up to 12,000 Troops in Afghanistan

February 23rd 2013

Brit with Afghani Soldier

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says NATO allies are considering leaving between 8,000 and 12,000 international troops in Afghanistan after 2014. The force would be left to help Afghans maintain stability in the country after most international troops pull out by the end of 2014.

The U.S. has said it has made no decision yet on how many of its troops will stay. Germany's defense minister offered a differing account, telling reporters Friday that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had mentioned 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. troops would remain. 

At a briefing before boarding his flight back to Washington, Panetta countered those remarks. “That report is not correct. We did discuss a range of options and what we discussed was a range of options that would be directed to the NATO force overall, which includes both the U.S. force contribution that we would make, plus what other NATO countries would contribute as well,” said Panetta. U.S. officials say the range of international troops to remain - including Americans - is between 8,000 and 12,000. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

U.S. Eases Visa Process For Chinese Despite Cyber Attacks

February 22nd 2013


On the same day that a report revealed that Chinese military officials perpetrated the cyber theft of an enormous amount of U.S. government confidential information and private corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration on Wednesday announced it will make it easier for Chinese citizens to obtain American visas. According to officials familiar with the plans, the White House released a new report on Wednesday that describes steps the U.S. military, intelligence community, law enforcement agencies and private-sector security directors may take to turn the tide against cyber stealing linked to the Chinese government.

At the same time the U.S. State Department is planning to launch a new application policy for non-immigrant visa applicants from China in spite of the cyberterrorism and corporate espionage alledgedly perpetrated by the Chinese government. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Jihadist Suspected in Damascus Car Bombing

February 21st 2013

Car Bomb

More than 50 people died when a car bomb exploded in the Mazraa neighborhood of Damascus on Thursday. Syrian state TV reported 200 people were injured from the blast close to the city center. Opposition activists and local residents also report three more bombings in Damascus that day and a mortar attack on the Syrian Army's General staff headquarters.

Bystanders described the bomb exploding at a security checkpoint between the ruling Ba'ath party headquarters and the Russian embassy. "Everything in the shop turned upside down" said one witness with the windows at the Russian Embassy also blown out. Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesman Hussam Nassar denied the main rebel group played a role in the attack. Targeting a checkpoint near schools and hospitals was inappropriate he said, blaming the attack on the Syrian government. Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Syria Claims It Shot Down Israeli Drone

February 21st 2013


Syria claims its forces have downed an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near the border with Lebanon.

A report broadcast Wednesday on Syria's state-run Mayadeen TV claimed government forces shot down the drone over the village of Deir al Ashayer, about 15 miles west of Damascus and not far from where an alleged Israeli  strike on a chemical weapons processing plant took place last month.

A separate report published by the Damas Post quoted local witnesses who said they saw a surface-to-air missile fired from Syria hit the drone, and burning wreckage falling from the sky over the eastern Lebanese village of Yanta. The event was not reported in the Syrian state-run SANA news agency, and there was no comment by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Diplomacy is a Necessary but Dangerous Business

February 20th 2013

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2
U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in flames following terrorism.

In her farewell letter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted the need for American leadership and the continuing impulse in American foreign policy for the United States to be a “force for good”. That signifies engagement. Unfortunately, that engagement has too often been military action, followed by Foreign Service and civilian efforts to build the blocks of democracy at the same time reconstructing stones and fabrics which have been torn down. What is termed American “expeditionary diplomacy” is not new to the post 9/11 world.

Once upon a time there was Vietnam. I remember the push for Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) to be out there in the provinces as “political advisors” to Province Chiefs. I was enthusiastically briefed on the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program which would remake South Vietnam. A personnel officer proudly showed me his M-16 hanging behind his State Department desk and he underlined the need for FSOs to be armed and competitive with the Department of Defense. Vietnamese language training would prepare you to understand and to influence. All that did not work out. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Government Airstrike Destroys Damascus City Block

February 20th 2013

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012

A Syrian government airstrike over a Damascus suburb on Wednesday destroyed parts of a city block, killing or wounding dozens. The strike came amid intensified government shelling of rebel-held districts in and around the capital in recent days.

Young men screamed and cursed as they dug through the rubble of burning and collapsed buildings to pull out victims of a government airstrike in the Damascus suburb of Hamouriya. A live webcam broadcast showed a large city block engulfed in fire, as smoke poured from the ruins.

Fire and rescue vehicles arrived at the scene to try to douse dozens of burning shops, cars and buildings. Young men used crowbars to pry open smoldering vehicles and remove bodies, as ambulances ferried survivors away from the blast site. Elsewhere, witnesses reported intense bouts of shelling and multiple airstrikes by government forces in southern and eastern rebel-held districts of Damascus and its suburbs. A top rebel officer reportedly was wounded in one such government attack on the besieged suburb of Daraya. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

US Firm Links Chinese Army to Cyber Attacks

February 19th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

A U.S.-based Internet security group is accusing the Chinese government of involvement in a sophisticated campaign of cyber attacks against American businesses, government and critical infrastructure.

A 60-page report released Tuesday by Mandiant details dozens of attacks by a prolific, China-based hacker group it says is using "direct government support" to wage a "long-running and extensive cyber espionage campaign."

Mandiant says the group, referred to as APT1, has stolen massive amounts of data from nearly 150 organizations, mostly located in the United States, since 2006. It does not name the targets, but says they span 20 major industries, ranging from IT to financial services. It says it has traced the activities of the group to a Shanghai neighborhood surrounding the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army's secretive unit 61398, which Internet security analysts previously linked to cyber attacks. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Leader Threatens to Destroy Israeli Ports and Power Plants

February 18th 2013


Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday that he would not comment on a recent Bulgarian report finding that members of the Lebanese terrorist group carried out an attack that killed five Israeli tourists last summer, saying only that the "issue is being followed calmly and closely."

Speaking to hundreds of supporters via video link, Nasrallah said Israel had already accused his terrorist group of being behind the attack before the Bulgarian report was released. Nasrallah also warned the Jewish state against attacking Lebanon, saying Hezbollah's response would be harsh. The July 18 bombing at an airport in Bulgaria's Black Sea resort of Burgas killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver. As well as the bomber, who was also killed and whose identity has not been established, two other men are suspected of involvement in the attack. The names of the two other suspects, who are believed to still be alive, have not been made public. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

A Hair Trigger for the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia and the U.S.

February 16th 2013

Click to select Image

According to the American Federation of Scientists, the United States and Russia have an estimated 1,800 nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles that are on alert and ready to launch on short notice. France and Britain also keep some of their nuclear force on alert, although at lower readiness levels than the United States and Russia. No other nuclear weapon state has nuclear weapons on alert.

In a new report entitled Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons (published by UN Institute for Disarmament Research), Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, and Dr. Matthew McKinzie, Senior Scientist in the Nuclear Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, examine how the current alert levels exceed current and future security needs and undercut efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons.

The report finds that the United States and Russia previously have reduce the alert levels of their nuclear forces and recommends that both countries continue this process by removing the remaining nuclear weapons from alert through a phased approach to ensure stability and develop consultation and verification measures. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Soft Targets Back in Focus

February 14th 2013


Obviously, individuals desiring to launch a terrorist attack seek to strike the highest-profile, most symbolic target possible. If it is well known, the target can magnify the terror, especially when the operation grabs the attention of international media. Such extensive exposure not only allows people around the globe to be informed minute by minute about unfolding events, but it also permits them to become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased exposure also ensures that the audience affected by the operation becomes far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of the attack. The attack on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens led to months of media coverage that has included televised congressional hearings and fierce partisan and bureaucratic squabbles in the media. It was the terrorist equivalent of winning the lottery. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Economic Confidence Eroded: Virtual Currency & HFT

February 13th 2013

International Currency 3

The latest worry among those who are concerned about the digitalization of commerce and the erosion of market confidence seems to be the growing phenomenon of virtual or "alternative" currency. The originator of virtual currency as an easy-to-use convenience was one Satoshi Nakamoto, who created Bitcoin. Its website explains:

"Bitcoin is one of the first implementations of a concept called crypto-currency which was first described in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list. Building upon the notion that money is any object, or any sort of record, accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context, Bitcoin is designed around the idea of using cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money, rather than relying on central authorities."

Unlike actual currency, Bitcoin does not rely on issuance by a central bank or government, and fluctuates in value outside the traditional money markets: "Bitcoin has more than doubled in the past 12 months, strengthening to $16.37 from $5.88, according to data from Mt. Gox, the world's largest bitcoin exchange. The money, issued by a decentralized network of computers, has recovered after falling to $2.14 in November 2011 from a high of $29.58 five months earlier." (Emphasis added). Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

No Longer a Bystander to Revolution

February 12th 2013

Israeli Jet Diving

Depending on what one believes, a week-and-a-half ago Israeli fighter jets struck either an arms convoy in Lebanon, the Assad regime's nerve center for biological and chemical weapons research in Damascus, or an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) headquarters, in an attempt to contain the spillover from the Syrian civil war. Irrespective of the targets, the misnamed "Arab Spring" has finally ensnared Israel, which, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has endeavored to avoid being dragged into the unraveling chaos of the Arab uprisings.

Careful to eschew a public role that could shine the spotlight on "Israel" and the accompanying anti-Semitic conspiracies, Jerusalem has said little, done less, and hoped that the revolutionary tidal wave would not sweep away too many of Israel's regional security maxims. Fearful of both instability and Islamist ascendancy, Israel's strategy has been defensive, clutching to the status quo as best it could. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Obama Administration to Issue Cyber-Security Order

February 12th 2013

Click to select Image

The White House is poised to release an executive order aimed at thwarting cyberattacks against critical infrastructure on Wednesday, two people familiar with the matter told The Hill. The highly anticipated directive from President Obama is expected to be released at a briefing Wednesday morning at the U.S. Department of Commerce, where senior administration officials will provide an update about cybersecurity policy.

The executive order would establish a voluntary program in which companies operating critical infrastructure would elect to meet cybersecurity best practices and standards crafted, in part, by the government. Observers are expecting the president to briefly mention the need for the country to improve its defenses against cyberattacks during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Read more ..

Nuclear Edge

Obama Likely to Reduce U.S. Nuclear Warheads

February 11th 2013

Misslle in Silo

Senior Obama administration officials have agreed that the number of nuclear warheads the U.S. military deploys could be cut by at least a third without harming national security, according to sources involved in the deliberations.

They said the officials’ consensus agreement, not yet announced, opens the door to billions of dollars in military savings that might ease the federal deficit and improve prospects for a new arms deal with Russia before the president leaves office. But it is likely to draw fire from conservatives, if previous debate on the issue is any guide.

The results of the internal review are reflected in a draft of a classified decision directive prepared for Obama’s signature that guides how U.S. nuclear weapons should be targeted in the future against potential foes, according to four sources with direct knowledge of it. The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to a reporter about the review, described the president as fully on board, but said he has not signed the document.

The document directs the first detailed Pentagon revisions in U.S. targeting since 2009, when the military’s nuclear war planners last took account of a substantial shrinkage — roughly by half from 2000 to 2008 — in the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. It makes clear that an even smaller nuclear force can still meet all defense requirements. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Senior Senate Dems Push for Oversight of Armed Drone Strikes

February 10th 2013

The top Democrats on the Senate intelligence and judiciary panels are planning hearings to consider establishing new authorities for federal courts to oversee the use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets worldwide.
That authority would likely be patterned after the intelligence oversight responsibilities under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, told reporters. FISA established a special federal court to approve surveillance on suspected foreign spies working inside the United States.

Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have also indicated "their concern and interest" in introducing some sort of FISA-like legal check on the administration's authority to execute armed drone strikes, the California Democrat said. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Iraq Hit by Multiple Bombings

February 9th 2013

Car bomb and kid Baghdad 2012

Four car bomb explosions shook parts of Iraq Friday, killing at least 26 people. Workers swept away shards of glass and other rubble after a car bomb tore through a flea market selling birds and animals in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad. Another car-bomb blast hit the capital while two other attacks occurred in the Shi'ite town of Hilla.

It was the fourth time in under three weeks that devastating explosions have hit Shi'ite or pro-government targets in the country. ​​The bombings come as sectarian tensions escalate between the Sunni opposition and Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In the northern city of Mosul, thousands of Sunni demonstrators chanted slogans against the government, as religious leaders called on Mr. Maliki to meet their demands. One Sunni sheikh who addressed the crowd said Sunnis have their rights and that the government must release prisoners he says were arrested "arbitrarily." He also demanded that parliament be dissolved and that an anti-Ba'ath party law be repealed. Read more ..

Electronic Edge

Bush Family Bush-Wacked by Hackers

February 8th 2013

A criminal inquiry was launched on February 8 into an apparent hack of  email accounts belonging to former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as other members of the Bush clan.

"There's a criminal investigation under way," Jim McGrath, according to AFP. McGrath is a spokesman for the elder ex-president Bush (88), who was recently hospitalized. This followed reports that private Bush family communications had been accessed.

"I can't get into the specifics," McGrath added. McGrath compiled Heartbeat: George Bush in his own words, a book the offered selected quotes from the 41st president of the United States. Read more ..

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