The Edge of Terrorism
A congressionally approved $75 million cash influx for American-led counterterrorism operations in Yemen and East Africa is the latest sign of a quietly escalating war against terrorist factions in the region.
The money was part of the $631 billion defense budget bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Those funds will finance DOD efforts to support ongoing counterterrorism offensives against al Qaeda's terror cells in Yemen and East Africa, according to the legislation.
The Yemen cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is known as one of the most active and dangerous al Qaeda factions operating today. The CIA recently foiled an AQAP plot to blow up a commercial airliner bound for the United States from Yemen through a double agent run by British and Saudi intelligence.
Al Shabab, the East African faction of al Qaeda, has been carrying out terrorist attacks against African Union forces in and around Somalia since the 1990's. The al Qaeda affiliate recently combined forces with the African-based Islamic fundamentalists group Boko Haram to expand its attacks against government targets along Africa's eastern shores. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Aaron Y. Zelin ||May 27th 2012|
Syria suffered its worst terror attack in decades this month when two car bombs exploded near a military intelligence branch in Damascus, killing 55 people and wounding hundreds more. Syria's state-run news agency was quick to publish gruesome pictures of the victims of the attack, which President Bashar al-Assad's regime pinned on "foreign-backed terrorist groups."
At first, the Syrian regime seemed to have evidence to back up its case. On May 12, a video was distributed on YouTube, purportedly from a Palestinian branch of the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusrah ("The Victory Front" or JN), claiming credit for the attack. But the release turned out to be a fake: On May 14, JN released a statement denying that it was behind the video. At the same time, it did not deny conducting the attack. Rather, JN's media outlet said it had yet to hear from JN's military commanders if they perpetrated the bombings. Whether or not JN was involved in the Damascus attack, the organization has become a real force in recent weeks -- and one that threatens to undermine the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the loose network of defectors and local militia fighting the government. Its main goals are to awaken Muslims to the atrocities of the Assad regime, and eventually take control of the state and implement its narrow and puritanical interpretation of Islamic law. To that end, in the past month alone, JN has perpetrated a series of suicide bombings and IED strikes -- and the pace of attacks seems to be growing. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Brendan Sasso||May 27th 2012|
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) questioned whether gas pipelines are vulnerable to cyberattacks in a letter on May 24th to the president of a gas trade association. Hackers recently attacked computer networks managing several major gas pipelines, although it is unclear how much damage they caused.
Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the attacks "remind all of us that these threats are real and that we must take steps to protect our country from threats to critical infrastructure." Rockefeller is one of the leading supporters of a Senate bill that would give the Homeland Security Department the authority to force critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines or electrical grids, to meet minimum cybersecurity standards. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Steve Herman||May 27th 2012|
A high-level U.S. delegation focused on North Korean matters met with South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Seoul May 21st. The group had words of warning for North Korea. Key U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats held talks for the first time since North Korea's provocative rocket launch attempt last month. The rocket exploded less than two minutes into its flight. Host envoy Lim Sung-nam said if Pyongyang is willing to take a different path it would "lead North Korea to the right side of peace."
Pledge of unified response
But the diplomats are also pledging a unified response should Pyongyang go ahead with any more provocations, such as a third attempted nuclear test. Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, warned Pyongyang that such an act would prove to be a serious miscalculation. "This new regime in Pyongyang saw that the world community, the international community, was united in reacting to the missile launch on April 13th," he said. "And so they know if they engage in another provocation, such as a nuclear test, they will once again be subject to a united action by the international community." Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Zachary Lichaa||May 25th 2012|
A senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces says there have been 20 attempts to kidnap IDF soldiers in 2012 to date by Arab and Palestinian terrorist groups. “Terror groups are constantly on patrol looking for situations they can take advantage of,” the officer said. “Their preference is for soldiers, because they feel that can extract the highest price for them.”
Israel’s release of over 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit has gone a long way to increasing the threat of kidnappings, the officer says, which is now considered a concern at all times of the day, while in the past, specific threat alerts have gone out when intelligence found an increased risk. The IDF has altered there instructions for personnel operating in the Judea and Samaria region, telling them to ”not stand alone at an intersection, do not stand at a bus or transport station alone, make sure you are in constant touch with touch with your commanders, and report any unusual activity.” The officer also noted the kidnapping risks for Jews living and traveling outside of Israel. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
On Wednesday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent out two biting letters in response to the internal CIA and Department of Defense email messages obtained by a leading public-interest group regarding the planned Sony Pictures movie on the mission in which a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden.
Once the documents were released by Judicial Watch officials, who obtained them via a court order following the group's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the more questions about national security taking a backseat to political ambition arose, according to a report by the Law Enforcement Examiner. Advertisement “Filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal may have set out to tell a blockbuster, election-year story about one of the most highly classified operations in American history, but through these emails they’ve ended up telling a damning story of extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration with top officials at the CIA, DoD, and the White House and a top Democratic lobbying firm,” Congressman King stated. “After reviewing these emails, I am even more concerned about the possible exposure of classified information to these filmmakers, who as far as I know, do not possess security clearances. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Scott Stewart||May 24th 2012|
We have recent seen a thwarted underwear bomb plot, as well as the U.S. government's easing the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen, as an opportunity to examine the role of exceptional individuals in militant groups that conduct terrorist attacks. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP's) innovative bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is one such individual.
Reported by AP on May 7, the news of the thwarted underwear plot overshadowed another event in Yemen that occurred May 6: a U.S. airstrike in Shabwa province that killed Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni militant wanted for his involvement in the attack against the USS Cole in October 2000. Al-Quso appeared in a video released by AQAP's al-Malahim Media in May 2010, during which he threatened attacks against the continental United States, its embassy in Yemen and warships in the waters surrounding Yemen.
The media and the U.S. government frequently mention al-Quso's involvement in the USS Cole bombing, but they rarely discuss his precise duty the day of the attack. Al-Quso had been tasked to record the attack from ashore so that the video could be used later in al Qaeda propaganda. Unfortunately for the group, al-Quso was derelict in his duty; he slept through his alarm, and the attack went unrecorded. Oversleeping a terrorist attack was not al-Quso's only operational gaffe. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, al-Quso had been dispatched in January 2001 to transport money to al Qaeda facilitator Walid bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The money reportedly funded the travel and initial living expenses of 9/11 operatives Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Midhar. However, al-Quso failed to get a Malaysian visa. He was stuck in Bangkok, and bin Attash, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar had to meet him in Bangkok to retrieve the funds. Read more ..
From VOA and Agencies
Iran rejected the stance of world powers in talks over its disputed nuclear program on May 24th. The two sides were meeting for a second day in Baghdad in an attempt to resolve international concerns about potential military dimensions to the Iranian nuclear program. At issue is Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity. Iran says its enrichment work is meant for medical research and generating electricity.
Western nations fear Iran could quickly upgrade its uranium to the 90 percent purity needed for nuclear weapons. Iran criticized the proposal from the six-nation group, saying it makes too many demands of Iran while offering too little in return. Western powers have rebuffed Tehran's call for an immediate easing of economic sanctions.
In turn, Iran accused world powers Thursday of creating a “difficult atmosphere” with its demands. The world powers group includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Talks were scheduled through late afternoon. But Iran is signaling the impasse is significant and could derail further talks. The French news agency quoted an Iranian official as saying “the basis for another round of negotiations does not exist yet.” Read more ..
America on Edge
The new defense authorization act all but erases decades of U.S. government compliance with the letter and the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act 1878, a law that prohibits the use of the U.S. military to perform law enforcement functions within the United States, according to police officials and others opposed to the militarizing of American law enforcement.
Provisions in the new authorization act allow military reservists -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- to be called to duty and deployed in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency within the homeland, as well as mobilization of reserve units to support counterterrorism and security missions overseas, according to the American Forces Press Service's Donna Miles.
"Except for a crisis involving a weapon of mass destruction, the reserves historically have been prohibited from providing a homeland disaster response," Army Lt. General Jack C. Stultz, the Army Reserve chief, told reporters on May 18. Originally, such deployments were the duty of National Guard, which are under the control of state governors who would call in guardsman as needed to support civil police forces, fire departments and other emergency personnel. Read more ..
|Michael Singh ||May 24th 2012|
Given that Wednesday's Iran nuclear talks in Baghdad are unlikely to produce a decisive outcome, a central challenge for U.S. and EU-3 (i.e., British, French, and German) negotiators will be to manage the tension between a slow-moving diplomatic process and the much faster progress of Iran's nuclear program and international sanctions, as well as possible Israeli military plans to stymie the program. For Washington, resolving that challenge means insisting on measures from Iran that bring its nuclear weapons progress to a full stop, allowing sanctions to continue expanding during the talks, and coordinating closely with regional allies regarding acceptable outcomes.
The April 13-14 nuclear talks in Istanbul were reportedly characterized by a positive "atmosphere," but little if any discussion of substance. Neither the P5+1 (i.e., the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) nor Iran put forward proposals, and the only agreed outcome was to hold a second round of talks and, in the interim, "expert-level" consultations between Ali Bagheri, deputy to Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, and Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
In the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States government found it necessary to garner the commitment and cooperation of foreign police and security departments to combat al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, according to a government report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Examiner yesterday.
The U.S. government provided close to $14 billion for foreign police assistance during fiscal years 2009 through 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of the House of Representatives.
The GAO report states that funds provided by U.S. agencies rose and then fell between fiscal years 2009 and 2011. During fiscal years 2009 through 2011, the United States provided the greatest amount of its foreign police assistance to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Colombia, Mexico, and the Palestinian Territories. All of the funds were earmarked for anti-terrorist training and equipment except for Mexico, which is in the midst of a bloody "war" with its Drug Cartels and organized crime. Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|George Friedman||May 24th 2012|
Since the Sinaloa Federation announced its incursion into Los Zetas-controlled Nuevo Laredo by displaying seven dismembered bodies with a narcomanta in the border city March 26, the cartels and their allies have waged a dueling campaign of such displays.
The victims in the displays have been low-level cartel members -- if they had cartel connections at all -- meaning their killings offered little tactical advantage to their executioners. Instead, these public displays of violence are intended to convey messages to the public, to undermine their rivals' support bases and to put pressure from military and law enforcement on their rivals. Narcomantas are useful for spreading disinformation, particularly when paired with large displays of corpses. This is because authorities rarely verify claims of authorship on narcomantas, which provides a low-risk opportunity for organized criminal groups to create a narcomanta and attribute it to whomever they wish. Typically, the cartels falsely attribute narcomantas to rivals to attract or deflect pressure from law enforcement or the military. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
U.S. Congressman Peter King (R-NY) is demanding answers about an alleged leak by the Obama Administration of classified information regarding the British infiltration of al-Qaeda by an MI6 (Military Intelligence Section 6) "asset" and the successful counterterrorism operation that allegedly thwarted a possible terrorist plot involving an upgraded version of the infamous "underwear bomb."
In a letter to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller, King stated that the investigation -- and those individuals investigated -- should include anyone who had access to the top secret information of the al-Qaeda infiltration. King wrote that this leak: jeopardized the life of a unique intelligence source; caused the operation to be aborted before its potential was maximized; and allowed critical intelligence relationships to be damaged.
About 10 days after the frenzied news media detailed highly classified information about a reported anti-terror operation involving al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Representative Peter T. King (R-New York), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, formally requested that FBI director Robert Mueller launch a full inquiry of the widely reported leaks of the information in the case. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
A Washington, DC-based group that investigates, exposes, and combats government corruption at the highest levels, surprised members of the news industry by obtaining documents that one source said "were almost as hard to get from the Obama administration as buying a winning lottery ticket at the local grocery store." What is revealed in these records is disturbing, even shocking, say a number of counterterrorism and political experts.
The noted -- and feared by a number of politicos -- public-interest organization, Judicial Watch, reported on May 21 that its officials obtained records from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency regarding meetings and communications between Obama-run federal agencies and veteran filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow, the ex-wife of director James Cameron (Titanic), garnered an Oscar for her direction of The Hurt Locker, an acclaimed motion picture about a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq at the height of the insurgency.
According to the newly obtained records, the Obama Defense Department granted Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal access to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” the special forces unit that killed the world's most famous and most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, in a daring covert operation inside Pakistan on May 1, 2011. Read more ..
Afganistan on Edge
As the Afghan government struggles to reach a negotiated peace settlement with insurgents while international troops prepare to withdraw, a previously marginal militant group has answered with a resounding "no.”
Until recently, little was heard of the Mullah Dadullah Front, an extremist militant group that operates mainly out of southern Afghanistan. But that has changed with the group claiming responsibility for the assassination of a key negotiator for the High Peace Council, the government's main avenue for peace talks, and for sending death threats to Kabul lawmakers. The front takes the name of a former radical Taliban commander who was killed in a U.S-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007, and Afghan intelligence officials have described the group as a Taliban faction.
Despite having vowed to target members of the High Peace Council, the Taliban was quick to distance itself from the recent assassination and has publicly stated that it is not affiliated with the Mullah Dadullah Front. Mohammad Yasin Zia, deputy chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence body, says that although details about the group are sketchy its recent actions show the group's clear opposition to peace talks and to an extended American military presence in the country. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Tafline Laylin||May 22nd 2012|
Biomimicry is one of the smartest contemporary approaches to design, so it was inevitable that Israeli researchers would apply this science to their military designs. Like the Iranian home that mimics a snail’s form in order to stay cool and a bottle inspired by the Namib desert beetle that can harvest water in one of the driest places on earth, Israel Aerospace Industries’ (AIA) latest insect drone, their smallest to date at only 20 grams, takes its intelligence, form and other properties from one of nature’s finest creatures: the butterfly.
An indoor butterfly
The Butterfly drone can perform tricks that have never before been achieved by a surveillance device. It can fly indoors, thereby enabling covert information gathering during meetings inside buildings, at train stations and other public buildings as well as outdoors, and it is equipped with a tiny 0.15 gram camera that takes color photographs. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Heather Maher||May 22nd 2012|
NATO has announced that its long-planned European missile shield is up and running, with a basic capability to shoot down incoming missiles. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the announcement at the end of the first day of the NATO summit in Chicago.
Rasmussen said the shield's "interim capability" stage is the first step in the goal of providing full coverage and protection for all NATO Europe populations, territory, and forces from threats outside the Euro-Atlantic area by 2022. Russia has vociferously opposed the missile shield, calling it a national-security threat despite U.S. insistence it is meant to defend against missiles from Iran or other rogue states. With the missile-shield announcement, leaders crossed off one of their three stated priorities for the two-day meeting. The other two include a plan to keep the military alliance strong and relevant in the 21st century and, more immediately, agreeing how NATO will help Afghanistan attain peace and stability after combat operations end in 2014. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The city of London is preparing to host one of the largest turnouts of foreign visitors in its history as the 2012 Olympics fast approaches. The London Olympic Games opening ceremony will be held on July 27, 2012, with the closing celebration scheduled for August 12, 2012.
The Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games in London assured participants and visitors that the military and police anti-terror operations won’t interfere with the games, and that all "foreign tourists would be welcomed with open arms." But behind the scenes United Kingdom police, security and military commanders are making certain that terrorists or criminals don't take advantage of the British extending the red carpet to visitors.
The Chairman, Lord Coe, also promised that all the recent declarations on troops and military deployments would be executed in a proportional as well as balanced manner. “There has to be proportionality here. You don`t want people coming to London thinking they`ve walked into a siege city, being filmed every 20 paces they take and being bundled off pavements,” said Coe.“There is no appetite for risk. Everybody knows this is a complex, complicated world and this is a big global city. But we also want people to come here and leave feeling they've had an extraordinary time and want to come back,” he stated. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Edward Yeranian||May 21st 2012|
Yemeni officials said a suicide bomber has killed at least 96 soldiers and wounded more than 200 during a military parade rehearsal in the capital Sana'a. Officials said the bomber was dressed in a military uniform and detonated his explosives while hundreds of soldiers were around him. Yemen's defense minister was at Monday's rehearsal but was unharmed.
The soldiers were preparing for a parade on Tuesday to mark the unification of Yemen's north and south. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was due to attend the parade. Reports by Yemen's state television showed dozens of soldiers sprawled on the ground. At a nearby military hospital, doctors worked to save badly wounded soldiers.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But it coincides with a U.S.-backed Yemeni government offensive against al-Qaida militants who seized parts of the country's south last year as it was engulfed in a popular uprising against then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Hadi, who succeeded Mr. Saleh in February, has vowed to fight the growing presence of the terrorist network's regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Read more ..
Peru on Edge
|Martin Barillas||May 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
One of the oldest indigenous communities of Peru, which predates the Conquest, now finds itself between the hammer of the Peruvian government and the anvil of remnants of Sendero Luminoso – the ‘Shining Path’ Maoist communists who plagued the Andean republic for decades. The Machiguenga people of the mid-altitude forested slopes of the Andes and the Amazon Basin now appear to be suffering a reprise of a conflict that was initiated by Sendero in 1980. Sendero was well-known for its brutal tactics, which included the murder of uncooperative peasants.
The Peruvian government, under President Alberto Fujimori, was largely successful in combating the Maoist group but at the cost of numerous human rights violations and disappearances of persons associated with Sendero. The group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured in 1992, even while armed encounters with government forces continue sporadically. Between 1980 and 2000, some 70,000 Peruvians perished or disappeared as a result of the conflict.
The damage caused by the armed conflict near Cusco, in the province of La Convención, has been varied. These included casualties on the part of the army and police, as well as innocent civilians. The decades-long conflict, which continues sporadically, has meant that Peru has had a revolving door of ministers with portfolios for Defense and Internal Affairs. Home-made bombs and mines continue to claim lives. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Terrence Sterling||May 20th 2012|
VOA and Agencies
A Syrian rights group says security forces have attacked a rebellious town in the country's central province of Hama, killing 16 people including children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government artillery and gunfire hit the town of Souran on Sunday. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded near a team of U.N. officials and journalists who were touring the Douma suburb of Damascus. No one was hurt by the blast, which happened about 150 meters away from the group that included visiting U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and the head of U.N. observers in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood. A Syrian security official said gunmen had been active in Douma prior to the explosion, attacking and wounding about 30 security personnel. Recent fighting between government and rebel forces in the district has left its streets largely deserted. Douma has been been a major center of the 14-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
An alleged intelligence leak regarding a covert operation that thwarted an "underwear bomb" plot last week is now creating distrust and ill feelings within the U.S. intelligence community and has led to increased talk about intelligence leaks at the highest levels of government, according to terrorism experts on Friday.
Former Central Intelligence Agency officers are openly blaming President Barack Obama, his administration, and possibly his campaign committee for undermining national security and compromising the British domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, for political reasons, according to a U.S. counterterrorism source who requested anonymity.
"When presidents are in trouble because of their failing domestic agenda, they attempt to look presidential by getting involved in military or intelligence operations. And Obama has taken that to a whole new level," said the source. During an appearance on Fox New Channel, FNC's regular intelligence analyst Mike Scheur, a former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit under George W. Bush, said the leaking of British involvement was "despicable and would make a repeat of the operation [that thwarted an attack] difficult." Read more ..
The Edge of Defense
|Pete Kasperowicz and Jeremy Herb||May 19th 2012|
On May 18th the House approved a sweeping defense authorization bill for 2013 that calls for the construction of an East Coast missile defense system in the United States by the end of 2015. The bill obligates $100 million next year to plan for the site, but the project would cost billions of dollars in later years that has yet to be funded. The language was derided by a House Democrat as an "East Coast Star Wars fantasy base" but nonetheless escaped further scrutiny during floor debate Wednesday and Thursday on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
By afternoon, members approved the bill in a 299-120 vote after approving dozens of amendments, some after fierce debate that revealed disagreements on issues such as detainee policy, nuclear cooperation with Russia and the speed of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Seventy-seven Democrats support the bill, while 16 Republicans opposed it. The NDAA authorizes $643 billion in spending for the Department of Defense and overseas contingency operations, $8 billion above the spending caps in last year's Budget Control Act (BCA) and $3.7 billion higher than President Obama's request. The House authorization level will lead to a showdown with the Senate, which is marking up the authorization bill in committee next week, because the Democratic-led Senate is expected authorize funding roughly at the President's level. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
Syrian government troops pounded the rebel stronghold, Rastan, and parts of the flashpoint city, Homs, Friday, amid widespread anti-government protests across the country. Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations observer forces urged both the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue to end the violence. Witnesses say Syrian security forces fired tear-gas and live rounds to break up a student protest in Aleppo Friday. The demonstration was billed as the largest of its kind in Syria's northern commercial hub since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The protests come after Syrian security forces disrupted a student demonstration in Aleppo on Thursday. Video taken from a U.N. vehicle in Aleppo Thursday showed security forces beating student protesters. On Friday, Syrian state television showed an empty boulevard in front of Aleppo University's medical college, saying there were “no significant demonstrations.” But video posted by opposition groups on the Internet showed large crowds gathering in the streets. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Martin Barillas||May 18th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been playing coy with the world’s oil markets, having been routinely switching off satellite tracking systems on oil tankers for more than a month. Iran began using the tactic in April 2012, which affects about one quarter of its fleet, according to the International Energy Agency. Currently, only 1 tanker out of 38 is now complying with satellite tracking. While it violates international maritime law, the practice serves to cloak the positions of the huge ships as they seek ports and buyers willing to violate sanctions on Iran. Without the tracking, the efficacy of oil sanctions on Iran is difficult to determine. Currently, Iran is also hobbled by sanctions on its bank transactions.
Dependent on petroleum for the bulk of its export income and government spending, Iran is in an increasingly perilous situation as it faces tightening restrictions imposed by the West. With its revenues sagging, Iran now faces a glut of oil that is being stored in land-based depots, and on its vessels at sea.
Sanctions have cut off Iranian shippers’ access to maritime insurance, mostly underwritten in Europe, and making Iran ever more dependent on its own fleet of 39 tankers, including 25 super-tankers, according to the IEA. After being pressured by the United States, Lloyd’s Register said last month that it is closing its office in Iran and stop certifying the safety of Iranian ships. Their certification is needed by ships seeking entry at most of the world’s ports. This steps up the pressure on Iran, which was already facing the end of its relationship with Norway’s Det Norske Veritas, another ship classification organization. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Aaron Y. Zelin and Andrew J. Tabler||May 18th 2012|
The Washington Institute
On May 12 a video posted to YouTube purporting to be from the Palestinian branch of the Syrian jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra (The Victory Front; JN) claimed responsibility for the May 9 twin car bombings near a security complex in Damascus that killed more than fifty-five individuals and wounded hundreds. And, while JN appears to be a genuine extremist group, it is not clear whether it was responsible for either the attack or the video. The video raises disturbing questions about the Assad regime's possible manipulation of jihadists based on its past relationships with these groups.
The terror outfit Jabhat al-Nusra first trumpeted its existence on January 24, 2012, when it released a video through its media outlet al-Manarah al-Bayda (the White Minaret). The release directly to online global jihadi forums suggested that they were a legitimate group, which was later confirmed when a few top jihadi ideologues backed JN activities. Since January, JN has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Yaakov Lappin ||May 18th 2012|
Since the shock announcement last week of the formation of a national unity government in Israel, there has been much speculation over what caused Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz to join forces with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's governing Likud Party. The coalition government was formed just a few days after new elections were announced for September. Now, in light of the new coalition, elections have been put off to 2013.
Before joining the Netanyahu's government, Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff and Defense Minister, has used his time in the opposition to attack Netanyahu's policies in the harshest of terms, going as far as to brand him a "liar" recently (during their joint press conference to announce the new coalition, Mofaz said the two had put the issue "behind them").
By joining the unity government so soon after repeatedly vowing not to do so, Mofaz, who replaced Tzippi Livni as head of Kadima, has damaged his credibility for the present time at least, leading many to ask what gains Mofaz saw in the move. Some political analysts say Mofaz's poor elections prospects - Kadima under his leadership dropped to just eight projected Knesset seats in recent polls - pushed him into Netanyahu's arms. According to this argument, elections in September would have resulted in the collapse of Mofaz and the Kadima Party as relevant political forces. Read more ..
Korea on Edge
VOA and Agencies
New satellite images show North Korea has resumed construction on a new nuclear reactor, despite international criticism. The U.S.-Korea Institute, operated by Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), says images taken by a commercial satellite on April 30 show Pyongyang has made progress on a light water reactor at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
North Korea says the reactor is intended to generate electricity, but in a blog post on its website, the institute says the reactor clearly indicates Pyongyang's intention "to move forward" on expanding its nuclear weapons stockpile.
Pyongyang first disclosed construction of the new reactor to a group of visiting U.S. scientists in 2010. It had made significant progress by late 2010, when work was halted. SAIS says the work may have stopped in part because of the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il. The research institute's findings could increase concerns that the North will conduct a third nuclear test. Read more ..
The Edge of Narco-Terrorism
Cutting Edge Commentator
|Narco-sub display at Naval Air Station, Key West FL.|
After a two-year manhunt, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency last week arrested Colombian drug kingpin Javier Antonio Calle Serna, a senior leader of Los Rastrojos, one of the country's most formidable drug-trafficking organizations. After being indicted last summer by the Eastern District of New York, Serna reportedly felt so squeezed by the agency and rival drug dealers that he began negotiating for his surrender.
His arrest is by all accounts good news, especially due to Los Rastrojos alleged connections to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man and perhaps the world's most notorious drug lord. Yet Serna's capture is also a reminder of one of the growing challenges in the seemingly never-ending war on drugs: combating narco subs. Serna headed an organization well known for its ability to rapidly build and use roughly 50-foot-long fiberglass vessels, which float just above the waterline, to surreptitiously smuggle drugs across the globe. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Scott Stewart||May 17th 2012|
There has been a lot of chatter in intelligence and academic circles about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri and his value to AQAP. The disclosure last week of a thwarted AQAP plot to attack U.S. airliners using an improved version of an "underwear bomb" used in the December 2009 attempted attack aboard a commercial airplane and the disclosure of the U.S. government's easing of the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen played into these discussions. People are debating how al-Asiri's death would affect the organization. A similar debate undoubtedly will erupt if AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi is captured or killed.
AQAP has claimed that al-Asiri trained others in bombmaking, and the claim makes sense. Furthermore, other AQAP members have received training in constructing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while training and fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This means that al-Asiri is not the only person within the group who can construct an IED. However, he has demonstrated creativity and imagination. His devices consistently have been able to circumvent existing security measures, even if they have not always functioned as intended. We believe this ingenuity and imagination make al-Asiri not merely a bombmaker, but an exceptional bombmaker. Read more ..
The Weapons Edge
|credit: MEADS International|
The talk of the defense world is the budget—specifically, how to shrink it and what will be cut, due to Congressional wrangling or the looming “sequestration.” Given the new austerity pressures, it’s noteworthy that a costly program targeted for cancellation by both the administration and the Congress has gotten a new government check for a quarter of a billion dollars—and, if the Pentagon gets its wish, will get another $400 million soon.
But that’s what happened with the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a putative replacement for the Patriot missile defense system. It has been plagued with so many cost overruns and delays that DoD and Congress both agreed last year to pull the plug—although conflict remains over the timetable.
The Pentagon decided to keep funding the program until “proof of concept,” a status that falls well short of production and deployment but would in theory allow the U.S. or its foreign partners to restart the project later if they chose. DoD requested a total of $804 million over 2012 and 2013. But Congress disagreed, and agreed to fund only the first year. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee are awaiting an Obama administration response to their request last week to name the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network a terrorist organization as quickly as possible, according to a U.S. counterterrorism source in Washington, D.C.
The lawmakers stated, "It [is] clear that the Haqqani Network [based in Pakistan] continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women, and children in the region," in a letter to the President and Secretary Clinton.
"We understand there may have been reluctance within the Administration to designate the Haqqani Network while Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman attempted to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban -- a deal that may have included or affected the Haqqani Network. However, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said last week that there have been no such talks since late last year (2011), and that President Karzai has opposed their continuation," the unclassified letter noted. Read more ..
Department of Homeland Security officials are shocked to discover that an illegal alien held the position of security supervisor at an airport from which United Flight 93 departed on September 11, 2001 and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when passengers rose up and attacked their terrorist captors. In a shocking revelation, a Post Authority of New York and New Jersey police source have confirmed that a veteran security supervisor at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey -- one of three major airports in the New York City metropolitan area -- has been using the identity of a murder victim for about 20 years.
The police source stated that the illegal alien -- whose real name is believed to be Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole -- was arrested on May 14 in his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The 54-year old Nigerian had assumed the identity of American citizen Jerry Thomas, who was a murder victim in 1992 in an unsolved homicide in New York City. "Investigators have reopened the case in order to rule out Oyewole as a suspect in the 20-year old cold case," the police stated.
Homeland Security and Port Authority Police are investigating how Thomas' personal information was allegedly stolen by the Nigerian illegal alien. A Nigerian crime syndicate has been involved for a number of years in identity theft and creating fake identification documents including driver licenses, social security cards and other ID instruments. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Margaret Besheer||May 15th 2012|
The United Nations says a roadside blast hit a convoy carrying a group of its unarmed observers near the Syrian city of Hama on Tuesday, damaging their vehicles but not injuring the monitors. Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused the government of killing at least 20 mourners at a funeral in the same area.
The U.N. mission in Syria says a convoy of four of its vehicles was struck by a blast from an improvised explosive device as it drove through the town of Khan Sheikhoun, near the flashpoint city of Hama on Tuesday afternoon. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said, “Three U.N. vehicles were damaged, but no U.N. personnel were hurt in this explosion. The mission has sent a patrol team to the area to help to extract those U.N. military observers.”
Upwards of 200 U.N. monitors are on the ground in Syria, mandated with monitoring the cessation of hostilities that went into effect on April 12, but which has all but collapsed with continued violence in a number of cities across the country. Among that violence, Syrian activists say that while the U.N. observers were in Khan Sheikhoun, Syrian army forces shot and killed at least 20 people during a funeral procession. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties. Read more ..
|Sean Maroney||May 14th 2012|
The U.N. nuclear agency has again urged Iran to give it access to sites, people and documents it seeks as part of its probe into whether Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation in Vienna, Hermann Nackaerts, told reporters Monday that they are continuing the dialogue with Iran on its controversial nuclear program in "a positive spirit."
"The aim of us today is to reach agreement on an approach to resolve all outstanding issues with Iran - in particular clarification of the possible military dimensions remains our priority," he said. Western powers have long suspected Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian energy program. Tehran denies the allegations. One major issue on the agenda for the two days of talks is the IAEA's lack of access to Iran's Parchin military site near Tehran. Officials suspect Iran has built a container that could house nuclear explosives tests there, and Western diplomats accuse Tehran of trying to remove incriminating evidence before allowing U.N. inspectors inside the facility. Iran has dismissed the allegations as being "childish" and "ridiculous." Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
A new Republican plan to set up a missile defense site on the East Coast has attracted election-year fireworks, with Democrats accusing the GOP of pushing the idea to undercut President Obama’s national-security credentials. Democrats say Republicans are playing politics, but GOP members hit back saying the site is necessary to get ahead of the rising threat of Iran’s missile development and to plug a gap in U.S. missile defenses. The issue is shaping up to be one of the most contentious at Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee markup, where Democrats are planning multiple amendments to try to strip out $100 million that was included to jump-start the East Coast site.
The Republican proposal calls for the East Coast site, which would be the third in the country, to be operational by the beginning of 2016. Democrats contend the total cost would be $4 billion. Republicans counter that the price tag would be half of that amount. “This is a political move,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who intends to introduce an amendment Wednesday to strip the provision from the defense authorization bill. “Every time the election comes around, the Republicans run out a national security agenda.”
It is unclear where the Obama administration stands on the matter. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress slammed Obama on missile defense after his “hot mic” moment in March, in which Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he needed “flexibility” until after the Nov. 6 election. Republican legislators have also criticized the Obama administration for considering reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. But GOP lawmakers say the site is not about politics, and is necessary due to increased threats from Iran, as tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated in recent months over Iran’s nuclear program. Read more ..
|Mehdi Khalaji||May 11th 2012|
The new talks have put Khamenei in a perilous position: compromising is as dangerous for him as digging in his heels.
The recent nuclear talks in Istanbul between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, and Iran have shifted the world’s focus to the possible terms of a deal when the sides meet again, probably in Baghdad on May 23. So, what accounts for the new seeming willingness of Iran’s leaders to reach an agreement?
Economic sanctions and political isolation have, of course, deeply hurt the regime, especially the Revolutionary Guards, whose leaders and industries have been directly targeted by the international community. But these are not the only factors. The regime’s propaganda machine is already portraying the Istanbul talks as a triumph for the Islamic Republic and a setback for the West. Indeed, it is setting the stage for a significant compromise by preparing both the Iranian public and the global community. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
During an FBI-led dragnet in Florida on Tuesday, 10 members of an alleged neo-Nazi group were arrested while training near Orlando and Disney World for what they termed a "race war," a federal law enforcement officer stated last night. The apprehensions resulted from information and evidence gathered by a confidential informant who had infiltrated the neo-Nazi organization known as American Front 17 several months ago, according to the arrest affidavit.
The federal affidavit stated: "The American Front (AF) is a military-styled, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, skinhead organization and is known as a domestic terrorist organization." The arrest affidavit revealed that the AF's alleged "commander," Marcus Faella, was "planning and preparing the AF for what [he believed would be] an inevitable race war" and he had boasted that he personally intended to kill blacks, Jews, immigrants and other minorities living in the United States. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
|Manuel Corrales||May 10th 2012|
Distracted by the admittedly discussion-worthy Cuba issue at the Sixth Summit of the Americas last month in Cartagena, the nations of the Western Hemisphere paid little mind to the prospect of reforming hemispheric drug policy. Latin American nations displayed unalloyed unity, indicating a deeply felt disdain for Washington’s normal agenda in the region. Several Latin American countries have demonstrated a desire to approach drug policy in a sharply different manner from the heavy-handed direction traditionally favored by U.S. policymakers. This prevailing tilt toward decriminalization became apparent as several Latin American countries proposed alternatives to the current strategy being used in the drug war. Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico have all proposed alternatives, each having recognized that militarized efforts against drug trafficking have proven ineffective.
This shift in ideology regarding the drug war is seismic, and may be a significant factor that influences coming elections throughout the hemisphere. For instance, with Mexico’s presidential elections approaching in July, it will be up to that nation’s voters to decide between three major candidates: Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Josefina Vázquez Mota of the National Action Party (PAN), and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Each of these candidates proposes somewhat different solutions to the drug battle, and it falls to voters to evaluate these candidates on this crucial issue. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
U.S. police and military trainers and advisors have returned to Yemen and are training that nation's security forces, Defense Department officials announced on May 6. President Barack Obama's administration had ordered the training mission in Yemen to be suspended due to the political turmoil in that nation. The United States recently began reintroducing a small number of trainers into the country, Navy Captain John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, said.
Kirby, speaking to reporters during a press briefing, noted that U.S. advisors had been working for years with the Yemeni government, police agencies, and military forces to combat increasingly powerful al-Qaeda threat throughout the Muslim nation."That threat doesn’t just threaten the Yemeni people but also Americans," Captain Kirby said.
“There was a suspension of some of that activity in Yemen for a while due to the political instability in that country,” the spokesman said. “We are now beginning to resume more of that routine military-to-military cooperation.” Just this week, the American people were told about how CIA agents thwarted an attempt by al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, according to a statement released on Monday. What surprised many counterterrorism experts was the sophistication of the upgrade of the so-called underwear bomb. Read more ..
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