|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 ..
Europe on Edge
|Robert D. Kaplan||May 9th 2012|
Whatever one thought of the Libya intervention, the details make for a bad advertisement about NATO. As one U.S. Air Force planner told me, "It was like Snow White and the 27 dwarfs, all standing up to her knees" -- the United States being Snow White and the other NATO member states being the dwarfs. The statistics regarding just how much the United States had to go it alone in Libya -- pushed by the British and French -- despite the diplomatic fig leaf of "leading from behind," are devastating for the alliance.
More than 80 percent of the gasoline used in the intervention came from the U.S. military. Almost all the individual operation orders had an American address. Of dozens of countries taking part, only eight air forces were allowed by their defense ministries to drop any bombs. Many flew sorties apparently only for the symbolism of it. While most airstrikes were carried out by non-U.S. aircraft, the United States ran the logistical end of the war. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
On May 4, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement voicing concerns over the threat posed by terrorists one year after the killing of radical Islamic icon, Osama bin Laden, and the risk that groups such as al-Qaeda could pose to nations such as the United States and members of the European Union with weapons of mass destruction.
As part of its mandate to create stable and secure environments UN Police are working with international policing and law enforcement experts to find ways to prevent, disrupt and dismantle organized crime in post-conflict situations, according to Security Council officials. The UN Police assist domestic law enforcement authorities to establish mechanisms to deal with organized criminal activities, including drug production and trafficking, human trafficking, exploitation of natural resources and weapons trafficking.
"The Security Council remains gravely concerned about the threat of terrorism and the risk that non-state actors may acquire, develop, traffic in or use weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," said the UN statement. The UN also mentioned it provides training for police officers in dealing with crimes related to terrorism and transnational organized crime. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The White House has confirmed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recently thwarted a plot by Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane. U.S. officials say the bomb that was seized in the interrupted plot was similar to the one worn by the so-called underwear bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in his failed December 25, 2009 attempt to bring down a passenger jet over Detroit.
In a written statement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was in possession of the device, which it seized abroad. The statement said the FBI is running technical and forensic analysis on it. "Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations," the statement said.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Barack Obama was told about the plot in April. She said he “was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public.” A statement by the National Security Council said that Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, had since been briefed several times on the matter. At a Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was asked about the plot, and said, "What this incident makes clear is that this country has to remain vigilant against those who attempt to attack this country." Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The five Guantanamo Bay detainees -- including the notorious Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, wreaked havoc on Saturday when the suspects stubbornly refused to respond to the U.S. military judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, when he questioned the defendants, who then disrupted the proceedings, according to a federal law enforcement source. At the same time, their defense attorneys attempted to put the court, the CIA and the United States on trial instead of the self-proclaimed jihadists.
During the chaotic hearing, the suspected al-Qaeda members' defense attorneys began their strategy of questioning the legitimacy of the war crimes tribunal, telling Col. Pohl that the proceedings were not fair to their clients. The attorneys were intent on discussing how the defendants were all held for more than three years in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006, and all of them claimed they were tortured by interrogators.
The CIA had conceded that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the only prisoner of the five on trial to be subjected to harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. However, according to Fox News Channel's National Security Correspondent Catherine Herridge, when the defense attorneys tried to discuss the way the defendants had been treated and used the word "torture" the CCTV (closed-circuit television) feed of the hearings for journalists and family members of victims was interrupted. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|R. Jeffrey Smith and Aaron Mehta||May 6th 2012|
Read more ..
The Defense Department has inadequately protected from reprisals whistleblowers who have reported wrongdoing, according to an internal Pentagon report, and critics are calling for action to be taken against those who have been negligent.
The report, dated May 2011, accuses the officials, who work in the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, of persistent sloppiness and a systematic disregard for Pentagon rules meant to protect those who report fraud, abuses, and the waste of taxpayer funds, according to a previously-undisclosed copy. The report was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group. A three-person team of veteran investigators at the Pentagon, assigned to review the performance of the “Directorate of Military Reprisal Investigations,” concluded in the report that in 2010 the directorate repeatedly turned aside evidence of serious punishments inflicted on those who had complained.
The U.S. and Russia
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed hope that an agreement can still be reached with Russia on a NATO missile-defense system in Europe -- in spite of a new, harder line from Russia against the plan. Rasmussen was speaking in reaction to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's statement on May 3 that negotiations with the United States over the proposed antimissile shield are near a "dead end."
After a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron In London, Rasmussen said he was "hopeful" that NATO could reach agreement with the Russians, although not before a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21. "I'm hopeful that we can [reach an agreement with Russia on missile defense] -- obviously not before the Chicago summit, but there is still room for dialogue with the Russians," he said. Speaking earlier on May 3 at a conference in Moscow, Serdyukov said the two sides had so far failed to find a "mutually acceptable solution" to disagreements over the U.S.-led NATO shield. "The situation is practically at an impasse," he said.
In Moscow, Serdyukov also said Russia was "ready for open dialogue."
Missiles in Kaliningrad
Meanwhile, Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov on May 3 struck a more aggressive note, warning again that Russia might opt to station short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave near Poland. Russian media quoted Makarov as saying, "the placement of new strike weapons south and northwest of Russia against [NATO] missile-defense components, including the deployment of Iskander missile systems in the Kaliningrad region is one possible way of incapacitating the European missile-defense infrastructure." Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
Climate change has had a direct effect on national security, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week. Panetta told an audience at the Environmental Defense Fund that climate change has raised the need for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, hitting national security in the process. “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta said. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
Panetta spoke to the Environmental Defense Fund on Tuesday at an event honoring the Defense Department for advancing clean-energy initiatives. In recent years, the Defense Department and the services have spearheaded a number of alternative-energy initiatives and seemingly embraced environmentally friendly practices on the battlefield.
President Obama effectively put the Pentagon at the forefront of an ambitious alternative energy strategy during the State of the Union speech in January. The Navy and Air Force have already spent billions to integrate biofuels into their fleets of fighter jets and warships. Marine Corps combat units in Afghanistan are using mobile solar panels to recharge batteries for their night vision and communications in the field. Solar power is also helping to run a number of Marine Corps combat outposts in the country.
But the Pentagon's adoption of environmentally sensitive practices was driven more by the department's dire fiscal situation than politics, Panetta said on Tuesday. DOD spent roughly $15 billion to fuel its fighters, tanks and ships in 2012, the Defense chief said. The Pentagon spends $50 million on fuel each month to keep combat operations in Afghanistan going, Panetta added. As oil prices continue to skyrocket, the department "now [faces] a shortfall exceeding $3 billion of higher-than-expected fuel costs this year," according to Panetta. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
On February 13, 2012, the Obama Administration released its proposed missile defense budget and program for FY 2013 and beyond. It requests $9.7 billion for the overall program in FY 2013, including $7.75 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
The proposed FY 2013 missile defense budget is inadequate, as Chairman Turner made clear in his opening statement at the March 6 hearing on the missile defense program before the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Representative Turner stated: The President’s FY13 submission is, in fact, lower than the President’s own FY10 budget request by over $100 million. Remember, slide 1 shows that the FY10 request from the Obama Administration was $1.6 billion less than the previous President recommended and slide two shows it was less even than President Obama’s own budget request for FY10. Chairman Turner also pointed out: “What’s more, the MDA FY13 [future years defense plan] projection for FY13-16 is $3.6 billion less than even President Obama’s FY12 projection for FY13-16 [from] just last year and $2 billion less than the previous administration projected for FY13.” Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
While President Barack Obama participated in last month's Summit of the Americas in Colombia, none of the nations' leaders even hinted about the influx of officials from Iran and their proxy warriors in the terrorist group Hezbollah. However, this week Israeli intelligence analysts are warning the United States government that Western Hemisphere countries are hosting members of the radical Islamist movement. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the sixth and current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the main political leader of the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran in August 2005, Iran has extended and solidified its relations with several Latin American countries, especially Venezuela and Bolivia, both run by far-left leaders, according to an anonymous Israeli police source. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
Economic cyber spies may have a more difficult task of stealing U.S. business plans, as well as research and development data, since the U.S. House of Representatives at least took the first step by passing a cybersecurity bill last Friday that will help private sector businesses more effectively protect themselves from dangerous cyber predators.
The foreign intelligence threat within the United States is far more complex than it has ever been historically. The threat is increasingly asymmetrical insofar as it comes not only from traditional foreign intelligence services but also from nontraditional, non-state actors who operate from decentralized organizations, experts say. Intelligence collection is no longer limited to classified national defense information but now includes targeting of the elements of national power, including our national economic interests. Moreover, foreign intelligence tradecraft is increasingly sophisticated and takes full advantage of advances in communications security and the general openness of US society, according to security management experts. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
When officials told reporters recently that they had deployed F-22 fighter jets in the Middle East for the first time, it was downplayed as “a very normal deployment.” But when it comes to the F-22, there’s very little “normal” about it.
Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va, told reporters that some pilots have asked to be reassigned rather than be forced to fly the jet. And while he described the concerned group as “very small,” Hostage made a point of telling reporters he would be flying the plane himself in the future to “check out” his pilots' concerns and try to bolster their in-flight courage. “I'm asking these guys to assume some risks over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don't feel like it's right that I ask them to do it and I'm not willing to do it myself," said Hostage. (A spokesman confirmed the General would begin his training at the end of the month.) Based on the jet’s history, the pilots’ reaction isn’t surprising. The F-22’s record is one of breakdowns and planning bad enough to require another decade of repairs, according to the government’s watchdog. Meanwhile, the price tag for one of the most expensive Air Force projects in history will keep going up. The plane officially rolled off the assembly line in 2003 and was supposed to be the premiere jet for the U.S. military, a stealth-enabled, hyper-maneuverable air craft capable of dominating the skies at supersonic speeds. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
In a case that was overshadowed by Tuesday's conviction of al-Qaeda member Adis Medunjanin who plotted with others to bomb the New York City subway system and other targets, five men allegedly connected to the Occupy Movement were arrested and accused of conspiring to use explosives to destroy a bridge near Cleveland, according to a federal law enforcement official. Anthony Hayne, 35, Douglas L. Wright, 26; and Brandon L. Baxter, 20, were arrested by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force on Monday evening (April 30, 2012), on charges of conspiracy and attempted use of explosive materials to adversely effect interstate commerce.
In addition on Monday, JTTF members arrested Connor C. Stevens, 20, and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and criminal charges are pending against them. According to the a federal source, residents and those traveling on the targeted bridge were never in any danger from the explosive devices. The explosives that the suspects purchased and attempted to use were inoperable. Read more ..
Argentina and Great Britain
|W. Alex Sanchez||May 1st 2012|
Thirty years after a bloody war between the United Kingdom and Argentina, the longstanding territorial conflict over the Falklands/Malvinas islands continues to simmer.
In recent months Buenos Aires has attempted to attract international support for its claim to the islands, particularly from fellow South American countries. Several regional states have stated their perfunctory support for Argentina, in some cases going so far as to accept a blockade on the Falklands, refusing vessels flying the islands’ flag to dock in their ports. One state that is in a particularly troubling position regarding which side to back is the Andean nation of Peru, as exemplified in a recent incident regarding the British frigate HMS Montrose. Peru and the UK: a Troubled Historical Relationship; Though geographically distant, Peru and the United Kingdom often have had a troubled relationship, due to the Falklands sovereignty dispute, which is part of even greater geopolitical issues troubling South America. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
South of the border, war is raging with guns mostly supplied by merchants in the United States.
The Government of Mexico has estimated that almost 50,000 people have been killed since 2006, a toll that has made its top officials irate about the persistent flow of weapons south. Some law enforcement officials in the U.S. government share the Mexicans’ concern, but their attempts to stanch the flow by obtaining better intelliegence about it have badly singed their fingers.
The notorious “Fast and Furious” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—one in a string of attempts over a nearly decade-long period to tag and closely monitor the movement of individual arms—blew up when two of the weapons being tracked were used to kill a U.S. border patrol agent in 2010.
Republicans in Congress seized on the issue, holding multiple hearings last year. Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned. The Phoenix U.S. attorney who oversaw the operation also resigned, and Republicans called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Read more ..
Terror and Crime
|William F. Wechsler||May 1st 2012|
The U.S. government has, for decades, dedicated significant resources to stemming the flow of illicit drugs into the United States, and my office leads the Department of Defense’s contributions to that side of the effort. But what our government is in the process of learning is that our traditional focus on countering "drug trafficking organizations" must be expanded to a wider perspective that recognizes that narcotics trafficking is one component of the broader challenge of transnational organized crime. As we undergo this change in perspective, we are in the process of adjusting our policies toward disrupting and degrading global criminal networks that do far more than traffic drugs.
For decades, drug trafficking was the dominant lens through which the United States viewed transnational organized crime. In the 1970s and 1980s, the flow of illicit narcotics into the United States was deemed a major risk to the health and safety of Americans, and the government expended massive resources to curtail both the supply of and demand for illegal drugs. Supply side reduction strategies emphasized degrading the capabilities of Western Hemisphere drug trafficking organizations—highly capable, violent, centralized, and hierarchical organizations often led by a charismatic kingpin. Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, for example, were emblematic of the type of threat facing the United States. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The United States is a safer place since Navy SEALs located and killed al-Qaeda's infamous Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 [May 2 in Pakistan], according to Pentagon and Justice Department officials on Saturday. Today, nearly a year after bin Laden’s demise, the United States and its allies continue to hunt down al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups wherever they are located. Within the United States police departments and law enforcement agencies are conducting counterterrorist operations against both foreign fighters who have illegally entered the U.S., and against homegrown terrorists who are radicalized American Muslims. Overseas, the nation's intelligence and military organizations pursue terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa and provide assistance to countries still fighting al-Qaeda and its allies.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- who served as Director of Central Intelligence on May 1, 2011 when the al-Qaeda leader's reign of terror met its end -- recalled the high-risk mission the Defense Department called Operation Neptune Spear, according to American Forces Press Service's Cheryl Pellerin. Read more ..
North Korea on Edge
|Steve Herman||April 30th 2012|
North Korea is giving no official indication it is preparing a third attempted nuclear test—but reports abroad say such an underground detonation could come at any time. Some regional media outlets are reporting a North Korea nuclear test is expected between early and mid-May. One report, in the Joong-Ang Ilbo in South Korea, quotes a diplomatic source in Washington as saying the United States has told South Korea such a detonation could occur as soon as this week. Asked about that, a U.S. diplomat in Seoul replied the Embassy does not comment on “security matters.”
Diplomatic and intelligence sources, who do not want to be quoted, say they have seen no indication from satellite imagery that the equipment and associated cabling necessary to conduct such an underground detonation are in place. Images taken by surveillance satellites in the past few weeks did reveal that digging of a new tunnel was underway at the Pyunnge-ri test site.
There is growing speculation that North Korea will attempt to detonate a uranium-fueled weapon. Its previously announced tests, in 2006 and 2009, are widely believed to have used plutonium, although no traces of radioactive isotopes were detected following the second attempt.
At an April 30 briefing, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-suk told reporters preparations are underway to activate an emergency task force concerning a North Korean nuclear test, but it is not yet operational. Kim says it is impossible to get precise information in real time about what is happening at the test site. But the South Korean military is utilizing various methods—in cooperation with U.S. forces—to collected pertinent information. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
This report is based on an unclassified version of a classified report the GAO issued in February 2012. The unclassified version was released on April 17 and it was immediately obtained for analysis by the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Examiner.
In the wake of the shocking September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made counterterrorism its top investigative priority. Since that fateful day, the FBI has hired thousands of additional staff, increasing its total onboard workforce by 38 percent, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. In particular, the FBI has increased both the size and the role of its Counterterrorism Division (CTD) that is located in Washington, D.C., according to FBI officials.
In 2005, the FBI reported that nearly 40 percent of staff positions in certain parts of CTD were vacant, raising concerns about the FBI’s ability to fulfill its most important mission, and as a result the U.S. Congress requested that the GAO review FBI CTD vacancies. The latest GAO report describes "the extent to which counterterrorism vacancies existed at FBI HQ since 2005 and the reasons for the vacancies as well as the impact of the strategies implemented by the FBI to address these vacancies." Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Jeremy Herb||April 29th 2012|
The partisan battles that nearly derailed two Defense authorization bills appear to have subsided as lawmakers get down to work on this year’s version. In 2010 and 2011, passage of the Defense bill came down to the wire amid bitter fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the DREAM Act and terror detainees. This time around, the biggest defense fight of the year in Congress is looming after the Defense authorization bill is complete: the sequestered spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon in 2013. There will undoubtedly be skirmishes as the House Armed Services Committee marks up the Defense authorization bill, but Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told The Hill he’s optimistic the bill can get passed before Congress recesses for the November election.
“This should be done before the election, before we leave town,” McKeon said Friday, adding he’s discussed that goal with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). That’s not to say that there won’t be robust debate and disagreement over the bill, or that the legislation isn’t at risk of getting stuck in a political floor fight. But the authorization bill, which has a streak of passing for 50 straight years, looks to be returning to its more normal course in Congress following the beginning of markups on Thursday. Read more ..
|Jim Khouri||April 29th 2012|
A section of the National Defense Authorization Act requires the Government Accountability Office examine the costs and benefits of an increased Department of Defense role in helping law enforcement officers secure the southwest land border. The mandate directed the GAO to submit a report to the U.S. Congress, which was recently released. The GAO report examined, among other things, the potential deployment of additional military units, increased use of ground-based mobile surveillance systems, use of mobile patrols by military personnel, and an increased deployment of unmanned aerial systems and manned aircraft in national airspace.
The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection bureau admitted to GAO analysts that the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics, which directly contradicts statements made by President Barack Obama, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the leadership of the U.S. Border Patrol. Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|R. Jeffrey Smith||April 28th 2012|
|SM-3 launch from USS Hopper (credit: Missile Defense Agency)|
After the successful U.S. interception of a simulated North Korean warhead in a 2007 test, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering III expressed great confidence in the capabilities of the U.S. missile defense program. “Does the system work? The answer to that is yes,” Obering, then the program’s director, told reporters at a briefing.
But after a year-long study, the General Accountability Office has expressed far less confidence and issued a clarification of sorts: The Pentagon, it said, really has no idea if its missile defense systems will do their job, because over the past several decades it hasn’t concocted validated targets to test them, fielded proven interceptors, or even collected all the data needed to assess their early performance.
Deployment of the interceptors Obering praised, the GAO warned, had been rushed to meet a 2004 deadline set by President George W. Bush. The design was not fully tested before production got under way — a frequent occurrence at the Pentagon — and the results were “unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, test problems, and performance shortfalls,” according to its report. This troublesome pattern of concurrently testing and manufacturing interceptors and related equipment is now being repeated by the Obama administration, the independent audit agency said in its 100-page report. Read more ..
Defense on Edge
|Steve Herman||April 27th 2012|
|USMC AV-8B Harrier lands on the USS Essex on task in the Pacific|
(credit: MCS2 Eva-Marie Ramsaran, US Navy)
Friday’s announcement by the United States and Japan that 9,000 U.S. Marines will be transferred from a base on the Japanese island of Okinawa is being hailed as a major diplomatic accomplishment. But there are also concerns the actual transfer will be fraught with numerous complications.
The revised realignment plan, agreed to by Japan and the United States, is seen as both a compromise and a work still in progress. It calls for moving nearly half of the 19,000 U.S. Marines off Okinawa. Up to 5,000 are to be re-deployed to the Pacific island of Guam and 4,000 moved to either Hawaii or rotated in and out of Australia. No timelines were announced.
Political analyst and adjunct senior fellow Richard Baker at the East West Center in Hawaii says the agreement comes after complex negotiations involving political, technical, financial and infrastructural issues. “And I don’t think it was inevitable that they would be able to make a meeting of the minds of that sort, so that is the good news,” he said. “Now the bad news is that the public handling of this has got to be as sensitive as the negotiations were and as nuanced.” Read more ..
|Aaron Mehta||April 26th 2012|
|USS Freedom (LCS 1) (credit: US Navy)|
The raids should have been a gold star for the Navy. A trial run for a newly designed ship turned into a series of successful missions against cocaine smugglers, resulting in the capture of nine smugglers and over five tons of cocaine. But the early 2010 victories were darkened, quite literally, by a power failure on March 6 that left the ship briefly adrift at sea. The mechanical failure was not the last challenge that would face the crew of the USS Freedom, the first of a new breed of Navy vessels meant to become a core part of its fleet over the next decade. A series of test runs caused cracked hulls that forced the ship to limit its speed; engines that simply failed; and over 600 failures of equipment around the ship, leading to a number of dry-dockings at its home base in San Diego, according to data released by the nonprofit Washington-based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
The Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) already had a troubled reputation. The Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) notoriously concluded in a 2011 report that the Freedom was unlikely to be “survivable in a hostile combat environment.” But POGO disclosed new details of the Freedom’s shortcomings in a letter to the Chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees accompanying the data. The group also raised concerns about what the group calls the Navy’s “pattern of obfuscation” regarding the achievements of the first ship. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
The War on Terror
|Scott Stewart||April 26th 2012|
The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, released a message April 23 informing U.S. citizens in the country that it had received credible information regarding a possible attack against Nairobi hotels or prominent Kenyan government buildings. According to the message, the embassy has reason to believe the attack is in the last stages of the attack planning cycle.
The warning comes as thousands of Kenyan troops occupy much of southern Somalia. Along with a force of Ethiopian troops, local militias and a contingent of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, the Kenyans are placing heavy pressure on the al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al Shabaab in southern Somalia.
This external military pressure has exacerbated internal frictions within al Shabaab between nationalist elements and those with a more transnationalist ideology. Mukhtar Robow, aka Abu Mansur, leads the nationalist faction, which is based in the Bay and Bakool regions. Ahmad Abdi Godane, aka Abu Zubayr, leads the transnationalist faction, which is based in Kismayo.
It has been almost two years since we last examined al Shabaab's interest in conducting and ability to carry out transnational terrorist operations. The current warning in Nairobi provides a convenient opportunity to do so once again.
Al Qaeda in East Africa and the Birth of al Shabaab
Al Qaeda and Somali militants have long interacted. In a 1997 CNN interview, Osama bin Laden told Peter Bergen that his fighters helped the Somali militants in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, the events memorialized in Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999). Bin Laden and a good portion of the al Qaeda leadership relocated to Sudan in 1992, where they remained until 1996. During that period, they established a network of business and operational contacts across East Africa. By that point, they had trained militants in camps in Afghanistan for years. They could well have had operatives in Mogadishu in 1993 and could have provided training to militants involved in the incident. Read more ..
Korean Peninsula on Edge
|Steve Herman||April 25th 2012|
North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks. North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.
Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark North Korea’s Army Day. His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.
Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South.
North Korea’s new, young leader Kim Jong Un was in the audience for Ri’s remarks. But Kim—who holds the rank of a four-star general—did not address the gathering.
North Korea’s failed rocket launches
North Korea, on April 13, launched a multi-stage missile which exploded about two minutes into its flight over the Yellow Sea. Pyongyang claimed it was trying to launch a peaceful satellite into space. The international community condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions forbidding North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology. The failure only intensified fears that North Korea is preparing a third claimed nuclear test.
Pyongyang has made no announcement it is planning such a test. But satellite images from the beginning of this month showed fresh digging at the underground site where North Korea claims to have conducted two previous nuclear detonations. Those tests followed failed long-range rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. Read more ..
Sudan on Edge
|Martin Barillas||April 24th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Sudanese Pres. Salva Kiir Mayardit (l) and Chinese Pres. Hu Jin Tao (r)|
The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit began a state visit to Beijing on April 23. The Chinese are major supporters of the Sudanese regime of Omar al-Bashir and are heavily invested in petroleum interests in Sudan. While South Sudan continues to struggle to define its boundaries with the Muslim-dominated Sudan to the north, President Kiir hopes to get China's help to improve relations with Khartoum and especially to obtain funds to build an alternative pipeline to the one currently in the hands of Sudan. India, besides China, is also heavily invested in the north.
South Sudan is rich in oil and natural gas. However, it is landlocked and dependent on Sudan - from which it broke away in July 2011 - for downstream services such as pipelines and refineries. The oil wells are in the Christian majority South, while the refineries and infrastructure necessary for the extraction and transportation of crude oil are in the Muslim majority north. On April 10, South Sudan troops invaded the disputed Heglig oil fields just to the north of the disputed border with Sudan. However, his troops have now retreated following intense bombardment by Sudan's air forces and skirmishes between the two countries armies. Troops from Sudan occupied Heglig, but have since pulled back. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|John Zimmer||April 22nd 2012|
Read more ..
The chairman of the U.S. Senate's Homeland Security Committee is dismissing Iran's claim that it has reverse-engineered a U.S. spy drone it captured last year. Lawmaker Joe Lieberman said Sunday on U.S. television that he considered the claims little more than “Iranian bluster.” Earlier Sunday, a senior Iranian commander declared Tehran had reverse-engineered the drone and begun building a copy. Iranian news agencies quoted General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as saying experts also are recovering data from the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured in December in eastern Iran.
U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the surveillance drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory. Hajizadeh said the drone contained many “secret codes,” but he implied that these had been cracked, saying the spy plane now had “no hidden points.” He said exact information about the drone's history had been recovered indicating that it had flown “above [al-Qaida leader Osama] bin Laden's Pakistani hideout two weeks before he was assassinated.”
The Cyber Edge
|Aida F. Akl||April 22nd 2012|
Cyber espionage has cost U.S.-owned businesses about $14 billion in reported economic losses since last October, according to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI). But private security experts said this is a fraction of a huge problem that will take a cultural shift to put corporate America ahead of today’s high-tech spies.
Martin Libicki, a Washington-based senior management scientist with RAND, a non-profit research and analysis institution, said nobody knows how big the problem is. “It takes a lot more worth than we’ve been willing to give it to try to estimate the size of the problem.” He added,“I don’t have an even good theoretical estimate, much less a practical estimate.” Companies are often too embarrassed to announce a security breach because people don’t always notice it when it first happens. “It takes an average of a year and a half before you realize that something is wrong,” said Libicki.
"In the US ... most companies are careful about their source code, but they send people into the field with sales leads and customer lists stored on mobile devices or unencrypted laptops," says Damien Miller, CEO of Comet Way. Canada’s telecommunications company, Nortel, for example, told the Wall Street Journal in February that it lost data for nearly a decade before realizing it was being spied on. Randall Coleman, FBI Section Chief at the agency’s Counterintelligence department in Washington said hacking by both organized groups and state-backed actors has taken off in recent years. “It is certainly the wave of the future,” he said. “There are state-sponsored corporations throughout the world that spy on the United States and attempt to steal our technology,” Coleman added. Read more ..
|Yaakov Lappin||April 22nd 2012|
At the start of this week, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists planned to board passenger planes and fly to Israel. Their plan, according to Israeli intelligence assessments, was to join Palestinian demonstrations in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, events that had a high potential to turn violent. The activists, operating under an umbrella group called "Welcome to Palestine 2012," presented themselves as peace seekers who had come to visit Palestinians in the West Bank. Their true motive, Israel suspected, was to create possibly violent provocations, generate media publicity, and attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel.
Hundreds of unarmed plain clothes and uniformed police officers were mobilized to the airport on Sunday, in accordance with a detailed plan drawn up by the head of the Israel Police's Central District, Commander Bentsi Sao. The airport is located in the heart of Sao's Central District, and the Israeli government appointed the veteran officer to head up a national operation to prevent the activists from entering the country. Sao's chief aim was to keep the airport running smoothly on one of its busiest ever days, when nearly 50,000 passengers were expected to pass through, many of them Israelis completing their Passover vacations abroad. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Brendan Sasso||April 21st 2012|
The House is set to vote on a host of cybersecurity bills next week, but the fate of the legislation rests in the Senate. The House is expected to approve the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would tear down legal barriers that discourage companies from sharing data about cyber attacks. The goal of the legislation is to help companies beef up their defenses against hackers who steal business secrets, rob customers’ financial information and wreak havoc on computer systems.
CISPA, sponsored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), has more than 100 co-sponsors. But the White House and Senate Democrats argue CISPA is inadequate. They say any cybersecurity legislation should include tougher privacy protections and should require critical infrastructure systems to meet minimum security standards. "Legislation without new authorities to address our nation’s critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, or legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation's urgent needs," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, without explicitly mentioning CISPA. The White House has endorsed a cybersecurity bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would empower the Homeland Security Department to set mandatory security standards for critical systems, such as electrical grids or chemical plants. A Democratic aide said the Lieberman-Collins bill is a "priority" for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and "we expect to take up the legislation in the next few weeks." But it is unclear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is rallying opposition to the measure and has introduced his own alternative bill, the Secure IT Act. Like CISPA, Secure IT focuses only on voluntary information-sharing about cyber threats. The bill has attracted seven GOP co-sponsors. McCain argued Lieberman-Collins would impose regulations that “would stymie job creation, blur the definition of private property rights and divert resources from actual cybersecurity to compliance with government mandates.” Read more ..
The Biometric Edge
|Martin Barillas||April 20th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
AOptix, a developer of advanced optical technologies and products, announced that Morpho, a high-technology company of the Safran group, has become an AOptix strategic partner in the area of biometric technology. With this agreement, AOptix products, including the combined face capture and iris recognition system, InSight® Duo, will be integrated into Morpho’s solutions offered to countries around the world to check the identities of persons crossing their borders on land, sea and air. Morpho provides advanced solutions for border control, detection, identity management, criminal justice, and secure biometric access.
“For years, we have respected AOptix’s commitment to innovation in enhancing iris usability in biometric identification systems. The match between our two companies is natural as we unite to offer biometric solutions for a vast array of applications,” says Bernard Didier, Senior VP, Technology & Strategy at Morpho. “Combining the knowledge and expertise of our two companies in iris and facial recognition solutions will offer tremendous benefits in security and time savings for governments, airports, airlines and the traveling public.” Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Scott Stewart||April 19th 2012|
Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner in the lead-up to Mexico's presidential election in July, told Reuters last week that if elected, he would seek to increase the size of the current Mexican federal police force. Peña Nieto also expressed a desire to create a new national gendarmerie, or paramilitary police force, to use in place of the Mexican army and Marine troops currently deployed to combat the heavily armed criminal cartels in Mexico's most violent hot spots. According to Pena Nieto, the new gendarmerie force would comprise some 40,000 agents.
As previously noted, soldiers are not optimal for law enforcement functions. The use of the military in this manner has produced accusations of human rights abuses and has brought criticism and political pressure on the administration of President Felipe Calderon. However, while the Calderon administration greatly increased the use of the military in the drug war, it was not the first administration in Mexico to deploy the military in this manner. Even former President Vicente Fox, who declared war on the cartels in 2001, was not the first to use the military in this manner. For many decades now, the Mexican government has used the military in counternarcotics operations, and the Mexican military has been used periodically to combat criminals and bandits in Mexico's wild and expansive north for well over a century. Read more ..
Thailand on Edge
|Avi Jorisch||April 16th 2012|
This past February, Thailand was added to a high-risk blacklist by an international organization many people have never heard of. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was established by the Group of Seven (G7) in 1989 to combat money laundering and terrorism finance. Being added to the FATF "high-risk" country list may not sound terrible, but in many circles, it is akin to being labeled a financial pariah.
Thailand now joins the ranks of countries that include North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Myanmar, to name just a few. In most contexts, these are not countries people normally wish to be associated with.
The FATF's best practices, known as the "international standard," are meant to have universal application and to serve as a comprehensive framework against the movement of illicit money. FATF's principal contribution has been Forty Recommendations on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism & Proliferation. Countries are assessed and rated against this standard. In the case of Thailand, the country's financial regime was found to be woefully inadequate and in act, among the worst in the world. Read more ..
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