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The Weapon's Edge

Simple Vacuum Cleaner Wreak $440 million Havoc on Submarine

June 8th 2012

USS Miami SSN-755
USS Miami SSN-755

It can take a powerful enemy to damage the nuclear powered submarines that form the linchpin of the U.S. naval arsenal. The most worrisome threats are usually sub-killing torpedoes or large mines. But the subs’ designers evidently forgot to incorporate countermeasures against another threat: vacuum cleaners. According to a news release Friday from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, it was a vacuum cleaner that caused an estimated $400 million in damages to the nuclear-powered USS Miami on May 23. The 22-year-old Miami was docked at Portsmouth as part of a dry dock repair period when the fire broke out, and over the next 12 hours it damaged crew quarters as well as command spaces and the torpedo room.

The fire did not damage the nuclear reactors, which were shut down two months earlier. “Findings indicate the fire started in a vacuum cleaner used to clean work sites at end of shift, and stored in an unoccupied space,” according the release. “Preliminary investigations indicate that the fire started with a heat source being vacuumed up and igniting the debris in the vacuum cleaner.” In plain language: The vacuum sucked up something hot it shouldn’t have and, while sitting in a closet, ignited. It sounds like a cigarette. But a shipyard spokeswoman, Debbie White, said there is a no-smoking policy on board even while the ship is in dry dock and that it is currently unclear what the “heat source” that started the fire was.


India on Edge

Panetta Calls for Closer India-U.S. Security Partnership

June 8th 2012

Click to select Image

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on a visit to India, said both India and the United States will need to overcome deep differences with Pakistan to make South Asia peaceful. The visit underscores the greater U.S. focus on India to promote peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region. Defense Secretary Panetta said it is important for both the U.S. and India to continue to engage Pakistan in order to further the goal of peace in South Asia.

Panetta was speaking June 6th in New Delhi on the role India can play in the new U.S. defense strategy being developed for the 21st century. “Pakistan is a complicated relationship, complicated for both of our countries, but it is one we must continue to work to improve,” said Panetta.

Panetta, on a two-day visit to India, met Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony on June 6th. A day earlier, he met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In his talks, the U.S. defense secretary stressed the greater role India can play in promoting regional stability.  He wants India to go beyond its active involvement in economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and assist in training the Afghan army and police as international forces pull out in 2014.

Pakistan is suspicious of India playing a larger role in Afghanistan, but Panetta stressed that it is in the interest of both countries to stabilize Afghanistan. He outlined a vision for a deeper strategic relationship with India as the U.S., in his words, “rebalances towards the Asia-Pacific region”. “In particular we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia," Panetta said. "Defense cooperation, defense cooperation with India, is a linchpin in this strategy. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and for that matter in the world, with one of the most capable militaries. India also shares with the United States a set of principles which helps maintain international security.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Why Do UN Inspectors Want Access To Iran's Parchin Military Complex?

June 8th 2012

Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Parchin, a large military complex located southeast of Tehran, is one of the key pieces of the puzzle that is Iran’s nuclear program -- a puzzle the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has been long trying to solve. On June 8 in Vienna, UN nuclear negotiators will sit down with Iranian officials to discuss their suspicions about military aspects of Iran's nuclear program. With Parchin on the agenda, here's some of what makes it a likely topic of discussion.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believe that more than a decade ago, Iran conducted experiments there with high explosives in support of nuclear weapons development. In a 2011 report, the IAEA said it had information that Iran placed “a large explosives containment vessel” in Parchin in 2000 and constructed a building around it. The testing is believed to have taken place in a vessel or chamber which the IAEA says was designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kilograms of high explosives. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Increasing Tension and Operational Challenges for U.S./Pakistan Relationship

June 7th 2012

Consulate General Peshawar Pakistan

US Consul General Candace Putnam (r) and Garace Reynard of US Embassy
Islamabad meet with Pakistani police official Malik Navid at vehicle donation.

On June 4, four U.S. diplomats assigned to the Consulate General of the United States in Peshawar, Pakistan, were stopped at a military checkpoint and temporarily detained after refusing to allow their two vehicles to be searched. The diplomats -- including a vice consul -- were traveling in a two-vehicle motorcade and were accompanied by three Pakistani Foreign Service National (FSN) security officers.

According to media reports, the Pakistani military has charged that the diplomats had traveled to Malakand without first obtaining permission from the Pakistani government. Malakand is a city located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Peshawar in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province.

Because of the problems Pakistan has had with foreign jihadists in its border badlands, all foreigners are required to obtain something called a No Objection Certificate from Pakistan's Interior Ministry before visiting areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Furthermore, the Pakistani press noted that the Pakistani military also objected to the Americans and their Pakistani FSNs' being armed and operating vehicles with fake license plates to disguise the diplomatic vehicles. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Big Banks Profit from Colombian Drugs Trade

June 7th 2012

Armed Police

Economists at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, have published a startling report exposing the economic imbalance of the Central American drugs trade. The study, said to be the most detailed analysis of the economics of the drugs trade, indicates that whilst poorer ‘producing’ nations like Colombia and Mexico pay the narcotics industry’s deadly toll, the wealthy ‘consumer’ nations are reaping the profits

Authors Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía, calculate that, in the case of Columbia, a paltry 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced stays in the country, whilst criminal cartels harvest a massive 97.4% of the profits, laundering them through the banking systems of the world’s richest nations.

Despite living with the narcotics industry’s legacy of gang warfare, violence between factions has been known to reach almost civil war proportions, the data reveals that the Colombian economy is not benefiting from the proceeds. "The story of who makes the money from Colombian cocaine is a metaphor for the disproportionate burden placed in every way on 'producing' nations like Colombia as a result of the prohibition of drugs," Gaviria explained. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Government Analysts Examine Terrorist Watchlist Effectiveness

June 6th 2012

tsa security

This report is a public version of the classified report that GAO issued in December 2011 and omits certain information, such as details on the nominations guidance and the specific outcomes of screening processes.

On Thursday, the results of a U.S. government study on the effectiveness of the nation's terrorist watchlist were released, including the watchlist nominating process, according to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police. It was released on Thursday as an unclassified version of the original December 2011 report.

The Dec. 25, 2009, attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 as it approached Detroit International Airport exposed weaknesses in how the federal government nominated individuals to the terrorist watchlist and gaps in how agencies used the list to screen individuals to determine if they posed a security threat, according to officials with the Government Accountability Office. In response, President Barack Obama directed national security and law enforcement agencies to take appropriate actions to correct security shortcomings. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Congress Fighting to Salvage U.S. Intelligence Assets

June 6th 2012

MQ-1 Sky Warrior drone

The intelligence community and the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees have been working together during the past year, in recognition of the current challenging fiscal environment, to find efficiencies in the United States intelligence community's annual budget, according to U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI). Both Republican and Democrat House members want to avert President Barack Obama's so-called "sequestration plan."

"We have actually done more in certain areas by finding efficiencies in other areas and reducing the overall cost of our 17 agencies," said Rogers, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Unlike the dangerous across-the-board cuts by the Clinton Administration during the 1990's, the current funding cuts were selected to ensure that no important operational intelligence capabilities were impacted, which many believe happened during the Clinton years that contributed to the U.S. being blindsided on September 11, 2001. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Senate Democrats Blast National Security Leak About Cyberattack Against Iran

June 5th 2012

Iranian reactor

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blasted leaks to the press about a cyberattack against Iran and warned the disclosure of President Obama’s order could put the United States at risk of a retaliatory strike.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.” The FBI opened its own probe Tuesday into who disclosed information on the Iranian attack, The Wall Street Journal reported. On Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Service Committee promised hearings, while two Republican senators called for a special counsel investigation. Several Democrats noted with alarm that the Iranian cyber leak is just the latest in a series of media reports that disclosed classified information about U.S. anti-terrorism activity.

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.” Feinstein and Kerry, however, rejected charges from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that the leaks were made deliberately in an attempt to boost President Obama’s reelection bid. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Inside the Mind of a Terrorist

June 5th 2012

Hamas head

In early May, intelligence officials foiled a plot to conceal a nonmetallic bomb under the clothing of an Al Qaeda operative. At the center of the drama of this second thwarted underwear operation is the bomb’s maker, a technical virtuoso who has created a range of explosive devices for Al Qaeda. This bomb maker is a shadowy, enigmatic, compelling figure, who is both fascinating and repellent.

What kind of man is this bomb maker? What motivates and sustains him? How can he be so recognizably human in some ways and yet in others stand outside of humanity? As an intelligence-community psychologist who has studied terrorism for many years, here are some provisional thoughts about this bomb maker's psyche.

Let us start with his highly developed technical skills. Irrespective of how his ideology may skew his worldview, in relation to his craft he is firmly grounded in material reality. His mind remains disciplined, meticulous and logical, which is why he is so dangerous. The FBI tells us this second underwear bomb of his design is an improvement from a previous design, so he adapts to failure and persists. He is not mentally rigid, at least with working on technical matters. In fact, his imagination is not anchored by normal conventions, squeamishness or taboos. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The Flame Cyber Espionage Attack: Five Questions We Should Ask

June 5th 2012


Last week, Kaspersky Lab announced the discovery of Flame, a malicious program with “complexity and functionality.. exceed[ing] those of all other cyber menaces known to date.” Once installed on a computer, Flame conducts espionage using a bag of tricks including screen shots, recording of audio conversations, and network traffic monitoring. It is believed by some experts to be the work of a nation state, and has primarily been targeting systems in the Middle East. As a Kaspersky Lab representative explained in a Q&A, there “doesn’t seem to be any visible pattern re the kind of organizations targeted by Flame. Victims range from individuals to certain state-related organizations or educational institutions.”

This has added fuel to the ongoing debate regarding a possible international treaty banning cyberweapons. It’s an important topic that deserves proper consideration. But the publicity around Flame furnishes an opportunity to consider other cybersecurity questions as well. Here, in particular, are five worth asking: Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The End is Coming to Counter-Insurgency and Scalable Force

June 5th 2012

General Shelton statue and flags

The U.S. military for years has debated the utility of counterinsurgency operations. Drawing from a sentiment that harkens back to the Vietnam War, many within the military have long opposed counterinsurgency operations. Others see counterinsurgency as the unavoidable future of U.S. warfare. The debate is between those who believe the purpose of a conventional military force is to defeat another conventional military force and those who believe conventional military conflicts increasingly will be replaced by conflicts more akin to recent counterinsurgency operations. In such conflicts, the purpose of a counterinsurgency is to transform an occupied society in order to undermine the insurgents.

Understanding this debate requires the understanding that counterinsurgency is not a type of warfare; it is one strategy by which a disproportionately powerful conventional force approaches asymmetric warfare. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Clinton Raises Pressure on Russia to Help Resolve Syrian Conflict

June 3rd 2012

Assad and Putin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday increased pressure on Russia to join international efforts to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Clinton, in Sweden as part of week-long visit to Europe, said she had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and called on Moscow to push its Syrian ally to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

“My message to the foreign minister was very simple and straightforward," said Clinton, in remarks reported by the Associated Press. "We all have to intensify our efforts to achieve a political transition and Russia has to be at the table helping that to occur."
Clinton said "the Syrian people want and deserve change and that should insofar as possible come about through peaceful means." Russia, which has close ties with Assad's embattled regime, has blocked United Nations efforts to increase pressure on Damascus and force the Syrian strongman from power.  Moscow has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions which would have placed sanctions on Syria’s government. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. and Canada Enter Mutual Air Cargo Security Agreement

June 2nd 2012

tsa security

Government officials in the United States and Canada acknowledged on May 31st that President Barack Obama's administration and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government agreed to a mutual recognition and cooperation plan regarding air cargo security in both nations, according to a Transportation Security Administration statement.

The action plan focuses on four areas: addressing threats early; facilitating trade, economic growth and jobs; integrating cross border law enforcement; and strengthening critical infrastructure and cyber security.

Under the new airline security initiative, cargo shipped on passenger aircraft will be screened at the point of origin and will not need to be re-screened at the border or prior to upload in the other country. With the two countries mutually recognizing each other’s air cargo security programs, the efficiency of screening is improved and the burden on the industry is reduced, according to the statement. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Gaza Strip has become a Huge Arms Depot since Israeli Withdrawal

June 2nd 2012

Gaza Militants

Israel must launch a military operation to rout terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip immediately, Israel Security Agency head Yoram Cohen warned on May 30.

"The IDF's inaction against terrorist organizations will lead to a situation in which Hamas has far greater abilities in the next round of fighting," Cohen told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. It was his first appearance before the committee.

Cohen said Israel’s dilemma was not whether to launch such an offensive, but rather how Hamas would respond. "Such action might force a significant number of people [in Israel] into bomb shelters," Cohen said.

"Since the IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the territory has become a huge weapons depot," Cohen told the committee. "Hamas currently has 8,000 rockets that can reach a range of 4 to 40 km (2.5 to 25 miles)." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Possible ‘Munich Style’ Terror Attack Averted in Azerbaijan

June 1st 2012

Azerbaijan Mosque Baku

Azerbaijan has arrested 40 people in connection with plans to commit terrorist attacks during the Eurovision Song Contest last weekend, which took place in the capital of Baku. According to a statement from the National Security Ministry, the targets included religious sites, buildings used by police, the concert hall for the Eurovision contest, and a number of hotels used by foreign visitors, including the JW Marriot, where Israel’s competitor in the contest, Izabo, was staying. “At first they placed three security guards with us, and then added more and more guards until there were 11 guards,” said Alon Amir, the publicist for Izabo. He added that no specific threats were relayed to the group during their stay.

Azerbaijan was the staging ground for a separate plot recently, where the assassinations of U.S., Saudi, and Israeli diplomats were being planned by terrorists linked to Iran. “The main goal of the group was to stage terrorist acts in Baku during the Eurovision,” the National Security Ministry said in a statement. “As a result of the measures taken, 40 members of the group were arrested.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

NY Times Article Accuses Israel of Often Killing ‘Tunnel Workers’

May 31st 2012

Smuggling Tunnels

Journalist Ruqaya Izzidien spent time in the smuggling tunnels running between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, and recently published an article about the experience in the New York Times.  Izzidien, who has written numerous articles for the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website, claimed in the NY Times that  ”the Israeli government views the tunnels as an illegal smuggling route and often targets them in airstrikes, which usually trap and kill workers.”

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman stated that the idea that they target these tunnels on a regular basis is “patently false”, and when the tunnels are targeted, it’s because they’re being used to smuggle illegal weapons.

“In the limited instances when tunnels are targeted, it is because they are used for terror purposes, such as smuggling in the increasingly complex weapons that have expanded the rocket range to over one million Israeli civilians,” Captain Eytan Buchman of the IDF said.  ”The tunnel ‘industry’ facilitated this rapid expansion, increasing the range of the rockets ten-fold in under a decade.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democratic National Convention Delegate chosen from Council on American-Islamic Relations

May 31st 2012

Hussam Alyoush
Left to right: Hussam Alyoush, Munira Syeda, Ameena Mirza of CAIR.

The Executive-Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Greater Area of Los Angeles Area chapter, Hussam Ayloush, has been elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. CAIR was labeled as an "unindicted co-conspirator" by the federal government in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a charity shut down for financing Hamas. On July 1, 2009, District Judge Jorge Solis upheld the label, ruling that the government provided "ample" evidence tying CAIR to Hamas.

On April 29, Ayloush announced on his Twitter page that he was elected as a DNC delegate for California's Congressional District 42. The California Democratic Party's website has the results of the delegate caucuses, confirming Ayloush's victory.

CAIR's roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood, specifically its Palestine Committee that was secretly set up in the U.S. to support Hamas. In 1993, the FBI wiretapped a Palestine Committee meeting in Philadelphia that included two future founders of CAIR, Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad. Also present was Shukri Abu Baker, the leader of the aforementioned Hamas front called the Holy Land Foundation. At that time, Awad and Ahmed led the Islamic Association for Palestine, another Muslim Brotherhood front (according to the Brotherhood's own documents) with extensive ties to Hamas. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

“Holy Warriors” Terror Plot to Abduct Israeli Citizen Uncovered by Shin Bet

May 31st 2012

IDF Smuggler Tunnels

A plot to kidnap an Israeli citizen and use that person as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian convicts, has been uncovered by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. The Holy Warriors Battalion, a terrorist group with links to Hamas, and has been involved in rocket and gun attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in the past, was behind the plan, which according to Israeli media outlets, originally came into being while the suspects were in jail together.

A number of the suspects are currently serving life sentences in Israeli prisons, including Assad Abu Sharia, who is from the Gaza Strip and is the group’s leader. An operative of the Holy Warriors Battalion named Ramzi Azar, received instructions from another terrorist, Mohammed Baraka Amur to form a group to carry out the abduction. Read more ..

Korea on Edge

U.S. General Muses on HUMINT and Stirs the Pot in the Korean Peninsula

May 30th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

A U.S. Army general has stirred controversy this week about comments about American and South Korean military operations in the North. The U.S. military is denying reports that the head of U.S. special operations in South Korea acknowledged that American and South Korean commandos operate covertly in North Korea.

There are concerns about the ramifications of what the leader of the U.S. special operations command in South Korea said at a panel discussion in Tampa, Florida, on May 22.

Brigadier General Neil Tolley, to an audience of hundreds of people at the Special Operations Forces Industry conference, discussed the challenges the United States faces determining what is inside North Korea's many secret tunnels.

Freelance combat reporter and technology writer David Axe was among those listening to the general. "He was describing the utility of human intelligence on the ground in North Korea. He was describing it as though it were actually happening right now," said Axe. "He since has walked that back to say that he was speaking hypothetically, although he didn't say at the time he was speaking hypothetically."

Another person who attended the panel discussion said he heard the same thing and a partial transcript corroborates Axe’s recollection. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Report Gives DHS Air and Marine Thumbs Down

May 30th 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Department of Homeland Security officials supervise the largest law enforcement air force in the world, but they failed to perform their goals especially at U.S. borders, according to a new report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

On March 30, 2012, the Government Accountability Office issued a classified report on the effective use of both air and marine assets by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection directorate of the Homeland Security Department. This week the GAO released an unclassified version of what many believe is an important document. Information deemed sensitive has been redacted.

"Within DHS, CBP's Office of Air and Marine deploys the largest law enforcement air force in the world. In support of homeland security missions, OAM provides aircraft, vessels, and crews at the request of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is responsible for enforcing border security," the report states. This specialized law enforcement capability allows OAM to make significant contributions to the homeland security efforts of DHS, as well as to those of Federal, State, local, and tribal agencies. To accomplish this mission, OAM utilizes over 1200 Federal Agents, operating from 80 air and marine locations, with more than 290 aircraft of 22 different types, and more than 250 maritime vessels. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Flame, 'The Most Powerful Virus To Date'

May 29th 2012


Someone is infecting Iran's computers with what experts call "the most powerful virus to date." Here are four things to know about the virus, dubbed Flame.

What is Flame and what does it do?  Flame is a computer virus that Tehran says is infecting its computers and which independent experts say is the most powerful virus yet seen. The virus appears to be a major escalation in the cyberwar that some governments concerned by Iran's nuclear program are suspected of waging against Tehran to sabotage its progress.

The virus infects computers in order to spy on users, steal classified information, and cause the mass deletion of data. It does this by sniffing network traffic, taking screenshots, recording audio conversations, and intercepting keyboard activity. The data it collects is relayed back to the virus's creators.

Just which computers Flame is targeting in Iran and what damage it has done so far is unknown. Iranian experts discovered the virus on computers in the Iranian Oil Ministry and National Oil Company in recent months and it only became publicly known this week after Tehran asked a UN agency to help investigate. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Fights over Budget, Gay Marriage, Missile Sites Loom on Defense Bill

May 28th 2012


As the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the Defense authorization bill out of committee this week, it offered the first concrete look at where the Senate will do battle with the House over Defense issues this year. The debate will have an added dose of drama this year because the Defense bill is getting sucked into a broader fight on the size and shape of the budget in the midst of a presidential election year. There are also a host of contentious policies where the two chambers disagree, including provisions on same-sex marriage, abortion and a new East Coast missile defense site.

But the marquee issue between the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate is shaping up to be the overall size of the Defense budget. The House passed-bill authorized a Pentagon budget that was nearly $4 billion higher than both President Obama’s budget request and the bill passed by the Senate panel. The House legislation aligns itself with the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which increases defense and cuts non-defense discretionary spending over the next decade, restoring a chunk of the Pentagon’s $487 billion budget cut due to the Budget Control Act. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

US Officials Reportedly Targeted in Iranian Assassination Plot

May 28th 2012

Destroyed terrorist vehicle

Several American diplomats, along with Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials, were reportedly on a hit list linked to an ongoing assassination campaign by Iranian intelligence. The U.S. officials targeted in the alleged plot were stationed at the American embassy in Azerbaijan, according to reports in the Washington Post. The central Asian country shares its southern border with Iran.

Details of the plot, uncovered by U.S. and Azerbaijani intelligence, included a planned sniper attack on American embassy officials and their families. Alleged Iranian conspirators also schemed to kill embassy members with a car bomb, according to the Post.

The ongoing investigation by American and foreign intelligence into the planned attacks have uncovered evidence tying the plot to Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah and other smaller factions working inside Iran. The plan was to kill U.S. and foreign diplomats over a 13-month period and was only uncovered after Azerbaijani authorities rounded up over 20 alleged co-conspirators in arrests this year. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

US Wades Deeper into Counterterrorism Fight in Yemen and East Africa

May 28th 2012

Yemeni army

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

Syria's New Jihadis

May 27th 2012

Free Syrian Army

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

Rockefeller Questions Cybersecurity of Gas Pipelines

May 27th 2012

Oil Pipes2

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

North Korea Warned of Deeper Isolation Should Provocations Continue

May 27th 2012

N Korean troops

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

Twenty Attempts to Kidnap IDF Soldiers by Terrorist Groups

May 25th 2012

Israeli recruits

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

King: Collaboration of Obama Officials, Filmmakers Potentially Dangerous

May 25th 2012

Obama Pentagon

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

Terrorism and Non-So Exceptional Individuals

May 24th 2012

Hamas head

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 ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Rejects World Powers Stance in Nuclear Talks

May 24th 2012

Click to select Image

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

New DoD Authorization Bill Takes America further towards Militarization of Police

May 24th 2012

Agent in Drug War

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 ..

Iran's Nukes

The Baghdad Nuclear Talks: Three Steps to Help Diplomacy Succeed

May 24th 2012

Bushehr plant panoramic

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

U.S. Provides Billions of Dollars For Foreign Police Assistance

May 24th 2012

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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

Mexico Plagued by Narcomantas and Body Dumps

May 24th 2012

Nuevo Leon shoot out

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

Probe Obama Administration Terror Leak Demand Lawmakers

May 23rd 2012


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

FOIA Request Reveals Disturbing White House Collaboration in Upcoming Bin Laden Film

May 23rd 2012

Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow

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

Rogue Afghan Insurgent Group Enters Political Scene

May 22nd 2012

Afghanistan Fighters

 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

Israeli Military Uses Biomimicry to Design Butterfly Drone

May 22nd 2012

Butterfly 01

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

NATO Unveils 'Working' European Missile Shield At Chicago Summit

May 22nd 2012

NATO meeting

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 ..

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