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The Battle for Syria

Red Cross Evacuation in Homs On Hold

June 21st 2012

Homs Ablaze June 8 2012

Attempts by the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from the battered northern Syrian city of Homs appear to be stalled Thursday, as government forces continue their military offensive against the city and its surroundings. New reports also claim that government troops shelled a group of mourners in the southern flashpoint city of Dara'a, killing a large number of people.

Rabab al-Rifai, a spokeswoman for the ICRC, said the team remains in another part of Homs and will continue to attempt to enter the badly hit neighborhood of Hamidiya.

"An ICRC team and Syrian Arab Red Crescent was heading today to Hamidiya area, but it had to turn back to Homs city," said al-Rifai. "The team had to return as it heard close shootings. So, now, they are trying to re-establish contact with all concerned  - the authorities and the opposition - and we will attempt to go back again to the area [later today]." Rifai said both the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent are hoping to evacuate both the sick and wounded, as well as ordinary citizens trapped inside the city by fighting. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Foreign Support for Syria's Anti-Assad Rebels

June 21st 2012

US Army Humvee EFP attack
US Army Humvee following EFP attack in Iraq.

A video recently posted to the Internet depicting an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Syria has garnered a great deal of attention. A Syrian militant group called the Hawks Brigade of the Levant claimed the attack, which targeted a Syrian government armored troop bus as it traveled along a road near a rebel stronghold in the Idlib governorate. According to the group, the attack depicted in the video employed a type of IED called an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Though the video was shot from a fairly long distance away, it does appear that the IED punched a substantial and focused hole through the armored bus -- precisely the type of effect that would be expected if an EFP were employed against such a target.

EFPs are a logical tool for militants to use against superior government forces that are heavily dependent upon armor. EFPs pose a significant threat to armored vehicles, which the Syrian military has utilized extensively, and quite effectively, in its campaign against Syrian rebel groups.

Studying the IED technology employed by a militant group is an important way to determine the group's logistics situation and trajectory. It can also be a way to discern if a group is receiving outside training and logistical assistance. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Homegrown Islamist Pleads Guilty in Manhattan to Aiding al-Qaeda

June 20th 2012

Judge's Gavel

A 37-year-old homegrown jihadist entered a guilty plea in a New York City federal courtroom on Monday to terrorism charges for aiding the radical Islamic group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Brooklyn-born Wesam El-Hanafi pleaded guilty to one count of providing material support to a terrorist group and one count of criminal conspiracy. The Manhattan federal prosecutors in the case agreed with the defendant's defense attorneys to accept a guilty plea and recommended a 20-year prison sentence.

El-Hanafi told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood that in July 2009, he had a conversation with others in which they discussed contacting al Qaeda operatives.

El-Hanafi was arrested in April 2010, along with Sabirhan Hasanoff, 36, a dual U.S.-Australian citizen. Hasanoff had already pleaded guilty on June 4 to the same crimes. The two Islamists, who were arrested overseas and brought to the United States to be prosecuted, were unaware that law enforcement officers had them under surveillance. Read more ..

Lebanon on Edge

Syria Conflict Puts Hezbollah Ally in Delicate Position

June 19th 2012

Hezbollah rally

The conflict in Syria is having a spillover effect on many of its neighbors and placing some allies of the Syrian government in a delicate position. Violence is affecting Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah.

The kidnapping in Syria last month of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims returning from Iran has highlighted the delicate links between Syria's conflict and various sectarian groups in neighboring Lebanon. The main Syrian opposition alliance has denied responsibility for the kidnappings. But a previously unknown Syrian rebel group says it is holding the pilgrims until the Syrian government stops attacking innocent civilians.  The kidnappers say five of the pilgrims are members of Hezbollah which they accuse of supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is a long-standing ally of the Syrian government, which has supplied the group with arms, training and money to fight Israel. But lately, Hezbollah leaders have criticized the violence in Syria and have expressed support for democratic reform there. The head of the International Affairs Institute of the American University of Beirut, Rami Khouri, says Hezbollah is in a difficult situation. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Bouncing Too Much to Find the Enemy

June 18th 2012


A host of problems plague the military’s newest jet fighter, the F-35, but one of the simplest yet most troublesome is identified in a new government audit as unreadable “symbology.”

The problem exists inside a small item at the heart of what makes the F-35 the world’s most sophisticated aircraft — if only it could be made to work. Namely, the pilot’s helmet visor. On the world’s most advanced, fifth-generation military aircraft, the visor is meant to be much more than a sun shield. It is supposed to do wondrous things.

Acting like a small, see-through movie screen, it is designed to display data showing how the plane is performing, where enemy targets are, and which weapons the pilot can use to handle them. As the pilot swivels his head, the display is meant to adapt, creating a direct link — as in a science-fiction movie — between the pilot and the aircraft’s unprecedented computing power. The visor is, according to the Government Accountability Office’s latest annual report on the F-35’s development, “integral to the mission systems architecture.” In other words, the plane was more or less designed around the unique capabilities of that fancy helmet appendage. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Militants Claim Bombings of Churches

June 18th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

 The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for three suicide bombings of Christian churches in Kaduna state Sunday that killed at least 21 people and wounded many more.  The state remains under a 24-hour curfew after the bombings sparked reprisal attacks by Christians against Muslims.

​​The militant Islamist sect Boko Haram said it carried out the three suicide car bombings in a statement e-mailed to journalists late Sunday. 

"We carried out these attacks," the statement said, "because Christians have enjoyed the support of government when they were killing Muslims and destroying mosques in northern towns." The statement said the group would continue attacks against Christians, in particular against women and children.  Christians, the statement said, must convert to Islam. Boko Haram is known to communicate through such e-mailed statements to journalists, but the authenticity of this statement was not immediately verifiable. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Lawmakers Caution Against Targeting Journalists In Security Leak Crackdown

June 17th 2012

As Congress plans to craft new laws to crack down on national security leaks in the wake of a series of high-profile disclosures, lawmakers say they aren’t looking to target the journalists who reported and published the leaked information.

Attempts to re-write laws over classified information are nothing new, but reaction to the latest national security leaks have a different tone toward the media than ones during the Bush administration. “The potential backlash against the media has so far been diverted into a backlash against the White House,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s not the media that is out of control; it is supposedly the White House that is exploiting these stories for partisan gain.”

Aftergood said that the current situation is a contrast from the 2005 New York Times report about warrantless wiretapping, when “there was a push in conservative circles to indict the New York Times for publishing the stories.” Read more ..

Broken Borders

Are Drones Used Effectively on U.S. Borders?

June 16th 2012

Predator3 Drone-Border Patrol

The key military role played by the over 7,500 drones used by the Pentagon is well-known. But until recently, the deployment of drones by the government inside U.S. borders has attracted little attention or critical oversight.

Now a new internal audit from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has raised concerns about the utility of those drones, focusing on their high costs and how they have been managed.

DHS has spent more than $250 million on its program in the past six years, and currently has nine Predator drones on call. While each drone is purchased at a cost of around $18 million each, the GAO estimated that the hourly charge is $3,234 — or almost $65,000 per 20-hour mission. The majority of the drones are based on the U.S./Mexico border, where a growing drug war has slowly seeped into parts of California and Texas. But drones also scout the border with Canada. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified last month that UAVs were patrolling from North Dakota to eastern Washington State. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Kenyan al-Shabab Fighters Present Problems for Families

June 15th 2012

Al Shabaab

The Somali militant group al-Shabab has long relied on an extensive funding and recruitment network funneled through a community-based organization in Kenya called the Muslim Youth Center. Kenyans say there has been a devastating impact on the community resulting from hundreds of young men leaving their families to join the Islamist movement.

Thirty-one-year-old Maryam Gulam, a mother of three, saw her husband recruited to fight for al-Shabab in 2009 when she was three months pregnant. Maryam Gulam says her husband converted to Islam in 2006 and went to an Islamic school to study his new religion. She assumes that is where her husband was taught about jihad, or holy war, instead of basic Muslim religious teachings.

Gulam says she learned her husband left for Somalia to join al-Shabab through another family. "My husband left me when I was pregnant," she says, "and to this day I don’t know if he is alive or dead." She says she came to know that her husband went to Somalia through other families whose sons were recruited.  The other families knew about their sons’ journey to Somalia, but Ghulam says, "I was the only one that wasn’t aware. ... I am facing so many challenges because my in-laws are accusing me of taking their son away from them and [saying that] I am also the one who made him join Islam," Gulam said. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram: Mali Connection?

June 14th 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

According to the President of Niger Mahamdou Issoufou, the rebellion in Mali has direct links to the terrorist organization Boko Haram operating in Nigeria. Like Boko Haram the rebel faction Ansar Dine in Mali is an Islamic fundamentalist group that has links to Al Qaeda in North Africa. Their common ties likely mean that the two groups have members that train together and are likely sharing weapons and other resources. It has also been reported that Boko Haram has fighters in Mali. The link has led to speculation as to whether the impending multilateral intervention in Mali will lead to increased activity in Nigeria and whether militants will cross from one territory to the other.

The link between Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Ansar Dine seems more functional than ideological. The groups are working together along the lines of their common interests. However in totality their alliance does not appear to be as cohesive as has been speculated. The agenda of Boko Haram is as political as it is religious and ideological. It appears that they have financial backing from elite elements from the north of Nigeria. Ansar Dine financial backing is largely from Qatar in the Middle East. Aside from the mutual benefit from training and weapons, they do not appear to have any substantive intersecting interests with Ansar Dine. Still since the collapse of the regime in Libya, more weapons and munitions have been floating around the Sahara region than ever before. Military action in Mali will see the weapons move to other territories perhaps even back into Libya where local lords have carved out territories under their control. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israeli Police Crackdown on Illegal Aliens

June 14th 2012

Sudan Refugees Israel

While the problem of illegal aliens and border security in the United States continues to be a divisive issue, Israel's immigration authorities have taken the proverbial "bull by the horns" and continued an arrest campaign for a second day against the illegal aliens living in the Jewish state, according to the a  police source in Israel.

Following the weekend detention of 22 illegal aliens -- eight of them from South Sudan -- the immigration authorities rounded up about 100 infiltrators on Monday and Tuesday, including 70 South Sudanese, the Israeli police source noted. The illegal aliens who were apprehended and placed in detention will be deported sometime this week, according to Israeli immigration officials. Prior to this illegal alien dragnet, Israel's "collective protection" policy prohibited the removal of illegal aliens based on humanitarian grounds. But on Thursday, a district court in Jerusalem decided to end the policy for the thousands of Sudanese saying the lives of the illegals will no longer be in danger now that South Sudan has broken off from Sudan and is now a separate nation recognized by the United Nations. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Army's Mishandling of Afghanistan Police Contract Boosted Costs

June 13th 2012

Afgan Police

As the U.S. military heads for the door in Afghanistan, one of its most important tasks is to train Afghan police to take control of the nation’s security. But a billion-dollar Afghan police training contract, now being administered by the Army, has encountered some troubles, according to a new report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s office.

In just the first four months after the contract was signed in December 2010, its cost shot up $145 million, or 14 percent. A series of late revisions has slowed the training process for Afghan police, the IG report said, and the contract has been written in a way that allows new costs to accumulate without penalty. The IG blamed the Army for the early cost hike, asserting that those overseeing the work by the lead contractor, DynCorp International, should have anticipated that its scope would be greater than initially estimated.

The new contract replaces three previous training contracts, costing a total of $4.954 billion. Two of these were also held by DynCorp. It started adding personnel and associated expenses at the Army’s request less than a month after the contract was awarded. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Would New Leader Change Egypt's Foreign Policy?

June 13th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

The upcoming runoff presidential election in Egypt has raised fears of a radical shift in foreign policy, should Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsi win.  But, some see few changes on the immediate horizon. A possible win by the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi has some wondering if Egypt could soon see a realignment of its foreign policy.

A spokesman for the Islamist candidate, Walid el Haddad, says a Morsi administration would strive to move beyond the U.S.-centered agenda of the past, but keep those decades-long ties strong. "As we have a very good relation with America as one of the leaders of the world, so we have to have a good relation also with the Asian countries.  We will have a good relation with African countries, as the European countries," he said.

The key, el Haddad says, is balance.  Fifteen turbulent months after the old government fell, radical change is something the Morsi campaign is trying to play down.  Even on controversial issues such as Israel, the candidate vows to keep the peace. "We are respecting any treaties," he said. "This is one of our Islamic references: to respect any treaties.  But also we are requesting the other side to respect [it]." Read more ..

The Edge of War

U.S. Military Admits Major War Mistakes

June 12th 2012

US 10 MT departing

When President Obama announced in Aug. 2010 the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, he complimented the soldiers who had served there for completing “every mission they were given.” But some of military’s most senior officers, in a little-noticed report this spring, rendered a harsher account of their work that highlights repeated missteps and failures over the past decade, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There was a “failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define” the environment in which the conflicts occurred, leading to a “mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions, and goals,” says the assessment from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. The efforts were marked by a “failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational” shifts from one phase of the conflicts to the next. From the outset, U.S. forces were poorly prepared for peacekeeping and had not adequately planned for the unexepected. In the first half of the decade, “strategic leadership repeatedly failed,” and as a result, U.S. military training, policies, doctrine and equipment were ill-suited to the tasks that troops actually faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more ..

The Massacres in Syria

Syrian Troops Pound Rebel Strongholds

June 11th 2012

Syria death

 Syrian government forces continued their heavy shelling of the flashpoint cities of Homs and Deir el-Zor, amid reports of more intense fighting in the region of Latakia. The new head of the Syrian opposition, meanwhile, is urging government officials to defect. Witnesses say troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pounded the flashpoint city of Homs Monday with field artillery, rockets and mortars.

International mediator Kofi Annan voiced concern on Monday over shelling in Homs and reports of similar attacks on the town of al-Haffa in Latakia.  A spokesman for Mr. Annan said there are indications that many people are trapped in these towns. Syrian government forces also continued to shell parts of the desert town of Deir el-Zor and its outskirts.  Heavy fighting was reported in at least four nearby towns.

A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army says that a group of government soldiers at the Ghantu rocket base near Homs defected, taking munitions and weaponry.  Amateur video showed plumes of smoke rising over the base. Syrian state TV reported that government security forces discovered a car packed with 700 kilograms of explosives in the Damascus suburb of Shiba'a.   It showed U.N. observers inspecting the trunk of the vehicle. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Computer Attack on Iran Adds Urgency to Cybersecurity Efforts

June 10th 2012


The revelation that the United States used a computer virus to damage Iranian nuclear facilities has added urgency to a push in Congress for cybersecurity legislation.

Top administration officials, such as National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, have long argued that the nation is at risk of suffering a devastating cyber attack. A New York Times report earlier this month that a virus destroyed Iranian centrifuges makes those warnings more credible."We now know why they were making those predictions," said Noah Shachtman, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing editor to Wired magazine. "They were talking about themselves—not what some outside opponent could do to us, but what we were doing to others."

According to the New York Times story, the virus, which became known as Stuxnet, was created in partnership with Israeli officials. The program was launched during the Bush administration and expanded under President Obama. "The U.S. has basically endorsed the use of these things publicly, and that does change the game," Shachtman said. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Focuses on Combating Somalia's Terrorists

June 9th 2012

Al Shabaab

Yesterday, U.S. State Department officials announced plans to target leaders of Somalia's answer to al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab. A bounty is being offered for information regarding the radical Islamic group's top leaders, especially those affiliated with al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), according to a counterterrorism source in Washington, D.C.

According to the announcement millions of dollars will be paid to informants "who will finger these merchants of death who prey on people who are starving, physically weak and sickly," said the counterterrorism source. The "Rewards for Justice" web site will start detailing the rewards program today, according to officials at the State Department.

The Bush administration's State and Treasury Departments added Al-Shabaab to the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2008, after the group gained control of southern Somalia and began imposing Sharia law on some of the world's poorest people in that war-torn country. In January 2010, Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda announced their affiliation. While the U.S. hasn't deployed  military or counterterrorism forces in Somalia, it has contributed money to the African Union which deployed troops to assist Somali soldiers and police officers. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

GOP: East Coast Missile Defense Shield to Counter Iranian Nuclear Threat

June 9th 2012

Iranian Qiam missile launch

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.” Read more ..

The Afghanistan War

China Pledges 'Selfless Help' to Afghanistan

June 9th 2012

Afghan Poppy Fields
Enter Image Caption here

China's president pledged "selfless help" to Afghanistan on June 8, as the leaders of the two countries agreed to upgrade their trade, aid, investment and security relations.

At a meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, President Hu Jintao told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that China would continue to provide help to Afghanistan as it enters "a critical transition period." "At present Afghanistan has entered into a critical transition period," Hu noted.  "China is a trustworthy neighbor and friend of Afghanistan.  Both now and in the future, China will continue to stay firmly committed to our policy of developing friendly relations with Afghanistan and will continue to provide sincere and selfless help to the Afghanistan side." China is positioning itself for a bigger role in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most U.S. and other international troops at the end of 2014.

The two leaders signed a strategic partnership agreement, under which China said it would encourage Chinese investment, help build infrastructure, grant scholarships to Afghan students and provide $24 million in aid this year. And, President Karzai thanked President Hu for his hospitality."Thank you Mr. President, as always for your tremendously warm and friendly hospitality," Karzai said. Read more ..

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 ..

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