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The Weapon's Edge

Costly Work Ahead for F-22

May 2nd 2012


When officials told reporters recently that they had deployed F-22 fighter jets in the Middle East for the first time, it was downplayed as “a very normal deployment.” But when it comes to the F-22, there’s very little “normal” about it.

Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va, told reporters that some pilots have asked to be reassigned rather than be forced to fly the jet. And while he described the concerned group as “very small,” Hostage made a point of telling reporters he would be flying the plane himself in the future to “check out” his pilots' concerns and try to bolster their in-flight courage. “I'm asking these guys to assume some risks over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don't feel like it's right that I ask them to do it and I'm not willing to do it myself," said Hostage. (A spokesman confirmed the General would begin his training at the end of the month.) Based on the jet’s history, the pilots’ reaction isn’t surprising. The F-22’s record is one of breakdowns and planning bad enough to require another decade of repairs, according to the government’s watchdog. Meanwhile, the price tag for one of the most expensive Air Force projects in history will keep going up. The plane officially rolled off the assembly line in 2003 and was supposed to be the premiere jet for the U.S. military, a stealth-enabled, hyper-maneuverable air craft capable of dominating the skies at supersonic speeds. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Anarchist and Occupy Conspiracy To Bomb Ohio Bridge

May 2nd 2012

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

In a case that was overshadowed by Tuesday's conviction of al-Qaeda member Adis Medunjanin who plotted with others to bomb the New York City subway system and other targets, five men allegedly connected to the Occupy Movement were arrested and accused of conspiring to use explosives to destroy a bridge near Cleveland, according to a federal law enforcement official. Anthony Hayne, 35, Douglas L. Wright, 26; and Brandon L. Baxter, 20, were arrested by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force on Monday evening  (April 30, 2012), on charges of conspiracy and attempted use of explosive materials to adversely effect interstate commerce.  
In addition on Monday, JTTF members arrested Connor C. Stevens, 20, and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and criminal charges are pending against them. According to the a federal source, residents and those traveling on the targeted bridge were never in any danger from the explosive devices. The explosives that the suspects purchased and attempted to use were inoperable. Read more ..

Argentina and Great Britain

Peru Finds Itself Snared in the Falklands and Malvinas Dispute

May 1st 2012

hms montrose

Thirty years after a bloody war between the United Kingdom and Argentina, the longstanding territorial conflict over the Falklands/Malvinas islands continues to simmer.

In recent months Buenos Aires has attempted to attract international support for its claim to the islands, particularly from fellow South American countries. Several regional states have stated their perfunctory support for Argentina, in some cases going so far as to accept a blockade on the Falklands, refusing vessels flying the islands’ flag to dock in their ports. One state that is in a particularly troubling position regarding which side to back is the Andean nation of Peru, as exemplified in a recent incident regarding the British frigate HMS Montrose. Peru and the UK: a Troubled Historical Relationship; Though geographically distant, Peru and the United Kingdom often have had a troubled relationship, due to the Falklands sovereignty dispute, which is part of even greater geopolitical issues troubling South America. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

New Study Affirms Grim Role Played by US Guns in Mexican Violence

May 1st 2012

Mexican guns

South of the border, war is raging with guns mostly supplied by merchants in the United States.

The Government of Mexico has estimated that almost 50,000 people have been killed since 2006, a toll that has made its top officials irate about the persistent flow of weapons south. Some law enforcement officials in the U.S. government share the Mexicans’ concern, but their attempts to stanch the flow by obtaining better intelliegence about it have badly singed their fingers.

The notorious “Fast and Furious” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—one in a string of attempts over a nearly decade-long period to tag and closely monitor the movement of individual arms—blew up when two of the weapons being tracked were used to kill a U.S. border patrol agent in 2010.

Republicans in Congress seized on the issue, holding multiple hearings last year. Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned. The Phoenix U.S. attorney who oversaw the operation also resigned, and Republicans called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Read more ..

Terror and Crime

Combating Transnational Organized Crime

May 1st 2012

Money Bands=Happiness

The U.S. government has, for decades, dedicated significant resources to stemming the flow of illicit drugs into the United States, and my office leads the Department of Defense’s contributions to that side of the effort. But what our government is in the process of learning is that our traditional focus on countering "drug trafficking organizations" must be expanded to a wider perspective that recognizes that narcotics trafficking is one component of the broader challenge of transnational organized crime. As we undergo this change in perspective, we are in the process of adjusting our policies toward disrupting and degrading global criminal networks that do far more than traffic drugs.

For decades, drug trafficking was the dominant lens through which the United States viewed transnational organized crime. In the 1970s and 1980s, the flow of illicit narcotics into the United States was deemed a major risk to the health and safety of Americans, and the government expended massive resources to curtail both the supply of and demand for illegal drugs. Supply side reduction strategies emphasized degrading the capabilities of Western Hemisphere drug trafficking organizations—highly capable, violent, centralized, and hierarchical organizations often led by a charismatic kingpin. Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, for example, were emblematic of the type of threat facing the United States. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Continues Pursuit Of Al-Qaeda at Home and Abroad, Say Officials

April 30th 2012

Ayman Al-Zawahiri (al Q #2)

The United States is a safer place since Navy SEALs located and killed al-Qaeda's infamous Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 [May 2 in Pakistan], according to Pentagon and Justice Department officials on Saturday. Today, nearly a year after bin Laden’s demise, the United States and its allies continue to hunt down al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups wherever they are located. Within the United States police departments and law enforcement agencies are conducting counterterrorist operations against both foreign fighters who have illegally entered the U.S., and against homegrown terrorists who are radicalized American Muslims. Overseas, the nation's intelligence and military organizations pursue terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa and provide assistance to countries still fighting al-Qaeda and its allies. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- who served as Director of Central Intelligence on May 1, 2011 when the al-Qaeda leader's reign of terror met its end --  recalled the high-risk mission the Defense Department called Operation Neptune Spear, according to American Forces Press Service's Cheryl Pellerin. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Expectation Grows for North Korean Nuclear Test

April 30th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea is giving no official indication it is preparing a third attempted nuclear test—but reports abroad say such an underground detonation could come at any time. Some regional media outlets are reporting a North Korea nuclear test is expected between early and mid-May. One report, in the Joong-Ang Ilbo in South Korea, quotes a diplomatic source in Washington as saying the United States has told South Korea such a detonation could occur as soon as this week. Asked about that, a U.S. diplomat in Seoul replied the Embassy does not comment on “security matters.”

Diplomatic and intelligence sources, who do not want to be quoted, say they have seen no indication from satellite imagery that the equipment and associated cabling necessary to conduct such an underground detonation are in place. Images taken by surveillance satellites in the past few weeks did reveal that digging of a new tunnel was underway at the Pyunnge-ri test site.

There is growing speculation that North Korea will attempt to detonate a uranium-fueled weapon. Its previously announced tests, in 2006 and 2009, are widely believed to have used plutonium, although no traces of radioactive isotopes were detected following the second attempt.

At an April 30 briefing, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-suk told reporters preparations are underway to activate an emergency task force concerning a North Korean nuclear test, but it is not yet operational. Kim says it is impossible to get precise information in real time about what is happening at the test site. But the South Korean military is utilizing various methods—in cooperation with U.S. forces—to collected pertinent information. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

FBI has a Shortage of Counter-Terrorism Personnel

April 30th 2012

FBI dudes

This report is based on an unclassified version of a classified report the GAO issued in February 2012. The unclassified version was released on April 17 and it was immediately obtained for analysis by the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Examiner.

In the wake of the shocking September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made counterterrorism its top investigative priority. Since that fateful day, the FBI has hired thousands of additional staff, increasing its total onboard workforce by 38 percent, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. In particular, the FBI has increased both the size and the role of its Counterterrorism Division (CTD) that is located in Washington, D.C., according to FBI officials.

In 2005, the FBI reported that nearly 40 percent of staff positions in certain parts of CTD were vacant, raising concerns about the FBI’s ability to fulfill its most important mission, and as a result the U.S. Congress requested that the GAO review FBI CTD vacancies. The latest GAO report describes "the extent to which counterterrorism vacancies existed at FBI HQ since 2005 and the reasons for the vacancies as well as the impact of the strategies implemented by the FBI to address these vacancies." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Defense Spending Sees Smooth Road Ahead

April 29th 2012

F15 in Afghanistan

The partisan battles that nearly derailed two Defense authorization bills appear to have subsided as lawmakers get down to work on this year’s version. In 2010 and 2011, passage of the Defense bill came down to the wire amid bitter fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the DREAM Act and terror detainees. This time around, the biggest defense fight of the year in Congress is looming after the Defense authorization bill is complete: the sequestered spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon in 2013. There will undoubtedly be skirmishes as the House Armed Services Committee marks up the Defense authorization bill, but Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told The Hill he’s optimistic the bill can get passed before Congress recesses for the November election.

“This should be done before the election, before we leave town,” McKeon said Friday, adding he’s discussed that goal with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). That’s not to say that there won’t be robust debate and disagreement over the bill, or that the legislation isn’t at risk of getting stuck in a political floor fight. But the authorization bill, which has a streak of passing for 50 straight years, looks to be returning to its more normal course in Congress following the beginning of markups on Thursday. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Federal Government Contemplates Further Use of Military Assets for Border Control

April 29th 2012

soldiers and phone

A section of the National Defense Authorization Act requires the Government Accountability Office examine the costs and benefits of an increased Department of Defense role in helping law enforcement officers secure the southwest land border. The mandate directed the GAO to submit a report to the U.S. Congress, which was recently released. The GAO report examined, among other things, the potential deployment of additional military units, increased use of ground-based mobile surveillance systems, use of mobile patrols by military personnel, and an increased deployment of unmanned aerial systems and manned aircraft in national airspace.

The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection bureau admitted to GAO analysts that the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics, which directly contradicts statements made by President Barack Obama, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the leadership of the U.S. Border Patrol. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Missile Defenses Hobbled by Uncertainties

April 28th 2012

SM-3 launch from USS Hopper
SM-3 launch from USS Hopper (credit: Missile Defense Agency)

After the successful U.S. interception of a simulated North Korean warhead in a 2007 test, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering III expressed great confidence in the capabilities of the U.S. missile defense program. “Does the system work? The answer to that is yes,” Obering, then the program’s director, told reporters at a briefing.

But after a year-long study, the General Accountability Office has expressed far less confidence and issued a clarification of sorts: The Pentagon, it said, really has no idea if its missile defense systems will do their job, because over the past several decades it hasn’t  concocted validated targets to test them, fielded proven interceptors, or even collected all the data needed to assess their early performance.

Deployment of the interceptors Obering praised, the GAO warned, had been rushed to meet a 2004 deadline set by President George W. Bush. The design was not fully tested before production got under way — a frequent occurrence at the Pentagon — and the results were “unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, test problems, and performance shortfalls,” according to its report. This troublesome pattern of concurrently testing and manufacturing interceptors and related equipment is now being repeated by the Obama administration, the independent audit agency said in its 100-page report. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Plan to Move Marines Off Okinawa Faces Challenges

April 27th 2012

USMC Harrier Lands on USS Essex
USMC AV-8B Harrier lands on the USS Essex on task in the Pacific
(credit: MCS2 Eva-Marie Ramsaran, US Navy)

Friday’s announcement by the United States and Japan that 9,000 U.S. Marines will be transferred from a base on the Japanese island of Okinawa is being hailed as a major diplomatic accomplishment. But there are also concerns the actual transfer will be fraught with numerous complications.

The revised realignment plan, agreed to by Japan and the United States, is seen as both a compromise and a work still in progress. It calls for moving nearly half of the 19,000 U.S. Marines off Okinawa. Up to 5,000 are to be re-deployed to the Pacific island of Guam and 4,000 moved to either Hawaii or rotated in and out of Australia. No timelines were announced.

Political analyst and adjunct senior fellow Richard Baker at the East West Center in Hawaii says the agreement comes after complex negotiations involving political, technical, financial and infrastructural issues. “And I don’t think it was inevitable that they would be able to make a meeting of the minds of that sort, so that is the good news,” he said. “Now the bad news is that the public handling of this has got to be as sensitive as the negotiations were and as nuanced.” Read more ..

The Weapon's

Navy’s Shiny New Ship Not So Shiny

April 26th 2012

USS Freedom (LCS-1)
USS Freedom (LCS 1) (credit: US Navy)

The raids should have been a gold star for the Navy. A trial run for a newly designed ship turned into a series of successful missions against cocaine smugglers, resulting in the capture of nine smugglers and over five tons of cocaine. But the early 2010 victories were darkened, quite literally, by a power failure on March 6 that left the ship briefly adrift at sea. The mechanical failure was not the last challenge that would face the crew of the USS Freedom, the first of a new breed of Navy vessels meant to become a core part of its fleet over the next decade. A series of test runs caused cracked hulls that forced the ship to limit its speed; engines that simply failed; and over 600 failures of equipment around the ship, leading to a number of dry-dockings at its home base in San Diego, according to data released by the nonprofit Washington-based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

The Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) already had a troubled reputation. The Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) notoriously concluded in a 2011 report that the Freedom was unlikely to be “survivable in a hostile combat environment.” But POGO disclosed new details of the Freedom’s shortcomings in a letter to the Chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees accompanying the data. The group also raised concerns about what the group calls the Navy’s “pattern of obfuscation” regarding the achievements of the first ship. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Islamist Indicted for Attack on U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo

April 26th 2012

Mevlid Jasarevic

Mevlid Jasarevic, a citizen of Serbia, was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia on charges of attempted murder and other criminal acts in connection with his alleged machine gun attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina last October, according to officials at the U.S. Justice Department. The assault has caused serious concerns regarding al-Qaeda's radicalization of Muslims in that impoverished region, according to a Law Enforcement Examiner source.  

Meanwhile in Bosnia, prosecutors charged three men, including Jasarevic, with terrorism on Monday for their participation in the October 28, 2011 attack on the American embassy. According to a U.S. law enforcement source, the attackers have raised serious questions about the threat from radicalized Muslims in the Balkans and the likelihood that al-Qaeda operatives may be involved in both recruitment and training of newly radicalized Muslims.
The U.S. government's 10-count indictment charges the 23-year old Jasarevic with one count of attempted murder of U.S. officers or employees; one count of attempted murder of U.S. nationals within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States (the U.S. Embassy); one count of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do bodily harm within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States; one count of assaulting U.S. officers or employees with a deadly weapon; one count of destruction of property within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States; and five counts of use of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

The War on Terror

The Threat Posed by Somalian Al Shabaab Terrorists to Neighbors

April 26th 2012

Somali Militants

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, released a message April 23 informing U.S. citizens in the country that it had received credible information regarding a possible attack against Nairobi hotels or prominent Kenyan government buildings. According to the message, the embassy has reason to believe the attack is in the last stages of the attack planning cycle.

The warning comes as thousands of Kenyan troops occupy much of southern Somalia. Along with a force of Ethiopian troops, local militias and a contingent of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, the Kenyans are placing heavy pressure on the al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al Shabaab in southern Somalia.

This external military pressure has exacerbated internal frictions within al Shabaab between nationalist elements and those with a more transnationalist ideology. Mukhtar Robow, aka Abu Mansur, leads the nationalist faction, which is based in the Bay and Bakool regions. Ahmad Abdi Godane, aka Abu Zubayr, leads the transnationalist faction, which is based in Kismayo.

It has been almost two years since we last examined al Shabaab's interest in conducting and ability to carry out transnational terrorist operations. The current warning in Nairobi provides a convenient opportunity to do so once again.

Al Qaeda in East Africa and the Birth of al Shabaab

Al Qaeda and Somali militants have long interacted. In a 1997 CNN interview, Osama bin Laden told Peter Bergen that his fighters helped the Somali militants in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, the events memorialized in Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999). Bin Laden and a good portion of the al Qaeda leadership relocated to Sudan in 1992, where they remained until 1996. During that period, they established a network of business and operational contacts across East Africa. By that point, they had trained militants in camps in Afghanistan for years. They could well have had operatives in Mogadishu in 1993 and could have provided training to militants involved in the incident. Read more ..

Korean Peninsula on Edge

North Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy US Military in “Single Blow”

April 25th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks. North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark North Korea’s Army Day. His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.

Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South.

North Korea’s new, young leader Kim Jong Un was in the audience for Ri’s remarks. But Kim—who holds the rank of a four-star general—did not address the gathering.

North Korea’s failed rocket launches

North Korea, on April 13, launched a multi-stage missile which exploded about two minutes into its flight over the Yellow Sea. Pyongyang claimed it was trying to launch a peaceful satellite into space. The international community condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions forbidding North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology. The failure only intensified fears that North Korea is preparing a third claimed nuclear test.

Pyongyang has made no announcement it is planning such a test. But satellite images from the beginning of this month showed fresh digging at the underground site where North Korea claims to have conducted two previous nuclear detonations. Those tests followed failed long-range rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

South Sudan's President goes to China to Iron out Oil Deal

April 24th 2012

Salva Kiir Mayardit of Sudan, Hu Jintao of China
Sudanese Pres. Salva Kiir Mayardit (l) and Chinese Pres. Hu Jin Tao (r)

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit began a state visit to Beijing on April 23. The Chinese are major supporters of the Sudanese regime of Omar al-Bashir and are heavily invested in petroleum interests in Sudan. While South Sudan continues to struggle to define its boundaries with the Muslim-dominated Sudan to the north, President Kiir hopes to get China's help to improve relations with Khartoum and especially to obtain funds to build an alternative pipeline to the one currently in the hands of Sudan. India, besides China, is also heavily invested in the north.

South Sudan is rich in oil and natural gas. However, it is landlocked and dependent on Sudan - from which it broke away in July 2011 - for downstream services such as pipelines and refineries. The oil wells are in the Christian majority South, while the refineries and infrastructure necessary for the extraction and transportation of crude oil are in the Muslim majority north. On April 10, South Sudan troops invaded the disputed Heglig oil fields just to the north of the disputed border with Sudan. However, his troops have now retreated following intense bombardment by Sudan's air forces and skirmishes between the two countries armies. Troops from Sudan occupied Heglig, but have since pulled back. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

US Lawmaker Dismisses Iran’s Claims of Building Drone Copy

April 22nd 2012

X band radar

The chairman of the U.S. Senate's Homeland Security Committee is dismissing Iran's claim that it has reverse-engineered a U.S. spy drone it captured last year. Lawmaker Joe Lieberman said Sunday on U.S. television that he considered the claims little more than “Iranian bluster.” Earlier Sunday, a senior Iranian commander declared Tehran had reverse-engineered the drone and begun building a copy. Iranian news agencies quoted General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as saying experts also are recovering data from the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured in December in eastern Iran.

U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the surveillance drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory. Hajizadeh said the drone contained many “secret codes,” but he implied that these had been cracked, saying the spy plane now had “no hidden points.” He said exact information about the drone's history had been recovered indicating that it had flown “above [al-Qaida leader Osama] bin Laden's Pakistani hideout two weeks before he was assassinated.”


The Cyber Edge

Industrial Cyber Attacks, a Costly Spy Game

April 22nd 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Cyber espionage has cost U.S.-owned businesses about $14 billion in reported economic losses since last October, according to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI). But private security experts said this is a fraction of a huge problem that will take a cultural shift to put corporate America ahead of today’s high-tech spies.

Martin Libicki, a Washington-based senior management scientist with RAND, a non-profit research and analysis institution, said nobody knows how big the problem is. “It takes a lot more worth than we’ve been willing to give it to try to estimate the size of the problem.” He added,“I don’t have an even good theoretical estimate, much less a practical estimate.” Companies are often too embarrassed to announce a security breach because people don’t always notice it when it first happens. “It takes an average of a year and a half before you realize that something is wrong,” said Libicki.

"In the US ... most companies are careful about their source code, but they send people into the field with sales leads and customer lists stored on mobile devices or unencrypted laptops," says Damien Miller, CEO of Comet Way. Canada’s telecommunications company, Nortel, for example, told the Wall Street Journal in February that it lost data for nearly a decade before realizing it was being spied on. Randall Coleman, FBI Section Chief at the agency’s Counterintelligence department in Washington said hacking by both organized groups and state-backed actors has taken off in recent years. “It is certainly the wave of the future,” he said. “There are state-sponsored corporations throughout the world that spy on the United States and attempt to steal our technology,” Coleman added. Read more ..

Soft Jihad

The Failed Flytilla--A Matter of Perception

April 22nd 2012

Israel Airport

At the start of this week, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists planned to board passenger planes and fly to Israel. Their plan, according to Israeli intelligence assessments, was to join Palestinian demonstrations in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, events that had a high potential to turn violent. The activists, operating under an umbrella group called "Welcome to Palestine 2012," presented themselves as peace seekers who had come to visit Palestinians in the West Bank. Their true motive, Israel suspected, was to create possibly violent provocations, generate media publicity, and attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel.

Hundreds of unarmed plain clothes and uniformed police officers were mobilized to the airport on Sunday, in accordance with a detailed plan drawn up by the head of the Israel Police's Central District, Commander Bentsi Sao. The airport is located in the heart of Sao's Central District, and the Israeli government appointed the veteran officer to head up a national operation to prevent the activists from entering the country. Sao's chief aim was to keep the airport running smoothly on one of its busiest ever days, when nearly 50,000 passengers were expected to pass through, many of them Israelis completing their Passover vacations abroad. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

House Gears Up For 'Cyber Week,' But Security Bill’s Fate Rests With Senate

April 21st 2012

guy fawkes masks

The House is set to vote on a host of cybersecurity bills next week, but the fate of the legislation rests in the Senate. The House is expected to approve the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would tear down legal barriers that discourage companies from sharing data about cyber attacks. The goal of the legislation is to help companies beef up their defenses against hackers who steal business secrets, rob customers’ financial information and wreak havoc on computer systems.
CISPA, sponsored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), has more than 100 co-sponsors. But the White House and Senate Democrats argue CISPA is inadequate. They say any cybersecurity legislation should include tougher privacy protections and should require critical infrastructure systems to meet minimum security standards. "Legislation without new authorities to address our nation’s critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, or legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation's urgent needs," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, without explicitly mentioning CISPA. The White House has endorsed a cybersecurity bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would empower the Homeland Security Department to set mandatory security standards for critical systems, such as electrical grids or chemical plants. A Democratic aide said the Lieberman-Collins bill is a "priority" for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and "we expect to take up the legislation in the next few weeks." But it is unclear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is rallying opposition to the measure and has introduced his own alternative bill, the Secure IT Act. Like CISPA, Secure IT focuses only on voluntary information-sharing about cyber threats. The bill has attracted seven GOP co-sponsors. McCain argued Lieberman-Collins would impose regulations that “would stymie job creation, blur the definition of private property rights and divert resources from actual cybersecurity to compliance with government mandates.” Read more ..

The Biometric Edge

Facial Recognition Technology Offers Security at Airports and on the Battlefield

April 20th 2012

Eye biometrics

AOptix, a developer of advanced optical technologies and products, announced that Morpho, a high-technology company of the Safran group, has become an AOptix strategic partner in the area of biometric technology. With this agreement, AOptix products, including the combined face capture and iris recognition system, InSight® Duo, will be integrated into Morpho’s solutions offered to countries around the world to check the identities of persons crossing their borders on land, sea and air. Morpho provides advanced solutions for border control, detection, identity management, criminal justice, and secure biometric access.

“For years, we have respected AOptix’s commitment to innovation in enhancing iris usability in biometric identification systems. The match between our two companies is natural as we unite to offer biometric solutions for a vast array of applications,” says Bernard Didier, Senior VP, Technology & Strategy at Morpho. “Combining the knowledge and expertise of our two companies in iris and facial recognition solutions will offer tremendous benefits in security and time savings for governments, airports, airlines and the traveling public.” Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Use of Military to Combat Narcotics does not Address Corruption in Society

April 19th 2012

Mexican Drug Police2

Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner in the lead-up to Mexico's presidential election in July, told Reuters last week that if elected, he would seek to increase the size of the current Mexican federal police force. Peña Nieto also expressed a desire to create a new national gendarmerie, or paramilitary police force, to use in place of the Mexican army and Marine troops currently deployed to combat the heavily armed criminal cartels in Mexico's most violent hot spots. According to Pena Nieto, the new gendarmerie force would comprise some 40,000 agents.

As previously noted, soldiers are not optimal for law enforcement functions. The use of the military in this manner has produced accusations of human rights abuses and has brought criticism and political pressure on the administration of President Felipe Calderon. However, while the Calderon administration greatly increased the use of the military in the drug war, it was not the first administration in Mexico to deploy the military in this manner. Even former President Vicente Fox, who declared war on the cartels in 2001, was not the first to use the military in this manner. For many decades now, the Mexican government has used the military in counternarcotics operations, and the Mexican military has been used periodically to combat criminals and bandits in Mexico's wild and expansive north for well over a century. Read more ..

Thailand on Edge

Thailand Courting 'Financial Pariah' Status

April 16th 2012

Money Bands=Happiness

This past February, Thailand was added to a high-risk blacklist by an international organization many people have never heard of. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was established by the Group of Seven (G7) in 1989 to combat money laundering and terrorism finance. Being added to the FATF "high-risk" country list may not sound terrible, but in many circles, it is akin to being labeled a financial pariah.

Thailand now joins the ranks of countries that include North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Myanmar, to name just a few. In most contexts, these are not countries people normally wish to be associated with.

The FATF's best practices, known as the "international standard," are meant to have universal application and to serve as a comprehensive framework against the movement of illicit money. FATF's principal contribution has been Forty Recommendations on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism & Proliferation. Countries are assessed and rated against this standard. In the case of Thailand, the country's financial regime was found to be woefully inadequate and in act, among the worst in the world. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Are We Prepared if Saudi Oil Production Collapses?

April 15th 2012

Saudi Oil

Iranian threats to block oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, if acted upon, could disrupt the global energy supply and cause oil prices to spike. However, as this report suggests, this scenario is relatively short term. It leaves the oil-producing infrastructure intact, and prices would stabilize if military action, led by the United States, and a coordinated international response successfully restore security to the sea-lanes.

However, policymakers need to consider a more dangerous scenario: the collapse of Saudi Arabia’s oil production caused by a massive social upheaval like those that have toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

In 2006, 2008, and 2010, simulations were conducted to assess the strategic and economic impact of a major disruption of energy supply caused by Iranian military action in the Strait of Hormuz or by coordinated terrorist attacks on key nodes in the global energy infrastructure. This report uses the methodology developed in these previous reports and builds on their findings and models. It examines a situation in which an “Arab Spring” uprising disrupts Saudi oil production, causing a total cessation of oil production for one year—a drop of 8.4 million barrels per day (mbd)—followed by a two-year recovery. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Free Syrian Army: A Military Assessment

April 14th 2012

Free Syrian Army

The Free Syrian Army is not a static or perfect military instrument. Rather, it is evolving along with the situation in Syria and emerging as a powerful actor. As it develops and its capabilities improve, its influence over the crisis will only increase. The FSA is thus worthy of outside support, both lethal and nonlethal, including assistance in increasing its organizational effectiveness.

The events of January-February help shed light on the FSA's development and current status. In January, the militia made significant gains against Bashar al-Assad's forces, taking full or partial control of Zabadani, Homs, Rastan, the suburbs of Damascus, and parts of Idlib. In response, the regime launched a sustained offensive against the FSA later that month. Regime forces reasserted themselves in areas previously thought to be held by the militia, with the goal of destroying FSA formations, punishing those who supported them, and retaking the areas. By early February, Assad's forces had successfully reclaimed the Damascus suburbs, Zabadani, Bab al-Amr, Homs, and portions of Idlib, and conducted suppression operations in Deraa, Hama, Aleppo, and Deir al-Zour. Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

Bahrain Embroiled in Saudi-Iranian Proxy War

April 12th 2012

Bahrain enraged protesters

Since February 2011, Bahrain has been undergoing its version of the Arab Spring. Unlike in other countries, however, the island’s troubles have increasingly become a proxy for Saudi-Iranian political rivalry, and perhaps for the centuries-old antagonism between Sunnis and Shiites. By mid-March 2011, the situation had become so chaotic that Saudi forces were deployed to the island. For their part, Bahraini authorities bulldozed the Pearl Monument, where the most significant protests had taken place, and converted the surrounding traffic circle into “al-Farouq Junction,” named for a famous Sunni figure.

Bahrain’s majority Shiite population has always been at a political and socioeconomic disadvantage. In their view, the Shiite slice of the national cake has diminished over the years while the ruling al-Khalifa family has grown increasingly rich. This is the essence of the continuing political crisis, though other factors have further muddied the situation. The dilemma for the United States lies in Bahrain’s status as an important ally. The headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is situated on the outskirts of the capital—a crucial element in maintaining strategic balance in the Gulf and preventing energy-supply disruptions that could threaten the global economy. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Why Paying Bounties for Terrorists Often Fails

April 12th 2012

Bundles of Cash

U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman announced April 3 that the U.S. government's "Rewards for Justice" (RFJ) program was offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In other Rewards for Justice cases involving Pakistan, suspects such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdel Basit and Mir Amal Kansi have hidden in Pakistan and maintained relatively low profiles. In this case, Saeed is a very public figure in Pakistan. He even held a news conference April 4 in Rawalpindi announcing his location and taunting the United States by saying he was willing to share his schedule with U.S. officials.

While the Saeed case is clearly a political matter rather than a pure law enforcement or intelligence issue, the case has focused a great deal of attention on Rewards for Justice, and it seems an opportune time to examine the history and mechanics of the program.

Rewards for Justice

In the shadow of the 1983 and 1984 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, the U.S. Congress established the Rewards for Justice program under the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, which was established by the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. Read more ..

The Edge of Piracy

Navy Plans to Detect Pirates from Above

April 10th 2012


Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels when an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer, officials said April 5. Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), the sensor is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) technology. It will be placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout. Carrying advanced automatic target recognition software, the sensor prototype will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of Sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships. “Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship,” said Ken Heeke, program officer in ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture.”

Navy-developed target recognition algorithms aboard Fire Scout will exploit the 3-D data collected by the LADAR, utilizing a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system’s memory. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

U.S. Intelligence Estimates and the Iranian Nuclear Program

April 9th 2012

Bushehr plant panoramic

Recent media reporting about the U.S. intelligence findings on Iran’s nuclear weaponization program has focused on the relatively narrow technical question of whether the Iranian regime has made the decision to restart an effort to actually build nuclear weapons. The recent reporting shows that the U.S. intelligence community assesses that this decision on restart has not yet been made.  However, this reporting does not address the broader question of whether Iran decided many years ago to seek nuclear weapons and put in place specific nuclear capabilities to allow it to do so expeditiously. As a result, the NIE conclusion about restart, as reported publicly, may provide false comfort about the status of Iran’s nuclear effort and the likelihood of Iran building nuclear weapons.

When or if Iran will actually decide to breakout and make nuclear weapons depends on a range of political and technical factors. At the upcoming negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the priority should be achieving both a set of interim measures that reduce the chance of Iran breaking out and the outlines of a long-term agreement that can establish confidently that Iran will not pursue nuclear weapons. For a more thorough discussion


Egypt after Mubarak

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Rising Road to Power in Egypt

April 8th 2012

Egyptian Muslim bros
Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Israel has been concerned about the stability of the regime in Egypt since the signing of the 1979 peace treaty. The growing struggle between the ruling authorities and radical Muslims was one of those concerns.  In 2005 the Muslim brotherhood won 88 out of 454 seats in the Parliament. This relatively minor success was seen by Hosni Mubarak as proof that the MB was a growing radical political force which could exploit elections continuously to seize control of the country.

In the 2010 elections the 2005 achievement of the MB was not permitted to be repeated by the regime’s manipulation of the results. However, this move backfired. The Egyptian rulers cheating in the elections, created a growing resentment among the population at large, not only within the MB, which helped trigger and escalate the uprising in February 2011. Now, with the recent achievements of the MB and the Salafis in the Egyptian elections, Mubarak’s warning seems very realistic.

The MB may not want to collaborate with the Salafis because they are too radical. The MB would not want the Salafis pushing them to implement extreme steps, at least not too quickly, a move that carries the risk of creating a strong backlash against the MB both from inside and outside Egypt. Thus, they could resort to playing by the rules, forming a government with secular and more liberal ones, and making a deal with the military. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Marines Struggle to Get Care as Wounded Warriors

April 7th 2012

Soldier Crying

Terrible medical care, long delays in service, and soldiers who felt like they were in a “petting zoo”: Those are just some of the issues identified in a Department of Defense Inspector General report issued March 30th on the Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Founded in 2007 as a way to help guide wounded Marines and sailors towards accepting and living with their injuries, the WWR has supported nearly 27,377 wounded, ill, and injured Marines. With camps throughout the country, WWR is among the leading groups in rehabbing both injured service members and their families. But it has been seriously shortchanged by the Marines, according to the IG’s report. Both staff and service members undergoing treatment had a litany of complaints. Some beefed that they were forced to endure visits from VIPs, nonprofit groups and reporters looking for “visibly wounded” Marines with whom they could talk. One said he felt like he was in a “petting zoo.” Prescriptions were poorly monitored and frequently given in excessive quantities, creating a potential for drug misuse. The health care privacy act known as HIPPA was not respected at one location, causing medical information to be passed around loosely.


The Edge of Terrorism

Tactical Realities of the Toulouse Shootings

April 5th 2012

Mohammed Merah, the suspect in a string of violent attacks culminating with the March 19 shooting deaths of three children and a rabbi at the Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, France, committed suicide by cop March 22 after a prolonged standoff at his Toulouse apartment. Authorities believed Merah also to have shot and killed a paratrooper March 11 in Toulouse and two other paratroopers March 15 in Montauban.

While Merah's death ended his attacks, it also began the inevitable inquiry process as French officials consider how the attacks could have been prevented. The commissions or committees appointed to investigate such attacks normally take months to complete their inquiries, so the findings of the panel looking into the Merah case will not be released in time to have any impact on the French presidential election set to begin April 22. However, such findings are routinely used for political purposes and as ammunition for bureaucratic infighting. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Chechen Separatist Leader Unfazed By Reported Murder Plot

April 3rd 2012

Akhmed Zakayev CHECHENYA exile
Separatist Akhmed Zakayev

Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist leader exiled in London, says a reported plot to murder him has not taken him by surprise. In an April 1 report, Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" said it had seen documents in which the MI5 security service outlines the assassination plot and expresses fears that Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, wants Zakayev dead. Zakayev stated RL that MI5 had warned him of similar threats in the past. "They regularly inform me about threats, new information, they advise me on how to act and what to do," he said.

"This has been going on for seven or eight years, so it was no news to me," he added. "It will go on as long as Russia retains its criminal regime, this is obvious to me." According to the "Sunday Telegraph," Kadyrov ordered Zakayev's killing though a London-based middleman known only as E1. Britain's top police official sought to expel the suspected middleman as a threat to national security in 2010, but judges have thus far allowed him to remain in the country, the "Sunday Telegraph" reports. Some details are known about E1: he is a 45-year-old Russian who came to Britain with his family in 2003 and claimed political asylum from the war in Chechnya. He has six children and is believed to have served as a Chechen soldier. Zakayev said he thought he knew the identity of E1, but did not offer specifics. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Widows Seek Exoneration For Marine Pilots In 2000 Osprey Crash

April 2nd 2012


For a dozen years, two widows say, the Marines have unfairly blamed their husbands for the death of 19 Marines in a fiery V-22 Osprey crash.

Connie Gruber and Trish Brow have been fighting to get the Marines to say their husbands, pilots Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow, should not be blamed for the April 2000 crash when the tiltrotor aircraft rolled over sideways trying to land in a training exercise. Their cause has been championed by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has lobbied the Marines for a decade to remove “human factors” as a cause and say the pilots weren’t at fault.

“I have children who are 19 and 20 now, and they deserve that for their father,” Trish Brow said in an interview. But Jones’s efforts have failed to persuade Marine leaders, who say there’s no reason to change the crash report, which found numerous factors contributed to the accident, including human ones. “The Marine Corps is unaware of any new evidence in the case and therefore has no basis to second-guess the judgments of the many professionals who were involved,” a spokesman for Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said in a statement. “We believe this matter to be closed.” Read more ..

The Defense Edge

New Report on Technical Issues behind Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

April 1st 2012

Nuclear Bomb MK17

The United States is now in a better position than at any time in the past to maintain a safe and effective nuclear weapons stockpile without testing and to monitor clandestine nuclear testing abroad, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report, requested by the Office of the Vice President and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, reviews and updates a 2002 study that examined the technical concerns raised about the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The report does not take a position on whether the U.S. should ratify the treaty.

“So long as the nation is fully committed to securing its weapons stockpile and provides sufficient resources for doing so, the U.S. has the technical capabilities to maintain safe, reliable nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without the need for underground weapons testing,” said Ellen D. Williams, chair of the committee that wrote the report. “In addition, U.S. and international technologies to monitor weapons testing by other countries are significantly better now than they were a decade ago.”

U.S. verification of compliance with the CTBT would be accomplished through a combination of information gathered by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, the International Monitoring System (IMS), which is now more than 80 percent complete, and other publicly available geophysical data. U.S. global monitoring capabilities are superior to those of the IMS and can focus on countries of national concern, the report says. However, the IMS provides valuable data to the U.S., both as a common baseline for international assessment and as a way of disclosing potential violations when the U.S. needs to keep its own data classified. Therefore, the U.S. should support both the completion of the IMS and its operations regardless of whether CTBT enters into force, the report says. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Defense Department Seeks New Authorities For Counterterrorism Fight

April 1st 2012

NYPD and flag

As the Pentagon begins to wind down the war in Afghanistan, the smaller conflicts elite U.S. forces are fighting around the world are heating up.

But DoD needs more than just men and materiel to meet these challenges. It needs additional authority from Congress to do so. "Most of the authorities that we have right now are narrowly construed to counterterrorism ...  [but] I think for some countries we may need a little bit more flexibility to go in there," Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The majority of counterterrorism missions by U.S. special forces have been focused on al Qaeda and Taliban cells in Afghanistan and the Middle East region. But growing numbers and types of threats, particularly in Africa and South America, require a new approach to U.S. counterterrorism operations, Sheehan told members of the Senate Armed Services’ subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities. "If we have a broader range of authorities, we can respond with more agility to each country with a different set of programs," Sheehan said. "I think that's the direction we're thinking." Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and subpanel member Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pressed Sheehan on what exactly DoD was looking for, in terms of legislative authorities. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Iraq Starts New Year with Violence

March 31st 2012

Baghdad bomb

There has been a rapid and widespread deterioration of security in Iraq since the mid-December end of the U.S. military mission there. Yet a detailed analysis of the upsurge in violence reveals that withdrawal of U.S. troops was a less significant driver of violence than the U.S. policy of providing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki with a blank check in his campaign to consolidate power.

Tracking Iraq's Regression

Perceptions of security in Iraq are often based on the number of mass-casualty attacks -- such as car bombs and suicide-vest attacks in crowded places -- undertaken in high-visibility locations like Baghdad or the number of deaths reported by the Iraqi government. According to Washington Institute for Near East Policy metrics sourced from the Iraqi security forces, Iraq witnessed thirty-six confirmed attempted mass-casualty attacks in January 2012, a significant increase on the average of twenty-three attacks a month in the quarter ending December 2011. Officially reported deaths are also increasing, with 340 civilian deaths reported in January 2012 compared to 155 in December 2011.

Yet a closer look at violence in Iraq's provinces produces an even dimmer view of what has occurred since mid-December 2011. Mass-casualty attacks tell only part of the story of violence in Iraq, and mortality statistics overlook the targeted nature of violence in today's Iraq, where a high proportion of victims are local progovernment community leaders. For every one person of this kind who is killed, an exponential number of others are intimidated into passive support for insurgent groups. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

New Study Fails to Resolve Differences over Risks to U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

March 31st 2012

Nuclear Missile in Silo

On March 30, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report that is already starting to be described as having resolved all of the technical issues surrounding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Descriptions of the NAS study by CTBT advocates are certain to be overstatements. There are disagreements among technically knowledgeable people regarding these issues. It was just these kinds of disagreements that caused the Strategic Posture Commission to report in 2009 that it could not reach a consensus position regarding U.S. ratification of the CTBT. For example, the opponents of CTBT ratification on the commission stated that “maintaining a safe, reliable nuclear stockpile in the absence of testing entails real technical risks that cannot be eliminated by even the most sophisticated science-based program because full validation of these programs is likely to require testing over time.” Further, there is an array of narrower technical questions that surround the debate over the value of the CTBT. It is worth examining some of these questions, most of which are raised in the NAS study. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Want to Test Your Nuclear Weapon? The World Will Know

March 31st 2012

Trinity Test July 16, 1945
Trinity Test Shot, July 16, 1945; estimated yield: 20kT (credit: LANL)

Beneath the oceans, on distant islands, in barren deserts, on icy hillsides, and at hundreds of other spots around the globe, special sensors are sniffing the air, measuring ground motion, watching for a particular kind of light, and listening for unique sounds. Their function is to pick up the telltale sign of a nuclear explosion, and according to a scientific report released in Washington on March 30, they can now do it very well.

The sensors, deployed at more than 260 sites under the supervision of an international organization based in Vienna, are singly or collectively able to discern the distinctive traits of such blasts anywhere in the world, down to a level of explosive force “well below” the equivalent of 1000 tons of TNT, or a fraction of the force of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, a panel of the National Research Council told the White House in its report.

U.S.-owned intelligence gear deployed around the globe and on satellites can do even better, the report said, without disclosing how much. Its overall message was that if the United States decides to join a global treaty banning nuclear tests—a expressed goal of many U.S. officials since the treaty was completed in 1996—it would not have to worry about militarily-significant, undetected cheating by others. Read more ..

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