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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 ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's New Counterinsurgency Plan

March 30th 2012

Colombian Death Squads

Colombian security forces attacked a camp belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on March 26 in Vistahermosa, Meta department, killing 36 members of the guerrilla group and capturing three. The operation, which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said resulted in the deaths of more FARC members than any other single strike in the 50-year-long conflict between the Colombian government and Marxist guerrilla groups, came shortly after a similar action in Arauca state in which 33 FARC members were killed and 12 were captured.

The operations were launched as part of an aggressive new Colombian counterinsurgency strategy dubbed Operation Espada de Honor ("Sword of Honor"), created in response to the increasing violent activity by the country's guerrilla groups. The plan expands the list of targets for security forces and the locations where they will engage guerrillas, with the goal of crippling the FARC both militarily and financially.

Espada de Honor is the latest of several plans by the Colombian government to combat militancy in the country. To fully understand the plan and its implications, it is helpful to examine the nature of Colombia's guerrilla groups, previous government counterinsurgency strategies and how the FARC has reacted to them. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

More than $2 Billion for Financial Software—And Few Results

March 30th 2012

Military Accountant

A costly and lengthy effort by the Pentagon to bring its financial ledgers up to modern standards continues to encounter serious problems, according to a new General Accountability Office report that spotlights shortcomings in accounting software now being tested by the Army and the Air Force.

The software, on which the Pentagon has spent $2.665 billion since 2003, was meant to streamline archaic, hand-written ledger accounting practices and enable the services to meet a 2017 legal deadline for producing their first, auditable financial statements. But the GAO’s report, released on March 29, cites a series of weaknesses that have produced inaccurate data, “an inability to generate auditable financial reports, and the need for manual workarounds.”

The GAO based its assessment on its own research as well as internal Army and Air Force reviews that it said had confirmed problems existed in “data quality, data conversion, system interfaces, and training.” The troubles were evident in trials that so far involve only a fraction of the estimated 529,000 Army and Air Force employees that are slated to use the software while monitoring $471 billion worth of spending or inventory every year. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Nearing Coffin Corner: US Air Power on the Edge

March 29th 2012

KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s

The administration’s decision to prioritize the Asia-Pacific region represents an important step forward in realigning military forces with America’s global interests.

It follows the wisdom of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, led by William J. Perry, Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, and Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, which found that the force structure in the Asia-Pacific area needs to be increased. In order to preserve U.S. interests, the United States will need to retain the ability to transit freely the areas of the Western Pacific for security and economic reasons. The United States must be fully present in the Asia-Pacific region to protect American lives and territory, ensure the free flow of commerce, maintain stability, and defend our allies in the region.

However, the credible projection of effective and sustainable power requires more than rhetoric. It also requires investments in capabilities and capacity to protect America’s interests in the region. Air power uniquely affords leaders the ability to wage mobile and adaptive campaigns that maximize economy of force relative to wars based on attrition and occupation. However, policymakers must not assume continued de facto US preeminence in the skies. Combat operations in the Asia-Pacific would require an ample inventory of aircraft with adequate range, speed, and stealth. This does not mean limited “silver bullet” fleets that try to perform nearly every mission with only a few select aircraft.
"Allies’ commitment to the United States and its interests depends directly on their perceptions regarding American presence, staying power, and resolve." Read more ..

The Disaster Edge

35,000 Gallons of Prevention

March 28th 2012

Subway tunnel and inflatable plug
Tunnel credit: Alex Masters; RTP credit: E.M. Sosa, WVU

Twenty years ago in Chicago, a small leak in an unused freight tunnel expanded beneath the Windy City and started a flood which eventually gushed through the entire tunnel system. A quarter-million people were evacuated from the buildings above, nearly $2 billion in damages accrued, and it took 6 weeks to pump the tunnels dry.

How much more costly—in lives and infrastructure—would a flood in a heavily used, underwater subway tunnel be today?

In January 2012 the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) successfully tested an unprecedented technology for containing flooding or dangerous gases in mass transit tunnels: a giant plug.

S&T’s Resilient Tunnel Project (RTP) has developed an enormous inflatable cylinder, tunnel-shaped with rounded capsule-like ends, that can be filled with water or air in minutes to seal off a section of tunnel before flooding gets out of control.

For years, mass transit experts have pondered ways to block off a section of a tunnel to quickly contain the spread of water. Ideally, the tunnel could be plugged, much as a drain is plugged by a rubber stopper. But is it actually possible to isolate part of a tunnel at a moment’s notice? Retrofitting a transit system with retractable, watertight doors might seem an obvious solution, but doing so could be cost-prohibitive and incredibly disruptive.

S&T’s new tunnel plug provides an affordable, easily installed, quickly deployable solution to protect vital mass transit systems. Developed in partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); West Virginia University (WVU); and ILC Dover, longtime maker of NASA space suits, the plug inflates (with water or air) to dimensions of roughly 32 feet long and by 16 feet wide, and holds 35,000 gallons, about the same capacity as a medium-sized backyard swimming pool. When not in use, the plug packs down to a small storage space in the tunnel, ready for remote, immediate inflation in an emergency from the tunnel system’s command center. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

The Coming Cyberwar With Iran?

March 27th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

On January 17th, 1991, as the 34-nation coalition of Operation Desert Storm prepared for its first aerial bombardment of targets in Iraq, the U.S. military sprung a surprise.

Iraqi radar screens suddenly blinked and went dark, momentarily blinding Saddam Hussein’s military. The “Kari” radar control system had been infected with a computer virus, planted and controlled by the Pentagon. “It was a French system,” notes intelligence historian Matthew Aid of the Iraqi radar control. “They gave us the schematics and we found a way to insert some buggies into their system as the first wave of American bombers streaked toward Baghdad.”

It worked brilliantly. Iraq’s defenses were paralyzed, allied bombers faced no serious opposition, and the U.S. became the first-ever nation to launch a documented cyber-attack.

Since then, war and conflict—like many other things—have increasingly moved online. In Kosovo, Lebanon, Estonia, Georgia and elsewhere, digital weapons have been deployed to create mischief, havoc and damage. Now, as tensions rise between Iran and the U.S. and Israel, serious questions are being asked about whether the coming months may bring a new cyberwar, and what it may mean for the world. Read more ..

The World on Edge

World Leaders Call For More Nuclear Security Cooperation

March 27th 2012

Lee and Obama at Nuke Summit
Presidents Lee Myung-Bak of S. Korean, Barack Obama of the U.S.

World leaders gathered for a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea, have pledged tough action to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism but have agreed no new concrete measures.

A statement at the close of the gathering on March 27 said it was the “fundamental responsibility” of all states to safeguard nuclear materials and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

It added that “nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security” and said countering that threat requires “strong national measures.” However, the statement provided no specific details on how governments intend to combat the threat.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that threats remain due to “bad actors” actively seeking unsecured nuclear materials. “Of course, what is also undeniable is that the threat remains. There are still too many bad actors in search of these dangerous materials and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places,” Obama told the summit. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

Will the $55 Billion Bomber Program Fly?

March 26th 2012

B-2 Bomber
B-2 Bomber (credit: Gary Ell/USAF)

When the Obama administration dispatched three B-2 bombers from a Missouri air base on March 19 last year to cross the ocean and reach Libya, it put roughly $9 billion worth of America’s most prized military assets into the air. The bat-shaped black bombers, finely machined to elude radar and equipped with bombs weighing a ton apiece, easily demolished dozens of concrete aircraft shelters near Libya’s northern coast.

The Air Force points to that successful mission, and thousands of others against insurgents in Afghanistan conducted by older B-1 bombers, while arguing that long-distance, pinpoint expressions of U.S. military power are best carried out by strategic bombers. As a result, the Air Force says, the country needs more and newer versions of them, at the cost of tens of billions of dollars.

Its claims over the last year have impressed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who called the idea “critical” to national security in February budget testimony. They also charmed Congress, which in December slipped an extra hundred million dollars into the defense budget to speed the creation of a top-secret new “Long-Range Strike Bomber.” Only that bomber—among the dozens of major new weapons systems now in development—was honored with a specific endorsement in the Pentagon’s new strategic review, released on January 5. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Promises Complex and Devastating Retaliations for Attacks on Islamic Republic

March 26th 2012

Iran holy missiles

The Islamic regime in Iran issued a warning on March 24, promising that any attacks on the Persian state will lead to retaliations more complex and devastating then ever before, the Daily Caller reports:

   The [Fars news agency] analysis, titled “The Secret War Against Iran’s Nuclear Program Will No Longer Be Unanswered,” quotes the Islamic regime’s supreme leader, Khamenei, who said in his Iranian New Year message last week that while Iran does not want a nuclear bomb, any attack on Iranian nuclear sites will spark the same level of force against the attacking country. That statement is in line with what Iran’s defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, said recently — that Iran has “secret weapons yet unknown to the West that will be used in response to any attack on Iran.” Vahidi is on Interpol’s most-wanted list for the Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram: Addressing the Threat Before It Strikes

March 24th 2012

Nigeria Oil

Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist insurgency, is emerging as a threat not only to Nigeria, but also to the African continent and the United States. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has proven unable to address the growing security crisis that has targeted government officials, police forces, and hundreds of innocent civilians. Ongoing instability across the Sahel has also created an atmosphere ripe for tribal conflict, weapons proliferation, and terrorism. The region’s mounting instability is facilitated by a cultural interconnectedness providing Boko Haram with access to terrorist and militant groups.

The United States should not overlook the threat Boko Haram poses to U.S. interests in the region and potentially to the homeland. Boko Haram’s connections to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabab in Somalia have provided militants with the means to wage deadly attacks against international facilities, as seen by the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Abuja last August. The Obama Administration should not wait until a U.S. target is hit to take action. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Party of Fraud: Hizballah’s Criminal Enterprises

March 23rd 2012

Hezbollah rally

Given the growing confluence of drugs and terror, Washington needs to be more focused on Hizballah’s illicit activities, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. A long-established relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Qods Force provides Hizballah, Iran’s trusted proxy group, opportunities to build operational capacity in the global illicit drug trade.

Hizballah entered the global narcotics trade approximately seven years ago by acquiring relatively small amounts of cocaine in 15kg–20kg quantities. Trafficking the drugs from the Tri-Border Area (Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina), across the Atlantic, and into locations like Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, this initial investment produced hefty profits almost overnight. Today, Hizballah is moving tons of cocaine into West Africa, onward to North Africa, and eventually into European markets.

For decades, Hizballah has been a master at identifying and exploiting existing smuggling and organized crime infrastructure. Conservatively, the DEA has linked at least half of the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to the global drug trade. Hizballah’s illicit activity is directly linked to the group’s ability to build contacts and relationships globally. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Sarkozy Wants to Imprison Those Viewing Terrorist Websites

March 23rd 2012

Online Jihad

In reaction to the recent spate of murders carried out by a Moslem extremist in France, its president, Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled proposed legislation that has stunned both legal experts and journalists. 

The proposed law would jail those who visit extremist web sites, and is just one plan in a list of new measures under consideration in the wake of Toulouse terrorist Mohamed Merah’s killing spree that took the lives of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi.

The opponents of the new measure claim that it can prevent free expression and possibly infringe on an individual’s privacy.  Sarkozy, in defense of the measure, said, "Anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison," suggesting that it was time to consider people who follow extremist websites as we would someone perusing pedophilia and child pornography websites. "What is possible for pedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Keeping Terrorism in Perpective is Good Policy

March 22nd 2012

NYPD and flag

By design, terrorist attacks are intended to have a psychological impact far outweighing the physical damage the attack causes. As their name suggests, they are meant to cause terror that amplifies the actual attack. A target population responding to a terrorist attack with panic and hysteria allows the perpetrators to obtain a maximum return on their physical effort. Certainly, al Qaeda reaped such a maximum return from the Sept. 11 attacks, which totally altered the foreign policy and domestic security policies of the world's only superpower and resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan and military operations across the globe. Al Qaeda also maximized its return from the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, which occurred three days before the 2004 Spanish general elections that ousted the ruling party from power.
One way to mitigate the psychological impact of terrorism is to remove the mystique and hype associated with it. The first step in this demystification is recognizing that terrorism is a tactic used by a variety of actors and that it will not go away, something we discussed at length in our first analysis in this series. Terrorism and, more broadly, violence are and will remain part of the human condition. The Chinese, for example, did not build the Great Wall to attract tourists, but to keep out marauding hordes. Fortunately, today's terrorists are far less dangerous to society than the Mongols were to Ming China. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Washington and Israel on Iran: Unresolved Differences

March 22nd 2012

Israeli Jet

The March 5 summit between President Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu marked an important milestone in the U.S.-Israeli decisionmaking process on Iran's nuclear program. The meeting helped clarify positions and narrow gaps, yet significant differences remain to be addressed in the coming months.

According to Israeli government sources, the two leaders refrained from sharpening their differing red lines on Iran. This is understandable given that neither country is likely to forsake its freedom of action on such a crucial issue. Israelis are pleased that the Iranian nuclear file has moved to the top of the U.S. and global agenda, with the international community adopting sharp sanctions for the first time. They also appreciate Obama's strong public statements rejecting containment, depicting a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to U.S. national security, pledging to keep all options on the table -- including the military one -- and, above all, respecting Israel's sovereign right to protect its vital national security interests. Such statements are important to Israeli ears because they create a sense of commitment no less significant than what is said behind closed doors.

Yet respecting Israel's sovereign rights or appearing open to Israeli requests for certain military wherewithal does not mean that Washington has given its ally a green light to strike Iran. The White House apparently reiterated its negative attitude toward a premature strike during the summit, urging Israel to allow sufficient time for sanctions and diplomacy to work first. For its part, the Israeli leadership clarified that it had not yet made a decision and would wait to see whether Iran yields to international pressure. In interviews with the Israeli media following his return from Washington, however, Netanyahu stated that the time to decide is measured "not in days or weeks, but also not in years." Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Obama Prepares for War with Sweeping Executive Order

March 20th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.

The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..

The Afghan War

Afghanistan on the Road to Nowhere

March 20th 2012

Afghanistan us army dustoff

The war in Afghanistan has been under way for more than 10 years. It has not been the only war fought during this time; for seven of those years another, larger war was waged in Iraq, and smaller conflicts were under way in a number of other countries as well. But the Afghanistan War is still the longest large-scale, multi-divisional war fought in American history. An American soldier's killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, on March 11 represents only a moment in this long war, but it is an important moment.
In the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military strategists in the United States developed the concept of the long war. The theory was presented in many ways, but its core argument was this: The defeat of Taliban forces and the Iraqi resistance would take a long time, but success would not end the war because Islamist terrorism and its supporters would be a constantly shifting threat, both in the places and in the ways they would operate. Therefore, since it was essential to defeat terrorism, the United States was now engaging in a long war whose end was distant and course unknown.

The Battle for Syria

Assad Assaults Rebel ‘Free Zones’

March 19th 2012

Tanks Leaving Homs ahead of Ispectors

One of the signal, underreported achievements of the Syrian uprising over the last year was the establishment of a number of “liberated zones” from which the Assad regime, at least in visible form, was excluded. In these areas, the rebel flag (the pre-Baathist Syrian national flag) flew over public buildings. Fighters of the Free Syrian Army maintained roadblocks at the entry points to villages and towns. These “free zones” were the most visible sign of the regime’s decline in authority.

The regime of Bashar Assad is now attempting to roll back the gains made by the Syrian rebels and to retake the free zones. Following the brutal re-conquest of Homs, Assad’s armed forces have turned their attention to other centers of opposition activity. The attempt by the Syrian dictator is unlikely to succeed, but it has already extracted a heavy cost in the lives of civilians and oppositionists and is set to continue to do so.

In February, I spent a week in one of the liberated zones of Idleb province. It was a place of fierce but precarious hope. The FSA fighters I spoke with were aware that if international assistance for their revolt did not come, it was only a matter of time before the government forces moved to retake the areas they had liberated.

This moment has now come; the uneasy stalemate between the Assad regime and the free zones is over. The forces of the dictatorship are now attempting to reassert their authority throughout Syria.


The 2012 Vote

Hiding at the Back of the Budget Book

March 17th 2012

The Pentagon

Some vexing news about the Obama administration’s military contracting practices was well-hidden in the Pentagon’s budget briefing materials this year, appearing near the back of the Defense Department Comptroller’s overview presentation of the 2013 budget. There, amid generally positive self-grades in the chapter entitled “Performance Improvement” (page 83) was a disclosure that the number of Pentagon contracts awarded competitively dropped last year.

From the relatively low threshold of 65 percent in 2010, the number dropped to 58.5 percent in 2011, according to the comptroller, Robert F. Hale. That was below 2009’s tally of 62.5 percent, which means that the administration’s ballyhooed effort to boost competitive military contracting has been an utter failure so far. Hale’s report attributed the shortfall to congressionally-driven funding uncertainties in 2011, the use of a new procurement system that more accurately records which contracts are competitively awarded, and simply “the award of several major weapon system programs.” It did not explain why the latter – the act of contracting by itself — would necessarily produce less competition. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Grim Torture Tales from Syria

March 17th 2012


Many reports of violence by pro-Government forces in Syria have been at arms length, and rarely given in detail. That changed today when Amnesty International released a disturbing new report detailing the almost invariable violence adult protestors — as well as some children below the age of 18 — have faced from the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The report’s findings, the group concludes, are “evidence that torture and other ill-treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and as part of state policy and therefore amount to crimes against humanity.” It says that hundreds have died in custody.

Among the persistent methods of torture detailed in the report: “Shabeh, whereby the victim is hung in one of a number of ways, for example from a raised hook or handle or door frame” and then beaten. Crucifixion is also sometimes used, and the beatings can be accompanied by being cut with bayonets and burned with cigarettes. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Belfast Summit Important in Preventing Cyber World War

March 16th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

One of the world's leading Internet security experts, Eugene Kaspersky, has described the World Cyber Security Technology Research Summit at Queen's University Belfast as key in preventing a Cyber World War. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of the largest antivirus company in Europe, Kaspersky Lab, will be giving a keynote address at the second annual Cyber Security Technology Research Summit on Friday 16 March. The cyber security guru is joining some of the world's leading cyber security experts and government policy makers from around the world for a two-day meeting of minds to combat future threats to global cyber security. The annual Summit, held at the Centre for Secure Information Technology (CSIT), Queen's University - the UK's lead university centre for cyber security research, made headlines across the world when it was launched last year, and has attracted even more leading international experts in cyber security to this year's Summit in Belfast. Speaking ahead of the event, Eugene Kaspersky said: "For almost a decade I've been doing my best to attract the attention of governments and officials around the world to the imminent threat of cyber-war and cyber-terrorism and the need to prevent it - but with limited effect. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

To Retaliate or Not: Hizballah's Calculus Following a Strike on Iran

March 15th 2012

Iranian Qiam missile launch

The potential consequences of an American or Israeli preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear weapons sites are legion. For example, Tehran might fire missiles in retaliation, launch terrorist attacks, or attempt to disrupt oil flows through the Persian Gulf. Until recently, conventional wisdom also held that the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hizballah would unleash its rockets on Israel in response to such an attack on Iran. Yet despite continued claims by senior Hizballah officials that an assault on the Islamic Republic "means the whole region will be set alight," other statements by Hassan Nasrallah, the organization's secretary-general, have raised doubts about whether the militia would in fact respond. Hizballah was established in Lebanon in the early 1980s with Iranian political and financial support. During the 1982 Israeli invasion, Tehran dispatched 1,500 Revolutionary Guards to the Beqa Valley to help organize a resistance force.

Today, unlike the majority of Lebanon's historically Iraq-oriented Shiite population, Hizballah members are required to embrace the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, which puts an Iranian mullah at the pinnacle of Shiite theology and politics. Critics point to this, along with the organization's professed goal in the early 1980s of transforming Lebanon into an Islamic state, as evidence that Hizballah is an agent of Iran. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Combatting Terrorism with Situational Awareness

March 15th 2012

dark parking lot

It is important to note that situational awareness -- being aware of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations -- is more of a mindset than a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not something that can be practiced only by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security teams. Indeed, it can be exercised by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so. Situational awareness is not only important for recognizing terrorist threats, but it also serves to identify criminal behavior and other dangerous situations.

The primary element in establishing this mindset is first to recognize that threats exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat make a person's chances of quickly recognizing an emerging threat and avoiding it highly unlikely. Bad things do happen. Apathy, denial and complacency can be deadly. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Satellite Image Reveals High Explosive Test Chamber at Iran's Parchin Site

March 14th 2012

Parchin building Iran

ISIS has identified in commercial satellite imagery a building on the Parchin site in Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to visit because it contains, or used to contain, a high-explosive test chamber.  The building is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing. 

A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring one, which is consistent with a description of the compound in the November 8, 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report.  The compound is located more than four kilometers away from high-explosive related facilities also at the Parchin site which the IAEA visited in 2005.

The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano recently noted that the IAEA has “information that that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site. When asked if he was concerned that Iran was cleansing the site, Amano said that the “possibility is not excluded…” and that “we have to go there.” If Iran is engaging in clean up work to hide evidence at the Parchin site then it could be occurring inside this building as well. Thus, the IAEA deserves international support to visit this site without delay to inspect the inside of this building and other locations in Parchin as well. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Five Principles That Should Guide U.S. Policy Toward NATO

March 13th 2012

NATO meeting

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has played a vital role in the defense and security of Europe. This role has been carried out primarily through the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Today, the U.S. commitment to NATO is not about protecting Europeans from the threat of Soviet Communism; it is about ensuring America’s strategic reach in Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East. With strong American leadership, NATO can continue to advance U.S. security and defense interests.

NATO Is Still Important Today

During the Cold War, the threat from the Soviet Union meant that NATO had a clearly defined mission. Today, NATO is still trying to find its place in the post–Cold War world. With declining defense spending across Europe and the lack of political will to use military force, coupled with the Obama Administration’s “pivot” to Asia and support for EU defense integration, there is a serious risk that NATO will become irrelevant.

To prevent this from happening, NATO needs American leadership and vision. The following five principles should guide U.S. policy toward NATO. Without these core principles, NATO will cease being the most capable security alliance the world has ever known. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Egypt's Government Continues its Crackdown on Human Rights Advocates

March 12th 2012

Democracy advocates jailed in Egypt
Democracy advocates jailed in Egypt.

Cairo lifted its travel ban on 17 foreign democracy activists working at NGOs, including Americans, allowing them to leave Egypt on March 1 via a U.S. military plane to Cyprus. The activists are on trial in Cairo for allegedly receiving illegal foreign funding, inciting protests against the interim military government, and failing to register their organizations.

The NGO workers' arrest and detention following raids on their offices caused an enormous row between Cairo and Washington, forcing U.S. officials to threaten withholding its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. U.S. officials also said that the rift halted work on an International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt for two months. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Egyptian Researchers Aim to Clear Landmines Using Bacteria and Plants

March 11th 2012

sugar beets

Egyptians researchers believe that sugar beets like those pictured above can help to clear the country’s stockpile of land mines.

20 percent of the world’s land mines are planted in Egypt, where they have killed or maimed a total of more than 7,000 people in the last 25 years. They are scattered in the western desert and Sinai and pose an enormous impediment to development as well as considerable risks to animal and human safety.

Researchers from the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT), the government body responsible for funding research in Egypt, believe they have found a three-tiered solution to this problem that involves plants and bacteria, but critics doubt whether their laboratory tests will prove effective in the field.

Disarming landmines safely

Many of the land mines left by German forces in the 1940s throughout the Western Desert were laid in such a way that if one in a cluster is detonated, others will be as well. This makes it virtually impossible for human beings to crawl around the land mine field in order to disarm these weapons. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear Energy

Possible Nuclear Weapons Cuts Worry Republican Lawmakers

March 11th 2012

Ballitic Missile

Ever wondered who the nuclear defense community suports in Congress? Wonder no more. In mid-February, a group of House Republicans sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing “deep concern” about possible future cuts to the strategic nuclear arsenal reportedly being considered by the administration. Some of the options — including two that would at least halve the arsenal’s current size — would by many accounts undermine the rationale for spending billions of dollars on new strategic bombers, missiles and submarines over the next decade. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Intercontinental Trade in a Leafy Narcotic Funds Somalian Terrorists

March 10th 2012

Yemen khat cud
Chewing khat in Yemen.

Analysts believe that this benign-looking plant popular in the Middle East may be funding the Al Shabaab terrorist organization in southern Somalia.
A very popular narcotic in the Middle East, khat maybe be funding the terrorist organization Al Shabaab in Somalia, CNN reports. Chewing the red stems of Catha edulis produces mild euphoria and an alertness akin to that produced by caffeine, and it is openly and widely use in the Horn of Africa. In Yemen, growing Khat uses more water than the country can afford and takes priority over more sustaining crops. Now Dutch officials are banning khat in the Netherlands, where a large Somali community imports large quantities of the plant from farmers in Meru County, Kenya. Government spokespeople insist that this decision was taken to protect against grave economic, health, and social concerns, but analysts believe that funds generated by the trade are funneled to Al Shabaab and that the Dutch aim to curtail that. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Detecting Terrorist Surveillance is Key to Personal Security

March 10th 2012

Bomb Maker

As we noted last week, terrorist attacks do not materialize out of thin air. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Those planning terrorist attacks follow a discernable process referred to as the terrorist attack cycle. We also discussed last week how terrorism planners are vulnerable to detection at specific points during their attack cycle and how their poor surveillance tradecraft is one of these vulnerable junctures.

While surveillance is a necessary part of the planning process, the fact that it is a requirement does not necessarily mean that terrorist planners are very good at it. With this in mind, let's take a closer look at surveillance and discuss what bad surveillance looks like. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Panetta: Pentagon Reviewing Military Options for US Intervention in Syria

March 10th 2012

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

The Pentagon’s top leaders said Wednesday that the U.S. military would be ready for intervention in Syria, while warning that a military campaign would be challenging and should not be done unilaterally.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the Pentagon is reviewing military options in Syria for an international coalition to intervene if necessary. The Obama administration still supports a diplomatic solution that removes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Panetta cautioned, however, that the United States acting unilaterally would be a “mistake,” and said that an international coalition backing military action still must be formed before the military option is viable. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Personal Tracking to be the Next Billion Dollar GPS Market

March 5th 2012

gps devices

GPS personal tracking devices and applications are forecast to grow with a CAGR of 40%, with both markets breaking $1 billion in 2017 according to ABI Research. Senior analyst Patrick Connolly says, “The hardware market remained below 100,000 units in 2011. However, it is forecast to reach 2.5 million units in 2017, with significant growth in elderly, health, and lone worker markets. Dedicated devices can offer significant benefits, with insurance and liability increasingly encouraging the use of approved equipment.”

“We are also seeing the first signs of leading CE companies entering the market, such as Qualcomm, Apple (via PocketFinder), Garmin, Cobra, etc. and there will also be significant partnerships and acquisitions in this space as new entrants looks to add tracking to their portfolio,” adds Connolly. Other markets include family, personal items (e.g. luggage), and pet and offender tracking. There is an addressable market of over 120 million people across these markets alone, with over two million US elderly using non-GPS Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS). However, awareness, battery life, economic conditions, and high subscription fees remain significant barriers. There is also a fear that smartphone applications will cannibalize the market. Read more ..

Arab Nukes

Is Iran the only Muslim Nation in the Middle East seeking to Develop Nuclear Technology

March 5th 2012


Those who argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran ignore the likelihood that a nuclear arms race is likely to ensue in the Middle East, which will exponentially increase the danger to the region and beyond. The cost of stopping Iran’s drive for a bomb, therefore, must be balanced with the benefit of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.


At least 12 Middle Eastern nations have either announced plans to explore atomic energy or signed nuclear cooperation agreements since the exposure of the Iranian program. Like Iran, they say they are interested in only “peaceful uses” of nuclear technology.


The Saudis have been quite explicit about the impact an Iranian bomb will have on their security. “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon,” an official close to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said in June 2011, “that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.” In January 2012, Saudi King Abdullah signed an agreement with China for cooperation in the development and use of atomic energy for civilian purposes. Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

Why the Saudis' Downfall Could Impact America

March 5th 2012

Saudi protests
Discontent in Saudi Arabia

The so-called Arab Spring just passed the 15-month mark and continues to leave chaos in its wake. Dictators are falling and radical Islamists are filling the gap across the Middle East and North Africa.

Now Islamists have their sights on a bigger prize, and it could send shock waves through the United States.

The power gained by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies throughout the Muslim world during the past year has also led to a growth in confidence. They call 2011 the year the dictators fell, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. In 2012, the Brotherhood is targeting the monarchies. Jordan and Saudi Arabia sit on top of the list, and the Saudi royal family has wasted no time getting ahead of the game.


Military on Edge

How Defense Cuts Could Affect America’s War Fighting Capabilities

March 5th 2012

The Pentagon

Tremendous changes can occur over the course of one year. Regarding defense spending, the Administration is now planning to pay out $4.5–$5 trillion over the next ten years on defending the country, compared to nearly $6 trillion just 12 months ago. This, in part, reflects the debt ceiling agreement of last summer when Congress and the Administration called for reducing a ten-year deficit of $10 trillion to $7.5 trillion.

Many Americans would no doubt applaud such a reduction. They would probably also assume the spending cuts reflect America’s withdrawal from Iraq, and the drawdown in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, what the citizenry probably does not know is that while the cuts in funding for the two wars will occur, they cannot count toward the required budget cuts agreed to in August 2011 as part of the debt agreement. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Boosts 2012 Military Spending

March 4th 2012

Chinese J-20 fighter

China is planning a double-digit rise in military spending this year, an increase authorities say is in line with the country's economic development and defense needs. Li Zhaoxing, the spokesman for the National People's Congress, announced on Sunday the overall figure for China's 2012 military spending. Li says the defense budget will be about $110 billion (670.2 billion RMB), which represents an 11.2 percent increase over what was spent last year. This compares to a 12.7 percent increase in military spending last year and is in line with a nearly unbroken string of double-digit increases over the past two decades. The spokesman says China has the world's largest population, a big territory and a long coastline, but only spends 1.28 percent of its gross domestic product on defense spending. By comparison, he points to other developed countries like the United States and Britain, which spend more than 2 percent of their national budgets on defense. Li says China is committed to a path of peaceful development and pursues a defense policy that is defensive in nature. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Sanctions and the Huawei Technologies Case

March 2nd 2012

Iranian jihadi geeks

In recent years, a large number of Asian companies have profited by doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States and the European Union have struck back, cutting off access to these companies' markets by levying sanctions on Iran. As a result, Asian giants such as Huawei Technologies, one of the world's largest and most powerful telecommunications firms, have finally decided to cut back their Iranian dealings. Those companies that have yet to make the right decision should consider carefully whether doing business with the mullahs is worth the risk. Huawei is a Chinese multi-national corporation that is soon expected to surpass Sweden's Ericsson as the largest telecommunications infrastructure supplier in the world. The company has annual revenues of $32 billion and over 110,000 employees, and its products and services are deployed in most of the world's largest telecom markets. Huawei was also recently ranked 352 out on Fortune magazine's global 500 list. Read more ..

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