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Arab Nukes

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

March 5th 2012

ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear.jpg

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.

Read more ..

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 ..


Edge of Terrorism

Detection Points in the Terrorist Cycle of Violence

March 1st 2012

Bomb Maker

We have discussed the fact that terrorism is a tactic used by many different classes of actors and that, while the perpetrators and tactics of terrorism may change in response to shifts in larger geopolitical cycles, these changes will never result in the end of terrorism. Since that analysis was written, there have been jihadist-related attacks in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen and Pakistan, an assassination attempt against the president of Abkhazia, and a failed timed-incendiary attack against the Athens subway. (The latter incident, which militant anarchists claimed, reinforces that jihadists are not the only ones who practice terrorism.)
 
But while terrorism is a continuing concern, it can be understood, and measures can be taken to thwart terrorist plots and mitigate the effects of attacks. Perhaps the most important and fundamental point to understand about terrorism is that attacks do not appear out of nowhere. Individuals planning a terrorist attack follow a discernable cycle -- and that cycle and the behaviors associated with it can be observed if they are being looked for. We refer to these points where terrorism-related behavior can be most readily observed as vulnerabilities in the terrorist attack cycle. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Fiscal and Financial Woes of Greece may become Political Headache for Europe

February 28th 2012

Greek and EU flags

The European financial crisis centered for several years on the idea of preventing Greece from defaulting on its national debt. However, the rest of Europe has had time to prepare itself for any potential fallout from a Greek default.

This is changing the dynamic between Greece and Europe even as emerging societal trends within Greece are illustrating changes in the relationship between Greece's political elite and its people. These trends will continue as the crisis transforms from a financial one to a political one.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, European leaders' actions have been dictated by a presumed need to keep Greece from defaulting on its massive national debt at all costs. Even at the cost of losing domestic popularity for supporting a Greek bailout, and even if Greece seemed unwilling or unable to repay the money Europe poured into it, European politicians prioritized the prevention of a Greek default in order to prevent the euro -- and possibly the European Union -- from collapsing. However, that could now be changing, along with the relationships between Greece and the rest of Europe and between Greece's political elite and the Greek people. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Retired Military Brass Warn of Obama’s Harmful Defense Cuts

February 24th 2012

Obama in deep thought

President Obama is cutting future defense spending. It is both a conscious choice to divert funds elsewhere, away from the military, and a consequence of last year’s congressional budget agreement, which alone will likely result in an automatic sequestration of at least $500 billion from future military budgets. Regardless, the decision has serious consequences. In a report today released by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), former brass from all five U.S. military branches detail what these cuts might mean. “It will be difficult for the Army to perform the missions indicated if some of the numbers that are being bantered about to achieve the $500 billion reduction become fact,” retired Army Gen. Louis Wagner writes. “If sequestration for another $500 billion becomes a reality, it will be devastating for the Army and the national security of the country.” Wagner warns: “Instability in the Middle East, the Arab Spring activities, the Iranian nuclear weapons threat, the threat of a nuclear capable North Korea, and instability of our neighbors in Central and South America are all strong indicators that the world is not going to be peaceful in the foreseeable future. Ground forces are very likely to again be involved in a large-scale irregular war or even a conventional conflict. The capability to execute robust full spectrum land operations remains absolutely essential if the United States is to remain a preeminent world power.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Myth of the End of Terrorism

February 24th 2012

Twin Towers 9/11

The Arab terrorism that began in the 1960s resulted from the Cold War and the Soviet decision to fund, train and otherwise encourage groups in the Middle East. The Soviet Union and its Middle Eastern proxies also sponsored Marxist terrorist groups in Europe and Latin America. They even backed the Japanese Red Army terrorist group. Places like South Yemen and Libya became havens where Marxist militants of many different nationalities gathered to learn terrorist tradecraft, often instructed by personnel from the Soviet KGB or the East German Stasi and from other militants. The Cold War also spawned al Qaeda and the broader global jihadist movement as militants flocking to fight the Soviet troops who had invaded Afghanistan were trained in camps in northern Pakistan by instructors from the CIA's Office of Technical Services and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Emboldened by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and claiming credit for the subsequent Soviet collapse, these militants decided to expand their efforts to other parts of the world. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

McCain, Graham Call for US to Arm Syrian Rebels

February 20th 2012

Syrian security forces

Two prominent Republican U.S. senators urged that the United States arm opposition forces in Syria Sunday as the government of Bashar al-Assad continued a bloody crackdown on the protests that have engulfed the nation. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who both serve on the Senate Armed Services committee, argued that arming rebel fighters in the country could help beat back a Syrian government with close ties to Iran. “Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions,” Graham said at a press conference in Kabul, according to the New York Times. “If the Syrian regime is replaced with another form of government that doesn’t tie its future to the Iranians, the world is a better place.”

Graham and McCain were in Afghanistan as part of a larger tour through the Middle East. The former GOP presidential candidate said that Syrian rebels needed help to defend themselves. “I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement,” McCain said. “The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves.” “So I am not only not opposed, but I am in favor of weapons being obtained by the opposition,” McCain added. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism Against Israelis Defies Borders

February 20th 2012

Hezbollah Troops
Hezbollah Troops

The terror war against Israel and the Jewish people is not confined to the Middle East. For years PLO terrorists attacked Jewish targets around the world, hijacked airplanes, murdered Olympic athletes and targeted diplomats. This worldwide terror campaign appears to be escalating again with the support of Iran, aided by its proxy Hezbollah. As events of the past few months show, terrorism against Jews is neither a byproduct of "occupation", nor a response to specific Israeli actions but is bred out of wanton incitement to kill Jews wherever they are.

In February 2012, terrorists attacked official Israeli representatives abroad in India and Georgia, while in Thailand security officials were able to prevent Iranian and Lebanese cells from carrying out their planned strikes. Thai security officials arrested several Iranian men who likely were trying to attack Israelis in Bangkok. These incidents came on the heels of the January arrest of three Iranian men in Azerbaijan who had planned to kill two Israeli religious emissaries in Baku. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated unequivocally that Israel holds Iran responsible for the string of attacks. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Islamist Suicide Bomber Intercepted in Sting at the Capitol

February 18th 2012

US Capital Day

The FBI and Capitol Police arrested a man Friday that they say intended to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol. All across the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, police kept watch, wary after officials said they had foiled a plot - a plot that would have struck at the heart of the U.S. government. Police say 29-year-old Moroccan Amine El Khalifi - brought to a federal courthouse under heavy security - planned to shoot up the Capitol and then blow himself up. The news took many of the tourists walking around the Capitol by surprise. "Everything looked great, I mean, a perfect day for tourists and everything, so pretty scary," said New Zealand Tourist Hank Wang.

The arrest is the result of what authorities describe as an extensive investigation, during which El Khalifi lived illegally in nearby Virginia. Officials say El Khalifi wanted to join a terrorist group and thought he was working with al-Qaida. What he did not know, officials say, was that his suicide vest, filled with explosives, had come from undercover officers and could not go off. The arrest came on a day when lawmakers were in session and tourists flocked to the Capitol. But officials say no one was ever in any danger. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Pentagon Ignores, Misreports Long-term Weapons Costs

February 15th 2012

Military - F-35b

The Obama administration’s 2013 defense spending plan, detailed as part of its overall new federal budget, includes $178.8 billion to buy new weapons, ranging from jet fighters and artillery to naval cruisers and satellite systems. But the real costs of these programs to the federal budget are unlikely to be disclosed in its budget documents or dozens of detailed weapons program reports due on Capitol Hill in March, according to a recent federal audit report.

The true costs of some of the biggest pieces of the U.S. arsenal are mostly hidden, the audit concluded, because the Defense Department’s public documents typically list only how much has been spent or will be spent to acquire its fighters, ships, and vehicles. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Opportunities Aplenty for Jihadi Extremists in Conflicted Syria

February 14th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protesters

In an eight-minute video clip titled "Onward, Lions of Syria" disseminated on the Internet Feb. 12, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri expressed al Qaeda's support for the popular unrest in Syria. In it, al-Zawahiri urged Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to aid the Syrian rebels battling Damascus. The statement comes just days after a McClatchy report quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that the Iraqi node of the global jihadist network carried out two attacks against Syrian intelligence facilities in Damascus, while Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi said in a recent interview with AFP that Iraqi jihadists were moving fighters and weapons into neighboring Syria.

Al Qaeda's long-term goal has been to oust Arab governments to facilitate the return of a transnational caliphate. Its tactics have involved mainly terrorism intended to cause U.S. intervention in the region. Al Qaeda has hoped such interventions would in turn incite popular uprisings that would bring down the Arab regimes, opening the way for the jihadists to eventually take power. But the jihadist network's efforts have failed and they have remained a marginal player in the Arab world. By addressing Syria, al Qaeda hopes to tap into the past year of Arab unrest, a movement in which it played little to no part. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Impersonating Anonymous: A New Form of Terrorism?

February 13th 2012

Computer Topics - Iran Anonymous

Since its earliest days the “Hactivist collective” known as Anonymous has declared “we are legion.” After attacks on PayPal, Amazon, Sony, and various banks and US Government websites, as in Roman times, the power of the legion is again feared. According to some, Anon’s latest target is Israel, with a specific threat of systematically removing Israel from the internet.

The evidence, however, suggests this is far more likely an impersonation. Though only circumstantial, the evidence suggests the possibility of Iranian sponsorship. If so, this would mark the first effort by a state, or perhaps its proxies, to infiltrate and manipulate Anonymous into pursuing a government’s agenda. If that effort backfires, I for one wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

The allegations of an attack appear to emanate from a YouTube video, “Anonymous Message to the State of Israel” released by TheAnonPress. In the video the computer-generated voice declares “For two long we have tolerated your crimes against humanity and allowed your sins to go unpunished … You are unworthy to exist in your current form.” The anonymous voice goes on to speak of a “crusade against your reign of terror” which will start with a systematic removal of Israel from the Internet. Read more ..


The Afghan War

Obama Moves toward a Distant Endgame in Afghanistan

February 11th 2012

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan casualty

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested last week that the United States could wrap up combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2013, well before the longstanding 2014 deadline when full control is to be ceded to Kabul. Troops would remain in Afghanistan until 2014, as agreed upon at the 2010 Lisbon Summit, and would be engaged in two roles until at least 2014 and perhaps even later. One role would be continuing the training of Afghan security forces. The other would involve special operations troops carrying out capture or kill operations against high-value targets.

Along with this announcement, the White House gave The New York Times some details on negotiations that have been under way with the Taliban. According to the Times, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the senior-most leader of the Afghan Taliban, last summer made overtures to the White House offering negotiations. An intermediary claiming to speak for Mullah Omar delivered the proposal, an unsigned document purportedly from Mullah Omar that could not be established as authentic. The letter demanded the release of some Taliban prisoners before any talks. Read more ..


Iran's Ukes

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Ominous Announcement of Nuclear 'Achievements'

February 11th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today that Iran will soon unveil new nuclear achievements.

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke at Tehran's famous Azadi (Freedom) square during a rally marking the 33rd anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution.

"God willing, in the coming days, the world will see Iran showcasing some very big nuclear achievements," he said.

The Iranian president gave no other details about the nuclear work.

The West insists Iran's nuclear program is designed to create nuclear weapon. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

The Lure of Drug Money will make Mexico's Coming Elections Increasingly Combative

February 7th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexico bullets crime scene

The Mexican Attorney General's Office seized a large amount of cash from Veracruz state government employees associated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on Jan. 27, an incident that follows the recent corruption allegations leveled against three former PRI governors in Taumaulipas state. The employees claimed the cash was intended as payment for a legitimate government contractor, and indeed cash is often used in official government business transactions in Mexico. However, the unusually large amount seized and the fact that federal authorities detected the transaction was notable. Taken together, these incidents may presage what will likely be a political campaign season marked by extensive corruption.

Officials from rival political parties in Mexico continued to exchange accusations Feb. 2 following the Jan. 27 seizure of 25 million pesos (about $1.9 million) in cash. Escorted by Veracruz state government employees from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the cash was discovered on a government-owned airplane by authorities from the Attorney General's Office (PGR). The PGR claims to have been conducting a random search of the plane. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda's Strength Lies in its Ideology, not its Leaders

February 6th 2012

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden in mufti

Ten years have slipped by since Osama bin Laden’s jihadists massacred thousands of men, women and children in the northeastern United States, prompting the start of what Americans came to know as the War on Terror. The current administration, however, insists on more benign terminology, choosing for political reasons to describe the conflict as an “overseas contingency operation,” and a “war against al Qaeda.” But are we making progress in this conflict, whatever the name? Gaining an objective assessment begins with asking the right questions.

Has the decade-long global confrontation with al-Qaeda been an actual war, or a series of U.S.-led military operations against a single terrorist organization? Has al-Qaeda been acting alone against the U.S., or is it merely one among many in an expansive network of jihadists? Is it U.S. policy that incites jihadists, or a sui generis ideology with a centuries-old agenda? How does the broad-based U.S.-led coalition to defeat al-Qaeda measure up to the jihadist alliance to destroy the U.S.? Have U.S.-led military efforts defeated al-Qaeda globally and within nation-states, or have the jihadists increased their penetration of democracies around the globe? These are the “right questions” that need to be asked. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Threat from Iran--A Timeline

February 4th 2012

Iran - Iran Long-Range Missile

Iran is one of the foremost, self-proclaimed enemies of the West and one of the most serious threats to stability in the Middle East.

The Iranian government’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and its anti-Western philosophy, inspire the rise of Islamic extremists across the world. Iran is also one of the principal state sponsors of terror, proudly delivering weapons to Hezbollah members in Lebanon and terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

Additionally, the regime in Iran continues to provide safe haven for terrorists, including some of al-Qaeda’s senior leaders such as Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri who have been hunted by the United States for over a decade. Moreover, Iranian agents have been implicated in many anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, including bombings that have killed U.S. servicemen in Iraq and the foiled attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. in October 2011. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Threat to Close the Strait of Hormuz

February 3rd 2012

Iran - Iranian Warships
Iranian Warships

Just recently President Obama crossed the Potomac River and stopped at the Pentagon to rollout America's newest national security startegy-Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. The key idea behind the strategy is that after ten years of war in the Middle East, along with the current fiscal crisis facing the United States, we can no longer afford the "two major theater wars" doctrine of the last 50 years. This old strategy was developed after the Cold War for the military to fight two major conventional wars with large amounts of ground forces, ships and aircraft.

The new strategy calls for sufficient forces in one major conflict and a rebalancing of these forces toward the Asia-Pacific region. Some will question if this is a new strategy or just a precursor for the massive cuts in the military that are projected in the next decade. The Department of Defense has already commited to $450 million in reductions over the next several years. If Congress fails to act on the latest "sequestration", however, this number could grow to $1 trillion in cuts. The major problem with this strategy of course being, the enemy has yet to surrender.
Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Libya

Returning Malian Mercenaries Present a Challenge for Mali and the West

February 2nd 2012

Africa Topics - tuareg

Mali has experienced perhaps the most significant external repercussions from the downfall of the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The impact of the conflict in Libya on the wider region since international intervention began in March 2011.

Instability in Libya due to that country's deep internal fault lines meant that re-establishing a government would prove difficult. As we pointed out, that instability could spread to neighboring countries as weapons and combatants flow outward from Libya. Reports now indicate that thousands of armed Tuareg tribesmen who previously served in Gadhafi's military have returned home to Mali. The influx of this large number of well-armed and well-trained fighters, led by a former Libyan army colonel, has re-energized the long-simmering Tuareg insurgency against the Malian government. These Tuareg insurgents have formed a new group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In mid-January, they began a military campaign to free three northern regions of Mali from Bamako's control. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russia's New Government will have to Mind the Store before it Goes Knocking Elsewhere

February 1st 2012

Russian Topics - Kremlin

Russia's political landscape has been relatively calm and consolidated for the past decade under former President and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. However, recent months have seen instability rise sharply, with a purge in the government, a shift in parliamentary election results and large protests in the streets. None of these is new to Russia, but these and other factors are converging and creating changes in Russia's political landscape.

When Putin came to power in 1999, he ruled a country that was in utter political disarray, economically broken and threatened by internal and external forces. He aggressively consolidated the country politically, economically and socially and quashed the security threats. The country rallied around him as Russia's "savior," a sentiment that in recent years evolved into a cult based on the belief that Putin is the sole heartbeat of the country.

But Russia cannot survive indefinitely under one ruler; historically, internal dissent has risen and fallen inside the inherently unstable country. Such dissent had been under control for the last decade, allowing the country to strengthen. But now dissent is on the rise again, both outside the Kremlin and within Putin's circles of power. All of this comes as Russia is facing economic instability and national security concerns, and Russia's next presidential election -- in which Putin is running -- is a mere month away. Read more ..


Cyber Wars

Mideast Hackers Engage in Virtual War with Real Consequences

January 28th 2012

Arab Topics - Arab internet

A virtual conflict is developing in the Middle East, involving high speed internet connections and keyboards rather than missiles and tanks. It has been a victimless affair so far, though it carries the potential for more serious harm in the future, and serves as a wakeup call for the Israeli private sector to beef up its online defenses. At the start of January, an Arab hacker claiming to be from Saudi Arabia broke into an Israeli coupon website and stole tens of thousands of credit card numbers.

The hacker, calling himself 0xOmar, announced his hostility to Israel, and proceeded to publicize the credit card details, encouraging others to begin using the numbers to make online purchases. Israeli credit card companies and the Bank of Israel mounted a speedy defense, cancelling all affected accounts and issuing new cards overnight. But 0xOmar succeeded in firing the first shot in an escalating internet feud with Israeli hackers. Not long afterwards, a group of Israeli hackers fired back, releasing hundreds of hacked Saudi credit card numbers on the internet. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Pentagon Overtakes State Department on Security Aid

January 26th 2012

Military - The Pentagon

The current Defense Department budget again makes the DOD the premier funder of security assistance to foreign countries, giving it more than double the comparable budget of the agency popularly associated with America’s foreign aid, the State Department.

The $17 billion Pentagon aid budget for the 2012 fiscal year is the second in a row to exceed the State Department’s by $10 billion, a disparity that has begun to provoke debate among foreign policy experts in Washington. Seven years ago, circumstances were reversed, with the State Department spending triple the amount the Pentagon spent on such aid.

Some foreign aid experts have complained that, as a result of the shifting responsibilities, U.S. aid priorities have shifted from trying to establish good governance to supporting stronger foreign military partners. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram's Deadly Threats are Regional, for Now

January 26th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram conducted a series of bombing attacks and armed assaults Jan. 20 in the northern city of Kano, the capital of Kano state and second-largest city in Nigeria. The attacks, which reportedly included the employment of at least two suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), targeted a series of police facilities in Kano. These included the regional police headquarters, which directs police operations in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, as well as the State Security Service office and the Nigerian Immigration Service office. At least 211 people died in the Kano attacks, according to media reports.

The group carried out a second wave of attacks in Bauchi state on Jan. 22, bombing two unoccupied churches in the Bauchi metropolitan area and attacking a police station in the Tafawa Balewa local government area. Militants reportedly also tried to rob a bank in Tafawa Balewa the same day. Though security forces thwarted the robbery attempt, 10 people reportedly died in the clash, including two soldiers and a deputy police superintendent.

In a third attack, Boko Haram militants attacked a police sub-station in Kano on Jan. 24 with small arms and improvised hand grenades. A tally of causalities in the assault, which reportedly lasted some 25 minutes, was not available. This armed assault stands out tactically from the Jan. 20 suicide attacks against police stations in Kano. The operation could have been an attempt to liberate some of the Boko Haram militants the government arrested following the Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 attacks. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Israel’s Options as Muslim Brotherhood Gains Power

January 22nd 2012

Israeli Military - Israeli Tank in Sinai

The political history of the modern Middle East can easily be divided into three eras. In 1952, a military coup in Egypt signaled the start of the period in which radical Arab nationalism dominated. The 1979 Iranian revolution began the challenge of revolutionary Islamism. And then, in 2011, in the wake of more revolutions, Arab nationalism collapsed completely.

In most of the Arab world we are now in the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, there is a new “Middle East,” but instead of being directed by moderation, peace, and a hunger for material prosperity, it is dominated by Islamists determined to transform their own societies and to conquer the region for their cause.

The Muslim Brotherhood is overwhelmingly the most powerful organization in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Tunisia, and very probably Libya, where its branches will control the governments. In Jordan, the brotherhood leads the opposition; in Syria, it plays an important role in the revolutionary upheaval. Read more ..


Cyber Wars

The Hack on Stratfor

January 20th 2012

Computer Topics - Anonymous Logo

In early December I received a call from Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president of intelligence. He told me he had received information indicating our website had been hacked and our customer credit card and other information had been stolen. The following morning I met with an FBI special agent, who made clear that there was an ongoing investigation and asked for our cooperation. We, of course, agreed to cooperate. The matter remains under active investigation.

From the beginning I faced a dilemma. I felt bound to protect our customers, who quickly had to be informed about the compromise of their privacy. I also felt bound to protect the investigation. That immediate problem was solved when the FBI told us it had informed the various credit card companies and had provided those companies with a list of compromised cards while omitting that it had come from us. Our customers were therefore protected, as the credit card companies knew the credit cards and other information had been stolen and could act to protect the customers. We were not compelled to undermine the investigation.

The FBI made it clear that it expected the theft to be exposed by the hackers. We were under no illusion that this was going to be kept secret. We knew our reputation would be damaged by the revelation, all the more so because we had not encrypted the credit card files. This was a failure on our part. As the founder and CEO of Stratfor, I take responsibility for this failure, which has created hardship for customers and friends, and I deeply regret that it took place. The failure originated in the rapid growth of the company. As it grew, the management team and administrative processes didn’t grow with it. Again, I regret that this occurred and want to assure everyone that Stratfor is taking aggressive steps to deal with the problem and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Iran in Thailand: Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia

January 20th 2012

Terrorism - Hussein Atris terrorist

On Jan. 12, Thai authorities arrested a man they say was a member of the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah who was plotting an attack in Bangkok. In uncovering the plot, Thai police cite cooperation with the United States and Israel going back to December 2011. Bangkok is indeed a target-rich environment with a history of terrorist attacks, but today Hezbollah and other militant and criminal groups rely on the city as more of a business hub than anything else. If Hezbollah or some other transnational militant group were to carry out an attack in the city, it would have to be for a compelling reason that outweighed the costs. 

The suspect was identified as Hussein Atris, who was born in Lebanon but acquired Swedish citizenship and a passport after marrying a Swedish woman in 1996. Atris was arrested on immigration charges as he was trying to board a plane at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok's main international airport. Police said another suspect is still at large and possibly already out of the country. Atris's arrest on Jan. 12 was followed by a statement the next day from the U.S. Embassy warning U.S. citizens in Bangkok of the potential foreign terrorist threat in the country and encouraging them to avoid tourist areas. Other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel, issued similar warnings. Thai police have responded by increasing security in tourist areas like Bangkok's Khao San Road and the island of Phuket. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

How Iran Views a Possible Confrontation with the United States

January 19th 2012

Iran - Iranian women trample US flag

If Washington does not demonstrate through both word and deed the risks that Tehran faces, overly optimistic Iranian hardliners may wrongly decide that the benefits of a confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz outweigh the costs.

Victory in war means accomplishing one's political objectives, and some Iranian leaders seem to believe they could advance four of their main goals through armed conflict with the United States: namely, resisting "global arrogance," creating disorder in the oil markets, justifying nuclear breakout, and rallying the nation. If Iran were to make significant progress toward these objectives via hostilities against American forces, some in Tehran might conclude that they had won. More likely, however, the optimistic expectations of these overly confident, risktaking Iranian hardliners would not be realized, and war could turn out badly for the regime. Washington can do much to shape the perceptions of both Iranian leaders and world opinion regarding the risks Iran would face from such a conflict.

  Read more ..


The Violent Roads of Mexico

Rooting Out Mexico's Narco-Terrorists need not Follow Colombia's Path

January 18th 2012

Mexican Topics - Cartel areas of control

The drug war in Mexico grows more brutal daily. It is practically impossible to read news from that country without exposure to a myriad of literal rolling heads, mass graves, shootouts, and grisly abductions. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on September 8, 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton qualified the situation in Mexico as “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, when the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country.” In fact, both U.S. and Mexican policymakers have proposed tactics based on the Colombian experience. However, one must closely examine the practical differences between the two countries before applying Colombian tactics to Mexico indiscriminately, since in practice many of Colombia’s crime strategies might well be ineffective in the Mexican case.

Inequality, Drugs, and Violence: Colombia 2.0?
 
On the surface, similarities between the two countries are obvious: both are tainted by the almost uncontrolled presence of organized crime and a quickened tempo of violence. As in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s, urban violence has risen, and criminal groups have proliferated. The news regularly portrays drugs cartels slamming into each other and the state, usually through indiscriminate homicides and massacres that target innocent civilians. Such was the case in Monterrey in August 2011, when gunmen burst into the Casino Royale, burning down the building and killing over fifty people. In fact, Ciudad Juárez, the most dangerous city in the world, has surpassed Medellín’s homicide rate, reaching 10 to 11 deaths per day. Read more ..


Jordan and the U.S.

A Full Agenda for King Abdullah of Jordan's White House Visit

January 16th 2012

Jordan Topics - King Abdullah of Jordan
Jordan's King Abdullah II

King Abdullah's trip to Washington will provide ample opportunity for crucial talks on Jordan's stability, the Syrian insurrection, and the state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

President Obama will host Jordan's King Abdullah II Tuesday for a meeting in the Oval Office. The visit -- King Abdullah's second since the onset of last year's Arab uprisings -- occurs amid a backdrop of increased tension in the kingdom. Not only is Abdullah facing a spike in domestic economic and political foment, but violence across the northern border in Syria threatens to deteriorate into civil war. Making matters worse, across the river to the west, Israeli-Palestinian relations are facing yet another crisis that could see the Palestinians resume their controversial unilateral drive for statehood at the UN later this month, notwithstanding Abdullah's laudable mediation efforts. These developments, along with the general regional trend toward political change, are once again raising concerns about Jordan's stability. Although neither leader is likely to mention these concerns publicly, such issues will shape the context of the discussion. Read more ..


The Military Edge

Armed UAV Operations Ten Years On

January 14th 2012

Military -  The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
MQ-9 Reaper

One of the most iconic images of the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as global U.S. counterterrorism efforts—has been the armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), specifically the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. Unarmed RQ-1 Predators (which first flew in 1994) were flying over Afghanistan well before the 9/11 attacks. Less than a month after the attacks, an armed variant already in development was deployed for the first time.

In the decade since, the Predator has clocked more than a million flight hours. And while U.S. Air Force procurement ceased in early 2011—with more than 250 airframes purchased—the follow-on MQ-9 Reaper has already been procured in numbers and production continues. Predators and Reapers continue to be employed in a broad spectrum of roles, including close air support (CAS), when forward air controllers communicate with UAV operators to release ordnance with friendly troops in the vicinity (CAS is one of the more challenging missions even for manned aircraft because of the heightened risk of friendly casualties). Read more ..


Defense Edge

Doomed Quest for Radio

January 13th 2012

Military - soldiers and phone
Soldiers a tactical satellite radio antenna in Iraq. (Credit: DoD)

As several dozen soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Rock drove into Afghanistan’s Chowkay Valley one morning in March 2010, Taliban fighters immediately began moving into ambush positions along a higher ridge. The Force’s mission was to protect a U.S. reconstruction team as it met with local village leaders, but it was stuck in place as the Taliban reached their fighting posts. What tied them down was their radios: a forest of plastic and metal cubes sprouting antennae of different lengths and sizes. They had short-range models for talking with the reconstruction team; longer-range versions for reaching headquarters 25 miles away; and a backup satellite radio in case the mountains blocked the transmission. An Air Force controller carried his own radio for talking to jet fighters overhead and a separate radio for downloading streaming video from the aircraft.

Some of these radios worked only while the troopers were stationary; others were simply too cumbersome to operate on the move. “Not good,” said Spec. Geoff Pearman, as he watched farmers scurry indoors from their wheat fields — a sure sign that fighting was imminent. Task Force Rock’s vulnerability that morning is routine for U.S. forces in Afghanistan today. But it was never supposed to occur at all. Almost fifteen years ago, the Army launched an ambitious program, the Joint Tactical Radio System, aimed at developing several highly-compatible “universal” radios. Together, the JTRS radios would replace nearly all older radios in the American arsenal, greatly simplifying communications and freeing up combat units “to tap into the network on the move,” according to Paul Mehney, an Army spokesman. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

UN Rights Chief Urges Nigerian Leaders to Halt Violence

January 12th 2012

Nigeria - President Goodluck Johnson

U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on Nigerian political and religious leaders to join together in efforts to halt sectarian violence in the country. In a statement Thursday, Pillay said it is especially important for Muslim and Christian leaders to "condemn all violence," including retaliatory attacks.  She said those efforts could help stop a dangerous situation from "spiraling out of control." Her comments come a day after the leader of the militant group Boko Haram promised more attacks.
 
Nigerian authorities blame Boko Haram for hundreds of deaths in bombings and shootings over the past 18 months.  The group has claimed responsibility for several of the attacks, including a Christmas Day bombing of a church near Abuja that killed more than 30 people. Pillay said if Boko Haram members are judged to have carried out systemic attacks against civilians, then the militants could be found guilty of crimes against humanity.
Read more ..

Edge on Caribbean

Jamaican Plan to Abandon Queen Raises Questions

January 12th 2012

Caribbean - Portia Simpson Jamaica
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller

Jamaica's new prime minister says she plans to cut ties with the British monarchy and make the country a republic. As Queen Elizabeth II prepares to celebrate 60 years on the throne, questions are being raised over the relevance of the monarchy to Britain's former colonies. But some analysts say the royal family remains popular across the Commonwealth. Jamaica is celebrating 50 years of independence from Britain. At her inaugural address, newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the anniversary provides an opportunity for Jamaica. "As we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation we need to complete the circle of independence," said Miller. "In this regard we will initiate the process of our detachment from the monarchy, to become a republic with our own indigenous president as head of state."

Analysts say many Jamaicans see little point in retaining the Queen as head of state; it gives them no automatic right to British citizenship. There is lingering anger over Britain's role in the slave trade. Richard Fitzwilliams, an expert on the monarchy, says the Jamaican prime minister's announcement was met with surprise in Britain. "The republican movement in the Caribbean, one thinks of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, there are precedents for it," he said. "Equally Jamaica has a history of being very pro-monarchy. I suspect that this is something to do with the political infighting there. I would be surprised if it was actually put to the people, that you would be definitely sure that you would get a vote for a republic." Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran President Arrives In Nicaragua, Calls For Justice

January 11th 2012

Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

Visiting Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has called Daniel Ortega his "revolutionary brother” on his arrival for the inauguration of the Nicaraguan leader’s third term. Traveling to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, after a stop in Venezuela, Ahmadinejad said both the people of Iran and Nicaragua were fighting to establish justice.

In Caracas on January 9, Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, accused the U.S. and its allies of using a row over Iran's nuclear program to threaten the country. The Iranian president also plans to visit Cuba and Ecuador on a trip to promote relationships with some of his close friends in Latin America.


 


The Defense Edge

Obama Announces New Military Strategy

January 8th 2012

Military - US troops in Iraq

The Pentagon on Thursday unveiled a sweeping new military strategy that jettisons plans for fighting two major wars at once while cutting the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The strategy describes a new approach to fighting al Qaeda and puts China and Iran on notice, while readying the military for reduced funding and more austere budgets. It will mean a smaller U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal as the Pentagon enacts $400 billion in cuts, as well as troop reductions, though these are not spelled out. “As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints - we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces,” President Obama said in prepared remarks for a Pentagon briefing laying out the new strategy.  “Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know - the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” Obama said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the shedding of the two-major war planning framework was necessary because it was "an anchor" on the Pentagon that was designed for the Cold War. Senior Pentagon officials said the new planning construct will work better for the kind of leaner, more agile force that might be needed to quickly respond to a number of situations and conflicts. At the same time, Obama and the Pentagon’s new strategy argue that the U.S. military can effectively fight al Qaeda even with reduced funding. “We will keep our armed forces the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped fighting force in history,” Obama writes in the strategy. Read more ..


The Battle for Bahrain

A Testing Weekend in Bahrain

January 7th 2012

Terrorism - Bahrain victim

While international concern has focused on the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Iranian threats against U.S. Navy ships, tension is growing on the streets of Bahrain. The U.S. embassy in the capital, Manama, has relocated some of its personnel to safer areas, warning that it anticipates widespread demonstrations to continue throughout this weekend. Although the island state is usually not anti-American, the embassy has noted an increase in such sentiment observed on Bahraini websites and social media outlets. Moreover, part of the Shiite opposition to the Sunni ruling family has called for U.S. flags to be burned tomorrow. Despite finding "no indications that U.S. citizens are being directly threatened or targeted at this time," the embassy also warned that "an unauthorized demonstration" is planned near its compound tomorrow afternoon, and that heavy traffic and possible clashes should be expected.

Bahrain is approaching the first anniversary of troubles that broke out in February 2011. Although the protests were initially seen as an imitation of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, they quickly developed along sectarian lines. Fearing subversion from Shiite Iran, the government responded with a security clampdown supported by tanks and riot-control units from neighboring Saudi Arabia and police from the United Arab Emirates. Since then, a fragile calm has been restored and an independent inquiry has proposed reforms. Yet daily skirmishes continue between security forces and Shiite youths. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Islamic Narcoterrorism

January 6th 2012

Terrorism - Islamic NarcoTerrorism
An Afghan poppy field

Rogue Islamic regimes rank among the leaders of the unholy alliance of state-supported and state-sponsored global narcoterrorism. Narcoterrorism has become a most effective weapon – economically and operationally – in the battle against the most effective opponent of rogue regimes, the U.S. These regimes aim to undermine the U.S.'s homeland security, to injure U.S. morale, morality and social fabric, to instill fear and erode Americans' confidence in the capabilities of their own government, and to bankroll expanding global terrorist operations.

Driven by ideology and greed, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian, Arab and Islamic terror organizations have targeted the U.S. throughout the globe and on the mainland, establishing beachheads in Central and South America and setting sleeper cells in the U.S. and in Canada. Read more ..



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