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The Edge of Cyber-Warfare

The Internet and Latin America: The Rise of the Virtual World

December 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - internet cafe

Throughout the world, many regions have embraced the internet as a vital communication and business tool, and Latin America has been no exception. While demonstrably the expansion of internet usage has not rivaled that of the United States, Europe, or some Asian states like South Korea and Japan, the growth of the internet in the region continues at a steady tempo. Additionally, we are witnessing a rise in the importance of cyber security as cases of hacking and other cybercrimes proliferate.

Growth of the Internet in Numbers

In terms of numbers, the level of internet use in Latin America is certainly not as widespread as it has been in Europe or other highly developed regions, given constraints such as adverse economic indicators, poverty levels, and even geography, but the number of internet users in Latin America has grown over the past decade. Currently, the countries with the most internet users among Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America are Chile, Argentina and Venezuela. According to a June 2011 report by AMPARO, a project managed by the Latin American and Caribbean internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC), there are currently over 200 million users in Latin America and the Caribbean. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

Buying the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus

December 24th 2011

Military - F-35b

It’s the steal of the century. For the price of buying a condo in Washington, D.C., you can support the political campaigns of members of Congress who support your trillion-dollar program. Talk about return on investment!

On November 9, Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) announced the formation of a Congressional Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Caucus that they are co-chairing. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive program in Pentagon history, and it has been plagued by delays, cost overruns, and defects that have raised eyebrows at the Pentagon and in Congress (the latest official report on JSF problems was made public by POGO on December 13). As of its announcement, the JSF Caucus had 48 members of the House on its roster.

According to Dicks and Granger’s press release, the Caucus will “provide members of Congress accurate and timely information on the development, testing and deployment of our next-generation fighter.” The announcement quickly dispels any notion of the group’s objectivity, noting that “the Joint Strike Fighter program is an absolute necessity.” The rhetoric emanating from these members of Congress shouldn’t be surprising given their ties to the companies benefiting from the billions of taxpayer dollars spent yearly on the JSF. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Egyptian Military - Last Obstacle to Cairo-Hamas Alliance

December 22nd 2011

Israel Topics - Sinai, Egypt-Israel Border
Israel-Egypt Sinaii Border

The Egyptian military's weakening grip on power is the last obstacle standing in the way of an alliance between a Cairo under Islamist rule and the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Two out of three phases in Egypt's parliamentary elections are now complete, and the results are unequivocal. A clear majority of Egyptians have so far voted for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party and the puritanical Salafist Al-Nour party.

The liberal secular parties are trailing far behind the Islamists, and look destined to play a marginal role in shaping the future foreign policy.

Much has already been said on what life inside Egypt could look like under an Islamist government. The passing of Sharia-inspired laws seems inevitable. The change will likely strike a major blow to Western tourism, which is already stunted due to instability. The prospect of an Egyptian economic recovery looks dim.

The Arab Fall

Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists: Same Goals; Different Strategies

December 18th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

The two parties with the largest number of votes in Egypt have been the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party along with the Salafist al-Nour Party. Both are Islamist parties. Yet Western observers—including the Obama Administration—claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “moderate Islamist” group while the Salifists are radical.

There are indeed important differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists but they are really issues of timing and tactics rather than of goals or principles. One way to think of them is as Coke traditional formula and Coke Light. The Brotherhood seeks to transform Egypt into a radical state governed by the Sharia. It is, however, more cautious—one might say, smarter—in going slowly.

This caution is rooted in the organization’s history.  It began in 1928 as a revolutionary group to restore the caliphate and in the 1930s and during World War Two collaborated with the Nazis. After the war it launched a terrorist campaign against the government. When the military seized power in 1952, the Brotherhood was its main rival. The officers suppressed the Brotherhood, sending some leaders to concentration camps and others to the gallows. It would be 20 years before the regime allowed the Brotherhood to operate, and even then only illegally. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda vs the West: 2012 and Beyond

December 18th 2011

Terrorism - NYC in the crosshairs

Just over two years after al-Qaeda Core launched the most serious plot against the United States since 9/11 (the Najibullah Zazi NYC subway plot of September 2009), al-Qaeda’s leader and founder, Usama bin Laden; most recent “No. 3,” Attiyah Abd al Rahman; and Saleh al Somali and Rashid Rauf, the instigators of the Zazi Plot, are all dead, a result of combined efforts by U.S. Special Forces and drone strikes. In addition, this fall, Anwar al Awlaqi, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) dual-hatted English- language propagandist and chief of external operations, was also killed in a drone strike. As the calendar approaches 2012, the natural question to ask is: Whither the al-Qaeda threat?

The recent past may provide some useful insights. One of the most important findings of a forensic study of the sixteen most serious al-Qaeda plots against the West since 1993 is that al-Qaeda plots against the West are almost always underpinned and manned by Westerners who travel overseas to al-Qaeda or an ally/affiliate and then are turned around opportunistically and sent back to target the West. Whether it was the 1999 LAX Millennium Bomber (Montreal); the 9/11 Pilots (Hamburg); the Shoe Bombers (London); the July 7 and 21, 2005, London transit system bombers (Leeds and London); the 2009 NYC Subway Bombers (New York); or the 2009 Underwear Bomber (London), the key operatives from the plot originated in one of the great cities of the West. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Syria Crisis: Assessing Foreign Intervention

December 16th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria protests Apr 2011

The ongoing unrest, violence and security crackdowns in Syria have been the subject of major international attention since February. Our current assessment is that the government and opposition forces have reached a stalemate in which the government cannot quell the unrest and the opposition cannot bring down the regime without outside intervention.

In the Dec. 8 Security Weekly, we discussed the covert intelligence war being waged by the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies against Iran. Their efforts are directed not only against Tehran’s nuclear program but also against Iran’s ability to establish an arc of influence that stretches through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To that end, the United States and its allies are trying to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq and to constrain Hezbollah in Lebanon. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Options to Consider for Syria: The Dead Man Walking

December 15th 2011

Syrian Issues - President Bashr el Assad of syria
Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad

The ongoing unrest, violence and security crackdowns in Syria have been the subject of major international attention since February. Our current assessment is that the government and opposition forces have reached a stalemate in which the government cannot quell the unrest and the opposition cannot bring down the regime without outside intervention.

In the Dec. 8 Security Weekly, we discussed the covert intelligence war being waged by the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies against Iran. Their efforts are directed not only against Tehran’s nuclear program but also against Iran’s ability to establish an arc of influence that stretches through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To that end, the United States and its allies are trying to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq and to constrain Hezbollah in Lebanon. But apparently they are also exploring ways to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad, a longtime ally of Iran whose position is in danger due to the current unrest in the country. In fact, a U.S. State Department official recently characterized the al Assad regime as a “dead man walking.” Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Iran, Hezbollah Tentacles Reaching Latin America

December 13th 2011

Terrorism - Hezbollah Troops

Prior to 9/11, no terrorist group had killed more Americans than Hezbollah. Like its patron, Iran, Hezbollah is committed to America's destruction. Now the two jihadist forces are spreading their tentacles throughout Latin America and, according to experts, could go operational at a moment's notice.

For more than two centuries, the United States has served as guardian of the Western hemisphere. That role only expanded with the Cuban missile crisis and the spread of Soviet communism into Latin America.

Iran and Hezbollah represent a new threat in America's backyard. "Over the last 10 years, we have seen a very concerted effort to expand," former Bush administration official Jose Cardenas saud. "They are using mosques in Argentina and all the way up through the continent to proselytize, to identify disaffected Latin youth, to recruit, to convert," he said. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

DNA found on Bombers' Backpacks may Thwart Terrorists

December 12th 2011

Transportation Topics - crowded subway

Catching terrorists who detonate bombs may be easier by testing the containers that hide the bombs rather than the actual explosives, according to pioneering research led by Michigan State University. Currently, law enforcement labs tend to test for DNA on the exploded bomb fragments – but this has a low success rate, said David Foran, an MSU forensic biologist and lead investigator on the research project.

Through the MSU-led study, researchers obtained DNA from eight backpacks that had been blown up with pipe bombs inside, and subsequently obtained full DNA profiles that matched all eight volunteers who had carried the backpacks for a week.

The findings could ultimately change the way law enforcement officials investigate bombings, Foran said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Strategic (Mis)communication on Iran

December 11th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

Given the alarms that have increasingly been sounded in recent months about Iran's nuclear progress and furor over its alleged plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and the storming of the British embassy in Tehran, one might think that Iran's leaders would be worried about the prospect of a Western attack on their country.

However, their remarks suggest just the opposite. In recent days, Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei has boasted of "shatter(ing) the resolve" of the West, and the commander of Iran's paramilitary Basij forces -- who were responsible for the embassy rampage -- predicted that the U.S. would be too weak even to respond to an Iranian attack.
Perhaps this is just bluster; however, U.S. officials have done little to dampen the regime's overweening self-confidence and the proclivity for escalation which is fueled by it. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Government Fails to Keep Eye on Night-Vision Goggles in Mideast

December 10th 2011

Military - night vision goggles

When U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout in May, they relied on night-vision goggles, devices that the Pentagon describes as valuable and sensitive national resources.

Such goggles give U.S. forces a built-in advantage that other nations - including those in the Middle East - lack the ability to replicate. As a result, when the U.S. sells such equipment to friendly allies in the region, it generally requires strict precautions against theft or diversion, including a requirement that they be stored in protected depots with their serial numbers recorded and frequently checked.

But these precautions ordered in Washington are frequently ignored or poorly enforced by Defense and State Department officials in the field, and as a result, some of the night-vision goggles sent to the region have gone missing, according to a report by the General Accountability Office last month. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Undaunted, Senator Still Trying to Close Decrepit Schools on Military Bases

December 10th 2011

America Themes - Tom-Coburn

The Senate has decided not to take up a proposal that would close rather than repair decrepit Defense Department-run schools on military bases, creating a flood of thousands of students to nearby public school systems.

But the plan’s chief architect, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), is vowing to try again. He estimates potential savings to the Pentagon from closing “unnecessary” schools at more than $1 billion over four years.

Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said the senator was “disappointed and frustrated that the Senate, yet again, chose to ignore the chance to achieve real savings in refusing to vote on a common-sense amendment.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Ambassador: Turkey 'Cannot Tolerate' Iran Getting Nukes

December 9th 2011

Iran - ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear.jpg

Turkey is committed to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and has stopped other countries from taking materials in to help Iran’s nuclear program, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States said Thursday.

Speaking at an event sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan said, “We cannot tolerate Iran having a nuclear weapon.

“Even if one day you say we accept Iran, you understand Iran having nuclear weapons, we will be against it,” Tan said. “It’s as simple as that.”
But the Turkish ambassador stopped short of getting behind economic sanctions that Vice President Biden called for during a visit to Turkey last week. While Tan said that Turkey has not imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, he emphasized it has always complied with sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

The ambassador said that Turkey has stopped other countries from importing materials that could aid Tehran’s nuclear program, though he declined to name the countries that were involved. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Russian City Moving from Tanks to Culture

December 9th 2011

Russian Topics - Russia military symbol

In the Soviet era, Perm was a closed city, lost in the gulag archipelago. For years, the city was called Molotov, after Stalin's foreign minister.
In the Perm region, thousands of prisoners worked and died in labor camps never marked on maps.

In Perm city, factories churned out tanks, cannons and rockets, arming Soviet allies in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

But, when the Soviet empire collapsed 20 years ago, weapons orders started to dry up.

And when this gray, industrial city opened to the world, city officials quickly discovered that no one wanted to come. Instead, about 10 percent of the population left. The population decline would have been deeper, but it was offset by people abandoning villages and towns for Perm city.

Seven years ago, the job of turning around Perm fell to a former KGB officer. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Asad's Armed Opposition: The Free Syrian Army

December 4th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria Protest

The growing armed opposition movement against the Asad regime is becoming an increasingly important element in the Syrian equation.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the armed opposition group that has emerged to confront the Asad regime, appears to be gaining in strength and effectiveness, and Damascus now faces both peaceful and armed resistance. So far, the FSA has proven resilient in the face of regime measures to suppress it.

Origins in Defection

The FSA was formally announced on July 29, but it can trace its origins to well before that. The group's formation was a reaction to regime brutality against peaceful mass protests. Desertion from the Syrian army increased as individual soldiers and small units refused to obey orders to shoot unarmed demonstrators or simply decided to abandon the regime. Although not all of these soldiers have joined the FSA, numerous media reports indicate a steady flow of defectors into the group's ranks Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Military Learns Its Lesson: How the Ruling Council in Cairo Contained a Second Revolution

December 4th 2011

Egypt - Egypt Riots #1

The second revolution has, supposedly, come to Egypt. Over the past twelve days, tens of thousands of Egyptians have gathered in Tahrir Square to demand that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cede power to a civilian-led National Salvation Government. Egyptian security forces responded by killing at least 40 people, wounding more than 1,000, and blanketing parts of downtown Cairo with weapons-grade tear gas. The ugly scenes recall the earliest days of the mass uprising in January and February, the first revolution, which ended Hosni Mubarak's reign.

But this second revolution has one major problem: so long as Egyptians avoid Tahrir Square, it is somewhat easy to ignore.
The sit-in began on November 18, when an Islamist-led mass demonstration withdrew from Tahrir Square, leaving behind a handful of protesters, including family members of people killed during the first revolution. When Central Security Forces violently dispersed this small sit-in, thousands of youth activists quickly mobilized, battling police for control of the square. Read more ..

The US and Pakistan

A Deadly U.S. Attack on Pakistani Soil

December 2nd 2011

Military - Apache

In the early hours of Nov. 26 on the Afghan-Pakistani border, what was almost certainly a flight of U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship killed some two dozen Pakistani servicemen at two border outposts inside Pakistan. Details remain scarce, conflicting and disputed, but the incident was known to have taken place near the border of the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar and the Mohmand agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The death toll inflicted by the United States against Pakistani servicemen is unprecedented, and while U.S. commanders and NATO leaders have expressed regret over the incident, the reaction from Pakistan has been severe.

Claims and Interests

The initial Pakistani narrative of the incident describes an unprovoked and aggressive attack on well-established outposts more than a mile inside Pakistani territory — outposts known to the Americans and ones that representatives of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had visited in the past. The attack supposedly lasted for some two hours despite distressed communications from the outpost to the Pakistani military’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi. Read more ..

The Afghan War

In Afghan North, US-Backed Militias Spur Local Backlash

December 2nd 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan Fighters

In an effort to counter a growing insurgency in northern Afghanistan, two U.S.-backed programs in Kunduz have recruited local militias to oppose Taliban militants in the area. But while the militias are better at fighting the Taliban on the battlefield, their methods turn local populations against them.

“I’m a farmer and work daily as a laborer,” said one man in Kunduz who left his village for 11 months to herd sheep and make money in nearby provinces. “My mom, my two brothers and even my sister are disabled and my dad passed away last year. It’s only me to support the whole family.”

The farmer, who does not want to use his name, returned to his village recently. But the U.S.-backed security forces that the local residents call Arbakai were suspicious of his long absence. He says the commander demanded he sell half his land to pay them off, but he refused. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

If Israel Strikes Iran: What Happens to Oil Prices?

December 1st 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli Jet Diving
Israel Air Force jets in flight

To a surprising degree, financial analysts are now beginning to price the cost to the world economy of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Far from the political arena, these economists and analysts are taking a common-sense approach to a potential Israeli strike and asking just how much it will affect the price of global oil.

Greg Sharenow, a portfolio manager at PIMCO, the global investment company, has recently penned a report outlining the four potential scenarios for global oil prices after an Israeli attack.

The following summary appeared Tuesday in the Financial Post.

First scenario: This is the most optimistic. In this scenario, oil initially spikes to US$130-$140 per barrel after Israel attacks Iran, and then settles around US$120-US$125. This would occur if the International Energy Agency steps in and fills any shortfalls in the oil supply. Mr. Sharenow adds, however, that markets need to price in an attack before one occurs for this scenario to play out. Read more ..

US and Pakistan

Pakistan, Russia, and the Threat to the Afghan War

November 30th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The dual threats are significant even if they don’t materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.

The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO’s current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran, Stuxnet and the Aftermath

November 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian chador pageant

While President Obama has focused much of his foreign policy efforts on jump-starting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has been preoccupied with what its policymakers see as a much greater, even existential, threat. Iran’s continuing efforts to acquire nuclear technology likely led to the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on its nuclear infrastructure, and though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, most experts agree on two things. First, that Israel’s involvement was highly likely, and second, that the computer virus attack was the first of its kind, in that it achieved a kinetic effect—causing actual physical damage to approximately 1,000 of 8,000 or more centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. As a consequence, Iran’s progress towards producing a sizable amount of weapons-grade uranium is estimated to have been slowed by two or more years.

Interestingly, speculation ran high during 2010 that some kind of Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure was likely in the coming months, even though most defense experts were confident that such a strike—envisioned more as an airstrike (with actual kinetic damage)—on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would only delay, and not prevent, Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

Denying Safe Haven in Afghanistan

November 28th 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan Fighters

A full decade has passed since war came to American shores. As we commemorate that dark day, many will justifiably focus on our efforts against al-Qaeda to gauge success or failure. Just as important, however, have been our efforts in denying the terrorist group its traditional safe haven in Afghanistan by building the security forces there.

On that score, much remains to be done. Great strides have been made over the last two years, but simply handing a weapon to an individual does not make him a soldier or policeman. Building a professional and lasting Afghan national security system in the wake of conflict is a mission without equal. And of the many challenges facing the Afghan leadership in Kabul, among the most debilitating is the Taliban legacy of illiteracy, which plagues the vast majority of military-aged men. Read more ..

Iranian Terror

Iranian Cyber-Jihadi Cells in America plot Destruction on the Net and in Reality

November 27th 2011

Iran - Iranian jihadi geeks

Last September, Jihadists who call themselves “Cyber-Hezbollah” organised their second conference in Teheran. Islamist hackers and cyber-jihadists gathered there and decided to fight the U.S. and Europe. Hassan Abbasi, political strategist and adviser of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was present, and delivered an ardent and virulent speech.

Participants in the Cyber-Hezbollah Conference consisted of so-called “cyber-jihad activists”, “Cyber-Resistance” activists and “interested activists in the soft war”. Hojat Vahidi, head of the new “Committee of the Holy Defense Strategy in Europe”, attended via live online conferencing. A coordinator of Iran’s propaganda activities in Europe and the United States and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Vahidi lives in an undisclosed location in Europe. Vahidi also leads the low-profile organization known as the “Association of European Muslims." Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Homeland Security Committee Chair Urges “Firm Response” on Iran

November 25th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

The chairman and members of the House Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday urging him to leave all options, including military action, on the table in the face of “our strategic enemy, the Iranian regime.”

The letter from Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) and subcommittee chairmen Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) urges Obama toward a “firm response” to “state-sponsored terror plots on American soil.”

On November 21, Obama signed an executive order imposing new economic sanctions against any investment or provision of goods and services contributing to Iran’s oil-and-gas exploration efforts. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The Fog of Prewar?

November 24th 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli Jet

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was one of the first to sound the alarm over Iran's nuclear armament program, identifying the threat it posed to global security in the early 1990s.

The last time he spoke openly about his views on the Iranian threat was when he was head of the opposition. After coming to power in 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu didn't change his views - he only muted them.

But then, in October, something happened which caused the Iranian threat to jump to the top of the Israeli news agenda.

The possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran was being discussed day after day on the front pages of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, which is aligned with the opposition Kadima party and is hostile to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Soon enough, all of the newspapers and television channels joined in the media frenzy. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Turkey Day provides TSA a Chance to Test New Security Procedures

November 24th 2011

Travel - US passport

The Transportation Security Administration says passengers will likely notice fewer pat-downs of children and other changes at airports over this long weekend, the busiest travel days of the year.
The changes are part of TSA’s move toward a “risk-based” security approach. Most of them have been in place since earlier in the fall, but they will be new to an estimated 3.4 million people who are expected to fly for the holidays.
“When traveling this holiday travel season, passengers may notice new procedures in place at airports, including modified screening for passengers 12 and under and additional privacy protections on more than half of our imaging technology units,” the agency said in a statement provided to The Hill.  “TSA is also in the process of testing new ideas at some airports to further strengthen security while enhancing the passenger experience whenever possible,” the agency continued. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's FARC Narco-Terrorists May Still Prove their Resilience

November 23rd 2011

Latin American Topics - Colombia FARC rebels

On November 4, 2011, the Colombian military launched a successful raid that resulted in the death of the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, better known as Alfonso Cano. Responding to the death of the leftist group’s leader, Colombian president Juan Manual Santos asserted that the FARC’s “leadership will come down like a house of cards.” Despite this optimistic declaration, the FARC’s leadership might prove to be stronger than cards. One day after Cano’s death, the Secretariat, a seven-member group of senior FARC leaders, unanimously elected Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, known as Timochenko, to take over command of the group.

For forty-seven years, FARC guerrillas have been challenging the Colombian government. While the left-wing group’s power is not now what it used to be during the 1980s and 1990s, it still presents a major security challenge for the Colombian government. Currently, the FARC, with its active forces numbering an estimated 9,000 members, has re-adjusted its tactics to focus on hit-and-run ambushes. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Is CitiBank Pressured by the Islamic Republic of Iran

November 23rd 2011

Corporate Logos - Citibank

In a court decision that has received surprisingly little media coverage, a New York District judge ordered Citibank to freeze almost $2 billion of debt-securities allegedly belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran. This past August, victims of Iranian terror sued Luxembourg-based clearing house and bank Clearstream for allegedly assisting Iran to move $250 million in frozen assets out of the United States. This case deserves more attention, not only in view of the high dollar amount involved, but also for its potential to reveal how the Iranian government could be exploiting international financial clearing houses to contravene U.S. sanctions.

According to U.S. judicial documents filed in New York and California in the case of Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, the funds are held at Citibank in the name of Clearstream, which in turn is owned by the Deutsche Börse Group. For years, Clearstream has been accused of being an international platform for money laundering and tax evasion. Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

Riot Report Will Force Bahrain to Choose a Direction

November 22nd 2011

Bahrain Topics - Bahrain enraged protesters

Inhabitants of the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain are nervously awaiting the November 23 publication of a report on the investigation into the February and March sectarian troubles. Members of the majority Shiite population fear that it will whitewash the history of repression against them, while the Sunni community, led by the ruling al-Khalifa family and backed by Saudi Arabia, is scared of widespread street protests supported, if not instigated, by Iran. And foreigners, including a large western community, are anxious lest they become targeted. In guiding political reconciliation on the island, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters, Washington's policy needs to take into account the juxtaposition of the Arab Spring's desire for freedom and Tehran's desire for regional hegemony.

The report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was written by a group of international human rights experts chaired by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American. Originally expected last month, the report has heard evidence from all sides, with personal interviews of more than 5,000 witnesses. During the troubles, thousands of Bahrainis, led by the Shiite majority and inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, took part in mass marches and demonstrations centering on the Pearl Roundabout, a downtown traffic circle dominated by a concrete statue supporting a giant pearl. More than 40 people died during the unrest, including members of the security forces. Calm was restored after the arrival of 1,200 Saudi paramilitary forces with tanks and armored vehicles (though this force and 600 police officers from the United Arab Emirates were not actually deployed on the streets). Later, the Pearl monument, symbolized on one side of a Bahrain coin, was bulldozed. Read more ..

Iran and Syria

Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

November 22nd 2011

Iran - Assad and Ahmadinejad

U.S. troops are in the process of completing their withrdawal from Iraq by the end-of-2011 deadline. We are now moving toward a reckoning with the consequences. The reckoning concerns the potential for a massive shift in the balance of power in the region, with Iran moving from a fairly marginal power to potentially a dominant power. As the process unfolds, the United States and Israel are making countermoves. We have discussed all of this extensively. Questions remain whether these countermoves will stabilize the region and whether or how far Iran will go in its response.

Iran has been preparing for the U.S withdrawal. While it is unreasonable simply to say that Iran will dominate Iraq, it is fair to say Tehran will have tremendous influence in Baghdad to the point of being able to block Iraqi initiatives Iran opposes. This influence will increase as the U.S. withdrawal concludes and it becomes clear there will be no sudden reversal in the withdrawal policy. Iraqi politicians’ calculus must account for the nearness of Iranian power and the increasing distance and irrelevance of American power.

Resisting Iran under these conditions likely would prove ineffective and dangerous. Some, like the Kurds, believe they have guarantees from the Americans and that substantial investment in Kurdish oil by American companies means those commitments will be honored. A look at the map, however, shows how difficult it would be for the United States to do so. The Baghdad regime has arrested Sunni leaders while the Shia, not all of whom are pro-Iranian by any means, know the price of overenthusiastic resistance. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Building on the Opportunity of the IAEA Report on Iran

November 22nd 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

 Despite technical setbacks and political indecision, the military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program apparently continue and will become even more challenging over time.

The alarming headlines following last week's publication of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear activities and their likely military dimensions have revived the debate about how best to deal with the challenge. During this weekend's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii, President Obama defended sanctions on Iran, saying they have "enormous bite." But he apparently encountered opposition for more such measures in meetings with the Russian and Chinese presidents. The IAEA Board of Governors will tackle the issue in Vienna on November 17-18, and the strength of any resolution passed at the meeting will be an indication of the level of international agreement on how to deal with Iran. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iranian Assistance Suspected in Secret Libyan Chemical Weapons Arsenal

November 21st 2011

Libya Topics - chemical weapons

The Obama administration is investigating whether Iran supplied the Libyan government of Moammar Gadhafi with hundreds of special artillery shells for chemical weapons that Libya kept secret for decades, U.S. officials said.

The shells, which Libya filled with highly toxic mustard agent, were uncovered in recent weeks by revolutionary fighters at two sites in central Libya. Both are under heavy guard and round-the-clock drone surveillance, U.S. and Libyan officials said.

The discovery of the shells has prompted a U.S. intelligence-led probe into how the Libyans obtained them, and several sources said early suspicion had fallen on Iran. “We are pretty sure we know” the shells were custom-designed and produced in Iran for Libya, said a senior U.S. official, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sensitivity of the accusation. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

“Perfect Storm” Gave Combat Vehicle Program New Life, Says Top Marine

November 20th 2011

Military - JLTV Prototype

U.S. Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos is standing behind a big-ticket combat vehicle program that senators want to kill even as deeper Pentagon cuts get more likely by the day.

The Defense Department would be required to cut $500 billion more over a decade if the congressional supercommittee panel fails. When added to a $350 billion cut mandated under the August debt deal, Pentagon leaders said a “doomsday” scenario would unfold that would hinder U.S. national security.

Officials and lawmakers agree nearly $1 trillion in cuts from planned spending would force DOD to terminate some of its desired weapon programs. Amos agrees, asserting in November that additional cuts would be made “across everything—manpower, programs, operations, and maintenance funds.”

Still, he said, the Marines need to buy new combat equipment. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Wireless Technology to Guide "Dumb" Bombs

November 17th 2011

Military - bomb

Raytheon Company has completed testing and development of a new wireless method of integrating its combat-proven Enhanced Paveway precision-guided bomb on aircraft.
The new integration tool, called WiPak®, uses wireless technology similar to what is being used in many consumer wireless devices such as tablet computers. WiPak consists of a small wireless transmitter and pilot interface in the aircraft cockpit, and a small receiver affixed to the Paveway weapon.

"WiPak enables integration of Paveway on a variety of aircraft previously unable to carry the weapon, and WiPak does so without modifying aircraft wiring or changing flight and stores management software," said Harry Schulte, Raytheon Missile Systems' vice president of Air Warfare Systems. "With WiPak, aviators can easily and quickly employ Paveway for a small fraction of what it would cost to integrate Paveway through traditional means." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Shadowy Russian Scientist Denies Role in Iranian Weaponization program

November 17th 2011

Iran - Iran nuke reactor 3

If you believe the United Nations' nuclear agency, Vyacheslav Danilenko is a weapons scientist who for six years used his knowledge of explosive detonators to help Iran move closer to its long-held, secret goal of developing a nuclear warhead.

If you believe Danilenko, he is "a computer dummy" who merely taught Iranian students how to create tiny synthetic diamonds for use in industrial grinding and polishing.

Danilenko, who was born in Russia but holds a Ukrainian passport, recently emerged as a key figure in the latest report on Iran's clandestine nuclear program from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He is, according to UN investigators and a prominent nonproliferation NGO, the "foreign expert" cited in the report whose lectures on explosion physics and its applications helped Iran develop a nuclear weapons detonator that was tested in 2003.

Danilenko has not denied that his work at the Soviet-era Chelyabinsk-70 nuclear weapons facility was "highly classified" or that he lectured Iranian students on subjects related to explosive detonation. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Guatemala's Out-Sized Role in Narcotrafficking and Narcoterrorism

November 17th 2011

Latin American Topics - Guatemala narco gang bangers
Members of Central American narcoterrorist gangs

Guatemalan President-elect Otto Perez Molina told Mexican newspaper El Universal on Nov. 9 that he plans to engage drug cartels in a “full frontal assault” when he takes office in 2012. The former general said he will use Guatemala’s elite military forces, known as Los Kaibiles, to take on the drug cartels in a strategy similar to that of the Mexican government; he has asked for U.S. assistance in this struggle.

The statements signal a shifting political landscape in already violent Central America. The region is experiencing increasing levels of crime and the prospect of heightened competition from Mexican drug cartels in its territory. The institutional weakness and security vulnerabilities of Guatemala and other Central American states mean that combating these trends will require significant help, most likely from the United States.

From Sideshow to Center Stage

Central America has seen a remarkable rise in its importance as a transshipment point for cocaine and other contraband bound for the United States. Meanwhile, Mexican organized crime has expanded its activities in Mexico and Central America to include the smuggling of humans and substances such as precursor chemicals used for manufacturing methamphetamine. Substantial evidence also suggests that Central American, and particularly Guatemalan, military armaments including M60 machine guns and 40 mm grenades have wound up being used in Mexico’s drug conflict. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Credible Evidence Mounts of Iran's Continued Work on Nuclear Weaponization

November 16th 2011

Iran - Bushehr plant panoramic
Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility

The much-anticipated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran was recently released with a damning indictment: "The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme" and that credible information "indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device...and that some activities may still be continuing" (read a PDF of the report).

Of equal concern is the IAEA's judgment that Iran's work on its Shahab-3 missile "concluded that any payload option other than nuclear...could be ruled out." The report notes that when Iran was challenged on this, it dismissed the evidence as being "an animation game." Tehran has consistently denied that its nuclear program is intended for military purposes. The report should help Washington, using diplomatic and economic sanctions, to force Iran to fully explain its nuclear program and to curtail its military dimensions. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Islamist sect Ramps Up its Threat to Nigeria and Global Oil Supply

November 10th 2011

Nigeria - Nigeria joint military task force

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, issued a warning Nov. 5 indicating it had received intelligence that the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram may have been planning to bomb several targets in the Nigerian capital during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, also known as Eid al-Kabir, celebrated Nov. 6-8. The warning specifically mentioned the Hilton, Nicon Luxury and Sheraton hotels as potential targets.

The warning came in the wake of a string of bombings and armed attacks Nov. 4 in the cities of Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum, all of which are located in Nigeria’s northeast. An attack also occurred in the north-central Nigerian city of Kaduna. The sites targeted in the wave of attacks included a military base in Maiduguri and the anti-terrorism court building in Damaturu. Militants reportedly attacked these two sites with suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The Nigerian Red Cross reported that more than 100 people were killed in the attacks, while some media reports claimed the death toll was at least 150.

According to AFP, a spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks Nov. 5 and threatened more attacks targeting the Nigerian government until “security forces stop persecuting our members and vulnerable civilians.” On Nov. 7, a Boko Haram spokesman claimed that his group employed only two suicide operatives in the attacks and not 12 as reported by some media outlets. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Warns of Further Attacks by Boko Haram Islamist Sect in Nigeria

November 8th 2011

Africa Topics - Pirate

In a warning issued on November 6, the United States Embassy in Nigeria disclosed that the oil-rich might witness more attacks from the Islamist Boko Haram sect in the coming days. Terrorist bombings attributed to the Boko Haram killed more than 60 persons in Nigeria's northeast in the town of Kaduna, Maiduguri, and Damaturu.

The warning specified that the attacks could come anytime and that Nigeria’s federal capital, Abuja, is also a target. The embassy named three luxury hotels frequented by foreigners in Abuja as the likely targets: the Hilton, Nicon Luxury and Sheraton hotels.

The American embassy also stated that the attack may come as Nigeria celebrates Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday. American diplomats and embassy staff have been instructed to avoid the aforementioned hotels, and to take precautions. Read more ..

Mexico’s Drug Wars

Polarization Continues in The Mexican Drug Wars

November 7th 2011

Mexican Topics - Guadalajara

While there has been a reshuffling of alliances among Mexican drug cartels since July, the trend of polarization—of cartels and associated sub-groups toward the two largest drug-trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas—continues. Meanwhile, the three primary conflicts in Mexico’s drug war remain cartel vs. cartel, cartel vs. government and cartel vs. civilians. Operations launched by the military during the second quarter of 2011, primarily against Los Zetas and the Knights Templar, continued through the third quarter as well, and increasing violence in Guerrero, Durango, Veracruz, Coahuila, and Jalisco states has resulted in the deployment of more federal troops in those areas.

The northern tier of states has seen a lull in violence, from Tijuana in Baja California state to Juarez in Chihuahua state. Violence in that stretch of northern Mexico subsided enough during the third quarter to allow the military to redeploy forces to other trouble spots. In Tamaulipas state, the military remains in charge of law enforcement in most of the cities, and the replacement of entire police departments that occurred in the state during the second quarter was recently duplicated in Veracruz following an outbreak of violence there (large numbers of law enforcement personnel were found to be in collusion with Los Zetas and were subsequently dismissed). Read more ..

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