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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 ..

Mexico's Drug Wars

Anonymous vs. Los Zetas Amid Mexico’s Cartel Violence

November 3rd 2011

Computer Topics - Anonymous Logo

The online activist collective Anonymous posted a message on the Internet on Oct. 31 saying it would continue its campaign against Mexican criminal cartels and their government supporters despite the risks.

The message urged inexperienced activists, who might not be practicing proper online security measures, to abstain from participating. It also urged individuals associated with Anonymous in Mexico not to conduct physical pamphlet drops, participate in protests, wear or purchase Guy Fawkes masks, or use Guy Fawkes imagery in their Internet or physical-world activities. Guy Fawkes was a British Roman Catholic conspirator involved in a plot to bomb the British Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. The British celebrate the plot’s failure as Guy Fawkes Day each Nov. 5. In modern times, the day has come to have special meaning for anarchists. Since 2006, the style of the Guy Fawkes mask used in the movie V for Vendetta has become something of an anarchist icon in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

It was no coincidence, then, that in an Oct. 6 video Anonymous activists set Nov. 5 as the deadline for Los Zetas to release an Anonymous associate allegedly kidnapped in Veracruz. The associate reportedly was abducted during an Anonymous leaflet campaign called “Operation Paperstorm.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli-made Tracking Technology that Keeps World Ports Safe

November 2nd 2011

Technology - Security_Surveillance
Bank of security scanners and cameras

Israel's HTS has developed a range of cutting-edge optical technologies to track, identify and keep tabs on cargo, traffic, tolls and customs.

As a Toyota sedan approaches a busy airport, an Israeli-developed vehicle identity recognition (VIR) system instantly gives security personnel a summary of the car's make and model, the country or state that issued the license plate and the holder of the plate.

Much more than simply tracking users at this sensitive security point, the VIR is also a first alert. What if the car is recognized as a Corolla but the plate is registered to a Ford Focus owner? Either the license plate was switched or the car is stolen -- a clear red flag.

VIR is the newest product of Hi-Tech Solutions (HTS) Israel, which has specialized in optical character recognition (OCR) solutions since 1992. Forty countries use HTS products to fight terrorism and crime, as well as manage cargo, traffic and toll roads -- including all ships leaving the ports of the United States. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Pentagon’s Accounting Shambles May Cost Additional $1 Billion

October 31st 2011

Military - The Pentagon

The Pentagon, which previously warned that reliable military spending figures could not be produced until 2017, has discovered that financial ledgers are in worse shape than expected and it may need to spend a billion dollars more to make DOD’s financial accounting credible, according to defense officials and congressional sources.

Experts say the Pentagon’s accounting has never been reliable. A lengthy effort by the military services to implement new financial systems at a cost so far of more than $6 billion has itself been plagued by overruns and delays, senior defense officials say. The Government Accountability Office said in a report last month that although the services can now fully track incoming appropriations, they still cannot demonstrate their funds are being spent as they should. Read more ..

Haiti After the Quake

Haitians are Less Than Pleased with UN Presence as Abuses Mount

October 31st 2011

UN Topics - UN peacekeepers in Haiti

In a unanimous resolution, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council decided on Friday, October 14, 2011 to renew the mandate of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for one year, reducing its numbers to “pre-earthquake levels.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared that he “envisions a gradual withdrawal” over the upcoming years.

According to journalist Ansel Herz, many Haitians have been protesting MINUSTAH’s presence for at least a year. “There’s a [wide] range of demands,” he asserts, “Some people want MINUSTAH… to simply leave… Others are asking that they transform their mission from one of military so-called peacekeeping into development.” Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Taxpayers Get Hammered by Pentagon’s Attempts to “One-stop Shop”

October 28th 2011

Military - KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s
credit: DoD

Not long after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Air Force went looking for a new fleet of aircraft.

More precisely, it went straight to the dealer—without shopping around. The service drew up a plan to lease 100 aerial refueling tankers from Boeing, saying it had an urgent need to replace its aging, Eisenhower-era KC-135 aircraft. The Air Force planned to award the multi-billion-dollar contract for a new tanker based on the Boeing 767 as a “sole source,” meaning there would be no opportunity for a formal competition.

The unusual lease-to-own deal was approved by the Defense Department and three Congressional oversight committees, despite criticism from budget analysts who contended that the sole-source lease/buy option would cost the Defense Department approximately $37 billion.

But the tanker lease contract never went through. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success

October 26th 2011

Libya - Rebels Advancing on Tripoli

In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff.

Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.

Libya After Gadhafi

Let us begin with the lesser event, Gadhafi’s death. After seven months of NATO intervention, Gadhafi was killed. That it took so long for this to happen stands out, given that the intervention involved far more than airstrikes, including special operations forces on the ground targeting for airstrikes, training Libyan troops, managing logistics, overseeing communications and both planning and at times organizing and leading the Libyan insurgents in battle. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Possible Scenarios for the Saudi Succession

October 25th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

It is not clear who will succeed King Abdullah upon his death. The picture is complicated by the advanced age and poor health of Saudi Arabia’s senior princes and the unpredictable order in which they will die, the lack of knowledge regarding how the remaining sons of Ibn Saud will form a consensus, and the unknown extent to which the newly formed Allegiance Council will have a role. All twenty surviving sons of Ibn Saud are older than sixty-five—past what would be considered normal retirement age in most parts of the world. Of these sons, eight are in their seventies and six are in their eighties.

With an established precedent in the kingdom for age-based seniority, multiple transitions could occur within a short period of time, a state of affairs reminiscent of the last years of the Soviet Union. Whether the system can tolerate the deaths of successive kings at such close intervals is questionable, given the politics involved in deciding on a new crown prince and heir apparent at the same time. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Global and Unconventional Strategic Reach of Iranian Terrorism

October 20th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that two men had been charged in New York with taking part in a plot directed by the Iranian Quds Force to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, on U.S. soil.

Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri face numerous charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national borders and conspiracy to murder a foreign official. Arbabsiar, who was arrested Sept. 29 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, is a U.S. citizen with both Iranian and U.S. passports. Shakuri, who remains at large, allegedly is a senior officer in Iran’s Quds Force, a special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) believed to promote military and terrorist activities abroad. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Pentagon's No-bid Contracts Triple in 10 Years of War

October 19th 2011

Military - Damage to Pentagon, 9-11
Pentagon cleanup (credit: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill)

As U.S. military deaths and injuries from roadside bombs escalated after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon rushed to find solutions.

Competition is normally the cornerstone of better prices and better products, but the urgency of dealing with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, has been cited to justify a number of sole-source contracts to companies promising quick solutions over a decade of war.

One such company was Tucson-based Applied Energetics, which markets a futuristic weapon that shoots beams of lightning to detonate roadside bombs. The company won over $50 million in military contracts for their lightning weapon, all without full and open competition, even though there was another company marketing similar technology. Despite test failures, the company, in part thanks to congressional support, continued to get funding.

In August, the Marine Corps, which was on the verge of awarding the company yet another sole-source contract for the lightning weapon, cancelled the latest $3 million deal after the commander of the unit in Afghanistan decided it didn’t meet their needs. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Anatomy of a Deal--The Shalit Swap

October 17th 2011

Israel Topics - Cohen (Shin Bet) and Pardo (Mossad)
Yoram Cohen and Tamir Pardo (credit: Gil Yohanan)

The military impasse, the stands taken by the Shin Bet and the Mossad, Hamas elasticizing its stance, the Arab Spring and the Palestinian bid in the UN—all of these contributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to present the cabinet with the current Shalit deal, which would bring about the release of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Several architects can take credit for the decision: First and foremost new Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen, followed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz and Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo.

Hamas’s architects include Ahmed Jabari, head of its military wing, who was given the go-ahead by Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal. On Egypt’s part, the credit goes to Egyptian Intelligence Minister Murad Muwafi and German mediator Gerhard Konrad. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Pentagon Buys Choppers from Russia to Equip Afghan, Iraqi Militaries

October 16th 2011

Military - Russian M17 Helos
Russian Mi-17s

If military operations in the early years of Iraq and Afghanistan justified the use of sole-sourcing contracting for support services, then the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan created a new justification for steering contracts to a single bidder: the need to quickly equip the militaries there.

The rush to equip the new military forces in these countries was used to justify sole-source procurements for a host of weapons and equipment, particularly for what is called “non-standard” equipment—in this case, Russian. Those countries, so the argument went, were more familiar with Russian equipment. Even in Afghanistan, a country which fought off a Soviet occupation in the 1980s, U.S. officials argued that the Northern Alliance and Afghan pilots were more familiar with Russian helicopters, which are regarded as rugged and reliable. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Pine Nut Truce: Temporary Peace in Afghanistan

October 16th 2011

Afghan Topics - Islamist terrorists

Some say all is fair in love and war, but for guerrilla warfare between the Taliban and Haqqani in Afghanistan, there are limits. Guns go down for pine nut season. Delicious pine nuts are a staple in pesto, browned and sprinkled over hummous, and in other Middle Eastern dishes. In the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, near its border with Pakistan, insurgents put down their guns so the able bodied can collect the pine cones which house the little nuts.

The New York Times reports that this year, as villagers started picking pine cones in front of the new American-Afghan outpost, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters declared a cease-fire. Called the “pine nut truce,” the ceasefire illuminates some of the basic cultural differences between the east and the west. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

New York City's Balancing Act of Civil Liberties and the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Bureau

October 13th 2011

Terrorism - NYPD and flag

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the New York Police Department (NYPD) established its own Counter-Terrorism Bureau and revamped its Intelligence Division. Since that time, its methods have gone largely unchallenged and have been generally popular with New Yorkers, who expect the department to take measures to prevent future attacks.

Preventing terrorist attacks requires a very different operational model than arresting individuals responsible for such attacks, and the NYPD has served as a leader in developing new, proactive approaches to police counterterrorism. However, it has been more than 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, and the NYPD is now facing growing concern over its counterterrorism activities. There is always an uneasy equilibrium between security and civil rights, and while the balance tilted toward security in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it now appears to be shifting back.

This shift provides an opportunity to examine the NYPD’s activities, the pressure being brought against the department and the type of official oversight that might be imposed. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Iran’s Botched Act of War in Washington

October 12th 2011

Saudi Topics - Adel Al-Jubeir
Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.

For the Iranian regime to attempt a terror strike on American soil, and particularly in Washington DC, including a high profile assassination and blowing up two important Middle Eastern embassies, it means that the Ayatollahs have crossed the conventional red line separating them from the previously cautious strategies of Terror. Indeed, on October 11, 2011, according to Federal officials as reported by ABC, FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a “significant terrorist act in the United States” tied to the Iranian regime.

US officials said the plot included the killing of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, to be followed by bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies within the beltway. According to the report, strikes against the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also in the plans. This terror case, coined ”Operation Red Coalition,” started last May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, sought a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to law enforcement officials. Manssor Arbabsiar, who in fact was intercepted by the DEA who thought he was communicating with the powerful Zetas Mexican drug organization.

According to US officials, the alleged terrorist claimed he was being “directed by high ranking members of the Iranian government,” including as reported, a cousin who was “a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform.” Officials believe he is connected to the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds force. This announcement has dramatic consequences on American national security and on the state of confrontation between the US and the Iranian regime. Read more ..

Mideast Energy on Edge

Storm Clouds Over Eastern Mediterranean

October 12th 2011

Turkish Topics - KemalRais
TCG KemalReis (credit: Turkish Navy)

In early October, US-based Noble Energy Company began exploratory drilling for offshore gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus. They did so with the agreement of the Nicosia authorities, in an area indisputably located within Cypriot territorial waters. Despite this, there was real concern that the drilling could face interference from Turkish navy ships on maneuvers in the area.

The explorations proceeded undisturbed. The Turkish ships observed procedures from a discreet distance. But Cyprus’s defiance of recent Turkish warnings against beginning the search for natural gas in this area is unlikely to be the last word on the matter.

Muscle-flexing in the eastern Mediterranean forms part of Ankara’s broader combined strategic and economic ambitions. Israel is part of the picture and is drawing closer to the Cypriots. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Death of al-Awlaki may Hamper Radicalization of English-speaking Muslims

October 6th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist

U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an ideologue and spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, was killed in a Sept. 30 airstrike directed against a motorcade near the town of Khashef in Yemen’s al-Jawf province. The strike, which occurred at 9:55 a.m. local time, reportedly was conducted by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and may have also involved fixed-wing naval aircraft. Three other men were killed in the strike, one of whom was Samir Khan, the creator and editor of AQAP’s English-language magazine Inspire.

Al-Awlaki has been targeted before; in fact, he had been declared dead on at least two occasions. The first time followed a December 2009 airstrike in Shabwa province, and the second followed a May 5 airstrike, also in Shabwa. In light of confirmation from the U.S. and Yemeni governments and from statements made by al-Awlaki’s family members, it appears that he is indeed dead this time. We anticipate that AQAP soon will issue an official statement confirming the deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Mexican Cartels and the Pan American Games: A Threat Assessment

October 4th 2011

Mexican Topics - Guadalajara

The 2011 Pan American Games will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico October 14–30. The games will feature 36 different sports and will bring more than 6,000 athletes and tens of thousands of spectators to Mexico’s second-largest city. The Parapan American Games, for athletes with physical disabilities, will follow from Nov. 12 to Nov. 20.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup, or any other large sporting event, planning for the Pan American Games in Guadalajara began when the city was selected to host them in 2006. Preparations have included the construction of new sports venues, an athletes’ village complex, hotels, highway and road infrastructure, and improvements to the city’s mass transit system. According to the coordinating committee, the construction and infrastructure improvements for the games have cost some $750 million.

The preparations included more than just addressing infrastructure concerns, however. Due to the crime environment in Mexico, security is also a very real concern for the athletes, sponsors and spectators who will visit Guadalajara during the games. The organizers of the games, the Mexican government and the governments of the 42 other participating countries also will be focused intensely on security in Guadalajara over the next two months. Read more ..

Laos on Edge

Decades after War, Millions of Unexploded U.S. Bombs Haunt Laos

October 4th 2011

Laos - UXO at the Plain of Jars
credit: Adam Jones

Liangkham Laphommavong has one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.

Her 9-year-old son knows this and protested when, at the start of a recent morning, Laphommavong set off to join a crew of 17 other women who routinely put their lives at risk.

Throughout Laos, people like Laphommavong tramp into bucolic rice paddies, woods and rolling hills—landscapes that belie the hazards of their jobs. Laphommavong is a bomb sweeper, covering terrain, inch by perilous inch, in search of unexploded ordnance.

There are an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs scattered around Laos—still-lethal remnants of a secret war against communists waged by U.S. forces four decades ago. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

World Tensions Grow as Iran Sends Warships to America's East Coast

September 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

Iran has upped the ante in its perennial conflict with the West. On September 28, Iran’s Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi says the Islamic Republic has begun large-scale production of domestically-developed cruise missiles capable of destroying “giant warships” – according to Iran - and has a range of 124 miles (200 kilometres). Vahidi said an unspecified number of "Ghader," or "Capable" as the missile is called in Farsi, were delivered to the Revolutionary Guard's navy, which is assigned to protect Iran's sea borders in the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. This development, and the prospect of Iranian warships entering sea lanes near the United States, has raised concern. In addition, Iran also has short and medium range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Mideast targets such as Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Shiite Jurisprudence, Political Expediency, and Nuclear Weapons, Part 1

September 20th 2011

Iran - Khameni and Khomeini

Islamic law exists to serve the interests of the Muslim community and of Islam. [Therefore,] to save Muslim lives and for the sake of Islam’s survival it is obligatory to lie, it is obligatory to drink wine [if necessary].
– Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

For a number of years, now, diplomats and officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have stated that Islam forbids the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons, and that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, to this effect. Such statements have led some commentators in the West to claim that this fatwa, which reflects the fundamental tenets of Islam, might well prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb. Given the importance of this issue to the security and stability of the Middle East and to U.S. interests in the region, it is important that we subject this claim to critical scrutiny, inquire into the significance and nature of this fatwa, and understand to what extent Iran’s decisionmakers are restrained by Islamic principles and laws. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Evolution of a Pakistani Militant Network

September 18th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistan anti us protest

For many years now, security experts have been carefully following the evolution of “Lashkar-e-Taiba” (LeT), the name of a Pakistan-based jihadist group that was formed in 1990 and existed until about 2001, when it was officially abolished. In subsequent years, however, several major attacks were attributed to LeT, including the November 2008 coordinated assault in Mumbai, India. Two years before that attack we wrote that the group, or at least its remnant networks, were nebulous but still dangerous. This nebulous nature was highlighted in November 2008 when the “Deccan Mujahideen,” a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks.

While the most famous leaders of the LeT networks, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, are under house arrest and in jail awaiting trial, respectively, LeT still poses a significant threat—a threat that comes not so much from LeT as a single jihadist force but LeT as a concept, a banner under which various groups and individuals can gather, coordinate and successfully conduct attacks. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Taliban Strike Deep In Kabul

September 13th 2011

Afghan Topics - Kabul attacks map 2011-09-13

A team of as many as 10 Afghan Taliban militants armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades mounted an assault September 13 in a high-security zone in the capital Kabul against the U.S. Embassy among other targets. At least four of the attackers were likely suicide bombers and detonated themselves during the attack. The attack began at 1:30 p.m. local time and has been underway for close to two hours. The militants took over a building in an area near Abdul Haq Chowk Square, a location in close proximity to Afghan government and Western security installations, including NATO headquarters. Read more ..

Inside the Mideast

Iran, Israel, and the New Middle East Reality

September 12th 2011

Iran - Iran Iraq Syria

In recent years, Israeli strategists have identified an Iran-led regional alliance as representing the main strategic challenge to the Jewish state. This alliance looks to be emerging as one of the net losers of the Arab upheavals of 2011. This, however, should be cause for neither satisfaction nor complacency for Israel. The forces moving in to replace or compete with Iran and its allies are largely no less hostile.

The Iran-led regional alliance, sometimes called the muqawama (“resistance”) bloc, consisted of a coalition of states and movements led by Tehran and committed to altering the US-led dispensation that pertained since the end of the cold war.

It included, in addition to Iran itself, the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, the Sadrist movement and other Shia Islamist currents in Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation. It appeared in recent years also to be absorbing Hamas. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Laser Technology to Deflect Heat-Seeking Missiles from Military Helicopters

September 2nd 2011

Military - Blackhawk helo

Protecting helicopters in combat from heat-seeking missiles is the goal of new laser technology created at the University of Michigan and Omni Sciences, Inc., which is a U-M spin-off company.

"Battlefield terrain in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can be so rough that our troops have often had to rely on helicopters, and they can be easy targets for enemies with shoulder-launched missiles," said Mohammed Islam, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"Our lasers give off a signal that's like throwing sand in the eyes of the missile."

Using inexpensive, off-the-shelf telecommunications fiber optics, Islam is developing sturdy and portable "mid-infrared supercontinuum lasers" that could blind heat-seeking weapons from a distance of 1.8 miles away. Read more ..

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