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Edge on Terror

Attacks in Tajikistan Signal Growing Islamist Menace in Central Asia

September 27th 2010

Terrorism - Uzbek/Tajik jihadis

Militants in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley ambushed a military convoy of 75 Tajik troops on September 19, killing 25 military personnel according to official reports and 40 according to the militants, who attacked from higher ground with small arms, automatic weapons and grenades. The Tajik troops were part of a nationwide deployment of security forces seeking to recapture 25 individuals linked to the United Tajik Opposition militant groups that had escaped from prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 24. The daring prison break was conducted by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and saw five security guards killed and the country put on red alert. According to the Tajik government, after the escape, most of the militants fled to the Rasht Valley, an area under the influence of Islamist militants that is hard to reach for Tajikistan’s security forces and thus rarely patrolled by troops. Read more ..

Edge on Terror

Homeland Security Wakes Up to Home Grown Terrorist Threat

September 20th 2010

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
New Mexico-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki

The head of the Department of Homeland Security stressed on September 17 that a growing number of homegrown terrorist plots are the most concerning threat to national security.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano emphasized that large terrorist plots like the al-Qaeda attack on Sept. 11, 2001, are still a serious danger to the U.S. But the growing number of individual and local terrorists, often inspired by the umbrella hardline groups, are more troubling and harder to thwart, she said. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Combating Exports to Iran—The Role of ICE Homeland Security Investigations

September 13th 2010

Iran - Iran Long-Range Missile

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the principal criminal investigative arm of DHS. Its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arm is the only federal law enforcement entity with full statutory authority to pursue violations of U.S. export laws related to military items, controlled dual-use commodities, and sanctioned or embargoed countries. In fiscal year 2009, HSI initiated 1,313 criminal investigations of possible illegal exports; made 708 criminal arrests, 218 of which were for sensitive commodities and technologies; secured 194 indictments; and obtained 190 convictions. The majority of these cases focused on stemming the flow of key U.S. technology to Iran. Read more ..

The Afghanistan War

Afghanistan at the Crossroads--Increased Militancy and the U.S. Drawdown in Iraq

September 6th 2010

Military - US Troops in Afghanistan

The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq has served to shift attention toward Afghanistan, where the United States has been increasing its troop strength in hopes of forming conditions conducive to a political settlement. This is similar to the way it used the 2007 surge in Iraq to help reach a negotiated settlement with the Sunni insurgents that eventually set the stage for withdrawal there. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the Taliban at this point do not feel the pressure required for them to capitulate or negotiate and therefore continue to follow their strategy of surviving and waiting for the coalition forces to depart so that they can again make a move to assume control over Afghanistan. Read more ..

Hostage Taking

A Botched Hostage Rescue in The Philippines Causes International Fracas

August 30th 2010

Asia Topics - Philippines hostage situation

On Aug. 23, Rolando Mendoza, a former senior police inspector with the Manila police department, boarded a tourist bus in downtown Manila and took control of the vehicle, holding the 25 occupants (tourists from Hong Kong and their Philippine guides) hostage. Mendoza, who was dressed in his police inspector’s uniform, was armed with an M16-type rifle and at least one handgun.

According to the police, Mendoza had been discharged from the department after being charged with extortion. Mendoza claimed the charges were fabricated and had fought a protracted administrative and legal battle in his effort to be reinstated.

Apparently, Mendoza’s frustration over this process led to his plan to take the hostages. The fact that Mendoza entertained hope of regaining his police job by breaking the law and taking hostages speaks volumes about his mental state at the time of the incident. Read more ..

Inside the Middle East

Lebanon's Mixed Record Calls for a Reassessment of U.S. Military Assistance

August 30th 2010

Terrorism - Hezbollah Lebanon

Since 2005, Washington has obligated more than $700 million in military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. In the aftermath of the LAF's August 3 cross-border shooting of two Israeli officers, one fatal, this funding has come under increasing scrutiny. Not coincidentally, the shooting followed a series of setbacks for Washington's allies in Beirut, which in turn fundamentally altered the conditions that had spurred the 2005 spike in U.S. funding.

It is unclear how this new dynamic is affecting the military, but many infer from the shooting that the LAF is shifting away from neutrality and toward Hezbollah. More broadly, the incident has resurrected questions as to whether Washington's main policy objective for the LAF -- establishing state sovereignty throughout Lebanese territory -- is ultimately achievable. Read more ..

The Iraq Withdrawal

U.S. Has Limited Options Following Iraq Withdrawal

August 23rd 2010

Military - US troops in Iraq

It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them. So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it signifies.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with three goals: The first was the destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current strategy in jeopardy. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Internal Struggles Bedevil Islamist Terrorists of Caucasus Emirate

August 23rd 2010

Terrorism - Caucasian Muslim rebels
Doku Umarov and Caucasus Emirate militants

On August 12, four members of the militant group the Caucasus Emirate (CE) appeared in a video posted on a Russian militant website withdrawing their support from CE founder and leader Doku Umarov. The reason for the mutiny was Umarov’s August 4 retraction of his August 1 announcement that he was stepping down from the top leadership position. STRATFOR and many others noted at the time that the Aug. 1 resignation was unexpected and suggested that Umarov may have been killed. However, the August 4 retraction revealed that Umarov was still alive and that there was considerable confusion over who was in control of the militant group. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Major U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal to Bolster Riyadh Against Iran

August 16th 2010

Military - F15 in Afghanistan

When Congress returns from its summer recess after Labor Day, the Department of Defense will provide informal notification of the U.S. intention to sell up to $30 billion in military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The likely deal is part of a U.S. commitment predating the Obama administration to strengthen regional allies in the face of a growing threat from Iran. For the Saudis, the transaction represents a clear return to considering the United States as its principal arms supplier, a position the Americans risked losing to France as recently as 2006.


The roughly $60 billion price tag for the U.S.-Saudi deal was reported by Bloomberg. Jane's Defence Weekly, which used a figure of $30 billion, noted that life-cycle maintenance and upgrades could eventually double the amount. Read more ..

Mexico's Drug War

Mexico's Drug Cartels up the Ante in Desperation

August 9th 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican Drug Violence

On Aug. 3, the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, Mexico, reopened after being closed for four days. On July 29, the consulate had announced in a warden message that it would be closed July 30 and would remain closed until a review of the consulate’s security posture could be completed.

The closure appears to be linked to a message found on July 15, signed by La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez cartel. This message was discovered at the scene shortly after a small improvised explosive device (IED) in a car was used in a well-coordinated ambush against federal police agents in Juarez, killing two agents. In the message, La Linea claimed credit for the attack and demanded that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and FBI investigate and remove the head of Chihuahua State Police Intelligence (CIPOL), who the message said is working with the Sinaloa Federation and its leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. The message threatened that if the intelligence official was not removed by July 30, La Linea would deploy a car bomb with 100 kilograms of high explosives in Juarez. Read more ..

Middle East on the Edge

Brushfire or Spark? Incident on the Israel–Lebanon Border

August 9th 2010

Lebanon Topics - The Blue Line

On August 3, Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldiers opened fire on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit removing a tree near the border security fence. In the resulting fighting, a senior IDF officer, two Lebanese soldiers, and a Lebanese journalist were killed, making the clash the most intense military engagement in the north since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah.

The spike in border tension coincides with increased concerns about Lebanon’s potential return to sectarian violence. Spurred by reports that the tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri will soon indict Hizballah officials, these concerns prompted an unprecedented joint visit to Beirut last week by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. Saad Hariri—Rafiq’s son and current prime minister—praised the visit for bringing “considerable stability to the country.”

Despite this optimistic pronouncement, with the border heating up and murder indictments pending, tensions remain high. Also in the background is Iran—Hizballah’s main supporter, Syria’s ally, and Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. Read more ..

The Edge of Domestic Terrorism

Terrorism by Animal Liberation Front Continues

August 2nd 2010

Crime Topics - Animal Rights fire
Arson by animal activists

On July 22, special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI arrested Walter Bond in Denver and charged him with conducting the April 30 arson that destroyed a Glendale, Colo., business, the Sheepskin Factory, which sold a variety of sheepskin products. According to an affidavit completed by a special agent assigned to the Denver ATF field office, Bond used the nom de guerre, “ALF Lone Wolf” and boasted to a confidential informant that he not only torched the Sheepskin Factory but also was responsible for a June 5 fire at a leather factory in Salt Lake City and a July 3 fire at a restaurant in Sandy, Utah.

The Bond case serves as a reminder that activists with organizations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are still very active — indeed, there have been several firebombing attacks by such activists in the United States this year, not only at businesses but also at the homes of animal researchers. And there have been scores of animal rights-related attacks in other countries, with Mexico being among the most active. The Bond case also provides an opportunity to examine the manner in which the animal liberation movement conducts its leaderless resistance campaign, to draw lessons from the case and to assess the trajectory of the animal rights movement. Read more ..

Edge on Narco-trafficking

The Caribbean is the Fragile Third Border of Drug Trafficking

July 26th 2010

Caribbean - Jamaican shootout victims

In May 2009, a state of emergency was declared in Kingston, Jamaica, raising concerns over drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the Caribbean. The conflict arose following Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s decision to hand over the island’s top drug lord, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, in deference to Washington’s extradition request. The U.S. State Department had labeled him as one of the world’s most dangerous criminals and has been calling for his capture for over a year. In recent years Coke’s “Shower Posse” cartel had expanded its narcotic and firearm network as far as Brooklyn, N.Y. and even to parts of Canada. Following years of history, his widespread influence in the trade geographically and socially has made a deepening impact in Jamaica, as well as other areas such as the U.S., Canada and neighboring Caribbean islands. Read more ..

Iran on the Edge

A History of Tension between Iran's Clerics and the State

July 26th 2010

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

On June 13, 2010, when Mehdi Karrobi, the reformist candidate in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, paid a personal visit to the home of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei in the Shiite holy city of Qom, dozens of militants also descended on Sanei’s residence to disrupt the get-together. The militants were members of the Imam Sadeq Brigade 83, a paramilitary unit consisting of young radical clerics that is under the direct command of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These days, the brigade functions as one of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s main instruments of suppression against clerics and others that oppose the regime. In the early morning hours after ransacking Sanei’s office, the brigade stormed adjoining offices that belonged to the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, causing a great deal of property damage. These were but the latest actions undertaken by the theocratic regime against Ayatollahs Sanei and Montazeri—both religious leaders that supported protesters and the antigovernment demonstrations that swept Iran in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential elections in 2009. Indeed, only several days before the raid on Montazeri’s offices, it was reported that Khamenei traveled to Qom with plans to visit the Shrine of Masoumeh (the sister of the eighth imam recognized as legitimate by Shiites). Ayatollah Montazeri was buried at the same shrine, but the regime ensured that his tombstone was removed on the day of Khamenei’s arrival. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Deciphering the Russia Spy Fracas

July 19th 2010

Russian Topics - Anna Chapman
Anna Chapman

The United States has captured a group of Russian spies and exchanged them for four individuals held by the Russians on espionage charges. The way the media has reported on the issue falls into three categories:
* That the Cold War is back
* That, given that the Cold War is over, the point of such outmoded intelligence operations is questionable,
* And that the Russian spy ring was spending its time aimlessly nosing around in think tanks and open meetings in an archaic and incompetent effort.

It is said that the world is global and interdependent. This makes it vital for a given nation to know three things about all of the nations with which it interacts.

First, it needs to know what other nations are capable of doing. Whether militarily, economically or politically, knowing what other nations are capable of narrows down those nations’ possible actions, eliminating fantasies and rhetoric from the spectrum of possible moves. Second, the nation needs to know what other nations intend to do. This is important in the short run, especially when intentions and capabilities match up. And third, the nation needs to know what will happen in other nations that those nations’ governments didn’t anticipate.

The more powerful a nation is, the more important it is to understand what it is doing. The United States is the most powerful country in the world. It therefore follows that it is one of the prime focuses of every country in the world. Knowing what the United States will do, and shifting policy based on that, can save countries from difficulties and even disaster. This need is not confined, of course, to the United States. Each country in the world has a list of nations that it is interdependent with, and it keeps an eye on those nations. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Closer Look at India’s Naxalite Threat

July 12th 2010

Terrorism - Naxalites in India

On July 6, the Indian government issued a warning to railroad operators and users after Maoist rebels—known as Naxalites—declared a “bandh,” a Hindi word meaning stoppage of work, in eastern India. When a bandh is declared by the Naxalites, it carries with it an implied threat of violence to enforce the work stoppage, in this case against the public transportation system over a two-day period. It is widely understood that trains and buses in eastern India during this time would be subject to Naxalite attack.

Naxalites are an array of armed bands that, when combined, comprise the militant arm of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M). Some of the most violent attacks conducted by the Naxalites have been against freight and police transport trains, killing dozens of people at a time. Civilians have typically not been targeted in such attacks, but they have been collaterally killed and injured in the mayhem. Whether targeted or not, civilians generally believe that Naxalites always follow through on their threats, so strike warnings are enough to dissuade people from going about their daily lives. The Naxalite “bandh” is a tactic that shows just how powerful the rebels have become in the region, and it demonstrates their ability to affect day-to-day activity merely by threatening to stage an attack. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Al Shabaab Threats Against the United States

July 12th 2010

Terrorism - Al Shabaab
Al Shabaab

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 30, an Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico City was forced to land in Montreal after authorities discovered that a man who was on the U.S. no-fly list was aboard. The aircraft was denied permission to enter U.S. airspace, and the aircraft was diverted to Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. The man, a Somali named Abdirahman Ali Gaall, was removed from the plane and arrested by Canadian authorities on an outstanding U.S. warrant. After a search of all the remaining passengers and their baggage, the flight was allowed to continue to its original destination.

Gaall reportedly has U.S. resident-alien status and is apparently married to an American or Canadian woman. Media reports also suggest that he is connected with the Somali jihadist group al Shabaab. Gaall was reportedly deported from Canada to the United States on June 1, and we are unsure of the precise charges brought against him by the U.S. government, but more information should be forthcoming once he has his detention hearing. From the facts at hand, however, it appears likely that he has been charged for his connection with al Shabaab, perhaps with a crime such as material support to a designated terrorist organization. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

The Dismantling of a Suspected Russian Intelligence Operation

July 5th 2010

Russian Topics - Kremlin

The U.S. Department of Justice announced June 28 that an FBI counterintelligence investigation had resulted in the arrest on June 27 of 10 individuals suspected of acting as undeclared agents of a foreign country, in this case, Russia. Eight of the individuals were also accused of money laundering. On June 28, five of the defendants appeared before a federal magistrate in U.S. District Court in Manhattan while three others went before a federal magistrate in Alexandria, Va., and two more went before a U.S. magistrate in Boston. An 11th person named in the criminal complaint was arrested in Cyprus on June 29, posted bail and is currently at large.

The number of arrested suspects in this case makes this counterintelligence investigation one of the biggest in U.S. history. According to the criminal complaint, the FBI had been investigating some of these people for as long as 10 years, recording conversations in their homes, intercepting radio and electronic messages and conducting surveillance on them in and out of the United States. The case suggests that the classic tactics of intelligence gathering and counterintelligence are still being used by Russia and the United States. Read more ..

Iran's Nuke

Relations between Iran and Russia have Hit a Cold Spell

June 28th 2010

Russian Topics - Russian S300 launchers
S-300 missile launchers somewhere in Russia

Russia has voted for tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran and has frozen a deal to send anti-aircraft missiles to that country.

The conventional wisdom is that Russia's economic interests in Iran have led Moscow to be a strong supporter of that country, opposing any tough United Nations sanctions against Tehran over its alleged nuclear weapons program.

But many experts, including John Parker with the National Defense University, expressing his personal views, say relations between Russia and Iran have been worsening.

"They are probably at their lowest point since 1997 when both sides cooperated in bringing the Tajik civil war to a close," he said. "Right now, trade does not amount to that much, a fact that a lot of people don't realize. Russian-Iranian trade is, at its high point, around $3.5 billion a year. And this is not really much more than Russia's trade with Israel, whose population is about a tenth the size of Iran. Iran does a lot more trading with Turkey, for example, and even more trading with China. So economic relations are not much." Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

How to Stay Out of Trouble: A Primer on Situational Awareness

June 21st 2010

Social Topics - Eyeball Surveillance

The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a dangerous one. In almost every corner of the globe militants of some political persuasion are plotting terror attacks — and these attacks can happen in London or New York, not just in Peshawar or Baghdad. Meanwhile, criminals operate wherever there are people, seeking to steal, rape, kidnap or kill.

Regardless of the threat, it is very important to recognize that criminal and terrorist attacks do not materialize out of thin air. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their actions, and this process has several distinct steps. This process has traditionally been referred to as the “terrorist attack cycle,” but if one looks at the issue thoughtfully, it becomes apparent that the same steps apply to nearly all crimes. Of course, there will be more time between steps in a complex crime like a kidnapping or car bombing than there will be between steps in a simple crime such as purse-snatching or shoplifting, where the steps can be completed quite rapidly. Nevertheless, the same steps are usually followed. Read more ..

The Hamas Flotilla

Policy Challenges and Options Following the Gaza Flotilla Fracas

June 14th 2010

Gaza Topics - Gaza Flotilla1

Israel's May 31 interception of the "Gaza flotilla" has provoked a great deal of commentary on the wisdom and even legality of the naval blockade. This focus is misplaced, however; Israel's embargo is a consequence, not the cause, of the situation in Gaza. Indeed, given the lack of progress in addressing Hamas's continued rule and the repeated efforts to challenge the blockade, an incident like Monday's was inevitable. Rather than focusing on the blockade, the United States, Israel, and others should address the policy shortcomings that have allowed the situation in Gaza to fester.

Although Gaza has been under various forms of land, air, and sea closure since the second intifada in 2000, the current blockade began with Hamas's 2007 takeover. Israel has justified the blockade by citing both the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the desire to prevent Hamas from rearming. Since the Gaza conflict of late 2008-early 2009, Israel has been under considerable international pressure to lift or ease the embargo, with the Middle East Quartet (the UN, EU, United States, and Russia) and many others criticizing the closures. Israel has responded by gradually permitting more goods into the territory, including not only humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine, but also limited amounts of construction materials. For example, just a week before the flotilla incident, on May 24, Israel permitted the delivery of 250 tons of cement to Gaza, the largest such shipment since the blockade began. Read more ..

The Hamas Flotilla

The Gaza Flotilla Prepared For War Not Peace

June 7th 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Commandoes Injured by Flotilla
Israeli Commandos Injured by Flotilla

At first glance, the takeover by the Israeli Navy of the “humanitarian flotilla” heading toward Gaza is just one more of the disputed crises between Israel and its foes. As in all previous incidents, the spiral of accusations will eventually reach bottom. While media attention will highlight the tactical events - seizure of the ships, rules of engagement, who fired first, the legal location of the incident and the other dramatic details - the rapidly expanding debate will soon reach the strategic intent of the “flotilla.” After all the governments involved issue their condemnations and warnings in all directions, after the UN conferences and issues a statement and international forums mobilize to indict their predictably targeted foe - in this case Israel - the question unavoidably will be: why is there a flotilla heading toward a military zone, and what is the ultimate goal of the operation?    

According to the organizers of the “Free Gaza” network which enjoys the support of Hamas and its backers in Damascus and Tehran but also of governments considered in the West as “mainstream” such as the AKP of Turkey and the oil rich Qatar, this vast coalition of regimes and organizations assert that the aim of the 700 militants and activists was to pierce the encirclement of Gaza and lift the naval blockade of the enclave. Hence the actual goal of the humanitarian effort is to relieve Hamas, not to ensure aid to the civilians trapped in the strip. For if aid and comfort was the sole objective of the operation, the material would have been calmly handed to the United Nations’ agencies which would have forwarded it to the network of humanitarian associations and NGOs inside the afflicted zone. Either Egypt or Israel would have checked it and would have, under international obligation, sent it across the cease fire lines.  Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Ignoring al Qaeda’s Ideology is a Threat to US National Security

May 31st 2010

Presidential - John Brennan (Counterterrorism)
House Counter Terrorism Advisor John Brennan

In preparation for publicizing the new National Security Strategy by the Obama Administration, John Brennan, White House Advisor on Counter Terrorism, said the President’s strategy “is absolutely clear about the threat we face.” From such an announcement, one might project that the new narrative would be as precise as it should be. That is, to define the ideology and the goals of the forces we’re facing, namely, the Jihadists--either Salafists or Khomeinists. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite. Mr Brennan said the Obama Administration doesn’t “describe our enemy as Jihadists or Islamists,” because, as he argued, "Jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” He added that “the use of these religious terms would play into the false perception that al Qaeda and its affiliates are ‘religious leaders’ and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Look at Kidnapping through the Lens of Protective Intelligence

May 24th 2010

Crime Topics - kidnap victim

While there have been suicide bombings in Afghanistan, alleged threats to the World Cup, and seemingly endless post-mortem discussions of the failed May 1 Times Square attack, one recurring and under-reported theme in a number of regions around the world has been kidnapping.

For example, in Heidenheim, Germany, Maria Boegerl, the wife of German banker Thomas Boegerl, was reportedly kidnapped from her home May 12. The kidnappers issued a ransom demand to the family and an amount was agreed upon. Mr. Boegerl placed the ransom payment at the arranged location, but the kidnappers never picked up the money (perhaps suspecting or detecting police involvement). The family has lost contact with the kidnappers, and fear for Mrs. Boegerl’s fate has caused German authorities to launch a massive search operation, which has included hundreds of searchers along with dogs, helicopters and divers.

Two days after the Boegerl kidnapping, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) posted a message on the Internet claiming to have custody of French citizen Michel Germaneau, a retired engineer who had previously worked in Algeria’s petroleum sector. Germaneau was reportedly kidnapped April 22, in northern Niger, close to the border with Mali and Algeria. The AQIM video contained a photo of Germaneau and of his identification card. The group demanded a prisoner exchange and said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be responsible for the captive’s well-being. Read more ..

The Edge of Oil Interruption

The World's Naval Powers Converge on Iran and the Strait of Hormuz

May 17th 2010

Iran - Iranian missile vessel

At the end of April 2010, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Navy conducted three days of “Great Prophet V” exercises in the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of fast boats were deployed in what appears to be a rehearsal for Iran’s first wave of attackers against ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz where 40 percent of the world’s oil passes. These are the same swarming boats that harassed U.S. Navy ships in January 2008. The fast boats may have been reinforced recently by Iran’s furtive acquisition of the Bradstone Challenger, the world’s fastest speed boat, which could now be cloned. Some of the speed boats are reportedly equipped with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. 

The danger of small boats was proven when the USS Cole was hit in October 2000 in Yemen by a bomb-laden inflatable boat – an order of magnitude slower than the speed boats. Seventeen sailors lost their lives in the Cole attack.

During the Iranian exercise the Revolutionary Navy also interdicted and searched a French and an Italian vessel in the Strait of Hormuz for "environmental" checks. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Aerial Drones Bring Stealthy Devastation from Above

May 17th 2010

Military - MQ-1 Sky Warrior drone

The United States has come under significant criticism for the harm to civilians caused by unmanned drones operating in Afghanistan and occasionally across the border into Pakistan. Steps are being taken to alleviate the collateral damage and public relations concerns, steps which will also enhance rather than decrease the effective of the delivery system.

The Air Force began acquiring unmanned drones when avionics matured enough to permit the operation of such vehicles almost thirty years ago. The 15-year-old Predator started out life as the RQ-1, with the R denoting reconnaissance and the Q indicating that it was an unmanned vehicle. The mounting of Hellfire missiles meant a new designation, MQ-1 for its multipurpose role, and the hunt was on.

The MQ-1 weighs a bit more than a ton fully loaded, half of which is fuel and a pair of hundred pound Hellfire missiles, when fitted for combat missions. The turbocharged gasoline engine, a 115 horsepower Rotax 914F, is a larger version of the those used to power ultralight aircraft. The machine can fly out 400 nautical miles over a five hour period, loiter for fourteen hours over the target area, and come home with fuel to spare. The longest mission on record was just over forty hours. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Some Unsettling Truths about the Attempted Times Square Bombing

May 10th 2010

Terrorism - Faizal Shahzad
Faisal Shahzad

Faisal Shahzad, the first suspect arrested for involvement in the failed May 1 Times Square bombing attempt, was detained just before midnight on May 3 as he was attempting to depart on a flight from Kennedy International Airport in New York. Authorities removed Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, from an Emirates Airlines flight destined for Dubai. On May 4, Shahzad appeared at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan for his arraignment.

Authorities say that Shahzad is cooperating and that he insists he acted alone. However, this is contradicted by reports that the attack could have international links. On February 3, Shahzad returned from a trip to Pakistan where, according to the criminal complaint, he said he received militant training in Waziristan, a key hub of the main Pakistani Taliban rebel coalition, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Authorities are reportedly seeking three other individuals in the United States in connection with the May 1 Times Square bombing attempt.

Investigative efforts at this point are focusing on identifying others possibly connected to the plot and determining whether they directed Shahzad in the bombing attempt or merely enabled him. From all indications, authorities are quickly collecting information on additional suspects from their homes and telephone records, and this is leading to more investigations and more suspects. While the May 1 attempt was unsuccessful, it came much closer to killing civilians in New York than other recent attempts, such as the Najibullah Zazi case in September 2009 and the Newburgh plot in May 2009. Understanding how Shahzad and his possible associates almost pulled it off is key to preventing future threats. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Real Threat Posed by a Dirty Bomb Terrorist Attack

May 3rd 2010

Terrorism - Dirty Bomb drill

For several years media coverage of the threat posed by dirty bombs runs in a perceptible cycle with distinct spikes and lulls. We are currently in one of the periods of heightened awareness and media coverage. A number of factors appear to have sparked the current interest, including the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. Other factors include the resurfacing rumors that al Qaeda militant Adnan El Shukrijumah may have returned to the United States and is planning to conduct an attack, as well as recent statements by members of the Obama administration regarding the threat of jihadist militants using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons Remain An Unaddressed Threat

April 26th 2010

Military - Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon
EMP Weapon

In 2004, the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack released an unclassified executive report on its broader study of the U.S.’s vulnerability to EMP weapons strikes. In 2008, the commission released a follow-up report that detailed the vulnerabilities of the critical infrastructures of the U.S. to EMP strikes. Taken together, these two reports make it clear that an EMP attack could inflict severe damage on the U.S. As the initial report stated, “EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”

What Is EMP?

EMP is triggered by the detonation of a nuclear weapon at a high altitude over the earth. As a result of this detonation, an electromagnetic field radiates down to the earth, creating electrical currents.

These fields cause widespread damage to electrical systems—the lifeblood of a modern society like the U.S. In turn, the damaged electronic systems can cause a cascade of failures throughout the broader infrastructure, including banking systems, energy systems, transportation systems, food production and delivery systems, water systems, emergency services, and—perhaps most damaging—cyberspace.

Effectively, the U.S. would be thrown back to the pre-industrial age following a widespread EMP attack.

The lack of public awareness regarding the disturbing implications of an EMP attack may prompt the Obama Administration to set aside proposals for addressing this problem. Specifically, Congress may take the following three steps in response:

Step No. 1: Require the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to Produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) Describing Which Countries Are Capable of Launching an EMP Strike. The NIE should review not only the weapons systems themselves but the delivery systems and platforms capable of carrying the weapons. Additionally, Congress should obtain from the NIE the intelligence community’s assessment of how EMP-capable countries are incorporating those weapons into their broader military strategies. Read more ..

North Korea on the Edge

New Leaders, Old Dangers: What Leadership Change in North Korea Means for the U.S.

April 19th 2010

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

International attention has been focused on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which endangers U.S. national interests, the safety of critical U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, and peace and stability in Asia. Washington must continue to use a combination of diplomatic pressure and highly conditional negotiations to induce Pyongyang to abide by its denuclearization pledges, as well as to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Yet there is another North Korean threat for which Washington must prepare: instability in the country's leadership. The planned succession from the ailing Kim Jong-il to his third son faces many challenges and may not be successful. Because the young son lacks the gravitas of his father, there is the potential for a power struggle among challengers within the senior party and military leadership.

The issue of succession is especially worrisome in view of recent indications that deteriorating economic conditions, exacerbated by the tightening noose of international sanctions, and rising civil unrest in response to draconian attacks against free-market activity could create a tinderbox of instability.

If the situation became so dire as to bring about the collapse of the regime, it could lead to North Korea's loss of control over its nuclear weapons, greater risk of rogue elements selling weapons of mass destruction to other rogue governments and terrorist groups, fighting among competing factions, economic turmoil, and humanitarian disaster. Under such circumstances, China or South Korea might feel compelled to send troops into North Korea to stabilize the country, raising the potential for miscalculation and armed confrontation. Read more ..

Edge of Deterrence

Obama's Ballistic Missile Program Treads on Thin Ice

April 12th 2010

Military - Atomic Mushroom Cloud

The Department of Defense released its Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report (BMDRR) on February 1, 2010, laying out America's long-term policy on ballistic missile defense. At the same time, the Obama Administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request, which includes recommended funding levels for the overall ballistic missile defense program and for the portion of the program that falls under the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The Defense Department is requesting $9.9 billion for the overall program in FY 2011, including $8.4 billion for the MDA. The remaining $1.5 billion would mainly go to the Army's ballistic missile defense programs, including the Patriot interceptor and the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program.

Taken together, the BMDRR and the budget clearly indicate that the ballistic missile defense program will tread water in FY 2011. The BMDRR proposes significant steps forward for some programs, such as the sea-based Aegis system and its land-based variant, particularly when compared to the programmatic retreats that the Administration has imposed on other programs in FY 2010. On the other hand, these steps forward may be temporary because they are reversible. Further, the BMDRR proposes continuing retreats in other programs, such as the Airborne Laser system. On the budget side, the Obama Administration's $8.4 billion request for the MDA is more than $500 million above projected spending for the current fiscal year. On the other hand, it is almost $1 billion less than the Bush Administration's budget request for the MDA for FY 2009. Read more ..

China on the Edge

Is There Still a Need for War Time Mobilization? China Thinks So

April 5th 2010

Asia Topics - Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

One of the little-noticed actions in the recently concluded session of the Chinese National People’s Congress was the enactment of a National Defense Mobilization Law. In an age when conventional conflicts are planned to conclude in a matter of days or weeks, it is striking that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) should choose to ensure its readiness for a protracted war. Indeed, it suggests that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is thinking about future wars in a very different way from their Western counterparts, where full-scale mobilization is rarely discussed at all. Whereas the U.S. and its allies have mostly neglected the prospect of a prolonged high-intensity conflict, the PLA appears intent on preparing for both short- and long-term wars. Read more ..

Inside Terrorism

Why Should the U.S. Maintain a Foreign Terrorist Organizations List?

March 29th 2010

Terrorism - Hamas Terrorists

The United States maintains a range of "terrorist lists," of which the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list is one of the better known. But in two recent court cases, the U.S. government has offered arguments that raise questions about the purpose of the list.

FTO List vs. State Sponsors List

Another list is that of state sponsors of terrorism. The act of naming a foreign government as a terrorism sponsor is one instrument among many to affect the general foreign policy stance of the country concerned. Yet in practice, the state sponsors category has become a list of governments Washington simply does not like, often with little connection to terrorism; witness the continued presence of Cuba and the longtime presence North Korea. By contrast, governments that actually do sponsor terrorism but that Washington does not wish to single out are omitted from the list. A case in point is Lebanon, whose governing coalition includes Hizballah, the terrorist activities of which are protected and defended by the Lebanese government. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Venezuela's Arms Buildup a Challenge for US Security

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Venezuelan Troops Marching
Venezuelan troops in ceremonial presentation

This week President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela formally received the first four of 18 K-8W aircraft purchased from China in 2007. This poses a significant security threat to the western hemisphere and especially to the United States.

During a speech on a military base in the northwestern state of Lara, Chavez called March 13 “a historic day for the Bolivarian anti-imperialist air force.” During this televised ceremony, Chavez wore a Bolivarian military uniform. Armed with free-fall bombs, air-to-ground missiles, and guided weapons, the Chinese-built airplane acquisition follows Venezuela’s purchases of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (2009) and fighter jets, military helicopters, and assault rifles (2006) from Russia. It has been reported that Chavez has secured financing of $2.2 billion from President Dmitri Medvedev for 92 model T-72 tanks and the Igla-S mobile anti-aircraft system.

The Venezuelan leader claims these purchases were made to defend “the sovereignty of this sacred land and of this revolution” and to guard “the country's riches of water, oil, energy, gas, geographic location, and its role as the cradle of the first great revolution of the 21st century.” Chavez has tripled Venezuela’s defense budget since 2000, with $3.3 billion allocated in 2008. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

F-35 Doubles in Cost

March 15th 2010

Military - F-35

The price tag for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has increased by more than 50 percent, crossing a threshold that will force Pentagon officials to justify the need for the program to Congress, Pentagon officials have told a Senate panel.

The price for one F-35 fighter jet in 2001 was estimated to be $50 million. Now the price tag has risen to between $80 million and $95 million per plane, calculated in 2002 constant dollars. In today’s dollars, one aircraft would cost an average of $112 million, according to Michael Sullivan, the director of the acquisition team at the Government Accountability Office.

Some of the first jets are expected to cost about $205 million apiece, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11. Pentagon officials walked senators through the cost increase: The Pentagon in 2001 estimated the cost of one F-35 at $50.2 million for an order of 2,852 jets. In 2007, the Pentagon updated that estimate to $69.2 million for a reduced order of 2,443 jets. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

India's Strategic Role in Countering Jihadism

March 8th 2010

India Topics - Mumbai terror2

The confrontation in the Indian subcontinent between al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies on the one hand and the three democracies they target—Afghanistan, Pakistan and India—on the other hand, must be reevaluated in terms of international cooperation against the Jihadi threat. A regional system should be established to integrate the struggle against all Jihadi forces in the subcontinent. There needs to be a separation between the ethnical and territorial questions and the fight against Terrorism. Once that distinction is made, the possibilities of internationalization of counter terrorism will be high. Jihadists based in any country of the subcontinent must not be given legitimacy by any government on the ground of a local ethnic issue. Jihadi forces must be confronted collectively, while diplomacy and international mediation assist in solving the local problems. Read more ..

Hamas and Israel

Hamas Details its Targeting of Israeli Civilians

March 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - Islamic Hamas rocket

Recently, Hamas has gone to extraordinary lengths to prove that it did not attack civilian targets in Israel during the December 2008 to January 2009 Gaza conflict. But a review of the organization's own media—including the website of its military arm, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (www.qassam.ps), and the Hamas-associated monthly journal Filastin al-Muslima (www.fm-m.com)—shows that Hamas knowingly and repeatedly fired on Israeli population centers in southern Israel. To accept Hamas's latest claim that it did not launch rockets at civilians is to deny its numerous past claims to the contrary.

Claim vs. Conduct

On February 3, 2010, Hamas released a fifty-two-page response to the UN's Goldstone report regarding its conduct during the Gaza war (called the “Battle of al-Furqan” in the organization’s commentary). According to this document, the killing and wounding of Israeli civilians was unintentional—Hamas forces had targeted only military installations during the fighting. This claim was based on a supposed internal investigation conducted by Hamas and led by its justice minister, Faraj al-Ghoul. Read more ..


Argentina and Britain Rev Up Naval Forces over South Atlantic Petroleum Deposits

February 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Welcome to Falklands

Relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom have entered a period of renewed tension since Buenos Aires on February 16 began to restrict the travel of seagoing vessels between the South American republic and the archipelago known to the British as the Falkland Islands. Known to Argentina—and the rest of Latin America—as the Malvinas Islands, the tiny South Atlantic archipelago has long been disputed between the land of tango and Old Blighty and was the subject of a war in 1982. The British easily mopped up the “Argies” in two months: a defeat that hastened the end of the military dictatorship then reigning in Argentina.

The most current measure was taken just days before the arrival of a British oil drilling platform “Ocean Guardian,” owned by Desire Petroleum, that arrived in the area on February 20, some 30 to 60 miles from the storm-tossed Falklands/Malvinas.

Experts have been cited as saying that some 60 billion barrels of oil may be found in the strata around the islands. Desire Petroleum spokesmen say that they will drill despite objections by Argentina. There are reports that Argentine naval or coast guard vessels buzzed the oil rig on its way to the islands from Scotland.

Signed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the decree calls for “any seagoing ship or vessel that proposes to transit” between the ports on the shore of continental Argentina and those in the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands “must request previous authorization issued by a competent national authority.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

If Iran Got It, Would Iran Use It?

February 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - David Horovitz
David Horovitz

Is Iran about to get the bomb? It's getting closer every day, and shows no signs of changing course.

Once a week, the security chiefs who assess the relentless threats posed by enemy forces to the physical well-being of the State of Israel are required to give an assessment to their political bosses: Is war going to break out in the very near future?

The requirement is a legacy of the intelligence failures ahead of Yom Kippur, 1973, the last time that Israel's neighbors launched a concerted conventional attack on Israel—on an Israel unprepared.

The good news—this week—is that concerted conventional attack is not deemed imminent.

The bad news—this week and for many past weeks, months and years—is that concerted conventional attack is not what the defense establishment is most worried about. What keep the security chiefs burning the midnight oil are concerns about missiles and terrorism, about nonconventional payloads and secret programs, and about the vulnerability of the Israeli home front—the new battleground. And their focus is not primarily on the traditional military capacities of our immediate neighboring states, but rather on the nonconventional threat to do us harm as posed, in escalating order, by al-Qaida, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria... and Iran. All five of those players are incontrovertibly scheming, right now, to damage Israel. And there is another quintet—Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya—which, in the dispassionate, nondiplomatic analysis of the intelligence community, cannot be discounted as potentially joining them.

By our relative standards, things have been a whole lot better in the recent past. Just six, seven years ago, for instance, Syria was being forced out of Lebanon, Libya was stopping its nuclear program, Yasser Arafat was dying, the United States was disposing of Saddam Hussein, and Iran, fearing that the US was heading its way next, was freezing at least parts of its nuclear program. Read more ..

The Edge of Piracy

Somalia's Challenge to the World

February 8th 2010

Africa Topics - Pirate

Over $60 million was last year’s ransom money paid out to pirate groups off the Somali coast, according to a regional anti-piracy watchdog, the Seafarers’ Assistance Program. Their report mentioned 47 vessels and nearly 300 crew members captured by pirates during the same period.

Recently a Greek flagged tanker, the VLCC Maran Centaurus and her 28 crew members were released after the owners reportedly paid a whopping $7 million, the largest sum to date. The Chinese, who usually make a point of not getting involved in the “internal affairs” of other countries, especially where human rights are concerned, have been dragged in too, and will –interestingly- join the naval forces of the European Union, NATO and the United States. Chinese container ships, laden with goods of all qualities and descriptions, destined for the fast-growing African market, are also threatened. Last December the Chinese bulk carrier De Xin Hai was freed after being held for two months. The Chinese say this will give them an international leadership role that will foster trust. Perhaps they need to work up a little consistency too. Read more ..

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