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The Weapon's Edge

NGOs Call to Stop Development of "Killer Robotic Drones"

November 17th 2013

Flying Robot

The so-called "international community" should seriously consider taking steps to prevent the creation of state-of-the-art, fully-autonomous robot weapons and pull the plug on "killer robot" development, according to human rights advocates during a convention this week. On Friday, at the United Nations in Geneva, Austria, attendees to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) debated whether or not to take up the issue of these futuristic weapons that, once activated, would select and attack targets without direct human involvement, according to Human Rights Watch.

International attention to the subject of fully autonomous weapons has grown rapidly over the past year, especially with the recent controversy of United States agencies using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, to attack terrorist targets in Islamic countries. While not fully autonomous, drones are creating fear among citizens of many countries and even those living in the United States.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The State of Bioterrorism Surveillance

November 16th 2013

Test Tubes

"Part of what keeps programs like this alive is the concern that if we take it down and defund it, and then, God forbid, something happens in that narrow sliver of threat space, there will be hell to pay."

A week after the 9-11 attacks, five threatening anonymous letters were sent to media outlets. Two weeks later, reporter Robert Stevens became the first person to die from inhaling anthrax that was enclosed with the letters. The case widened as anthrax-laden letters were sent to two Senators-one of the letters arrived at a Capitol Hill office and the other was routed to a mail facility, where it infected postal workers. Before the terror ended, 22 people developed infections and five died.

In response, the federal government set up the BioWatch program, an early warning network of sensors that would detect biological attacks before widespread public infection could occur. By the time President George W. Bush publicly announced the program in 2003, BioWatch filters had been deployed in 31 cities and more than $60 million had been spent on the program. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Sets Conditions for Peace Talks

November 15th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

Syria's main opposition alliance voted Monday to attend peace talks in Geneva. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced its decision in a joint statement after two days of talks in Istanbul. In the face of an increasing food crisis inside Syria, engendered partly by the government's control of access for humanitarian organizations, SNC leaders set conditions for negotiations that include establishing safe corridors for humanitarian aid delivery and the release of women and children from government controlled jails.

The coalition's statement dropped its previous demand for a guarantee that President Bashar al-Assad and certain of his allies would have no role in a transitional government or in Syria's future, a condition the government has consistently opposed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry characterized the coalition's announcement as encouraging, but according to unnamed coalition members, American and British diplomats have heavily pressured rebel leaders to take part in the process. The coalition remained in Istanbul for an unscheduled third day of meetings, leaving room for a further diplomatic negotiations. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Finally Designated as Terrorist

November 14th 2013

Boko Haram

The State Department's designation of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nigerian Boko Haram group (aka Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad) as terrorist, came after two years of Congressional hearings and repeated requests to do so. The growth of Boko Haram and the spread of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups throughout Africa was helped by weapons from Muammar Qaddafi's stockpile, including Libyan SA-7 and SA-24 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (MANPADs), which, according to the State Department, "have been accounted for."

The logic behind suspending the designation makes you wonder. Seventeen months ago, the Sate Department listed Boko Haram's leaders Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi as Specially Designated Global Terrorists because they led an al-Qaeda-linked terror group that "threaten[s] the security of US nationals or national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States." However, the group itself wasn't designated until today. Read more ..


Terrorism on Edge

Haqqani Leader Lived, Died In The Open In Pakistan

November 13th 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

Haven't we been here before? The assassination of a high-profile militant living large under the noses of the authorities has rekindled suspicions that Pakistan shelters known terrorists.

The November 10 killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, considered to be the financier of the Haqqani network, drew obvious comparisons to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death on Pakistani soil in 2011.

Both were considered masterminds of their terrorist organizations, both were wanted by the United States, and both were living in large homes among the local population.

But even compared to bin Laden, who hid in a safe house within sight of a prestigious military academy in Abbottabad, Haqqani's case stands out. He appears to have been living luxuriously in Islamabad, with several homes there, and often frequented the capital's markets and restaurants.

Retired Pakistani Army Brigadier General Mehmood Shah says the circumstances of Nasiruddin Haqqani's death -- he was shot on the street as he bought bread at a bakery -- are deeply troubling for Pakistan. Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

Drone War Pilots Open Up About the Crushing Stress That Lingers

November 12th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

 In the final years of his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Slim spent 10 to 12 hours a day in a cool, dark room in the Arizona desert, stationed in front of monitors that beamed back aerial footage from Afghanistan. Slim's unit operated around the clock, flying Predator drones thousands of miles away over Afghanistan, to monitor — and sometimes eliminate — "targets" across the war-ridden country. As a sensor operator for these remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, it was his job to coordinate the drones' onboard cameras, and, if a missile was released, to laser-guide the weapon to its destination.

These types of missions are part of the military's expanding drone program, which has developed a reputation for carrying out shadowy and highly classified operations — ones that sometimes blur legal or moral lines. As such, their use in warfare has been steeped in controversy.

Critics say firing weapons from behind a computer screen, while safely sitting thousands of miles away, could desensitize pilots to the act of killing. What separates this, they argue, from a battlefield video game? Read more ..


The Defense Edge

New Super Carriers: Chance to Retain Naval Supremacy

November 11th 2013

U.S. Naval Carrier

A decade of counterinsurgency and counter-terror operations has created doubts about the utility of the aircraft carrier. Today’s budget cuts threaten to shrink the Navy’s carrier force — already reduced from eleven to ten — to as few as eight or nine.

Yet whether in a direct or supporting role, aircraft carriers have taken part in almost every U.S. major military operation since the Second World War.  They have served as diplomatic tools to ratchet up or ease political pressure.  They have given our military unparalleled freedom of action to respond to a range of requirements.  They have supported several missions simultaneously, guaranteed access to any region in the world, and reduced the nation’s reliance on others for basing rights. If the U.S. Navy is to continue to secure the high seas, trade routes and shipping lanes around the globe long into the 21st century, it needs a robust fleet — both in quantity and quality. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cyber Insecurity Unchallenged

November 9th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

A recent report on U.S. business community’s acute vulnerability to cyber attacks—96 percent according to Ernst & Young—is alarming. This report is troubling not only because of its findings—lack of proper cyber defense capabilities—but because it reflects the prevalence of a passive approach that keeps the best cyber defense systems a few steps behind.

It is hard to imagine that 96 percent of Ernst & Young’s 1,909 polled executives would deliberately choose to expose their businesses to cyber attacks because of budget constraints. Interestingly, 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that their security policies are now handled at the highest level in the business, “with the person in charge of security reporting directly to the CEO in 1 in 10 companies.” This begs the question of what the 70 percent really means. One in ten is not 70 percent. Generally speaking, the businesses surveyed wish to be seen as “doing something” about cyber, when, in fact, they are doing very little. The survey found that only 23 percent of the businesses put cyber security in their top two priorities. However, 32 percent considered it the least important item among their security concerns. Read more ..


Justice for Terrorists

Muslim Brotherhood Suspects on Trial in UAE

November 8th 2013

UAE Abu Dhabi Courthouse

Thirty Islamists were charged in an Abu Dhabi courtroom on Tuesday, accused of illegally establishing a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Prosecutors contend that the defendants recruited members inside the UAE while maintaining an alliance with the group's leadership in Egypt. The 20 Egyptians and 10 Emiratis also face charges of collecting donations without permission.

The defendants, who include doctors, engineers and university professors, were arrested between November 2012 and January 2013, but they did not appear in court until now. During the hearing, the judge appointed a medical committee to perform physical check-ups on defendants, and provided more time for lawyers to call in witnesses. The UAE's Federal Supreme Court plans to resume the case on November 12. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Pakistani Taliban: Who Seems Set To Take The Helm?

November 6th 2013

Taliban soldiers

For the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the issue of succession has always proved divisive and often bloody.

So it might prove again for the TTP following the death of charismatic and ruthless leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on November 1.

Days of secret meetings and discussions have yielded an interim leader, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the current head of the TTP's shura, or council. But Bhittani is widely considered to be merely a short-term fix until a permanent leader can be named.

With a decision looming, an internal struggle for power can be expected among the several prominent factions within the umbrella militant group, some of which have a history of bad blood between them. According to Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, internal divisions within the TTP have often led to violence. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Critics Call New Russian Counterterror Law A Return To 'Collective Justice'

November 4th 2013

Moscow Rally 2011-12-24

Critics say a new law designed to quell the insurgency in Russia's restive North Caucasus region revives the Stalin-era principles of collective guilt and collective justice.

President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation on November 3, requiring "close relatives and acquaintances" of those who commit acts of "terrorism" to pay damages -- both material and moral -- resulting from those acts.

It also empowers authorities to seize property from friends and relatives of suspected militants and provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years for those convicted of receiving training "aimed at carrying out terrorist activity." Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames from a Mobile Home in Florida

November 4th 2013

Financing the Flames

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?

Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.

At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Egypt on Edge Ahead of Morsi Trial

November 3rd 2013

Tahrir Square protest

Security is tight ahead of the trial of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi, set to open Monday in Cairo.  Animosity is running high on all sides, and a renewed wave of anti-Americanism prompted by the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry adds to the tensions.

Morsi is charged with inciting murder during clashes outside the presidential palace last year, sparked by his temporary claim of extraordinary powers.  Fourteen other senior members of his Muslim Brotherhood and his former government are also being tried.  Other charges are pending.

It is unclear if Morsi will appear in person, or by video link.  He has been held in an undisclosed location since he was toppled by the military July 3rd, following mass protests. A member of his legal team has rejected the court's jurisdiction. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Security Forces Pass First Test, But Questions Remain

November 2nd 2013

Afghanistan Spec Forces

This year's fighting season was a crucial test for Afghanistan's nascent army and police forces, which had assumed full responsibility for the country's security for the first time.

With the fighting season nearly over, the results are mixed. While the Afghan security forces have managed to hold off the Taliban, they have been unable to make any major gains themselves and have suffered record numbers of casualties.

The casualty figures released this month by the Afghan government will do little to quash doubts about the ability of Afghanistan's security forces to maintain order after the majority of international combat troops leave at the end of 2014. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Leaks Highlight Internet Security Weakness

November 1st 2013

Snowden

The latest revelations from exiled former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden highlight security weaknesses in some of the world’s most popular Internet networks.

According to the Washington Post, the NSA and its British counterpart have tapped into links between Google and Yahoo data centers and collected text, audio, video and vast amounts of other data.

“Technologists and people who work on privacy in general have known that this can be done and may have been going on for a long time,” said Lance Hoffman, head of the George Washington University Cyberspace Security Policy and Research Institute.

Hoffman says that while the companies store data in secure facilities around the world, and even have some of their own fiber optic networks, at certain points they travel through the same cables as the rest of the Internet’s data. “Whenever you’re moving things from point A to point B, there’s a possibility of an intercept,” he added. Read more ..


The Democratic Republic of Congo on Edge

DRC Seeks M23 Rebels’ Extradition from Neighboring Countries

October 31st 2013

Congo M23 Rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister says Kinshasa is seeking the extradition of M23 rebels who fled to neighboring countries following recent clashes with the national army (FARDC).

Lambert Mende says the request is part of a government effort to end armed insurgencies.

“We need to fight impunity among the few [rebels] who have criminal records,” said Mende. “Secondly, we need to give a chance to others who are not criminals to re-insert themselves socially and professionally. This is for us the only way to avoid the restart of insecurity in the region.” Mende’s comments came after the FARDC recaptured the country’s eastern town of Bunagana, one of the last remaining strongholds of the M23 rebels. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Briton Arrested for Hacking US Military Computers

October 30th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

A British man is free on bail after being charged with hacking into U.S. government military and civilian computer systems.  The case highlights the difficulty of securing sensitive data, and could be complicated by anger in Europe over revelations of U.S. intelligence agencies tracking millions of emails and phone calls. 

The 28-year-old from a rural village in eastern England is charged with cybercrimes in the United States and Britain.  He allegedly worked with hackers in Sweden and Australia to repeatedly break into the computer systems of thousands of U.S. organizations, including the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the NASA space agency, over the past year.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Groundbreaking Ceremony for US Missile Defense Facility Held in Romania

October 29th 2013

patriot missile

Romania and the United States have inaugurated a military site that will be part of the NATO missile defense system that protects Europe from attack. Russia has vigorously opposed having a U.S. missile system so close to its borders, and a Russian analyst told VOA that Moscow is sure to retaliate. 

The land-based missile defense facility is located in a former air base near Deveselu village, 180 kilometers east of Romania's capital, Bucharest. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller attended the groundbreaking ceremony there on Monday.

"When phase two is completed here in the 2015 time frame, Europe will be safer, U.S. forces will be better protected, Romania will be safer, and the NATO alliance will be stronger," said Miller. Romanian President Traian Basescu also attended the ceremony. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

UN's Eliasson Calls for More Efforts Against al-Shabab

October 28th 2013

Al Shabaab

A top United Nations official visiting Nairobi has urged Kenyans and Somalis not to relent in the battle against Somali militant group al-Shabab. The group continues to threaten and attack security forces and civilians in both countries.

As Kenya and Somalia plot out ways to fight terrorism and subdue al-Shabab, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says the terrorist threat is not only about killing and destruction, but also a threat to basic rights of the people.

“We have to see this threat as a threat also to the values and the principles that we stand for, both laid down in your constitution and laid down in something I always carry with me - the U.N. Charter.  This is the threat to the basic principles that are in here, and if we start to diminish these rights and the principles that are in here, they could say they could have succeeded,” said Eliasson. Kenya has boosted security in Nairobi shopping malls following text messages sent to shoppers warning them to keep away from some upscale shopping centers.  Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

At Least 50 Killed in Baghdad Blasts

October 27th 2013

Bomb Victims

Reports from Iraq say about 50 people were killed and dozens wounded when at least 10 bomb blasts rocked the capital, Baghdad, and other parts of the country.

Iraqi government helicopters hovered low in the skies of Baghdad while a thick trail of black smoke etched the horizon after the blasts.

One of the deadliest attacks hit a bus terminal with service to the town of Baquba.  Witnesses said several explosions sent people running for cover and spread shrapnel in all directions. 

Passengers were fleeing the station in panic in different directions, said a shopkeeper in the area. He said terrorists deliberately targeted places where people congregate. Only innocent people are hurt by such attacks, he added. Other bombings hit crowded markets in mainly Shi'ite areas of the Iraqi capital.  Another blast tore through a parking area in front of a government court.  Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Is War Inevitable?

October 26th 2013

Free Syrian Army

Throughout human history, war has taken countless lives, cost untold sums of money and brought great cities to ruin. But despite the long list of conflicts from ancient times to modern day, psychologists say war is not inevitable.

Much research has focused on the causes of war and how to deal with its aftermath. But three political psychologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say a better understanding of the psychological roots of war “can increase the likelihood of avoiding violence as a way to resolve conflicts with others.” Bernhard Leidner, Linda Tropp and Brian Lickel present their views in the peace psychology issue of American Psychologist.

Leidner, lead author, said “Mostly psychology, when it comes to war, focuses obviously on human tendencies to be aggressive, to be violent. So, it’s a lot of focus generally on the more negative end – problematic side – but not as much focus on either the positive side or how to actually prevent those problems in the first place.” Research shows, he said, that those who tend to “glorify their country” – a kind of nationalism – are more likely to choose a violent solution. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq Wants U.S. Warplanes, Drones 'Immediately'

October 25th 2013

F15 in Afghanistan

Baghdad is requesting the White House and Pentagon accelerate planned deliveries of U.S. warplanes and unmanned drones to battle resurgent al Qaeda cells in the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will press the issue with President Obama during bilateral talks scheduled for next week in Washington.

The Obama administration agreed to provide $2.6 billion in American military airpower to Iraqi forces earlier this year.

But as al Qaeda cells in Iraq, and incresingly in Syria, continue to step up their campaign of bombings and attacks in the country, Bagdad has no choice but to pressure the administration to deliver U.S. weapons immediately.

"The first thing the Prime Minister will ask for is to accelerate the processes for the shipment of drones and F-16s," Iraqi Deputy National Security Adviser Safa al-Sheikh Hussein told Reuters. "The initial response from the U.S. was positive, but it depends on the delivery time. We want them immediately," he added during an interview Friday. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

Mexico's Zetas Are Not Finished Yet

October 24th 2013

Mexican Drug Police2

During the question-and-answer portion of our quarterly Mexico Security Monitor webinar, we were asked a question pertaining to the current status of Los Zetas. The question was something to the effect of: "Some Mexican media outlets and analysts claim that Los Zetas have been dismantled as an organization and are now little more than a 'ragtag operation.' Why do you disagree with that assessment?"

This question apparently came in response to our quarterly cartel report (an abbreviated version is available here), in which we wrote that despite the leadership losses suffered by Los Zetas, including the arrest of their leader, Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, there were no signs that other leaders were challenging the current leader and Miguel's brother, Omar Trevino Morales. We also wrote that we believed Los Zetas have maintained their operational capabilities in terms of drug smuggling and other criminal activity, and that they have retained the ability to defend their operations and to continue conducting offensive operations deep in the their rivals' territory. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

A New Use for Nuclear Weapons: Hunting Rogue Asteroids

October 23rd 2013

Nuclear Missile

When planetary scientist H. Jay Melosh attended a meeting between nuclear weapons designers from the United States and the former Soviet Union in May 1995, he was surprised by how eagerly the ex-Cold Warriors sought to work together against an unlikely but dangerous extraterrestrial threat: asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

After Edward Teller, father of the American hydrogen bomb, urged others in the session at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to consider building and orbiting large, new, nuclear weapons for planetary protection, some top Russian weaponeers in attendance voiced their support.

“It was a really bizarre thing to see that these weapons designers were willing to work together — to build the biggest bombs ever,” said Melosh, a geophysicist at Purdue University and expert in space impacts who has an asteroid named after him.

Ever since, he has been pushing back against relying on nuclear bombs for the earth’s defense, arguing that a non-nuclear solution — such as diverting the trajectory of asteroids by hitting them with battering rams — is both possible and much less dangerous. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Tensions Rise Between Turkey's Government, Alevi Minority

October 22nd 2013

Turkey flag waving

Alevi Muslims, Turkey's largest religious minority, are widely seen as the biggest losers in the government's recent package of democratic reforms.

Recognition of Alevi religious rights was widely expected to be included among the reforms, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said such a step could be taken after the issue is further studied. But the issue of Alevi religious rights remains deeply contentious, with many of the prime minister's grassroots Sunni supporters viewing Alevis, who do not pray in mosques, as heretics.

Prime Minister Erdogan’s democracy package included few reforms for the Alevis other than renaming a state university after an historical Alevi figure. Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist and columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf, says religious prejudice is behind the lack of such reforms. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Warns Uganda of Imminent Terrorist Attack by Al-Shabaab

October 21st 2013

Al Shabaab

Police officials informed Uganda's citizens and visitors of tight security -- especially against Muslim terrorists -- ahead of November 3, when over 30,000 foreign tourists will visit to watch the hybrid eclipse, the rarest type of solar eclipse, in Uganda, according to a New Vision Uganda news story on Sunday.

The United States had provided intelligence to Uganda's security forces detailing an imminent terrorist attack similar to al-Shabaab's attack in Kenya where terrorists invaded Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall last July, according to the China Daily on Friday evening.

This latest warning comes amid increased security alertness in Uganda following similar police warnings that terrorists may attack.

The U.S. embassy's officials in Kampala, Uganda, said in a statement that a Westgate-style attack by the Somali-based, al-Qaeda ally Al-Shabaab may occur in Kampala, but the warning gave no information on timing or location of the attack.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Ayman al-Zawahiri Urges Syria Jihadis to Create Caliphate

October 19th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became the top leader of Al-Qaeda following the killing of Osama bin Laden, released a new audio-taped message to several Islamist websites and gave his opinion on a number events occurring in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Egypt. Zawahiri is heard counseling the Islamist fighters in Syria to unite in a common struggle against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime. He also warned them to end their collaboration with non-Islamist forces that oppose setting up a Caliphate once Assad is defeated and ousted from office, said the report.

"In our assessment, he was referring to the dispute between the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda in Iraq) and the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of Al-Qaeda in Syria directly subordinate to Ayman al-Zawahiri). Thereby he urged the two rival organizations to end their dispute and unite."

Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Mexicans Killed in Drug War Surpasses Americans Killed in Vietnam

October 18th 2013

Mexico crosses

With the number of Mexican's killed in that nation's eight-year drug war surpassing the number of Americans killed in the 10-year Vietnam War, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said during a televised forum on Tuesday that there must be improvements made in Mexico's national security and public safety, according to a federal government statement.

Nearly 80,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against Mexico's drug cartels in December 2006, according to Mexico's Ministry of Justice.

According to a recent survey conducted by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), "[W]ell over half of Mexicans living in urban areas consider living in their respective cities to be unsafe, and have deliberately made adjustments to their routines in order to avoid being victims of crime."

Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Rowhani's Younger Brother Hossein Fereydoun as Adviser

October 17th 2013

Rowhani

Since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, his brother, Hossein Fereydoun, has been presented in the Iranian media as one of his allies and senior advisers.He accompanies the president to some of his meetings, he accompanied the president on his last trip to the meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, and took part in the meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran, the Five plus One Group and the United States, which was held in the margins of the conference.

Shortly before President Rowhani took office, the Iranian media reported the appointment of Fereydoun as Head of President’s Inspection Office. However, in a recent interview with the Fars news agency, the president’s brother denied that he holds any position in the government.He noted that no letter of appointment for a government position has been issued for him and that no position has been given to the Iranian media reported that President Rowhani has issued a decree officially appointing Fereydoun as his special adviser for executive affairs (http://www.tabnak.ir/fa/news/351184/ حکم - روحانی - برای - فریدون). Read more ..


The Edge of Violence

Shippers Raise Alarm Over Oil Piracy in Gulf of Guinea

October 16th 2013

Somali pirates

The vast Gulf of Guinea which is nearly as big as the Gulf of Mexico is now one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, home to pirates that attack oil tankers and other cargo vessels at will, raising fears that shipping lanes that have existed for 500 years could be permanently disrupted.  

West African piracy centered on the Niger Delta has in recent years expanded from the coasts of Nigeria to the shorelines of many of the 11 West African countries that border the Gulf where pirates seize large oil tankers, siphon the product into smaller vessels, refine it in clandestine facilities and quickly sell it, fueling a regional oil black market. Oil-consuming nations are concerned because more than 30 percent of U.S. oil and 40 percent of Europe’s oil passes through the Gulf and is vulnerable to West African piracy. Read more ..


Iran's Nules

Trust but Verify Iran's Current Charm Offensive

October 15th 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to reassure the Israeli people that his positions regarding Iran’s nuclear program have not changed. He told an audience at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University that the international community should tighten rather than relax economic sanctions against Iran until Tehran completely ends its suspected nuclear weapons program. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear activities as a military threat and has said it would attack the country’s nuclear sites if necessary.

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. This stance has been reiterated most recently by Iran’s newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, at his September 24 address before the United Nations General Assembly, described by many observers as a ‘charm offensive.’ Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli War Hero Brutally Murdered in his Home

October 14th 2013

Hamas head

An honored former Israeli military officer was beaten to death during a home invasion in Israel's Jordan Valley on Friday in what was believed to be a Palestinian terrorist attack, according to an Israeli counterterrorism expert. Colonel Seraiah Ofer, who was one of the founders of a top-secret, elite Israeli military unit known as Shaldag, was spending a quiet evening with his wife at his home in the Jordan Valley, a strip of land bordering with Jordan on the east and the West Bank on the southwest.

According to counterterrorism analyst Jacob Cruiz, the two were attacked by terrorists using axes and blunt instruments to assault the elderly couple.

Ofer's wife was able to escape with only minor injuries while Col. Ifer attempted to ward off the attackers, according to Cruiz.

Read more ..

Israel and Iran

Iran Cancels Annual Anti-Israel Conference to Woo the West

October 13th 2013

The government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani has reportedly cancelled an annual anti-Israel conference as part of recent efforts to improve relations with the West.

The annual conference, titled "New Horizon," was among several anti-Israeli events launched under former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who had made verbal attacks against the Jewish state and denial of the Holocaust his hallmarks.

The chairman of the conference, Nader Talebzadeh, has described its cancellation as "a disaster" and a "big mistake."

In an interview with the hard-line Fars news agency, which is close to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, Talebzadeh described the event as "the most powerful anti-Zionist conference" in the Islamic republic. He said more than 60 "anti-Zionist thinkers" had been invited to this year's conference, which would have been its fourth edition. Read more ..


The War on Drugs

The Problematic Proliferation of Drones in Latin America

October 13th 2013

Click to select Image

Over the past decade, a growing number of nations have been utilizing drones in their security operations. Most notably, the U.S. is using this new technology to target and eliminate suspected terrorists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. So far, Latin American militaries have generally used drones for surveillance operations, but their role most likely will greatly expand in the near future.

Latin American countries that currently operate drones include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. They are either home-built or have been purchased from other countries with a sophisticated drone industry like Israel; it is important to highlight that the international suppliers of this technology may vary depending on each government’s diplomatic relations and agenda of operations. For example, the Colombian military has acquired drones from the U.S. and Israel, obviously benefiting from the existing close political relations among these governments. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Special Forces Capture Senior Pakistani Taliban

October 13th 2013

Seal Team 6

U.S. special forces captured a senior commander with the Pakistani Taliban, Latif Mehsud, in a covert operation, the U.S. Department of State said on Friday.

"I can confirm that U.S. forces did capture a Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) terrorist leader Latif Mehsud in a military operation," said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf in a daily briefing. "[But] I don’t have further details to share about the operation for you at this time," she added.

Mehsud is a senior commander in the Pakistani Taliban and served as a trusted confidant of the group's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, she said.

Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Optimism Present as Iranian Nuclear Talks Set to Resume

October 12th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Iran is expected to introduce new proposals regarding its controversial nuclear program when talks with major Western nations resume next Tuesday in Geneva. There is cautious optimism because this is the first round of negotiations since Iran’s new president took office.

Iranian war games in the Middle East. U.S. warplanes roaring down an aircraft runway in the Persian Gulf. Military muscle flexing has for years been indicative of the adversarial relationship between Iran and the West. But with sanctions crippling Iran’s economy, however, diplomacy now has taken center stage.

Recently-elected President Hassan Rouhani says it is time for a new approach. “Iran will prepare and present it in Geneva. We hope that even a more effective step will be taken in Geneva in order to settle the nuclear issue.” The biggest symbolic breakthrough came when U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to his Iranian counterpart on the phone, opening the way for a possible thaw in relations. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Kidnapped Libyan Prime Minister Pays the Price for an Obama Leak

October 11th 2013

Lybian Gunmen

Leaks have consequences. Just ask Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who was kidnapped in retaliation for allowing the United States to carry out a special operations raid in Tripoli that captured a senior al-Qaeda leader, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known as Abu Anas al-Libi.

How did the kidnappers know that the prime minister had approved the raid? After all, his government denied any prior knowledge of the U.S. action. Simple: The Obama administration told them. A front-page story in the New York Times, “U.S. Officials Say Libya Approved Commando Raids,” reported that “After months of lobbying by American officials, the Libyans consented ‘some time ago’ — weeks or perhaps even months — to the United States operations.” The article, which cites “more than half a dozen American diplomatic, military, law enforcement, intelligence and other administration officials” as sources, notes that “The Libyans’ consent marks a significant step forward for the Obama administration, which has been criticized by Congressional Republicans for moving too slowly to apprehend the Benghazi suspects.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Growing Unease Over Turkish Jihadists in Syria

October 10th 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

Growing numbers of young Turks are crossing into Syria to join jihadist groups fighting the Assad regime raising fears in Turkey of a future national security risk for Ankara.

Last month the U.S. and Turkey agreed to create a $200 million dollar fund to help local organizations develop programs to counter violent extremism among young people in places like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.   Now some are warning the threat might be closer to home because of a surge in recruitment of young Turks by al-Qaida affiliates.

Al-Qaida affiliates in Syria such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra are making headway in persuading Turkish Sunnis to cross the border into Syria for jihad, Turkish officials acknowledge.  Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Haqqani and Alavi Schools: Hotbeds for the Growth and Developmentof Iranian Leaders

October 9th 2013

Rowhani

In August 2013 the Iranian president presented his new government, which is largely comprised of technocrats with an extensive academic education. One of Rowhani's government's distinctive characteristics is the prominent presence of graduates of "Alavi" high school and "Haqqani" religious seminary. Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, these two educational institutions have been considered a "hotbed" for the growth and development of high-ranking officials in the upper echelons of the Iranian regime, who maintain their relations and form a network of allies within the government's various branches.

The political influence of the graduates of "Haqqani" religious seminary (established in Qom in 1964), many of whom are identified with the Iranian politics' radical right, reached its peak during President Ahmadinejad's first government. This can be partly attributed to the close relations between the former president and the senior conservative cleric Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who was one of the founders of the religious seminary. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

N. Korea Puts Troops on Alert Over US-Led Military Drill

October 8th 2013

Soldiers-marching

North Korea has placed its military on alert and warned of "disastrous consequences" in response to a planned U.S.-led military drill near the Korean peninsula.

A North Korean military spokesman told state media all troops have been ordered to "keep themselves ready to promptly launch operations at any time."

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok confirmed North Korea's military has been placed on high alert.

"Our armed forces are closely monitoring the North Korean military's movements and are fully prepared to take a decisive action against the North's possible provocations," he said. The North Korean threat comes as U.S. warships deployed to the South Korean port of Busan for what officials describe as a routine search and rescue drill with the South Korean and Japanese navies. Read more ..



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