North Korea on Edge
|Jonathan D. Pollack||December 16th 2013|
Yesterday’s brutal, abrupt execution of the second ranking ruler of North Korea, Jang Song-thaek, culminated a stunning week in Pyongyang, perhaps the world’s most isolated and repressive capital. For much of its history, North Korea has posed acute threats to the outside world. It is the most militarized regime on earth and in recent years has repeatedly threatened South Korea and persisted in the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, while sustaining a highly repressive course toward its own citizens.
However, the execution of Jang, by marriage a member of the ruling Kim dynasty, represents a very different threat to the system’s viability. For decades, North Korea (though mired in economic dysfunction and international isolation) has sought to maintain a façade of unity within its ruling elites. On Sunday, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, presided over an enlarged session of the Party Politburo, where Jang was accused of a wide array of crimes, including the building of a “factional group” within the leadership and a variety of lesser sins. At the staged trial prior to his execution, Zhang was explicitly charged with plotting the overthrow of the Kim regime. Though Jang was not as close to Kim Jong-un over the past year, he seemed the indispensable fixer of the North Korean system, and among the handful of senior politicians who had meaningful international experience, most notably with China. Read more ..
Afghanistan and Pakistan
|Ayaz Gul||December 15th 2013|
While Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to disagree on many key issues, they reported progress in their bilateral relations in 2013. Close cooperation between the two neighbors is considered crucial for ending the Afghan war as NATO prepares to wind up its combat mission by the end of next year.
Pakistan’s alleged links to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan have been a major source of tension ever since the Islamist group was forced from power in Kabul in 2001.
Many Afghans say Islamabad supports some militant groups to retain influence in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops withdraw. Pakistani leaders have repeatedly dismissed the allegations. Read more ..
North Korea on Edge
|Nicholas Eberstadt||December 14th 2013|
A striking feature of North Korean communism has been the remarkable measure of physical security enjoyed by the uppermost reaches of this brutal and repressive regime.
Elsewhere in the communist world, the highest tiers always enjoyed physical comforts. But the tumultuous, cut-throat nature of communist politics meant that their physical fate, up to and including cause of death, remained perilously contingent. (As the Bo Xilai affair in China underscores, this is still the case under “reform socialism.”) By contrast, North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung laid down a system of dynastic succession that protected not only the revolutionary royals but also those aristocrats closest to them.
Consider the case of Choe Kwang, chief of the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army in the late 1960s. In 1968, Kim Il Sung personally denounced Choe for “anti-party activities,” and the man disappeared. Under Stalin or Mao, those particulars would have been a death sentence. Yet Choe — whose family had close connections to the Great Leader’s — not only lived but went on to prosper. By the late 1980s, Choe was once again chief of the army general staff. By 1997, when he died of natural causes, he had been elevated to defense minister. Read more ..
America and Qatar
|Hannah Schaeffer||December 13th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
Qatar signed a ten-year Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the U.S. Tuesday that allows Washington to continue keeping American troops in Qatar and launch military operations from there. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Qatari Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah to sign the deal. Marking just one stop in Hagel's visit to the region, he reassured Arab allies of ongoing U.S. support, despite dismay among the Gulf States over American policies regarding Iran and Syria.
Currently, the U.S. government keeps over 35,000 civilian and military personnel in and around the Gulf. Qatar's central location, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, allows the U.S. easier access to the entire region. The presence of American military forces in the country also provides Sunni Qatar with guaranteed defense and national security against threats from Shiite Iran.
Despite this renewal of cooperation between Washington and Doha, Western countries have scrutinized Qatar's abuse of human rights. As one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar also has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens. Foreign workers face abusive working conditions, dreadful living standards, and low wages, according to international human rights organizations. Activists have demanded an end to worker exploitation, especially as the emirate accelerates construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, local officials claim laws are already in place protecting workers from mistreatment. Read more ..
Edge of Piracy
|Jim Kouri||December 12th 2013|
Somalia-based pirates off the coast of the Horn of Africa have made close to a half-billion dollars in their abduction-for-ransom operations that have an adverse impact on global shipping, according to a new report released in Europe on Saturday.
The report, titled "Pirate Trails," was a joint project conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and INTERPOL. The researchers gathered data and evidence through interviews with former pirates, government officials, bankers and others involved in countering piracy in order to investigate the flow of the ransom cash paid to Somali pirates operating off the African coast in the Indian Ocean.
“The vast amounts of money collected by pirates, and the fact that they have faced virtually no constraint in moving and using their assets has allowed them not only to thrive, but also to develop their capacities on land,” said the Chief of the Implementation Support Section in the Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch at UNODC Tofik Murshudlu. Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||December 12th 2013|
If Tijuana's new municipal government has its way, drones will fly over the northern Mexican border city in 2014. In an interview with the Mexican press, Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci, a member of President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party who took office at the beginning of December, said his administration is working with a California firm to deploy small drones as a means of fighting crime and carrying out other public safety tasks like detecting fires.
“It’s a strategy against delinquency. The public complains about home burglaries and robberies on mass transportation,” Astiazaran said. “These aircraft are very inexpensive compared with other types of technological instruments.” Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jamie Reno||December 11th 2013|
Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims' loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers - 15 of them Saudi nationals - and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue.
But earlier this year, Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||December 10th 2013|
The media's pre-occupation with Edward Snowden's stolen NSA documents contributes to furthering our vulnerability to cyber attack, if only because it sucks the air out anything else reported. If the damage caused by stripping the U.S. of its national secrets isn't enough, headlines with new revelations.
Since the media thrives on bad news, it could raise the public's awareness by changing their focus from Snowden to exposing the lack of protection of the civilian infrastructure.
This Administration, which famously failed to create a working website for ObamaCare, has done little, if anything, to build a solid, fast-responding defense mechanism to shield the country's infrastructure from being hacked. A constant diet of headlines exposing these failures should not only sell more newspapers, but also create a public outcry, hopefully pressuring the government into action. Read more ..
|Hannah Schaeffer ||December 9th 2013|
National Security Agency (NSA) chief General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on October 29 that the collection of European phone records occurred as part of a NATO intelligence sharing program. Washington gathered these phone records with help of allies in the region, according to the intelligence officials.
U.S. surveillance programs had already faced increased criticism set off by reports that the NSA had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and those of up to 34 other world leaders.
This was followed by media reports that the NSA had collected millions of French and Spanish phone records and intercepted millions of calls, stirring outrage and intense criticism from Europe. French President François Hollande voiced a diplomatic protest in a phone call with President Obama during the week of October 20-26, saying that espionage should not occur between allies and friends. Spain's prosecutor's office said it had opened a preliminary investigation on the NSA's surveillance techniques. Read more ..
The Ukraine on Edge
|James Brooke||December 9th 2013|
Ukrainian riot police moved Monday to curb pro-European demonstrators in Kyiv by dismantling barricades set up by protesters outside government building and storming the headquarters of the largest opposition party.
The actions came a day before a senior EU official is to visit. Police broke doors in the headquarters of the Fatherland Party run by Yulia Tymoshenko. She is a former prime minister who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election and was later put on trial for abuse of power and jailed.
Monday’s crackdown looked like an attempt to roll back opposition gains made Sunday during a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in the nation’s capital.
In that protest, masked militants from Svoboda, or Freedom Party, used steel cables to pull down a Soviet-era Lenin statue. The statue has stood in central Kyiv for 66 years. The fall decapitated the statue, then young men took turns bashing the polished granite into pieces. Protesters grabbed chips as souvenirs.
Monday’s police action appeared designed to restore access to government offices downtown without causing major bloodshed. On Tuesday, President Viktor Yanukovych plans to welcome EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for a two-day visit. Ashton plans to meet with government officials and opposition leaders in an effort to defuse the political standoff. Read more ..
The Media Edge
|Scott Stewart||December 7th 2013|
In Stratfor's Security Weekly, Tristan Reed and I provided a little bit of an "inside baseball" look at how we analyze the transnational criminal cartels in Mexico. We tried to explain some of the challenges that analysts face while analyzing a human network -- Los Zetas in this instance -- that is by its very nature a criminal and clandestine organization.
But cutting through the misinformation and disinformation surrounding murky human networks is not the only difficult task Stratfor analysts are faced with. Indeed, perhaps one of the most difficult things we are asked to do is untangle, decipher and contextualize breaking events for our readers and custom intelligence clients. Sometimes we are able to do so pretty well -- a rapid reaction piece I wrote on Sept. 14, 2012, "Understanding What Went Wrong in Benghazi," continues to be a highly read analysis. Read more ..
US and the Ukraine
|Steven Pifer||December 6th 2013|
Ukraine has plunged into political turmoil following President Victor Yanukovych’s decision to delay signature of an association agreement with the European Union and the authorities’ use of force to break up a peaceful demonstration on November 30. The main players now are Mr. Yanukovych, opposition leaders and the many thousands of citizens on the street. The European Union and Russia are the outside players that can exercise the most influence, while the United States sits more in the background. That is understandable. And in the current situation, it may not be a bad place for Washington to be.
As the crisis has played out in Kyiv over the past two weeks, the European Union has taken the lead as the voice and face of the West. That is appropriate. At the core of the debate in Ukraine is whether and how quickly the country will move to align its norms with—and join a free trade area with—the European Union. Right now, Europe has great attraction for many Ukrainians, who envy European living standards and its rule of law. Moreover, the European Union acquitted itself well in mediating a settlement during the Orange Revolution in 2004. Read more ..
|Joshua Levitt||December 4th 2013|
For 10 years, U.N. resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency directives called for a full halt to all of Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production, and unconditional compliance with nuclear inspections, but now, what “was previously condemned as illegal and illegitimate has effectively been recognized as a baseline,” former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on December 4.
“And that baseline program is of strategic significance. For Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is coupled with an infrastructure sufficient to enrich it within a few months to weapons-grade, as well as a plausible route to producing weapons-grade plutonium in the installation now being built at Arak,” the two experts in statecraft wrote of the recent agreement reached between wold powers and Iran. Read more ..
|Rebecca Shabad||December 4th 2013|
A truck carrying “extremely dangerous” radioactive material was reported stolen in Mexico Wednesday, according to nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency. Mexico told the IAEA the truck was carrying cobalt-60 teletherapy from a Tijuana hospital to a radioactive waste storage unit. The material is used in medical treatments.
The truck was found on December 4, according to NBC News, which reports it’s unclear if the material was still in it. The truck was first stolen Monday in a town near Mexico City, the IAEA said.
When it was stolen, the radioactive material was properly shielded, the report says. The source, however, could become “extremely dangerous” to people if the shielding is removed or if it is damaged. Read more ..
|Joshua Levitt||December 3rd 2013|
Iranian Naval Admiral Afshin Rezayee on Tuesday said Iran’s Navy plans to deploy warships in the Atlantic Ocean, the semi-official FARS News Agency reported.
Commander of the Navy’s Fourth Naval Zone, Admiral Rezayee said, “The previous flotillas of warships were sent to the Mediterranean Sea and passed the Suez Channel and even sailed through the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. Now we intend to enter the Atlantic Ocean and this will be materialized after dispatch of the next flotillas of warships.”
Rezayee said the warships are sent to international waters for a three-month stretch, and this would be Iran’s 29th flotilla, which would include two logistic and combat warships, as well as one subsurface vessel. Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Scott Stewart and Tristan Reed||December 1st 2013|
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 their rivals' territory. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Cecily Hilleary||December 1st 2013|
The recent arrest of a young American who was on his way to Syria to allegedly join Jihadist fighters seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad may add to worries among U.S. law enforcement circles. Basit Javed Sheikh, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant living in North Carolina, was arrested as he attempted to board the first in a series of planned flights to Syria. He had told an FBI informant on Facebook that he was going to join the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria.
In a recent background briefing for reporters, U.S. intelligence officials said dozens of Americans have joined the thousands of other foreigners who have flocked to Syria to fight against al-Assad’s forces. Intelligence officials say that more Americans will likely follow as the conflict continues and they worry that these ‘American jihadists' could pose a grave threat once they return to the U.S. Who are these American fighters? Should the U.S. be concerned—or are these fears overstated? Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
|Frud Bezhan||November 30th 2013|
A contentious security deal between Afghanistan and the United States looked all but signed.
The Loya Jirga, a key national gathering of Afghan elders, had given its unanimous backing. All that was left was for both parliament and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to approve it.
But Karzai has stubbornly refused to sign the deal, a move that has infuriated Washington and baffled many Afghans. Here are several reasons why Karzai might be dragging out the process:
Reason No. 1: Karzai Thinks He Has Leverage
Karzai has played a high-stakes game over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) -- making new demands, breaking promises, criticizing Washington, and defying the wishes of the Loya Jirga.
He says he will only sign the deal after April’s Afghan presidential election -- and only if his new terms are met. These include the release of all Afghan prisoners held in the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay and a complete halt to controversial U.S. raids on Afghan homes. Read more ..
The War on Terror
|Jean-Charles Brisard||November 28th 2013|
Financial resources and funding methods of the North African terrorist organizations have been largely influenced by two factors. The first is their longtime strategic and tactical independence. Despite the fact that several of these organizations emerged in the aftermath of the Afghan conflict, including the historical GSPC – Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (now AQIM), the LIFG and the MICG to name a few, they have mostly followed a regional agenda since their inception.
While traditional financial resources have declined, post 9/11, including support from charities and individual donations, these groups had already shifted to more local sources of revenue generated from various traffics in the Sahara and Sahel regions, the most common being cigarettes, cars and arms. This is not say that charities have disappeared. Qatari and Saudi charities are active in Mali and provided support to the jihadists, especially to Ansar Dine and the Mujao.
Drug trafficking is repeatedly mentioned as a source of revenue for these groups, but various investigations reflect the fact that none of them were directly involved in this traffic. Instead, they indirectly benefited from drug trafficking by receiving payments, protection money, to allow dealers to freely move in the regions they controlled. Read more ..
|Kent Paterson||November 25th 2013|
The Panamanian government announced an agreement November 21 between the United States and Panama that could involve the disposal of old chemical weapons in the state of New Mexico. Panamanian Chancellor Fernando Nunez Fabrega told the international press that old weapons will be removed from San Jose Island and buried in the desert of New Mexico in 2014.
“In this way, Panama will be free of bombs without exploding them on the island of San Jose, and this place will regain its tourism value,” Nunez said.
Located in the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles off the coast of Panama, San Jose Island was used by the military forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada to test and store both conventional and chemical weapons during the World War Two and Vietnam War eras. Read more ..
|Floor Boon, Steven Derix and Huib Modderkolk||November 24th 2013|
The American intelligence service - NSA - infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden prove this. A management presentation dating from 2012 explains how the NSA collects information worldwide. In addition, the presentation shows that the intelligence service uses ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software.
One example of this type of hacking was discovered in September 2013 at the Belgium telecom provider Belgacom. For a number of years the British intelligence service - GCHQ – has been installing this malicious software in the Belgacom network in order to tap their customers’ telephone and data traffic. The Belgacom network was infiltrated by GCHQ through a process of luring employees to a false Linkedin page. The NSA special department employs more than a thousand hackers. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Soeren Kern||November 22nd 2013|
An investigation initiated by the CIA and FBI in 2009 revealed that at least 100 Islamic extremists had infiltrated the U.S. military, and that some of these individuals had been in touch with Islamic radicals who had infiltrated military units in Spain, as well as Britain, France and Germany.
The military is an attractive employment option for many young Muslims born in Spain, where the unemployment rate is stuck at 27%, and the jobless rate for individuals under 25 exceeds 60%. Often, a stint in the military opens doors for civilian jobs with national or local police or other security-related occupations.
The Spanish military is quietly monitoring its Muslim soldiers in an effort to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism within its ranks, according to a classified Defense Ministry document that has been leaked to the Spanish media. Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|George Zimmerman||November 21st 2013|
A large, conscripted military may no longer be the most appropriate way for Turkey to protect its interests and defend against external threats. Ankara appears to have acknowledged as much Oct. 21, when it voted to reduce the length of time conscripted soldiers are required to serve. The measure, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, will effectively shrink the military by 70,000 members. This is no small diminution, considering that Turkey, with its 750,000 soldiers, has the second-largest military among NATO members. Political and economic considerations may have informed Ankara's decision, but ultimately the move was made to reflect the changing geopolitical conditions under which Turkey now finds itself.
Historically, Turkey's location and geography has necessitated a robust military. Located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, the country was critical terrain during the Cold War. In 1952, Turkey became a member of NATO, serving as the southwestern bulwark against the Warsaw Pact. It mustered a large standing military by establishing compulsory service for all Turkish men. Though the Cold War ended two decades ago, Turkey has maintained this practice. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen||November 20th 2013|
The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear program, released November 14, has generated a profusion of optimistic news reports and editorials. According to the IAEA, Tehran has not increased the number of centrifuges installed at declared installations or put more advanced centrifuges into operation, and its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride remains below a crucial red line. Meanwhile, work has been proceeding slowly at the Arak reactor, which will be capable of producing plutonium, an alternative nuclear explosive. And three days before releasing the report, the IAEA announced that Iran had agreed to give the agency access to information on some previously blocked aspects of its nuclear program.
Much less emphasized in the report, and the coverage of it, are the IAEA's persistent suspicions of Iran's true motives, as detailed under the heading "Possible Military Dimensions." As page 10 of the thirteen-page report noted, "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related organizations, including activities related to the development of a payload for a missile." The agency also received information indicating that Iran has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." The report deemed this intelligence to be "credible," noting that the IAEA has obtained more information since November 2011 that "further corroborates" its analysis. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik||November 19th 2013|
Read more ..
In September 2013, Israeli soldier Tomer Hazan was kidnapped and murdered by terrorist Nidal Amar. According to the indictment submitted last week, the murderer's brother, Nour Al-Din Amar, who is already imprisoned in Israel for terrorist activity, had asked his brother Nidal to kidnap an Israeli soldier and hold him hostage in order to secure Nour Al-Din's release. The indictment stated that the murderer, Nidal Amar, passed a coded message to his brother in prison prior to the murder via official Palestinian Authority TV, informing him of his intention to kidnap a soldier for use in negotiating the brother's release. Palestinian Media Watch
checked its recordings of the PA TV program For You
, which regularly broadcasts greetings from Palestinians to security prisoners in Israeli prisons, and has indeed found the coded message. During a broadcast in May 2013, the host read a letter from Nidal to his imprisoned brother, in which he indicated in code his plan to kidnap a soldier: "The calf will soon be in the cage, and we'll celebrate the freedom of all prisoners."
The Battle for Syria
|Meir Amit||November 18th 2013|
On November 5, 2013, organizations of Syrian rebels, including the Free Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front took control of a Syrian army precinct in the village of Mahin, southeast of the city of Homs. They took over an arsenal considered one of the largest in Syria. The takeover occurred during a large rebel military operation called the "The doors of Allah which are not slammed shut." The Al-Nusra Front, which glorified its role, issued photographs of scores if not hundreds of crates of weapons seized in the operation (See below).
According to statements issued by the rebels, they seized large quantities of anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers and Grad rockets. In addition large quantities of light arms and ammunition were also seized. The Free Syrian Army forum listed the weapons as follows: 10,000 Grad rockets, 10,000 107mm rockets, more than 20,000 120mm mortar shells, more than 10,000 anti-tank shells, thousands of Kornet anti-tank missiles, thousands of RPG launchers, thousands of hand grenades and mines, thousands of Kalashnikov assault rifles and machines guns, and large quantities of ammunition (Syrianfreearmy.com, November 9, 2013). On YouTube, one of the rebel leaders said that "the next stage will be to move the weapons to a secure area and then to distribute them to all fronts." Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Jim Kouri||November 17th 2013|
Read more ..
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.
The Edge of Terrorism
|Lilly Chapa||November 16th 2013|
"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
|Hannah Schaeffer||November 15th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
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
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||November 14th 2013|
American Center for Democracy
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
|Abubakar Siddique||November 13th 2013|
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
|Denise Chow||November 12th 2013|
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
|Mackenzie Eaglen||November 11th 2013|
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
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||November 9th 2013|
American Center for Democracy
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
|Hannah Schaeffer ||November 8th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
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
|Frud Bezhan||November 6th 2013|
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
|Tom Balmforth||November 4th 2013|
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
|Edwin Black||November 4th 2013|
Times of Israel
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
|Elizabeth Arrott||November 3rd 2013|
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
|Frud Bezhan||November 2nd 2013|
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 ..
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