The Kashmir conflict has claimed the lives of at least 40,000 people since since the Muslim separatist revolt began in 1989. For years now, the region has been steeped in insecurity and violence, with still no immediate settlement to the conflict in sight. But there is good news for other inhabitants of Kashmir.
Wildlife officials in the region report that the population of endangered Asiatic bears has increased between 30 and 60 percent since 1989. Because of the increased security presence in the Himalayan forests—intended to root out militants—poachers have also stayed away for fear of getting caught up in the crossfire. "No one dares to go deep into the forests since the militancy started," explains the state's wildlife warden.
And it's not just bears that the insurgency is helping: The general population of indigenous animals and birds has increased on average between 20 and 60 percent in the same time period. Elusive leopards, snow leopards, and hanguls, a type of stag found only in Kashmir, for instance, have flourished during the human conflict.
A similar phenomenon has taken place in Sudan, where thousands of animals thought to be in danger are repopulating despite the country's civil war. Of course, this doesn't mean that conflict is generally favorable for endangered animals. Some animals in Sudan have suffered what National Geographic calls "near-apocalyptic declines," and you need look no further than the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see the devastation war can have on threatened species. Still, it does show that vigilance against poachers can have a remarkable impact.
Here's an intriguing proposal from Belgium's Anne-Marie Lizin, a prominent European critic of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Lizin says that countries want to shut Gitmo down should take the prisoners off the United States' hands themselves.
But why not take this a step further and just pay Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Red Cross to actually operate Guantánamo or its equivalent? Then they could hire subcontractors like CACI to handle the interrogations, and provide any resulting information to the U.S. government. Surely, these organizations would be trusted to ensure that prisoners wuold be treated humanely.
Or better yet, draw up an RFP and open up the bidding process to anyone willing to adopt a Guantánamo prisoner. After all, the U.S. government outsources everything else nowadays. Why not this?
I must admit, I don't lose sleep worrying about what's inside the 11 million containers that arrive at U.S. ports every year. But with the new anti-terrorism bill being debated in the U.S. Congress, container security has become a (relatively) hot topic. Today, only the containers deemed high risk get separated and scanned, but Democrats are pushing to screen every piece of cargo in case there is a bomb packed somewhere among all those sneakers and DVD players.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, this 100-percent scanning plan will only disrupt the flow of commerce and raise transportation costs for U.S. importers. And it makes no sense for a terrorist to smuggle in an explosive this way, argue James Jay Carafano and Robert Quartel of the Heritage Foundation, since it would be much easier to assemble it once it arrives. They add:
If terrorists had a nuclear weapon, it's not at all clear why they would risk allowing it leave their control. After all the time and trouble required to build a bomb, would they really wave good-bye and hope it gets to the right place?
Carafano dismisses the comprehensive-scanning proposal as just another form of "feel good security." That sounds about right to me.
China has been working with its neighbors lately to step up the fight against terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, a triumvirate Beijing calls "The Three Evil Forces." It sounds like something out of Tolkien, but "The Three Evil Forces" is no fantasy. In fact, Beijing is using the phrase both to promote cooperation and to rally China's western neighbors against nascent independence movements like that in restive Xinjiang province.
China and its fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (or SCO, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) are gearing up for unprecedented joint military exercises in August. According to the China Daily, these exercises "will demonstrate the determination and capability of SCO member countries to combat 'The Three Evil Forces'." Meanwhile, Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang recently reminded the Pakistani government of its commitment to fight these evils. The upshot? Pakistan invaded the Red Mosque.
We can laugh about the language being used, but Chinese diplomacy is actually becoming pretty sophisticated. With the strong states of Central Asia, Beijing's message is about combating evil and crushing dissent. In Africa, China's tag line is "Friendship, Peace, Cooperation and Development," while in Southeast Asia—where people are wary of a historically imperial China—the Chinese talk about "trade and trust." Beijing carefully selects each of these slogans to suit the circumstance, as none would work as well in any other part of the world. It's a diplomatic strategy that has been quite successful, as we can see from China's booming trade and burgeoning popularity in all these regions.
Maybe even Washington could learn something from China about how to make friends.
Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, has an important piece in today's Web magazine called How to Save Iraqi Kurdistan from Itself.
As a former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Abramowitz writes with authority about the perils and politics of that corner of the Middle East. And he's worried about what Turkey might do in response to incessant attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a guerrilla group better known as the PKK. Turkey has massed troops along the Iraqi border, and the Kurds recently accused the Turks of shelling their territory. But the United States seems inexplicably complacent. Just the other day, the U.S. commander in charge of northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, shrugged off the PKK issue:
I'm not alarmed about it at all," he said. "I think that will be worked out in the long run."
But as Abramowitz argues, this isn't an issue that will simply work itself out, and it runs much deeper than the PKK alone. U.S. diplomats and military types need to roll up their sleeves and solve this problem before the situation spirals out of control. Looking at the below map of the Kurdish population in the region, it's easy to see why the Kurds represent such a thorny issue for Turkey, a fiercely nationalistic country:
Read the article to find out more about what is one of the world's most dangerous situations right now.
Russia's moves on missile defense and its decision to back out of a key arms control treaty are understandably gobbling up most of the news space devoted to Eastern Europe. But keep an eye on relations between Poland and Belarus, which claims to have busted up a Polish spy ring:
Belarus says it has smashed a spy ring which was passing information to Poland about a joint Belarussian-Russian air defence system, called the S-300. The head of the Belarus KGB security service, Dmitry Vegera, said four former Belarussian army officers and a Russian officer had been arrested.
The missile shield has clearly exacerbated relations between the two countries, but there are a host of other nettlesome issues. For months now, Poland has been broadcasting news into heavily-censored Belarus and accepting students who have been kicked out of Belarus's universities for political reasons. In their attacks on the thuggish and unpredictable Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, Poles frequently invoke their own legacy of Solidarity. Why does this matter, you ask? Because Poland is a member of NATO, more serious unpleasantness between the neighbors could quickly become another crisis between Russia and the West. And then things would really get interesting.
Forgive me for being a few weeks, perhaps even a few years, late to this story, but who knew that Pakistani intelligence and the CIA held the sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, aged seven and nine at the time, both before and after his father's capture?
Earlier this month, six human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, released a report on 39 'disappeared' detainees believed to be in U.S. custody somewhere in the world. The report also names wives and children of detainees who have been held and interrogated.
In September 2002, Yusuf al-Khalid (then nine years old) and Abed al-Khalid (then seven years old) were reportedly apprehended by Pakistani security forces during an attempted capture of their father, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was successfully apprehended several months later [...]
After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest in March 2003, Yusuf and Abed Al Khalid were reportedly transferred out of Pakistan in U.S. custody. The children were allegedly being sent for questioning about their father’s activities and to be used by the United States as leverage to force their father to co-operate with the United States. A press report on March 10, 2003 confirmed that CIA interrogators had detained the children and that one official explained that: "We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children...but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care."
Their father is, obviously, a mass murderer. But what legal grounds exist for states to transfer children out of the country, particularly without parental permission (obviously lacking in this case)? Were the younger Mohammeds really transferred to the United States? What happened to them? Details are incredibly sketchy. The Guardian reported earlier this month that family members haven't seen the kids since they were apprehended.
A new computer virus was identified last week that spreads via USB flash drives and other removable media on Windows PCs. This method of propagation is about as old as computers themselves. So what's the big deal? It's the content of the program that makes this particular virus so special.
The worm doesn't infect a computer with maladjusted software or erase important system files. Instead, it spreads educational information about HIV/AIDS. Security experts have been quick to point out that the worm, called "liarVB-a," does no explicit harm to the user's computer, but it's still a potential security threat. Graham Cluley, a senior senior technology consultant at the security firm Sophos, explains:
Even though the hackers responsible for this worm aren't set on filling their pockets with cash, and may feel that they are spreading an important message, they are still breaking the law. In the future we might see more graffiti-style malware being written on behalf of political, religious and other groups looking for a soapbox to broadcast their opinions."
Personally, I'm very curious to see the contents of this worm. Is the information contained in the worm about HIV/AIDS accurate? What was its original source? Wikipedia? So far, copies of the program are hard to find. If your computer becomes infected with the worm, let us know.
Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who just finished a stint as the U.S. military's man in charge of training Iraqi security forces, told a Congressional committee yesterday that Iraq's security forces have suffered the attrition of 32,000 men in the last 18 months.
That's a loss in manpower roughly equivalent in size to the entire NYPD.
Yesterday, McAfee Site Advisor released its yearly report on "The State of Search Engine Safety." Perhaps inspired by the Department of Homeland Security, the study provides a colorful graph illustrating the level of risk associated with the most popular keywords: Red means "high danger," yellow "medium danger," and green is for the secure stuff.
You would think that porn sites are the biggest magnets of spyware and viruses, but it's actually innocent-looking words like "BearShare" and "screensaver" that are most likely to cause you trouble. Also, beware of "mp3" or "ipod nano," as the con men of the web find file-sharing software and technological gadgets to be potent honey for gullible flies.
Gossip lovers are another frequent target: The combination "Brad Pitt + Jennifer Aniston," for example, often leads to dangerous web ambushes. The work of overeager Jolie fans, perhaps?
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Dick Cheney, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice in the so-called "CIA Leak" case. Judging by some of the letters of support he received from Washington heavyweights, it's not hard to see why clemency was not in the cards for Scooter.
For instance, here's a howler from Henry Kissinger's letter:
Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it sometimes is to recall precisely a particular series of events."
And here's one from Paul Wolfowitz:
Despite some of the malicious gossip about him, I know that Mr. Libby is one of the least partisan individuals you will find in Washington. Although he has served in three Republican adminstrations, some of his closest friends were senior officials in the Clinton administration.
The proliferation threat from rogue states and terrorist groups has to concentrate the mind of any senior U.S. official in the national security area. [...] In the face of all these demands, keeping every detail straight is impossible. [...] I have myself been to meetings after which I could not remember what agency or Department most of the people worked for, or even why they were there. If there is anyone who fully understands our "system" for protecting classified information, I have yet to meet him.
The Libby children are not little now. [Name withheld] is entering that time when girls grow and change startlingly quickly [...]
One of my many enduring and endearing memories of Scooter is of his universal love of families. [...] One of our early "undisclosed location" work trips coincided with Halloween, which I am sure you know is the favorite event of most children's lives. The Cheney grandchildren were required to accompany us on this particular trip, yanked out of school and away from their much-awaited night of Trick or Treating. Their disappointment at being trapped in the desolate, nothing-to-do location was heartbreaking, as was our own, missing our small children that night. While I was working up a pretty annoying whine, Scooter flew into action, finding treats, creating costumes and arranged an ad-hoc trick-or-treat and Halloween games for the kids. [...] It took hours of creative effort on his part.
Needless to say, the judge wasn't quite swayed by these heartfelt appeals.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I've seen a fair bit of commentary and newspaper coverage shining a skeptical light on dire claims by federal and local authorities as well as some press outlets about the four men who were charged Saturday for planning to blow up fuel lines at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. My how times have changed since 2001 and 2002, when such critical coverage would have been much more timid or in marginal media outlets.
As for me, I'm certainly glad these guys were caught, and the law enforcement folks involved in foiling this embryonic plot deserve kudos. Even if—as seems clear from the details that are emerging—the plan was half-baked, it's impressive that the plotters were monitored and busted before they had time to cause any real trouble. Isn't that the way these things should work? A fizzled attack at a key transportation node such as JFK might not kill thousands, but it could still cause severe disruptions and make people afraid to travel.
The problem though, is the temptation among law enforcement officials to go beyond the evidence and make wild statements about "unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction," as the United States attorney in Brooklyn did in her statement announcing the arrests. That kind of exaggeration just raises the level of cynicism in the United States about terrorism, making people wonder if it's all just a political game by the Bush administration. Stick to the facts, I say.
According to the 2006 General Social Survey of the University of Chicago, gun owners in the United States are a "shrinking minority." The actual number of firearms per U.S. household is controversial, but it seems that the share of gun owners has dropped from an all time high of 54 percent in 1977 to 34.5 percent in 2006.
But if gun love is headed downhill in the United States, this is certainly not the case for Yemen. Doomed by a scarcity of natural resources, a bursting population, and domestic sectarian rivalries, Yemen ranks 150 out of 177 countries on the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index. Its weapons market, however, has been flourishing for more than a decade. A recent Reuters article published by Al Jazeera English reports that Yemenis may own as many as 60 million weapons. Even the conservative estimate is a staggering 20 million guns, about one gun per Yemeni.
As part of its post-9/11 anti-terrorism efforts, the Yemeni government has resolved to address the gun glut, and has recently begun spending millions of dollars to take weapons out of the hands of ordinary Yemeni citizens. It's not BB guns we're talking about, according to the Reuters article:
The arms bought included mortars, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank shells, rocket-propelled grenades as well as large quantities of mines, explosives and ammunition.
The government isn't targeting smaller firearms such as handguns and rifles, which have become a pillar of the local culture since the 1994 civil war. As a Yemeni professor told the BBC:
Just as you have your tie, the Yemeni will carry his gun.
Charlton Heston would be proud.
One of the essays in FP's 21 Solutions to Save the World package that has attracted the most attention online is Mikko Hyppönen's solution for preventing the growing problem of online banking fraud, specifically the "phishing" technique of luring trusting users to fake bank websites and then stealing their information. Hyppönen proposes to create a special Web domain just for banks, and make securing such a domain so costly and difficult that only genuine banks would be able to obtain one. I asked Hyppönen, who is chief research officer at F-Secure, to respond to critics of his idea. Here is his response.
Hyppönen: We've been pushing for an initiative to get a secure top-level domain (like ".bank" or ".safe") for some time now. We've received lots of questions and just plain criticism over the whole idea—most notably, from Larry Seltzer in his prominent blog.
So let me collect the most typical challenges to the idea, and answer them in turn. (below the jump)
The cover (sub req'd) of next week's Economist says it all: The United States is shaken up by China's rise. The Economist argues that "China is a far-from-cuddly beast; but bashing it is a bad idea." And the bashing comes from all sides, because there's plenty of material for all sides to mine. Hawks on the right worry about satellite missile tests, advanced submarine warfare capabilities, and booming military budgets. On the left, labor activists and Democrats in Congress fret about currency manipulation and the offshoring of increasingly higher job functions. The Economist, meanwhile, fears that all of this worrying will make it harder to tackle genuine problems—and opportunities—in the U.S.-China relationship.
Where you stand on China usually depends on where you sit. Consider, for instance, the panel for this sold-out "Intelligence Squared" debate event that took place in New York last night. The question up for discussion, Oxford-style, was whether "a booming China spells trouble for America."
The "trouble" side was all prominent security types: Bill Gertz, Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Times, John Mearsheimer, realist IR scholar and FP contributor, and Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon consultant and China über-hawk who was reputedly close to Donald Rumsfeld.
On the "not trouble" side of the debate were all distinguished economic and diplomatic types: Institute for International Economic fellow Daniel H. Rosen, former Dow Jones China chief James McGregor, and former U.S. Ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy.
The transcript of the debate is not yet available, so I don't know what was said. But my guess is that the two sides—military and economic/political—talked past one another, and listeners were left weighing security apples against economic oranges. The essays by Gertz vs. Rosen that ABC published before the debate suggest that to be the case. The purpose of these debates, which are funded by the Rosenkranz Foundation, is to "raise the level of public discourse on our most challenging issues." That's admirable, and the series is certainly thought-provoking. But wouldn't a nervous U.S. public be better served by head-to-head matchups (hawkish military analyst vs. dovish military analyst, for instance) so they can better judge who's right?
One country invades another to unseat a dangerous government. After the government's fall, the intervening country struggles to impose order but faces a growing refugee problem, animosity from local forces, and persistent violence. It soon tires of the commitment and begins making noises about getting its troops out. The United States in Iraq? Nope, Ethiopia in Somalia. As noted in this morning's Brief, the African Union and the United States are telling Ethiopia in no uncertain terms that they can't withdraw yet.
The US and the African Union have warned Ethiopia not to withdraw its troops from Somalia before peacekeepers are deployed to replace them. AU commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare says it would be a "catastrophe" if Ethiopia pulled out too soon.
Several years ago, international lawyers and activists developed the concept of a "responsibility to protect" vulnerable populations, often from the depredations or incapacity of their own governments. It may be time to start exploring whether and when those who have intervened have the responsibility to remain.
NATO is considering sending its armed forces to protect oil and gas facilities in the developing world. Jamie Shea, director of policy planning at the office of NATO's secretary general, made the announcement at a press conference in London earlier today.
[W]e are looking very actively at using our maritime resources... [NATO wants to see] how we can link up with oil companies."
Shea revealed that NATO had discussed the idea with private oil companies such as Dutch Royal Shell and British Petroleum (BP), the second and third largest western oil firms respectively. He also admitted to raising the idea of NATO forces protecting natural gas facilities in Qatar.
On the list of bad ideas in world relations, this ranks pretty high. When the people of a desperately poor nation (such as Nigeria) see western firms leeching their nation's mineral wealth away, they tend to draw a simple conclusion: These companies are heartless profit-seekers with no regard for human life or welfare. Sending NATO forces to protect such corporations would cement the perception that western countries care only about securing energy supplies. After all, we've tried this experiment before; the whole concept harks back to the disastrous gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century. Think again, Mr Shea!
The Department of Homeland Security publishes one of my favorite PDFs on the entire Internet: the Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report. It's a fantastic resource for finding overlooked stories, obscure government papers on security, and articles about vulnerabilities in the nation's infrastructure.
The DHS staff who put together the report must cast a wide net. Alongside the typical doomsday warnings about nuclear plant security, tainted food supplies, and avian flu outbreaks are articles that would look right at home on News of the Weird. Here are a few stories that have been flagged as "significant critical infrastructure issues" since May 1:
Back on March 27th, we highlighted the fact that shortages of processed uranium have been driving the price of nuclear fuel to near-record levels in recent months. Now, The Washington Times reports that the price of uranium has jumped another 19 percent in just the last two weeks.
It hasn't been the best week for the nuclear industry. The Washington Post reports:
More than 500 security guards at the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly plant walked off the job just after midnight yesterday to protest what they said is a steep deterioration in job and retirement security since the government changed fitness standards for weapons-plant guards in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The contractor at the plant, BWXT Pantex in Carson County, Tex., replaced the striking guards with a contingency force that it says will secure the plant's weapons, nuclear materials and explosives as long as necessary.
"Contingency force?" That's reassuring. I guess it sounds better than "second string" or "substitute."
No doubt the U.S. State Department hopes the controversial new e-passports that FP wrote about in The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006 will go down more smoothly with a spoonful of patriotism.
That may be why the design of the new travel documents features less-than-subtle U.S. imagery, with famous quotes interspersed with icons from the country's founding era like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and even—in a move that privacy advocates will find particularly galling—a scan of the heading from the famous preamble to the Constitution on the signature page. But look at it this way: At last, ordinary U.S. citizens can imagine what it was like to be one of the founding fathers.
(Hat tip: Kottke)
Despite efforts to stem the global trade in narcotics—indeed, often because of them—new trade routes are emerging around the world, posing challenges to authorities and local populations alike. In this week's List, FP takes a look at the newest battlegrounds in the global war on drugs.
They include new transit points for cocaine bound for the United States and Europe, such as Venezuela and West Africa, new production locales for methamphetamines in Mexico, and a familiar foe that's using the heroin trade to regain a foothold in Afghanistan. All these new fronts are leaving a trail of addiction and violence in their wake. And all exemplify one of the most frustrating dilemmas of international counter-drug efforts: Just as one area seems safe from the cartels, another battle is always around the corner. Check it out.
Think separatist violence in Europe is a thing of the past? Think again.
Europol, the police arm of the European Union, today released its first Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. It makes for interesting reading. The 44-page report reviews and analyzes terrorist attacks and terrorism-related arrests in 2006 within EU member states. Nearly 500 attacks took place in the EU in 2006, most of them small incidents with limited damage. Of these, the vast majority—424 attacks—were carried out by Basque and Corsican separatist movements in France and Spain. Another 55 attacks were pulled off by left-wing and anarchist terrorists, whose focus was Greece, Italy, Spain, and Germany.
As the report observes, however, it's Islamist terror that really scares the authorities due to its focus on mass casualties. Only one Islamist attack was attempted in Europe last year, the so-called suitcase bomb plot that failed to blow up two German commuter trains in July. But that doesn't mean the threat isn't real: 257 of the 706 terrorism-related arrests in the 15 member states that provided data were of Islamists, most of them North Africans. UK officials did not fork over their data, but the report notes that public information would put the UK right up there with France, which arrested 139 Islamist terrorist suspects in 2006.
What I want to know is: What explains the differences in strategy between the separatists—"whose attacks resulted only in material damage and were not intended to kill," according to the report—and the Islamists, whose aim is clearly to kill as many civilians as possible? Is it due to the inherent differences in the causes themselves? Differences in ideology? The particular evolution of the various groups involved? Why haven't Basque and Corsican separatists decided that mass murder is the way to go? Or would the Islamists garner more sympathy by focusing on small, mostly symbolic attacks?
Wired's defense blogger Noah Shachtman reports some astonishing news:
Torrential rains wiped out a quarter of the U.S.' intercontinental ballistic missile interceptors in Ft. Greely, Alaska last summer -- right when North Korea was preparing to carry out an advanced missile launch, according to documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight.
What happened? Massive flooding damaged the missile silos that house the missile interceptors. Nobody expected torrential downpours to be an issue in Ft. Greely, Alaska, and so the silos weren't adequately protected.
As for Boeing, the chief contractor for the site, Shachtman notes that the goof may actually work in its favor:
POGO blames Boeing for being "at least partly responsible for failing to protect the silos" from the elements. Nevertheless, the watchdog group observes, the company "will most likely still receive an estimated $38 million to repair the silos and a $100 million no-bid contract to build more silos. Boeing would also receive a $7 million award fee added to the contract."
That's probably par for the course in the U.S. defense contracting business, which bears an increasing resemblance, at least superficially, to the old Soviet procurement system. The real question is: How many other critical U.S. defense systems are vulnerable to freak weather incidents? Because if the scientists are right about global warming, we may see a lot more of these types of problems.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner's response and POGO's rebuttal.
Today marks the fifteenth annual World Water Day, first designated by the United Nations in 1992. This year's theme though, "Coping with Water Scarcity," is hardly celebratory, and reflects a growing global concern about the steady drip of bad news for water supplies.
Water scarcity and its implications for global stability is one of the most critical, yet least discussed, issues of our generation. As Sandra Postel and Aaron Wolf reported in FP way back in 2001, more than fifty countries on five continents are facing severe water crises that could spiral into military conflicts. By the time the article was written, the renewable water supply per person had dropped by almost sixty percent since 1950. And it gets worse:
By 2015, nearly three billion people - 40 percent of the projected world population - are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize enough water to satisfy the food, industrial, and domestic needs of their citizens. This scarcity will translate into heightened competition for water between cities and farms, between neighboring states and provinces, and at times between nations.
Unlike with oil, there is no substitute for fresh water. Have a nice day.
The BBC aired an interview yesterday with General Abdul Hussein Al Safee, chief of the Dhi Qhar province police forces in Iraq's Shiite south. Safee complained that at least one third of his forces are impossible to control because they're loyal to local militias, and that 300 to 400 of his officers were completely illiterate.
Army Colonel Ed Brown, the British officer in charge of "strategic oversight" of Iraqi police in the province, takes the long view:
There is a level of violence here, but that is life in Iraq. It's been like this for thousands of years. It's not going to change."
In a recent FP cover story, The Bomb in the Backyard, nuke experts Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis showed that for just a few million dollars, terrorists could purchase highly enriched uranium on the black market and basic military supplies on the Internet and— voilà—have a nuclear bomb.
To stop this nightmare scenario, U.S. border officials must be able to detect smuggled uranium at the border. That's extraordinarily difficult, explains Steve Coll in a recent piece for the New Yorker, because, "unless it is being compressed to explode, highly enriched uranium is a low-energy isotope that does not emit much radioactivity."
Undaunted, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has promised to shell out $1 billion on "next generation" monitors at port and border checkpoints in order to catch illicit uranium. But in its zeal to shell out some cash, DHS has conveniently overlooked the fact that its new detection monitors don't really work.
A stinging new GAO report shows DHS essentially lying to Congress by asserting that its new monitors were 95 percent effective in detecting smuggled uranium. (Congress had insisted on seeing increases in operational effectiveness before cutting the check for new monitors.) But in truth, the new monitors detected uranium around 70 percent of the time. And when it came to "masked" or hidden uranium, the best new monitors worked only half the time.
So why the discrepancy between the actual and the reported figures? DHS explained to the GAO that "they relied on the assumption that they will reach that [high] level of performance sometime in the future."
Because why have real results when you can make them up?
With 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and U.S. "lily-pad" bases scattered over Central Asia, that region is pretty much closed to renewed Russian expansion, right?
Not quite. While the West has committed much blood and treasure to trying to secure Afghanistan with mixed success, the Russians have been quietly building support among other regional governments. One vehicle has been the Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The grouping has moved ahead with plans to establish a regional air defense system, according to Euraisanet's Sergei Blagov. And it's developing tighter military and political ties in general, à la NATO. Now it's also in discussions with Afghanistan to train military and police personnel in Russia and sell it Russian-made weapons:
If the intensified cooperation between Kabul and the security organization unfolds as envisioned by CSTO officials, it would mark a significant geopolitical setback for US interests in Central Asia ... US inattention to Afghan reconstruction has played a role in the revival of the Taliban insurgency in the country. This, in turn, has created an opening for Russia to establish a security presence in the country ...
The big open question, though, is: what's China's role? It's interesting that Russia is pushing forward the CSTO; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a different group with a mostly overlapping membership but dominated by Beijing, has in the past been much more active. Is China being shouldered aside in Central Asia too?
It seems like a stupid question, doesn't it?
Of course al Qaeda has a strategy, right? Al Qaeda masterminds have published long tracts spelling out the latest master plan for the glorious victory of the jihad. The best known of these is al Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri's rambling Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, which urges the global jihad to shift its focus from the "near enemy" (Arab regimes) to the "far enemy" (America). Zawahiri's goal was to get jihadists from Morocco to Indonesia to push the Great Satan out of the Islamic world so that the region's governments would lose their main protector. Other jihadi theorists may have since become more influential, but the basic "far enemy first" approach remains unchallenged, according to experts.
Beyond that, however, there's actually very little consensus on the details of al Qaeda's strategy in counterterrorism circles, just as there is no widespread agreement as to what motivates terrorists, or even what they might attack next. A recent RAND study tried to get at this last problem:
Each year, the federal, state, local, and tribal governments spend billions of dollars protecting the United States and U.S. property against acts of terrorism, with human, military,and capital resources allocated in ways that reflect the value and vulnerability of each venue to be protected. Yet those buildings, institutions,and icons perceived as being of utmost value to the United States may not be perceived as such to its potential attackers; the country, in other words, may be protecting its buffalo when really it is the goats that are at risk.
(This is an optimistic reading of how Homeland Security dollars are really allocated, but DHS is the client and you don't bite the hand that feeds ya.) The authors then go on to surmise that since al Qaeda is "a goal-driven organization," we should be able to divine its likely points of attack.
As I was reading the study, I was reminded of a famous quote from a Lou Reed song, "Some Kinda Love": "Between thought and expression there lies a lifetime." That is to say, just because al Qaeda has a written plan of action doesn't mean they're able to operationalize it. The real world is much more complicated than a piece of paper, and sometimes you just have to take the opportunities that come your way. So, in looking for patterns in the 14 terrorist attacks it studied, RAND may be prescribing a level of rationality where there is none. By the end, the authors have come to the same basic conclusion:
Thus, while a study such as this might shed light on what the adversary may be thinking, and the consequences of such thoughts, it cannot be used to rule out an attack of one form or another. The next attack may well take place in Ohio even if there are reasons to believe that Ohio (or most of the other 50 states) is not particularly favored for an attack.
Isn't that comforting?
The following are excerpts from reports on military plans of the Taliban that were aired on Al Jazeera TV on February 21 and 22, 2007:
Reporter: The fighters of the Afghani Taliban movement are in a real race against time. The spring offensive - for which the movement is preparing by means of training, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and with which the NATO forces threatened [the Taliban] – is imminent, according to the movement's leaders. This is a diligent movement, which operates at night more than by day, away from any surveillance or reconnaissance. The movement's leaders said that the attack would include all of Afghanistan, but that it would focus on the south, in order to take control of entire cities.
Taliban Military Commander Mullah Dadallah (translated into Arabic): There are 6,000 Taliban mujahideen ready to fight in the spring campaign, and the number will rise to 10,000. The greater the number of Jewish and Christian forces fighting us, the more this will encourage the people to join us.
Reporter: The Taliban says it has obtained a new anti-aircraft weapon, but it did not go into details. As proof, it presented Al Jazeera with footage in which one sees what they say is an American military helicopter burning, after it was downed in Kandahar about two months ago. [...]
Reporter: In a noteworthy development, the Afghani Taliban movement presented what it called its "new weapon," which will confront NATO's lethal weapons. This is the weapon of suicide operations. Taliban military commander [Mullah] Dadallah used this gathering to recruit over 500 suicide bombers for the coming spring campaign, which he promised would be bloody. He stressed that the Taliban is capable of multiplying their numbers.
View the entire transcript.
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