In Somalia, that is. Four hundred Ugandan soldiers arrived at Mogadishu airport yesterday, where they were greeted by representatives of Somalia's decidedly fragile interim government—and by a few mortar shells. The Ugandans are the leading edge of what's supposed to be an 8,000-strong African Union (AU) force to bolster the new government. The U.S. taxpayer footed the bill for the Ugandans' flight. That's the model the U.S. and Europe have been pushing for peacekeeping in Africa for some time now. The Africans provide the troops, and the West provides logistics and transport.
Unfortunately, the signs are that the AU may be just about tapped out as a source of peacekeepers for the continent. Malawi, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria have pledged a total of about 4,000 bodies, but it's not clear where the rest of the troops will come from. South Africa has already pleaded exhaustion.
The Somalia force may not have a full complement of soldiers, but it does have the services of Dyncorp, the ubiquitous military contractor (the company is also helping eradicate opium in Afghanistan). And lest anyone sound alarm bells about contracting out to mercenaries, Dyncorp is making clear that it's there for logistics only (and, indeed, most of what these companies do is provide very unsexy logistics support).
DynCorp spokesman Greg Lagana confirmed that the Virginia-based firm had been contracted until April to help with the "moving of supplies and people" engaged in the Somalia mission, including supplying tents, vehicles and generators.
If only they could provide a troop-generator.
War was averted yesterday in Europe, London's Guardian reports. In an uncharacteristically aggressive move, the likes of which have not been seen in Western Europe in decades, a Swiss infantry patrol accidentally invaded Liechtenstein. In spite of Switzerland's reputation for skilled and reliable mountaineering, 170 soldiers accidentally wandered across the border separating the two states. After about a mile into the tiny principality of 34,000, the Swiss realized where they were, turned around, and went back home.
The patrol did carry arms, but had no ammunition. However, Liechtensteinians could have been forgiven had they felt threatened; each soldier packed a legendary (and lethal?) Swiss army knife. Fortunately, the crisis has been peaceably resolved, with Liechtenstein pledging no retaliation for the territorial incursion. Which is probably a good thing, since Liechtenstein doesn't have a military.
The Department of Homeland Security proposed guidelines yesterday for its REAL ID program (pdf) towards the standardization of state identification cards. States have to begin issuing the so-called domestic "internal passports" by May 2008, otherwise people may not be able to board airplanes or enter federal courthouses. The regulations deal with all sorts of complex matters, like how databases from different states will interact and what the required elements will be on the face of an ID card.
These regulations aren't enforceable yet. There's a clause allowing for states to apply for an extension to 2010. And Congress could pass bills in the meantime that would make the regulations moot. But if they indeed are implemented, it could cost states and individuals $23 billion over 10 years. And it means that if your driver's license expires, you won't be able to renew it by mail. You'll probably have to go to the DMV in person (and, naturally, wait in line for hours), and bring lots of supporting documentation with you to prove that you are really who you say you are.
Civil liberty activists believe that this is just the first step towards a national identification card, and are concerned about invasion of privacy. I get that concern, I really do. But put me in the camp of people who believe that we more or less have a national ID system in place anyway, with social security numbers and passports and whatnot. And having lived abroad in countries where there is a national ID card, I can't say that people in those countries feel that their liberties are infringed upon. But whatever your thoughts on a national ID card, one thing's for sure. This is just further proof of the paradoxical beliefs of the American people: no one's more simultaneously patriotic yet distrustful of their own government.
(Hat tip: boingboing)
Diplomats from five capitals emerged in Beijing this week with what appears to be a long-awaited deal with North Korea. The trade-off? In the first 60 days, North Korea would give up its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for roughly 50,000 tons of fuel oil, or its equivalent in economic aid (Passport will have more on the specifics later today). The agreement comes exactly four months and four days after North Korea's groundbreaking nuclear test. Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill, who seems to have won over some fans in China, called the breakthrough "a very solid step forward."
Not everyone sees it that way. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been the most vocal critic, saying that he would be the "saddest man in Washington" were President Bush to follow through on the agreement. To Bolton, among others, the deal is nothing more than a reward for Pyongyang's intransigence, a Pyhrric victory that comes three years, eight nuclear bombs, and one nuclear test too late.
So which is it? For this week's Seven Questions, we asked Robert Gallucci, dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and the diplomat who signed the 1994 accord with North Korea, to weigh in with his thoughts on this very early agreement. His take?
We now are in a situation where we’re saying, “OK, we’ll go step by step with [North Korea]. We’ll provide some of the benefits you want, and you’ll provide some of the restraint that we want.” So we are on a track now that could lead to the ultimate dismantlement of their nuclear weapons programs. It’s a new and better position to be in.
Check out the entire interview here.
If you're an Iraqi in Baghdad who's just trying to stay alive—and you have access to a networked computer—where do you turn for advice? The Internet: Web sites are now offering up tips on how to not get killed. Here's a digest of some of the best recommendations:
Special advice for Sunnis
That day happened to be Tuesday, which, hilariously, was also Safer Internet Day. Three of the Internet's 13 root servers—the brain stem of the World Wide Web, controlling traffic and site identification—came under sustained attack from a massive network of zombie computers. Hackers essentially tried to overwhelm the system with massive amounts of data, targeting servers operated by the U.S. Department of Defense and ICANN, the Internet's overseer. Analysts say the fact that the vast majority of Internet users barely noticed shows the resiliency of the Web. Meanwhile, computer scientists all over the globe were racing to overcome the threat and trying to track down its origins. It's still unclear where most of the remotely controlled computers used in the attack were based, but initial evidence puts many of them in South Korea.
Bringing down a few root servers would be catastrophic for the web, the global economy, communications, you name it. What's troubling about this attack was its size; it's the biggest sustained attack on the Internet since 2002. But the fact that the servers kept humming in the face of tidal waves of data designed to bring them to their knees is also reassuring. Hackers will need to up the ante next time.
(Hat tip: Security Fix)
That's the sorrowful message currently at the homepage of Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network program whose inane show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, set off a bomb scare in Boston with a guerrilla marketing campaign that involved using Lite Brite-like boxes attached to buildings.
But the guys involved are sending a different message entirely through their behavior:
The two men accused of plunging metropolitan Boston into a panic with illuminated advertisements for a cartoon pleaded not guilty today in a courtroom packed with supporters and a crush of reporters.
The two men smiled broadly throughout much of the brief proceeding as Assistant Attorney General John Grossman described the battery-powered characters as "bomb-like devices." The men, Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, face charges of placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct.
The posting of pictures purporting to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin's private jet set off a small furor in Russia today, and somebody may be in big trouble with Vlad's security people. The photos were uploaded to the Livejournal account of somebody nicknamed "hectop," and then later linked by ür-blogger Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. They show that someone, if not Putin himself, really likes burled walnut paneling and gold accents:
I did some digging to try and verify whether these photos are legit, and here's what I've found so far. Putin's plane, an Ilyushin 96-300, was refurbished back in 2001 by a firm in Bristol in the United Kingdom known as Diamonite Aircraft Furnishings Ltd for £10m. Diamonite's preliminary drawing (pdf) from the time looks an awful lot like the style of the plane's conference room in one of the leaked photos, so they could well be real:
Kommersant, an online Russian daily, reports that after a Russian newspaper's republication of the photos, "Russian special services have shown interests [sic] to the blog which posted the pictures."
The person who posted the snapshots insists that they show Putin’s aircraft. He declined to name the source. Speaking to Kommersant, the man introduced himself as Yury and said he lives in the United States. Yury says that Russian intelligence services have shown interest to the pictures as he has noticed their e-protocols in his blog. “I emailed them to give information about these pictures,” he told Kommersant. “It’s up to them whether to give it to Voronezh Aircraft or not.
Voronezh Aircraft’s director general said the information about “such a top-security objective as the president’s aircraft ought to be closely guarded.”
And we know what happens when Russian special services show interests in individuals. What started out as poking fun at Putin's grotesque taste could well end up getting someone in deep trouble. As for Putin himself, it'll be interesting to see if the Russian public reacts to the photos like some Venezuelans did back in 2002, when they discovered the luxuriousness of Hugo Chávez's own private IL-96-300.
Powered by Chinese engines and firing Chinese precision−guided missiles, the locally built Jian−10 has "allowed China to become the fourth country in the world" to have developed such a capability, "narrowing the gap with advanced nations," boasted Geng Ruguang, deputy general manager of the plane's manufacturer, Avic−I.
The latest fruit of a military modernization drive that has produced an indigenous Chinese nuclear attack submarine, early warning aircraft, frigates and destroyers, cruise missiles, and computerized command and control systems, the Jian−10 is "a decisive step by China toward becoming an aviation power," the official Xinhua news agency declared.
China shocked the world today when news broke that it blew up an aging weather satellite last week to test its new missile system. Back in October, space security expert Theresa Hitchens told FP of a "rhetorical space race" between the United States and China:
There are those in congress and in this administration who see China as the peer competitor. The Pentagon has, in its document on China's military power, highlighted China's research efforts in the area of space. It claims that the Chinese are probably trying to build anti-satellite weapons.
If you look at Chinese documents, they very much view the United States as a potential adversary in space. They see U.S. policies as trying to contain and block China’s progress as a space power. And second, they also see the value [...] of disrupting U.S. space capabilities in any war over Taiwan. So what we're seeing, particularly on the part of the militaries in both countries, is the development of a Cold War-like psychology.
The rhetorical space race may have just become a reality. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reassures us that "there's no need to feel threatened about this." And today's Times story leans heavily toward the optimistic interpretation that China wants to jolt the United States into negotiating a ban on space weapons. That led Passport's Davis Bosco to write in, "Couldn't the NYT's reporters find anyone willing to offer up the less forgiving explanation: that China actually wants the military capability to threaten satellites?"
John Steinbruner, chairman of the Arms Control Association board and a leading expert on this subject, agrees with the overall thrust of the Times piece. But he told Passport that there may nevertheless be reason to worry:
Why are the Chinese doing this now, and why are they doing it such a dramatic fashion? It's not their usual style. And that is itself both puzzling an disturbing. One would have expected a great deal more subtlety from them, and it runs the risk of validating the Bush administration's contentions. So, it's hard to imagine a benign logic that would lead them to this, and in that sense it's pretty worrisome.
The world has moved closer to doomsday, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a larger failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth.
As in past deliberations, we have examined other human-made threats to civilization. We have concluded that the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause drastic harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival.
As a result, the Bulletin has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock two ticks clockwise, to 5 minutes before midnight. Midnight, of course, being when we all die.
The clock was started in 1947 by the organization as a way to dramatize the dangers in the nuclear arms race. It debuted at 11:53, and has been adjusted 18 times. Total annihilation was deemed closest in 1953 following the detonation of the first thermonuclear explosives; after the Soviet Union's fall in 1991, mankind was a full 17 minutes away from destruction.
The Bulletin may be losing some historical perspective here. It's hard to believe that we're actually closer to Armageddon now than we were for more than half of the Cold War. And as scary as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il may be, the world is actually a more peaceful place than it ever has been.
The FBI just released a survey of 496 agents regarding "aggressive mistreatment, interrogations or interview techniques" they may have witnessed at Guantanamo. Here's a sample of what they found, in the report’s own words:
- On several occasions, witness saw detainees in interrogation rooms chained hand and foot in fetal position to floor w/no chair/ food/water; most urinated or defecated on selves, and were left there 18, 24 hrs or more.
- [Air conditioning] was off so the unventilated room was over 100 degrees, detainee was almost unconscious on floor with a pile of hair next to him (he had apparently been pulling it out throughout the night).
- Civilian contractor asked witness to come see something. There was an unknown bearded longhaired detainee gagged w/duct tape that covered much of his head. [FBI agent] asked if he had spit at interrogators, and the contractor laughingly replied that detainee had been chanting the Koran nonstop. No answer to how they planned to remove the duct tape.
- Rumors that interrogator bragged about doing lap dance on detainee, another about making detainee listen to satanic black metal music for hours then dressing as a Priest and baptizing detainee to save him - handwritten note says "yes"
(Hat Tip: Quizlaw)
Peter Singer, blogging from the Brookings Institution next door to FP, just posted a fascinating piece at Defensetech.org. Singer found a tiny clause inserted in the Pentagon's fiscal year 2007 budget legislation that strips contractors of their immunity in the battlefield.
The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that "Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war' and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation'." The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).
Here's how the change works: In the past, contractors could only be tried in military courts if war had officially been declared. Since the U.S. has not declared war in 65 years, contractors were able to run amok, with little chance of being brought to justice. But the new law adds military jurisdiction under the new classification of “contingency operation.” Singer explains:
With the addition of just five words in the law, contractors now can fall under the purview of the military justice system. This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men).
The amazing thing is that the change in the legal code is so succinct and easy to miss (one sentence in a 439-page bill, sandwiched between a discussion on timely notice of deployments and a section ordering that the next of kin of medal of honor winners get flags) that it has so far gone completely unnoticed in the few weeks since it became the law of the land. Not only has the media not yet reported on it. Neither have military officers or even the lobbyists paid by the military industry to stay on top of these things.
Iran's oil industry could completely collapse by 2015, according to Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University. Stern writes in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (not available online) that Iran's failure to reinvest in its oil infrastructure is resulting in a 10 to 12 percent annual decline in oil revenue. Surveying their oil debacle, Stern believes Iran's desire for nuclear technology for power generation is genuine, and that the U.S. should just "hold its breath" until Tehran's position softens.
What they are doing to themselves is much worse than anything we could do," he said.
The one thing that would unite the country right now is to bomb them," Stern said. "Here is one problem that might solve itself."
Somali interim government troops backed by the Ethiopian military have taken Mogadishu:
Crowds lined the streets of the bullet-scarred coastal capital as the Western-backed interim government's prime minister drove in smiling and waving.
But the Islamists' retreat from Mogadishu does not herald their defeat just yet:
In the north of the city, Ethiopian army trucks drove on without responding to a barrage of stones. The demonstrators set fire to tyres in the road and chanted anti-Ethiopian slogans.
"I am against these infidels coming to my country," said 21-year-old protester Ubah Mohamed, who was wearing a veil. "We will even go as far as to become suicide bombers," she said, as a group of young men standing around her noisily agreed.
Asked how long Ethiopian troops would remain in Somalia, Gedi said: "They will stay until we send them back to their country." Many fear a guerrilla war by the Islamists.
An Islamist leader told the BBC: "Since Ethiopia started using air power and heavy artillery, we have changed our tactics and are getting ready for a long war."
Expect more bloodshed.
With news of car bombings and sectarian violence dominating news out of Iraq every day, 32 deaths wouldn't even seem to make a dent in the toll there this year. But 32 journalists have died in Iraq since January 1, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists special report. That makes 2006 the deadliest year for journalists in any country the organization has ever recorded. What's more, the New York-based organization reports that most of these deaths are murders, not just accidental, caught-in-the crossfire deaths.
It's more than just a troubling sign of the downward spiral in the country. It's a sign that the most important stories—good and bad—will be reported less thoroughly and adequately. Take the lengths CBS News reporter Elizabeth Palmer (no relation) recently said she and other correspondents have resorted to:
We now have the 15-minute rule: We never stay anywhere longer than 15 minutes."
Not even the best journalists can do their jobs properly with only that amount of time. The Columbia Journalism Review's November/December issue tackles the issue in depth, asking 47 reporters who've covered the country for their take on being a journalist in the most dangerous country for their profession this year. For a first-hand account of telling the story of the war, take a look at "Into the Abyss: Reporting Iraq 2003-2006: An Oral History." Here's a grim preview from The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad:
So this debate accusing the media of not conveying the good news is such a — I mean do those people know what we are digging through when we go to Iraq? Just flying into Baghdad, driving, just doing the simplest, the basic, simple things, just being in Baghdad, existing in Baghdad is one of the most dangerous things you can do in your life, let alone covering it. So the effort we put into writing a story, any simple story, is enormous. And none of us, I don’t know any journalist who accepts taking such a risk just to manipulate the truth or write the bad news because you have this hidden agenda. People are getting killed on a sectarian basis. People are leaving their neighborhoods. Militias are roaming the streets; despots are functioning in Iraq. People are getting kidnapped; people are getting killed. Everyone’s getting killed: barbers, bakers, professors, officers, insurgents, Americans — everyone’s getting killed. So what are you going to write?
Think you've got the best trip-from-hell story? Right now, a few hundred air passengers in Spain probably have you beat. They are stranded in airports across Spain because their airline, Air Madrid, went bust on Friday, leaving hundreds without flights home for the holidays.
I myself had a particularly hellish journey over Thanksgiving weekend (thanks, United), but nothing quite as dire. The one item that provided a little humor during my many hours in various airports: the "Prohibited Carry-on Items" box at the Bloomington, Illinois, airport. This glass box was chock full of what can only be described as torture implements: Carving knives, swords, nunchukas, brass knuckles, brass knuckles with blades, throwing stars, poison, you name it. What was missing was the piece of leftover Thanksgiving pie that the security officers confiscated from the woman in front of me, citing its 'gelatin' consistency as a security risk.
Apparently, it still needs to be spelled out to people that their nunchukas aren't allowed inside the plane cabin. Before you fly this holiday season, do check out the TSA site on prohibited items, if only for comedic effect. They've covered just about every question you may have about what you can carry onto a plane.
For instance, TSA specifically lists the following as prohibited carry-on items, no doubt because someone, somewhere has tried to board a plane with them:
There are many more, so do check it out. I will point out that the TSA doesn't specifically mention mice, though perhaps they should after this little mishap this week. They have, however, taken the time to address one very important threat:
Snow globes regardless of size or amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on. Please ship these items or pack them in your checked baggage.
I assume this means that even my John Ashcroft snow globe would be a prohibited item. I'll have to wrap it extra carefully.
The administration is blocking the publication of a New York Times op-ed written by two former government employees, saying that it contains classified information. But Flynt Leverett, one of the coauthors, claims the real reason the article is being blocked is because it criticizes U.S. policy toward Iran. According to an official statement by Leverett, the CIA had already cleared the contents of the Century Foundation white paper "Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options toward Iran" that he used as the basis for his op-ed. What was in there?
These matters include Iran's dialogue and cooperation with the United States concerning Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and Iran's offer to negotiate a comprehensive ‘grand bargain’ with the United States in the spring of 2003,” Leverett’s official statement said.
About the above issues, the Century Foundation paper says the following:
While it may be classified, none of this is news. I mentioned Iran’s dislike for and help in toppling the Taliban here. In this article, Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes regular meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials from “the Taliban days” until May 2003 that, although held with a third party present, were essentially bilateral. And the Financial Times broke the story on Iran’s offer to discuss its nuclear program in July of 2003.
The site may be chugging along today, but the content doesn't stop at FP.
We've got a new piece from Debra Decker, research associate at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Decker argues that since it's easier than ever for terrorists to acquire nuclear material (the focus of the cover story in our most recent issue), the world needs a new strategy of deterrence. What could help keep the right ingredients out of the wrong hands? Giving bombs birth certificates.
They think of everything over at Apple. Want to watch The Office on your morning commute? iTunes has you covered. Want to turn your run into a high-tech profile of your fitness routine? Nike and iPod can help you. But protect your privacy? That's a bit trickier.
The new Nike+ sport kit for the iPod Nano, which launched earlier this year, uses a sensor to transmit information from a (specially designed) shoe to a Nano, and informs you how far you've traveled and how many calories you've burned. But what are you giving up for all that convenience and data? According to the BBC, more than you think:
A team of computer science researchers from the University of Washington has scrutinized the runner's aid and found that it "fails to offer even the most basic level of user privacy." [...] Once activated the sensor broadcasts continuously and nothing is done to encrypt the signal to hide it from eavesdroppers... The unique identifier could be tracked up to 20 metres away outdoors and at speeds up to 30 mph.
The researchers tested ways to intercept the data from the transmitters using one's own receivers. They speculated that if stalkers or thieves were to employ the devices, the receivers could be used to monitor targets' activities and locations. What is even more worrying is that surveys conducted showed that "most people who use the iPod Sport kit turn the sensor on, slip it in their running shoe and never turn it off." Professor Tadayoshi Kohno, who is part of the research team at the University of Washington expresses futher concern:
This situation begs the broader question: as manufacturers continue to introduce other new, sophisticated technological personal gadgets, will these gadgets erode our privacy even further? More importantly, what can we do about that?
Apparently, when it comes to iPods, privacy is sold separately.
If anyone is aghast that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert let slip the worst kept secret in international affairs - that Israel is a nuclear state - perhaps they should turn their sights on another blabbermouth: Bob Gates. During Gates's Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing last Tuesday, the nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as SecDef also let the "secret" slip:
SEN. GRAHAM: The president of Iran has publicly disavowed the existence of the Holocaust, he has publicly stated that he would like to wipe Israel off the map. Do you think he's kidding?
MR. GATES: No, I don't think he's kidding. And -- but I think that there are, in fact, higher powers in Iran than he, than the president. And I think that while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons -- Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf --
As Blake noted in this morning's brief, former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar is convinced that he was poisoned while in Dublin in late November. He's equally convinced that Russian authorities aren't behind it, a conclusion in stark contrast to that of deceased spy Alexander Litvinenko, who accused Putin of murder from his deathbed. Gaidar (a contributing editor to FP) gives his poisoning tell-all to the FT today, and he has a theory as to who is behind his attempted murder:
After the death of Alexander Litvinenko on November 23 in London, another violent death of a famous Russian on the following day is the last thing that the Russian authorities would want....Most likely that means that some obvious or hidden adversaries of the Russian authorities stand behind the scenes of this event, those who are interested in further radical deterioration of relations between Russia and the west.
With news that traces of the radioactive isotope that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, polonium-210, are being found all over London, there's a lot of curiousity about just how hard it is to get your hands on the stuff. The Times of London recently reported that polonium is so difficult to come by that the killer must have been "well resourced and possibly state-sponsored."
Or the killer could have had an Internet connection. It turns out polonium-210 is available online for just $69 plus shipping and handling. United Nuclear Scientific Equipment & Supplies out of New Mexico, which describes itself as putting "the fun back into science" and "not like shopping at K-Mart," sells the stuff. Still, they don't do international orders and stress that the samples they sell are so small that they are completely harmless and, indeed, invisible to the naked eye. Because of all the adverse media attention on polonium-210 in recent days, United Nuclear has posted the following on their isotopes page:
You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million - to have a toxic amount…
If that is a tad out of your range for your enemies list, United Nuclear wants to make sure you have options:
[T]here are dozens of other far more toxic materials, such as Ricin and Abrin, both of which can easily be made, and are also undetectable as a poison and untraceable. Although it obviously works, Polonium-210 is a poor choice for a poison. Another point to keep in mind is that an order for 15,000 sources would look a tad suspicious, considering we sell about 1 or 2 sources every 3 months.
Still, keep them in mind for holiday gifts. You could just tell everyone on your list that you got them polonium-210 samples. After all, they won't be able to see them. It's kind of a George Constanza thing to do. Skip the donation to the Human Fund this year and just get everyone "invisible" isotopes.
Ahead of a major Nato summit in Riga, which commenced today, President Bush attacked Nato members who are reluctant to send their troops into some of Afghanistan's most dangerous areas, charging that they must engage in "difficult assignments." Under the agreement to aid in security and reconstruction, several member states, including Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, are allowed to choose which operations they wish to undertake.
Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac has written a column in today's Guardian in support of boosting national contributions to Nato operations in order to ease Nato's reliance on the United States. Chirac also makes the push for a stronger European influence in Nato, and proposes methods of how and why Nato must adapt. Ahead of a summit that will likely be dominated by Nato involvement in Afghanistan, Chirac also offers his idea of what is needed in order to succeed in the operation,
To bring about the conditions for success [in Afghanistan], we must act in the framework of a comprehensive strategy, a reaffirmed political and economic process. The establishment of a contact group encompassing countries in the region, the principal countries involved and international organisations along the lines of what exists in Kosovo is, I think, necessary to give our forces the means to succeed in their mission in support of the Afghan authorities, and refocus the alliance on military operations.
The shooting death of Lebanese Minister Pierre Gemayel and the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko were the most prominent political murders of 2006. But, as this week's FP List shows, their assassinations aren't the only ones setting off political crises and stoking intrigue around the world. The truly sad part: This List of political killings is hardly exhaustive. Picking off an opponent or political foe is still a tragically common way of redrawing the political landscape in many countries.
Though still under dispute, a growing number of American scholars, leaders, and policy analysts, believe that Iraq does indeed meet the standard definition of a civil war. Accordingly,
...[S]ome scholars now say civil war began when the Americans transferred sovereignty to an appointed Iraqi government in June 2004. That officially transformed the anti-American war into one of insurgent groups seeking to regain power for disenfranchised Sunni Arabs against an Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and increasingly dominated by Shiites.
Analysts also claim that with the amount of casualties suffered in Iraq, the war is on par with civil conflicts in Burundi and Bosnia. Nicholas Sambanis of Yale remarks,
It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don’t see how people can avoid calling it a civil war...The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945.
The significance of such definitional disputes are not limited only to semantics. Titling Iraq a civil war may have significant impacts on American foreign policy - according to the NYT, acknowledgement by the White House would mean an admission of failure of the administration's policy in Iraq. Furthermore, it might also encourage a greater demand for withdrawal from the public, who may view the role of American troops redundant in the context of a civil war. Just today, MSNBC announced that it is now referring to the war in Iraq as a civil war.
Do not miss the incredible photographs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has assembled for its exhibit on Darfur, Our Walls Bear Witness. If you are in Washington, D.C., over the next few days, be sure to head to the museum, which is projecting dozens of photographs of the escalating violence in Darfur onto the facade of the building each evening. It's a fantastic project, and I hope it spurs much-needed attention to the crisis in Sudan. Many kudos to the photographers who have brought these powerful images back.
Anxiety about China is a favorite Indian pastime. Whether it's China's proliferation of missile technology to Pakistan or its lead in the economic race, China's rise is matched with a rise in Indian apprehension.
Exhibit A: The current uproar in India over a TV interview by the Chinese ambassador, in which he said that his country "claims" the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese maps have claimed the area as "South Tibet" since at least 1962. Negotiations have gone nowhere over the years. Despite being separated by the tallest wall in the world, the Himalayas, the two countries are still without a mutually-defined border. But last year the two countries signed a deal and relations seemed to be moving forward.
But the ambassador's statement is causing some Indian commentators like Brahma Chellaney to renew their charges that there's a pattern of Chinese expansionism at play. In his article, "Autocratic China becoming Arrogant," Chellaney writes:
[The ambassador's statement] brings out clearly that China is unwilling to settle the border issue on the basis of the status quo. Not satisfied with the Indian territories it has occupied, either by conquest or by covert encroachment, Beijing wishes to further redraw the frontiers with India, even as it keeps up the charade of border negotiations."
It's unclear whether the offending statement was a gaffe or an intentional attempt to put pressure on the ongoing border negotiations. But as far as gaffes go, it was a pretty big one. Witness some of the editorials it set off: "Tackling the Mandarins," "Why I remain wary of China," and "China: Not Trustworthy." The ambassador's timing is also terrible. Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit India later this month to discuss trade relations and the statement is likely to hang over his visit like a dark cloud. He was expected to raise the issue of Indian restrictions against Chinese firms with ties to the People's Liberation Army. India has refused to let one such Chinese company submit a bid on a harbor reconstruction project because the same company was also building a Chinese port in Gadwar, Pakistan. It seems Hu Jintao, who in the last year has done some stellar traveling diplomacy, will have his work cut out for him in India.
It's no secret that the Bush administration wants Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya - and Hamas, the party he leads - out of power. Last Friday, it almost got its wish: Haniya offered to resign if the international embargo of the Palestinian territories were lifted. But even if Haniya steps down, he'll still call the shots for Hamas, the government's ruling party. FP recently sat down with the prime minister to ask how he intends to fix the Palestinian economy, whether the factional fighting can be ended, and if he sees peace on the horizon. Here's an excerpt from this ForeignPolicy.com exclusive:
FP: How do you plan to rein in the rival security forces in order to prevent civil war?
IH: It is in Hamas's interests that Palestinian factions unite peacefully without disputes and internal conflict. The communications between Fatah and Hamas are continuous and have on several occasions reached an understanding to end all forms of internal violence.
It is quite clear that the Palestinian security apparatus is suffering from problems. But despite all the bitter conflicts that have occurred, we will not end up embroiled in civil war, because every Palestinian is interested in keeping the Palestinian front united.
Check out the full interview.
Donald Rumsfeld's chair may still be warm, but it's never too early to predict how differently Robert Gates will run the Defense Department. One nugget I find interesting is a 1996 interview Gates gave PBS Frontline regarding his recollections of the first Gulf war. PBS asked Gates about his specific memories of the launch of the land war. Gates responded:
…I have been in the White House on a number of occasions when military operations are launched and once the decisions are made and the orders have been issued the people in the White House from the President on down are really out of the action, at least [if] they are smart. And President Bush was especially good as was President Reagan of giving the military their mission, their orders and staying the hell out of the way. And not trying to micro-manage the conflicts, so you don't have a Lyndon Johnson going down the situation room picking targets as he did in Vietnam….
That Lyndon Johnson analogy sounds familiar. Remember Bob Woodward's story of Vice President Cheney picking out suspected WMD sites from his office in D.C. and sending them over to David Kay in Iraq, only to have Kay discover later that he was looking at a map of Lebanon?
Gates worked with Cheney on the first Iraq war when Cheney was in the Defense Department. I wonder how well they'll work now that Cheney is the hawkish vice president on the executive side.
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