Wired and Defense Tech report that many blogs maintained by U.S. troops in Iraq are going silent, the result of a tight-fisted new policy that puts every post on every "miliblog" under close security scrutiny.
The policy states that:
EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, NO INFORMATION MAY BE PLACED ON WEBSITES THAT ARE READILY ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC UNLESS IT HAS BEEN REVIEWED FOR SECURITY CONCERNS AND APPROVED IN ACCORDANCE WITH DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MEMORANDUM *WEB SITE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES,* DECEMBER 7, 1998 (HTTP://WWW.DEFENSELINK.MIL/WEBMASTERS/) AND, AS APPLICABLE, DOD INSTRUCTION (DODI) 5230.29, *SECURITY AND POLICY REVIEW OF DOD INFORMATION FOR PUBLIC RELEASE.
There's no doubt that more of Iraq is broadcast online than ever before. Soldiers now regularly upload videos of combat missions to YouTube (as do the insurgents) and there are around 1,200 active military blogs.
Wired decries the loss of independent voices reporting from the frontlines in Iraq, noting that embedded reporters have dropped from 770 in 2003 to only nine in 2006. But both Defense Tech and the Wired are quick to point out that, most often, milibloggers are not speaking out against the war effort.
Mike Gulf at Tanker Brothers explains:
The DoD should be embracing the MilBlog Movement: we're the guys and gals actually getting the TRUTH out about the War, and encouraging support, and the American public to open their eyes and get the view from guys on the ground.
Germany's leaders, always uber-cautious about deploying force, no doubt hoped their contribution to the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon—a naval force operating off the coast—would stay well clear of controversy. No such luck. Earlier this week, two Israeli F-16s apparently conducted a low pass over German ships and may even have fired shots (though the IDF denies this). The Israeli and German governments moved quickly to quell the controversy, but it comes against a backdrop of continued tension between Israeli forces and UNIFIL over Israeli flights in Lebanese airspace.
The CIA is still recruiting and they're running a new commercial. We pointed to their first effort back in August.
The narrator asks "Are you ready for a world...of ambiguity and adventure?" I'm not sure I know what that means.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va) on Capitol Hill yesterday after a trip to Iraq this week offers a sober assessment:
I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take?"
The article continues:
Warner acknowledged that, before the invasion of Iraq, there was a lack of understanding among members of Congress about how much it would take to give Iraq full sovereignty. He blamed himself for not aggressively asking such questions before the war.
One of the most interesting and overlooked developments to emerge from last week's military coup in Thailand concerns the general now in charge of the country and the Muslim insurgency in the southern part of the country. Nearly 1,700 Thais have died over the past two and a half years as a result of fighting in the south, but there may be hope that, despite cracking down on the press and banning political activities, Thailand's current military leaders may be more amenable to negotiations with insurgents than former Prime Minister Thaksin was. FP spoke recently with John Brandon of the Asia Foundation about the political future of Thailand and he had this to say:
Everyone except Thaksin and his cronies thought the [response to the insurgency] has been handled badly. A Muslim separatist said the other day that he thought the coup was a good thing, and I think that's because Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, the head of the military council who led the coup, is a Thai Muslim from the south. [The insurgents] feel that he will be able to work with Muslim insurgents in the south and create a strategy that promotes peace and security.
In fact, after Gen. Sondhi was appointed head of the armed forces last year, his first major spat with PM Thaksin came when Sondhi's proposal for talks with insurgents was rejected. So, will we see a move to negotiations soon? Greater autonomy for the south?
Be sure to check out the rest of this week's Seven Questions with John Brandon. He gives his predictions for the next interim prime minister of Thailand and explains why this coup probably made no one happier than the oppressive leaders in neighboring Burma.
A few thoughts on the hoopla over the recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate's key findings:
First, the intimations that the New York Times (or their sources) failed to understand the main thrust of the document were proven wrong. A basic rule of writing is that your most important points go up top. And right in the third sentence, it says that the jihadi movement is spreading both numerically and physically. The "Iraqi jihad" is the document's first reason why. Even the editors of the Wall Street Journal couldn't say anything positive about the document itself, instead applauding President Bush for declassifying it and attacking Nancy Pelosi for demanding a closed House session on the document.
Second, to borrow from our friends at WSJ, "If this is the kind of insight we pay our spooks to generate, we're in more trouble than we thought." All of the NIE's conclusions could easily be drawn by anyone who follows U.S. foreign policy in the media or, as they say in the intel community, "open sources." Nothing here was shocking.
Third, I save my final judgment for the "leaker." I have to agree with President Bush that the timing of this leak is suspect. No matter what side you're on, playing politics with issues of national security is in poor taste. If you were really concerned about the contents of the NIE, you should have leaked this to the press last spring, when the document was published.
John Robb over at Global Guerillas has an interesting theory: The power outage across much of Pakistan over the weekend is an obvious sign that Musharraf's grasp on power is slipping. Why? Because these kind of infrastructure attacks are tactics straight out of the global guerilla playbook - strike at basic needs and work up. According to Robb, Musharraf is in "survival mode" and no doubt believes that his life is in danger (there have been a number of assassination attempts in recent years), but he has far more to fear from these infrastructure attacks - the ones that "fragment Pakistan's society and economy" - because it's these that will drive him from power. They're the same tactics that insurgents have used in Iraq. If this wasn't worrisome enough, here are a few of Musharraf's recent decisions that are putting U.S. strategy in the region at risk:
- Autonomy to rebels. After the loss of a reported 3,000 troops, Pakistan has ceded the tribal areas of Waziristan (population: 800,000) to pro-Taliban local rule. Weapons will be returned, outposts will be abandoned, and compensation will be paid.
- Safe haven for the Taliban. Pakistan has cut a ceasefire with the Taliban's Mullah Omar. Pakistani troops will no longer hunt down the Taliban (and likely al Qaeda) in Pakistan. This ceasefire also prevents US/NATO troops from crossing the border to pursue Taliban forces.
- Exporting guerrillas to gain good-will. 2,500 Taliban and al Qaeda militants have been released from Pakistani jails (under the stipulation that they will leave Pakistan).
Hezbollah staged a giant "victory" rally in Beirut today, and its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah made his first public appearance since the war with Israel.
No army in the world is strong enough to disarm us," he said.
Reading the emails from the Pentagon's media listserv is usually pretty repetitive; mostly depressing updates about Iraq, Rumsfeld's seemingly non-existent media event schedule, or something really newsworthy (sarcasm alert), like country music star Chely Wright singing to the troops "Shut up and Drive." But yesterday they sent out a winner: Pentagon Hot Dog Stand, Cold War Legend, to be Torn Down.
The Soviet Union is a thing of the past, but the hot dog lives on in America."
The Pentagon eatery, which has not been open for a few years but served the top brass a steady diet of hot dogs throughout the Cold War, is rumored to have been a source of concern for the Soviet Union. All they saw on satellite was a group of officers entering and leaving the building at about the same time every day, so they concluded it led to a top secret bunker.
There's even rumor that the Soviets always had at least two missiles aimed at the stand, which was thus nicknamed Café Ground Zero. It gives a whole new meaning to nuking a hot dog.
Some days, I ask myself: Just where would the ominous music industry be without war on terror ads? I mean, if anyone has hit pay dirt these past five years, it's timpani drum players. Because nothing says insecurity and fear quite like a timpani drum solo.
But not all war on terror ads are meant to inspire raw fear. Some simply seek to stoke your anger or appeal to your sense of patriotism. To find out how the war on terror is being sold to the public, FP repeatedly watched a handful of recent war on terror ads. What did we learn? Terrorists really want to kill us, Republicans (and Dems) exploit the war on terror to their own ends, and Iraqi Kurds are really grateful people. Have a look for yourself.
(And, though it's likely you've seen it 1,000 times already, go ahead and watch Little Richard translating for President Bush one more time. It's still funny.)
What happens if you organize and arm janjaweed militias who rape, kill, and pillage for years, displacing millions from their homes and leaving at least 200,000 dead? And what happens if you recently imprisoned an American journalist, his translator, and driver, kept the U.S. president's envoy waiting for three days - despite her offer of a one-on-one meeting with Bush - because you are "too busy" to meet, and then rejected all international calls for U.N. troops to be deployed in your country, despite demonstrations around the world over the weekend demanding just that? Well, if you're Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, you get a nice package of economic incentives offered to you - think debt relief, increased trade, and more aid. Is this how the international community hopes to address the worsening violence in Darfur? By so richly rewarding one of the men responsible?
Researchers at the National Archives have been busy reviewing millions of declassified documents to find "inadvertent disclosures of classified nuclear weapons-related information." The Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog has a good summary of a recent DOE report (PDF) to the U.S. Congress on the costs and progress of classifying historical and current data related to the U.S. nuke stockpile. Apparently, if enemies of the U.S. know how many nuclear weapons we had in 1967, we're done for.
The GWU National Security Archive breaks down the program on a cost-per-page basis:
|Number of pages in the national archive reviewed for sensitive information since 1999:||204 million|
|Cost to review 204 million pages:||$22 million|
|Cost per page:||$.09|
|Number of pages found that reveal classifed data:||2,766|
|Cost to find one page containing classifed data:||
After the JUMP: What nuclear secrets lurk in the National Archives?
President Bush has called on Congress in recent weeks to expand his authority for authorizing warrantless wiretaps. Already, Congress has put up a bit of a fight and it seems unlikely any legislation will be passed before the midterms. But the United States would do well to heed the lessons of Germany, which has been eavesdropping on tens of thousands of its citizens for years. In a new piece at ForeignPolicy.com, Niels Sorrells argues Germany's vast system of surveillance hasn't helped it convict terrorists or detect plots. So, why does the United States think it can do better?
FP's September/October cover story argues provocatively that what's remarkable five years after the attacks of September 11 is how little the world has changed. Globalization, trade, the movement of goods and people have not come to a screeching halt. In fact, in many cases, economic and social forces that we expected to suffer have actually grown.
And then there are some indicators that perhaps aren't so surprising given the dawn of the war on terror:
Be sure to head over to ForeignPolicy.com today. We've devoted the homepage to some of FP's best analysis on the attacks of September 11 and the war on terror. Several of the articles come from our current issue, led by our cover story, "The Day Nothing Much Changed" by FP's managing editor, Will Dobson. Kim Cragin and Andrew Curiel of RAND chart the shocking rise in terror attacks around the world in our most recent Prime Numbers, and Juan Cole debunks myths about 9/11. We also have Anne Applebaum searching for America's admirers, Benjamin Friedman on why everything you know about homeland security is probably false, Kenneth Rogoff on whether the global economy can survive the costs of security, and Christine Fair and Hussain Haqqani on the popular misconceptions of what inspires Islamist terrorism. As we remember that day five years ago - where we were, what we saw, who we lost - it's crucial to challenge the easy conclusions about what it all meant and where we go from here. I think these pieces do just that. See for yourself.
As the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, there's been a lot of debate and political mudslinging over a key question: Has the war on terror made the United States any safer?
Well, there's nobody better qualified to answer that than Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, member of the President's Advisory Council on Homeland Security, and a distiniguished former Democratic congressman. In this week's Seven Questions, FP spoke with him to get an insider's opinion on what the American government has learned from 9/11, what threats the U.S. still faces, and whether Americans are any safer.
An intriguing study by Syracuse University researchers reveals that, amazingly, terror prosecutions in the U.S. have fallen off steeply to pre-9/11 levels. The Justice department now declines 9 out of every 10 terrorism cases that it receives from other government agencies like the FBI.
There are two possible interpretations of the study: 1) The Department of Justice is being overburdened with cases and isn't doing its job. 2) The sharp rise in terrorism prosecutions just after 9/11 was mostly paranoia - and the prosecution rate is simply returning to normal.
Considering all the hype and scrutiny that terror prosecutions are subjected to these day, I seriously doubt the former explanation. A look at this graphic showing the massive drop-off in average sentence length for those charged with terrorist offences suggests that, since 9/11, a lot of people have been tried without much evidence or for very minor crimes.
Some say that sentence lengths have fallen because the Department of Justice is trying to preemptively prosecute terrorist plots:
There are many flaws in the report," said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra. "It is irresponsible to attempt to measure success in the war on terror without the necessary details about the government's strategy and tactics."
For instance, Sierra said, prison sentences are "not the proper measure of the success of the department's overall counterterrorism efforts. The primary goal ... is to detect, disrupt and deter terrorist activities."
Others say it reflects a post-9/11 world of paranoid prosecutions and racial profiling - and the recent-drop off in prosecutions shows that the DoJ is finally returning to its senses. You decide.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Sunday that Akron, Ohio, authorities have broken up a massive baby formula crime ring. One trafficker was able to unload $44 million worth of baby formula in a mere 15 months. Yes, you read that right. Baby formula. And it gets even better. The Feds are convinced that the black-market baby chow is not just packed with all the vitamins and minerals a growing baby needs, it's also being used to fund terrorist groups.
Since 9/11, federal officials from North Carolina to Texas have broken apart theft rings dealing in massive quantities of baby formula and health and beauty products such as diabetes test strips and contact lens solution.
Most of the theft ringleaders arrested have been of Middle Eastern descent. Federal officials have repeatedly said they worry the black-market profits may be funding terror, but none of the 11 baby-formula cases reviewed by The Plain Dealer involved terror-related charges.
In 2005, the Christian Science Monitor first reported on the murky connection between baby formula and terrorists:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has traced money from these infant-formula traffickers back to nations where terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hizbullah, are active, investigators say. Then, the trail usually goes cold. Once funds enter such countries, there's often no way to track them.
Of course, baby formula isn't the only black market item alledgedly being used to fund terrorist groups. Is it just me, or is there a pattern here?
Newsweek reports that among other crimes, smuggler Imad Hammoud is indicted in Michigan for trying to distribute 90,000 knock-off Viagra tablets, which he planned to sell as the real thing. Hammoud regularly wired a portion of his ill-gotten gains to Hizbullah.
Terrorist-linked smugglers buy cheap smokes in states with low tobacco taxes (Virginia, North Carolina) and unload them in states like New York or New Jersey, where taxes run $1.50 to $2.00 per pack.
From producing dirty diapers to funding dirty bombs. Investigators believe stolen formula is often sold back to the stores from which it was originally stolen.
They do say terrorism is a vicious cycle.
Just yesterday, I mentioned that the White House has been trying to recast the War on Terror as the Third World War, in an effort to regain public support in the run-up to November elections. There's further evidence of that today in Bush's speech at the American Legion convention:
As veterans you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be.
Over at TPMCafe, Bruce Jentleson explains why the rhetorical strategy of discrediting critics by comparing them to appeaser Neville Chamberlain is the oldest (and most misleading) trick in the hawk's book. Here's Lyndon Johnson talking about the Vietnam War:
Everything I know about history told me that if I got out of Vietnam and let Ho Chi Minh run through the streets of Saigon, then I’d be doing exactly what Chamberlain did in WWII. I’d be giving a big fat reward for aggression.
It's not just a War on Terror anymore. Nope, according to the White House, it's becoming a War on Fascism too. Check out what Juan Cole, the LAT, and the WaPo have to say about the GOP's latest attempts to recast the War on Terror - associated with unpopular missions like Iraq - in WWII terms.
Looks like the Bush administration is finally heeding Newt Gingrich's advice. The former House Speaker just a few months ago stated on Meet the Press (video clip) and in an interview with the Seattle Times that World War Three has already begun:
Gingrich said that public opinion can change "the minute you use the language" of World War III. The message then, he said, is "'OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?"
Some nations are just doomed from the start, often because their borders are not squiggly enough. That's the conclusion of a recent NBER study by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Janina Matuszeski and NYU's Bill Easterly.
The researchers developed an equation for measuring the "squiggliness" of national borders using grids, coming up with (ln (box count) = a + b * ln (box size)), which they argue roughly corellates with how "artificial" or "natural" a state is - that is, how well a country's borders reflect existing regional, ethnic, historical, geographical, and linguistic fault lines. They also developed another measure to determine to what extent borders "partition" ethnic groups.
The researchers then set out to find whether artificial states with straight, partitioning borders do any worse than natural states with squiggly borders. The findings? The names of the Â“most artificialÂ” states according to both the "squiggly" and "partition" measures - Chad, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guatemala, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Pakistan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe - should give you a clue (hint: a lot of them show up on FP's Failed State Index). Yup, less squiggly countries turned out to do worse all around: they are poorer, more prone to unrest, governed poorly, and have higher infant mortality rates.
You know those grave allegations made by U.S. authorities that Iran and Syria have been providing Hezbollah rockets, even in the midst of the recent conflict? Well, part of the evidence for these claims came from some good, old-fashioned..."crateology":
In the closed world of spy satellite photo analysis, it's called "crate-ology": the science of identifying a weapon or some other key component by the size and shape of its box.
The technique came into play last month when a U.S. spy satellite, looking down on an Iranian air base, captured images of military crews loading what U.S. intelligence analysts concluded were eight C-802 Noor anti-ship cruise missiles on board a transport plane, according to intelligence officials.
Hat tip: Arms Control Wonk
China has built a mock Taiwanese air base to practice bombing runs. The faux base located in China's northwestern Gansu Province is a mockup of Taiwan's Ching Chuan Kang air base. East-Asia-Intel.com (sorry, subscription only) reports that satellite photos of the base reveal bomb craters from aerial raids. It was about this time last year that Russia and China jointly staged a mock amphibious assault that many in Taiwan believed was designed with their island in mind. It could be harmless target practice, but then doesn't practice make perfect?
Forget the Darfur peace agreement signed in May. It isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Violence in the first half of this year has been worse than the same period in 2005, according to a senior UN official yesterday. There have been more raids, more rapes, and more people displaced from their homes - and violence has only gotten worse since the deal was signed a few months ago. What's more, there's no record of the violence taking place. Since mid-June, there hasn't been a single investigation of cease-fire violations. So much for a peace deal.
This news makes today's announcement from the African Union all the more tragicomic: They have no money past October to pay the 7000 AU troops "monitoring" the non-existent cease-fire. So, what happens after October is anyone's guess. The AU may pull the troops, but Sudan refuses to allow UN peacekeepers in. Plus, the Sudanese government has a powerful friend in China. The absence of AU troops will leave a more obvious void, but it's screamingly apparent that civilians in Darfur are hardly benefiting from their presence as it is. Michael Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter who increasingly led the charge on progress on Darfur during his last year in the West Wing, spoke recently with FP about the lack of international political will to put together a capable peacekeeping force. That is, of course, a huge hurdle. But is that force the only thing that will prevent us from looking back in a year lamenting that the violence in Darfur has only worsened still?
U.S. authorities have just announced that they have now apprehended six of the 11 Egyptian students who arrived at New York's JFK Airport on July 29 (supposedly to study at a Montana State University academic program) and then vanished. So far, arrests have been made in Minnesota, New Jersey, Maryland, and just this morning at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Five of the 11 Egyptian men remain at large and wanted by the FBI. They are:
Ahmed Refaat Saad El Moghazi El Laket, age 19
Mohamed Ibrahim Elsayed El Moghazy, age 20
Moustafa Wagdy Moustafa El Gafary, age 18
Mohamed Saleh Ahmed Maray, age 20
Mohamed Ibrahim Fouaad El Shenawy, age 17
If the security firm Flexilis has things right, you might want to think twice about trading in your old passport for one of the high-tech models set to come out in October. In a news release and video, the company has revealed that not only can the new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-enabled passports be read by third parties from a distance, but they could also eventually be used to target passport holders for bomb attacks.
It seems that the shield surrounding the information chip only protects it from being read when the passport is fully closed; a passport even slightly open in a purse or a pocket could easily be spied on. But more than privacy is at stake: one of the readily available, pint-sized devices that read RFID passports can be hitched to explosives rigged to set off automatically when the passport passes within a certain range.
Eventually, Flexilis says, terrorists could enable a reader to distinguish between the chips of different countries and target specific nationalities for attack.
The Flexilis video is slightly comical for its amateurish appearance--it features a mannequin strung from a clothesline and then blasted with model rocket engines--but it's an unsettling reminder that terrorists' methods can be almost as crude.
In a related story, the UK-based tech monitor The Register offers a report on how to clone the new passport in a few easy steps.
Shortly after 9/11, the newly-established Department of Homeland Security developed Ready.gov, a Web site devoted to educating Americans on disaster and attack preparedness. The result, even after a recent update and overhaul, leaves a lot to be desired. So the Federation of American Scientists put together a new site, ReallyReady, highlighting not just DHS faults in advice and design (including generic advice, repetitive details, and incorrect information), but also synthesizing the information that is useful and accurate in a new easy-to-navigate, reader-friendly format.
What's even better about the whole project is that, whereas the DHS spent millions of taxpayer dollars and took five months to put the Web site into operation, the new ReallyReady site was completed in nine weeks by a 20-year-old FAS intern for the price of the site domain name.
I know it isn't good to laugh about such a serious topic, but when I saw the graphic on Ready.gov suggesting that when a nuclear bomb goes off a hundred feet away you might want to protect yourself by walking around the corner, I just couldn't help myself," said Ivan Oelrich, Vice President of Strategic Security at FAS. "After three years and millions of dollars, taxpayers should expect a better website from the Department of Homeland Security."
As calls increase for a multinational force that could police the Israel-Lebanon border, there appears to be less hand-raising and more finger-pointing. The US and UK won't send troops because they're overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Israelis won't accept the usual UN rent-a-force full of untrained soldiers just out for a paycheck. And no matter who goes, the timing and size of the deployment is sure to be a political minefield in most countries. So just who will step up and monitor a possible cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers? In this week's List, FP takes a look at the countries that might supply the boots on the ground.
President Bush likes to say that decisions on Iraq are based on information from military leaders on the ground, not political pressures on Capitol Hill. Back in April, he said,
There's a debate going on in Washington, D.C., ...about our troop levels. Here's my answer to you: I'm not going to make decisions based upon polls and focus groups. I'm going to make my decisions based upon the recommendations of our generals on the ground. They're the ones who decide how to achieve the victory I just described. They're the ones who give me the information.
Well, Chuck Hagel begs to differ. In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald on Friday, Hagel, who opposes any sharp reduction in troop numbers, lashed out at the recently announced plan to lengthen tours of duty for soldiers in Iraq and to focus troop strength in Baghdad, away from other insurgent strongholds around the country. According to the paper:
[Hagel] said that in the previous 48 hours, he had received three telephone calls from four-star generals who were "beside themselves" over the Pentagon's reversal of plans to bring tens of thousands of soldiers home this fall....
"That isn't going to do any good. It's going to have a worse effect," Hagel said. "They're destroying the United States Army."
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