12 February 2013

India’s compass on terror is faulty

By Kanwal Sibal
12 Feb , 2013 

Afzal Guru’s hanging shows the ineptness with which our political system deals with the grave problem of terrorism. The biggest challenge to our security, and indeed that of countries all over the world that are caught in the cross currents of religious extremism, is terrorism. 

India’s problem with externally supported terrorism is amongst the severest that any country faces. Our next door neighbour has been long using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. 

Traditional military threats can be assessed on the basis of the size of the armed forces, equipment and logistics available to the adversary. A militarily weak country would normally hesitate to attack a stronger one as defeat is never honourable and the price could be loss of territory. A casus belli has to be established to negate any charge of unprovoked aggression; the laws of war are applicable. The international community can intervene through the UN or otherwise against a state resorting to military aggression. 


Terrorism has a different logic. It is asymmetric warfare by non-state actors outside any law. The numbers involved are small and the targets are unsuspecting and unprepared individuals in the street, in public transport, hotels or restaurants or peaceful public spaces. Suicide bombers and car bombs can cause substantial casualties indiscriminately. Shadowy groups with leaders in hiding orchestrate these attacks. The involvement of state institutions through groups nurtured by them is on the basis of the practiced art of deniability. The international community cannot even agree on the definition of terrorism. The extraordinary challenge that terrorism poses to societies has to be dealt with exceptional levels of alertness, discipline, training of personnel, technical capacity, policing and organisational response. 

Gwadar: Can India Checkmate China?

By Vijay Sakhuja, Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi,  
12 February 2013 

Pakistan’s decision to hand over commercial operations at the Gwadar port to the Chinese Overseas Port Holdings, a state-owned company, does not come as a surprise. Interestingly, for some, it was a deliberate and a ‘smart ploy’; first bring in a foreign operator like the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) and award it port management and development contract for 40 years; dispel the ‘China threat’ and the oft stated Gwadar as a post in the ‘string of pearls’ strategy; and then, at an opportune moment and on some pretext, transfer it to the Chinese. 

Has the gambit paid off? What are the implications? And what can India do? 

China and the Strategic Significance of Gwadar 

Gwadar port located on the Makran coast is a strategic maritime outpost. It is close to the energy rich but volatile Gulf region and about 400 kilometers from the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic chokepoint through which nearly 16-17 million barrels of oil is transported daily. On an average 20-30 tankers enter the Gulf each day and during peak hours, one tanker leaves the Strait every six minutes. 

Gwadar has figured prominently in China’s Indian Ocean calculus and Beijing had generously invested US $198 million of the US $248 million in the project. It is also fair to argue that Chinese have the capability to build modern ports given that some of their own ports are ranked among the top ten in the world. 

Gwadar offers China several economic and military advantages. China can directly ship its oil supplies from Iran via the Iran-Pakistan pipeline (erstwhile Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project) or other Gulf states through the Gwadar port. In fact Pakistan has offered China the option to build a 1500 kilometers pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang in western China. Apparently, China is also set to ‘re-launch the Gwadar oil refinery project’ that had been put on hold in 2009 due to the fear of attacks by the separatist elements in Baluchistan who had kidnapped few Chinese engineers. 

Responding to Chinese Defence Modernisation

By P K Chakravorty

Chinese Armed Forces are modernising at a feverish pace. With a declared defence budget of USD 106.5 billion, there is a thrust towards development of asymmetry which will enable it to win future conflicts with precision and rapidity. China’s focus is currently in development of high technology to undertake operations with alacrity and speed. As per a special report in the Asian Military Balance, China is developing ten killer applications designed to degrade, depress and destroy an opponent’s war fighting capability. The applications are part of asymmetric capabilities being developed to undertake high tech operations. 

The first area is cyber warfare where the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is fine tuning its offensive cyber warfare capabilities. Capabilities being acquired could potentially paralyse India’s power grids by targeting malware against the operating systems, attack communication nodes by triggering off unseen kill switches and disrupt air traffic, power plants and water treatment facilities by attacking the software controlling these systems. 

The second area is missiles with high precision. China’s Second Artillery is capable of firing ballistic and cruise missiles to accurately engage any target on the Indian land mass. China has developed anti-ship missile DF-21D which is known as the aircraft carrier killer and has also developed anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons which can engage satellites up to 800 km. In a conflict situation, this could adversely impact on India if its GPS satellites are targeted, making navigation difficult for the land, sea and air combat elements. 

Other areas of Chinese capability building include counter space to counter our use of space assets, integrated air defence to tackle stealth aircrafts with a combination of over the horizon radars with infra-red counters and the Russian S-300 missile system. China is also improving its ability to hold foreign satellites at risk. Simultaneously China is making progress in deploying space based surveillance platforms. These platforms would be equipped with high resolution electro optical cameras, synthetic aperture radar and electronic surveillance receivers. China is developing state of the art UAVs which would provide critical surveillance for determining targets. These UAV units are being formed under the Second Artillery, Army, Navy and Air Force. Armed UAV variants such as Pterodactyl are being introduced shortly. 

Nuclear Test Poses Big Challenge to China’s New Leader


February 12, 2013 

BEIJING — The nuclear test by North Korea on Tuesday, in defiance of warnings by China, leaves the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, with a choice: Does he upset North Korea just a bit by agreeing to stepped up United Nations sanctions, or does he rattle the regime by pulling the plug on infusions of Chinese oil and investments that keep North Korea afloat? 

The test poses a major foreign policy challenge to Mr. Xi, the new head of the Communist Party, who has said he wants the United States and China to develop a “new type of relationship between two great powers.” How Mr. Xi deals with North Korea in the coming period could tell the United States what kind of leader he will be and what kind of relationship he envisions with Washington. 

Already he has shown himself to be more of a nationalist than his predecessor, Hu Jintao, displaying China’s determination to prevail in the East China Sea crisis in which China is trying to wrest control of islands administered by Japan. He has also displayed considerably more interest in China’s military, visiting bases and troops in the last two months with blandishments to soldiers to be combat ready. 

To improve the strained relationship with the United States, Mr. Xi could start with getting tougher on North Korea, harnessing China’s clout with the outlier government to help slow down its nuclear program. If Mr. Xi does not help in curbing the North Koreans, he will almost certainly face accelerated ballistic missile defense efforts by the United States in Northeast Asia, especially with Japan, an unpalatable situation for China. 

But if Mr. Xi took the measures against North Korea that the United States wants, Chinese and American analysts say, Mr. Xi would risk destabilizing North Korea, spurring its collapse and pushing the creation of a unified Korean Peninsula that could well turn out to be an American ally. An American-controlled Korean Peninsula is not an option for Mr. Xi, the analysts agree. 

The first reaction from the Chinese government was relatively mild, and suggested no immediate change in policy or attitude toward North Korea. A statement on the Foreign Ministry Web site said that the government was expressing its “staunch opposition” to the test and “strongly urges” North Korea to abide by its commitment to denuclearization. 

Later in the day, the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, summoned the North Korean ambassador, Ji Jae Ryong, to express his opposition to the test. 

Inside the Battle of Hoth

By  Spencer Ackerman
12 February 13
How did the Galactic Empire ever cement its hold on the Star Wars Universe? The war machine built by Emperor Palpatine and run by Darth Vader is a spectacularly bad fighting force, as evidenced by all of the pieces of Death Star littering space. But of all the Empire’s failures, none is a more spectacular military fiasco than the Battle of Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. 

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet. 

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape. 

When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency. 

North Korea confirms it conducted third nuclear test

By AP Seoul
February 12, 2013

North Korea said it successfully detonated a miniaturized nuclear device at a northeastern test site Tuesday, defying U.N. Security Council orders to shut down atomic activity or face more sanctions and international isolation.

The underground explosion could take North Korea a big step closer to its goal of building a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile that could threaten the United States. It will also be seen as a direct message from young leader Kim Jong Un to the United States, Pyongyang's former wartime enemy.

North Korea's official state media said the test was conducted in a safe manner and is aimed at coping with "outrageous" U.S. hostility that "violently" undermines the North's peaceful, sovereign right to launch satellites. North Korea faced sanctions after a December launch of a rocket that the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned missile test. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.

The timing will be seen as significant. The test came hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to give his State of the Union speech, a major, nationally televised address. It's also only days before the Saturday birthday of Kim Jong Un's father, late leader Kim Jong Il, whose memory North Korean propaganda has repeatedly linked to the country's nuclear ambitions. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.


By Pema Wangchuk 

Sikkim, through its history, and as part of its cultural sustenance, maintained close links with Tibet. With the arrival of British influence on Sikkim in the late 19th century, these ties were strained; the British India got more interested in Tibet and the markets it offered. Sikkim-Tibet relations reached its nadir with the former’s support for the Younghusband Mission (1904) but healed in later years, growing through religious and cultural exchanges and prospering with trade. The repair met with only limited success and atrophied again when geopolitical developments severed this linkage in 1962 when Indo-Tibet trade over the mountain passes - Nathu La and Jelep La in East Sikkim was stopped. 

Nathu La was reopened for trade in 2006, but as a border trade. The trade is now into its seventh season, and although its reopening was a historic moment for several reasons beyond just the opportunities it opened for the people of Sikkim and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, it has not lived up to expectations. There are several reasons for this, many of which can be remedied with just a shift in attitude. This brief presents perspectives from Sikkim. 

I.  Deconstructing the Myths over Mountain Passes in Sikkim: The Rise of Nathu La & Jelep La 

Many commentators mistakenly believe that Nathu La and its sister mountain pass, Jelep La, on the Chola range which marks the eastern border of Sikkim with TAR have traditionally been used by the Sikkimese to trade and travel to Tibet. There are in fact three passes along a straight line on the Chola Range – Cho La, Nathu La and Jelep La. 

The Cho La mountain pass was used by the royal family of Sikkim to cross into Tibet, mainly to the Chumbi valley where they had a summer palace. Nathu La and Jelep La were the hubs of yak herders from Tibet and used to access pastures on the Sikkim side. Since there was some traffic on these passes, they were also used for small scale trading by the yak herders and graziers, but the real trade between Sikkim and Tibet was carried out over the passes in the North Sikkim – mostly through Kongra La and also from Chorten Nyima La and some other passes. 

For Mumbai, Justice If Not Peace

By TJ Waters

February 5, 2013

A final chapter closed last week in Chicago. Fifty-two year old David Coleman Headley was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping plan what many call India's 9/11. Over one hundred and sixty people died, including six Americans. Yes, one of our own designed a terrorist attack overseas. 

It was November 26th, Thanksgiving weekend, when the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar e-Tayyiba laid siege to the city of Mumbai for three days. Any doubt as to LeT's suicidal strategy was put to rest when Indian authorities released intercepted cell phone communications between the militants and their Pakistan-based handlers. 

Even while intercepting the assailant's communications, Indian authorities were not prepared for a fight this vicious and well planned. 

That was largely due to David Headley. He was born in the United States to an American mother and a Pakistani father. He changed his name from Gaood Gilani in 2006 so that he could map and videotape the Mumbai targets without raising suspicion. 

Perhaps that is what is most frightening about David Headley. He did not simply participate - he played a critical role in making the attacks as lethal, bloody, and media-ripe as possible. His preparations turned what would have otherwise required a precision Special Forces assault into a commodity that any ragtag group could accomplish. 

All The World's A Stage

In an unprecedented documentary, HBO films created a one hour special entitled Terror in Mumbai, hosted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria is a native of Mumbai and his mother still lives there. The entire documentary can be viewed online here. It could make a good master class into the changing nature of terrorism in the information age. 

The film utilizes video and photographs, as well as excerpts from some of the 284 intercepted cell phone calls between the militants and their handlers. These are not actors - the voices are the actual LeT leaders directing the militants from their safe haven in Pakistan. 

Pakistani Militant, Price on Head, Lives in Open

February 6, 2013

Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

A Wanted Man Speaks: The Times’s Declan Walsh talks about his interview with the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. 

LAHORE, Pakistan — Ten million dollars does not seem to buy much in this bustling Pakistani city. That is the sum the United States is offering for help in convicting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, perhaps the country’s best-known jihadi leader. Yet Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here. 

“I move about like an ordinary person — that’s my style,” said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. “My fate is in the hands of God, not America.”

Mr. Saeed is the founder, and is still widely believed to be the true leader, of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, in which more than 160 people, including six Americans, were killed. The United Nations has placed him on a terrorist list and imposed sanctions on his group. But few believe he will face trial any time soon in a country that maintains a perilous ambiguity toward jihadi militancy, casting a benign eye on some groups, even as it battles others that attack the state. 

Mr. Saeed’s very public life seems more than just an act of mocking defiance against the Obama administration and its bounty, analysts say. As American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next door, Lashkar is at a crossroads, and its fighters’ next move — whether to focus on fighting the West, disarm and enter the political process, or return to battle in Kashmir — will depend largely on Mr. Saeed. 

Viewpoint: Pakistan civil society under threat

By Ahmed Rashid. 
11 Feb 2013

Members of the Shia Hazara community feel the government is not doing enough to protect them 

Religious radicals, right-wing politicians and some elements in the security services are increasingly harassing non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights workers and other civil society groups, even as Pakistan enters into a delicate political phase with polls imminent, writes author Ahmed Rashid. 

The space for NGOs and civil society workers appears to be shrinking as they receive threats, several have been killed and others forced to go into hiding. There appears to be less protection for NGO workers at a time they are badly needed as the state fails to carry out basic functions such as education and health care. 

At the same time there is growing intolerance in society as the use of violence and weapons to address grievances rather than courts of law is on the increase. 

At least 19 male and female officials working with a countrywide children's polio immunisation campaign have been killed by the Taliban and other Islamic radicals since last July. The worst incident took place in December when five health workers were shot dead by militants in different parts of the country. 

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killings, with Mr Ban saying they were "cruel, senseless, and inexcusable". But nobody has been caught and the government appears paralysed - unable to prevent further killings. 

Democratize or Die

By Yasheng Huang

January/February 2013

Why China's Communists Face Reform or Revolution

In the next decade, China will continue to rise, not fade. Its leaders will consolidate the one-party model and, in the process, challenge the West’s smug certainty about political development and the inevitable march toward electoral democracy. 

Nothing to see here: protesting a chemical plant in Zhejiang Province, China, October 27, 2012. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters) 

In 2011, standing in front of the Royal Society (the British academy of sciences), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared, "Tomorrow's China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness, and justice. Without freedom, there is no real democracy. Without guarantee of economic and political rights, there is no real freedom." Eric Li's article in these pages, "The Life of the Party," pays no such lip service to democracy. Instead, Li, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist, declares that the debate over Chinese democratization is dead: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not only stay in power; its success in the coming years will "consolidate the one-party model and, in the process, challenge the West's conventional wisdom about political development." Li might have called the race too soon. 

Li cites high public approval of China's general direction as evidence that the Chinese prefer the political status quo. In a country without free speech, however, asking people to directly evaluate their leaders' performance is a bit like giving a single-choice exam. More rigorous surveys that frame questions in less politically sensitive ways directly contradict his conclusion. According to 2003 surveys cited in How East Asians View Democracy, edited by the researchers Yun-han Chu, Larry Diamond, Andrew Nathan, and Doh Chull Shin, 72.3 percent of the Chinese public polled said they believed that democracy is "desirable for our country now," and 67 percent said that democracy is "suitable for our country now." These two numbers track with those recorded for well-established East Asian democracies, including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. 

Mihir S Sharma: The China mimics

By Mihir S Sharma

Indian companies and New Delhi's policy elite seem to imagine no other way to engage the world than Beijing's ruthless amorality 

Last week, an African farmers’ advocate and India’s national security advisor both spoke, and they both implied the same thing. They spoke of two completely different things, one micro and one macro; but both underlined the same sad fact: that India, as it rises, is unable to carve out its own, unique path to deal with the world. It is blindly following China’s.

First, the African activist. Nyikaw Ochalla told this newspaper that Indian companies in Ethopia are ganging up with an undemocratic government to displace thousands of farmers from their land. The deals are apparently difficult to trace, conducted with no transparency whatsoever. Mr Ochalla is not reported as saying so, but most readers will have assumed that money changed hands.

So what’s new, you ask? After all, isn’t that how Indian companies behave in India? Is India not merely exporting its brand of capitalism to the world? To an extent, that’s precisely what’s happening. But note the crucial difference: as Mr Ochalla pointed out, the Ethiopian government may not satisfy our notions of democracy, with the checks and balances that implies.

And so what, many will say — after all, can India just sit back and watch Chinese companies, with all the awesome levers of their competent, ruthless state behind them, take the lead in Africa? No; but the path ahead must be to stake out a more sustainable strategy than partnering with repressive governments. Unless we believe, as China does, that repression is forever.

Consider some other instance of India’s engagement with the world. For example, the simple fact that, given its fear of Chinese domination of Myanmar, it essentially stopped speaking for the Burmese pro-democracy movement for years. Now that Myanmar is moving away from authoritarian rule, will India, Indian investment, Indian companies be given the preference that they otherwise would have? No. Have we learned a lesson from this? No. Instead, we puffed up in petty postcolonial anger when Barack Obama told our Parliament, with complete truth, that India should have supported democracy in Myanmar more actively. Elsewhere, too, in Libya, in Iraq, India has been behind the democratic curve.

Barack Obama's Lincoln Moment


FEBRUARY 11, 2013 

What the commander of America's first modern war tells us about our first post-modern war.

Given the alignment of Abraham Lincoln's birthday and Barack Obama's State of the Union address, the opportunity presents itself to explore some fresh links between the two. President Obama's admiration for the Great Emancipator is well known, especially through the "team of rivals" approach he imitated in crafting his first cabinet. But both presidents will be known to history as wartime presidents -- albeit in very different sorts of conflicts -- so it might be useful to consider some of their strategic similarities as well. 

Abraham Lincoln served as commander in chief in the world's first truly modern war. Three key technologies were maturing simultaneously at the outset of the American Civil War in 1861: the breech-loading rifle, quick-firing and accurate at great range; the railroad, able to move massive numbers of troops and supplies swiftly over very long distances; and the telegraph, with which to manage the maneuvering of field armies. Weapons, transport, and information systems -- all were in very active play. 

Barack Obama serves as commander in chief in the middle of what I would call the first truly "post-modern" war: a great struggle with nations on one side and terrorist and insurgent networks on the other. It is post-modern in terms of the ways in which al Qaeda and its affiliates have flouted accepted notions of warmaking and found new ways to engage great powers and sustain the fight against them for over a decade. They have done so largely by mastering the network form of organization and exploiting the potential of this era's Internet-driven information revolution. It is something far, far beyond just guerrilla warfare. 

Innocents Abroad Build Foreign Armies

By Daniel Pipes

February 10, 2013

In the near-century that the United States has been a great power, it has developed some original and sophisticated foreign-policy tools. Examples include the Marshall Plan,special forces, and satellite imaging. At the same time, the country’s naïveté remains firmly in place. For example, the notion persists that government staff are “particularly qualified to [handle a problem] because they knew nothing about it.” (For details, see my analysis at “American Know-Nothing Diplomacy.”) 

The persistent belief that training and equipping foreign troops imbues them with American political and ethical values, making them allies of the United States, offers another example of innocence. Some examples of this delusional policy in recent decades: 
  • Lebanon: On landing U.S. troops in 1982, the priority was to train a national army. Of course, this failed, with most members returning to their communal militias with new arms and training to use against rivals. Despite this failure, the effort was renewed just two weeks ago. 
  • Afghanistan: Training a national army was a major part of the U.S. plan following the 2001 invasion; but the Afghan Local Police, a militia backed by the government, turned their guns against their international colleagues so often — 34 times in the first eight months of 2012, killing 45 persons — that the training was stopped. 
  • Mali: The latest disaster, where U.S. efforts to train the woebegone Malian national army to take on al-Qaeda did not exactly work out. In the words of Der Spiegel, “American specialists did train four crack units, totaling 600 men, to fight the terrorists. But it backfired: Three of the elite units have defected en masse to the rebel Tuareg. Most of the commanders, after all, are Tuaregs. Captain Amadou Sanogo, trained in the United States, was one of the soldiers who didn’t defect. Instead, he inflicted even more damage when, last March, he and a few close supporters overthrew the government in Bamako and ousted the elected president.” 
  • Palestinian Authority: A disaster still in the making. The Dayton Mission has trained over 6,000 Palestinian Authority security personnel in the hope that they will become Israel’s partners for peace. To the contrary, I have predicted in writingthat “these militiamen will eventually turn their guns against Israel.” 

The Battle Over the Keystone Oil Pipeline Is More Important Than You Think

February 11, 2013

By Michael Klare

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the "dirtiest," carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain. 

Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war -- and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry's future in doubt. 

The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of the White House to highlight the links between tar sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state's crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk. 

In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project. (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.) Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska's water supplies. 

Assessing Israel's Strike on Syria

By Michael Weiss

8 February 2013

Last week saw what might have been the first incursion by Israeli warplanes into Syria airspace in six years. The strike took place on Wednesday (January 30th), and by week’s end, unnamed US and Israeli officials were claiming that the Israel Air Force had hit a convoy of Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft batteries, plus other “game changing” munitions, en route to Lebanon. By Sunday, Israel’s defense minister seemed to confirm the reports of his country’s involvement in the attack, but that hardly answered all the questions swirling around last Wednesday’s events. 

First was the question of the convoy. Two going theories are that the SA-17s and additional war matériel were either being transferred to Hezbollah directly or simply being taken out of Syria from one of the regime’s domestic storage facilities for safe keeping in the country it formerly occupied (yet never really abandoned). Some analysts have suggested that Hezbollah wouldn’t want SA-17s inside Lebanon, as these are large antiaircraft systems that require radar guidance and would thus be easy prey for future Israeli strikes. Yet the transfer could still be part of a regime relocation plan, aided somehow by Hezbollah. Another theory is that Hezbollah was emptying its own weapons caches inside Syria, which rebels have raided in the past. One Lebanese source told Haaretz that the strike’s target was a truck convoy—emanating from Qusayr, near Homs—that was en route to Hermel, and Sky News has reported that the attack location was somewhere close to the Lebanese village of Nabi Sheet. This is interesting for several reasons, not least that there had been reports about a year ago that Hezbollah was actually launching Katyusha rockets into Syria from Hermel. And, as my colleague at NOW Lebanon Tony Badran astutely remembers: 

When the Only Tool You Have is a Hammer…

By Mark Thompson
Feb. 11, 2013



…all problems begin to look like a nail. According to a new Government Accountability Office report released Monday, the U.S. government spent 25 times more money on rebuilding Afghan security than it spent on humanitarian aid to Afghans. 

Where do the world's Catholics live?

By Uri Friedman
February 11, 2013

some context for the chatter today about the region of the world that could produce Pope Benedict XVI's successor. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, 40 percent of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics currently live in Latin America, and Brazil now has more Catholics (134 million) than Italy, France, and Spain combined. Sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, accounts for 16 percent of the world's Catholics, compared with Europe's 24 percent. And the numbers in Africa are growing. 

For more, check out Pew's map below (click to expand), which shows the distribution of Catholics in the 80 countries that have more than 1 million adherents. 

Reprinted from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population," © 2011, Pew Research Center. 

Cyber-Gang Warfare

FEBRUARY 11, 2013 

State-sponsored militias are coming to a server near you. 

On February 11, the Washington Post reported that a forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate has concluded that the United States is the target of "massive, sustained" cyber-espionage campaigns that threaten its economic future. 

The new NIE has not been publically released, so it is not clear specifically which attacks or threats it documents, but the most visible recent attack comes from a cyber-militia labeling itself Iz a-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters. In September of last year, this group announced that it had launched an attack on a collection of U.S. banks in retaliation for the "Innocence of the Muslims" (the video that ignited violent protests across the Middle East on September 11, 2012). Al-Qassam's attack is one of the largest and most persistent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on record, dwarfing the 2007 Russian cyber-militia attack that crippled Estonia. Authorities have described al-Qassam's capabilities as military-grade and speculated about the organization's ability to disrupt the already ailing U.S. economy. This month, after nearly six months of persistent attacks, cybersecurity experts have largely concluded that al-Qassam is a front organization created to screen an Iranian cyberassault on the U.S. financial system. 

Whether or not the new NIE references the al-Qassam-Iran campaign, the attack is representative of a technique countries are increasingly using to strike at the United States and other countries -- one that has so far proven nearly impossible to defend against or deter. The stratagem involves surreptitiously building autonomous citizen hacker groups and using them to deflect responsibility for attacks originating directly or indirectly from the state sponsor. While it may seem implausible that this simple technique would work, over the last decade states have regularly used it to shield a variety of aggressive acts from legal or diplomatic reprisal, and it is becoming clear that this approach to cyberwarfare is harming the U.S. economy just as the Post reported. 

Drones and Double Standards

By Robert Golan-Vilella 

February 11, 2013 

Last Friday, MSNBC’s “The Cycle” co-host Krystal Ball attempted to take on the argument that, as she puts it, “if you feel any differently about the drone program under President Obama than you would have under George W. Bush, you are an utter, hopeless hypocrite.” In response, she makes the following case: 

I voted for President Obama because I trust his values and his judgment and believe that he is a fundamentally responsible person. Without gratuitously slamming an ex-president, I think Bush displayed extraordinary lapses in judgment in executing his primary responsibility as commander-in-chief and put troops in harm’s way imprudently. President Obama would have exercised better judgment and he has exercised better judgment. . . . So yeah, I feel a whole lot better about the program when the decider is President Obama. 

Ball’s position may not be hypocritical, but it is completely wrong. It is at least logically consistent in that if you believe that one president has exercised better judgment than another, there is some reason for you to be more comfortable with the first one having certain powers. But what Ball apparently fails to realize is that when you agree to trust one president with a kind of power, you are necessarily entrusting all of his or her successors with that power. At some point in the future, the United States will probably elect a president whose judgment Ball thinks is faulty. If, say, Sarah Palin or Herman Cain were elected in 2016, there is no mechanism by which Ball or anyone who agrees with her could conceivably “withdraw” the powers Obama has exercised in overseeing the drone program. 

This only becomes clearer when you look at the analogy Ball uses to make her point. In her words: 

How would you feel about a Madeleine Albright panel on women and body image? OK. Now, how do you feel about the Larry Flynt panel on women and body image? Uh huh. How do you feel about your kid in Dr. Ruth’s sex ed class versus Todd Akin’s? Do you feel differently about Warren Buffet penning standards for financial ethics versus Bernie Madoff? Of course you do. Because you’re normal. 

Is Your Business Ready for Cyber War?

11 Feb 2013

image credit: The Terminator

Think your small business is immune from cyber attacks from abroad? Think again.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal recently acknowledged they had fallen victim to sophisticated cyber attacks by the Chinese government. The incidents supported security analyst predictions and F.B.I. concerns that state-sponsored espionage and cyber attacks will continue to grow in 2013.

Misguided notions of safety have led many small-business owners to skip security measuresentirely, which is precisely what primes them as a target. Two things increase the likelihood that a small business will be the target of an international hacking threat: what your company does, and whom your company works with.

Certain industries are at higher risk for a state-sponsored attack, though everyone should remain vigilant, says Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at New York City-based Mandiant, the computer security experts hired by the New York Times to find and expel the newspaper's hackers. The most vulnerable industries include those the Chinese compete with directly: telecommunications, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, finance, energy and any companies indirectly connected to those industries.

Also at higher risk are some law firms, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and news media that focus on hot-button Chinese foreign policy issues, such as human rights or the South China Sea.

The Next Generation of Warfare

By Michael Tomasky 

Feb 11, 2013

Fascinating report from NPR's Tom Gjelton this morning on cyber warfare. The Pentagon is quintupling its cyber warfare workforce from the current 900 to something around 4,500. But more than that, Gjelton reports that while the public posture of the DoD has always been that our cyber warfare units are defensive in nature, we're out there playing some offense, too: 

"The thrust of the strategy is defensive," declared William Lynn, the deputy secretary of defense at the time. Neither he nor other Pentagon officials had one word to say about possible offensive cyberattacks. The Pentagon would not favor the use of cyberspace "for hostile purposes," according to the strategy. "Establishing robust cyberdefenses no more militarizes cyberspace," Lynn said, "than having a navy militarizes the ocean." 

Those assurances are deceptive. Behind the scenes, U.S. commanders are committing vast resources and large numbers of military personnel to planning offensive cyberattacks and, in at least some cases, actually carrying them out. But the secrecy surrounding offensive cyberwar planning means there has been almost no public discussion or debate over the legal, ethical and practical issues raised by waging war in cyberspace. 

Offensive cyberattacks carried out by the United States could set precedents other countries would follow. The rules of engagement for cyberwar are not yet clearly defined. And the lack of regulation concerning the development of cyberweapons could lead to a proliferation of lethal attack tools — and even to the possibility that such weapons could fall into the hands of unfriendly states, criminal organizations and even terrorist groups. 

The story goes on to note that the US had a role in developing the Stuxnet virus. 

It's a jungle out there. There are no rules of engagement. And it's kind of hard to imagine that there ever will be because there is no great moral question at stake here. That is to say, humankind developed rules of warfare, and later rules about nuclear warfare, because the stakes involved human lives--in the latter case, the lives of wholly innocent millions. 

Pentagon Goes On The Offensive Against Cyberattacks

February 11, 2013

In an early audio version of this story, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills was incorrectly identified as being an Army officer. Mills is a Marine officer. 

With the Pentagon now officially recognizing cyberspace as a domain of warfare, U.S. military commanders are emphasizing their readiness to defend the nation against cyberthreats from abroad. What they do not say is that they are equally prepared to launch their own cyberattacks against U.S. adversaries. 

The importance of plans for offensive cyberwar operations is obscured by the reluctance of the government to acknowledge them. When the Pentagon announced its "Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace" in July 2011, for example, it appeared the military was focused only on protecting its own computer networks, not on attacking anyone else's. 

"The thrust of the strategy is defensive," declared William Lynn, the deputy secretary of defense at the time. Neither he nor other Pentagon officials had one word to say about possible offensive cyberattacks. The Pentagon would not favor the use of cyberspace "for hostile purposes," according to the strategy. "Establishing robust cyberdefenses no more militarizes cyberspace," Lynn said, "than having a navy militarizes the ocean." 

Those assurances are deceptive. Behind the scenes, U.S. commanders are committing vast resources and large numbers of military personnel to planning offensive cyberattacks and, in at least some cases, actually carrying them out. But the secrecy surrounding offensive cyberwar planning means there has been almost no public discussion or debate over the legal, ethical and practical issues raised by waging war in cyberspace. 

Offensive cyberattacks carried out by the United States could set precedents other countries would follow. The rules of engagement for cyberwar are not yet clearly defined. And the lack of regulation concerning the development of cyberweapons could lead to a proliferation of lethal attack tools  and even to the possibility that such weapons could fall into the hands of unfriendly states, criminal organizations and even terrorist groups.