30 December 2013

The rising tide of India-Japan relations

by Vivek Sengupta — December 27, 2013 5:39 pm

Japan reaches out to India like never before. India must reciprocate to make the most of a paradigm shift in Asian power politics.

It is not often that a head of state returns for a formal visit to a country half a century after making his first official trip. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, who have recently concluded a historic six day visit to India, have accomplished just that. They returned to India 53 years after their 1960 sojourn here as the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. This visit, and the expected visit in January of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe as chief guest at India’s Republic Day Parade, are widely seen as highlights of a transformational new chapter in the traditional ties between the two countries.

India and Japan trace back their civilisational relations to the Buddha and the spread of Buddhism to the Far East in the early centuries of the first millennium. In modern times, many prominent Indians visited Japan in the 1890s and the early decades of the last century. They were immeasurably impressed by what they saw of a resurgent Japan and, in turn, impressed their hosts by their outlook and philosophy. Prominent among these Indian stalwarts were Vivekananda and Tagore. The latter, however, earned the wrath of many Japanese when he took a dim view of Japanese nationalism and imperialism. But that was Tagore, who was just as critical of certain aspects of the Gandhian world-view.

Later, Japan played a key role in India’s freedom struggle by providing invaluable succour and support to nationalists like Rashbehari Bose and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Indians always recall this support with gratitude. The Japanese, in their turn, remain grateful about what they see as brave support extended by Judge Radhabinod Pal.

Justice Pal’s name may no longer ring a bell in India. But the people of Japan still recall that he was the lone judge in the 11 member international military tribunal who returned a verdict of Not Guilty in the trial of Japan’s top 25 wartime leaders after World War II. When Prime Minister Abe came to India in 2007, he said in his address to the Indian Parliament, “Justice Pal is highly respected even today by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.” Mr Abe is one of those Japanese. He even travelled to Calcutta to call on the 81-year old son of the late Justice Pal.

Murphy's Law: India Drags Jet Fighter To The Finish Line

December 28, 2013

India is finally, after many delays, issuing an IOC (Initial Operational Certificate) for the locally made LCA (Light Combat Aircraft or "Tejas") jet fighter. This allows Tejas to be flown by military pilots, not just certified test pilots. The next goal is to make Tejas capable of earning an FOC (Final Operation Clearance). That would declare the aircraft is combat ready and that all its systems (electronics, fire control, weapons handling and so on) are combat ready. The first Tejas ready to earn an FOC is not expected before the end of 2014. But to move things along in the meantime the first Tejas squadron (20 aircraft) will be built to IOC standards and upgraded later. The plan is to build ten IOC grade Tejas in 2014 and hope for the best. This first Tejas squadron will be based in the southern tip of India (near Sri Lanka) and far from any likelihood of combat. It will be a few years before India is confident enough in Tejas to station any of them on the Pakistani or Chinese border.

A year ago the government admitted to the continued inability to get the Tejas into mass production and quietly delayed that for at least two more years. Production was originally to begin at the end of 2012 but the number of technical problems with the LCA was too great to clear up in time for production to start on schedule. Many essential electronic items were not functioning properly or reliably. The prototypes were maintenance nightmares and after each test flight it took several days to get the aircraft in shape to fly again. The managers of this government financed project tried to keep the problems quiet while they were quickly and quietly fixed but failed at both these tasks.

This was not the first major failure for the LCA. In early 2013 India admitted defeat and dropped plans to use the locally developed Kaveri engine in the LCA. After 24 years and over $600 million the Kaveri was unable to achieve the necessary performance or reliability goals. The government plans to see if the Kaveri can be used in a combat UAV that is being developed locally but that aircraft is not expected to fly for another five years or more.

The LCA developers saw this Kaveri disaster coming and several years ago ordered 99 American F414 jet engines for $8.1 million each. These were to be used for the first LCAs being mass produced. At that point it was still believed that eventually most of the LCAs were to be powered by the Kaveri engine. The F414s were to substitute only until the Kaveri was ready but now are a long-term solution.

The Stories You Missed in 2013

Six events and trends that were overlooked this year, but may be leading the headlines in 2014.
DECEMBER 29, 2013

Russia and Canada Duke it Out over the North Pole

The race to lay claim to Arctic resources has been underway for some time now, but it entered an explicitly antagonistic phase in 2013 as Russia and Canada re-upped competing territorial claims and Moscow vowed to increase its military presence in the region. "I request that you pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic," Russian President Vladimir Putin subtly said in a meeting with his Defense Ministry Board earlier this month. A spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry immediately fired back, saying that Ottawa was prepared to defend its sovereignty "in adherence to International Law, and through science-based measures."

The rapid retreat of polar ice caps has opened up shipping lanes and freed up potentially huge natural resource caches in the Arctic. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region could contain between 10 and 15 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and as much as 30 percent of its natural gas. Most of this lies within the uncontested territories of Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States (the United Nations allows countries to claim territory farther than 200 miles offshore if they can show that it is an extension of their continental shelf). But Russia, Canada, and Denmark are all pushing the envelope, indicating that their claims reach as far as the North Pole. In 2007, a Russian submarine went so far as to stake a flag on the North Pole seabed.

The Arctic scramble has also prompted military maneuvering by several of the region's claimants. Earlier this year, Russia renovated its air base on the New Siberian Islands and announced plans to reopen a number of other Cold War-era bases in the Arctic. Moscow also plans to commission two nuclear submarines specifically detailed to the region, in addition to other military hardware. Canada, meanwhile, has held annual military exercises in the Arctic and announced plans to establish Canadian Forces Ranger units to patrol the area. "Canada is going to fight to assert its sovereignty in the north," Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said earlier this month. "[B]ut I think we will be good neighbors in doing so."

Indian IT: Wake up and smell the opportunity

Dec 29, 2013,
Source Link

There are new $100-billion market opportunities that could revitalize this industry.
The same advances that are changing the IT landscape are also creating new opportunities, says Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Stanford Law School and director of research at Duke University...

A few years ago, Wall Street Journal and Forbes published articles predicting the demise of Indian IT. I responded with an article that they were dead wrong. I said that the outsourcing market had a long way to go before IT peaked; rising salaries and attrition rates were not a cause for long-term concern; and Indian IT would soon become a $100 billion industry. It did.

Now I am ready to declare the end of the line for Indian IT. There are new $100-billion market opportunities that could revitalize this industry. But from what I've seen, Indian executives seem incapable of steering their ships in the right directions.

It is not that Indian outsourcers have become less capable of servicing Western needs. It is that their customer base — the CIO and IT department — is in decline. With the advent of tablets, apps, and cloud computing, users have direct access to better technology than their IT departments can provide them. They can download cheap, elegant, and powerful apps on their iPads that make their corporate systems look primitive. These modern-day apps don't require internal teams of people doing software development and maintenance. They are user-customizable and can be built by anyone with basic programming skills.

It takes decades to update legacy computer systems , and corporate IT departments move at the speed of molasses. So, Indian outsourcers have a few more years before they see a significant decline. They certainly won't see the growth and billion-dollar deals that have brought them this far.

Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns

By Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller, Published: December 28

A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.

The National Intelligence Estimate, which includes input from the country’s 16 intelligence agencies, predicts that the Taliban and other power brokers will become increasingly influential as the United States winds down its longest war in history, according to officials who have read the classified report or received briefings on its conclusions. The grim outlook is fueling a policy debate inside the Obama administration about the steps it should take over the next year as the U.S. military draws down its remaining troops.

The report predicts that Afghanistan would likely descend into chaos quickly if Washington and Kabul don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014 — a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to spend in Afghanistan over the coming years.

“In the absence of a continuing presence and continuing financial support,” the intelligence assessment “suggests the situation would deteriorate very rapidly,” said one U.S. official familiar with the report.

That conclusion is widely shared among U.S. officials working on Afghanistan, said the official, who was among five people familiar with the report who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity to discuss the assessment.

Some officials have taken umbrage at the underlying pessimism in the report, arguing that it does not adequately reflect how strong Afghanistan’s security forces have become. One American official, who described the NIE as “more dark” than past intelligence assessments on the war, said there are too many uncertainties to make an educated prediction on how the conflict will unfold between now and 2017, chief among them the outcome of next year’s presidential election.

The Iran-Pakistan Pipeline Pipe Dream

The recent agreement between the P5+1 and Tehran regarding the latter’s nuclear program has boosted hopes in Pakistan that the long-delayed construction of an Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline can finally be completed. The reasoning in Islamabad is that the easing of international sanctions on Iran will make it easier to find international financing for theremaining segment of the pipeline inside Pakistan, estimated to cost $1.8 billion. Iran had offered $500 million in credit to Pakistan to do the engineering and construction, but recently withdrew that offer. According to official Pakistani sources, both sides renewed their commitment to the “Peace pipeline” at a ministerial meeting in Tehran in December, and Pakistan has welcomed Iran’s recommendation that it approach third parties, including European countries, for financing.

Like many proposals for cross-border projects in South Asia, the concept of an IP pipeline is driven as much by wishful thinking and political posturing as by hard economic analysis. One prominent narrative in the Pakistani media is that the IP pipeline is the most feasible solution to the country’s crippling energy shortages, but that the project is being stalled by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in deference to opposition from Washington and Riyadh. Pakistan’s former president, Asif Ali Zardari, with an eye on upcoming elections, joined Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in March 2013 in inaugurating work on the Pakistani section of the pipeline. Although no actual construction on the Pakistani portion of the pipeline has taken place since then, Zardari’s political grandstanding established a high-visibility benchmark against which Sharif’s leadership and patriotism will be judged. Sharif’s government has found it expedient, therefore, toperiodically reassert its support for the project as a gesture of defiance of U.S. pressure, regardless of economic and political realities.

In public pronouncements since his election in May 2013, Sharif has shown a realistic understanding that Pakistan’s energy crisis is complex and not susceptible to a single remedy. His new national energy policy, announced in June of this year, is admirably candid about the need to cut back on energy subsidies, especially for the affluent; to crack down more forcefully on electricity theft; and to expand the use of indigenous power sources, including hydroelectricity and unexploited coal deposits in the Thar Desert. The government’s first budget talks as well about importing coal and electricity from India—not a popular proposal in some nationalist circles.

Bangladesh Liberation 1971: Recalling United States and China’s Record

Paper No. 5625 Dated 27-Dec-2013
By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation in December 1971after a horrendous ethnic genocide inflicted by the Pakistan Army beginning March 1971 on the Bengali East Pakistan even though the Pakistan Bengalis constituted Pakistan’s majority population.

The genocide was vicious and brutal leading to the slaughter of nearly a million Bangladeshis. It was meant to stifle the Bangladeshi demands for independence.

The Pakistan Army genocide onslaught on Bengali East Pakistan was launched to nullify the General Elections results which would have swept the Awami League of Sheikh Mijibur Rahman into power in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army had the tacit support of Pakistani prominent leaders like Zulfiqar Bhutto.

Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation soaked in blood and violence. The Pakistan Army can be said to have virtually wiped out a generation of the best intellectual brains of Bangladesh.

The whole of 2013 has witnessed Bangladesh engulfed in a series of externally funded or inspired violent demonstrations operating with dual political objectives.

The first objective was to pre-empt or prevent the International Crimes Tribunal War Crimes trials of Bangladeshis who collaborated with the Pakistan Army in its genocide against Bangladeshis who happened to be their fellow citizens and co-religionists. These Bangladeshi collaborators of the Pakistan Army genocide were predominantly of the Jamaat-i-Islami. The first execution has taken place and some more are awaited.

Bangladesh’s present ruling Awami Party cannot be faulted for exorcising the Bangladeshi psyche of the ghosts of its genocide and cleansing the political ethos if violence which still persists. Bangladesh’s Generation Next has widely welcomed and supported these moves of the Government.

The second political objective operating in Bangladesh is to somehow prevent or discredit the January5 2014 General Elections ordered and being considered as per the existing Constitution. Spearheading incessantly this unending disruptive strikes and violence is the main Opposition Party, the BNP, which presumably feels politically toothless by its main coalition partner the Jammat-i-Islami being debarred by the Supreme Court from contesting elections. Jammat-i-Islami the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh

A 'Narrowing Path' for China's Scholars

A respected professor's open resignation has academics asking where Chinese government meddling will end.
DECEMBER 29, 2013

It started with an ending. "Perhaps it's a bad choice, but it's one I made after much deliberation, a price I have to pay for a free and dignified life," Chen Hongguo wrote of his decision to quit. On Dec. 23, Chen -- formerly an assistant professor at the Northwest University of Political Science and Law in Xi'an, a large city in central China -- posted a public letter explaining his departure to his 57,000 followers on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter. In the process, he re-ignited grassroots complaints about the lack of academic freedom in China.

In the letter -- which was shared more than 17,000 times within 12 hours before censors removed it -- Chen expressed frustration over what he called the "narrowing path" of academic inquiry. A vocal advocate for strengthening the rule of law and civic responsibility, Chen accused his employer of working with the Xi'an government to obstruct his attempts to give speeches on legal reform, run book clubs featuring the works of prominent liberal philosophers John Stuart Mills and Max Weber, and attend academic conferences in Hong Kong, traditionally a freer place to discuss Chinese politics than the mainland. 

Chen wrote in his public letter that upon his return from Hong Kong, he faced disciplinary action for "having classes taught by substitute teachers." Chen acknowledged violating university strictures, but wrote that he had merely "invited practicing lawyers and noted legal scholars" to teach "several classes a semester." The university issued a statement on Dec. 26, saying that it had accepted Chen's resignation and emphasizing that "everything was handled according to school rules." In response, Chen posted on his Weibo account later that day that his resignation was "a personal choice," adding, "I fully understand and thank the university for its decision."

The resignation letter went viral -- and met a swift end -- likely because it stirred concerns over further assaults on academic freedom. He Weifang, a preeminent law professor at Peking University and Chen's mentor, urged Chen's former university to "protect his basic rights" but also advised Chen not to resign, arguing that "justice needs compromise." (He should know; in March 2009 he was effectively exiled from Peking University, sent to a two-year stint at a school in the western region of Xinjiang in likely punishment for having signed Charter 08, a 2008 petition urging deep democratic reforms in China.) Chen's missive also had appeal among the grassroots. "I read the letter with tears," read one of the most "upvoted" comments to the letter. "Whose fault is it that such a talented, dignified, and ambitious law professor left the teaching podium he loved? Is this a tragedy of the law? A tragedy of the system?"

Feeling Pushed to the Side by U.S., Saudis Looking for New Allies

December 29, 2013

Feeling US Snub, Saudis Strengthen Ties Elsewhere

Associated Press, December 29, 2013

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Increasingly vocal in its frustration over United States policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.

It may find a solution in France, whose president is ending the year with 24 hours of high-level meetings with the Saudi leadership in a visit intended to showcase commercial and diplomatic strength.

With an entourage of French executives from the lucrative defense and energy sectors, President Francois Hollande arrives Sunday in Riyadh for a flurry of accords and contracts that have been in the works for months. The two countries also find themselves unexpectedly aligned in resistance, if not outright opposition, to U.S. policy on Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program.

The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, recently described the policies of some partners toward Iran and Syria as a “dangerous gamble” while calling for the kingdom to be more assertive internationally after decades of operating in diplomatic shadows.

France, with similar fears about Syria, has been one of the strongest backers of the Syrian moderate leadership and Hollande had pledged military support against Syrian President Bashar Assad until both the U.S. and Britain backed away. On Iran, the French shouldered their way into the negotiations with Iran, demanding a better deal and warning that the Tehran government needed careful monitoring.

"We cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by," Prince Mohammed wrote in a Dec. 17 opinion piece in The New York Times.

"We expected to be standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends and partners who have previously talked so much about the importance of moral values in foreign policy," he wrote in the piece titled "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone."

But it may not have to. The French have been clear that they share Saudi fears that U.S. and Russian concerns over Islamic militants could leave Assad the victor in any peace deal. Hollande’s visit will be his second since taking office in May 2012 — a rarity for a French leader outside Europe — and his defense minister has been three times, most recently after the announcement of a 1.1 billion euro ($1.4 billion) contract with the Saudi navy.

Who is Behind the Beirut Bombing?


The contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia is manifesting itself vividly in Syria, and now Lebanon is rising as the next geopolitical battleground for the two regional powers.

Lina Khatib

The assassination of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri aide and former minister Mohamad Chatah in Beirut on December 27, is the latest in a series of attacks aimed at destabilising Lebanon and bringing it closer to the Syrian conflict. That Lebanon should witness this kind of spillover from the Syrian crisis is not surprising: Lebanon is host to several stakeholders in the Syrian conflict, and has often been a microcosm of regional political dynamics. Viewed through a regional prism, the assassination of Chatah is about more than internal Lebanese affairs alone.

Recently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran have felt empowered as they have both succeeded in asserting their political legitimacy due to international negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons and Iran's nuclear development programme. Perceived empowerment means fewer incentives for political compromise.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has been expressing frustration at both the trajectory of the Syrian conflict and the international community's response to it. It perceives Iran's and Syria's anticipated international deals as further losses for its regional influence.

Lebanon stands - not for the first time - as an example of the tug of war that is redefining power relations in the region. Saudi Arabia's allies in the country, March 14 Alliance, have been fragmented and weak, and the targets of a series of political assassinations that began with the killing of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. Their anticipation of a "victory" against the Assad regime in the summer of 2013, was thwarted by a change of direction in US foreign policy regarding military intervention in the conflict.

Iran's allies, on the other hand, namely Assad's regime and Hezbullah, feel that they are winning the day. Not only is Assad gaining militarily in Syria and politically as a result of the chemical weapons deal, Hezbullah also feels that its growing stature as an ally of Assad's means the ability to assert itself politically in Lebanon. Iran, meanwhile, sees in negotiations with the United States a glimmer of hope in achieving global recognition for its position as a regional leader in the Middle East with a "legitimate" stake in other countries' affairs.

Within Lebanon, current heated debates about forming a new cabinet of ministers - as the country has been without a government for several months - are witnessing a higher degree of stubbornness by Hezbullah. In a country where political contestation is generally a zero-sum game between winners and losers, compromise when someone is "winning" becomes a sign of weakness. And thus, Chatah's assassination, as a key March 14 figure, can be seen as an attempt at putting political pressure on the anti-Assad coalition. It is also about political pressure on a regional scale, with Iran asserting itself in the face of Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian-Saudi contest is manifesting itself vividly in Syria, and now Lebanon is rising as the next geopolitical battleground for the two regional powers. As the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia becomes more acute, so do Lebanese political battles. With one side refusing to compromise and the other feeling vindicated, the elimination of a man widely perceived as a moderate (despite his open criticism of Hezbullah and Assad) can only push Lebanese political opponents towards further polarisation.

The same can be said about Iranian-Saudi relations. Chatah was the victim of this double polarisation. His assassination is, therefore, not just bad news for Lebanon, but for the Middle East region as a whole, signalling the dawn of an era of heightened tensions that are likely to turn even bloodier if Iran and Saudi Arabia continue along the same trajectory.

This article was originally published in Al Jazeera.

"Smart Power" And Humanitarian Assistance

The United States has a robust humanitarian assistance capacity in the Pacific and it has multiple objectives. 

December 28, 2013 

A recent State Department report highlighted the expansion of U.S. maritime assistance and capacity building in South East Asia. This document falls firmly within the guidelines set forth in the Cooperative Maritime Strategy, as well as in the State Department’s longstanding preferences with respect to regional engagement. 

In addition to improving response time, these sorts of agreements will also enhance the ability of the USN to carry out cooperative disaster relief, as it will help create partnerships and familiarity with host state response organizations. We have more than enough evidence that the increasing concentration of Southeast Asian populations in the littoral will radically increase the incidence and severity of natural disasters, which almost invariably lead to political, social, and economic disruption. 

Such maritime assistance programs do not guarantee that the recipients will support the geopolitical aims of the United States in a high diplomatic sense; the friends we’re winning and influencing have their own interests, and in an actual struggle for power in East Asia would have their own reasons for supporting one side or the other. But let’s be frank; any program that “intends to provide up to $18 million in new assistance to Vietnam to enhance the capacity of coastal patrol units to deploy rapidly for search and rescue, disaster response, and other activities, including through provision of five fast patrol vessels in 2014 to the Vietnamese Coast Guard” also increases the combat capacity of Vietnamese maritime forces, as well as Vietnam’s ability to maintain a presence in areas that it contests with China. There’s surely a trade off between disaster preparedness and external defense, but a professional force with modern equipment can, for a time, become better at both. 

This goes beyond “soft power;” it fits better with Joseph Nye’s conception of “smart power,” which involves utilizing the military and diplomatic tools of the United States to achieve national objectives. In this case, the United States is leveraging the “pointiest” part of its national security toolkit to achieve objectives normally associated with soft, diplomatic power. Not incidentally, increased interaction with the officers and personnel of Southeast Asian nations, and with the social and economic geography of the region, nearly guarantees that the United States will have a more full intelligence picture of the Southeast Asian littoral. 

These programs can be tough to sell to Congressional budget hawks, most of whom hold considerable suspicion of any project that smacks of foreign aid. This perspective sets aside concerns over the material growth of the Chinese Navy, or over increased Chinese territorial assertiveness. However, it certainly helps to accomplish a set of national values that the United States has long sought, including the security of maritime transit and a reduction of the most disruptive effects of natural disasters. 

Where will it kick off next?

In the networked age, country-specific predictions of political unrest like poverty or inequality are pointless
The Guardian, Friday 27 December 2013 1
A boy wears a Guy Fawkes mask in Gezi Park, Istanbul in June 2013. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

It was like a CD track skipping, or a video suddenly jerking to the next scene. I was filming on a barricade in Istanbul, carefully resetting my shot to be out of range of police firing CS gas canisters when one hit me in the forehead. The dent it made in my helmet now forms part of a cautionary PowerPoint presentation on journalists' safety training courses.

During the Gezi Park occupation perfectly ordinary middle-class people built barricades that kept Turkish police at bay for four nights. Inside the park they formed a makeshift version of the society they would like to live in. They piled up a mountain of free food, sang songs and drank beer in defiance of the conservative religious government.

By day the grass was covered with students doing their homework. By night the approach roads were filled with masked young men – the football fans swapping scarves to signal a truce in the 100-year hatred between Istanbul's clubs. When I asked what their jobs were, they whispered back: "architect, shipping clerk, software engineer".

The Gezi Park events marked a turning point in the global unrest we're living through. Though not officially a Bric country, Turkey has most of the attributes of one – high growth, a young population, a repressive state prone to corruption and arbitrary action. So after Gezi it was no surprise to see Brazil's protest movement spiral into a million people on the streets. Nor the 17 million taking part in the demonstrations that toppled Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, nor the Ukraine protests that are still under way.

These societies were supposedly the beneficiaries of globalisation and marketisation. But up close, the rising middle class felt shut out. So now "masked guy with gym membership who hates corruption" has joined the "graduate without a future" on the list of social archetypes through which we try to understand the unrest.

2013's Most Portentous Developments

December 27, 2013
With 2013 approaching termination, it may be a good time to review the five most portentous events and developments of the year. These are events and developments that hold out high prospects for ongoing impact, will likely generate derivative events and developments, and will spawn indirect as well as direct consequences. This is a subjective exercise, with plenty of room for alternative perspectives and debate. But somebody has to begin the discussion, so here are my five most portentous events and developments of 2013.

The Decline of the Obama Presidency: A big contributor to this development, of course, has been the disastrous rollout of the president’s Affordable Care Act, which has sapped Obama’s political standing precipitously and placed his party on the defensive for the coming campaign year. But the administration’s decline is a product not merely of the Obamacare fiasco. The president’s inability to sustain a serious agenda thus far in his second term has rendered him hapless in the eyes of many Americans. In domestic policy, nothing of consequence is happening under the president’s leadership. True, he has a cantankerous House of Representatives eating at him constantly. But that is no excuse. Many successful presidents have had to contend with obstructionist forces in Congress and still managed to bring about significant accomplishments. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton come to mind. Obama has squandered any opportunity he may have had to sway Congress toward a positive presidential agenda, either through force of argument, going directly to the people, or exercising political cajolery mixed with traditional horse-trading and the subtle political threat. The result over the next three years is likely to be inertia, increasingly feisty political squabbling, and ever-growing voter angst.

In foreign policy, the president has demonstrated that he doesn’t really have one. His zig-zag effort to deal with Syria, his inability to direct his policy focus away from the Middle East and toward the Far East, his reactive approach to Russia and China, his fluctuation between expressions of Wilsonian idealism and cautious realism—all these reflect a foreign policy that lacks strategic coherence, vision and consistency.

I have written previously in these spaces that only three presidents have been reelected by a smaller margin that Obama’s, and all faltered in their second terms, followed by the opposition party taking the White House at the next election. The three are Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush. If Obama wishes to avoid their fate, he must demonstrate a level of leadership that has thus far eluded him. If he can’t do it, the decline of his presidency will become progressive, and the country will continue to suffer.

How to Protect Your Identity and Other Do’s and Don’t’s in Canadian SIGINT Agency Manual

December 28, 2013

Canadian spy manual reveals how new recruits are supposed to conceal their identities

Colin Freeze

The Globe & Mail, December 22, 2013

Signals intelligence ‘is not what you see in Hollywood!’ That’s one piece of advice for newly recruited spies at Canada’s electronic-eavesdropping agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada. Colin Freeze scans the partly redacted 650-page guide for other tips

Watch out for foreign spies, hackers, terrorist sympathizers and disgruntled employees. Tell acquaintances you work for a “generic” government agency.

Leave any iPods, USB sticks, and cellphones at home. At day’s end, turn off your computers, lock down files, and make sure not to take home anything classified. Spilling secrets means risking going to jail.

Then there are administrative details: The pay period ends every second Thursday, life insurance pays out at twice annual salary, and you get up to 15 paid sick days a year.

These are among the directives and cautions relayed to newly recruited spies at Canada’s electronic-eavesdropping agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada.

The “CSEC 101: Foundational Learning Curriculum,” comprises dozens of PowerPoint decks that are intended to help new employees at the Ottawa agency find their feet. The Globe and Mail obtained the 650-page manual through Access to Information laws.

These partly redacted presentations from 2012 do not speak to the kinds of CSEC spying lately brought to light by former American contractor Edward Snowden – the leaked operational slides that allegedly show CSEC spying on Brazil’s energy sector and also taking steps to keep tabs on foreign diplomats at G20 meetings.

Rather, the “learning curriculum” – complete with arcane acronyms and occasional illustrations from The Simpsons – speaks to the bureaucratic banalities behind the job, and a culture of extreme caution in terms of protecting information from outsiders.

"Discretion – it matters!" one slide says. "Be discreet both at work and home."

The information conveyed in the CSEC 101 document is intended to groom new members of the agency’s rapidly growing staff of 2,100 computers scientists, mathematicians, engineers, linguists and analysts. Steeped in a culture of secrecy, the rookies are told they are patriotic collectors of “signals intelligence” – and that this “SIGINT” is a raw good that will be refined into reports, which in turn will be consumed by “clients” in just about every branch of the federal bureaucracy.

Work of NSA’s Computer Hacking Organization Detailed in New Der Spiegel Report

DeDocuments Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

Der Spiegel Staff

December 29, 2013

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

In January 2010, numerous homeowners in San Antonio, Texas, stood baffled in front of their closed garage doors. They wanted to drive to work or head off to do their grocery shopping, but their garage door openers had gone dead, leaving them stranded. No matter how many times they pressed the buttons, the doors didn’t budge. The problem primarily affected residents in the western part of the city, around Military Drive and the interstate highway known as Loop 410.

In the United States, a country of cars and commuters, the mysterious garage door problem quickly became an issue for local politicians. Ultimately, the municipal government solved the riddle. Fault for the error lay with the United States’ foreign intelligence service, the National Security Agency, which has offices in San Antonio. Officials at the agency were forced to admit that one of the NSA’s radio antennas was broadcasting at the same frequency as the garage door openers. Embarrassed officials at the intelligence agency promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and soon the doors began opening again.

It was thanks to the garage door opener episode that Texans learned just how far the NSA’s work had encroached upon their daily lives. For quite some time now, the intelligence agency has maintained a branch with around 2,000 employees at Lackland Air Force Base, also in San Antonio. In 2005, the agency took over a former Sony computer chip plant in the western part of the city. A brisk pace of construction commenced inside this enormous compound. The acquisition of the former chip factory at Sony Place was part of a massive expansion the agency began after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

On-Call Digital Plumbers

One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years — the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

Worldwide Protests Portend the Shaking of Authority

OP-ED DECEMBER 27, 2013 

This year has been one of vibrant and daring social protest, closing with the tumult in Ukraine and Thailand. Disturbances have taken place even in ultra-stable Singapore.

Protests have rumbled on intermittently in several austerity-afflicted European countries, and during the northern summer mass demonstrations in Turkey and Brazil filled the media. Citizens across the world, it seems, are bravely taking up W.H. Auden's famous injunction ''to undo the folded lie … the lie of Authority/Whose buildings grope the sky''.

The occurrence of so many protests within such a short space of time invites the thought that a new international wave of citizen-led democracy is upon us. Analysts have long talked about the emergence of a cosmopolitan civil society. Many academics and activists see global civic mobilisation as the social counterpart to economic globalisation: an internationalisation of protest and citizen power can, they insist, mitigate the disenfranchising effects of financial globalism.

The protests seem to counter-balance notions of cultural relativism, as pictures capture Brazilians, Turks, Ukrainians, Italians, Russians, Egyptians and Thais engaged in similar street battles. No wonder hopes are high for what might be termed a new ''democratic cosmopolitanism''.

There are clearly similarities between the different movements: the use of communication technology; heightened citizen expectations; frustration with opaque decision making in democracies, infant quasi-democracies and autocracies; and a healthy loss of deference, even in some very conservative and socially hierarchical societies.

Yet, look more closely, and it becomes clear we are still far from witnessing any unstoppable spirit of democratic cosmopolitanism. Some protests have been stirred by big, system-changing aims; others are directed at very prosaic policy changes. Most commonly, they have been triggered by locally specific grievances or discrete corruption scandals.

The results have been very different, too. Not all the protests have been successful, even in achieving minimalist versions of their objectives. In Turkey, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated his power since the protests. Turkey has been left with the combustible mixture of a highly majoritarian shade of democracy and simmering social discontent. Ukrainian protesters may yet force their government to sign an agreement with the European Union, but the country's democratisation is far from ensured.

Moreover, the linkages between different protest movements have been relatively limited. Most of today's protests aren't especially cosmopolitan in outlook. Indeed, most contain at least a pinch of nationalist flavouring. Activists in Russia and Egypt are still prickly about outside linkages and engagement. Anti-austerity mobilisations in European countries have been strikingly national in their discourses and organisational structure: Pan-European solidarity is in short, even diminishing supply.

NSA Catalog Indicates Agency Has Back-Doors Built Into Many Electronic Devices and Software Systems

December 29, 2013

Catalog Advertises NSA Toolbox

Jacob Appelbaum, Judith Horchert and Christian Stöcker

Der Spiegel

December 29, 2013

After years of speculation that electronics can be accessed by intelligence agencies through a back door, an internal NSA catalog reveals that such methods already exist for numerous end-user devices.

Editor’s note: This article accompanies our main feature story on the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit. You can read it here.

When it comes to modern firewalls for corporate computer networks, the world’s second largest network equipment manufacturer doesn’t skimp on praising its own work. According to Juniper Networks’ online PR copy, the company’s products are “ideal” for protecting large companies and computing centers from unwanted access from outside. They claim the performance of the company’s special computers is “unmatched” and their firewalls are the “best-in-class.” Despite these assurances, though, there is one attacker none of these products can fend off — the United States’ National Security Agency.

Specialists at the intelligence organization succeeded years ago in penetrating the company’s digital firewalls. A document viewed by SPIEGEL resembling a product catalog reveals that an NSA division called ANT has burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry — including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell.

A 50-Page Catalog

These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives — from computing centers to individual computers, from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.

This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.

The Geopolitics of Geoengineering

Does humanity’s tightening grip on the fate of nature portend new sources of global conflict?

By Eli Kintisch on December 17, 2013

Illustration by McKibillo

More than a decade ago, Paul Crutzen, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research on the destruction of stratospheric ozone, popularized the term “Anthropocene” for Earth’s current geologic state. One of the more radical extensions of his idea—that human activity now dominates the planet’s forests, oceans, freshwater networks, and ecosystems—is the controversial concept of geoengineering, deliberately tinkering with the climate to counteract global warming. The logic is straightforward: if humans control the fate of natural systems, shouldn’t we use our technology to help save them from the risks of climate change, given that there’s little hope of cutting emissions enough to stop the warming trend?

In recent years a number of scientists—including Crutzen himself in 2006—have called for preliminary research into geoengineering techniques such as using sulfur particles to reflect some of the sun’s light back into space. With the publication of A Case for Climate Engineering, David Keith, a Harvard physicist and energy policy expert, goes one step further. He lays out arguments—albeit hedged with caveats—for actually deploying geoengineering. He says that releasing sun-blocking aerosol particles in the stratosphere (see “A Cheap and Easy Plan to Stop Global Warming,” March/April 2013) “is doable in the narrow technocratic sense.”

Indeed, Keith is steadfastly confident about the technical details. He says a program to cool the planet with sulfate aerosols—solar geoengineering—could probably begin by 2020, using a small fleet of planes flying regular aerosol-spraying missions at high altitudes. Since sunlight drives precipitation, could reducing it lead to droughts? Not if geoengineering was used sparingly, he concludes.

China's Cyber-Warriors

by James Dunnigan
December 27, 2013

Earlier this year it was revealed by Western Internet security researchers that a specific Chinese military organization, Unit 61398, has been responsible for over a thousand attacks on foreign government organizations and commercial firms since 2006. China denied this and some Unit 61398 attacks ceased and others became more discreet for a month or so. But since then Unit 61398 has apparently returned to business as usual. The Chinese found that, as usual, even when one of their Cyber War organizations was identified by name and described in detail there was little anyone would or could do about it. There was obviously a Chinese reaction when the initial news became headlines, but after a month or so it was realized that it didn’t make any difference and the Chinese hackers went back to making war on the rest of the world with their usual reckless abandon. Unit 61398 is believed to consist of several thousand full time military and civilian personnel as well as part-time civilians (often contractors brought in for a specific project).

China's Cyber War hackers have become easier to identify because they have been getting cocky and careless. Internet security researchers have found identical bits of code (the human readable text that programmers create and then turn into smaller binary code for computers to use) and techniques for using it in some of the hacking software used and commercial software sold by some firms in China and known to work for the Chinese military. Similar patterns have been found in hacker code left behind during attacks on American military and corporate networks. The best hackers hide their tracks better than this. The Chinese hackers have found that it doesn’t matter. Their government will protect them. Chinese Information War operations are increasingly being tracked down and examined in detail in the West, but apparently Chinese leaders decided to keep going with these operations and not make a major effort to conceal them.