29 August 2014

Libya's interim government resigns under pressure

Aug 29, 2014

The interim government, operating in the east of the country to avoid the Islamist militias which have a strong presence in Tripoli, said yesterday it "presented its resignation to the elected parliament", which is based in Tobruk, 600 kilometres east of the capital, also for security reasons. (AP Photo)

BENGHAZI: Libya's toothless interim government, led by prime minister Abdullah al-Thani, announced it had tendered its resignation to the elected parliament, days after a rival Islamist administration was created. 

The interim government, operating in the east of the country to avoid the Islamist militias which have a strong presence in Tripoli, said yesterday it "presented its resignation to the elected parliament", which is based in Tobruk, 600 kilometres east of the capital, also for security reasons. 

The announcement came three days after Libya's general national Congress, officially replaced by the parliament elected in June, on Monday named pro-Islamist figure Omar al-Hassi to form a "salvation government". 

The Islamist-dominated GNC convened in Tripoli following an appeal by Islamists groups which contest the legitimacy of the parliament based in Tobruk. 

"The GNC dismissed Abdullah al-Thani as head of government and gave Omar al-Hassi a week to form a salvation government," GNC spokesman Omar Ahmidan told journalists in Tripoli on Monday. 

Islamists called for the GNC to reconvene after they accused parliament of complicity in air raids last week on Islamists battling to capture Tripoli international airport from the nationalist Zintan militia. 

The Islamists claimed to have seized the airport and television pictures on Monday showed them apparently running rampage and celebrating their capture of the facility. 

In its resignation statement the Thani government said it hoped parliament, which it described as "the only legitimate authority in the country", would form a new government "representing all Libyan people... and capable of re-establishing security and building a lawful state". 

That will also be the wish of the international community which has become increasingly concerned at the chaotic situation in Libya. 

The outgoing administration denounced the move to create an alternative Islamist government. 

"It's an act of rebellion against the legitimacy of parliament which is recognised by the international community," it said.

FBI investigates cyber attack on US banks

James Moore
Aug 29, 2014

The attack on JP Morgan reportedly resulted in the loss of “gigabytes of sensitive data” that could have involved customer and employee information. 

The FBI is investigating a suspected Russian cyber attack on a number of American banks. Hackers are believed to have targeted JP Morgan and at least four other banks in the US, amid increasing concern over cyber security from watchdogs on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The attack on JP Morgan reportedly resulted in the loss of "gigabytes of sensitive data" that could have involved customer and employee information. It is said to have been of a level of sophistication beyond ordinary criminals, leading to speculation of a state link. 

The FBI is thought to be investigating whether there is a connection to Russia. American-Russian relations continue to be fraught amid the crisis in Ukraine, with sanctions ramped up. 

The bank is understood to have been in touch with executives in London to see if there is any link to its UK operations, but so far the attack, which happened earlier this month, is thought to have affected only the US. But watchdogs are increasingly worried about the city's potential vulnerability to an aggressive state-backed hack. 

A spokesman for JP Morgan said: "Companies of our size unfortunately experience cyber attacks nearly every day. We have multiple layers of defence to counteract any threats and constantly monitor fraud levels." 

JP faced criticism in April when it blocked a payment from a Russian embassy to the affiliate of an American-sanctioned bank. Russia's foreign ministry described the move as "absolutely unacceptable, illegal and absurd". 

That led to speculation that the bank would face some form of retaliatory action. UK watchdogs say sophisticated hackers have changed tack recently, using publicly available information and a more pinpoint approach to find a way through or around banks' security walls. The tactic has also affected European banks.

One released from Ebola surveillance, 229 under watch

ZUBEDA HAMID

One passenger who travelled from Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to Tamil Nadu has now been released from health surveillance, after 30 days of monitoring.

As of Thursday, a total of 229 passengers who have travelled from the four countries where the deadly virus has broken out, are being monitored across the State, said director of public health K. Kolandaisamy. Of these, 227 passengers passed through Chennai airport and two at Madurai.

Among the 229 are 11 students from two city colleges, who had travelled to their home countries recently. However, all of them are in good health and show no signs of the virus, Dr. Kolandaisamy said.

“They are just being observed as a precautionary measure,” said an official from one of the colleges.

While there are dozens of students from various parts of Africa in the State, only a few fall into the category for observation, as the others have remained here for a while and could not have been exposed to the virus, Dr. Kolandaisamy explained.

A majority of the passengers — 222 — are from Nigeria, while five are from Guinea, one from Sierra Leone and one from Liberia.

The passengers will all be monitored for 30 days since the date of their leaving these countries, as the virus has an incubation period that could be anything between two and 21 days. A total of 15 passengers travelled to other states from Chennai, and are being tracked by their respective State health departments.

Across the country, 821 passengers are being tracked for Ebola as of Wednesday. Besides Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala too account for a lot of the passengers

For any information on the virus, residents can contact the health helpline 104.

Obama tamps down prospect of strikes in Syria

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APPresident Barack Obama gestures in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

President Barack Obama played down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria on Thursday, saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. However, he said his strategy would require more than military action and called for a regional strategy that includes political support from other countries in the region.

In blunt terms, the President said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

“They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Mr. Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages.

The U.S. already is striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighbouring Syria in the wake of Foley’s death. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

“The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not what’s going to happen.”

The surprise move threw his policy into chaos. Congress balked at Mr. Obama’s request for a vote, contributing to his decision to ultimately scrap the strikes. The White House said it also abandoned plans to take military action after Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.

This time, with the midterm elections just over two months away, lawmakers may be even less inclined to take a politically risky vote on military action.

“I see no reason to come to Congress because, if he does, it’ll just become a circus,” Rep. Steve Cohen said this week.

There are some notable exceptions in both parties. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, has said Congress should “certainly” authorize any military action in Syria. Sen. Tim Kaine, a White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president’s broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.

“I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform,” said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. “Congress should vote up or down on it.”

EU mull more Russia sanctions after alleged Ukraine incursions

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Western leaders are to mull further steps against Russia in the coming days including sanctions, after satellite images backed up NATO’s allegation that Russian combat forces are engaging in military operations in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s “alarming” situation will be the focus of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Friday in Milan, said Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

“The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action ... in the area of Krasnodon,” NATO said.

NATO estimated that more than 1,000 Russian solders were fighting among pro-Russian separatists, while insurgents conceded the number to be up to 4,000.

The pictures, sourced from an independent firm named Digital Globe, are “only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements,” the alliance said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the increasing Russian presence a military invasion and cancelled plans to attend the inauguration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He met with his security council and called on Ukrainians to remain calm and united, “We are capable of protecting ourselves.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said tougher sanctions against Russia would be considered on Sunday at an EU summit.

In a phone conference, Ms. Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed “that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine” and on the need for added sanctions, Mr. Obama said. They reaffirmed intentions to work for a diplomatic solution.

Mr. Obama said the current sanctions have already made Russia “more isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War” with capital flight and a shrinking economy.

Answering a reporter’s question in Washington, Obama declared that U.S. “military action” in Ukraine — or a U.S.-Russia “military confrontation” — was “not in the cards”. But he warned that his visit to Estonia ahead of the NATO summit next week in Britain will let alliance members large and small “know that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations”. “Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko is to visit Mr. Obama next month in Washington.

The Ukrainian military said it had largely lost control of cities in the country’s south-eastern border region, where Washington has said that Moscow has opened a second front in the conflict with rebels advancing toward Mariupol, a key port city near the Russian border.

“As separatists have become under pressure, we have seen a real upsurge of Russian activities,” said Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of NATO’s crisis centre in Mons, Belgium.

He said Russian combat troops “equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry” were operating inside Ukraine, with “large quantities of advanced weapons” being transferred to the pro-Russian separatists.

Russian involvement is becoming “more and more overt,” Mr. Tak said, calling the allegation of 1,000 Russian soldiers a conservative estimate.

Ebola disease caseload could reach 20,000: U.N.

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APPeople stand on the shoreline near a sign reading 'NO DUMPING', amongst rubbish at West Point, a area heavily effected by the Ebola virus, with residence not being allowed to leave West Point, as government forces clamp down on movement to prevent the spread of Ebola, in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 27, 2014.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said on Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.

Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighbourhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.

An experimental vaccine developed by the U.S. government and GlaxoSmithKline will be tested on humans starting next week, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced on Thursday. The NIH trial will use healthy adult volunteers in Maryland, and British experts will simultaneously test the same vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali.

Preliminary results on the vaccine’s safety and its effectiveness could be available in months.

Scientists also announced that they have mapped the genetic code of this strain of Ebola to better understand how it kills. In a study published on Thursday in the journal Science, researchers traced an explosion of cases in this outbreak to a single funeral in Guinea in May.

They hope to use the genetic mapping to track mutations that could become more worrisome the longer the outbreak lasts, and make a difference in how doctors spot and fight the disease as vaccines are developed.

The outbreak has now killed at least 1,552 people among 3,069 reported cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and the real caseload in urban areas could be two to four times higher. Meanwhile, an entirely separate Ebola outbreak has killed 13 of 42 people sickened in a remote area of Congo, in Central Africa, the agency said.

With about a 50 per cent mortality rate among those known to be infected, the overall death toll could reach 10,000 in the worst-case scenario.

“I think that’s completely unacceptable,” said the agency’s emergency operations director, Dr. Bruce Aylward.

The WHO’s new plan would cost $489 million to support 750 international health workers and 12,000 national ones. It aims to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months to prevent the spread of any new infections within eight weeks of a case being identified anywhere in the world and improve the public health responses to Ebola in any nation with major transportation hubs or borders shared with affected countries.

With the world’s support, medical workers hope to take “the heat out of this outbreak” within three months, Mr. Aylward said.

The U.N. agency’s announcement was immediately criticized by Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity running many of the treatment centres in West Africa.

“The WHO road map is welcome, but it should not give a false sense of hope. A plan needs to be acted upon. Huge questions remain,” the charity’s operations director, Bruce de le Vingne, said in a statement. “States with the capacity to help have the responsibility to mobilize resources to the affected countries, rather than watching from the sidelines with a naive hope that the situation will improve.”

Containment is key, but it has to be done carefully, in ways that don’t cause panic or hamper the response, the agency said.

The WHO has supported the quarantine of sick people, and said cordoning off entire neighbourhoods can be useful, as long as civil rights are respected. But it has called on airlines to resume flights to affected countries, since Ebola is unlikely to spread through air travel. Health checks at airports should provide sufficient protection while still enabling humanitarian workers to get in.

The Rand Paul Doctrine: Don’t Get Involved

The Fiscal Times
August 26, 2014

At the height of the Iraq crisis, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) surrounded a mountain where Iraqi Christians and other minorities had taken refuge, one loud voice on the American public policy scene was silent. As President Obama launched air strikes that eventually allowed the Yazidis to leave Mount Sinjar, Rand Paul had nothing to say.

Paul’s silence was understandable; he is as close to an isolationist as the Republican Party has seen in decades. In recent years, Paul has criticized the White House’s decision to intervene in Libya, has been against efforts to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has criticized Obama in general for getting America involved in foreign affairs.

Even before the Mount Sinjar crisis, Paul had advocated against sending American troops to Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities, a practice common around the world. In June, he penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal advocating that American do nothing in Iraq.

Bill Kristol: Rand Paul's foreign policy "would be a lot...

Laura Ingraham, Bill Kristol, foreign policy, Rand Paul, Obama
"What would airstrikes accomplish?" he asked. "We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to, in effect, become Iran's air force? What's in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?"

However, as a shrewd politician, Paul knew that Republican voters would not forgive him for advocating this position as groups of Christians were slaughtered by jihadists. So he kept his mouth shut.

His rivals did not. Rick Perry, the Texas governor who appears poised to make a second run at the White House, slammed Paul.

Related: Rick Perry and Rand Paul Slug it Out in Prep for 2016

“[I]t’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote in a July op-ed.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a longtime hawk who has been openly critical of Paul and other isolationist upstarts within the GOP, also was critical of Paul’s refusal to engage. Paul is “part of a wing of the party that has been there prior to World War I that is a withdrawal to 'Fortress America.'"

A Military Post-Mortem on the 50 Day War Between Hamas and Israel

Déjà Vu In Gaza
August 27, 2014

In July 2014 Hamas thought they could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Despite public warning from Israel that the Israeli armed forces were much better prepared to deal with Hamas tactics, Hamas went to war anyway, confident that they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs.

Case in point was a Hamas attempt to use their scuba equipped “naval commandos” to make an underwater assault on an Israeli seaside base just north of Gaza. The Hamas commandos were quickly spotted by Israeli sensors monitoring offshore waters, which automatically sent the contact information to the new Israeli computerized command and control system. This automatically sent the alert (along with location and other data) to land, naval and air vehicles within range. That meant that before the Hamas men hit the beach they were being tracked by an Israeli tank gunner, an armed UAV overhead and a nearby warship. The closest infantry unit sent troops to the beach the Hamas men appeared to be moving towards. The five Hamas men refused to surrender to the Israeli troops waiting for them on the beach and in a brief gun battle all five were killed. One Israeli soldier was wounded and this (and the fact that the Hamas men made it onto the beach) was, by Arab standards a victory. A week later Israel released details of what had happened to the Hamas frogmen.

At that point Hamas was discovering that many of their other new tactics, like dozens of deep tunnels into Israel and numerous new ideas for hiding and launching rockets from residential areas and public buildings (schools, hospitals and mosques) were not only known to the Israelis but were captured by Israeli aerial video cameras. Hamas also discovered that the Israelis had better information on where the Hamas leaders were hiding out and a lot more of these fellows were getting killed than during past conflicts. Hamas also found that their attempts to force Israel to kill a lot more Palestinians during efforts to halt the rocket attacks were compromised by Israeli warnings to civilians (often via telephone) to get out when the rockets hidden in their building were about to be destroyed by smart bombs or missiles. The saddest aspect of all this was that Hamas had been warned.

Months before the July war began Israel revealed that because of new technology and weapons the air force could now hit more targets in 24 hours than it did in 33 days (during the 34 day war with Hezbollah in 2006). For Hamas Israel pointed out that it would now hit in less than 12 hours the number of targets it took seven days to find and attack during the week-long 2008 war with Hamas. This was all part of a technological revolution the Israeli armed forces has been undergoing since the 1990s. Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah those changes have been accelerating.

Expose on Israel’s Powerful Defense Industry

Markus Becker 
August 27, 2014 
Factory and Lab: Israel’s War Business 

Casual attitudes towards weapons: An Israeli soldier kisses his Merkava tank along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. 

Israel invests more money in research than most other countries — and in no other place are research institutes, the defense industry, the army and politics as interwoven. The result is a high-tech weapons factory that successfully exports its goods globally. 

There’s not much left of the high-tech car. In a warehouse about the size of an aircraft hangar, its remains look tiny. There are no wheels, no chassis, just the angular body of the car. And it’s not in good shape at all. There’s a gaping hole in its side with edges of lacerated metal. “Rocket-propelled grenade,” says Yoav Hirsh, smiling. Had a person been inside, he or she would likely not have survived the blast. But there was no one behind the wheel: The Guardium is a fully automated vehicle.

Pride radiates from Hirsh — who has a mix of gray and white hair, an athletic frame and a determined look on his face — when he talks about his cars. He’s the CEO of G-Nius, one of first companies in the world able to produce an army of robot fighters. The Guardium has been used since 2007 in patrols along the border of the Gaza Strip. It can be guided by remote control or can steer itself through a pre-selected route as its cameras and sensors capture data about the surroundings.

G-Nius: Rolling Robots for Israel’s Military

“Guardium already has 60,000 hours of operations behind it,” Hirsh says. “And it has saved many lives.” He says the aim is to complete “missions without any risk to the soldiers.” But in addition to saving lives, G-Nius vehicles can also destroy them, using remote-control weapons systems mounted on top of the unmanned vehicles. Hirsh notes that, although the weapons-equipped vehicles haven’t yet been used, they are deployable. In another warehouse, a standard Ford F350 pick-up truck is parked, one equipped with its own weapons station. The cameras and sensors are real but the machine gun is a dummy. “We’re a civilian firm, after all,” Hirsh says.

G-Nius is a textbook example of the way technology is created in Israel. The company’s headquarters are located in the High-Tech Park development in the city of Yokneam in northeastern Israel, surrounded by numerous other technology firms. It’s a joint venture of the space and electronics firm Elbit Systems and the state-owed aviation and defense company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It also has excellent ties with the military.

'Combat Proven'

Inspired by ISIS, Violent Splinter Group Leaves the Pakistani Taliban

IHSANULLAH TIPU MEHSUD and DECLAN WALSH
August 27, 2014
Hard-Line Splinter Group, Galvanized by ISIS, Emerges From Pakistani Taliban

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban has suffered its second major split in three months, with militant leaders this week confirming the emergence of a hard-line splinter group inspired by the success of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The new group, known as Jamaat-e-Ahrar, is composed of disaffected Taliban factions from four of the seven tribal districts along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, according to a video released by the group. Counterterrorism experts said the group was effectively controlled by Omar Khalid Khorasani, an ambitious Taliban commander with strong ties to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Khorasani’s faction, which is based in the Mohmand tribal agency near Peshawar, had emerged as one of the most active Taliban elements this year. It is believed to have carried out a bombing in Islamabad that sought to derail peace talks between the Taliban and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government.

The formation of Jamaat-e-Ahrar is one of the most serious internal threats to the Pakistani Taliban, officially known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, since it was formed seven years ago.
PAKISTAN’S HOT SPOTS AT A GLANCE

Main theaters of conflict in northwestern Pakistan.



In a lengthy video statement explaining the decision to break away, Mr. Khorasani said the Taliban had become undisciplined and suffered from factional infighting. “This was devastating for our movement,” he said.

The new group also represents a challenge to the authority of the main Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlullah, who gained control of the insurgency last year after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in an American drone strike.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the new group, which is formally called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-e-Ahrar, said the new group had become “the real T.T.P.” and would refuse to take orders from Mr. Fazlullah.

“Now the T.T.P. is ours, not theirs,” Mr. Ehsan said in a phone interview. Mr. Fazlullah’s Taliban faction has come under heavy assault by the Pakistani military in the North Waziristan tribal district. The army said that since the start of the offensive in June, it had killed over 500 militants, although the figures could not be independently confirmed. On Aug. 15, a senior Pakistani general said that the operation was in its “final stages” and that most of the area had been cleared of militants.

Hard-line splinter group, galvanized by ISIS, emerges from Pakistani Taliban

Aug 27, 2014

The new group, known as Jamaat-e-Ahrar, is composed of disaffected Taliban factions from four of the seven tribal districts along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, according to a video released by the group. 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban has suffered its second major split in three months, with militant leaders this week confirming the emergence of a hard-line splinter group inspired by the success of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The new group, known as Jamaat-e-Ahrar, is composed of disaffected Taliban factions from four of the seven tribal districts along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, according to a video released by the group. Counterterrorism experts said the group was effectively controlled by Omar Khalid Khorasani, an ambitious Taliban commander with strong ties to al-Qaida. 

Mr Khorasani's faction, which is based in the Mohmand tribal agency near Peshawar, had emerged as one of the most active Taliban elements this year. It is believed to have carried out a bombing in Islamabad that sought to derail peace talks between the Taliban and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government. 

The formation of Jamaat-e-Ahrar is one of the most serious internal threats to the Pakistani Taliban, officially known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, since it was formed seven years ago. 

In a lengthy video statement explaining the decision to break away, Mr Khorasani said the Taliban had become undisciplined and suffered from factional infighting. "This was devastating for our movement," he said. 

The new group also represents a challenge to the authority of the main Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlullah, who gained control of the insurgency last year after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in an American drone strike. 

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the new group, which is formally called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-e-Ahrar, said the new group had become "the real TTP" and would refuse to take orders from Mr Fazlullah. 

"Now the TTP is ours, not theirs," Mr Ehsan said in a phone interview. Mr Fazlullah's Taliban faction has come under heavy assault by the Pakistani military in the North Waziristan tribal district. The army said that since the start of the offensive in June, it had killed over 500 militants, although the figures could not be independently confirmed. On Aug. 15, a senior Pakistani general said that the operation was in its "final stages" and that most of the area had been cleared of militants.

Pakistani soldiers patrol during a military operation against Taliban militants in the main town of Miranshah in North Waziristan. (AFP Photo)

The internal threat to the Taliban comes from ideological arguments and power struggles. 

‘Russian soldiers crossed Ukraine border by accident’

August 26, 2014 

Smoke from shelling rises over a residential apartment house in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday, July 28, 2014. (Source: AP)

Ukraine's security service said that 10 Russian paratroopers were captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne.

Russian military sources quoted by state agencies on Tuesday said that Russian troops captured by Kiev and shown on Ukrainian television had crossed the border accidentally.

“The soldiers were really taking part in patrolling a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, they crossed it most likely by accident, on an unequipped, unmarked section,” a defence ministry source was quoted as saying by three Russian news agencies.

A Russian defence ministry spokesman told AFP that he could not comment on the reports. Ukraine’s security service said on Monday that 10 Russian paratroopers were captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne.

The village is located about 20 to 30 kilometres from the border with Russia and 50 kilometres southeast of the rebel hub Donetsk. The defence ministry source quoted by the RIA Novosti, ITAR-TASS and Interfax news agencies, said that the soldiers “did not put up any resistance on capture as far as we know.”

Kiev and the US have repeatedly accused Moscow of stoking the separatist insurgency raging in its east but this is the first time Ukrainian authorities claimed to have taken captive soldiers from Russia’s regular army.

The Russian source claimed that a total of more than 500 Ukrainian troops had crossed over the border into Russia on a number of occasions, including in armed vehicles. Russia “did not make a huge fuss about it” and allowed them to cross back into Ukrainian territory, the source said.

Evidence Mounting of Russian Armored and Artillery Units Now Operating Inside the Ukraine

August 26, 2014 
In Ukraine, an armored column appears out of nowhere 

1 of 2. A crater made by a shell which, according to a fighter of the Ukrainian volunteer Dnipro battalion was fired from the territory of Russia, is seen near the town of Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, August 24, 2014.

(Reuters) - On Monday, a resident of Novoazovsk in south-eastern Ukraine said she saw a column of armored vehicles approach the town and start shooting. 

"It all started at 8:00 this morning, tanks appeared, no fewer than seven of them," the woman, who gave her name only as Lyudmila, told Reuters by telephone. "Right now I can hear rumbling, explosions … the residents are hiding." 

In Kiev later that morning, Ukrainian officials said the column was an incursion by Russian troops which it alleges are fighting alongside pro-Moscow separatists, a claim Russia quickly dismissed as disinformation. 

That is a now-familiar ritual: the five-month conflict over eastern Ukraine is one of claim and counter-claim by opposing sides, often centering on what role Russia is playing. With the battlefield mostly too dangerous for reporters to safely move around, verifying who is doing what is usually impossible. 

On Tuesday, in a continuation of the pattern, Kiev said it had captured a group of Russian soldiers who had entered Ukraine on a “special mission”, while Moscow said they were there by mistake. 

However, the armored column that appeared on Monday in the far south-eastern corner of Ukraine, where it abuts the Russian border, was unusual because the spot was far removed from any territory held by the separatists. 

Ukrainian Intelligence Service Provides Details on 10 Captured Russian Paratroopers

August 26, 2014

This is all very interesting. The Russian Defense Ministry says that these 10 captured Russian paratroopers, who belong to the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment of the 98th Guards Airborne Division (normally based at Kostroma outside Moscow), crossed the border by accident.

The Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, calls this claim by Moscow into doubt by pointing out that the 10 Russians were captured in a village 14 kilometers from the Russian border! This is a massive and unpardonable navigational error by supposedly well trained airborne troops. But I don’t think anybody takes Moscow’s claim that this was an accident very seriously.

Here is the SBU material about the 10 captured paratroopers released this morning on the service’s website:

In Donetsk region ten armed Russian subversives detained for illegal crossing Ukrainian border

DONETSK region – The ATO forces suppressed a group of Russian subversives who illegally entered Ukraine.

Near the village of Dzerkalnyi (Amvrosiivskyi district, Donetsk region) the SSU jointly with the Ukrainian Army detained ten servicemen of the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment of the 98th Svirsk Guards Airborne Division of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (military unit 71211). 

Russian servicemen were detained with personal documents and weapons. They testified that, on August 23, a battalion of paratroopers was redeployed by rail to the Rostov region of Russia, and approximately at 3:00 am, August 24, the unit was alerted and ordered to depart as a part of a convoy of several dozen airborne combat vehicles.

Only officers were informed that the Russian military equipment would invade the territory of Ukraine.

The Future of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Chris Williams and John Hartman
August 26, 2014
A Legacy of Leading Change at NGA

Letitia Long, outgoing director of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Credit: USGF photo

The announcement of Director Letitia Long’s departure from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) this fall offers an opportunity to reflect upon her legacy and highlight some key issues that her successor will need to address.

Early in her tenure, Director Long laid out a vision of “Putting the power of GEOINT [geospatial intelligence] into the hands” of warfighters, intelligence analysts and policymakers. She has relentlessly pushed for NGA to forgo the traditional path of target-centric maps, images and analytic reports — to transition the agency from “a road to irrelevance already surpassed by the Internet, advanced technologies and the explosion of social media,” as she put it, to a broker of robust online, on-demand geoint services that provide access to multisource content, applications, expertise and knowledge. She also has sought to modernize the capabilities of NGA analysts, enhancing their contribution to solving hard intelligence problems and raising their standing across the intelligence community.

Despite numerous bureaucratic, cultural and other hurdles, remarkable progress has been made toward accomplishing these goals.

During Long’s tenure, support to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the agency’s top priority mission. To meet warfighter needs, NGA deployed many support teams overseas to ensure that military officials, from senior commanders to the troops deployed at forward operating bases and special operations forces, had timely access to geoint products, services and data to aid in the planning and conduct of counterterrorism and other operations.

One particular noteworthy accomplishment was the advent of activity-based intelligence, or ABI. Working alongside U.S. special operations forces and their interagency partners, NGA analysts led an effort to rapidly fuse data from multiple sources including wide-area motion imagery, full-motion video, tactical signals intelligence, human intelligence reports and other platforms and assets in order to provide a comprehensive picture of enemy combatants, their associates, networks of financiers and couriers, and more. The results clearly demonstrated how multidiscipline “pattern of life” information can be used to dramatically improve our understanding of the enemy and help enable, in real time, highly effective “find, fix and finish” operations. This effort has far-reaching implications and offers other members of the intelligence community an avenue for necessary change.

DNI Lawyer Bob Litt Moves to Center of Controversy Over Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report

Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor 
August 27, 2014 
In Senate-CIA fight on interrogation report, another controversy 

WASHINGTON — The background of a key negotiator in the battle over a Senate report on the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques widely denounced as torture has sparked concerns about the Obama administration’s objectivity in handling the study’s public release. 

Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a former defense lawyer who represented several CIA officials in matters relating to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Now he’s in a key position to determine what parts of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report will be made public. 

Litt’s involvement doesn’t appear to be an ethics issue, at least by the legal definition. But experts say that while it may be acceptable on paper, his involvement in the review should have been a red flag. 

“It does not cross the very low bar that the profession sets for an impermissible conflict of interest,” said Jack Marshall, the president and founder of ProEthics Ltd., a national ethics consulting and training company that has provided seminars to government lawyers, including those employed by the CIA. “But it is the kind of conflict of interest that should be avoided at all costs. The government has to be held to a higher standard.” 

Litt, who’s now 64, was confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate in 2009, contingent upon his agreement to recuse himself from situations that involved his former clients. He referred to the potential conflict in his responses to the Intelligence panel’s questions for the record, submitted during the course of his confirmation process. 

“I represent several present and former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in matters relating to the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists,” Litt wrote to the committee in 2009. “By statute, under the rules of ethics and by virtue of my ethics agreement that has been provided to the committee, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving these clients … including decisions about similarly situated individuals.” 

Despite his 2009 testimony, though, Litt has found himself in the middle of a heated dispute over a program that, according to his testimony, involved several of his former clients. 

Litt’s prior representations, however, didn’t seem to bother Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and who approved the arrangement. 

EVIDENCE OF DIRECT MOSCOW MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN UKRAINE GROWS

August 26, 2014

Evidence of direct Moscow military involvement in Ukraine grows
By Roman Olearchyk in Kiev and Courtney Weaver in Moscow

A combination photo shows men who identified themselves as Russian servicemen in still images from a video released on August 26, 2014 by the Ukrainian Security Service of what it said was a group of Russian soldiers captured on its territory. Ukraine said on Tuesday the group of Russian servicemen had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a “special mission,” contradicting Russian media which cited a defense ministry source in Moscow as saying they got there by accident. The names of the men are self-identified as (clockwise from top left): Sergei Alexeevich Smirnov, Alexei Generalov, Ivan Vasilievich Melchukov and Ivan Igorevich Romantsev. REUTERS/Ukrainian Security Service via Reuters TV

Growing evidence of direct Russian military involvement in the eastern Ukraine uprising is providing a tense backdrop to an expected meeting between President Vladimir Putin, his Kiev counterpart and the EU, aimed at defusing the most serious conflict between Moscow and the west since the Cold War.

Tuesday’s meeting between the three sides is expected to take place in the Belarusian capital of Minsk alongside a pre-planned summit of members of the Russian-led customs union of former Soviet states.

As Mr Putin arrived for the talks, the military stand-off in eastern Ukraine appeared to escalate as Ukrainian officials claimed Russian assault helicopters had fired on to its territory killing four border guards and injuring three.

“Ukrainian border guards were for the first time in this conflict fired at … by two Mi24 Russian Federation assault choppers,” said Col Andriy Lysenko, an army spokesperson. He added that troops faced a second day of attacks from Russian soil.

The US ambassador to Ukraine tweeted: “The new columns of Russian tanks and armour crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be under way.”

Just hours before the talks in the Belarus capital of Minsk, Kiev produced videos of 10 detained Russian paratroopers in which they say they were sent by Moscow to eastern Ukraine for military operations.

Responding to China’s Air Intercept

By Ryan Santicola
August 27, 2014

The PLAAF J-11 fighter flying near the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon.

The US response to the recent intercept is important in the context of the safety and freedom of international airspace. 

Last week, a Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J-11 fighter aircraft intercepted a United States Navy P-8A aircraft over the South China Sea, at one point coming within 30 feet of the P-8A while making sharp maneuvers and crossing the P-8A’s flight path. According to statements by officials at the U.S. Department of Defense and the White House, both aircraft were operating more than 100 nautical miles from the Chinese coast at the time of the intercept. The U.S. formally protested the intercept as dangerous and unprofessional. China responded to the demarche on Saturday, disputing that its aircraft was as close as the U.S. claimed.

This type of harassment and intimidation by the PLAAF has become common in the skies over the South China and East China Seas. In 2001, a PLAAF J-8 collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3, causing the EP-3 to make an emergency landing and the J-8 to crash into the sea. In May and June, Japan protested dangerous intercepts of military aircraft by PLAAF fighters over the East China Sea. Additionally, U.S. officials indicated that this was the second protest lodged with China since May, the previous one issued in regards to similarly aggressive intercepts that have occurred within the last six months.

The message being delivered by the U.S. following this incident is an important one. The U.S. did not object to the intercept itself, but rather to the manner in which it was conducted. This sets an important example of consistency for China and others and reinforces the U.S. commitment to two important issues in the maritime domain, safety of flight and freedom of navigation.

Fundamentally, this was an issue of safety and it is helpful to evaluate the PLAAF fighter’s 30 feet of separation vis-à-vis the standards for safe operation of intercepting aircraft. Article 3 of the Chicago Convention requires that state aircraft (a term that includes military aircraft) operate with “due regard” for the safety of navigation of others and this applies to aircraft conducting intercepts. While “due regard” is not defined in the Convention and is a matter of situational judgment, U.S. practice is instructive as to how it has been interpreted by one of the leading authorities in aviation. Regulations of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) state that “flight operations in accordance with the options of “due regard” or “operational” obligates the authorized state aircraft commander to separate his/her aircraft from all other air traffic.” FAA regulations set the threshold for safe aircraft separations at 500 feet, defining a Near Mid-Air Collision (NMAC) as an incident in which the possibility for a collision existed as a result of two aircraft not maintaining that minimum separation.

New Harsh Pentalties for Espionage About to Be Added to New Chinese Security Law

Alice Yan
August 26, 2014
Spy challenges prompt China security law revamp

Minister of State Security Geng Huichang said counter-espionage agencies faced new challenges and needed stronger legislative support.. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The mainland has proposed strengthening its national security law and changing its name to the counter-espionage law to better cope with new security challenges the country faces, a meeting of the top legislative body the National People’s Congress (NPC) heard yesterday, according to state media reports.

Minister of State Security Geng Huichang told the NPC Standing Committee the proposed law would be based on the existing national security law but include recent experiences in counter-espionage, according to China Central Television.

Geng said counter-espionage agencies faced new challenges and needed stronger legislative support.

"Our general considerations are: the new law … must make counter-espionage work prominent; it summarises previous anti-espionage experiences and turns the measures that have proved effective … into regulations," he was quoted by cri.cnas saying.

The proposal comes against a backdrop of tensions between China and the US and some other countries over hacking and cyberespionage.

The US has indicted five Chinese military officials for industrial spying, while China has complained about US spying activities revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Earlier this month, China detained two Canadians on suspicion of spying.

The proposed law stipulates punishments for foreign entities or individuals spying in China and domestic entities that spy on behalf of foreign organisations and individuals, state media reported. It would also give security agencies the right to inspect and examine, after approval, any government departments with potential risks.

The existing national security law came into effect in 1993 and has never been revised. At yesterday’s meetings, legislators also heard revisions to the Budget Law, Work Safety Law, Insurance Law and Advertisement Law.

Reports on plans for the State Council’s proposal for a commemoration day for martyrs and for the opening of intellectual property law courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as proposed by the Supreme People’s Court, were also delivered at the meeting.

The Growing Number of Aerial Confrontations Between U.S. and Chinese Warplanes

Andrew S. Erickson and Emily de La Bruyere
August 26, 2014
Going Maverick: Lessons from China’s Buzzing of a U.S. Navy Aircraft

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft.Reuters

Many have evoked the film “Top Gun” in describing a recent confrontationbetween a Chinese J-11 fighter and U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane off of Hainan island in the South China Sea. Based on U.S. accounts of the encounter, that movie parallel is apt – with the very important distinction that Hainan is not Hollywood.

The encounter occurred at approximately 9 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 19, during what Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby termed “routine” operations in international airspace 220 kilometers (about 135 miles) off Hainan Island’s coast

According to the Pentagon’s Friday statement, the Chinese jet first crossed under the U.S. aircraft at close range, before flying up at a 90-degree angle directly in front of the American P-8 – displaying a belly loaded with weapons. After swinging its wingtips “within 20 feet” of the U.S. plane, the Chinese jet then flew a barrel roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet of the patrol plane’s top.

The “Top Gun” similarity ends with that roll. When Tom Cruise’s Maverick buzzes enemy MiGs in the film, his risky maneuvers are designed to intimidate fellow fighter jets threatening a U.S. carrier. The American aircraft was no fighter jet, and represented no overt threat. Rather, the P-8 is a submarine-hunting patrol aircraft. It was operating in international airspace, according to routine patterns. It remains unclear whether the American plane was armed but, even if it were, its weapons would have been light – certainly not capable of shooting down other planes. One U.S. Defense Department official compared the Navy aircraft to a “school bus,” and the Chinese jet to “a Ferrari” easily outmaneuvering it.

The past decade has seen a series of confrontations, both at air and at sea, between the U.S. and China, including several in the past few months. Still, despite the many precedents, Washington labeled Tuesday’s “one of the most unsafe intercepts” since April 1, 2001, when a Chinese J-8 fighter jet crashed into an American surveillance plane, killing the J-8’s pilot and forcing the EP-3’s crew to land their damaged aircraft in Hainan. The 24 Americans were held there for 10 days.

So far, Beijing has rejected U.S. characterizations of the encounter, even blaming the U.S. for the incident and urging the end of ‘close’ reconnaissance missions. Ministry of National Defense spokesman Yang Yujun said on August 23, in a response to Washington’s complaints, that China’s fighter jet was simply conducting “routine identification and verification.” During the incident, he said, the Chinese pilot “maintained a safe distance from the U.S. aircraft.” He then declared the American accusation “totally untenable.” As Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments expert Evan Montgomery suggested to one of the authors, “Maybe they’ll borrow a line from Top Gun: ‘Just keeping up diplomatic relations.’”

Lots of Problems With Tehran’s Version of How Israeli Drone Was Allegedly Shot Down Near Natanz Nuclear Facility

David Cenciotti
August 26, 2014

What’s wrong with the story of Iran shooting down an Israeli stealth drone near Natanz nuclear facility

Few days ago Iran reportedly shot down an Israeli “stealth” drone near one of its nuclear enrichment facilities. But there are several weird things in Tehran authorities report of the shooting down.

On Aug. 24, several Iranian media outlets reported the news of an Israeli drone shot down near Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in central Iran.

According to FARS, the Revolutionary Guards Public (IRGC) Relations Department said that the drone was a stealth, radar-evading model targeted by a surface-to-air missile. Then, on Aug. 25, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said that “The downed spy drone is Hermes and made in Israel.”

Even if the news that an Israeli drone was operating inside Iranian airspace is not a big surprise, what makes IRGC claims a bit weird is the fact that Hermes drones are not stealth and their operational range is known to be much lower than the 800 kilometers claimed by Hajizadeh (who added that the unmanned aircraft is capable of flying 1,600 kilometers without refueling). And, above all, the shape of the aircraft does not resemble that of a Hermes 180 or 450.