20 April 2015

In the captain's seat - Putting Indian aeronautics on the international stage

Brijesh D. Jayal
April 20 , 2015

There is something about the procurement of fighter aircraft from Western commercial sources that generates interest far greater than perhaps the sum of its economic or strategic content. The entire spectacle of open tendering, nail-biting selection followed by endless negotiations, all played out in the public arena, resembles a soap opera more than the very serious business of dealing with a strategic weapon system for war fighting. In the heated debate that has followed the latest announcement by the prime minister regarding Rafale, the sanest voice has been that of the raksha mantri when he said that such strategic systems should not be "open tendering and lowest bid" affairs, but of agreements between national governments.

We have, since 1962, procured and licence-produced Soviet and Russian fighter aircraft in hundreds so that the Indian Air Force's inventory today is predominantly Russian. 

Reimagining the triangle

April 20, 2015 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan this week presents a paradox. He is likely to unveil massive plans for the expansion of economic and strategic partnership between the two countries during the visit, as well as highlight the emerging vulnerabilities of a relationship that has long been celebrated as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey”. Xi’s travel to Islamabad, coming three weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, raises interesting questions about New Delhi’s changing approach towards Beijing.

During his two-day trip to Pakistan, Xi is expected to launch infrastructure projects worth more than $40 billion.

Fifth Column: Clarity on Kashmir

April 19, 2015 

You know, I know and every Pakistani I know also knows that there is never going to be ‘azadi’ for Kashmir. Nobody seriously believes that there will be another redrawing of India’s borders. So it is time that this becomes the fundamental principle of a new policy to deal with our oldest political problem. Prime Minister Modi has the best chance of finding a permanent solution, since Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and he must seize the chance. Atalji tried but failed because instead of a fresh start he chose to adopt the same Kashmir policy that successive Congress governments followed since 1947. This was a crucial mistake.

Prime Minister Modi has indicated that he is not burdened by past Congress mistakes and that he is ready for a new beginning. Otherwise the BJP would not be part of a government led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Before writing this piece, I had a chat with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, one of the architects of the Common Minimum Programme.

India's New Transatlantic Push

April 17, 2015

WASHINGTON - Diplomatically speaking, it has been a busy first year in power for India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. In addition to hosting the leaders of the United States, China, and Russia, he has embarked upon state visits to India's major democratic partners - including Japan, the United States, and Australia - and attended multilateral summits in Brazil, Nepal, Australia, and Myanmar.

Over the past week, Modi undertook an unconventional transatlantic tour to France, Germany, and Canada. This constituted his first visit to Europe as prime minister and a common theme was implicit in that all three countries are G7 members, and as such, advanced, industrialized democracies. While Modi has received some criticism at home for his foreign trips, the flurry of diplomatic activity in his first year as prime minister indicates his clear desire to position India as an active international actor. Modi's multifaceted agenda on his latest set of visits also conformed to what is now a familiar pattern of international engagement. Broadly speaking, his transatlantic tour over the past week served five important purposes.

The first was to seek investment and technological partnerships with the goal of rapidly developing India's economy. This objective is at the centerpiece of Modi's domestic agenda and political platform. While poverty levels in India have fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, the country is still home to the largest number of the world's poor. The opportunity for growth is now immense given India's political stability, market size, and low wages.

The Sensible, Risky Option

APRIL 15, 2015

The Iran deal is a gamble, but the best one available. 
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with a group of religious performers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, April 9, 2015. 

"There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one."

"You don't have a better bad idea than this?"

"This is the best bad idea we have, sir."

That snippet of dialogue is from the film Argo, set just after the Iranian revolution in 1979. It's the scene in which CIA Director Stansfield Turner is listening to the out-of-any-box scheme of two CIA men for smuggling six American diplomats out of Teheran. Turner is sensible. Since this is the best bad plan available, he approves it. Risky as it is, it even turns out to be a good plan.

Thirty-six years later, the same script would be appropriate for calmly discussing the framework agreement with Iran on limiting its nuclear program. Calm, though, has been in short supply. Since before the agreement was announced, before they knew what it would say, Republican politicians have been ranting against it. They, in turn, are singing back-up to the lead ranter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose stream of press statements describe the accord as roughly the worst thing since the surrender of France in 1940. 

Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens at Bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan

KHALID ALOKOZAY and ROD NORDLAND
April 18, 2015

Dozens Killed in Suicide Bombing at Bank in Eastern Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people waiting to collect their pay at a bank here on Saturday, killing 33 and wounding at least 50 in the bloodiest such attack so far this year, officials said. All of the victims were civilians, according to the police.

The blast was one of three separate explosions heard in quick succession in this eastern city around 8 a.m. Saturday, the police said.

Unusually, the Taliban spokesman for eastern Afghanistan, Zabiullah Mujahid, disavowed the bank attack soon after it happened, denying in three different languages on Twitter that the insurgents had been behind it. “We condemn/deny involvement,” Mr. Mujahid wrote.

In 2011, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an even deadlier attack on the same branch of Kabul Bank in Jalalabad, in which seven suicide attackers killed 38 bank customers, also on a payday. Many Afghans collect their salaries directly from banks as a safeguard against the country’s rampant corruption.

Whatever happened to Obama’s pivot to Asia?

April 16

The Obama administration’s foreign policy energies are fully engaged in the Middle East — negotiating the Iran deal, sending Special Operations forces into Iraq, supporting Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, working with the Syrian rebels. Whatever happened to the pivot to Asia? 

Remember, the basic argument behind the pivot was that the United States was overinvested in the Middle East, a crisis-prone region of dwindling importance to the U.S. national interest. Asia, on the other hand, is the future. Of the four largest economies, three are in Asia, if measured by purchasing-power parity. As Singapore’s late leader Lee Kuan Yew often told me, “America will remain the world’s dominant power in the 21st century only if it is the dominant Pacific power.” 

And yet the United States is up to its neck once more in the Middle Eastern morass. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spend little time in Asia. Few new initiatives have been announced. Despite the deal on “fast-track” authority, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that was at the heart of the pivot, faces congressional opposition, mostly from the president’s own party. The administration lobbied hard to get its closest allies to spurn China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, only to be rebuffed by everyone — even Britain. 

North Korea's Master Plan to Crush South Korea in Battle

April 18, 2015

"We can hardly rule out that political circumstances might shift such that North Korea becomes desperate enough to launch an attack."
The most intense period of fighting in Korea ended some 62 years ago, but the divide across the Peninsula remains the world’s most visible legacy of the Cold War. While the Republic of Korea (ROK) has become economically successful and democratic, North Korea has become a punchline

Nevertheless, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has continued to increase the sophistication of its ballistic missiles, has developed nuclear weapons, and maintains the world’s largest garrison state. Pyongyang has also made clear that it isn’t afraid to provoke Seoul (and Seoul’s biggest supporter, the United States) with aggressive moves such as the sinking of the corvette Cheonan, and the bombardment of South Korean islands.

The general peace on the peninsula has more or less held since the 1950s. Still, while North Korea’s power has declined substantially relative to that of South Korea, the idea that Pyongyang might come to the conclusion that war could solve its problems still worries U.S. and South Korean planners. 

If North Korea faced a situation in which it determined that war was the only solution, how might it seek to crush the ROK, and deter the United States and Japan?

Revelations on China’s Maritime Modernization

By Andrew S. Erickson
April 16, 2015

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence offers a wealth of new information on the PLA Navy. 
To its first unclassified report on China’s navy in six years, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has just added sophisticated posters detailing Chinese ships and aircraft, equipment, and leadership structure. ONI’s main document, “The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,” already offers a cornucopia of new insights and highly vetted data points. But it is with the supplementary reference materials that the Suitland, MD-based agency is going where no publicly released U.S. government report has ever gone before. This article reviews key findings from ONI’s latest set of publications and assesses their significance.

Unprecedented Offerings

Perhaps most exciting, for the first time ever, ONI is making available publicly 148 carefully labeled silhouettesand 89 photos of China’s myriad People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and maritime law enforcement ships and aircraft. This enables systematic open source analysis to a degree simply impossible before.

A leadership structure chart with details on the top thirty-one individuals in the PLAN’s chain of command completes the highly informative set. It offers both grades and ranks, highlights leaders’ distinguishing characteristics, acknowledges frankly where key data remain ambiguous or unavailable, and even offers projections concerning future career progression (or lack thereof). It describes such vital bodies as the all-important Navy Party Standing Committee, or “Navy Politburo,” the PLAN’s senior-most decision-making organ.

Behind China’s Cool Response to Hillary’s 2016 Announcement


Chinese have mixed feelings about the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency. 
Hillary Clinton’s widely anticipated announcement of her second presidential run on Sunday came also as no surprise to a vigilant China, which has long been on the lookout for America’s next commander-in-chief.

Offering a cool reaction to Clinton’s announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Monday in Beijing that the 2016 presidential elections are an internal affair, implying that China has no stake or particular interest in it. Instead, he went on to emphasize that maintaining a healthy relationship suits the fundamental interests of both the American and Chinese people and helps protect peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world.

But behind the official indifference suggested by this canned response are serious doubts shared by the Chinese government and some Chinese scholars about America’s former top diplomat, whose stance they say has been too antagonistic to China.

An 'All Weather' Encounter: China's Xi Jinping Heads to Pakistan

April 18, 2015
http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/an-all-weather-encounter-chinas-xi-jinping-heads-to-pakistan/

Chinese President Xi Jinping will head to Pakistan next week. What’s on the agenda? 

After plenty of ambiguity, we’ve now heard confirmation from both Islamabad and Beijing that Chinese President Xi Jinping will indeed be traveling to Pakistan next week for a long-awaited state visit. The visit was originally supposed to take place last fall, when Xi toured South Asia (visiting India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives), but was postponed amid nationwide anti-government protests in Pakistan. Xi’s visit to Pakistan will last two days and then he will head to Indonesia to attend the Asian-African Summit and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference.

The agenda for Xi’s meetings with Pakistan’s top leadership — including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain, and possibly Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif (no relation to the prime minister) — will be packed. What we know about the impending visit’s agenda primarily comes from the Pakistani side — the Chinese foreign ministry and state media have been relatively muted about the visit, only officially announcing it on Friday. Pakistan, meanwhile, has spread word that the crown jewel of Xi’s visit to Pakistan this year will be a series of agreements on financing Pakistani infrastructure projects, in energy, transportation, and communications. Pakistani officials estimate that China will commit $46 billion to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (the name for this collection of projects). China’s former ambassador to Pakistan recently corroborated these reports to Xinhua, noting that ”the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be high on the agenda” during Xi’s visit.

US Tries to Get Japan, South Korea to Put the Past Behind Them

April 18, 2015

The U.S. hosts trilateral talks in an attempt to further cooperation between its two allies. 

On Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted his Japanese and South Korean counterparts for trilateral talks in Washington, D.C. Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki represented Japan and Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong attended on behalf of South Korea.

Trilateral cooperation has been strained of late, due to tensions between South Korea and Japan over historical issues. Washington has taken every opportunity to nudge its two allies closer together, however. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has yet to hold a formal bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but U.S. President Barack Obama successfully pushed for the two to meet on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit last year.

U.S. officials have been encouraged by some recent signs of a thaw in South Korea-Japan relations, such as theresumption of bilateral security talks at a “two-plus-two” meeting held on Tuesday. Washington would welcome closer relations between it two most important Asian allies.

China's PLA Military Ready To Fight A Modern War: State Report

April 15 2015 

Soldiers from China's People's Liberation Army march ahead of the opening session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at Tiananmen Sqaure in Beijing, March 3, 2015. China will ramp up its defense spending by about 10 percent in 2015, bringing its total military budget to nearly $145 billion. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

This Story Has Been Updated.

China’s military has been growing at an exponential rate, expanding in manpower, hardware and global presence. After several years of advancement, China’s military says it is in a place to fight a modern war against Japan -- as long as the U.S. doesn’t intervene.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has yet to be tested, leading many China watchers and critics skeptical of China’s real combat readiness, with many viewing China’s military prowess mostly as hype. “Overall, the PLA has made impressive strides in its ability to perform its assigned missions, including advances in capabilities designed to counter U.S. military intervention in a crisis or conflict in the region,” a 2015 report by Rand Corp. said. “But it still faces a number of serious challenges.”

“Many analysts believe that the PLA does not stand a chance against the mighty U.S. military for a series of reasons, ranging from poor training to lack of war experience,” China’s official military news portal,China Military Online, wrote. “Such estimate [sic] might be true, but it might also truly underestimate the fighting power of the PLA.”

Reading Chinese Nuclear Deterrence

April 7, 2015

Throughout the Cold War, China remained secondary to the Soviet Union in American strategy and thinking. Ironically, the Asia-Pacific region was where the Cold War got the hottest in places like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and was home to a relatively minor nuclear power, China, which often proved the most antagonistic to American interests. Now, after the Soviet Union devolved into a weakened Russian Republic, the rise of Chinese power has caused the United States to “rebalance” to the Asia Pacific region and toward China in particular. Ignored the first time around, understanding and responding to Chinese nuclear strategy are vital aspects of the “Asia pivot.”

It would be comforting to simply assume that the nuclear policies successful in deterring a major war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union will apply again to China. While communism provides a façade of similarity, advancing technologies and cultural differences demand that this assumption be re-examined and challenged. Successful deterrence is a communicative art that, in the nuclear arena especially, defies simplistic solutions. America must take an approach based upon a new, specific examination of Chinese policy.

China Escalates Its Intelligence Collection Activities Against Taiwan

Chang Kuo-wei 
April 18, 2015

China steps up spying activities against Taiwan

China appears to be stepping up spying activities against Taiwan, partly for the purpose of causing the US to have second thoughts about transferring military technology to the island, lest they be stolen and passed on to China via Chinese spies, warned Lin Chong-bin, former vice minister of national defense.

Speaking at a forum held by the Center for Asian Policy, National Tsing Hua University, on April 16, Lin pointed to the arrest last year of Chinese spy Zhen Xiaojiang, who is a former officer of China’s People’s Liberalization Army, an unprecedented phenomenon attesting to the intensified spying activities of China against Taiwan. This is also one of rare arrests of native Chinese spies by Taiwan, as opposed to most cases involving Taiwanese people recruited by China to do the job.

Lin added that some Western observers have urged Washington to be cautious in transferring military technology to Taiwan, since they may end up in the hands of China’s PLA.

Lin discussed the employment of non-conventional means by the PLA in its attacks on Taiwan. Physical attacks, said Lin, against Taiwan would lead to undesirable consequences, including heavy casualties of civilians, which would arouse widespread animosity among Taiwanese people against Communist China, and destruction of infrastructural facilities.

Unmanned 'Killer Robots': A New Weapon in the US Navy's Future Arsenal?

April 17, 2015

The US Navy moves unmanned drones to the top of its priorities. 

This week, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that he will streamline the navy’s efforts to keep up with advances in unmanned technology by appointing a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems, who will bring “together all the many stakeholders and operators who are currently working on this technology.”

“Additionally, the Navy Staff will add a new office for unmanned in the N-9, the N-Code for Warfare Systems, so that all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed,” the secretary noted.

As as Breaking Defense reported today, this may help the U.S. military’s push to acquire genuine autonomously operating weapon systems. Breaking Defense’s Sydney Freedberg Jr. muses:

Imagine a swarm of buzzing, scuttling or swimming robots that are smaller but smarter. While a human has to fly the Predator by remote control, these systems would make decisions and coordinate themselves without constant human supervision — perhaps without any contact at all.

How ISIS Plans to Destroy Israel

April 16, 2015
http://pjmedia.com/blog/how-isis-plans-to-destroy-israel/

A new Islamic State e-book outlines strategy that includes a Begin prophecy, 3-D printing, IED drones, and Edward Snowden. 

The Islamic State laid out its plans for carving a path to Israel and overcoming the Jewish state’s defenses, from working with establish jihadists in the region to hoping for impassioned geeky converts like Edward Snowden.

The new 150-page book distributed on file sharing sites this week follows other titles in the ISIS series including an e-book on how the jihadists plan to sack Rome.

The title has been expected for months, and declares that the “beginning of the end of Israel” will happen in 2022 — two years after they plan to take Rome.

“Many Christians have been misguided by their priests over the centuries into thinking that if they do not support the Jewish people – blindly, they will earn the wrath of Allah (God),” the book states. “This increases the support group of the Jewish State of Israel even more in the world.” Repeating centuries of blood libel, the book questions why modern Judaism is “imitating the Satanic culture.” The Star of David is referred to as “a symbol of sorcery.”

U.S. Warplanes Hit ISIS in Iraq and Syria With 21 Airstrikes

April 17, 2015 

U.S., Allies Target Islamic State With 21 Air Strikes: Statement 

WASHINGTON — The United States and its allies have launched 21 air strikes targeting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since early Thursday, the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operations said on Friday. 

The coalition staged 13 of the strikes across Iraq, including two near Ramadi that according to the task force hit a unit of Islamic State fighters and destroyed a heavy machine gun, a vehicle and an excavator. Other strikes hit near Mosul, Falluja and Sinjar, among other cities, it said. 

In Syria, eight strikes staged near al Hasaka and Kobani hit five units of Islamic State militants and destroyed various fighting positions and vehicles, the statement said. 

The New Zealand Dollar’s Big Moment

Buoyed by a strong economy, the Kiwi approaches a historic parity.

New Zealanders visiting Australia have long struggled with the currency conversation rate. This may be a thing of the past, given that the New Zealand dollar is now, for the first time in decades, trading almost at parity with the Aussie dollar. At the time of writing one New Zealand dollar was buying A$0.99.

The ascendancy of the New Zealand dollar is largely the reflection of a strong local economy. And should Australia’s Reserve Bank cut interest rates in May, the Kiwi dollar may well reach and hold parity with the Aussie. That is something that has not happened since the currencies were floated – in 1983 for Australia and 1984 for New Zealand.

The upside for New Zealanders is a cheaper trip to Australia and a happy feeling that they have not just caught up with, but actually surpassed, the larger nation. “It sends a strong signal to Kiwis that after years of falling behind the big guy across the ditch we are catching up,” wrote Corin Dann on the TVNZ website. It’s good news for the government too, as despite some economic concerns – regional performance disparities and an Auckland property bubble – the New Zealand dollar is strong and the ruling National Party can take credit for it.

Remembering the Fall of Phnom Penh


In his home fronting the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Long Botta keeps a framed photo taken in early 1974 of Cambodia’s then cabinet.

The U.S.-sponsored government pictured was at the time fighting an increasingly desperate war against the communist Khmer Rouge, who were drawing closer to the Cambodian capital.

Botta, the high commissioner for youth and sports, stands at the end of a row of suited men, arms behind his back, staring defiantly into the camera. Lon Nol, the mystic “Marshal” that led the ill-fated and highly corrupt republic, stands in the middle, leaning on his cane but still towering over the rest.

“Most of them were killed by the Khmer Rouge,” Botta, now 72 and an opposition MP, says.

It has been exactly forty years since the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

The arrival of the communist troops, mostly young and dour peasant boys hardened by years of guerrilla war, marked the end of a traumatic civil war and the beginning of a nearly four-year long nightmare of ultra-Maoist rule.

Thailand Completes Troubling New Constitution

April 18, 2015

On April 17, Thailand completed the first draft of its new constitution – the country’s 20th since 1932 – as expected.
The new charter, written by the 36-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) appointed by the junta which took power in a coup last May, has been framed by the coup-makers as a critical step to moving Thailand out of political paralysis.

“We have drafted this constitution as it is a reform one, in hopes of leading the country out of cycles of conflicts, disunity and undemocratic fights,” CDC spokesman Gen. Lertrat Ratanavich told The Associated Press. “I’m confident this constitution will provide justice to every side (of the conflict), more than the previous charters.”

Many are not so sure. Critics and activists have been warning for months that the constitution includes anti-democratic provisions designed primarily to prevent any group loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck from assuming power. The current completed draft reportedly confirms these fears. Unelected individuals can become prime minister with parliamentary support, while most lawmakers would be appointed rather than elected. And parliament will also be elected via proportional representation, a system that would dilute the power of any large party and favor small parties and coalitions.

Genocide Under Our Watch

BY COLUM LYNCH
APRIL 16, 2015

Newly declassified White House documents place Richard Clarke and Susan Rice at the forefront of U.S. efforts to limit a robust U.N. peacekeeping operation before and during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Nearly two weeks into the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda that would ultimately be called genocide, Eric P. Schwartz, a human rights specialist on the National Security Council, wrote a memorandum to his White House colleagues voicing alarm over reports of tens of thousands of slaughtered ethnic Tutsis.

Human rights groups were pleading for the Clinton administration to help keep 2,500 U.N. peacekeepers on the scene in the Central African country. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, was warning that “Rwandans will quickly become victims of genocide.”

“Is this true?” Schwartz asked Susan Rice, at the time a 29-year-old director of international organizations and peacekeeping on the National Security Council (NSC), and Donald Steinberg, then the NSC’s new director for African affairs, according to a recently declassified White House memo dated April 19, 1994. “If so, shouldn’t it be a major factor informing high-level decision-making on this issue? Has it been?”

In the end, the fate of Rwanda’s victims hardly figured at all in U.S. calculations about the international community’s response to what turned out to be the worst mass killing since the HolocaustIn the end, the fate of Rwanda’s victims hardly figured at all in U.S. calculations about the international community’s response to what turned out to be the worst mass killing since the Holocaust, according to hundreds of pages of internal White House memos.

Former Israeli Army Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi Facing Indictment for Leaking Secrets

April 18, 2015

Bombshell report: Former army chief suspected of leaking state secrets

Israeli state television reported on Friday that former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi is alleged to have “leaked the second most guarded secret” in the country.

Channel 1 reported that investigators have compiled evidence that is likely to serve as the basis for an indictment against Ashkenazi and two other trusted aides with whom he served in the military.

The television network reported that the nature of the information that was allegedly leaked is so sensitive that military censors are preventing journalists from revealing further details.

Police this past fall recommended to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein that he indict Ashkenazi, the prime minister’s cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, former IDF chief spokesman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu and three other former senior army officers as part of the Boaz Harpaz affair.

Those additional officers are Ashkenazi’s former chief-of-staff Col. (res.) Erez Viner, former Golani Reconnaissance Battalion commander Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni and Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz.

The list of suspects, which made up a large portion of the state security establishment’s high command only a few years ago, is unprecedented.

Former Israeli Army Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi Facing Indictment for Leaking Secrets

April 18, 2015

Bombshell report: Former army chief suspected of leaking state secrets

Israeli state television reported on Friday that former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi is alleged to have “leaked the second most guarded secret” in the country.

Channel 1 reported that investigators have compiled evidence that is likely to serve as the basis for an indictment against Ashkenazi and two other trusted aides with whom he served in the military.

The television network reported that the nature of the information that was allegedly leaked is so sensitive that military censors are preventing journalists from revealing further details.

Police this past fall recommended to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein that he indict Ashkenazi, the prime minister’s cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, former IDF chief spokesman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu and three other former senior army officers as part of the Boaz Harpaz affair.

Those additional officers are Ashkenazi’s former chief-of-staff Col. (res.) Erez Viner, former Golani Reconnaissance Battalion commander Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni and Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz.

The list of suspects, which made up a large portion of the state security establishment’s high command only a few years ago, is unprecedented.

Arab Cyber Spies Have Penetrated Israeli Military Computer Networks, Report

April 17, 2015 

Israel Military Networks Breached by Hackers: Researchers 

SAN FRANCISCO — Hackers have managed to penetrate computer networks associated with the Israeli military in an espionage campaign that skillfully packages existing attack software with trick emails, according to private security researchers. 

The four-month-old effort, most likely by Arabic-speaking programmers, shows how the Middle East continues to be a hotbed for cyber espionage and how widely the ability to carry off such an attack has spread, the researchers said. 

Waylon Grange, a researcher with security firm Blue Coat Systems Inc who discovered the campaign, said the vast majority of the software was cobbled together from widely available tools, such as the remote-access Trojan called Poison Ivy. 

The hackers were likely working on a budget and had no need to spend much on tailored code, Grange said, adding that most of their work appears to have gone into so-called social engineering, or human trickery. 

The hackers sent emails to various military addresses that purported to show breaking military news, or, in some cases, a clip featuring “Girls of the Israel Defense Forces.” Some of the emails included attachments that established “back doors” for future access by the hackers and modules that could download and run additional programs, according to Blue Coat. 

Today Is Anniversary of the First Use of Poison Gas During World War I

April 18, 2015

First WWI Gas Attack Produced New Horrors, Changed Warfare

STEENSTRATE, Belgium — As a spring breeze wafted into his trench, commander Georges Lamour of the French 73rd infantry saw something almost surreal drift his way. A yellow-green cloud.

He barely had time to react. “All my trenches are choked,” Lamour cried into the field telephone to headquarters. “I am falling myself!”

These were the last words heard from Lamour. World War I, and warfare itself, were never the same.

Chlorine gas — sent crawling in favorable winds over Flanders Fields from German positions — sowed terror and agony for the first time on April 22, 1915. The era of chemical weaponry had dawned. The weapon of mass slaughter came to symbolize the ruthlessness and, many say, futility of the 1914-1918 Great War.

“It is a new element in warfare. It is indiscriminate,” said Piet Chielens, curator at the In Flanders’ Fields Museum in nearby Ypres. And what’s more, he said, “you create psychological terror.”

Foaming at the mouth, crazed and blinded, the French soldiers fled in all directions — sucking for oxygen, finding poison instead. The chlorine seeped into body fluids and ate away at eyes, throat and lungs. Some 1,200 French soldiers were killed in the chaos of that first 5-minute gas attack and the fighting that followed. Lamour, like scores of comrades, was never found.

Addressing Nepal’s Water Crisis

By Juliette Rousselot, Photos by Omar Havana
April 17, 2015

Although many communities still struggle, Nepal is making real progress on providing access to water. 

Despite recent achievements in bringing water to a growing percentage of the population, Nepal continues to suffer from a water crisis, with many people still unable to access to clean water sources. For communities in the remote mountains and hills, fetching water can mean hours of walking for just one pot. In the Terai plains, where water sources are easier to access, the water may not be safe to drink or cook with, because of contamination by industrial and agricultural chemicals. And in Nepal’s large cities, including Kathmandu, high rates of urbanizationare over-saturating the existing water supply systems.

Although access to water does depend on geography, those groups that have been historically marginalized in Nepal are also those with the least access: lower castes such as Dalits, indigenous communities, and women. In the country’s remote areas, Dalits and indigenous communities tend to live in more isolated areas, often above water sources, where fetching water is even more taxing on the community’s resources. And as fetching water is often considered a woman’s job, the lack of access to water has a disproportionate impact on women and girls.

Myanmar’s US Lobby Link Enters the Spotlight

April 18, 2015
This week, several media outlets reported that Myanmar had hired the Podesta Group, a powerful US lobbying firm, to represent its interests in Washington.

Connections between governments and other influential actors in Washington are far from unique to Myanmar. And speculations about links between the Myanmar government and the Podesta Group – a firm founded by Tony and John Podesta, with the latter serving as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and now campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run – have been circulating for a while now. Last May, the connection made headlines when officials from the firm attended a meeting in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe.

First Anniversary of Sewol Ferry Disaster Ends in Violence

April 17, 2015

Mourners-turned-protestors clashed with police in Seoul on the first anniversary of the deadly accident. 

The first anniversary of the Sewol disaster culminated in violent clashes between surviving families and police on Thursday, as the fallout from one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters showed little sign of abating.

Police in Seoul used pepper spray on mourners angry at being prevented from laying flowers at a makeshift altar for the victims of last year’s ferry sinking, reported Agence France-Presse. The violence followed a mass rally for the 304 victims at Seoul City Hall.

Yoo Seong-ae, a journalist at OhmyNews who witnessed Thursday’s clashes, told The Diplomat that one grieving family member suffered several broken ribs and that a policeman was brought to hospital after fainting.

“Even people who had finished with the memorial service and were trying to take public transport home were blocked [by police], so a lot of people could be seen protesting,” she said, calling the use of tear gas and other police measures “excessive.”

Is This the Congressional Breakthrough the Trans-Pacific Partnership Needed?

April 17, 2015

Bipartisan legislation granting the U.S. president trade promotion authority was introduced on Thursday. Will it save the TPP? 
Ending months of uncertainty over the future of the economic leg of the U.S. rebalance to Asia, U.S. congressional leaders agreed on Thursday evening to open the way for President Barack Obama to take the lead on negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on a “fast track.” The U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee introduced bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation, known as the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015), that sets a range of constraints within which the president must pursue a final TPP agreement, but unencumbers the executive branch from any congressional interference before a final deal is reached with the assent of the 11 other nations involved in the negotiating process–a group comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, in addition to the United States. TPA-2015 will affect future U.S. administrations and sets a general set of principles for all trade negotiations carried out by the executive branch, not just the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Report: Iranian Hackers Eye U.S. Grid

04.16.15

Cyber-savvy agents are stepping up their efforts to ID critical infrastructure that may compromise national security. 

Iranian hackers are trying to identify computer systems that control infrastructure in the United States, such as the electrical grid, presumably with an eye towards damaging those systems, according to a new report from a cyber security firm and a think tank in Washington, D.C. 

The researchers from Norse, a cyber security company, and the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has been skeptical of the Iranian nuclear agreement, found that Iranian hacking against the U.S. is increasing and that the lifting of economic sanctions as part of an international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program “will dramatically increase the resources Iran can put toward expanding its cyberattack infrastructure.” 

What’s more, the current sanctions regime, which has helped to depress Iran’s economy, has not blunted the expansion of its cyber spying and warfare capabilities, the researchers conclude. 

The technical data underlying the report’s conclusions, while voluminous, aren’t definitive, and they don’t answer a central question of whether Iran intends to attack the U.S. Using data collected from a network of Norse “sensors” around the world made to look like vulnerable computers, the researchers tracked what they say is a dramatic escalation in spying and attacks on the U.S. from hackers in Iran, including within the Iranian military. The researchers also traced hacking back to a technical university in Iran, as well as other institutions either run or heavily influenced by the Iranian regime.