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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: February 2009

Mumbai in Kabul

February 12th, 2009 - 7:57 pm

Or should it be the other way around?

Wired looks at the similarities between the attack on the Kabul Ministries by attackers claiming to be associated with the Taliban and those who recently assaulted Mumbai. Bill Roggio notes that the most recent attacks really look like an earlier one mounted against the Hotel Serena within Afghanistan itself. At any rate, the resemblance, if any, can be understood if it is realized that rogue members of Pakistani intelligence may have advised both the attackers in Kabul and in Mumbai. Roggio writes:

This cell is believed to be behind the assault on the Serena Hotel in January 2008, the assassination attempt on President Karzai at a ceremony in April 2008, the deadly suicide attack on the Indian embassy in July 2008, and a number of other attacks. The suicide attack on the Indian embassy has been traced back to Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, which has supported the Taliban and various Kashmiri terror groups such as the Harkat ul-Mujahideen.

Today’s assault in Kabul is similar to the assault on the Serena Hotel. In that attack gunmen wearing suicide vests breached the front gate with a suicide attack and then entered the hotel and began shooting civilians.

Although it is fashionable to dismiss the role of states in terrorism, it is nevertheless the case that the major terror outfits in the world have links to either state intelligence agencies or rogue elements within them. Ultimately, states still matter at least in the big leagues.

Opening the package

February 11th, 2009 - 7:42 am

Howard Kurtz writes in the Washington Post that “I’m not an economist, but when Tim Geithner unveils his long-awaited bailout plan and the Dow plunges nearly 400 points, that’s probably not a good sign.” Kurtz has a roundup of quotes from different sources suggesting a certain skepticism about its possible effect.

“Investors had been expecting the Obama administration to unveil a shock-and-awe solution Tuesday for the nation’s hobbled banking system,” the NYT reports. “But the main reaction was disappointment as the new plan raised more questions than it answered, sending stock markets — and the shares of banks assumed to be holding swaths of toxic assets — sharply lower.” …

This Huffington Post report doesn’t inspire confidence: “Administration officials were greeted with sarcasm and laughter Monday night when they briefed lawmakers and congressional staff on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s new financial-sector bailout project, according to people who were in the room.

“The laughter was at its height when Obama officials explained that the White House planned to guarantee a wide swath of toxic assets — which they referred to as ‘legacy assets’ — but wouldn’t be asking Congress for money.

The right is really rebelling against the stimulus. Rich Lowry calls it “socialism” … An analysis by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation shows that the House version has $264 billion in new means-tested welfare spending that, (safely) assuming it’s never rolled back, will add $787 billion in welfare costs over ten years

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Insurgency vs counterinsurgency

February 10th, 2009 - 4:12 am

Bill Roggio describe’s al-Qaeda’s shadow army in Pakistan.  They are mobilizing locals to fight for them.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat.

In Afghanistan, the Shadow Army has conducted operations against Coalition and Afghan forces in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Zabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar provinces.

“The Shadow Army has been instrumental in the Taliban’s consolidation of power in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province,” a senior intelligence official said. “They are also behind the Taliban’s successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are helping to pinch Kabul.”

In the meantime, Fred Kagan writes about the strategic crossroads that America finds itself in in Afghanistan. It is floundering. Perhaps the key shortcoming is that it cannot protect or influence the population to the degree necessary.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Iraq that is transportable to Afghanistan is this: It is impossible to conduct effective counterterrorism operations (i.e., targeting terrorist networks with precise attacks on key leadership nodes) in a fragile state without conducting effective counterinsurgency operations (i.e., protecting the population and using economic and political programs to build support for the government and resistance to insurgents and terrorists). …

In Afghanistan, we have nothing like the freedom of movement we had in Iraq in 2006, and nothing like the force levels. We have, furthermore, been targeting leadership nodes within terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven years now, yet the groups are not defeated. Absent a counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy that leads the population to reject the terrorists, killing bad guys will not defeat well-organized and determined terrorist networks.

Thus, al-Qaeda’s “Shadow Armies” are the flip side of the lack of effective counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. If America can’t organize the population, then al-Qaeda will. The trick, Kagan says, is to find the right model. Al-Qaeda has already spent decades in Afghanistan and may have practically indigenized itself. America, by contrast, is still on the learning curve. Kagan writes:

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Shaken, not stirred

February 9th, 2009 - 9:27 pm

Maybe the real “canary in the coalmine” isn’t Israel, but the UK. Westhawk writes, “imagine a government that has lost such control over its country’s internal security that it is forced to invite in a foreign intelligence service to help prevent a disaster. That describes the situation in Great Britain, according to this report from the Telegraph.”

American spy chiefs have told the President that the CIA has launched a vast spying operation in the UK to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks being launched from Britain. … Intelligence briefings for Mr Obama have detailed a dramatic escalation in American espionage in Britain, where the CIA has recruited record numbers of informants in the Pakistani community to monitor the 2,000 terrorist suspects identified by MI5, the British security service.

A British intelligence source revealed that a staggering four out of 10 CIA operations designed to thwart direct attacks on the US are now conducted against targets in Britain.

America is — was — the security and financial guarantor of last resort for a Europe which has progressively pulled out its own teeth and multied its culture. One supposes that MI5 has turned to the knuckle draggers from the USA to do “jobs that Britons won’t — can’t — do”. But what happens when Hope and Change transform the knuckle draggers into the paragons of political correctness?

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The times they are a changing

February 9th, 2009 - 4:41 pm

Caroline Glick sees a testing time ahead in a period which she characterizes as the sudden end of American predominance. She describes the rapidly shifting scene in the Jerusalem Post.

In just a few short weeks, the new administration of President Barack Obama has managed to weaken the perception of American power and embolden US adversaries throughout the world. … Take Russia for example. Since coming into office, Obama has repeatedly tried to build an alliance with the “newly emboldened” Russian bear. A week after entering office, he announced that he hoped to negotiate a nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia that would reduce the US’s nuclear stockpiles by 80 percent. …

Responding to these American signals, the Russians proceeded to humiliate Washington. Last week President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbak Bakiyev in Moscow. After their meeting the two announced that Russia will give the former Soviet republic $2 billion in loans and assistance and that Kyrgyzstan will close the US Air Force base at Manas which serves American forces in Afghanistan. (more…)

The business of cruelty

February 9th, 2009 - 2:12 pm

A man without apparent high value, just an ordinary technical professional from a medium-sized former Eastern European country was brutally killed in Pakistan. Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak was shown being beheaded in Pakistan in a video released to the press. The Australian reports:

Pakistani militants are believed to have beheaded a Polish engineer kidnapped four months ago in the first execution of a western hostage since Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed in 2002. A graphic seven-minute video, apparently showing the beheading of Piotr Stanczak, was delivered to several news wire agencies at the weekend. The video shows Mr Stanczak sitting on the ground flanked by two masked Talibani before three other men behead him.

Why would they do it? Let’s examine the Jihad from a non-religious perspective. Hostage taking can be big business. Eduardo F. Ugarte, in a scholarly examination of kidnapping activities in Mindanao, notes that a market for hostages exists in which low-level gangs can pick up likely targets and onsell them to a ransom packager for a price, almost like commercial paper. The final hostage holder is often a group with the most fearsome reputation and ultimately negotiates with any likely hostage buyers. The group known to be the most ruthless and cruel is best placed to get the highest price for the hostage. The Abu Sayaf’s major asset, for example, was their reputation for cruelty. Ugarte quotes a source in the full article describing how it works.

‘…it has become public knowledge in Sulu that certain kidnap-for ransom (KFR) syndicates based in the island turn their victims over to the ASG. (This was done particularly during the time of bandit type commanders like the late Ghalib Andang (“Robot”) and Mujib Susukan, in a classic criminal partnership.  The ASG could then jack up the ransom demands because of its reputation.’

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The shapeshifters

February 9th, 2009 - 5:21 am

Michelle Van Cleave, who served as head of U.S. counterintelligence from July 2003 through March 2006 has an interesting article in the Washington Post claiming that foreign espionage is so rampant nobody even knows how bad it is.

Back in 2002, I got an unexpected phone call from the White House. “Would you be interested in serving as the head of U.S. counterintelligence?” they asked.

The Obama administration may already have placed such a call and picked someone to handle my old job: identifying and stopping other nations’ spies. But my successor will have his or her work cut out for them. …

The Chinese stole the design secrets to all — repeat, all — U.S. nuclear weapons, enabling them to leapfrog generations of technology development and put our nuclear arsenal, the country’s last line of defense, at risk. To this day, we don’t know quite when or how they did it, but we do know that Chinese intelligence operatives are still at work, systematically targeting not only America’s defense secrets but our industries’ valuable proprietary information. …

How could such spies have operated unseen at the very heart of our national security enterprise for so long and with such success?

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The buck passed here

February 8th, 2009 - 5:51 am

The newspapers in the UK were recently full of stories about the death of a certain Baby P, a 17 month old baby boy who was progressively killed by his mother’s boyfriend while she watched, apparently amused at the proceedings. Over an extended period the little child had his fingers lopped off, bones broken, teeth punched in and spine snapped until finally he died. What made the story resonant with the British public was how it went on undetected despite at least 60 visits or interviews between the child and welfare professionals. It was like a play full of motion where everything stayed still. Child protection people, for example, would make inspections yet fail to cross the room to look closely at the child. At other times, the infant was presented at arms length smeared in chocolate by his monstrous guardians to obscure his injuries, all of which seemed to escape the notice of the social workers. When the child was taken to a government health care doctor for examination shortly before he died, the doctor didn’t examine the child because it seemed inconvenient to do at the time. “The doctor, who qualified in Pakistan and worked in Saudi Arabia before coming to Britain in 2004, spotted bruises to his body but decided not to carry out a full systemic examination because the boy was ;miserable and cranky’.”

Amidst the reams of journalistic soul-searching which followed, the most interesting analysis was provided by Theodore Dalrymple, who drew on his experience as a doctor in the British health care system. His basic thesis about why Baby P died undetected in plain view was that in bureaucratic Britain the concept of responsibility had changed from being predicated on results to one predicated on process. Nobody saw the actual, all they could see was the process.  Dalrymples’ remark reminded me of a comment I recently heard from someone in a major consulting  firm in connection of the recent economic meltdown: that they were so busy measuring compliance that there was no time to ask if the basic business made sense. Everyone was looking but what were they looking at?  Dalyrymple wrote of this bureaucratic universe:

The fundamental purpose of the British public service is to provide a meal-and-mortgage-ticket for those who work in it, especially at management level. The ostensible purpose of an organisation is rarely its real purpose. I know this from my experience in the Health Service. Thus, when a problem reveals itself, the response is a curious one, that is to say simultaneously one of work creation and work avoidance.

The work creation consists of instituting ever more “failsafe” and “best-practice” procedures, usually with all their associated paperwork, which are then bowed down to and worshipped like the Golden Calf. Of course, this creates the impression of terrific pressure of work, that can be relieved only by the employment of more and more staff with strange titles such as Compliance Manager and Best-Practice Co-ordinator. …

Documentation is its own justification; and a superstition now exists among the police, nurses, doctors, social workers, prison officers and no doubt others that nothing can go wrong if the forms are filled in correctly. Anyone who has been to a coroner’s court lately will know that this is a superstition shared by many coroners.

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Net present terror

February 7th, 2009 - 7:27 pm

What do you call it when the sharks think it’s safe to come out of the water? According to reports by the Associated Press, al-Qaeda, after having been momentarily supressed in the Arabian peninsula, is making a comeback. Captured documents suggest the formerly reeling organization is feeling a renewed confidence.

Al-Qaida has not carried out a major attack since February 2006, when suicide bombers tried but failed to attack an oil facility at the Abqaiq oil complex, the world’s largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia issued the list on Monday and sought Interpol’s help in arresting the men. They include 11 who have been released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and have attended the kingdom’s touted extremist rehabilitation program. Among them were two Saudis who have emerged as the new leaders of Yemen’s branch of al-Qaida. …

Documents profiling the 85 wanted men — 83 Saudis and two Yemenis — reveal that many of them either took part in planning attacks targeting oil, security and other installations in the kingdom or provided al-Qaida members with weapons, safe haven, false documents and money.

The documents illuminate the extent of Saudi participation in the shadowy extremist networks struggling to rebuild in the Arabian peninsula after a series of harsh crackdowns in past years. All the men on the list are hiding abroad, many in neighboring Yemen.

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The binomial distribution

February 7th, 2009 - 4:54 pm

Some people are addicted to the con. It’s playing the game itself that provides the thrills; the payoff is walking away unscathed. The question is, how long can it keep coming up heads? The answer is until it comes up tails. James William Lewis, the original suspect in the Tylenol case is what you might call an interesting character. He admitted to sending the extortion letters to Johnson and Johnson over the poisoned capsules, but was never convicted to placing the poison himself. He subsequently did a stretch in jail but resumed his life, first as a tax preparer and most recently as a web designer and programmer upon release. Somewhere along the way he was suspected of dismembering a man and raping a woman. However, neither charge stuck.

Now the FBI, some say prompted by publicity attending the anniversary of the crime, others by attentions brought by enterprising minor journalists, is reopening the case. Maybe they have a new tip; maybe modern forensics has provided them with news sources of evidence. Boston.com explains:

Yesterday, an FBI spokesman in Chicago said that advances in forensic technology, including DNA evidence, had rekindled the investigation. Investigators searching his Cambridge condominium Wednesday were seen carrying out five boxes and a late-model MacIntosh computer.

“As you can imagine if you were at the search scene, there’s a lot of evidence that has to be gone through, a lot of tests that have to take place, and we don’t know if it’s going to be positive,” said the spokesman, Ross Rice.

Investigators had also obtained a warrant to search an unidentified storage facility nearby that Lewis, 62, had rented, according to Rice. A police officer from Arlington Heights, Ill., where three of the slayings occurred, was dispatched to Boston, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

Rice said that police from the Chicago area who investigated the murders still have capsules recovered as evidence. It might be possible to find traces of DNA on them, he said.

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