9 June 2013

No Country For Countrymen

Sanjay Rawat 

Out of the green? Our PM wants young people to move out of farming and seek jobs in the cities, which aren’t prepared for them 

As the Manmohan Singh government makes evident its unfriendliness to villages, the nation hurtles towards disaster. It’s a danger no one wants to face. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been trying for years to make us believe that agriculture is a vast marshland in which a huge population is stuck ankle- to neck-deep and it is his duty to rescue them. “Our salvation lies in moving people out of agriculture,” he says in one speech. “We need to move people out of agriculture by giving them gainful employment in non-agricultural sectors,” he says in another. He says it whenever he talks of agriculture. His alter ego, Montek Singh Ahl­uwalia, echoes it whenever he can. Whether agriculture is a marshland or a Garden of Eden—and how it came to be so—is another thing. First, Dr Singh, we need to ask where you will take the evacuees. 

Your government departments and public enterprises are cutting down on staff. Private companies are buying technologies to replace labour. Traditional industries, such as the glassware industry of Firozabad and the shoemaking industry of Agra, where labourers’ hands and not machines produced goods, are devastated with the opening of international trade and inundation with foreign brands. Artisan industries are closing down because of growing consumer preference for the machine-finished quality of goods from big cities. Companies are not investing their surpluses in rural manufacturing, saying Manmohan Singh must first create infrastructure. Manmohan says his government has no money; only private capital can do it. 

So, you see, the country is in a fix. Seventy per cent of Indians, who live in villages, are in a fix. And that makes more than 80 crore farmers, labourers, artisans...men, women and children. Where do you want to take them? 

Lessons worth learning

Jun 08, 2013 

Laying of the foundation stone for the Indian National Defence University (INDU) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 23 has been a seminal step in creating a national-level defence education infrastructure. The long-awaited university will be instituted by an act of Parliament with the President of India as the visitor and defence minister as the chancellor. This is an important measure aimed at ensuring synergy between the government and the armed forces on the complexities of national security issues, approach to defence and military strategies together with the understanding of the changing nature of warfare for optimisation of comprehensive national military power.

As India seeks to be a net security provider in a region marked by an extremely complex and multifaceted security environment, the future military and civilian leadership will need to understand the nuances of these changes, examine alternative futures, and set course for developing hard and soft power options in pursuit of national security goals. The recent standoff with China over its deep incursion into Indian territory in Ladakh illustrates the urgency of the issue and underscores the fact that we have learnt few lessons from the past.

Our approach and response once again lacked both understanding and synergy in harmonising national power for common national security goals. An unmistakable impression of our handling of the crisis was the three principal ministries responsible for shaping national security namely, external affairs, home and defence singing from different sheets of music.

Worse, each was reacting to guard its own narrow turf through extremely short-sighted and benign explanations sans analysis and understanding of Chinese motives in pushing for escalation days prior to their Premier Le Keqiang’s maiden visit. That India was forced to compromise both on the issue of Border Defence Agreement and removal of structures in the Chumar area of Ladakh further highlights our inability to create a common perspective on key national security issues.

An important issue that the Indian establishment needs to understand is that India’s growth story is closely linked to the strategic influence India can exercise in furthering its national security interests. India’s position is peculiar. To ensure unhindered growth, it will remain a net importer of its energy requirements as also other strategic raw materials for at least the next three to four decades.

Adding to the complexities is the emerging Asian strategic environment mired by competition between China’s attempt to emerge as dominant power by enhancing its sphere of influence and the US attempts to counter it through its balancing strategy. Adding to the above is the turmoil in West Asia — an area that services India’s core energy needs. This puts at stake the security of sea lines of communications, and more importantly, the ability to secure Indian national interests in the Indian Ocean.

Closer home, in the backdrop of the unfinished task of boundary settlement with our two nuclear neighbours, India will have to ensure credible and strong dissuasive conventional and strategic deterrence. Our security environment is compounded by the collusive factor between our two neighbours as a means of strategic coercion. It is, therefore, imperative for India to take steps to develop credible military power harmonised with soft power through diplomacy and economic relations.

India and the BRICS Bank

By Kailash K. Prasad
June 8, 2013 


Given that the Bretton Woods system has often resulted in misguidance and underinvestment in the developing world, it is perhaps not surprising that talk of a development bank financed by five giants of the emerging world has been welcomed. Despite the reservations of the Asian Development Bank and a few others, it seems reasonable to hope that the proposed BRICS bank will address the needs of developing countries, without the customary concern about what donors stand to gain. It could also allow small and medium enterprises easier access to financing and redress some of the wariness the private sector often displays towards financing infrastructural projects where the benefits are uncertain. 

If the bank can live up to these expectations, India stands to gain considerably. That the institution could also reduce the upfront risk of investment should give New Delhi reason to smile, given its eagerness to attract capital inflows. Also, since recipient governments will be accountable to at least four other nations, fears of mismanagement – not an uncommon problem for investment in India – could be considerably mitigated. Additionally, the proposed $100 billion Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) will address short-term liquidity pressures and strengthen financial stability. 

This should make the BRICS bank an institution well worth New Delhi’s time and resources. Nonetheless, there are pitfalls, which if left unaddressed threaten to render India’s gains from such a bank meaningless.

Given New Delhi’s often wary relationship with Beijing, a potential downside is the BRICS bank becoming dominated by China. If voting rights are linked to capital contributions, then the unequal contributions to the CRA ($41 billion from China, $18 billion from Brazil, Russia and India and $5 billion from South Africa according to one proposal) will not bode very well for New Delhi. Moreover, China's willingness to sponsor some of Brazil and South Africa’s initial contributions to the CRA could make it easier for Beijing to use the bank to boost the renminbi’s international stature – a prospect New Delhi might not entirely relish. 

When Infy had a big fall

Jun 09 2013

 It was a dazzling corporate star of the kind India had never seen, blazing to the very top within a mere two decades of its inception. Its governance ideals were stellar. Its founder-leaders were single-minded about delivering results. A virtuoso performance year after year endeared it to stock-market investors. For entry-level engineers, getting a job offer from Infosys was the equivalent of hitting the lottery. 

Then came the decline. 

The Infosys story started to unravel in recent quarters almost as fast as it had developed. There were many troubling signs, such as missed targets quarter after quarter until the company altogether stopped the practice of giving out quarterly forecasts last year. Revenues slowed and operating profits shrank until, astonishingly, Infosys was underperforming its industry peers. This April, after yet another desultory quarterly results announcement, its stock price fell precipitously to a 10-year low. Fresh campus hires who were given Infosys offer letters a year ago were kept waiting several quarters without joining dates. The company slid to number three in the Indian IT rankings, overtaken by virtual newcomer Cognizant Technologies, a dozen years its industry junior. This year, Infosys expects to grow at a 6-10 per cent rate, lagging behind the industry's forecast of 12-14 per cent growth rate. 


Desperate situations warrant drastic fixes, and on June 1 came the stunning announcement. Its principal founder, billionaire Narayana Murthy, had pulled himself out of retirement and was rushing to its rescue. A full 11 years after he relinquished an executive role in the company, Murthy was back in the saddle as executive chairman, replacing banking legend K V Kamath, who had been appointed non-executive chairman with much fanfare just a couple of years ago. Returning alongside Murthy was his son, Rohan, 30, a computer science PhD with degrees from Cornell and Harvard, as his executive assistant, to make him "more effective". 

In doing so, Infosys was breaking two sacred tenets that Murthy himself had espoused and championed. One, that all its bosses, including founders, would retire from executive roles at 60. And two, that none of the founders' children would join Infosys. Significantly, the announcement regarding the broken commandments came exactly two weeks prior to the company's annual shareholders' meeting on June 15. It was as if the company had finally stepped on the panic button. 

Poor access undermines defence

Infrastructural edge: China can move troops across frontier far more rapidly than India


BRO AT WORK: Building roads in the mighty Himalayas is an uphill task. 

A series of Chinese military exercises atop the Tibetan Plateau over the past two years have held out warning signals for India. At least three of these exercises were to practice rapid movement of a large body of troops, equipment, tanks and supplies, backed by fighter planes, to mimic a conflict scenario.

All military exercises mimic a war situation. However, for India the red herring in the exercises was the sheer number of troops and pieces of equipment they moved. The speed at which it was done was unprecedented. The importance of the Chinese military exercises was not lost on Indian strategic planners in New Delhi’s South Block. Around September 2012, an assessment was made to study the impact and possible threats for India.

Using a network of roads and rail lines, China showed it could rapidly move its troops east to west or vice-versa. Out of the three exercises, the ones in March 2012 and September 2012 were the biggest. In March this year, the China’s State Council published a White Paper titled ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, which talked about the rapid movements and said it had extensively practised the move to concentrate troops. “Trans-Military Area Command (MAC) movements have been carried out. In 2012, the Chengdu MAC and Lanzhou MAC carried out the exercise”. Out of a total of seven MACs of China, Chengdu and Lanzhou are the two tasked the Sikkim/Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh frontiers, respectively.

In 2012, more than three divisions (some 45,000 troops) were moved along with key equipment, missile launchers, tanks and other paraphernalia.

Encumbered movement

India, on the other hand, knows it would struggle to rapidly move even one-fifth of that volume of troops and equipment from one theatre of war in the Himalayas to another in the mountains. The Indian reinforcements, if any, will have to come from bases in the plains. During the winter months the reinforcements to places in Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh will have to use transport planes which have limited capacities — possibly one tank or 200 troops can be sent at a time. The addition of C-130-J and the June-slated induction of the C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft will augment the capacity of the existing fleet of Russian-built IL-76.

Moving reinforcements by road could take three or four days to reach a spot, whereas China can do it in a day due to the excellent roads.


As China builds on border, policy potholes block India

By Ajay Banerjee

India’s building of roads along the China border has been tardy. In seven years, only 16 of the planned 73 projects have seen fruition. Slow clearances and tough terrain are the challenges. China, meanwhile, has built a formidable road and rail network. 

Inertia in inter-ministerial coordination, coupled with a sluggish pace of construction and challenges posed by the formidable Himalayas, is critically hindering India’s strategic plans to build a road and rail network along the 4,057-km frontier with China.

jammu & Kashmir
A majority of the strategic road projects are several years behind schedule, making a mockery of the 2012 deadline set by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the topmost security-related decision-making body at the Centre headed by the Prime Minister.

The realities of the lackadaisical approach cropped up at a meeting on May 20 this year. Defence Minister AK Antony was reportedly aghast at the slow progress on the 73 projects classified as India-China Border 
Roads (ICBR).
             himachal pradesh  

He asked the road constructing authority, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), to expedite the work.

It was on June 29, 2006, that the CCS had directed the BRO to complete the task in six years (by 2012).

When China Overplayed its Hand in Ladakh

4 June 2013 

India must draw lessons from China’s recent Ladakh misadventure, writes vinod saighal 

It is necessary to preface this article on the recent incursion in Ladakh with a paragraph from this author's book Restructuring South Asian Security*, with special reference to the chapter Dealing with China in the 21st Century. It read: "Whenever writing of India-China relations, it is useful to look at the growth patterns adopted by the two countries since regaining their freedom after the Second World War. China fought its way to freedom. India, having taken recourse to Gandhian pacifism, had freedom delivered to it in a relatively peaceful manner, notwithstanding the partition holocaust. That is to say, except for Subhas Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj, India did not fight for freedom as the Chinese did. There was an enormous price tag attached to the pacific route to freedom ~ the violent partition of the country. After the establishment of Chinese unity through the bloody route, the Chinese leaders understood, more comprehensively than anyone else, the power in the ultimate analysis did flow from the barrel of a gun, they never had any illusion on this score. 

Having understood the currency of power, they went on to occupy Tibet before India was able to consolidate after the trauma of partition. India’s leaders, on the other hand, never having learned from history ~ in spite of writing magnificent books on it ~ were not able to grasp the global reality of that period. They tried to re-build India on the platform of idealism; an idealism more relevant to the days of Emperor Ashoka and possibly the coming decades rather than to twentieth century reality. They made way for the Chinese ever since ~ and for the rest of the world. A humiliating military defeat never really taught them any lessons. India paid a price for its lack of realism and will continue to pay the price ~ with graver consequences in the next century." 

Hardly a month has passed since the Chinese incursion in March-April 2013 in the Depsang bulge in Ladakh; now almost forgotten by the public at large. When the incursion occurred, a prolonged discussion took place in the media, the strategic community and even within the government as to whether the incursion was the initiative of a local commander or enjoyed sanction of the highest levels in Beijing. The fog should have cleared much sooner than it did. Local commanders, even of star rank, can almost never take the initiative to go up to a depth of 19 km and then stay put, thereby allowing the so-called limited action to escalate into a major national level confrontation. Even senior government figures put out statements that prevented correct assessment in real time. It is a lesson to be learned for the future. 

Once it sank in at the decision-making level in New Delhi that the incursion could not have taken place without the concurrence of Beijing, the mechanism that existed or should exist at national decision-making levels did not give the impression of operating at peak efficiency. Had they been sure of themselves, they would have realised early enough that the Chinese had clearly overplayed their hand. In fact, they should have surmised that the other side had inadvertently laid a trap for itself, conditioned as the Chinese were by India’s response pattern for decades. What then should India’s response have been to the extreme provocation? 

China details Indian Ocean strategy and interests

By Ananth Krishnan 

‘Blue book’ laments Beijing has trailed behind New Delhi and Washington in securing its interests

China has, for the first time, attempted to spell out its strategy — and plans — to secure its interests in the Indian Ocean in its first “blue book” on the region, released here on Saturday. 

The blue book makes a case for China to deepen its economic engagements with the Indian Ocean Region’s (IOR) littoral states, but stresses that Beijing’s interests will be driven by commercial — rather than military — objectives. 

However, it warns that the Indian Ocean could end up “as an ocean of conflict and trouble” if countries like India, the U.S. and China failed to engage with each other more constructively as their interests begin to overlap. 

In a frank assessment of China’s role in the IOR so far, the book laments that Beijing has trailed behind New Delhi and Washington in securing its interests. The 350-page book’s introduction says candidly that China “has no Indian Ocean strategy,” while India has put forward its own “Look East” policy and the U.S. has put in place its “pivot” or “rebalancing” in Asia. 

China’s impact 

The book calls for China to be more proactive in securing its economic interests in the region. “If [China] cannot have a positive impact on these regional powers and the Indian Ocean littoral states, the future situation will be even more severe, and will affect China’s development and peace negatively,” the book says. 

“China’s diplomatic strategy in the past has been based on the traditional concept of moderation, and striven to maintain the status quo,” it argues. “With changes in the relations among countries in the Indian Ocean Region and in the international situation, China’s diplomacy should also change. A clear development strategy in the Indian Ocean Region for China is not only a sign of China’s self-confidence, and also a clear demonstration of China’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean Region.” 

Official Chinese think tanks release “blue books,” which are policy documents that put forward recommendations to the government, on a range of subjects every year. The authors of the book, published by the official Social Sciences Academic Press, say it does not represent the government’s official position. They describe it as an attempt by scholars here to bring more attention to a region which, they believe, has not received adequate focus from policymakers. 

“Frank dialogue” 

Ambassador Wu Jianmin, a consultant to the project who earlier served as China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, indicated that the book was part of a larger attempt to initiate a much-needed “frank dialogue.” 

“We are going through a very important phase in international relations, and the change that we are seeing is unprecedented,” he told The Hindu. “Change generates apprehension, suspicion, even fear. This is a reality that is facing us.” 

“To those who say that India ‘looking east’ and China ‘looking west’ will have to lead to rivalry, we have a different perspective,” he said. “We look at the convergence that there is [in this process]. If we only focus on differences, the end result is more suspicions, rivalry and competition. But in India too, you need peace and development. This is the same for China, and for the region.” 

How Dangerous Is a Terrorist with a Twitter Handle?

There's an effort afoot in Congress to kick terrorists off Twitter. But the government's spies aren't so sure. 

JUNE 8, 2013 

Sensational reports in the Guardian and Washington Post recently blew the lid off of the National Security Agency's (NSA) electronic surveillance efforts, which have harvested everything from phone calls to Facebook posts for intelligence purposes. 

Curiously, Twitter still appears outside the grasp of the NSA's PRISM program, which gathers information from major U.S. Internet companies. But a group of lawmakers are concerned that the popular microblogging service has become too hospitable an environment for terrorist groups. The platform hosts a number of official feeds for terrorist groups, including Somalia's al-Shabab, the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra, the Taliban, and Hamas

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who currently serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, is looking to curtail terrorist activity on Twitter. Poe is mindful of free speech concerns, but believes terrorist organizations are not entitled to the same free speech protections. As he argued last year, after watching Hamas use the platform for propaganda purposes during its November war with Israel, "Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists." 

First Amendment activists will almost certainly cry foul. But they will not be alone: This would be one of their rare moments of harmony with the U.S. intelligence community, which has used Twitter feeds of extremists to monitor their messaging for strategies, tactics, and policies. America's spies also monitor the feeds of extremist personalities and groups to see who follows them and who sympathizes with them, with the goal of identifying potential security threats at home or abroad. In fact, Twitter has made it possible for official bodies to interact with a banned group -- even if those interactions haven't been pleasant. 

So while there is no evidence as of yet Twitter has been mined by PRISM -- other classified programs may exist, of course -- the intelligence community exploits it in other important ways. One former official at the National Security Agency notes, "Twitter is an incredible source to learn what these groups are doing. The FBI, CIA, and NSA not only get a lot of intelligence from Twitter, but there is also a lot of manipulation going on." 

Given its usefulness, the former official argues that any initiative designed to constrain terrorist Twitter activity will need to be coordinated closely with the intelligence community. 

Obama Asked Intel Agencies to Draw Up List of Possible Cyber Targets Overseas


Four years after the U.S. and Israel allegedly launched the first known cyberweapon against Iran, President Barack Obama ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to draw up a list of overseas targets for possible offensive U.S. cyberattacks, according to a top-secret presidential directive obtained by the Guardian. 

The 18-page directive issued last October states that “The secretary of defense, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], and the director of the CIA … shall prepare for approval by the president through the National Security Advisor a plan that identifies potential systems, processes and infrastructure against which the United States should establish and maintain OCEO capabilities….” 

The directive defines Offensive Cyber Effects Operations, or OCEO, as “operations and related programs or activities … conducted by or on behalf of the United States Government, in or through cyberspace, that are intended to enable or produce cyber effects outside United States government networks.” 

Such operations, the document notes, “can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging.” 

The revelation — one of a string of classified leaks published by the Guardian this week — provides a full look at a directive that until now has only been partially disclosed. 

Earlier this year, the administration declassified portions of the directive, but these only discussed intrusion detection systems for protecting federal computer networks and the government’s role in securing critical infrastructure. They did not discuss the nation’s plans to initiate offensive cyber operations against foreign targets, a highly controversial topic that has become even more so in light of the administration’s plans to confront China this week for its role in cyberespionage attacks against U.S. government and private networks. 

A senior administration official downplayed the offensive cyber plans, telling the Guardian anonymously that it was the natural evolution of things. 

“Once humans develop the capacity to build boats, we build navies. Once you build airplanes, we build air forces,” he told the paper.

The deadline for drawing up the list of attack targets was to be six months after the directive’s approval.

The directive not only discusses attacking foreign targets, but authorizes the use of offensive cyber attacks in foreign nations without the consent of those nations, whenever “US national interests and equities” require such nonconsensual attacks.” This presumably involves not attacking foreign government systems but hacking or otherwise attacking systems that are simply located in a foreign country and are engaged in attacks on the U.S. and present an imminent threat. 

India fifth-largest target of U.S. electronic snooping

Special Correspondent 

In this June 6, 2013 photo, a sign stands outside the U.S. National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Maryland. Continuing its series of exposés, “The Guardian” has acquired documents about a data mining tool used by the NSA, called Boundless Informant. 

The extent of NSA’s surveillance of Indian communication traffic is greater than its electronic snooping efforts in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia 

Continuing its series of exposés on the manner in which the United States has been harvesting electronic communication from national and international communication traffic, The Guardian newspaper has acquired top-secret documents about a data mining tool used by the National Security Agency (NSA), called Boundless Informant, “that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.”

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in what The Guardian describes as a top secret NSA “global heat map” gives an insight into the sheer volume of data being collected by America’s most secretive intelligence agency: In March 2013 alone, it harvested a whopping 97 billion “pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.”

Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, says the newspaper, with more than 14 billion reports in that period, followed by 13.5 billion from Pakistan. Though the U.S. administration may justify the focus on these two countries because of the nuclear programme of the former and because many terrorist groups operate from the territory of the latter, the fact that India clocks in fifth with 6.3 billion pieces of information collected from the country’s computer and data networks in one month alone is bound to cause alarm and consternation in New Delhi. Jordan and Egypt are the third and fourth most intensively watched countries.

Though the Obama administration has attempted to reassure domestic public opinion in America that its spying operations are mainly directed outwards, The Guardian says the Boundless Informant documents show the NSA “collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013.”

The newspaper reproduced one of the NSA’s colour-coded “heatmaps,” according to which countries are more extensively monitored. The colours range from green, for the least amount of surveillance, to yellow, orange and finally red for those subjected to the most surveillance. India is coded orange. The extent of the NSA’s surveillance of Indian communication traffic is greater than its electronic snooping efforts in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The PRISM spin war has begun

June 7, 2013 

The war over how to spin revelations of the National Security Agency's latest spying program has officially begun. 

On the heels of media reports that the NSA has gained access to the servers of nine leading tech companies -- enabling the spy agency to examine emails, video, photographs, and other digital communications -- Google has issued a strongly worded statement denying that the company granted the government "direct access" to its servers. That statement goes so far as to say that the company hasn't even heard of "a program called PRISM until yesterday." 

At first glance, Google's statement is difficult to believe. Senior intelligence officials have confirmed the program's existence, and Google's logo is prominently listed on internal NSA documents describing participating companies. But Google may be engaging in a far more subtle public relations strategy than outright denial. 

Google's statement hinges on three key points: that it did not provide the government with "direct access" to its servers, that it did not set up a "back door" for the NSA, and that it provides "user data to governments only in accordance with the law." 

According to Chris Soghoian, a tech expert and privacy researcher at the American Civil Liberties Union, the phrase "direct access" connotes a very specific form of access in the IT-world: unrestricted, unfettered access to information stored on Google servers. In order to run a system such as PRISM, Soghoian explains, such access would not be required, and Google's denial that it provided "direct access" does not necessarily imply that the company is denying having participated in the program. Typically, the only people having "direct access" to the servers of a company like Google would be its engineers. (Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has issued a similarly worded denial in which he says his company has not granted the government "direct access" to its servers," but his language mirrors Google's denial about direct access.) 

A similar logic applies to Google's denial that it set up a "back door." According to Soghoian, the phrase "back door" is a term of art that describes a way to access a system that is neither known by the system's owner nor documented. By denying that it set up a back door, Google is not denying that it worked with the NSA to set up a system through which the agency could access the company's data. 

More From the 'Leaked Document' File: Obama's Cyber-Attack Directive

Yet another thing you always wanted to know about the workings of the U.S. government ... but didn't know to ask

JUN 7 2013

If "Things We're Learning About the Security Workings of the U.S. Government" were a late-night infomercial, today would be the point in the proceedings when the giddy announcer tells us, "But wait! There's more!" 

Because more, it seems, there is.

The Guardian has just posted a new revelation about top-secret U.S. government activities, based on a new leaked document: a directive that President Obama, late last year, sent to senior national security and intelligence officials. The directive orders them to, among other things, create a list of potential overseas targets for U.S. cyber-attacks. 

The 18-page, classified document, Presidential Policy Directive 20, was issued in October 2012. (It was discussed in a November article in The Washington Post, but not published until now.) The memo was sent to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and pretty much every other high-ranking member of the Executive branch, and it proposes what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) -- essentially, a plan for strategic cyber-attacks against other countries, carried out abroad and, potentially, within the U.S. 

The point of such attacks, per the document? To "offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging." 

So. Stuxnet -- the computer worm suspected, though not fully confirmed, to have originated from a partnership between the U.S. and Israel -- might have been a harbinger of things to come. As Guardian writers Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill note, the directive is significant in part because it defines the criteria for offensive cyber operations beyond simple retaliatory actions, and toward "vaguely framed" ideas about the advancement of "U.S. national objectives around the world." 

Then again, like so many other pieces of incendiary news that have made their way to the public this week, we don't know the full story here. We don't know whether there are later-issued documents that might have changed the framework proposed in the directive. We don't know how the many powerful people copied on the memo reacted to it. (Per the Post piece on the as-yet-unpublished document, "Officials say they expect the directive will spur more nuanced debate over how to respond to cyber-incidents.") 

Obama tells intelligence chiefs to draw up cyber target list – full document text

Eighteen-page presidential memo reveals how Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber attacks

p. 1 

In Defense of PRISM

How else can we smoke terrorists out of their hidey holes? 

JUNE 7, 2013 

PRISM has just provided a glimpse through the looking glass. Revelations about this monitoring system suggest that living in and moving through the world, even for the most private among us, can be observed closely and for protracted periods by the cold, shy minds of the intelligence community. The reason for this sustained, widespread scrutiny is that, in the long fight against terrorist networks, this is one of the ways in which their cells can sometimes be caught while communicating, their plans disrupted, and, on occasion, their locations determined. 

The price of the increment of security so provided is the loss of a bit of privacy, despite best efforts of intelligence overseers to make sure that the focus is on "metadata" like the time, date, and originating and terminating points of communications -- rather than on specific content. The belief, and the hope, of both the operators of the system and their supervisors -- including watchdogs maintaining oversight from their perches in Congress -- is that some loss of individual privacy will make for significant gains in national security. As an observer and sometime participant in efforts to ferret out the intentions and locations of the terrorists over more than a decade, I believe that the benefits of this endeavor have clearly outweighed the costs and risks. 

My timeframe for making this judgment goes back well before the reported start of the PRISM program seven years ago. Indeed, it was just a few months after 9/11 that Adm. John Poindexter, then at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), proposed a "total information awareness" initiative that was to use some of the methods now being reported. But TIA, as it was called, had a vaguely Orwellian cast, and Adm. Poindexter's past role in the dark dealings of the Iran-Contra affair didn't help -- he had been Ronald Reagan's national security advisor when the secret arms swap caper came to light. Very soon, the "T" was changed from "Total" to "Terrorism," but the re-branding didn't help and Congress defunded the initiative. Still, parts of it lived on -- with congressional oversight -- under new code names like "Genoa" and "TopSail." These should be seen as some of the antecedents of PRISM, helping to hone the methods that have now become the principal "mining tools" of the big data offensive mounted against the globally dispersed cells of terrorist networks. 

Prior to TIA, and well before 9/11, there were other ancestors of our current big data efforts. At the National Security Agency, and in other parts of the extensive American intelligence community, search systems known by such evocative names as "Echelon" and "Semantic Forests," among others, were in use, striving relentlessly to detect patterns of communication that might open up golden seams of information from the most secret caches of the world's various malefactors. Often enough, these and other tracking tools did distinguish the pattern from the noise, and national security was well served. 

Is the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights collapsing?

June 7, 2013

The U.N. Security Council struggled this evening to prevent the collapse of a beleaguered mission that has helped maintain peace between Israel and Syria along the Golan Heights for nearly 40 years. 

The fate of the mission -- the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) -- was placed in jeopardy this week when the Austrian government announced plans to withdraw the largest national contingent, some 380 Austrian peacekeepers, from the mission, which currently has 913 troops. The Austrian announcement followed a surge of fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebels in the U.N.-monitored demilitarized zone. 

"Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and his deputy Michael Spindelegger said Thursday in a joint statement. It continued, noting that "further delay (in withdrawing the troops) is no longer justifiable." 

The U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session tonight to review the options for preserving the mission. Britain's U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, who is serving as the Security Council president for June, told reporters after the meeting that the United Nations has appealed to Austria to delay their pullout in order to give it the chance to find replacements. 

Lyall Grant said the U.N. peacekeeping department has been in urgent discussions with countries that still have troops in the mission -- including India, which has nearly 200 blue helmets and the Philippines, which has roughly 350 -- to reinforce their contingents. It has also reached out to new countries, including Fiji, which was already planning to send a relatively small contingent of blue helmets, to send more. 

Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that his government is willing to replace the Austrian contingent with a battalion of at least 300 blue helmets. But he noted that any decision would require agreement by the Israeli and Syrian governments, because their 1974 truce bars any of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- from participating in the mission. He also said he asked the U.N. legal department to determine whether a new Security Council resolution may be required.