14 December 2014

Planning for a new commission

Sanjeev Sharma
Dec 14 2014

Narendra Modi’s made it clear that the Planning Commission has to go. His predecessor had five years back sought recommendations on shaking up the panel, but these were left unattended. A new institution to replace the plan body is now in the works. There’s receptivity among CMs, with varied degrees of acceptability. What works out and what doesn’t remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Chief Ministers during a meeting on the revamp of the Planning Commission in New Delhi on December 7.

It was in 2009 that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had alluded to the Planning Commission having outlived its utility and asked the members to consider changes to make it more relevant.

A year later, recalls Arun Maira, a member of the Planning Commission till recently, recommendations on the changes in the structure, role, functions and resources were given. The then Prime Minister and the then Deputy

Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, sat on these.

Just months into the job, as Narendra Modi stood up to deliver the Independence Day address, he announced his stand: the Planning Commission had to go, a new institution would take its place.

Maira says the changes recommended to Dr Singh are very similar to what Prime Minister Modi is attempting to do now. “It is not as if suddenly a dramatic idea has appeared. We consulted the stakeholders — states, ministries, private and civil society,” he adds. What’s changed is the urgency and firmness to get on with things. 

India and the Great Game of Energy

December 11, 2014

India has negligible resources of oil and gas in the context of our future needs and from the perspective of the currently available extraction technology.

If 25% of our energy needs are to be met by gas – one of the cleanest fossil fuels, we will have to ramp up our gas imports. Today, households still cook with wood, charcoal or kerosene because domestic gas supply is so constrained.

Enter Russia: President Putin could be the White Knight meeting India’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) demand. Of course, selling gas to India is a propitious move, as the post Ukraine sanctions are hurting Russia and it needs to have reliable, long term arrangements for selling gas and oil.

Welcoming India into the fold
India is not a party to the sanctions and it is in its self-interest to focus on energy during the Modi-Putin talks in New Delhi this week.

Russia hasn’t exactly been sitting on its hands to counter the U.S. sanctions. It has already mended fences with China, with which it has concluded oil and gas supply deals.

More generally, it is leaning towards China as a natural partner in the global clustering against the U.S.-led set of allies. Russia would like to induct Iran and India as partners in this grouping.

India is a marginal player in this “great game.” It would be a complete mistake for India to barter our acceptability to all sides by putting our eggs into one basket. There is little reason for India to choose between the Great Powers.

Superbugs could kill 10 MILLION people a year by 2050 and cost the world economy $100 TRILLION

11 December 2014

Superbugs could kill 10 MILLION people a year by 2050 and cost the world economy $100 TRILLION unless urgent action is taken to tackle growing resistance to antibiotics 

Superbugs could claim the lives of 10 million people each year, as well as hundreds of trillions of dollars by 2050, a new report has warned today.

Vicious infections resistant to drugs already kill hundreds of thousands of people across the globe every year.

But a review by economist Jim O'Neill claims the trend is set to get worse if urgent action is not taken.

Mr O'Neill heads the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which was set up in July by Prime Minister David Cameron and publishes its findings today.

Antimicrobials are a class of drugs that includes antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics and antifungals. 

The first paper from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, chaired by economist Jim O'Neill found 700,000 deaths across the world each year are attributed to resistance to antimicrobials - a class of drugs that includes antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics and antifungals

By 2050 the report estimates that number could soar to 10 millions if urgent action is not taken 

The report cites an example of E.coli that has now become resistant to the last-resort antibiotics, carbapenems.

196 nations near climate deal - Delegates to fall short of what is needed to reduce warming impact


Activists dressed as (from left to right) Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin protest at the climate change conferences being held in Lima, Peru. (AFP)

Lima, Dec. 13: Negotiators from around the globe were haggling today over the final elements of a draft climate change deal that would, for the first time in history, commit every nation to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

However, they would still fall far short of what is needed to stave off the dangerous and costly early impacts of global warming.

Delegates from the world's 196 countries have been working for two weeks here, in a temporary complex of white tents at the headquarters of the Peruvian Army, to produce the framework of a climate change accord to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year.

Saluting their supreme sacrifice

Shakti Singh Chandel
Dec 14 2014

Memorials and memorial days remind us of our brave soldiers who fought many battles and brought honour to the nation

Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the flame of the immortal soldier, was erected under the India Gate after the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971 to commemorate the Indian soldiers killed during the war

Since days of yore, death on the battlefield was considered glorious and the merit of dying martyr in the cause of dharma was considered a sure way to heaven.

Teen Murti memorial was built in 1922 in the memory of the Indian soldiers from three Indian princely states of Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore who served during World War I under the British-India Army Tribune

Tibet core to Sino-Indian ties


Despite booming two-way trade, strategic discord and rivalry between China and India is sharpening. At the core of their divide is Tibet, an issue that fuels territorial disputes, border tensions and water feuds.

The Tibetan plateau is Asia’s “water tower.” © Brahma Chellaney, Water: Asia’s New Battleground (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013).

Beijing says Tibet is a core issue for China. In truth, Tibet is the core issue in Beijing’s relations with countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan that traditionally did not have a common border with China. These countries became China’s neighbors after it annexed Tibet, a sprawling, high-altitude plateau where, after waves of genocide since the 1950s, ecocide now looms large.

Take China’s relations with India: Beijing itself highlights Tibet as the core issue with that country by laying claim to large chunks of Indian land on the basis of purported Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links, rather than any professed Han Chinese connection. Indeed, since 2006, Beijing has a new name — “South Tibet” — for the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is three times the size of Taiwan and twice as large as Switzerland.

Tibet historically was the buffer that separated the Chinese and Indian civilizations. Ever since Communist China, in one of its first acts, gobbled up that buffer with India, Tibet has remained the core matter with India.

In the latest reminder of this reality, President Xi Jinping brought Chinese military incursions across the Indo-Tibetan border on his India visit in September. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government responded to the border provocations by permitting Tibetan exiles to stage protests during Xi’s New Delhi stay.

In response to China’s increasing belligerence — reflected in a rising number of Chinese border incursions and Beijing’s new assertiveness on the two Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir — India since 2010 has stopped making any reference to Tibet being part of China in a joint statement with China. It has also linked any endorsement of “one China” to a reciprocal Chinese commitment to a “one India.”


By Rupak Bhattacharjee

India and Bangladesh have stepped up cooperation on security and counter-terrorism following the accidental blast in Burdwan, West Bengal. Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin Bangladesh’s (JMB) sinister designs to undermine democracy, political stability, security and peace in the sub-continent have been gradually unfolding since the National Investigation Agency (NIA) started probing the case.

The political leaders of both the nations felt the urgency to intensify bilateral engagement in wake of the sudden spurt in cross-border terrorism, realignment of Bangladesh-based Islamic terrorist groups and their concerted efforts to spread tentacles across South Asia.

According to information available with the government, the JMB had been planning to create “serious unrest” in Bangladesh by using Indian territory as base for its terror operations. It has been clearly pointed out that targeting top leaders belonging to both the ruling Awami League (AL) and major opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was part of their nefarious schemes in Bangladesh. Earlier, the Rapid Action Battalion — Bangladesh’s elite security force, informed the Indian intelligence agencies that terror strikes against the AL and BNP leaders, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, was planned before the parliamentary elections in December 2008. A few JMB leaders had trained some cadres from Bengal and sent them to execute the missions.

The intelligence inputs indicate that the JMB militants also planned to carry out a coup to dislodge the AL government. It is suspected that a section of retired Bangladeshi army officers subscribing to jihadi ideology are aiding the JMB militants in their bid to subvert the democratic process restored in 1991 after long spells of military rule. Senior security officials claim that the conspiracy was hatched on Indian soil. The junior home minister of Bangladesh, Asaduzzaman Khan, said Dhaka was “unofficially” informed about a possible militant plot.

The New Fulcrum of Asia: The Indo-Japan Entente and the Rise of China

John W. Garver
December 09,2014 

A new and potentially pivotal alignment of India and Japan is forming in response to China’s rise. This still informal security and military partnership implicitly premised on countering an ever-more-powerful China reflects deep common apprehensions about China’s rise and will probably take increasing substance in coming years. This entente marks a crucial failure of China’s diplomacy to reassure Tokyo and New Delhi that its rapidly growing military power will not be directed against them. Instead, its successive dismissal of their security concerns throughout the post–Cold War period, combined with China’s rapidly growing military power and more assertive approach to maritime conflicts since 2009, has driven them to conclude that prudence requires that the two stand together, informally, to convey to Beijing the message that it will not be able to subordinate its neighbors and rivals one at a time. Tokyo especially has concluded that Japan’s SDF could well be in the PLA’s line of fire over maritime and other issues, and that it is therefore prudent to counter this possibility by building a coalition of like-minded regional states. Its search for security seems to be driving the new partnership.

The Philippines and Vietnam are showing interest in Tokyo’s new approach, but the country with the greatest national capabilities, including military, and with the deepest apprehensions about a rising China, is India. Its collective memory of “1962” generates deep apprehensions over China’s future course. Beijing taught its “lesson” very well, which continues to resonate in New Delhi. Beijing’s on-again, off-again exercise of intimidation against India—most recently over the border in the vicinity of the Karakorum pass in early 2013—ensures that these apprehensions do not fade. Psychologically, India lacks the anti-Japanese animus over “history” found in some Asian countries; instead mutual memory of World War II joins them together in a way not found in any other Asian country. This translates into positive responses to proposals for closer security partnership emanating from successive governments in Tokyo. Apprehensive of becoming entangled in China’s quarrels with Japan and the United States, New Delhi is, nonetheless, cognizant of the real leverage with Beijing and enhancement of Indian national capabilities that may flow from a tilt toward Tokyo and Washington.

Neither Tokyo nor New Delhi desires confrontation with China, the major trading partner of each. Participation in China’s growing markets is vital to Japan’s search for economic revival. For India, China has emerged as a major customer for India’s raw materials and semi-finished goods and supplier of cheap consumer goods. Yet, economics does not trump national security. Both are deeply apprehensive of possible confrontation with China, and have concluded that standing together, informally, with other like-minded Asian countries, especially ones of substantial national capabilities, is likely to reduce the likelihood that China will take such a course.

Chinese Ministry of State Security Has Beefed Up Presence in Hong Kong to Ward Off Further Pro-Democracy Demonstrations

December 12, 2014

Two workers walk in front of demolished tents, barricades and supplies dumped at a site at the financial Central district in Hong Kong December 12, 2014.

(Reuters) - As the dust settles on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy ‘Occupy’ protests,China is likely to embark on a sweeping but covert campaign across the territory’s judiciary, media and universities to ensure there is no recurrence, activists and politicians say.

The surprisingly resilient, 75 days of protest for a fully democratic vote to choose Hong Kong’s next leader was the most serious challenge to China’s authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

To ward off future protests, activists say Beijing’s rulers are unlikely to embark on a harsh response that could pose a risk to stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, a financial hub that is the gateway to the world’s second-biggest economy.

Alex Chow, one of the student protest leaders, said “Chinese methods” could be applied in Hong Kong, a term he used to refer to pressure, intimidation and coercion against government critics in China.

"How long can we maintain Hong Kong’s judicial independence?" Chow said at the protest site before he was hauled away by police as they cleared the main protest site on Thursday. "We’ve already seen judges make decisions that have been highly contentious. Beijing might be able to put pressure on Hong Kong to charge us (the protest leaders) with more serious offences to shut us up."

China Takes Nuclear Weapons Underwater Where Prying Eyes Can’t See

By David Tweed 
Dec 9, 2014

China is preparing to arm its stealthiest submarines with nuclear missiles that could reach the U.S., cloaking its arsenal with the invisibility needed to retaliate in the event of an enemy strike.

Fifty years after China carried out its first nuclear test, patrols by the almost impossible-to-detect JIN class submarines armed with nuclear JL–2 ballistic missiles will give President Xi Jinping greater agility to respond to an attack.

The nuclear-powered subs will probably conduct initial patrols with the missiles by the end of this year, “giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent,” according to an annual report to Congress submitted in November by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Deploying the vessels will burnish China’s prestige as Xi seeks to end what he calls the “cold war” mentality that resulted in U.S. dominance of Asia-Pacific security. Since coming to power, Xi has increased military spending with a focus on longer-range capacity, including plans to add to the country’s tally of a single aircraft carrier.

“For the first time in history, China’s nuclear arsenal will be invulnerable to a first strike,” said independent strategist Nicolas Giacometti, who has written analysis for The Diplomat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s the last leap toward China’s assured nuclear-retaliation capability.”

China’s nuclear-defense strategy is engineered to provide retaliation capability in the event of attack from nuclear powered nations as far away as the U.S. and also from Russia and India, according to Felix Chang, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

Germany Is Europe’s New Front Line

DECEMBER 11, 2014

Germany is now undisputedly on the front line in the conflict between the EU and Russia over Ukraine.

This is a new situation that has immense implications for the EU’s future policy toward Russia and, especially, toward Eastern Europe. The line is making it more difficult for Russia to play EU member states off against each other. But it also obliges European leaders to set out a new strategy for Russia and Eastern Europe. Germany holds the key to both.

Being on the front line is nothing new for Germany. During the Cold War, West Germany was armed to the teeth with NATO’s conventional forces, backed up by nuclear weapons. The country was pitted against an East Germany that was supported by the armies and nuclear weapons of the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact.

Yet even then, West Germany was divided over how to deal with the Kremlin. The Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, never gave up on the idea of German reunification. The Social Democratic Party opted for a pragmatic, cooperative approach toward Moscow centered on a policy known as Ostpolitik.

While the pacifist movement loathed NATO’s presence on West German soil, there was no getting away from the fact that Germany was on the front line. That was the reality of the Cold War.

Today, Germany is on a different forward edge that Merkel has been systematically shaping to adapt to Europe’s new geosecurity and geostrategic realities. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, Merkel has realized how he has challenged the post–Cold War consensus and Europe’s security.

New Russian Spy Ship Undergoing Sea Trials in the Barents Sea

Trude Pettersen
December 12, 2014

Russia’s newest intelligence vessel “Yury Ivanov”.

Russia’s Northern Fleet will get a new intelligence collecting vessel before the end of the year. “Yury Ivanov” is currently undergoing sea trials in the Gulf of Finland.“Yury Ivanov” will be the Russian fleet’s largest vessel of its class. The 95 meters long and 16 meters wide vessel will have a displacement of 4000 tons and will be equipped with instruments for electronic intelligence collection.

This is the first ship of a new series of intelligence vessels, TASS reports. The vessel was laid down in 2004 and put on water in September 2013. The second vessel of the class, “Ivan Khurs”, was laid down in November 2013.

“Yury Ivanov” will be handed over to the Navy by the end of the year. According to website Flot.com, it will be put in service in the Northern Fleet.

Celebrating the Peacemakers

December 11, 2014

Go to war and every politician will thank you, and they'll continue to do so -- with monuments and statues, war museums and military cemeteries -- long after you're dead. But who thanks those who refused to fight, even in wars that most people later realized were tragic mistakes? Consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq, now widely recognized as igniting an ongoing disaster. America's politicians still praise Iraq War veterans to the skies, but what senator has a kind word to say about the hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched and demonstrated before the invasion was even launched to try to stop our soldiers from risking their lives in the first place?

What brings all this to mind is an apparently heartening exception to the rule of celebrating war-makers and ignoring peacemakers. A European rather than an American example, it turns out to be not quite as simple as it first appears. Let me explain.

December 25th will be the 100th anniversary of the famous Christmas Truce of the First World War. You probably know the story: after five months of unparalleled industrial-scale slaughter, fighting on the Western Front came to a spontaneous halt. British and German soldiers stopped shooting at each other and emerged into the no-man's-land between their muddy trenches in France and Belgium to exchange food and gifts.

That story -- burnished in recent years by books, songs, music videos, a feature film, and an opera -- is largely true. On Christmas Day, troops did indeed trade cigarettes, helmets, canned food, coat buttons, and souvenirs. They sang carols, barbecued a pig, posed for photographs together, and exchanged German beer for British rum. In several spots, men from the rival armies played soccer together. The ground was pocked with shell craters and proper balls were scarce, so the teams made use of tin cans or sandbags stuffed with straw instead. Officers up to the rank of colonel emerged from the trenches to greet their counterparts on the other side, and they, too, were photographed together. (Refusing to join the party, however, was 25-year-old Adolf Hitler, at the front with his German army unit. He thought the truce shocking and dishonorable.)

Nigel Inkster: Torture and the CIA

By Nigel Inkster,
10 December 2014 

The unclassified version of the United States Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda detainees released on 9 December 2014 makes sobering reading. The facts of the Senate report are not disputed. Between 2001 and 2006, the CIA detained 119 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in a number of secret locations. Of these, 26 subsequently proved to have had no connection with al-Qaeda. The detainees were subjected to a variety of interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, being made to stand for long periods in stress positions and being subjected to a variety of intimidatory techniques. President Barack Obama had already characterised such techniques as amounting to torture and had banned their use shortly after assuming office in 2009. It is impossible for any reasonable person to challenge this characterisation.

The facts have never been the subject of serious dispute – although the Senate report makes clear that greater levels of brutality had been employed than even well-informed outsiders had appreciated. The techniques in question had been approved by lawyers in the US Attorney-General’s Office, and had been discussed in briefings to the White House. In 2012 Jose Rodriguez, who had been respectively the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Division and head of the National Clandestine Service during the period in question, co-authored a book entitled Hard Measures in which he defended the techniques employed, as did successive directors of Central Intelligence. Rodriguez, who undertook the destruction of numerous tapes recording some of the interrogations, was under judicial investigation for three years before a decision was taken not to prosecute him.

The Senate report also stated that none of the information resulting from the use of these techniques had led to the disruption of specific terrorist plots and accused the CIA of lying about the value of the intelligence that had emerged from the interrogations. The CIA has vigorously disputed this and continues to assert that the programme produced significant intelligence on al-Qaeda. In this respect, at least, it may be that both sides of the argument are partly right. There is not much evidence to suggest that the interrogations produced intelligence that frustrated specific attacks and the Senate report does make a convincing case for the CIA having exaggerated the benefits of the programme. But there are grounds for supposing that the interrogations enabled the CIA to achieve an understanding of al-Qaeda’s organisation and membership and helped orientate them in a confused post-2001 world when intelligence on al-Qaeda was suddenly in short supply. In his book, Rodriguez described some of the longer-term al-Qaeda detainees such as Abu Zubaydah, once they had consented to co-operate with CIA, as constituting ‘walking dictionaries’ who could situate specific pieces of intelligence in a broader context and help to explain their significance.

U.S. Cyber Command Trying to Overcome Equipment Problems and Personnel Shortages

Wyatt Olson
December 12, 2014

Air Force Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command, speaks at a high-tech conference in Honolulu Wednesday about the Defense Department’s efforts to beef up cyber security.

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — The fledgling U.S. Cyber Command is trying to hit the ground running, aware that it’s playing catchup with often archaic equipment, dealing with constantly evolving threats and trying to justify its existence amid budget cuts and force reductions.

The cyber force is expected to be fully in place by the end of 2016 with a staff of 6,000, said Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command. About 2,400 have been hired since fiscal year 2013 began, and they are now in teams that have at least “initial operating capability,” McLaughlin said Wednesday at the annual TechNet Pacific conference.

“That’s something that’s in play right now,” he said.

CENTCOM Brief on Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

December 12, 2014
Airstrikes Against ISIL Continue in Syria, Iraq

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Dec. 12, 2014 - U.S. and partner-nation military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq over the last three days, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported.

Fighter and bomber aircraft have conducted seven airstrikes in Syria since Dec. 10, officials said. Five airstrikes near Kobani destroyed five ISIL fighting positions and struck another ISIL fighting position. An airstrike near Aleppo struck five ISIL-occupied buildings, and near al-Qaim, on the Syrian border, an airstrike destroyed two ISIL fortifications.

Iraq Airstrikes

Separately, U.S. and partner-nation forces have conducted 20 airstrikes in Iraq since Dec. 10, using fighter, bomber, attack, and remotely-piloted aircraft against the ISIL terrorists, officials said, providing the following details:

— Four airstrikes near Sinjar destroyed an ISIL armored vehicle and two ISIL storage containers and also struck another ISIL armored vehicle and an ISIL checkpoint.

— Near Ramadi, four airstrikes destroyed an excavator and five ISIL vehicles and also struck an ISIL-occupied building and three ISIL units.

— Three airstrikes near Rutbah destroyed two bulldozers and an ISIL storage container.

— Near Mosul, three airstrikes destroyed a bunker and a bulldozer and also struck an excavator.

— Three airstrikes near Qaim destroyed four ISIL vehicles, two ISIL-occupied buildings, an ISIL storage container and an ISIL guard tower and also struck an ISIL bunker.

— Near Samarra, an airstrike struck a large ISIL unit.

— An airstrike near Rawah destroyed an ISIL guard shack.

— An airstrike near Asad struck an ISIL staging area.

All aircraft returned to base safely, officials said, noting that airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Update on Security Situation in Somalia and Yemen

December 12, 2014
Gulf of Aden Security Review

Yemen: AQAP attacks military checkpoint in central Ma’rib; Ansar al Sharia attacks al Houthis in northeastern Rada’a

Horn of Africa: Puntland security forces drive over a roadside IED planted by suspected al Shabaab militants in Bari region; suspected MRC separatists assassinate a Kenyan policeman in Kenya’s Coast Province

Yemen Security Brief
Suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gunmen attacked a military checkpoint in al Arqin, central Ma’rib on December 12, resulting in an unknown number of casualties. AQAP most recently attacked a military convoy in the same area on December 5.[1]
Ansar al Sharia militants attacked a checkpoint belonging to al Houthi militants in northeastern Rada’a, al Bayda on December 12, resulting in five deaths. AQAP and al Houthi militants have been engaged throughout the week in battles for control of areas in northern Rada’a.[2]

Horn of Africa Security Brief
Suspected al Shabaab militants detonated a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Puntland security forces on December 12, near Boosaaso, Bari region, killing three and wounding four others.[3]
Suspected Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) separatists shot and killed a Kenyan police man, and wounded two more, in Kilifi in Kenya’s Coast Province on December 12. The outlawed MRC holds alleged ties to al Shabaab.[4]

Where Is Putin Leading Russia?

December 10, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual state of the nation address on December 4 failed to answer many questions about his intentions in Ukraine and his plan for dealing with Russia’s economic estrangement from Western states, says CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich. “It was a very eclectic, even incoherent, speech,” Sestanovich says. “There was a certain evasion on his part to some of the big economic problems that the country faces.” While Putin has not acted as aggressively in Ukraine as some Russian nationalists wish, Sestanovich says, he has continued to take measures in support of pro-Russian separatists while not pursuing compromise that could end the crisis over Ukraine. 

Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with French President François Hollande in Moscow December 6, 2014. (Photo: Alain Jocard/Courtesy Reuters) 

What was your impression of President Vladimir Putin’s annual speech to the Federal Assembly last week? 

There was more-than-ordinary anticipation of this speech because of the timing. It came as oil prices were crashing, as the ruble was crashing, and as anxiety about the future of the Russian economy was mounting. The questions that people here and in Russia were asking before the speech were "Are we going to see a more authoritarian Putin, one pushing state solutions, or are we going to see a new, liberal incarnation?" People asked whether he was going to be more belligerent than ever, or if he would be suggesting an interest in conciliation. 

Israel Still Doing U.S. Dirty Work in Syria


Over the weekend, the Syrian government reported that Israeli airplanes struck targets outside Damascus. The Assad regime condemned the attack on its territory, a stance echoed by both their Iranian and Russian allies. In particular, Moscow demanded an explanation from Israel for its “aggressive” behavior. Why were the Russians so aggrieved about a few more bombs dropped on a country that is already ravaged by four years of war? The targets hit were apparently stockpiles of Russian weapons that were about to be transferred to Hezbollah. There is nothing that unusual about Israeli military action to forestall weapons being put into the hands of terrorists but what is interesting here is that once again Israel, the ally that the Obama administration most loves to hate, is doing America’s dirty work in Syria.

For years the U.S. has stood by and watched as the Russians have supplied arms to Assad to slaughter his own people. Even worse, as President Obama dithered about taking action to halt the killing of more than 200,000 persons, the crisis there worsened as, with the help of Iran and its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries, atrocities escalated and moderate alternatives to Assad were marginalized by radical groups including ISIS.

The result is that by the time the U.S. belatedly recognized the necessity of acting against ISIS, there were few good options left for resisting Assad and his allies. More to the point, much as was the case when I wrote about Israeli strikes on Syria in bothJanuary and May of 2013, it is Israel that has been forced to step into the vacuum created by the administration’s feckless policies.

The Myth of the Russian Oligarchs

DEC. 10, 2014

Moscow’s most popular joke today is unfunny: “Next year Putin, the ruble, and a barrel of oil will converge at just over 63.” Allow me to translate: The ruble will soon be trading at 63 to the dollar, or nearly double what the dollar was worth in Russia a year ago (meaning most Russians will be roughly 50 percent poorer); a barrel of oil will fall to $63 a barrel, roughly 2005-level prices, devastating the Russian economy; and President Vladimir Putin will turn 63. All three predictions are depressingly realistic: The Russian economy appears headed for disaster just as certainly as Mr. Putin will most likely celebrate his next birthday in October 2015. And more likely than not, he will still be president of Russia then.

Conventional wisdom — or conventional hope — among many of the people who would like to see the end of the Putin regime has long been that a turn for the worse in the Russian economy will make the moneyed elite turn on the Russian president. Journalists, pundits and Mr. Putin’s political opponents in Russia have predicted that Western sanctions and the economic disaster they hasten will result in a coup d'état staged by oligarchs. There is just one problem with that argument: There are no oligarchs anymore.Photo

When Mr. Putin became acting president 15 years ago this month, Russia was an oligarchy — indeed the oligarchs, a small group of men who had grown very rich in the preceding decade, were instrumental in picking Putin out of obscurity and installing him at the helm. But within months, he made the oligarchs an offer they could not refuse: give up all of their political power and some of their wealth in exchange for safety, security and continued prosperity, or else be stripped of all power and assets.

Former UK Chief of Defense Intelligence Indicates That MI6 Agents May Have Been Present During CIA Torture Sessions of Al Qaeda Prisoners

Tom Whitehead
December 12, 2014

British spies may have been present at some CIA torture sessions, a former security minister has suggested, in the closest admission yet that the UK was complicit.

Admiral Lord West said there may have been the “odd case” where UK agents were in the same room when their American counterparts were waterboarding detainees.

In a stark admission, the former chief of defence intelligence said it would be “stupid” for anyone to insist a British spy was never “anywhere close to this”.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to face questions from MPs next week on what Britain did or did not know and whether she ever lobbied the US Senate committee that revealed the CIA tactics.

The Foreign Office incorrectly stated Mrs May had met the committee in 2011 but the Home Office then revealed she had met the Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein in September this year but insisted the issue did not come up.

However, the Home Office was unable to say whether the Home Secretary had ever discussed the torture investigation with the committee on a previous occasion.

John McTernan, a senior strategist in Tony Blair’s government – which covered the period of the CIA activities – said it was time for the British authorities to come clean and called for a Royal Commission in to the allegations.

What Britain knew of the CIA torture tactics post 9/11 has been thrown in to the spotlight after the devastating report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee this week.

The Senate Torture Report

December 10, 2014

It is always disheartening when America does not live up to the standards many of us expect and in the adoption and execution of enhanced interrogation we have failed to do that on many levels.

The primary failure is that our elected officials and the people who serve them strayed into territory where most of us instinctively know America does not belong. The failures continued though - there were failures in implementation, failures in oversight, and failures even today as our political class is failing to find a collaborative resolution to this problem that does not further harm American interests. But America, unlike some countries, is dynamic and very much a work in progress. When we stumble, and we do, it is important that we acknowledge our mistakes, make improvements, and continue moving forward.

Hot Wars are ugly terrible things. Cold wars are too. It is only the scale of the ugliness which changes. America has never been able to find morally comfortable ground in the most violent parts of either despite, at times, excelling at both. Perhaps it says something about our struggle to attain the ideal even while the forces that rage against us fully embrace the darkest parts of humanity. That is the most optimistic take on it all but it is also the one I believe. At our best, American’s have a brighter vision of the world than most others, and while we are far from perfect, we do continue to make progress. Hold that up to the world envisioned by our many of our enemies and the contrast is striking. I want it to stay that way.

That is one reason it is important to confront and rethink the practices we put in place after 9/11. Perhaps some of it can be rationalized. Much of it likely not. But either way the systematic abuse of people, even terrible people, is not a machine that we, as a nation, should put into motion. As a realist I can conjure up scenarios where almost anything is justified but I expect those cases to be the exception. When there is a bureaucracy, workforce, documentation, legal findings, and a language to support that abuse the exceptional threatens to become routine.

How War Can Come to Europe

WASHINGTON - Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for the continuing insurgency in Eastern Ukraine mean that peace in Europe can no longer be taken for granted. For several reasons, the West's current confrontation with Russia is arguably more serious and dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

First, Russia is led by a more unpredictable and adventurous leader. During the Cold War, the Communist Party could control its leader, and Nikita Khrushchev was removed soon after the Cuban crisis. Today, there are no such institutional controls over Vladimir Putin, with the result that the misjudgments and idiosyncrasies of one individual can have an outsized impact on policy.

Second, there are now a large number of grey zones in Europe, increasing the opportunities for miscalculation. During the Cold War, both sides were clear about alignments and red lines. Only Yugoslavia and Romania were potential grey areas, while the main neutral states, Finland and Sweden, were considered to be inviolable. Today the grey zones have proliferated. Where, for example, do Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia fit in any future security framework?

Third, the United States appears uncertain and disinterested in Europe and is led by a president whom Putin considers vacillating and weak. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the result of Khrushchev's estimation of John Kennedy as a weak leader based on their meeting in Vienna in June 1961. The cautious Leonid Brezhnev similarly authorized the invasion of Afghanistan during the post-Vietnam period. For its part, Western Europe shows no signs of increasing its middling defense spending, while Washington focuses on the Islamic State and other threats in the Middle East and Asia.

Feinstein v. Brennan: Round II

December 12, 2014

WASHINGTON — Their disputes over who spied on whom and censoring the Senate’s scathing torture report are history. But the personal feud between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and CIA Director John Brennan may only be getting worse.

Relations between the outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman and America’s top spy appeared to hit a new low Thursday as Feinstein live-tweeted comments contradicting Brennan as he publicly addressed her panel’s sweeping allegations of CIA wrongdoing. While Feinstein later praised Brennan for accepting many of her inquiry’s conclusions, the damage was done.

“#ReadTheReport” was the refrain from Feinstein as Brennan held a rare news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. She berated the CIA chief for suggesting, contrary to her report, that the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal and may have helped lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Brennan acknowledged CIA officers did “abhorrent” things and were unprepared to run a detention program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Yet he was hardly praiseworthy of Feinstein and fellow Democrats, calling it “lamentable” they interviewed no CIA personnel to ask, “What were you thinking?” He called the investigation “flawed.”

For the two main protagonists in this week’s drama, bickering is nothing new.

In an extraordinary scene nine months ago, Feinstein took to the Senate floor to accuse the CIA of interfering with her investigation and trying to intimidate the committee’s staffers by referring them to the Justice Department. The California senator suggested criminal laws and the Constitution were being violated.

CIA Director Brennan Defends Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ - Refuses to Use Worfd ‘Torture’

Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo
December 12, 2014

LANGLEY, Va. — John O. Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, on Thursday strongly defended C.I.A. officers who carried out brutal interrogation tactics against Qaeda suspects, describing agency interrogators as “patriots” and admonishing only those who went “outside the bounds” of Justice Department rules.

Speaking from inside the marble lobby of the C.I.A.’s headquarters, Mr. Brennan on Thursday challenged the conclusions of an excoriating report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that concluded the agency’s detention program had yielded little valuable information, and that the C.I.A. repeatedly misled the White House and Congress about the efficacy of the program. Mr. Brennan said that the C.I.A. detention program had value, even if it is “unknowable” whether useful intelligence was obtained as the direct result of brutal interrogation methods.

Unlike President Obama, Mr. Brennan pointedly refused to say that the methods — including waterboarding, shackling prisoners in painful positions, and locking them in coffin-like boxes — amounted to torture.

His characterization of the program on Thursday was a contrast to the remarks he made in 2009 while serving as Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, when he said that the interrogation methods “led us astray from our ideals as a nation” and that “tactics such as waterboarding were not in keeping with our values as Americans.” Asked on Thursday about those comments, Mr. Brennan said he stood by them.

He is in a different role today, leading a C.I.A. work force that still comprises hundreds of officers who were involved in the detention and interrogation program.

Fighting the Proxy War on Social Media

12 Dec , 2014

On one side Modi in his Srinagar rally literally snatched the moral high ground from the army that it had assumed by a series of path breaking stances. And on the other our top military brass was found grappling with the angst and fury of young officers serving in militant infested state of Jammu & Kashmir on the social media. The opinion and comments or rather abuses were widely circulated on the whatsapp and facebook. They tended to attribute initial failure of Uri incident to Budgam killings followed by moral high stand taken by the northern army commander.

Army had in its shortest ever inquiry blamed nine soldiers of Rashtryia Rifles for the Budgam incident…However the soldiers operating on ground were left with a sense of betrayal by their seniors.

Army had in its shortest ever inquiry blamed nine soldiers of Rashtryia Rifles for the Budgam incident. Though It did send a strong positive political message to the masses in poll bound state of J&K. However the soldiers operating on ground were left with a sense of betrayal by their seniors. This inference could easily be drawn while skimming through these text messages.

The statesman like general found in the present Army Commander, who was lauded by all when he promptly removed a Brigadier from command, for his improper conduct a few months ago. Definitely it was trendsetting since the accused hailed from the same regiment as that of the general. The action was contrary to the past instances where parochialism over ruled professionalism. It was this army commander who endorsed the recommendations of a General Court Martial indicting a colonel in Machal fake encounter killings. And it was him who mustered courage in regretting the killing of two innocent youths at Budgam in a casually conducted operation by his troops. The Army’s stand on Machal case and later stand over the Budgam incident reflected a paradigm shift.

With Provocative Russian Military-Intelligence Activities on the Rise, Where Do Relations With Russia Stand?

Lawrence J. Korb and Katherine Blakely
December 12, 2014

Mock bombing runs by Russian planes over Denmark. A mystery Russian submarine mere miles from Stockholm. Russian bombers off the coast of California, and Russian submarines in the Caribbean. Russian fighter jets flying dark over the Gulf of Finland and buzzing Norwegian planes. An Estonian counterintelligence officer disappearing near the Russian border under suspicious circumstances. Is this a New Cold War?

According to NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Russian air activity has increased all over Europe. NATO jets have been scrambled more than 400 times this year, a 50 percent increase over last year. In the Baltics, Russia’s activity has increased dramatically, with over 100 intercepts by the Baltic air policing missions this year—a three-fold increase. In addition to the air activity, Russia has conducted larger exercises near the Baltic states, and increased the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

But this is not the Cold War redux. Russia is not an existential threat to the United States or NATO the way the Soviet Union was. Despite Putin’s claim that he intends to restore Russia’s great power status, Russia is not a superpower now, nor will it be a superpower in the near future.

However, Western-Russian relations have been turned on their head since the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in March and the continued Russian military presence and support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Far from being the hoped-for constructive world citizen that was invited to partner with NATO through the unique NATO-Russia Council, Russia has taken actions that have destabilized Ukraine, alarmed the Baltics, and shaken the complacency of NATO and the European Union.

Profiting from 'Globesity'

December 11, 2014

MARSEILLE - There are now obese mannequins for crash tests, XXL MRI machines, jumbo-sized seats in World Cup soccer stadiums. The adaptation of our daily environment to big bodies is occupying more and more engineers. That's because it's a heavyweight issue: One in three people in the world is overweight, and 671 million are considered obese. The World Health Organization has dubbed the phenomenon "globesity" because it is an issue that concerns the entire planet.

"The progression of overweight and obesity has been general and rapid" over the last 30 years, acccording to a study conducted in 188 countries and published last spring in the medical journal The Lancet. In Europe, the number of people who are overweight has tripled since the 1980s. In the United States, a third of men and women have a body mass index of 30, which is nearly double the normal corpulence of an adult.

In emerging markets, the development of the middle classes and the Westernization of lifestyles are accelerating the trend even further. According to researchers, more than half of this world's obese individuals live in China, India, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan and Indonesia.

This fattening of the planet is not about to reverse itself anytime soon, mainly because fast-food chains in emerging countries are peddling their recipe for success already established in the United States and Europe. In India, where 80% of the population doesn't eat beef in accordance with the Hindu religion, the Chicken Maharaja Mac has replaced the Big Mac in a market growing at a pace of nearly 30% per year.

And American giants, who can smell the money, are investing in a big way. The world fast-food leader Yum! (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), has announced it will open 1,000 new franchises between now and 2015, at least 20,000 of them in China.

Amazon commercial cloud tapped for GEOINT

Dec. 10, 2014

Lockheed Martin put an interactive map for NGA's Map of the World on Amazon's commercial cloud. (Lockheed Martin)

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has become the first intelligence agency to host an operational capability on Amazon Web Services’ Commercial Cloud Services.

Lockheed Martin put an interactive map for NGA’s Map of the World on Amazon's C2S, according to a company announcement. Map of the World is an interactive map that allows users to identify terrain and manmade features as well as any intelligence data associated with them. Lockheed Martin’s Geospatial-Intelligence Visualization Services (GVS) program migrated the map and ensured that it complied with the intelligence community's ICD-503 security guidelines for IT. The project is part of the Total Application Services for Enterprise Requirements (TASER) GVS contract vehicle, which was originally awarded in 2012.

“Deploying geospatial mission applications and software to a commercial cloud environment allows the Map of the World to operate with more agility and efficiency,” said Jason O’Connor, vice president of analysis and mission solutions at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions. “This accomplishment demonstrates the power of what can be done by leveraging cloud technologies with mission driven software. It shows how we can further enhance geospatial capabilities in the intelligence and DOD community.”



In March 2011, two weeks before the Western intervention in Libya, a secret message was delivered to the National Security Agency. An intelligence unit within the U.S. military’s Africa Command needed help to hack into Libya’s cellphone networks and monitor text messages.

For the NSA, the task was easy. The agency had already obtained technical information about the cellphone carriers’ internal systems by spying on documents sent among company employees, and these details would provide the perfect blueprint to help the military break into the networks.

The NSA’s assistance in the Libya operation, however, was not an isolated case. It was part of a much larger surveillance program—global in its scope and ramifications—targeted not just at hostile countries.

According to documents contained in the archive of material provided toThe Intercept by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has spied on hundreds of companies and organizations internationally, including in countries closely allied to the United States, in an effort to find security weaknesses in cellphone technology that it can exploit for surveillance.

The documents also reveal how the NSA plans to secretly introduce new flaws into communication systems so that they can be tapped into—a controversial tactic that security experts say could be exposing the general population to criminal hackers.

Codenamed AURORAGOLD, the covert operation has monitored the content of messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with major cellphone network operators, intercepting confidential company planning papers that help the NSA hack into phone networks.

One high-profile surveillance target is the GSM Association, an influential U.K.-headquartered trade group that works closely with large U.S.-based firms including Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Cisco, and is currently being funded by the U.S. government to develop privacy-enhancing technologies.

Karsten Nohl, a leading cellphone security expert and cryptographer who was consulted by The Intercept about details contained in the AURORAGOLD documents, said that the broad scope of information swept up in the operation appears aimed at ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA accessible.