25 April 2017

Overuse of groundwater for irrigation is leading India to disaster. Here’s what India needs to do

Vivek Prakash

A graphene-based membrane produced by the Graphene Centre at the University of Manchester promises to remove over 97% of salt from water, enabling farmers to use far more brackish water for irrigation than they could have done before. It has been demonstrated to be scalable as well. 

The Beijing Institute of Nanoecology and Nanosystems has proposed floating nets of nano generators, which will extract energy from ocean waves. 

A Danish energy company is opening a waste-to-energy facility in Northwich in Britain to convert unsorted municipal solid waste including plastic to energy using enzymes and microbes. 

A group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology just reported in the journal Science that their new metal-organic framework can harvest water from air at relative humidity as low as 20%, using only available sunlight. 

To escape the disaster being caused by the water-food-energy nexus, India must rapidly deploy new solutions like these, enhance its own innovation for its monsoon-specific agricultural system, and develop nimble policies.

Russian offer of MiG LMFS, F-16, etc. as India faces a troubled world


Persons in the know say Russia is offering India the co-development of the MiG 1.44 in the updated LMFS configuration with a conformal bomb bay. Some years back, as noted in this blog, IAF then in the throes of the MMRCA decision had rejected the 1.44. The Russian Air Force is streamlining its inventory to two types of combat aircraft — the “super” Su-30 and the MiG LMFS, Su plus a new generation strategic bomber to replace the Tu-160 Blackjack. The US Air Force is likewise restricting itself to the one type, all-purpose fighter plane — F-35 and its service variants.

If IAF is planning on a similar exercise as it should be doing then, as yet, there’s no hint of it. In any case, for the combat complement one type of aircraft, if anybody has any sense, has to be the indigenous Tejas LCA and its future variants, like the AMCA. It is the other type that will prove to be headache for the country. Just too many aircraft manufacturers are chasing down that slot, and have selected their Indian commercial partners in this venture with an eye firmly on the proximity of these partners to prime minister Modi. Dassault has tied up for its Rafale with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerospace and the Sweden’s SAAB for its Gripen E with the other A in the business world — the Adani’s. Neither Ambani nor Adani have done any aircraft production and have no production wherewithal ecen of a rudimentary kind set up by Mahindra. The only industrial engineering firm that has the resources, if not the actual experience, is L&T which, incidentally, dithered when asked in late 2014 to set up a Tejas production line to compete with HAL. This to say the country faces a nearly bare cupboard where the private sector manufacture of complex fighter aircraft is concerned.

Mr Modi, please heed loss of morale in armed forces


'The non-implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission, almost a year after it was implemented for civilians, is gradually beginning to hurt morale in the armed forces,' says Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).

A salient trend line in the emerging character of conflict points to the fact that future wars on land, sea, in the air and in space and cyber-space will be increasingly fought by machines.

However, military history bears out that ultimately it is the man behind the gun who carries the day.

This is unlikely to change no matter how many robotic vehicles are fitted with weapons and programmed to operate autonomously on the battlefield.

And since he is a thinking human being, the man behind the gun has emotions and feelings. He gets angry and upset, or goes into a shell, or loses his sense of discipline or sulks.

All subalterns and young captains are taught to keep a close eye on the morale of the soldiers.

If their morale is down, they lose their motivation to fight well.

WHAT NEXT FOR PAKISTAN'S NAWAZ SHARIF AFTER SUPREME COURT CORRUPTION RULING?


BY ELEANOR ROSS 

Pakistani Hindus celebrate Holi – the festival of colours

WORLDNAWAZ SHARIFPAKISTANCORRUPTIONPANAMA PAPERSCOURTMONEYBRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDSASIA

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that there is not enough evidence to convict Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption after the 2016 Panama Paper leaks linked his children to three offshore accounts.

Sharif repeatedly denied the charges of corruption—arguing that they were politically motivated—but the court’s decision may not put to bed a scandal that has dogged the Pakistani leader for the past two years. For his critics, many questions remain.

Sharif has not explained publicly how he was able to amass a fortune of around $19 million while working in politics since the 1970s, and opposition leaders accuse him of lying to parliament.

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It is the first time a sitting prime minister has ever faced an investigation panel probing into his financial affairs, according to Dawn newspaper.

According to papers leaked from Mossack Fonseca law firm, Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies that were registered in the British Virgin Islands. His children later used the holding companies to purchase properties in London, according to the court.

Pakistan 2017 comprehensively colonised by China

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Reminiscent of British colonisation of India two centuries ago facilitated by some Indian princes connivance two centuries ago, China in 2017 has comprehensively colonised Pakistan with the connivance of Pakistan Army and Pakistani politicians.

India needs to take a special note of this trend as in 2017 wherein it is emerging that Pakistan’s own national interest would now slide into a sub-text and be subsumed into the all-enveloping Chinese strategic blueprint for South Asia. Pakistan would only be a Chinese colonial proxy for dealing with India.

Perceptionaly, in 21st Century political parlance it can be believed that a nation gets “colonised” when willingly a nation’s power structure elites concede their policy decision-making wholly or virtually to a powerful neighbour in the domains of foreign policy, political dynamics, economic development and subsuming one’s own national security interests to those of their ‘strategic patron.’

Strategically ironic is the fact that Pakistan, as a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Pakistan, self-proclaimed as geopolitically significant globally, and also proclaiming ‘strategic equivalence’ with India as the neighbourly Emerged Power, should have succumbed to China’s geopolitical pressures over the decades to build it as the contending power with India. In the process decades later in 2017, Pakistan despite its mighty claims has seemingly emerged as comprehensively colonised by China.

How predatory crime and corruption in Afghanistan underpin the Taliban insurgency

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Afghanistan is once again on the cusp of a bloody fighting season, which this year didn’t even relent during the winter. In fact, since 2014 the Taliban has mounted and sustained its toughest military campaign yet, and the war has become bloodier than ever. Extensive predatory criminality, corruption, and power abuse—not effectively countered by the Afghan government—have facilitated the Taliban’s entrenchment.


The transition choices by the Afghan government and the international community—including the embrace of problematic warlords for the sake of short-term military battlefield advantages, and as tools of political co-optation—shaped and reinforced criminality and corruption in the post-2001 Afghanistan. In turn, this delegitimized the post-Taliban political dispensation. Indeed, generalized predatory criminality in Afghanistan lies at the crux of Afghanistan’s dire and fragile predicament.

Moscow’s Afghan Confusion

Written by Davood Moradian

One can see the emergence of a “Taliban alliance” which includes Pakistan, with China, Russia and Iran.

Russia’s pursuit of “great power” status and its growing concern over terrorism and narcotic drugs have pushed it to re-enter the Afghan conflict, as demonstrated by the April 15 regional conference on Afghanistan in Moscow. Kabul and Moscow have had complicated relations during the last two centuries: Russia was the first country to recognise Afghanistan’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. It became its main developmental partner during the last century. Afghanistan was also a major contested zone during Moscow’s imperial expansion during the Cold War. In the 1970s, Moscow’s misunderstanding of Afghan politics and its imperial hubris provided its arch rivals — the West, China and Islamist groups — a golden opportunity to trap the Russian bear in the Hindu Kush, which ushered the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

The West and the Islamists’ victory had, however, two unintended consequences: The destruction of the Afghan state and the emergence of militant Islamism. The combination hit back at the West on September 11, 2001. Following the rise of the Taliban, Moscow was again entangled in Afghanistan. This time, it chose the correct course of action. It joined an anti-Taliban regional alliance in support of the Mujahideen government in Kabul alongside Iran, India and the Central Asian states. After the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2011, Moscow continued to pursue a Kabul-centric, an anti-Taliban policy in support of US-led international efforts. Moscow’s clarity helped develop conciliatory sentiments among Afghans towards Russia.

Myanmar: Ceasefire on the Rocks: A Set back to Suu Kyi?

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

The recent attack by the MNDAA on the Army Posts at Laukkai, the headquarters of the Kokang region on 6th March, 2017 was followed by quick and heavy retaliatory attacks by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) on the 10th. This is yet another indication of serious fault lines that exist among the government, the Army and the ethnic militant groups in taking forward the peace process that started with the Nationwide cease fire Agreement of October 2015 and the 21st century Panglong Conference of August 31, 2016.

The peace process in Myanmar can be likened to that of a four-wheel coach where the four wheels represent the ethnic groups along with the militant outfits, the Tatmadaw, the Government of Myanmar led by Suu Kyi and finally - the fourth wheel- China itself. Unless the wheels move together, no progress can be made and the coach can only hobble. This appears to be the state of peace process today.

Of the four actors in the cease fire drama, only Suu Kyi appears to be serious and sincere in reaching out to the ethnic groups while others while mouthing high rhetoric appear to be. moving in different directions. What is missing now is the “Panglong Spirit” displayed by late Gen. Aung San in trying to reach out to the ethnic minorities. It is no surprise that the spirit is in shambles with serious fighting going on in the northwest border of Myanmar.

Chinese Jihadis’ Rise In Syria Raises Concerns At Home

By BASSEM MROUE AND GERRY SHIH 

BEIRUT — Many don’t speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s northern regions.

Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011 to fight against government forces and their allies. Some have joined the al-Qaida’s branch in the country previously known as Nusra Front. Others paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and a smaller number joined factions such as the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham.

But the majority of Chinese jihadis are with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims, particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syrian and Chinese intelligence agencies who fear those same jihadis could one day return home and cause trouble there.

The Turkistan Islamic Party is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China’s Xinjiang to be East Turkistan.

Comparative Assessment of China and U.S. Policies to Meet Climate Change Targets


China and the United States together emit more than 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) according to the latest available data.[1] Therefore any successful global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must include meaningful contributions from both countries. Each country has started down this path by committing to reduce CO2 emissions and both have announced plans, policies, and programs to meet those commitments. However, the character of the carbon problem in each country is different and so while the plans, programs, and policies they are pursuing have some similarities, the emphasis is different.

China and the United States have different fundamental energy supply potential. China’s energy resource base is coal-intensive, while the United States has large oil and gas reserves. China does not have the option of dramatically increasing natural gas or oil supplies unless it chooses to import them. In fact, China has become the world’s largest importer of oil—importing 6.71 million barrels per day in 2015.[2] Energy security, which has historically been a political priority in the United States, now receives less attention due to the recent boom in shale oil and gas. The opposite is true for China, which faces no significant growth in domestic oil and gas production, forcing it to import more oil and gas. Due to a combination of logistical obstacles and slow growth in coal reserves, China is now a net importer of coal, and thus energy security is becoming more of a concern.

*** Has AQAP Traded Terrorism For Protection?


As I've often said before, some of the most interesting stories to come across my desk are those from abroad that the U.S. mainstream media has failed to pick up. A recent article by Norwegian news outlet Verdens Gang (VG) only reminded me of that fact when it reported it had been in contact with an unidentified member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The piece, written by Erlend Ofte Arntsen, raised some interesting points - not least of which was the suggestion that the Yemeni al Qaeda franchise has set aside its mission of conducting attacks in the West.

Above image: Al Qaeda has shifted most of its attention to strengthening and equipping its local branches and foreign partners, rather than carrying out spectacular attacks overseas. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Finding Dale

VG reporter Erlend Ofte Arntsen connected with the anonymous AQAP member through an intermediary at al-Masra newspaper, a publication that belongs to Ansar al-Sharia Yemen. AQAP has historically used the name "Ansar al-Sharia" in its local endeavors in an attempt to hide their links to al Qaeda and promote them as mainstream. Because of this, an al-Masra employee would be a logical channel through which to meet a person claiming to be an AQAP leader.

Fearing ISIS in the Shadows

Vera Mironova

The six-month Mosul operation will soon come to an end. Civilians and soldiers alike are eager to turn over a new page after years of ISIS control over the city. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this will come to pass. The security problems that will follow are already visible in other Iraqi cities of Iraq, such as Falluja and Ramadi, which had been liberated from ISIS prior to the Mosul operation.

Last month, a high-level government meeting on the "post-ISIS situation" took place. But beneath the surface, even the idea of before and after, of a "post-ISIS moment" seems uncertain. This is because ISIS insurgencies and sleeper cells at various stages of activation exist across many areas that are now considered to have been liberated. If, in liberated East Mosul they are still mostly dormant, in Fallujah and Ramadi they are already active. Only last week there were clashes between ten ISIS militants dressed in police uniforms and Iraqi security forces in Tikrit, Iraqi security forces’ military bases were attacked in Hamrin and Sadyah, and ISIS insurgents were trying to take control of Amriat Faluja (a town near Falluja). And although efforts to ferret them out are ongoing, the Iraqi security forces’ record of success has been mixed at best.

OPEC’s Misleading Narrative About World Oil Supply

Leonardo Maugeri

At a time when energy market headlines focus mainly on OPEC cuts, observers may be forgiven for concluding that a supply crunch and higher prices are imminent. On the contrary, there is still too much oil in global markets. In this context, OPEC production cuts (which notably fall short of the original target envisaged by the organization) appear to serve mainly as a psychological support to oil prices.

Analyzing trends from my proprietary database of more than 1,200 global oilfields helped me to make a bold prediction in 2012 regarding a coming oil supply boom. In January, my similar field-by-field analysis indicated that world oil production capacity and actual production were still growing—while prospects for demand growth were not sufficiently high to absorb the excess supply. In particular, actual oil production (which includes crude oil and other liquids such as condensates, NGLs, and more according to the standard definition used by most statistics) was almost 99.5 million barrels per day (mbd)—leaving a voluntary and involuntary spare capacity (the result of local civil wars and other geopolitical factors) of more than 4 mbd.

U.S. Eavesdropping Program Goes Silent

By The Daily Beast,
 

It’s long been considered one of the most important ways American spies gather information overseas. But in 2016, it apparently went dark.

Something a little funny might be going on in America’s most secretive court. According to the annual report for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), released April 20, the court didn’t authorize any surveillance last year under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—a controversial provision of the 1978 spy law.

Information Warfare isn’t Russian – It’s American as Apple Pie


By Erick Waage and David V. Gioe

Both pundits and the American public are still seeking to understand the information-related events that occurred during 2016 Presidential Election and probably will be for some time. However, the US Intelligence Community and many other expert organizations such as the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike have indicted Information Warfare elements subordinate to Russian President Vladimir Putin as working to both undermine American confidence in its democratic institutions and tilt the scales in favor of one candidate. Though the impact of an effective information warfare campaign may be visible more rapidly in the information age, the principles of information warfare and the political psychology and weaponized narratives that underpin it are timeless. Information warfare is not new, but developments in information technology have enabled it to deliver its payloads vaster and over a much wider network. Looking to Putin’s intelligence apparatus is not to witness the genesis of political information warfare. In fact, the United States was birthed in a stew of information, misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda projected by competing entities both internally and externally. Thus, instead of looking at the apparent success of Russian intelligence in the recent election as the perfected form of information warfare, it is worth considering colonial and revolutionary America to appreciate the historical precedent and perspective. Indeed, at one point in its history, Americans were actually quite effective at information warfare, and we can look to one artisan in particular to understand this lost art.

HYBRID WAR IN THE HIGH NORTH: FINLAND RESPONDS TO THE RUSSIAN THREAT


Talking about hybrid threats—the toxic cocktail of force, money, propaganda and spycraft—is one thing. Actually doing something about them is another. So the new center on hybrid warfare being set up in the Finnish capital Helsinki is a welcome, if belated and modest development.

So far Britain, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the United States have signed up to the Finnish initiative. So have the European Union and NATO. (Oddly, neighboring Estonia has not—sparking a political row in Tallinn.)

The Finnish foreign minister, Timo Soini, said at the signing ceremony last week that hybrid threats are a European and a transatlantic priority. That is true, but would be news to most people.

Western efforts against hybrid warfare have so far been low-key to the point of invisibility. There is a little-known EU Hybrid Fusion Cell within the (also low-profile) EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) of the European External Action Service. It liaises, apparently, with its (unnamed) NATO counterpart. In most countries, efforts against Russian hybrid warfare are run by the intelligence and security agencies.

Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?


Thomas L. Friedman 

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

Fusion reactors: Not what they’re cracked up to be

DANIEL JASSBY

Fusion reactors have long been touted as the “perfect”energy source. Proponents claim that when useful commercial fusion reactors are developed, they would produce vast amounts of energy with little radioactive waste, forming little or no plutonium byproducts that could be used for nuclear weapons. These pro-fusion advocates also say that fusion reactors would be incapable of generating the dangerous runaway chain reactions that lead to a meltdown—all drawbacks to the current fission schemes in nuclear power plants.

And, like fission, a fusion-powered nuclear reactor would have the enormous benefit of producing energy without emitting any carbon to warm up our planet’s atmosphere.

But there is a hitch: While it is, relatively speaking, rather straightforward to split an atom to produce energy (which is what happens in fission), it is a “grand scientific challenge” to fuse two hydrogen nuclei together to create helium isotopes (as occurs in fusion). Our sun constantly does fusion reactions all the time, burning ordinary hydrogen at enormous densities and temperatures. But to replicate that process of fusion here on Earth—where we don’t have the intense pressure created by the gravity of the sun’s core—we would need a temperature of at least 100 million degrees Celsius, or about six times hotter than the sun. In experiments to date the energy input required to produce the temperatures and pressures that enable significant fusion reactions in hydrogen isotopes has far exceeded the fusion energy generated.

What It Would Really Take To Sink A Modern Aircraft Carrier

Robert Farley

Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford heads out to sea for the first time under its own power for builder’s trials. The future USS Gerald R. Ford is the first in a new class of American supercarriers. Photo credit: United States Department of Defense

The modern aircraft carrier is a global symbol of American dominance, hegemony, peace, even empire. But at over 1,000 feet long, and displacing more than 100,000 tons, is it a sitting duck? Is the massive emblem of American greatness just an obsolete, vulnerable hunk of steel?

There’s a lot of consternation about whether or not the United States should even have massive supercarriers anymore. Obviously, the answer here is “depends on how much explosives you’ve got.” But while sinking an aircraft carrier is difficult, it’s not impossible. The key is what it’s used for, and who it’s used against. But if you wanted to sink one, here’s what you’d have to do, and what you’d be up against.

(Professor Robert Farley is a specialist in military diffusion, maritime affairs, and national security at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. He took exception toour original piece on carrier vulnerability, and seeing as how he’s an expert, we offered him a chance to do us one better. – M.B.)

Organizational Agility: Winning in Today’s Complex Environment


Zayn Knaub

What does it take for militaries to win in today’s interconnected, interdependent, and complex environment? I would argue that in contrast with the battlefield of the past, today’s environment demands much more organizational agility. I define organizational agility as the degree to which a team or company is resourceful and adept at flexing in response to both internal and external factors. An agile organization has the ability to be radically innovative, adapt, and institute process improvement with grace in a rapidly changing, complex environment. The following three factors are crucial to instituting a high degree of organizational agility: 
Empowerment: Empowering leaders with shared purpose at all levels of the organization 
Resilience: Building learning and adapting into the team’s identity and fabric 
Innovation: Implementing innovation architecture to support constant and creative disruption 

On today’s battlefield, the higher the degree of agility, the higher chance of success. Pose the question, “What does it take to win?” One hundred years ago, the answer would have been efficiency. This makes intuitive sense when you think about the simple, linear processes that characterized the industrial revolution and the concept of mass production. Robert Kanigel’s One Best Way does a phenomenal job characterizing the role of efficiency in the success of large industries. Likewise, efficiency can equal success when the problem is linear and predictable. Today, simply being efficient is no longer enough. Today organizations face wicked problems that by their nature are vast, nonlinear, and unpredictable. Success, whether it is defined by a small business, large corporation, military, or other government organization has not necessarily changed in the past century, but the environment in which those organizations operate is exceedingly complex, interconnected, and uncertain. 

The upside and downside of swarming drones



The US and Chinese militaries are starting to test swarming drones – distributed collaborative systems made up of many small, cheap, unmanned aircraft. This new subset of independently operating or “autonomous” weapons is giving rise to new strategic, ethical, and legal questions. Swarming drones could offer real advantages, including reducing the loss of both human life and expensive equipment in battle. But they also come with potential dangers. There is already great international concern about deploying weapons without “meaningful human control.” Proliferation is another danger, and a problem that could be particularly acute in the case of swarming drones. The risks posed by swarming drones should be considered sooner rather than later, before their destructive potential reaches maturity. Read this free-access article from the subscription journal.


As technology goes democratic, nations lose military control

B. FitzGeraldJ. Parziale

For much of the 20th century, the most consequential technological breakthroughs were sponsored by government spending and were harnessed for military advantage. Military influence meant that the norms surrounding technologies were mainly determined by departments of defense, national governments, and international organizations. Today, technology developers focus more attention on the hundreds of millions of technology users around the world than on the smaller numbers of users within governments and militaries, leaving governments little scope for influence over technology’s development and use. Well-known technologies that challenge militaries’ traditional dominance and threaten their control over technology’s uses include autonomous vehicles, cyber technologies, and artificial intelligence. As future generations of consequential technologies mature, perhaps including quantum computing and virtual reality, the challenges faced by governments and militaries will only increase. Because governments and international institutions lack methods to successfully grapple with new or not-yet-developed technologies, societies as a whole must be vigilant to the threats that such technologies pose – and must address the stark imbalance between the resources dedicated to developing new technologies and the resources dedicated to governing them.

NYC, SF, and LA Outages Surface Concerns About Power Grid Attack The Department of Energy needs to step its game up.

Peter Hess

On Friday morning, a series of power outages struck New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Officials tracked down the root causes of each issue, none of which seemed to be related to cyber attacks, but the incidents got a lot of people thinking about how vulnerable the United States’ power grid is to terrorist attacks — not to mention weather and squirrels.

The outage in New York City disrupted public transit, but not much else since it was limited to a single subway station. In Los Angeles, things were a bit more serious, with passengers experiencing difficulties and delays at Los Angeles International Airport, as well as power losses in some other areas around the city. San Francisco got it worst, with outages causing gridlock and taking some companies’ websites offline. The city was pretty much out of commission until power came back on.

So while these concurrent power grid failures appear to be unrelated accidents, they gave the U.S. a snapshot of what a power grid attack might look like. They also raise the question: What is being done now to protect the grid?

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy published a report saying that the nation’s electrical grid “faces imminent danger” from cyber-attacks. Given growing fears over cyber-attacks, whether DDos attacks affecting the internet of things or international efforts to undermine U.S. democracy, even the most absurd concerns that the U.S. power grid could be targeted by cyber-attacks are not totally out of line.

Cyber Warfare Beyond Domains

JACQUELYN G. SCHNEIDER

In 2010, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III made a pivotal decision for the future of cyberspace and the U.S. military: He saw to it that the U.S. Department of Defense declared cyberspace a “domain” of warfare.

This decision created the organizational impetus for the DoD to organize and equip forces to defend and attack from cyberspace. Lynn anticipated that the future of warfare would be determined by competitions for information and that without the ability to organize for missions in cyberspace, the DoD would be unable to ensure the digital freedom it needed to win modern wars. Since that time, the DoD has not only developed an overarching Cyber Strategy and stood up an entire Cyber Command with more than 6,000 personnel, and has also brought to initial operating capability 133 teams for its Cyber Mission Force. Under the auspices of the cyberspace domain, the DoD has made huge strides to defeat and deter adversaries in cyberspace.

But while labeling cyberspace an independent warfighting domain may have been administratively useful for the Pentagon, the arbitrary separation between “cyber” and the conventional domains has potentially deleterious effects for U.S. military effectiveness. The problem is that cyberspace does not operate within its own stovepipe. Instead, “cyber” is a general term that captures the role that digital information – the ones and zeros of modern warfighting – plays in creating conventional military power. These digital capabilities are embedded within tactical datalinks, smart weapons, unmanned and autonomous systems, in logistics platforms and mission planning software, and the millions of emails that direct military power. 

How Hackers Hijacked a Bank’s Entire Online Operation


THE TRADITIONAL MODEL of hacking a bank isn’t so different from the old-fashioned method of robbing one. Thieves get in, get the goods, and get out. But one enterprising group of hackers targeting a Brazilian bank seems to have taken a more comprehensive and devious approach: One weekend afternoon, they rerouted all of the bank’s online customers to perfectly reconstructed fakes of the bank’s properties, where the marks obediently handed over their account information. 

Researchers at the security firm Kaspersky on Tuesday described an unprecedented case of wholesale bank fraud, one that essentially hijacked a bank’s entire internet footprint. At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon. 

24 April 2017

Tracing Spam: Diet Pills from Beltway Bandits


Reading junk spam messages isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but sometimes fun can be had when you take a moment to check who really sent the email. Here’s the simple story of how a recent spam email advertising celebrity “diet pills” was traced back to a Washington, D.C.-area defense contractor that builds tactical communications systems for the U.S. military and intelligence communities.

Your average spam email can contain a great deal of information about the systems used to blast junk email. If you’re lucky, it may even offer insight into the organization that owns the networked resources (computers, mobile devices) which have been hacked for use in sending or relaying junk messages.

Earlier this month, anti-spam activist and expert Ron Guilmette found himself poring over the “headers” for a spam message that set off a curious alert. “Headers” are the usually unseen addressing and routing details that accompany each message. They’re generally unseen because they’re hidden unless you know how and where to look for them.

Let’s take the headers from this particular email — from April 12, 2017 — as an example. To the uninitiated, email headers may seem like an overwhelming dump of information. But there really are only a few things we’re interested in here (Guilmette’s actual email address has been modified to “ronsdomain.example.com” in the otherwise unaltered spam message headers below):

Return-Path: 

X-Original-To: rfg-myspace@ronsdomain.example.com

Delivered-To: rfg-myspace@ronsdomain.example.com

Received: from host.psttsxserver.com (host.tracesystems.com [72.52.186.80])
by subdomain.ronsdomain.example.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 5FE083AE87
for ; Wed, 12 Apr 2017 13:37:44 -0700 (PDT)

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; q=dns/txt; c=relaxed/relaxed; d=gtacs.com;
s=default; h=MIME-Version:Content-Type:Date:Message-ID:Subject:To:From:
Sender:Reply-To:Cc:Content-Transfer-Encoding:Content-ID:Content-Description:

Resent-Date:Resent-From:Resent-Sender:Resent-To:Resent-Cc:Resent-Message-ID:
In-Reply-To:References:List-Id:List-Help:List-Unsubscribe:List-Subscribe:
List-Post:List-Owner:List-Archive;

Received: from [186.226.237.238] (port=41986 helo=[127.0.0.1])by host.psttsxserver.com with esmtpsa (TLSv1:DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA:256)(Exim 4.87)(envelope-from id 1cyP1J-0004K8-OR for rfg-myspace@ronsdomain.example.com; Wed, 12 Apr 2017 16:37:42 -0400
From: dan@gtacs.com

To: rfg-myspace@ronsdomain.example.com

Subject: Discover The Secret How Movies & Pop Stars Are Still In Shape
Message-ID: 

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Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2017 22:37:39 +0200

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X-Mailer: Infraware POLARIS Mobile Mailer v2.5
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X-AntiAbuse: Primary Hostname – host.psttsxserver.com
X-AntiAbuse: Original Domain – ronsdomain.example.com
X-AntiAbuse: Originator/Caller UID/GID – [47 12] / [47 12]
X-AntiAbuse: Sender Address Domain – gtacs.com
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X-Authenticated-Sender: host.psttsxserver.com: dan@gtacs.com

Celebrities always have to look good and that’s as hard as you might

{… snipped…}

In this case, the return address is dan@gtacs.com. The other bit to notice is the Internet address and domain referenced in the fourth line, after “Received,” which reads: “from host.psttsxserver.com (host.tracesystems.com [72.52.186.80])”

Gtacs.com belongs to the Trace Systems GTACS Team Portal, a Web site explaining that GTACS is part of the Trace Systems Team, which contracts to provide “a full range of tactical communications systems, systems engineering, integration, installation and technical support services to the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Intelligence Community customers.” The company lists some of its customers here.

The home page of Trace Systems.

Both Gtacs.com and tracesystems.com say the companies “provide Cybersecurity and Intelligence expertise in support of national security interests: “GTACS is a contract vehicle that will be used by a variety of customers within the scope of C3T systems, equipment, services and data,” the company’s site says. The “C3T” part is military speak for “Command, Control, Communications, and Tactical.”

Passive domain name system (DNS) records maintained by Farsight Security for the Internet address listed in the spam headers — 72.52.186.80 — show that gtacs.com was at one time on that same Internet address along with many domains and subdomains associated with Trace Systems.

It is true that some of an email’s header information can be forged. For example, spammers and their tools can falsify the email address in the “from:” line of the message, as well as in the “reply-to:” portion of the missive. But neither appears to have been forged in this particular piece of pharmacy spam.

*** AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: HOW A CIA DRONE STRIKE NEARLY KILLED THE HEAD OF AL-QAEDA

http://www.newsweek.com/ayman-al-zawahiri-cia-donald-trump-drone-strike-osama-bin-laden-pakistan-587732
BY JEFF STEIN ON 4/21/17 
Updated | He has been the forgotten man in the West’s desperate campaign to obliterate the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). He didn’t even merit a cameo in the celebratory coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011. For several years, he has been described as the leader of a spent force.

Yet Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s mentor and successor, remains a key player in an attack threat to America that retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, the U.S. homeland security secretary, says is "worse today than what we experienced 16 years ago on 9/11.” And if officials in the Donald Trump administration have their way, al-Zawahiri’s name will soon be as familiar to the world as bin Laden’s once was.
The White House signaled a new, tougher approach to eliminating al-Zawahiri and his militant allies in early April with the appointment of Lisa Curtis to head the South Asia desk for the National Security Council. A well-known former CIA analyst, congressional staffer and foreign policy hawk in Washington, D.C’s think-tank circuit, Curtis caused a stir in February when she co-authored a piece arguing that the U.S. “should...hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.”

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has been protecting the Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri, a trained surgeon, since U.S. forces evicted Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan in late 2001, several authoritative sources tell Newsweek. His most likely location today, they say: Karachi, the teeming port city of 26 million people on the Arabian Sea. “Like everything about his location, there’s no positive proof,” says Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran who was the top adviser on South Asia and the Middle East for the past four U.S. presidents. “There are pretty good indications, including some of the material found in Abbottabad,” where bin Laden was slain, “that point in that direction,” he adds. “This would be a logical place to hide out, where he would feel pretty comfortable that the Americans can’t come and get him.”

Karachi would be a “very hard” place for the U.S. to conduct the kind of commando raid that got bin Laden on May 2, 2011, Riedel says. The heavily policed city, the site of a major nuclear complex, also hosts Pakistani naval and air bases, where forces could quickly be scrambled to intercept American raiders. Plus, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri’s late protégé, remains a popular figure among Karachi’s millions of poor, devout Muslims, who could well emerge from their homes and shops to pin down the Americans.

“If he was in someplace along the border with Afghanistan, I think the temptation would be enormous to go after him,” says Riedel, who now heads the Brooking Institution’s Intelligence Project in Washington, D.C. “But in Karachi, that would be stunning and very difficult.”

In the first week of January 2016, the Obama administration went after al-Zawahiri with a drone strike in Pakistan’s remote Shawal Valley, which abuts the Afghan border in a Federally Administered Tribal Area, multiple sources tell Newsweek. But he survived, says a senior militant leader in the region, who, like all Pakistani sources, demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing politically sensitive issues. "The drone hit next to the room where Dr. Zawahiri was staying,” the man told Newsweek. “The shared wall collapsed, and debris from the explosion showered on him and broke his glasses, but luckily he was safe.”

The man added that “four of Zawahiri's security guards were killed on the spot and one was injured but died later.” He said al-Zawahiri had “left the targeted room to sleep just 10 minutes ahead of the missile that hit that room.” (The CIA declines to comment on drone strikes.)

The Al-Qaeda leader had been moving about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since at least 2005, according to a forthcoming book, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, by longtime British investigative reporters Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. “Married to a local Pashtun girl, [al-Zawahiri] had been given a new home, a large mud-brick compound up in the hills” in Damadola, they write.

** China’s Secret Weapon In South Korea Missile Fight: Hackers

By Jonathan Cheng 

Chinese state-backed hackers have recently targeted South Korean entities involved in deploying a U.S. missile-defense system, says an American cybersecurity firm, despite Beijing’s denial of retaliation against Seoul over the issue.

In recent weeks, two cyberespionage groups that the firm linked to Beijing’s military and intelligence agencies have launched a variety of attacks against South Korea’s government, military, defense companies and a big conglomerate, John Hultquist, director of cyberespionage analysis at FireEye Inc., said in an interview.

The California-based firm, which counts South Korean agencies as clients, including one that oversees internet security, wouldn’t name the targets.

While FireEye and other cybersecurity experts say Chinese hackers have long targeted South Korea, they note a rise in the number and intensity of attacks in the weeks since South Korea said it would deploy Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, a sophisticated missile-defense system aimed at defending South Korea from a North Korean missile threat.

China opposes Thaad, saying its radar system can reach deep into its own territory and compromise its security. South Korea and the U.S. say Thaad is purely defensive. The first components of the system arrived in South Korea last month and have been a key issue in the current presidential campaign there.

** Mother of All Bombs A journey to the Afghan village where President Trump dropped the biggest bomb.

By ALI M. LATIFI

ACHIN, AFGHANISTAN — I spent the evening of April 13 with a cousin and two aunts in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan. My aunts mostly talked about their relaxed, liberal early youth in the 1960s among the Kabul elite. As we waited in the driveway for our car, my cousin told me about an explosion in Nangarhar, the eastern province of Afghanistan, where our family comes from. We scrolled through our phones. As we drove out, it became clear it wasn’t the beginning of the Taliban’s so-called Spring Offensive.

Around 8 p.m. Afghan time, the United States had dropped a 21,600-pound, $16 million bomb on Asadkhel, a tiny village nestled between two forested hills, to attack a decades-old tunnel system that was being used by fighters claiming allegiance to the Iraq- and Syria-based Islamic State.

Afghanistan has been at war for almost four decades now. Our people lived through the Soviet occupation and the war the mujahedeen fought against the Soviets with the support of the United States; freedom from the Soviet occupation was stained by a brutal civil war between mujahedeen factions (warlords had ruled large parts of the country and exacted a terrible human cost).

The Taliban rule followed. We watched them being bombed into submission and escape after Sept. 11, celebrated a few years of relative calm, and saw the Taliban return to strength and wage a long, bloody insurgency that continues to this day. We watched the world tire of our forever war and forget us.

How India Paid to Create the London of Today

BY KANNAN SRINIVASAN 

A sudden change in the currency with which old debts to the colonies had to be paid helped Britain consolidate its status as a financial centre. 

The UK is a tax haven closely connected to other tax havens it has set up. Its trade deficit is therefore offset by the money pouring in from its own tax havens. Almost 90% of net capital inflows to the UK come from just Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. So far, there has been no decline in such funds with the news of Brexit. Britain enjoys a significant measure of protection from the consequences of leaving the EU by virtue of this rush of cash. 

How did London achieve this status of being a major financial centre? Knowing this history might be useful, especially for Indians, as the country played a role in it, thanks to the steps taken by Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1947, employing the resources of newly independent India. 

As war broke out in 1939, the trade surpluses run up by India, Egypt, Brazil and others trading primarily in sterling, were withheld by Britain. Total debt to all such creditors (excluding the US, which obtained British businesses and naval and aircraft bases in return for cash) amounted to £3.48 billion. In addition, two and an half million Indian soldiers fighting in Italy, North Africa, the Middle East and the Far East were paid salaries; when any died, their widows were to be paid pensions by the government of India, which remained uncompensated even as the war ended. All this made India (which included the future state of Pakistan) the largest Allied creditor after the US. Britain owed her £1.335 billion ($5.23 billion, which is about $59 billion today). Britain owed the next largest creditor, Egypt, £450 million. At a conservative estimate, the debt to India amounted to about a fifth of the UK gross national product, or seventeen times the annual government of India revenue at highly depressed prices. 

A New Season of Turmoil in Kashmir

By Sumit Ganguly

With spring, yet more turmoil has come to significant parts of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Widespread violence has resulted in several deaths and has left at least 200 injured. The trigger this time appears to have been elections for two vacant seats in the Indian Parliament. One seat, in the capital city of Srinagar, had been vacated after its holder, Tariq Hameed Karra, quit the Peoples Democratic Party in a dispute over the handling of political disturbances in the state last year. The other seat had been empty since the current chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, left it last year to assume her present role after the death of her father, the veteran Kashmiri politician Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

As the April 2017 elections approached, various separatist organizations in the state, including the umbrella organization, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, called for a boycott. This was nothing new, and on previous occasions, most Kashmiris ignored the instructions and turned out to the polls in substantial numbers. This time, however, even the capital city, Srinagar, saw a precipitous decline in voter turnout. A mere 7.14 percent of the eligible electorate turned up to the polls during the first week of April—the worst showing in three decades. Violence was so widespread in the other constituency, Anantnag, that one of the candidates asked the election commission to postpone the election until late May, which it did.

Bye, Bye MNREGA Leakages? One Crore Assets Successfully Geotagged

Swarajya Staff

With the help of ISRO, the central government may rid the MGNREGA of its most well known characteristic—corruption.

In a move that would substantially increase the accountability and transparency of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) in collaboration with Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) National Remote Sensing Centre has successfully geo-tagged and publicly listed 10 million assets.

Based on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Department of Rural Development, the MoRD, New Delhi and National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), ISRO, Hyderabad, in June last year, the NRSC had been entrusted with the task of developing the geo-spatial solutions on the Bhuvan Geo-portal and also the mobile based geo-tagging applications for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme.

An on-going process, geo-tagging not only facilitates online recording and monitoring of assets to check leakages but also serves as a tool for effective mapping of terrain for future developmental works. Geo-tagging implies that the assets created under MGNREGA, which include those of farming and agricultural facilities like canals, dams, irrigation and sanitation projects, are identified via satellite technology. This ensures credible verification and effective dealing with the complaints of non-durability of such assets.

Geo-tagging involves capturing the latitude and longitude of the said asset with pictures which are then made visible on the government-owned mapping platform Bhuvan. This, in turn, provides 2D and 3D maps, and other geo-spatial applications.