18 May 2014

Challenging Stereotypes: Reinventing National Discourse In India’s North East – Analysis

By Shruti Pandalai

A view across the Brahmaputra near Sukleswar Ghat, Guwahati, Assam, India. Photo by Deepraj, Wikipedia Commons 

Ethnic clashes between Bodos (Assam’s biggest tribal group) and Muslims in lower Assam in early May, forced media attention once again to the myriad conflicts stemming from contested identities in the North East. Election rhetoric around issues of illegal migration into north eastern states, targeted at specific vote banks seems to have further fuelled the reportage. A fortnight on, perhaps understandably, the region has faded from the media’s radar, since action has now shifted to New Delhi with the country ushering in political change.

Typically, issues from the North East despite making headlines, are often lost in translation. The gravity and historic context of the conflict is often lost en masse in the national public consciousness. Mass media’s access to the lowest common denominator makes it a crucial player in building national narratives and breaking stereotypes. These narratives can come handy for the state to make sure the message is clear in areas prone to conflict, where citizens are often victims of misinformation and agenda driven campaigns.

This is not to say that bridging perception gaps will resolve the conflicts in the North East, but the case has to be made to at least inform and build common frames of reference and initiate larger public interest in the region. If attempts have been made already, then we need to investigate their limited presence in influencing opinions and debates in the larger national consciousness. It’s paradoxical that despite the rise in rich academic research on the various problems plaguing the North East, their play in mass public discourse is negligible and incident oriented.

Insurgencies have been raging on is the North East for decades, yet unlike Kashmir – which has become ingrained in public consciousness and the national discourse – one could argue that the North East has not received the same attention. Apart from spot reports on violence, which is definitely a step forward from the early days of complete ignorance; there is little effort to understand the contested narratives of the various conflicts. Images of the Manipuri women protest against the rape of Manorama Devi in 2004, anti-AFSPA activist Irom Sharmila, and shots of training camps of the ULFA are regurgitated time and again in the mass media. While these are powerful and symbolic, they have stereotyped a complex region with a flattened idea of homogeneity.

India's Nuclear Imposture

MAY 11, 2014 

ALBUQUERQUE — When the Bharatiya Janata Party announced it would “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine if elected this month, the proposal was widely interpreted to mean that the party would renege on India’s 1998 pledge never to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. The party has since backtracked, ostensibly because of the media backlash. That’s unfortunate. Although the “no first use” doctrine, known as N.F.U., may seem prudent in theory, India has diluted the concept to the point of absurdity, with dangerous consequences: a buildup of its conventional forces, which has caused Pakistan to harden its nuclear stance.

In August 1999 a panel of independent experts convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee issued a draft nuclear doctrine containing a commitment to N.F.U. That inclusion seemed designed to assuage the international community, which India had rattled the previous year by conducting nuclear tests. Yet the government started backpedaling almost immediately, presumably because it realized that the N.F.U. pledge undermined the rationale for conducting the tests in the first place: to deter an attack from China, with which India had fought a crushing war in 1962.

On Nov. 29, 1999, Jaswant Singh, a member of Parliament, dismissed the draft doctrine, saying it was “not a policy document of the Government of India” because the panel that put it together had legally nebulous authority. (Within a week, Mr. Singh was made foreign minister.) By 2003, when India issued an official nuclear doctrine, its N.F.U. pledge had been watered down to authorize a nuclear retaliation after a chemical or biological strike. Then, on Oct. 21, 2010, Shivshankar Menon, the national security adviser, stated that India would apply N.F.U. only with respect to non-nuclear weapons states.

But even as India’s civilian authorities have, in effect, authorized a nuclear first strike against nuclear states like China and Pakistan, they have not given the military control of operational nuclear weapons. (In established nuclear states, the weapons are in the hands of the military, subject to civilian oversight, and launch codes remain with the government.) Nor does India’s military appear to have conducted war games simulating the first use of nuclear weapons.

Instead, the government has authorized a massive increase in its conventional forces. A 2012 article in Time magazine estimated that India would spend $80 billion on “military modernization” over the following three years. The navy plans to expand its current fleet of more than 130 vessels to about 200, including submarines and aircraft carriers, over the next decade. During the same period, the army expects to supplement its 1.1 million strong force with another 100,000 troops, and the air force will acquire some 350-odd fighter jets.

These efforts are intended to deter China. But China seems basically unfazed, and has responded simply by expanding roads, railways and airfields in Tibet. On the other hand, Pakistan, which does not have the resources to match India’s buildup of conventional forces, is compensating — overcompensating — in the nuclear arena.

A 2011 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists projected that within a decade Pakistan would have enough fissile material to make between 160 and 240 nuclear bombs, more than double the expected capacity of India and possibly more even than that of Britain. Pakistan has started deploying tactical nuclear devices on short-range rockets along its border with India. Brigadier Feroz Khan, the former director of Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs in the Strategic Plans Division, the ultimate overseer of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and activities, has argued that this move makes sense only if launch authority is pre-delegated to field commanders — suggesting that it has been.

In short, India’s diluted version of the N.F.U. doctrine makes an already dangerous security situation in South Asia more dangerous still. Everyone would be better off if the government did away with it.

U.S. policy on India, and Modi, needs to change

May 16 ,2014 

Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia has been widely praised. But many critics wish that he would infuse the policy with greater substance and energy. In fact, the administration has the opportunity to fill in one of the great missing pieces of that policy — a strategic relationship with the continent’s second most populous country, India — once a new government is formed in New Delhi. But both countries will have to make some major changes.
The immediate obstacle for the United States is that the man who will become India’s next prime minister, Narendra Modi, was placed on a blacklist of sorts by the George W. Bush administration, was denied a visa to enter the United States and has been shunned by U.S. officials for a decade. This ostracism should stop. This manner of singling out Modi has been selective, arbitrary and excessive. 

Modi, a Hindu nationalist politician, is (until he becomes the prime minister) head of the government in the Indian state of Gujarat. He held that job in 2002 when fierce rioting between Hindus and Muslims broke out. In that capacity, it is alleged, he encouraged — or did nothing to stop — vigilante violence against Muslims and police complicit with the violence. More than one thousand people, most of them Muslims, died. Prosecutions of those accused in the killings have been minimal.

It is a dark episode in India’s history, and Modi comes out of it tainted. But his actual role in it remains unclear. Three Indian investigations have cleared him of specific culpability, although the probes have been criticized by human rights groups with credible concerns.

This is an important challenge for Indian democracy — one that many vocal groups in civil society are taking up — but the question for U.S. officials is: Does Modi’s behavior trump concerns of U.S. national interest? He is the only person ever to have been denied a visa on grounds of “severe violations of religious freedom,” which makes the decision look utterly arbitrary.

Consider, for example, the case of Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq. He heads a government that is deeply sectarian and has been accused of involvement with death squads, reprisal killings and the systematic persecution of Sunnis in his country. And yet, far from being shunned, Maliki has been received in Washington as an honored guest on many occasions by two White House administrations.

Consider a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the very body that singled out Modi. It lists countries that are of “particular concern” for their “systematic, ongoing and egregious” oppression of religious minorities. Saudi Arabia, whose leaders are paid enormous respect by Washington, is in that top tier. The report recommends that Pakistan be added to that list because of its persistent violence against minorities, which, the report says, is at an all-time high. The report also says that Iraq should be in this group. Not a single government official from any of these countries — or any other country anywhere — has ever been placed on a blacklist or been denied a visa for violating religious freedom. When human rights issues are used in a blatantly selective manner, they rightly invite charges of hypocrisy.

*** India's Destiny Dilemma

As India's elections draw to a close, one thing is clear: its potential is undeniable—and so are its problems.

May 15, 2014 

On August 15, India will mark the sixty-seventh year of its independence. The results of its national parliamentary elections will be official well before then. This country of kaleidoscopic diversity will have again transferred political power democratically and peacefully.

This may not strike Americans as exceptional, even if they’re reminded that elections have become routine at all levels of India’s polity and that turnout often exceeds what it is in the United States. So it’s worth recalling that in India’s early years there was much skepticism in the West about whether it would hang together, let alone build democracy.

India, a congeries of cultures, languages, and religions covers 3.2 million square kilometers. Only six countries encompass more terrain. Its population, now 1.2 billion, is poised to overtake China’s. Beijing’s draconian population-control program would be a nonstarter in democratic India.

There were other reasons to doubt that India’s experiment with democracy would succeed. The country was desperately poor, and what passed for a middle class was miniscule. Indians were largely illiterate, and their experience with democracy was brief and uneven. India lacked the characteristics scholars identify as preconditions for consolidating democracy. Its decision to adopt this form of politics, nonetheless, was as audacious as it was admirable.

So India has passed two fundamental tests it wasn’t expected to: it has stayed whole and preserved liberty and stability. Has it done well enough? No. India’s politics are marked—to a growing degree—by corruption; the power of money; political dynasties; and appeals to parochial loyalties, whether of caste, subcaste, religion, or language. Elected bodies contain knaves and criminals or those, whose qualifications are limited to good looks (Bollywood is deep into the political game) or athletic prowess.

Milan Vaishnav has discussed these dismaying realities in a recent op-ed; and you needn’t spend much time in India to see that he’s right. Yet such assessments lack comparative perspective. Indian democracy’s deficiencies may be doubly deplorable because India has many massive problems, particularly large-scale poverty. But the role of money, privilege, corruption, family connections, special interests and divisive appeals to subnational loyalties in politics is scarcely peculiar to India, and it is evident in the United States and other democracies. Americans’ dismay over this is clear from opinion polls showing that a majority of our citizens believe that we’re on the wrong track and that the coming generation won’t be as fortunate as we have been. Besides, Western democracies have had far more time to fix these problems. Yet they seem to be getting worse.

Why India Must Put Any Overtures To Pakistan On Hold – Analysis

By Vikram Sood

Every change of government in New Delhi rekindles hope in the hearts of many that peace between India and Pakistan is about to break out. It is necessary to have a reality check on this. Successive Indian prime ministers have walked down this road, offering concessions to Pakistan, only to be disappointed.

Today Pakistan may play the injured innocent and claim that it is a victim of terrorism but the reality is that Pakistan is a victim of the policies of its leadership. Having invested so much in this policy of violent interference in its neighbourhood, having raised the rhetoric so high and despite having boxed above its weight all these years, the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment is unable to change the way it thinks much less make a U-turn in its policies towards India.

It is time we accept that Pakistan will not change its policies towards India and may even become worse as it Islamises and radicalises showing signs of becoming a Sharia state.

Since Pakistan will not change its attitude it is time we also thought of different approaches. So far, gestures have been interpreted to mean appeasement by the Pakistan deep state and a vindication of their confrontationist policy. Pakistan’s DNA will not allow a change of policy, only a change of tactics. It will retain its terror option under a nuclear umbrella that today consists of 200 nuclear weapons all aimed at India and based on a close military and nuclear relationship with China.

Our policy towards Pakistan has been based on three misconceptions. One, the assumption that the civilian politicians favour a normal relationship with India but it is the army alone that is the impediment. Facts speak otherwise. It was then prime minister Zulfiqar Bhutto who said that Pakistan would make the Islamic bomb even if Pakistanis had to eat grass. It was Zulfiqar who dabbled with assisting the Islamic Afghans who had taken shelter in Pakistan having been pushed out by the Mohammad Daud Khan regime from Afghanistan.

It was his daughter, Benazir, who launched the Kashmir jihad and later propped up the Taliban. It was Nawaz Sharif who supported both the Taliban and anti-India groups, most of them fostered in Punjab, his stronghold.

Mumbai 1993 and later Kargil happened during Sharif’s terms in office. Likewise, the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 happened during Asif Ali Zardari’s presidency. There would be no significant change in the threats faced by us from Pakistan regardless of whether there was a dictator in command or an ostensibly civilian rule.

Two, if we engage Pakistan in a sustained dialogue and grant some concessions, this will strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s politicians and weaken the military’s stranglehold which is disliked by the people of Pakistan. Not quite so. Pakistanis may not be too fond of their generals as presidents but the military is seen as the only institution which is keeping the country together. Its political, economic and military’s role in Pakistan cannot be undermined or contained by any civilian dispensation.

The third flaw in this argument is the misplaced belief that we can bring about changes in the manner in which Pakistanis want to be governed. We do not have the ability to bring about political changes in Pakistan. It would be dangerous to tread into pastures where others have ventured and failed. Pakistan’s political process is an internal matter between its people and leadership.

The Post-Election Challenges to Afghan Transition: 2014-2015

May 18, 2014 

Note: This report was revised and corrected on May 18, 2014

The final outcome of the election in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s willingness to sign a workable Bilateral Security Agreement with the US are essential preconditions to any hope of a successful Transition. It is the quality of leadership and governance that follows the election, however, that will determine actual success. Similarly, how Afghan forces evolve, and the quality of US and other outside support to Afghan forces, will determine whether Afghanistan is secure enough for a Transition to work.

The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a detailed briefing on these and the other challenges the new Afghan government, the US and its allies, and aid donors must meet during the remainder of 2014 and over the course of 2015. The actual process of a stable Transition may take more than half a decade and extend beyond 2018. It is the first two years, however, which are likely to present the most serious challenges.

This presentation is entitled The Post-Election Challenges to Afghan Transition: 2014-2015. It is available on the Burke Chair web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/140518_Transition_in_Afghanistan_Rev.pdf
The introduction lists the mix of key post election challenges (p. 2)

The first section in the report focuses on the lack of US leadership, planning, budgeting, and public support. 

It lists the areas where the US government – as well as the Afghan government and other powers – have failed to provide leadership, planning, and transparency, and create the institutions necessary for success. (p. 5) 

It warns that past failures to sustain successful transitions have been the rule and not the exception. (p. 6) 

It shows the need for leadership that can win congressional and popular US support, and that goes far beyond empty rhetoric about terrorism. That provides a clear strategic justification for US action, and provides a credible path forward (pp. 7-9) 

It shows the rate at which US spending has already been cut, and the lacking of any meaningful budget panning and details in the President’s FY2015 budget request. (pp. 10-14) 

The second section focuses on the Challenge of Security and the fact that Afghanistan is still a nation at war. 

There is some hope that an adequately resourced ANSF layered defense and US “four quarter” advisory strategy could succeed in providing the necessary security in key populated areas and along key lines of communication, even if Pakistan continues to provide Taliban sanctuaries and comes to dominate less populated areas in the east and South. (pp. 19-21) 

Afghanistan is, however, very much a nation at war and success is uncertain. (p. 22) 

ISAF and the US government have stopped detailed public reporting on actual success in war for more than a year. ISAF no longer reports maps or metrics, and the semi-annual Department of Defense 1230 report stopped most such reporting in late 2012. Although DoD issued a new 1230 report in November 2013 in most such data have not been updated since August 2013. (p. 22) 

The Afghan Civil Transition Crisis: Afghanistan's Status and the Warnings from Iraq's Failure

May 18, 2014 

For more than a decade, the U.S. and its allies have been issuing claims about the progress being made in Afghanistan, and have tended to focus on success as measured in holding elections rather than the quality of governance and real world economic progress.

It is now a matter of months before the U.S. and its allies withdraw virtually all of their combat troops from Afghanistan. As yet, the U.S. has no meaningful public plan for transition, has not proposed any public plan for either the civil or military aspects of transition, and remains focused on the quality of the Afghan election rather than the quality of the leadership, governance, and conditions of Afghan life that will follow.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – the organization theoretically in charge of assessing and coordinating all international aid in Afghanistan - has never written a single report on the overall structure and progress of aid. USAID and DoD have failed to demonstrate they have reliable methods of accountability for aid spending, and neither have developed overall plans for Afghan development or any reliable measures of effectiveness.

It is unclear that any other donor nations have done better, or that the Afghan government has made serious progress in their ability to handle the civil problems of Transition or carry out the key reforms they pledged at the Tokyo Conference.

The Burke chair has expanded past reports to provide a summary overview of the civil challenges Afghanistan faces. This report provides a graphic assessment of UN, World Bank, CIA, SIGAR, Transparency International and other data that show the seriousness of the problems in Afghan governance and economics entitled Afghanistan’s Civil Transition Challenges: Governance and Development Indicators. This report is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/140518_Afghan_Civil_Transition_Rev.pdf.

China’s New Silk Road Vision: Lessons for India

Chinese diplomacy towards Central Asia has been effective. India should take note.

By Tridivesh Singh Maini
May 17, 2014

There have been a number of events to revive the storied Silk Road over the past two decades. Regional bodies as well as individual countries have touted plans that involved the ancient trade route, which linked Europe with Central Asia and China over a distance of around 7,000 kilometers.

The talk began in the early 1990s, with a European call for a New Silk Road that would connect Europe with Central Asia via the International Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA). The U.S. got in on the act in the late 1990s, first with the aim of bolstering its influence in Central Asia, evident in the Silk Road Strategy Act of 1999, which died in the Senate, and then with the intention of stabilizing Afghanistan, with the Silk Road Strategy Act of 2006, which also failed to pass. Under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, efforts were made to get India involved, for instance with the Turkmenistan Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (TAPI) pipeline project. During visits to Central Asian and India in 2011, Clinton spoke in favor of the Silk Road, while making India one of the pivots of the project. A ministerial-level meeting was held in September 2011 in New York to give the project a nudge.

Meanwhile, China has its own New Silk Road vision, an ambitious plan that seeks to connect China with Europe via Kazakhstan with a transcontinental railway connection. While the origins of this plan go back more than a decade, China has recently unveiled details of the latest version of its land and maritime versions. The land version begins at Xian in China and ends at Venice, traversing Central Asia, Iran the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Germany and the Netherlands. The maritime Silk Road begins at Quanzhou in Fujian, and also ends at Venice, where it converges with the land route.

China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ and the South China Sea

To Beijing, its conduct in the South China Sea does not contradict promises of a “peaceful rise” for China.

May 17, 2014

With tensions in the South China showing no signs of abating, some foreign analysts are scratching their heads at recent reassurances by Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a speech celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Xi promised that China will “firmly stick to the path of peaceful development.” Xi’s words echoed the usual Chinese argument that history is proof of Beijing’s benign intentions. “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood, and Chinese people won’t follow the logic that ‘might is right,’” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

The New York Times’ Sinosphere blog argued there was a contradiction between Xi’s remarks and Chinese General Fang Fenghui’s statements during a recent press conference in Washington, DC. Fang insisted that China “cannot afford to lose an inch” of its historical territory, and promised that China would continue its drilling operations in the South China Sea, despite strong protests in Vietnam. Writing for Sinosphere, Michael Forsythe said that Xi and Fang had “presented starkly different views of their country’s foreign policy.”

On the surface, there’s some truth to this. Xi, speaking at a conference celebrating “friendship with foreign countries,” would naturally seek to highlight China’s peaceful intentions. Meanwhile, General Fang, as a high-ranking Chinese military leader on foreign soil, was obligated to defend China’s policies in the face of direct questions from reporters. These different contexts obviously produced a different emphasis.

However, it’s a mistake to conclude that these are actually different foreign policy visions. In fact, Xi’s statement and Fang’s are merely two sides of the same coin: China’s rise is peaceful, but China will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to defend itself. Or, to quote Fang Fenghui, “We do not make trouble. We do not create trouble. But we are not afraid of trouble.”

Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear

While Beijing's military power is growing, Washington still retains advantages that make it worthy of the title "superpower."

May 15, 2014 

Last week, I discussed on these pages the five Chinese weapons Washington fears most. Some of the weapons, such as the Type 071 amphibious ship and Chinese cyber weapons were unfamiliar to many readers. This week we’re turning the list around and discussing the five American weapons that China likely fears most.

As a superpower, the United States has maintained a formidable, technologically advanced military for decades. While the Chinese weapons highlighted last week were often designed with the United States in mind, none of the weapons this week were explicitly designed to fight China. In fact, many of the weapons featured here were first designed during the Cold War and predate China’s military rise.

Again, it’s important to point out that the chances of war between the United States and China are remote. There is too much advantage for both countries in maintaining the status quo of a strong economic relationship (roughly $500 billion in bilateral trade) and cordial—if stiff—diplomatic ties. A war would be a political, economic, and military disaster for both sides.

Ford-class Aircraft Carriers

Since the end of the Second World War, the aircraft carrier has been the symbol of American power projection. American carriers typically displace up to 100,000 tons fully loaded. The embarked carrier air wing typically includes four squadrons of F/A-18C Hornet or F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet strike fighters (up to fifty-two aircraft total), four or five EA-6B Prowler or EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, approximately a dozen MH-60 Seahawks, and a pair of C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft.

The Ford-class, America’s latest class of aircraft carriers (the first of which is set to the join the U.S. Navy in 2016), is the weapons system China fears most. The mix of aircraft onboard a carrier makes it capable of a wide variety of missions, including air superiority, land attack, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare. Modern aircraft carriers represent a threat not only to Chinese naval and air forces away from China, but could strike China itself. 

Aircraft carriers such as the USS Ford are also visible reminders of Chinese technological inferiority. From the nuclear reactors to electromagnetic catapults systems designed to hurl aircraft into the air to the integrated anti-air warfare system, American carriers represent a showcase of technologies that China hasn’t mastered. Last summer, while China was proudly certifying its first pilots and deck crew to operate from the carrier Liaoning, the historic event was undercut by news of an American X-47B unmanned drone landing for the first time on the carrier USS George Bush.

American aircraft carriers are symbols to China of American intrusion into its sphere of influence. In 1996, in response to Chinese missile launches near Taiwan, the USS Nimitz and USS Independence carrier battle groups were sent into the Taiwan Strait. There was nothing the Chinese military could have done to prevent the carriers from entering the strait. This humiliation deeply affected Chinese thinking, and was almost certainly the impetus for the development of weapons such as the DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile or ASBM.

ASEAN’s Tepid Response to the Vietnam-China Faceoff

The bloc’s inability to craft a united response to Chinese aggression signals a further decline in its regional clout.

May 17, 2014

As ASEAN wound up its annual meeting in Naypyidaw with the usual round of backslapping and handshakes, Thailand was again close to political implosion while Vietnam’s navy faced another Chinese incursion in waters not far from Danang.

Sadly, both threats to regional stability elicited only a tepid response from ASEAN leaders gathering for the first time ever in Myanmar, a country whose human rights record could end a global attempt to coax its regime out of a North Korean-like status.

Not much was said about Brunei’s introduction of Sharia law and punishments that range from the stoning of adulterers, gays and apostates to lopping the limbs off thieves. Hard-line Muslims are pushing for something similar in Malaysia, which has been embarrassed by its fumbled response to the disappearance of Flight MH370.

Neither a ruthless crackdown on dissent in Cambodia nor a massive borrowing binge in Laos rated much of a mention among ASEAN leaders. Little mention was made of a serious economic crunch in Vietnam, which alongside the Philippines is providing the international bulwark against China’s extraordinary nine-dash line declaration.

Enthusiasm for ASEAN, and in particular the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015, has been waning, particularly among heavyweight members like Indonesia. This lack of interest in ASEAN affairs, and a willfully blind attitude to the more weighty issues of state, could not have come at a worse time.

The Thais had been tasked with negotiating a code of conduct between China and ASEAN over Beijing’s “ancient claims” in the South China Sea – also known as the West Philippines Sea and East Sea in Vietnam – as gunboat diplomacy between Hanoi and Beijing reaches its most dangerous levels since 1979.

Ancient claims have no basis in international courts, but Beijing is relentless in its territorial ambitions. It is also using its own rules in maritime disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan – and possibly Indonesia over the Natuna Sea.

Attack Of The Super Hackers; Cracking Safes, Picking Locks, And Stealing Data; All In The Name Of Corporate Security

May 17, 2014

Attack Of The Super Hackers: A Group Of Ex-Soldiers Crack Safes, Pick Locks, And Steal Data — All In The Name Of Corporate Security

Kenneth Rosen published an online article yesterday, May 16, 2014, on the website — Narratively, with the title above. He begins by outlining a scenario we witness almost everyday. “On a balmy spring afternoon, Ian Amit stands at the counter of Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan. As customers check FaceBook, Twitter, and Gmail, through the free and open AT&T Network, Amit monitors it all. One keystroke could activate a script that would capture all the information passing through the network. He could, but he refrains.” It is not ethical, and in his words, just “less legal.” 

“As Director of Security Services for IOActive, a firm that offers comprehensive computer security services, Amit is a problem solver,” writes Mr. Rosen. “Today’s demonstration at Stsrbucks,” he notes, “is a look at Open Source intelligence, or OSINT, and how the trail of data, left by the most innocuous of tasks carried out on SmartPhones, map out day-to-day activities coalesce into vivid portrait of everyone’s lives. As a corporate security specialist, it makes for an easy day’s work.”

“Don’t check your email,” Mr. Amit says, “plugging an external wireless antenna

into his laptop. “He shields his antenna,” says Mr. Rosen, “in his black backpack on the ground. To anyone watching, it looks as if he’s charging his phone and connecting to an external device, as his penetration and security tools boot onscreen in small command windows.” “It’s not about the tool. The tool is irrelevant,” he says once code begins streaming across the screen like out of the 1995 film “Hackers.” “The data is already out there.”

“But, the coffee shop is child’s play compared to his real work,” writes Mr. Rosen, “the clandestine operations known as “red teaming.” “A red team is a group of security specialists, usually with military experience, that functions without much regulation in the private intelligence sector. They challenge organizations to improve effectiveness in security by, among other things, breaking into systems to expose vulnerabilities. While the technique is rooted in military operations, it is frequently used in real world and civilian operations — some of which happen every day, right before our eyes.”

“Though he has the capability to steal a Starbuck’s customer’s identity while they’re waiting for their latte,” notes Mr. Rosen, “Amit is one of the security professionals whose life’s work is keeping data safe. As Amit explains it, most of what we see as security — the two-step passwords, the ID cards — is the idea of security, not security itself. In that way, security efforts rarely focus on the one or two outliers. Rather, they choose to manifest as long lines and security checkpoints, providing a sense of security through large signs and heavily armed guards.” “Security theater,” as it’s called in the business: the TSA agents and Paul Blart mall cops of the world. Red teams, on the other hand, are practitioners in the art of security, attacking from every direction, beyond the metal detectors and security patrols, until they expose weaknesses, and propose fixes to fortify them.”

Although economies around Europe may be on the mend, voters’ disillusion could cause a new crisis

The European Union 
Europe goes to the polls 

May 17th 2014

AFTER five gruelling years, many of Europe’s citizens must wish they could dispatch the entire political class to hellfire and torment. As it happens, the ballot for elections to the European Parliament from May 22nd to 25th does not include that option, so a record number will probably not bother to turn out. Many of those who do will back populists and extremists. Broadly anti-European parties may take well over a quarter of the seats. The French National Front, the Dutch Party of Freedom and the UK Independence Party are likely to win their highest vote ever. This will cause domestic political ructions, but it is also an indictment of the European Union, a project that millions of voters have come to associate with hardship and failure.

Europe’s political leaders will be tempted to pay little heed. Economies are improving. After a grinding recession and years of battling the euro crisis, growth is returning and bond yields are sharply down. The danger that financial markets might blow up the euro (and the EU) has disappeared, at least for now. A new Pew Research poll this week even suggests that trust in the EU may be reviving a little. If the politicians can just hang on, won’t a slow but steady recovery win back all those disgruntled citizens?
 No. The last crisis may be over, but it has exacerbated a deep contradiction at the heart of Europe—between euro-zone economies’ need for integration and the voters’ rejection of it. If populism continues to rise, a euro-zone member could elect a government set on tearing up the rules and quitting the single currency. That would reignite the euro crisis—and political upsets can be harder to put right than economic ones.

Repair and reform

European leaders’ wishful thinking starts with the economy. Growth may be back, but it is anaemic. Unemployment remains horrific: as many as 26m people in Europe are now out of work. Almost everywhere debt is dangerously high. With banks fragile, credit is hard to come by, and parts of Europe are on the verge of deflation. The euro zone may be heading into a lost decade similar to Japan’s in the 1990s. Japan is a socially cohesive nation-state; the diverse EU is far less likely to survive such an experience.

The EU could help bolster growth. The European Central Bank could ease monetary policy, including by unconventional means. The European Commission could make a renewed push at completing the single market in services, digital technology and energy, for instance, or could press ahead with a free-trade deal with America.

Ten Questions the National Defense Panel Must Answer

America's military is at a crossroads. Can the NDP light the way forward?

May 15, 2014 

What happens when a Hollywood studio spends tens of millions on a movie, hiring the most brilliant screenwriters and biggest stars, only to discover that the film is a turkey? The studio switches to stealth mode: reschedule release for the dead of winter, refuse to screen the film for critics beforehand, then go with a “soft” release.

Everyone involved moves on, hoping that audiences will forgive and forget. That pretty much describes the game plan for the Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released last March.

But wait! A major review is in the works, and it’s not likely to be favorable.

Next month, the bipartisan, Congress-chartered National Defense Panel (NDP) is expected to release its evaluation of the QDR, complete with its own independent assessment of U.S. defense needs. Because the administration’s report was such a bomb, the NDP’s sequel may well be better box office.

The latest QDR bombed because, as predicted, it turned out to be less of a strategic document and more a rubber stamp to legitimize further budget cuts. Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, panned the document as a “product” that “has more to do with politics than policy and is of little value to decision makers.” He demanded that the Pentagon rewrite the report. Pentagon officials fired back that they would only redo the report if they were required to do so by law.

More telling than the internecine squabbling between the two branches of government was how the rest of Washington reacted to the report. The media treated the QDR like a speed bump in the news cycle. Think tanks drove past the QDR like intellectual road kill. The report had a few defenders—but not many. Joe Collins, a teacher at the National War College, was one who penned a few nice words about the QDR, but even he admitted, “We can do better strategic analysis….”

Now all eyes turn to the NDP, a bipartisan collection of former military and government officials, tasked with looking over the shoulder of the QDR and delivering its own verdict on what is needed to provide for the common defense.

Based on an informal, off-the-record survey of defense and foreign-policy experts, here are ten questions—left largely unanswered by the QDR—that the NDP should address clearly and realistically.

My Thoughts on Junior Officers

I did an interview/podcast with Major Claire O'Neill of the Australian Army last year when she was here at Georgetown on a Fulbright. I just came across it on her blog "Grounded Curiosity" http://groundedcuriosity.com/

There are also interviews with TX Hammes http://groundedcuriosity.com/t-x-hammes/ and David Ucko http://groundedcuriosity.com/david-h-ucko/

 summary of my comments is below and the 41 minute interview is at this link.

I chatted with Dave Maxwell at Georgetown University to hear his thoughts on what the future holds for junior commanders. The podcast starts with the discussion of the future operating environment within the framework of nuclear, traditional and irregular warfare, and ends with a great story about initiative and strategic perspective by a junior leader in the Philippines. Here are some of Dave Maxwell’s insights as a quick introduction: 

“one of the most important things for us as officers is to continue to study and be self-learners, life long learners and have a passion for knowledge of our profession” 

“we’ve got to be able to understand strategy and policy and be able to translate that strategy and policy and be able to translate that strategy and policy into campaign plans and then conduct tactical operations that support the strategy” 

“in addition to our war fighting skills, which must be maintained for deterrence (and) defence, we also have to understand unconventional warfare” 

“our younger officers and soldiers … are much more capable of operating in very complex, ambiguous environment” 

“I see our young officers thinking and acting at levels far beyond what I was doing during the Cold War … we need to build on that … we have a much higher quality of officer and force, we must protect that, we must nurture that and we can’t put them back in the box “ 

“one of the most important things [junior commanders] should be doing is writing about their experiences, good and bad, and they should be just like Clausewitz, they should be wrestling with what they think the future is about … and our leaders need encourage our junior commanders to write as that’s what’s will contribute to the development of the future force”

Not By Force Alone: Russian Strategic Surprise in Ukraine

By Christopher Davis

Image of December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor courtesy of Flikr user US Army.

As of May 1st, it appears that the position of the relatively new government in Kiev has become increasingly untenable. Armed gunmen have seized government buildings in three of Ukraine's eastern provinces after the failure of the military (first the regular army, and second the newly created national guard) to restore order. In response, the Ukrainian president order the restoration of conscription. Meanwhile, the administration continues its planned economic policy of austerity, with its known economic shocks, despite the political instability of the country. Through a combination of threats and direct action, Moscow through all of this has been able to maintain significant pressure on Kiev, obstructing if not outright preventing Kiev's ability to build legitimacy and establish order. Washington's and Europe's timid response in the form of targeted sanctions does not appear to be sufficient to compel Moscow to reverse course. Thus, by the nature of force, Moscow seems to have secured a very strong political position to control the outcomes in Ukraine's turmoil.

However, it was not by force alone that Russia attained this position. In fact, it's current advantages can be more attributed to the deft exploitation of strategic surprise rather than the actual use of force itself. Surprise can be operationally defined as attacking in a time, location, or method unanticipated by the adversary. And in the modern globalizing world, an "attack" does not necessarily have to be through military force. In this scenario, it appears that Moscow achieved surprise both politically and militarily, with the West ill-positioned to respond effectively. Washington and its allies failed to anticipate Russia's attack in three ways: the willingness to attack, the time of the attack, and the methods of the attack.

Not Anticipating the Willingness to Attack

When Russia initiated military drills prior to its occupation of Ukraine, Washington publicly acknowledged for the first time the possibility of a Russian attack on Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Moscow against any military action while his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, denied any intention to violate Ukraine's territorial integrity by claiming that the drills were regularly scheduled exercises. In the available public record, this appears to be the first time that Washington realized Russia's intention to attack Ukraine. Unfortunately, as the materialization of the intention was fulfilled through the operationalization of the actual attack, there was no window within which Washington could feasibly deter the military action. Therefore, this represents a failure of the first order: not anticipating the strategic intention of the adversary.

The collapse of the Yanukovych government and the formation of a new pro-West administration in Kiev were met with applause in Washington. But the light of this success also blinded strategists to Moscow's potential responses. Like the campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan (and like many other campaigns in military history), it was assumed that the fulfillment of the immediate object was the culmination of the conflict itself, leaving the United States unprepared for what comes after the desired end-state is fulfilled. This provided an opening for Moscow's decisive use of force.

A US Leadership Vacuum that Urgently Needs Hard Decisions and Real and Honest Leadership

May 19, 2014

Ever since Vietnam, the US has faced three major threats every time it has attempted a major counterinsurgency campaign in armed nation building: 

The actual hostile forces, both in terms of native insurgent elements and outside support from other states and non-state actors. 

Existing challenges in host country, including corruption, internal tensions, weak governance, and uncertain economics, that make it as much of a threat in practical terms as the armed opposition. 

The failures within the US government to deal honestly and effectively with both the military and civil dimensions of the war, including attempts to transform states in the middle of conflict rather than set realistic goals; levels of costs and casualties that make sustaining the US effort difficult or impossible; and a failure to sustain the effort necessary to achieve a lasting impact. 

The Need for Real Leadership by the Administration

It is now May 2014 and some 17 months after the time that the US, NATO/ISAF, and aid donors should have had in place realistic plans for Transition, and the US and its allies should have clearly laid out the strategic case and the cost and conditions for continued aid. The Obama seems committed to an almost endless cycle of reviews and requests for new options, but has failed to put forth any credible plans, costs, and conditions or make a meaningful strategic and political case for its position and the role the US should play in Afghanistan after 2014.

These issues are laid out in depth in an updated analysis by the Burke Chair at CSIS entitled The Post-Election Challenges to Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2015, (http://csis.org/files/publication/140518_Transition_in_Afghanistan_Rev.pdf.) 

This analysis has just been updated to fully reflect new reporting by the US Department of Defense, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, the World Bank, NATO/ISAF, the UN and other organizations. It makes it clear that the Administration has exaggerated progress in security, governance, and the economy – even if one ignores outside issues like the role of Pakistan. 

The Administration has already waited far too long to determine whether the US will stay in Afghanistan on realistic terms and to create clear plans for the kind of funding and advisory presence that is needed. It needs to act now to persuade the American people and Congress it has a credible strategic rational and plan for staying. 

It needs to act now to make sure the Afghan people and new Afghan government know and accept the conditions for continuing US support, and determine how much real world support it can get from its allies and outside donors. It needs to honestly assess the current challenges in Afghanistan, and not under-resource Transition. If it does not, the war may not end with a bang, but it may well end with a whimper.