22 February 2015

New Boko Haram videos hint at ties with ISIS

Rukmini Callimachi
Feb 22, 2015

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.

WASHINGTON: Until recently, the propaganda videos released by Boko Haram, one of the most feared extremist groups in Africa, were an amateur affair. The videos were grainy, shot on hand-held cameras. They tended to feature the group's wild-eyed leader screaming or shaking his finger at the viewer, as he delivered an incoherent tirade. 

That all changed in January, when Boko Haram announced that it had created its own media outlet, with its own logo, and unveiled an associated Twitter account. What followed was a barrage of videos and photographs, mirroring the releases of the Islamic State terrorist group thousands of miles away in Iraq and Syria. The videos were suddenly more polished, shot by what analysts say was a professional cameraman, and branded with the flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as the group's battle anthem. 

Since then, each clip has surfaced first on the Nigerian group's Twitter account and is then promulgated on accounts known to belong to Islamic State operatives, according to three experts who track jihadist activity online. 

This evolution comes months after the Islamic State announced in its official magazine, Dabiq, that it had received an oath of allegiance from a group in Nigeria. Though the Islamic State did not name Boko Haram, the combined sequence of events has caused several experts to question whether Boko Haram is on its way to becoming the official branch in Nigeria, creating an alliance between two of the world's most murderous groups. 

"The media, the optics, the graphics, the style of these videos, as well as who is pushing this content out amounts to a lot of smoke," said Aaron Zelin, a senior fellow for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who maintains a database of jihadist statements and videos. "I'm uncertain if there is a fire yet, but there seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to a link between Boko Haram and ISIS." 

It remains too early to draw conclusions, and intelligence analysts in the United States remain unconvinced. 

Iran sends high-level negotiators to Geneva nuclear talks

Feb 22, 2015

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has dispatched his brother and atomic chief to Geneva to try to overcome hurdles in high-profile nuclear talks.

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has dispatched his brother and atomic chief to Geneva to try to overcome hurdles in high-profile nuclear talks with the United States and five other major powers, official Iranian media reported on Saturday. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on his way to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that Washington wanted an agreement by the deadline of June 30. 

US and Iranian officials began a new round of talks in Geneva on Friday, seeking to end a 12-year standoff over the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme, suspected by the West of harbouring military aims - a charge Tehran consistently denies. 

The bilateral Tehran-Washington discussions, to culminate in a foreign ministers' summit on Sunday, are part of wider bargaining between Iran and six major powers - "P5+1" - aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear activities in return for relief from global economic sanctions. 

Iran's negotiations with "P5+1" - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have already missed a November 2014 target date, and in the run-up to the June 30 deadline, wide gaps apparently remain, mainly over Iranian uranium enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions. 

Iranian media said nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi and President Rouhani's brother and close aide, Hossein Fereydoon, would make their first formal appearance in the marathon talks, now entering a sensitive stage involving fine technical details. 

"Fereydoon's presence is prompted by the need to engage in consultations and make necessary coordinations throughout the present round of talks in Geneva," foreign ministry official Mohammad Ali Hosseini said. 

"Today Geneva is the epicentre of US-Iranian diplomacy over the remaining nuclear issues," he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. 

Also taking part in the talks is the US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, who held technical discussions with Salehi in Geneva on Saturday, IRNA said. 

The semi-official Tabnak newspaper said Moniz and Salehi had known one another since the early 1970s, when Iran's now nuclear chief studied nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where Moniz was teaching. 

"Now they meet again after more than 40 years. Moniz is joining the Geneva talks to make sure the highly technical diplomacy proceeds with precision," said Tabnak, quoting a nuclear official. 

What ISIS Really Wants ***

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it

What is the Islamic State? Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

The Economics of Global Population Decline***

February 18, 2015

In recent weeks, we have been focusing on Greece, Germany, Ukraine and Russia. All are still burning issues. But in every case, readers have called my attention to what they see as an underlying and even defining dimension of all these issues - if not right now, then soon. That dimension is declining population and the impact it will have on all of these countries. The argument was made that declining populations will generate crises in these and other countries, undermining their economies and national power. Sometimes we need to pause and move away from immediate crises to broader issues. Let me start with some thoughts from my book The Next 100 Years.

Reasons for the Population Decline

There is no question but that the populations of most European countries will decline in the next generation, and in the cases of Germany and Russia, the decline will be dramatic. In fact, the entire global population explosion is ending. In virtually all societies, from the poorest to the wealthiest, the birthrate among women has been declining. In order to maintain population stability, the birthrate must remain at 2.1 births per woman. Above that, and the population rises; below that, it falls. In the advanced industrial world, the birthrate is already substantially below 2.1. In middle-tier countries such as Mexico or Turkey, the birthrate is falling but will not reach 2.1 until between 2040 and 2050. In the poorest countries, such as Bangladesh or Bolivia, the birthrate is also falling, but it will take most of this century to reach 2.1.

The process is essentially irreversible. It is primarily a matter of urbanization. In agricultural and low-level industrial societies, children are a productive asset. Children can be put to work at the age of 6 doing agricultural work or simple workshop labor. Children become a source of income, and the more you have the better. Just as important, since there is no retirement plan other than family in such societies, a large family can more easily support parents in old age.

In a mature urban society, the economic value of children declines. In fact, children turn from instruments of production into objects of massive consumption. In urban industrial society, not only are the opportunities for employment at an early age diminished, but the educational requirements also expand dramatically. Children need to be supported much longer, sometimes into their mid-20s. Children cost a tremendous amount of money with limited return, if any, for parents. Thus, people have fewer children. Birth control merely provided the means for what was an economic necessity. For most people, a family of eight children would be a financial catastrophe. Therefore, women have two children or fewer, on average. As a result, the population contracts. Of course, there are other reasons for this decline, but urban industrialism is at the heart of it.

Private equity in India: Once overestimated, now underserved

by Vivek Pandit 
February 2015

General partners can use lessons from the past decade to build a new and better future.

In the early years of this century, private-equity (PE) firms and their investors were enthusiastic about India’s potential. Fifty percent of the country’s 1.1 billion people were younger than 30. From 2003 to 2007, GDP grew by 7.5 percent annually, 88 million middle-class households were formed (more than twice the number in Brazil), urban dwellers grew by 35 million to 330 million, and 60 percent of the population was in the labor force. Banks’ nonperforming-asset ratios fell from 9.5 percent to 2.6 percent. Further, the PE-to-GDP ratio stood at 1.8 percent, reassuring investors that India had plenty of headroom when compared with developed markets such as the United Kingdom (4.2 percent) and the United States (4.4 percent).

Private investors poured about $93 billion into India between 2001 and 2013 (Exhibit 1). At first, returns were strong: 25 percent gross returns at exit for investments made from 1998 to 2005, considerably better than the 18 percent average return of public equity. But returns fell sharply in following vintages; funds that invested between 2006 and 2009 yielded 7 percent returns at exit, below public markets’ average returns of 12 percent. In fact, India’s PE funds in recent years have come up well short of benchmarks: with a 9 percent risk-free rate and a 9.5 percent equity risk premium (accounting for currency risk, country risk, and volatility), the climb for Indian PE investors is undisputedly steep. To be sure, returns are based on a small number of exits, but that in itself is a problem. Only $16 billion of the $51 billion of principal capital deployed between 2000 and 2008 has been exited and returned to investors.

This article will explore the reasons why expectations may have been overly rosy, the headwinds that few investors escaped, and the behaviors that firms fell into. As the industry matures and resets its sights more realistically, a new wave of growth seems within reach. Five factors can tilt the balance: an increase in a bias in favor of control investments, appreciation of the complexity of family-owned businesses, new supplies of mezzanine financing, greater scrutiny from limited partners over general-partner strategies and capabilities, and encouragement from regulators.
Understanding what went wrong

Watch Out, China: India Is Building 6 Nuclear Attack Submarines

February 18, 2015 

The Indian government will be launching a major naval expansion soon that will include the indigenous construction of seven stealth frigates and six nuclear powered attack submarines. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet approved plans to build the 13 new ships at about a cost of one trillion rupees or about $16 billion on Tuesday.

The expansion would triple the size of India’s nuclear submarine fleet and comes on the heels of Narendra Modi’s pitch to increase the proportion of indigenous defense production in India. In a recent speech, Modi said that he would like thepercentage of domestic procurement in India to increase to 70 percent. According to The Times of India, this decision comes at a time when India has a “critical necessity” to boost its “overall deterrence capability” in the Indian Ocean, especially the region stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca.

India’s move is widely understood to be aimed at countering China and its alleged “String of Pearls” strategy as well as increasing Chinese naval forays into the Indian Ocean. India was spooked last year when two Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka.

India’s plans to procure six nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN) are also in line with regional trends where many nations are building up their undersea fleets as a way to counter Beijing’s growing naval might. Many see China’s lack of anti-submarine warfare capabilities as its Achilles’ heel. India already operates one Russian-built nuclear submarine and it is currently building an indigenous one. The latter is likely to be a ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) rather than a SSN.

Pakistan’s New Plutonium Separation Plant Possibly Now Operational

David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini
February 20, 2015

Pakistan’s Chashma Plutonium Separation Plant: Possibly Operational

Pakistan has built four reactors at Khushab to produce plutonium for its nuclear weapons. However, to use this plutonium in nuclear weapons, Pakistan must chemically separate it from the irradiated reactor fuel, a difficult process done in special buildings called plutonium separation or “reprocessing” plants. Faced with a lack of technical capability, Pakistan sought to buy a reprocessing plant from France in the mid-1970s. Because of concerns about the plant’s potential use to make nuclear weapons, France cancelled its contract to provide a reprocessing plant to Pakistan. 

Several years later, Pakistan finished a small one near Rawalpindi on its own. This small plant became the location for separating plutonium for nuclear weapons after Pakistan brought into operation its first Khushab reactor in 1998. During the last several years, it has started three more Khushab reactors and the Rawalpindi separation plant may not be large enough to process all the irradiated fuel.

As a result, Pakistan is believed to have secretly finished the Chashma plutonium separation plant in order to separate the relatively large amount of plutonium produced in all four reactors. The original reprocessing site is believed to be adjacent to the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex, located 270 kilometers south-west of Islamabad. The operational status of this reprocessing plant is unknown, although satellite imagery signatures suggest it may have recently become operational. Bringing into operation this reprocessing facility would significantly increase Pakistan’s plutonium separation capability and ability to make nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s Intelligence Chief in Kabul to Meet His Afghan Counterparts

February 18, 2015

(Reuters) - Four suicide attackers stormed a provincial police headquarters in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 22 police in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

The attack in Logar province outside the capital, Kabul, was the latest to target Afghan security forces following the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops last year after 13 years of war.

In neighbouring Pakistan, a Taliban suicide attack on a provincial police headquarters killed at least six other people in the eastern city of Lahore, in what militants called a revenge strike for the hangings of their comrades.

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate groups that share the goal of establishing hardline Islamic rule. Tuesday’s attacks did not appear to be coordinated. 

Pakistan’s intelligence chief and army chief of staff visited Kabul on Tuesday for meetings with Afghan leaders on cooperating to fight militants on both sides of the border.

In the Afghan assault, the four attackers rushed the police compound in early afternoon, with one detonating his explosives-filled vest at the main gate and killing one policeman.

Two of the attackers were shot dead in the ensuing battle, said Logar’s governor, Niaz Mohammad Amiri.

"Unfortunately, the other attacker managed to detonate his explosives inside the dining hall" where policemen were gathered, Amiri said.

At least 21 police died and seven were wounded in the dining hall blast, said Abdul Wali Toofan, Logar’s deputy police chief.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility on his official Twitter feed.

Nonsense about terrorism's 'root causes'

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
February 19, 2015

Syrian Kurds wait near a border crossing in Suruc as they wait to return to their homes in Kobani on Sunday, September 28.

Tomahawk missiles, intended for ISIS targets in Syria, fly above the Persian Gulf after being fired by the USS Philippine Sea in this image released by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, September 23.

Turkish Kurds clash with Turkish security forces during a protest near Suruc on Monday, September 22. According to Time magazine, the protests were over Turkey's temporary decision to close the border with Syria.

Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS militants wait behind a fence in Suruc on Sunday, September 21.

A elderly man is carried after crossing the Syria-Turkey border near Suruc on Saturday, September 20.

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells toward ISIS militants in Zumar, Iraq, on Monday, September 15.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire at ISIS militant positions from their position on the top of Mount Zardak, east of Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday, September 9.

Iraqi volunteer fighters celebrate breaking the Amerli siege on Monday, September 1. ISIS militants had surrounded Amerli, 70 miles north of Baquba, Iraq, since mid-June.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard at their position in the Omar Khaled village west of Mosul on Sunday, August 24.

Kurdish Peshmergas fight to regain control of the town of Celavle, in Iraq's Diyala province, on August 24.

Peshmerga fighters stand guard at Mosul Dam in northern Iraq on Thursday, August 21. With the help of U.S. military airstrikes, Kurdish and Iraqi forces retook the dam from ISIS militants on August 18. A breach of the dam would have been catastrophic for millions of Iraqis who live downstream from it.

For Army General, Military Risks Self-Delusion If It Ignores Past Wars’ Lessons

FEBRUARY 19, 2015

For someone tasked with thinking about the future, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is obsessed with the past.

In the hour he spent talking with reporters on Thursday morning, the historical lessons came fast and furious, as McMaster discussed Napoleon, the 2006 Lebanon War, Vietnam, the Korean War, the bombardment of London during World War II, and why combat vehicles were first designed during World War I to restore mobility on the Western Front.

But for McMaster, who leads the Army Capabilities Integration Center at its Training and Doctrine Command, the most relevant lessons for preparing the Army for the future come from the wars just fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. And forget 2025, the year McMaster is supposed to be planning for: Many of these lessons have direct implications for conflicts the United States is engaged in today, from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq.

“I think in many ways what we learn from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could in the future be as important as the outcomes of those wars,” McMaster said at a breakfast Thursday. “If we learn the wrong lessons, we’ll engage in the kind of self-delusion that we engaged in in the 1990s, which set us up for many of the difficulties that we encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The “Revolution in Military Affairs,” a concept popular inside defense policy circles in the 1990s, predicted that the U.S. military, armed with superior technology, would be able to easily defeat its enemies. The lingo of the time included terms like “full-spectrum dominance” and “rapid, decisive operations.”


February 19, 2015

ISIS Global INTSUM: January 7 - February 18, 2015

The purpose of this intelligence summary is to document and assess the significance of open source reports regarding ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) activity outside of Iraq and Syria. This estimate will organize ISIS abroad activity into concentric rings, including the ISIS “Near Abroad” comprised of Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon as well as Iraq and Syria; the “Near Abroad Ring” comprised of former Arab Caliphate lands; and the “Far Abroad Ring” comprised of Europe, the United States, Southeast Asia, and the Cyber domain.

For the First Time, Americans Support Ground Troops Against ISIS

FEB 19 2015

The Islamic State's brutality has dramatically shifted public opinion in the United States.
ReutersBarack Obama's closing remarks at the summit on Countering Violent Extremism on Wednesday were notable not only for the president's avoidance of words like "Islamic" and Muslim," but also for their emphasis on ISIS. The terrorist group merited a dozen mentions, more than double that of its rival, al Qaeda. "ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty," Obama said. "We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen."

The group's confounding brutality (see The Atlantic's March cover story for more about that) has also made a profound impression on the American public,gradually turning a seemingly war-weary country in favor not only of airstrikesagainst the group, but also, according to a new CBS News poll, the deployment of ground troops. "For the first time, a majority of Americans (57 percent) favor the U.S. sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS," CBS reported.

The results track with the general sentiment that ISIS is "a major threat" to the United States, which rose from 58 percent in October to 65 percent earlier this week.

How ISIS Has Expanded Beyond Its Syrian Stronghold

FEBRUARY 18, 2015

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State slogans as they carry the extremist group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, in June 2014.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, first became a powerhouse in Syria, but it has rapidly spread throughout the broader region.

The most recent example came in a video that surfaced Sunday in Libya, purportedly showing 21 men, mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians, being decapitated on a beach.

ISIS now appears to be active in several countries. NPR reporters in Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan discuss the group's growing clout.

Iraq: NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Irbil, northern Iraq

What happened last summer, when ISIS was growing in strength?

ISIS swept from Syria into northern Iraq, the Kurdish area. ... It all came to a head as the group approached the city of Irbil ... the regional capital in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile ... [members of the] Yazidi ethnic religious minority were stranded on top of Mount Sinjar; they were starving. And [in August] President Obama announced airstrikes and a humanitarian mission to rescue those people, and that was when the West became involved in what had until then been more or less a regional crisis.

What's the situation now?

The Specter of Japan-Like Stagnation

Feb. 19, 2015 

Europe should treat Japan's economic malaise as a cautionary tale.
Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe is trying to turn things around. 

The economist Simon Kuznets used to tell his students that there were four types of countries: developed countries, undeveloped countries, Argentina and Japan. His aphorism pithily captured Japan as the positive outlier, the non-Western country that industrialized in one generation in the 19th century, and rebounded even more quickly after the devastation of World War II. By the 1980s, Japan was a global economic powerhouse, giving us Sony, Toyota and Nintendo, pioneering the bullet train and buying up American real estate. Business leaders the world over scrambled to learn the secrets behind the country’s success.

But Japan has since lost its luster. Today it may be the first major economy feeling the full effects of post-industrialization. It has experienced two decades of little or no real economic growth. With a median age of 45, its shrinking working-age population struggles to support a growing number of elderly. Low-cost imports and robotics have slashed the demand for wage labor. And Japan now suffers from a discernible lack of economic dynamism as a homogenous society with a rigid work culture that continues to be hostile to immigration. Ironically, the very characteristics that once made Japan so successful are now among its biggest liabilities.

The Winners and Losers From Falling Asian Gas Prices

FEBRUARY 19, 2015 

Plunging natural gas prices in Asia are a boon for some countries -- but a massive headache from Vladivostok to Vancouver. 

The swoon in oil prices is driving another big change in global energy markets — a collapse in the price of liquefied natural gas in Asia. That promises big implications for producers and consumers alike and could even have knock-on effects on Russia’s plans to shift more of its energy business to the east.

For years, Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have been the biggest importers of tankers full of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and as a result, the region has always paid more than other parts of the world. That so-called “Asian premium” grew so big early last year, thanks to rising oil prices and steadily growing demand for gas, that countries such as Japan paid five times as much as the United States did for the clean-burning fuel.

Now that premium is evaporating, making gas cheaper for big Asian buyers — and making the future a whole lot darker for gas exporters like the United States and Australia. Delivery prices for LNG in Japan reached $20 per million British thermal units in March 2014, twice as high as prices in Europe. One year later, LNG prices in Asia have plummeted to about $7 — slightly lower than what Europeans now pay.

Part of that plunge is due to lower oil prices, which have fallen about 50 percent since last summer. Most gas contracts in Asia are linked to the price of oil, so when crude gets more expensive, so does gas — and vice versa.

And part of the sharp decline is also due to the same sorts of supply and demand fundamentals that have roiled oil markets. Asian economies like Japan and China are slowing down, which depresses their demand for gas even as more and more of it floods into the market.

As a result, loaded LNG tankers have been piling up around big Asian trading hubs, hoarding cargoes that are only one-third as valuable as they would have been last year. Other tankers slow-foot it on their way to the Pacific, hoping the market improves by the time they arrive. One-tenth of the global LNG tanker fleet is currently idled, waiting out the doldrums.

Freeze Terrorists’ Assets. Promote Prosperity. Encourage Moderate Values.

FEBRUARY 19, 2015 

Japan’s foreign minister on how his country will fight Islamist terrorism in the Middle East. 

The world has been left shocked by the inhumane and despicable murders of two Japanese nationals, as well as those victims from other countries at the hands of ISIL. Words simply cannot express the unbearable pain and sorrow that we feel for their loved ones, nor the strength of our condemnation for these impermissible and outrageous acts.

I would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our friends in the international community for the strong solidarity they have shown toward Japan in the fight against these deplorable acts of terrorism and the cooperation extended toward seeking the release of our hostages.

However, we must be careful that the focus of our pain and anger is not misdirected. Japan will continue to work in the spirit of solidarity with the Muslim community in the Middle East and elsewhere to eradicate violence and prejudice.

In the face of such vicious and inhuman acts, our message to the international community is unequivocal: Japan will never give in to terrorism. We must hold individuals responsible for these acts and stand resolutely to fight the spread of terrorism. It is through international cooperation that Japan aims to make a proactive contribution to peace and stability. We will continue our efforts to deepen relations with the Middle East, building on coexistence, co-prosperity and collaboration.

In response to recent events, I am committed to thoroughly revamping and expanding Japan’s diplomatic efforts in several core areas.

Greece Should Not Give In to Germany’s Bullying

FEBRUARY 19, 2015 

It’s not just a question of being morally right -- it’s sound economics. And Athens has a lot more leverage than anyone thinks. 

Ever since the initial bargain in the 1950s between post-Nazi West Germany and its wartime victims, European integration has been built on compromise. So there is huge pressure on Greece’s new Syriza government to be “good Europeans” and compromise on their demands for debt justice from their European partners — also known as creditors. But sometimes compromise is the wrong course of action. Sometimes you need to take a stand.

Let’s face it: no advanced economies in living memory have been as catastrophically mismanaged as the eurozone has been in recent years, as I document at length in my book, European Spring. Seven years into the crisis, the eurozone economy is doing much worse than the United States, worse than Japan during its lost decade in the 1990s and worse even than Europe in the 1930s: GDP is still 2 percent lower than seven years ago and the unemployment rate is in double digits. The policy stance set by Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin, implemented by the European Commission in Brussels, and sometimes tempered — but more often enforced — by the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, remains disastrous. Continuing with current policies — austerity and wage cuts, forbearance for banks, no debt restructuring or adjustment to Germany’s mercantilism — is leading Europe into the ditch; the launch of quantitative easing is unlikely to change that. So settling for a “compromise” that shifts Merkel’s line by a millimeter would be a mistake; it must be challenged and dismantled.

While Greece alone may not be able to change the entire monetary union, it could act as a catalyst for the growing political backlash against the eurozone’s stagnation policies. 

Is Cyberwar Really War? Thomas Wagner-Nagy

February 19, 2015 

Is cyberwar inevitable? Is it even war? What about cyberpeace? Thomas Wagner-Nagy reviews the ongoing cyber debate among security analysts. 

While US-President Barack Obama was giving a lecture on nuclear threats during his June 2013 visit to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a remarkable comment on a different kind of peril to democracy and peace:

"The internet is virgin territory ("Neuland") for us all. And, of course, it also provides enemies and opponents of our democratic basic order with new tools and opportunities to threaten our way of life."The surprising part of her statement was not that she finally acknowledged the potential threat behind cyber operations in the light of the 2013 global surveillance disclosures but rather the fact that she referred to the internet as virgin territory in the year of its 30th anniversary.

The inhabitants of this virgin territory, especially those of the social networks, were quick to respond with an online mockery campaign. As the hashtag #Neuland went viral and the ridicule spread to the mainstream press, Merkel's spokesman, tried to clarify her comment stating "[...] that the internet is new legal and political territory, as we sense daily in political dealings".The incident not only exposed the scale of confusion, uncertainty, and lack of expertise on cyberspace at the highest government levels, it also sparked a public debate on how to deal with the internet as a medium many are using, yet very few are understand.

Cyberspace - or rather control over it - has become an important aspect of international relations. But just how dangerous is our ever intensifying dependence on the digital and virtual world? Some scholars argue that cyberwar is one of the new major threats to international peace. Others state that the harmful potential of cyber operations is being overestimated, and still others hold that they can be beneficial in preventing physical violence in conflict situations. The purpose of this paper is therefore to assess the scale of threats that a so-called cyber warfare with its various subcategories can pose to national and international security.

The quest for hidden information

Evolving Threats Demand An Evolving National Security Strategy

Paul J. Pena 

Mr. Pena, a retired one-star Brigadier General in the US Army, formerly served as Deputy Adjutant General for the New Mexico National Guard.

The Cold War and its simple Risk board game strategy is history. The threats facing our nation have evolved: State sponsored hackers from North Korea and Iran have been stealing our nation’s military secrets—and seeking to upend our economy by targeting corporate interests (like Sony). These rogue nations also continue developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. The recent Ebola outbreak revealed serious gaps in our response to biological threats, like the anthrax and ricin attacks we have already seen. And terror networks from ISIS to al-Shabbab grow ever more brutal, turning our own decency against us with made-for-TV acts of unspeakable horror.

Our military needs a 21st century defense strategy—that means beefing up cyber security, nuclear missile defense, bio-weapons defense, and sustained investment in our Special Forces. Our new Congress has to make this a top priority; this is one area where gridlock simply isn’t good enough.

Cyberweapons are the first truly global weapon ever invented, immune to borders and impervious to any of our physical defenses. The past few years have seen an exponential increase in cyber attacks on government and private computer networks that run nuclear power plants, dams, and other critical infrastructure. Last year alone the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team responded to 228,700 incidents and intrusions. Intelligence officials have been “alarmed by how quickly Iran has managed to develop its cyber warfare capabilities.” North Korea employs as many as 6,000 hackers that experts describe as “remarkably committed” to cyber warfare. With this cyber tsunami already breaking on our shores, Congress must fund new cyber defense initiatives and update our laws on intelligence sharing and integrated public-private cybersecurity.

These rogue nations aren’t just focused on cyber attacks; they continue developing nuclear weapons and missiles that threaten our cities. North Korea has recently succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that fits atop its Taepodong-II ballistic missile. Iran could be less than a year away from fielding an ICBM. And it is only a matter of time before terrorists gain control of a loose nuclear weapon from the former Soviet arsenal or elsewhere.

The White House CVE Summit: What should we expect? More of the same or a new direction to counter ISIS?

Clint Watts

Yesterday, Vice President Joseph Biden kicked off the much anticipated White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). He noted the need to,

“engage our communities and engage those who might be susceptible to being radicalized because they are marginalized….societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities, a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging that discredits the terrorist’s appeal to fear, isolation, hatred, resentment.” 

This seems like a long and large task list to keep three guys with guns from killing people in the streets of Paris.

America trots out CVE every three years or so in response to the latest atrocity perpetrated in the West by a confused young man inspired by whichever terrorist group has recently grabbed headlines. As the Vice President noted above, CVE proponents as a whole will likely propose eliminating extremism by solving all the problems of disenfranchised communities-–something no government in history has been able to achieve to date. This general theme will ultimately settle on pushing two feel-good programs as the mechanisms for CVE: (1) community engagement through law enforcement and NGOs and (2) countering the ideology of the latest terrorist group through the promotion of Mulsim "Moderate Voices". These programs, on the surface, seem great. Who wouldn’t want to engage at risk communities and tell the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) they stink? Despite their merits on paper though, these programs will have almost no impact on extremism aside from interdicting an occasional fence sitter who was likely torn between whether he should go to Syria, hang out with his friends, or play video games. I’ll spare the reader my issues with CVE but for a longer critique see this article I wrote with Will McCants and my opening remarks at The Washington Institute a couple of weeks back. 

Properly conducting CVE today requires a simple, narrowly focused strategy that answers three questions: "Where?", "Who?" and "How?"

Where do you want to counter violent extremism?

Surprise! America Already Has a Manhattan Project for Developing Cyber Attacks


Getty Images “What we really need is a Manhattan Project for cybersecurity.” It’s a sentiment that swells up every few years in the wake of some huge computer intrusion—most recently the Sony and Anthem hacks. The invocation of the legendary program that spawned the atomic bomb is telling. The Manhattan Project is America’s go-to shorthand for our deep conviction that if we gather the smartest scientists together and give them billions of dollars and a sense of urgency, we can achieve what otherwise would be impossible.

A Google search on “cyber Manhattan Project” brings up results from as far back as 1997—it’s second only to “electronic Pearl Harbor” in computer-themed World War II allusions. In a much-circulated post on Medium last month, futurist Marc Goodman sets out what such a project would accomplish. “This Manhattan Project would help generate the associated tools we need to protect ourselves, including more robust, secure, and privacy-enhanced operating systems,” Goodman writes. “Through its research, it would also design and produce software and hardware that were self-healing and vastly more resistant to attack and resilient to failure than anything available today.” 

These arguments have so far not swayed a sitting American president. Sure, President Obama mentioned cybersecurity at the State of the Union, but his proposal not only doesn’t boost security research and development, it potentially criminalizes it. At the White House’s cybersecurity summit last week, Obama told Silicon Valley bigwigs that he understood the hacking problem well—“We all know what we need to do. We have to build stronger defenses and disrupt more attacks”—but his prescription this time was a tepid executive order aimed at improving information sharing between the government and industry. Those hoping for something more Rooseveltian must have been disappointed. 

New Technology Helps Surgeons Better Map The Brain

Synaptive Medical is building a suite of tools it says will help it create the Google Maps of brain surgery. 

Dr. Lloyd Zucker, a Florida-based brain surgeon, likens his job to flying a plane. When he goes into someone's skull to operate, he has to navigate the nerve fibers, and like a pilot flying by buildings, he wants to avoid damage. To avoid a crash, Zucker uses brain scans as maps. To figure out the best pathway, he works with a radiologist to interpret the MRI, a process he likens to something like "flying blind"—not a very encouraging metaphor to hear from someone operating on people's brains. "The scary thing is that if you look at the brain," he said in an interview with a local Florida news station, "all the fibers that exist within the brain, we can't see them. When we go below the surface of the brain, we have no idea what's really there." Yikes. 

Thanks to a new technology called Bright Matter Planning from Synaptive Medical, though, Zucker can now see the brain's airspace, so to speak. "If I was to fly through Fort Lauderdale, now I can fly through the buildings because I know where the buildings are," explained Zucker, who started using the visualization technology about six months ago. 

Conventional MRI scans only offer a 2-dimensional rendering of the brain. Using a complex color system and other signals, radiologists and neurologists work together to piece together various flat images to understand what's going on underneath the surface. "It's a cognitive nightmare to try and layer all this information," says Sheryl Thingvold, an engineer and marketing manager at Synaptive Medical, while pointing to conventional brain scans. "You can see it's not even very detailed. It's not even a rich picture." 

From the brain scan of an 8-year-old male with intractable seizure: Traditional MRI scans (top) and diffusion scans (below)Graph: Korean Journal of Radiology 

BREAKING NEWS: Who Benefits From The Latest Hacking Revelation — Allegedly Tied To NSA?

February 16, 2015 · 


‘How Omnipotent Hackers Tied To NSA Hid For 14 Years — And, Were Found At Last': ‘The Equation Group Ran The Most Advanced Hacking Operation Ever Uncovered’

Dan Goodin, writing on the February 16, 2015 website, ArsTechnica.com, has a lengthy article posted, with the title above. Mr. Goodin writes that the Moscow-based cyber security lab/firm, Kaspersky Lab, has identified a hacking group they have dubbed — The Equation Group — who Kaspersky claims is responsible for at least 500 documented [digital] infections in 42 countries around the world over the past decade — with Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Syria, and Mali, topping the list. Because of the self-destruct mechanism built into the malware the group used to promulgate the digital infections, Kaspersky researchers suspect that the 500 documented infections is but a tiny percentage of the total number of actual victims — which Kaspersky Lab says could reach into the tens of thousands.” Kaspersky Lab dubbed the hacking group — The Equation Group — because of the members’ strong affinity for encryption algorithms, advanced obfuscation methods, and sophisticated techniques,” Mr. Goodin writes.

“In an exhaustive report published today at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Cancun, Mexico, Mr. Goodin writes, “researchers stopped short of concluding the Equation Group was the handiwork of the National Security Agency (NSA); but, Kaspersky provided ‘detailed evidence’ they claim ‘strongly implicates NSA,” as the likely entity that is responsible for the Equation Group’s hacking campaign. 

Mr. Goodin writes that Kaspersky provided “a long list of superhuman technical feats that illustrate the Equation Group’s extraordinary skill, painstaking work, and unlimited resources.” Mr. Goodin writes they include:

— The use of virtual file systems, a feature also found in the highly sophisticated Regin malware. Leaked Snowden documents purport to indicate the NSA used Regin to infect the partly, state-owned Belgian firm Belgacom;

— The stashing of malicious files in multiple branches of an infected computers registry. By encrypting all malicious files; and, storing them in multiple branches of a computer’s Windows registry, the infection was impossible to detect using antivirussoftware;

First Arabic Cyber Espionage Operation Uncovered — ‘Desert Falcons,’ Has Already Stolen Over 1M Files

February 17, 2015  

Michael Mimoso, writing on today’s (February 17, 2015) Threatpost,com website, writes that “a Middle Eastern cyber espionage gang is capitalizing on subpar security practices in the region — to backdoor a mix of business, political, and military targets. Dubbed, Desert Falcons, the gang is thought to be the first Arabic Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) operation,” according to [cyber] security researchers at the Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs — “who traced the group’s activities back to 2013; and, discovered how it uses a mix of Windows, and Android malware to raid infected computers of sensitive files.”

“This is just an alert [to] bad cyber security situation in the region,” Kaspersky Lab researchers wrote in a paper released today at the company’s Security Analyst Summit in Cancun, Mexico. “Banks, media, governments, and military entities in different countries all fell to Desert Falcons attacks.” 

Mr. Mimoso notes that “Desert Falcons has claimed victims primarily in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,and Israel — hitting upwards of 3,000 victims in governments, media, financial institutions, and physical security companies — including personal information on security officers; and, their assignments.” “The victims are carefully chosen,” Kaspersky Labs said, “with social engineering scams built specifically for intended victims. The social engineering spans phishing attacks, phony websites, and fake social networking accounts, each with socio-political themes relevant to specific victims.”

“Malware writers are using multiple technical and social engineering methods, to deliver their [malicious] files; and, encourage victims to run them, creating an effective infection vector, even when targeting what should be well protected entities like governments, banks, and top media,” Kaspersky researchers wrote. 

“So far,” Mr. Minoso writes,”researchers have uncovered three distinct [cyber espionage] campaigns attributed to Desert Falcons.” “The first ran for more than a year, starting in March 2013, against high profile government and military targets in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Gulf countries,” Kaspersky Labs researchers wrote. “The second campaign targeted victims in Israel, starting a year ago; and,a third run against activists, political figures, and media outlets in Egypt, starting in November 2013, and again in December 2014.”

DARPA Is Establishing An Apps Store For Cyber Operations; Potential To Revolutionize Cyber Operations And The Digital Battlefield

February 19, 2015 ·

DARPA Is Establishing An Apps Store For Cyber Operations; Potential To Revolutionize Cyber Operations And The Digital Battlefield

Sara Sorcher, writing on the Christian Science Monitor’s new section on Security, and Privacy in the Digital Age — Passcode, — has article describing a new DARPA initiative [the Pentagon’s future projects/leading edge technology] — the Futuristic Plan X — An Apps Store For Cyber Operations. 

“It looks like outer-space,” she begins, “The hundreds of thousands of computers look like stars. Across the vast military network, the sparkling connections between them…look like stars, The U.S. military’s cyber warriors, unlike soldiers patrolling a battlefield overseas, will not hear the sound of an attack coming, They will not see their opponents in the flesh. They will not die because they are in the line of fire.”

“Like information security professionals at private companies, they spend long hours hunkered over computers, analyzing lines of code, trying to detect breaches — a laborious process that requires advanced engineering skills. Though their networks are scanned up to millions of times every day, there is no alarm system that triggers, when an enemy hacker crosses a virtual tripwire to breach their security network. There;s not virtual explosion, if they destroy the data inside,” Ms. Sorcher wrote.

DARPA wants to change this, Ms. Sorcher writes.

“With a project called Plan X, the Pentagon is building what could one day become a virtual reality that gives cyber warriors “instantaneous knowledge of the fact [their]network is being attacked,” says Program Manager Frank Pound. “Slated to cost around $125M over four years, Plan X marks the first major attempt to create an actual…online battle space; and, would fundamentally shift the way the military operates on the virtual battlefield. Simply moving hand across a flat, touchscreen monitor, could allow a user to analyze the health of the entire network; or, find rouge computers that are not supposed to be connected. Attacks would be translated into rich display graphics and 3-D visualizations — so it’s impossible to miss them as they happen. Military specialists could defend against them, by literally dragging blocks of code from a virtual shelf, or marketplace — similar to Apple’s App Store, onto their network. They may one day, even use 3-D visors, like Oculus Rift, a video-game headset to launch these operations in a fully immersive virtual reality,” Ms. Sorcher wrote.