Thursday, December 31, 2009
New York Times: Report finds early missteps in Afghanistan; New unpublished history shows effort was undermanned and resourced
New unpublished history shows effort was undermanned and resourced
In the fall of 2003, the new commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, decided on a new strategy. Known as counterinsurgency, the approach required coalition forces to work closely with Afghan leaders to stabilize entire regions, rather than simply attacking insurgent cells.
But there was a major drawback, a new unpublished Army history of the war concludes. Because the Pentagon insisted on maintaining a “small footprint” in Afghanistan and because Iraq was drawing away resources, General Barno commanded fewer than 20,000 troops.
As a result, battalions with 800 soldiers were trying to secure provinces the size of Vermont. “Coalition forces remained thinly spread across Afghanistan,” the historians write. “Much of the country remained vulnerable to enemy force increasingly willing to reassert their power.”
That early and undermanned effort to employ counterinsurgency is one of several examples of how American forces, hamstrung by inadequate resources, missed opportunities to stabilize Afghanistan during the early years of the war, according to the history, “A Different Kind of War.”
This year, a resurgent Taliban prompted the current American commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to warn that the war would be lost without an infusion of additional troops and a more aggressive approach to counterinsurgency. President Obama agreed, ordering the deployment of 30,000 more troops, which will bring the total American force to 100,000.
Written by seven historiansBut as early as late 2003, the Army historians assert, “it should have become clear to officials at Centcom and D.O.D. that the coalition presence in Afghanistan did not provide enough resources” for proper counterinsurgency, the historians write, referring to the United States Central Command and the Department of Defense.
“A Different Kind of War,” which covers the period from October 2001 until September 2005, represents the first installment of the Army’s official history of the conflict. Written by a team of seven historians at the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and based on open source material, it is scheduled to be published by spring.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the manuscript, which is still under review by current and former military officials.
Though other histories, including “In the Graveyard of Empires” by Seth G. Jones and “Descent Into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid, cover similar territory, the manuscript of “A Different Kind of War” offers new details and is notable for carrying the imprimatur of the Army itself, which will use the history to train a new generation of officers.
The more than 400-page history praises several innovations by the Pentagon, particularly the pairing of small Special Operations Forces teams with Afghan militias, which, backed by laser-guided weapons, drove the Taliban from power.
But, once the Taliban fell, the Pentagon often seemed ill-prepared and slow-footed in shifting from a purely military mission to a largely peacekeeping and nation-building one, fresh details in the history indicate.
“Even after the capture of Kabul and Kandahar,” the historians write, “there was no major planning initiated to create long-term political, social and economic stability in Afghanistan. In fact, the message from senior D.O.D officials in Washington was for the U.S. military to avoid such efforts.”
Unclear guidance, inadequate resourcesIn one telling anecdote from 2004, the history describes how soldiers under General Barno had so little experience in counterinsurgency that one lieutenant colonel bought books about the strategy over the Internet and distributed them to his company commanders and platoon leaders.
In another case, a civil affairs commander in charge of small-scale reconstruction projects told the historians that he had been given $1 million in cash to house and equip his soldiers but that bureaucratic obstacles prevented him from spending a penny on projects. It took months to reduce the red tape, the historians say.
The historians also say that such anecdotes underscore the resourcefulness of commanders faced with unclear guidance and inadequate resources. But limited manpower still had an impact on operations, the history indicates.
When the Taliban was on the run in the spring of 2002, Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the incoming commander of American forces, traveled to Washington seeking guidance. The message conveyed by the Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Jack Keane, was: “Don’t do anything that looks like permanence,” General McNeill recalled. “We are in and out of there in a hurry.”
Largely as a result of that mandate, General McNeill took only half of his headquarters command from the 18th Airborne Corps. But as the conflict became more complicated, requiring diplomatic and political operations, General McNeill lacked enough planning personnel, the history suggests. He was replaced in 2003 by an even smaller headquarters unit, the history says.
The lack of resources was also apparent in the training of Afghan security forces, the history shows.
Poor equipment and low payEarly in the war, the training program was hampered by poor equipment, low pay, high attrition and not enough trainers. Living conditions for the Afghan army were so poor that Maj. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry likened them to Valley Forge when he took command of the training operation in October 2002.
“The mandate was clear and it was a central task, but it is also fair to say that up until that time there had been few resources committed,” Mr. Eikenberry, now the ambassador to Afghanistan, told the historians, referring to the army training program.
The historians say resistance to providing more robust resources to Afghanistan had three sources in the White House and the Pentagon.
First, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had criticized using the military for peacekeeping and reconstruction in the Balkans during the 1990s. As a result, “nation building” carried a derogatory connotation for many senior military officials, even though American forces were being asked to fill gaping voids in the Afghan government after the Taliban’s fall.
Second, military planners were concerned about Afghanistan’s long history of resisting foreign invaders and wanted to avoid the appearance of being occupiers. But the historians argue that this concern was based partly on an “incomplete” understanding of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.
Third, the invasion of Iraq was siphoning away resources. After the invasion started in March 2003, the history says, the United States clearly “had a very limited ability to increase its forces” in Afghanistan.
The history provides a detailed retelling of the battle of Tora Bora, the cave-riddled insurgent redoubt on the Pakistan border where American forces thought they had trapped Osama bin Laden in December 2001. But Mr. bin Laden apparently escaped into Pakistan along with hundreds of al Qaeda fighters.
‘A lost opportunity’The historians call Tora Bora “a lost opportunity” to capture or kill Mr. bin Laden. But over all, they deemed the battle a success, concluding that even with more troops, the American and Afghan forces probably could not have sealed the rugged border.
The history also recounts well-known battles like Operation Anaconda, in eastern Afghanistan in spring 2002, and the one that killed Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former National Football League star who died by friendly fire. The history ends in the fall of 2005, when many American officials still felt optimistic about Afghanistan’s future. Postponed parliamentary elections were held that fall, but Taliban attacks were also on the rise.
“It was clear that the struggle to secure a stable and prosperous future for Afghanistan was not yet won,” the history concludes.
This article, Army History Finds Early Missteps in Afghanistan, first appeared in The New York Times.
MEMRI.org(via al-jazeera): Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen In Interview with Al-Jazeera
Iran/U.S. & the Arab & Muslim World
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen In Interview with Al-Jazeera TV; On Iran: "There Have Always Been Military Options, and There Will Be in the Future"
The following are excerpts from an interview with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on December 18, 2009. The transcript is based on the simultaneous Arabic translation.
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, visit http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2315.htm.
"Al-Qaeda and Its Operatives are Still Planning to Carry Out Attacks … [and] Obtain Nuclear Material"
Admiral Michael Mullen: "The decision to increase our troops in Afghanistan was made because the President believes that this serves national security, and that Al-Qaeda and its operatives are still planning to carry out attacks similar to the attacks they carried out in 2001. In my view, we can not afford, under any circumstances, to let this happen again.
"Then there is the issue of the Taliban in Pakistan, where the Taliban took measures to spread instability. Pakistan is a nuclear country, with nuclear material, and we know that Al-Qaeda strives to obtain nuclear material and weapons. If this happens, it will be the worst possible scenario. If they manage to get their hands on these weapons – and I'm talking only about 'getting their hands' on them, because they have said that if they obtain these materials, they will use them... These are national security objectives that President Obama had in mind when he made the decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan."
"The Border Area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the Epicenter of Terrorism… There is a Growing Concern about the Growth of Al-Qaeda in Yemen… and Somalia"
"Personally, I believe – just like President Obama – that the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the epicenter of terrorism in the world. There is a growing concern about the growth of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, in addition to the connections it has established in Somalia. Al-Qaeda is spreading in the world, but its leadership resides in that border area. That is the area we want to make sure does not become a base for planning attacks, and for the future that Al-Qaeda wants. By this, I am referring to extremism and the distortion of the Islamic religion. The Islamic religion is important to us all.
"This is why we are focusing on that border area. This does not mean that we are not concerned about other places, but the central headquarters that we are monitoring is where Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri are, where the senior Al-Qaeda operatives are concentrated and do the planning. This is why this area is more important than any other area, but this does not mean that we shouldn't focus on other areas."
"The Best Information I have is that … Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri are in Pakistan"
Interviewer: "Does that mean that you disagree with some voices, even the official ones that we often hear from Pakistan, which say Osama Bin Laden is not in Pakistan?"
Admiral Michael Mullen: "The best information I have is that all indications are that Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri are in Pakistan, and that they are very well protected by the Taliban. One of the things I have seen in the last couple of years is the collaboration of these terrorist organizations, be it the Taliban in Pakistan, which threatens the country, or the Afghan Taliban, like the Haqqani network and others. In Pakistan, there are ties between the Lakshar-e Taibe Army and branches of the Taliban. I have seen these networks come together, in a way that is increasingly dangerous to both countries, and actually, to many countries in the world.
"We have clearly shifted our main effort from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. For many years we under-resourced the Afghanistan campaign, whether it had to do with forces, diplomacy, or intelligence because our priority, to be honest, was Iraq. That priority has now shifted. We are about to leave Iraq, and it's in that shifting that I think there is good opportunity, with very positive things happening in Pakistan, with respect to the attitude toward the radicals there, with the newly elected president in Afghanistan, who is committed to change, not to mention additional troops, with the right strategy, the right military leadership on the ground, and the right diplomatic leadership there. I believe there is a real opportunity for all of us to be able to carve out a way ahead that really stabilizes Afghanistan, and puts us on a path to a positive relationship.
"The same is true of Pakistan. We abandoned it three times in our history. When I go to Pakistan, I often hear the question: 'Will you abandon us again?' That is a real problem – that issue of abandonment of those countries. The president has made it clear that we are striving for a long-term relationship. That's the difference from the past. That's why I think that in a partnership with President Karzai, we can move ahead."
"Things with Iran are Not Going in the Right Direction"
"Well, I've been one that believed for some time that the outreach, dialogue, and engagement with Iran that President Obama was committed to has been very important. I worry a great deal about their goal of developing nuclear weapons. I think having [a] nuclear state like Iran in that part of the world is destabilizing. I am concerned about the window of opportunity that closes over time with regard to that nuclear program. I would have liked to have seen a better outcome in the discussions with the IAEA, which condemned Iran. All of that, from my perspective, is headed in the wrong direction. Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, is threatening Israel, and quite frankly, it is threatening other states in the region. I have friends in several countries there who are concerned about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. I'm telling you once again that things with Iran are not going in the right direction. I hope the political leadership in all countries in the region, including Iran, will resolve this issue, and move in the right direction.
"From a military standpoint, I'm telling you that we've always had military options, they have always been on the table, and they continue to be. Certainly, my preference is never to use those, but I think we all need to operate from a position of strength. Where Iran is headed right now is a great concern to me."
Interviewer: "Does this mean that you are considering using military options at some point?"
Admiral Michael Mullen: "Well, I would never go any further than to say that there are military options. There have been military options, and there will be in the future. That is a decision that I don't want to make. You spoke about politicians in the U.S. who are concerned, and there are politicians in many countries who are concerned about Iran's conduct. Again, it's a growing concern. I was hopeful that this engagement would move us in the right direction, and I'm still hoping that will be the case."
The CIA on Thursday confirmed the deaths of seven of its officers in a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan, an audacious attack on a key intelligence post that apparently caused the greatest loss of life for the agency since the start of the eight-year-old war.
CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told employees in a memo that the attack late Wednesday also wounded six of their colleagues. At least one other person is believed to have died in what officials described as a suicide bombing by an Afghan assailant who gained access to a secure inner area of an outpost in Afghanistan's eastern Khost Province.
"Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism," Panetta said in his message to employees. "We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives--a safer America."
A Taliban spokesman on Thursday claimed responsibility for the bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman, and said the bomber was an Afghan National Army officer who had decided to join insurgents in attacking the United States.
That description could not be confirmed with U.S. or Afghan military officials. But a U.S. military official in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are Afghan national security forces posted at the base where the attack occurred.
The CIA declined Thursday to provide details on the casualties from the attack or the nature of work at the base, due to the "sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations," a spokesman said.
Panetta credited military doctors and nurses with saving the lives of those wounded in the attack, and he announced that flags at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., would be flown at half-staff to honor the dead.
"Yesterday's tragedy reminds us that the men and women of the CIA put their lives at risk every day to protect this nation," Panetta said. "Throughout our history, the reality is that those who make a real difference often face real danger."
The bold attack struck at the vanguard of U.S. counterterrorism operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing officials whose job involves plotting strikes against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that are active on the frontier between the two nations. Khost, where the facility that was targeted is located, borders North Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal area that is believed to be al-Qaeda's home base.
While many details remain vague, the attack appears to have killed more U.S. intelligence personnel than have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion began in late 2001. The CIA has previously acknowledged the deaths of four officers in fighting in Afghanistan in the past eight years.
A former senior agency official said it was the worst single-day casualty toll for the agency since eight CIA officers were killed in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983.
"It is the nightmare we've been anticipating since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq," said John E. McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director who now serves on a board that supports children of CIA officers slain on the job. "Our people are often out on the front line, without adequate force protection, and they put their lives quite literally in jeopardy."
The CIA has been quietly bolstering its ranks in Afghanistan in recent weeks, mirroring the surge of military troops there. Agency officers coordinated the initial U.S.-led attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, and have since provided hundreds of spies, paramilitary operatives and analysts in the region for roles ranging from counterterrorism to counternarcotics. The agency also operates the remote-control aircraft used in aerial strikes on suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the lawless tribal provinces on the Pakistan side of the border. The campaign of strikes in Pakistan has not been officially acknowledged, but it has escalated rapidly in the past two years.
Intelligence experts who have visited U.S. bases in the region say the CIA officers at Chapman would have focused mainly on recruiting local operatives and identifying targets.
"The best intelligence is going to come from the field, and that means working closely with the Afghans," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
The loss of experienced CIA field officers would be particularly damaging to U.S. efforts in the area "because they know the terrain," Hoffman said. "Every American death in a theater of war is tragic, but these might be more consequential given these officers' unique capabilities and attributes."
The bomber and those who aided him must have had very good intelligence to gain access to the secure base without arousing suspicion, he said.
Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, compared the attack to others recently perpetrated against Westerners by men associated with the Afghan army. "Those Afghans who were working with Americans before, now they are with the mujaheddin [Taliban]," Mujahid said in a written statement. "And now they know Americans are the enemy of our religion . . . they cannot bear it anymore . . . they are ready for operations."
The CIA is notoriously tight-lipped about its agents killed in the line of duty. At the agency's Langley headquarters, 90 such deaths are memorialized by stars on a wall. The inscription on the memorial reads: "We are the nation's first line of defense. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go."
The number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan this year has reached 310, the highest one-year total since the start of the war. Twelve U.S. troops have been killed since Dec. 1.
Khost has been the scene of several major attacks. In May, an attack killed 13 civilians and injured 36 others. Seven Afghan civilians were killed and 21 were wounded by an improvised explosive device detonated outside the main gate of Forward Operating Base Salerno on May 13.
Also Wednesday, NATO announced that four Canadian troops and a journalist from Canada were killed in an explosion in Kandahar province, one of the most dangerous areas of southern Afghanistan.
The international coalition said the journalist was traveling with the troops on a patrol near Kandahar city when they were attacked Wednesday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that blast as well.
Kandahar is a hotbed of the insurgency. On Dec. 24, eight people, including a child, were killed when a man driving a horse-drawn cart laden with explosives detonated the cache outside a guesthouse frequented by foreigners. The day before, another Canadian soldier was killed by a homemade bomb in the province.
According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, the latest casualties bring to 32 the number of Canadian forces killed in Afghanistan this year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai "strongly condemned" both of the Wednesday attacks, according to a statement issued by his office.
"President Karzai shares the grief and extends prayers and deepest condolences to families and friends of the victims and to the people of the United States and Canada," the statement said. It quoted Karzai as saying: "Your sons and daughters have lost their lives for protecting the Afghan people and the humanity against the threat of terrorism. Afghans will never forget your sacrifices."
globalsecuritynewswire: Distrust Mires Effort to Develop International Nuclear Forensics DatabaseThursday, Dec. 24, 2009
Distrust Mires Effort to Develop International Nuclear Forensics DatabaseThursday, Dec. 24, 2009
By Rachel Oswald
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The international community faces a number of challenges in developing nuclear forensics capabilities, possibly chief among them nations' reluctance to share samples in a database that proponents hope could be used to deter nuclear terrorism (see GSN, March 16).
The U.S. government plans to join with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency in advocating development of a database that would ostensibly receive information and samples from all advanced nuclear nations. Washington already has a domestic system filled with samples from its own nuclear weapons test program.
This global database could take the form of a network of national nuclear "libraries" that could help in tracing the origins of materials seized in transit or used in an attack. Backers believe the collected information might lead states to maintain tighter global controls over sensitive substances and technologies, keeping them out of the hands of rogue nations or terrorist organizations (see GSN, Dec. 22).
A chief difficulty to building this international capability is the mindset of leaders - including some top officials in the United States -- who generally regard anything having to do with nuclear weapons programs as "the most highly held state secrets," according to Daniel Chivers, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley's nuclear engineering department.
Chivers said that both the United States and Russia -- which together possess the vast majority of weapon-grade nuclear material -- have steered clear in the past of allowing international access to their nuclear samples.
Some policy-makers in Washington fear that fledgling nuclear nations could learn how to improve their own weapon designs if they had access to samples from more technologically advanced countries.
"It's a doubled-edged sword. You have to swim with the sharks a little bit," Chivers said.
Washington's difficulties are not limited to the international sphere. Besides the lack of access to foreign nations' nuclear samples, the United States faces considerable challenges in finding enough scientists and funds to adequately put together a robust nuclear forensics program of its own.
Building a Capability
Sometimes compared to the work done by police crime-scene technicians, nuclear forensics applies a broad range of sciences and cutting-edge technology with the intent of identifying the place of origin of a radioactive sample -- down to the nuclear program that produced it and the reactor it came from.
The United States has sought to establish a significant nuclear forensics capability through the Homeland Security Department's National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center. Citing diplomatic sensitivities, government officials associated with the center declined to be interviewed for this article.
U.S. efforts in the field, though, suffer from a lack of personnel. In June, the Government Accountability Office called on federal agencies to do a better job of encouraging more scientists to pursue nuclear forensics as a career path. In the GAO report, the Homeland Security Department was faulted for underestimating the costs of maintaining a forensics capability in the country.
U.S. nuclear scientists' Cold War-era ability to gather radioisotopes produced in the detonation of a nuclear device -- atmospheric samples -- has diminished in recent years. Washington hopes to build it back up again in addition to developing new capabilities in the pre-detonation forensic fields.
Separate from any U.S. forensic efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency already possesses environmental nuclear samples collected during inspections in nuclear nations that have agreed to comprehensive safeguard agreements in addition to signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Environmental samples, used to uncover undeclared nuclear activity, include material from North Korea, even though the well-known proliferator has withdrawn from the treaty and expelled all IAEA inspectors.
Individual nuclear nations also have their own laboratories where some nuclear samples are stored that have potential to be used in a nuclear forensics program.
Nuclear forensics ultimately seeks to allow for nuclear attribution - in which foreign policy is applied to scientific analysis and a nation is singled out as the originating source of material used in a bomb or seized in midshipment.
Once the originating nation is known, a course of proper action can be determined. Whether the material was unknowingly leaked out of the country, as is considered likely in the case of Russia or Pakistan, or if it were deliberately provided to another party, as is feared possible in North Korea, would likely figure heavily in the type of punitive action determined by the United States and its allies.
Chivers emphasized that nuclear forensics is not an exact science, which is why he dislikes it when the technique is promoted as a deterrent to nuclear proliferation. Rather he said, it should be seen as a collaborative framework in which all participating nations have an incentive to participate and monitor one another.
He compared it to the way that civilian nuclear plants in the United States operate. Nuclear industry officials understand that even one reactor accident would hurt the entire sector -- so there is a strong incentive to adhere to all safety and security protocols.
Likewise, countries would have a strong motivator to adhere to the standards established in an international database as they would not want to provide an excuse for other nuclear nations to hide their own noncompliance.
"The word deterrence carries so much weight, it can sway states from cooperation," Chivers said. "Without cooperation there is absolutely no way we can keep all of these materials secure."
Calls for Greater Cooperation
A report published last year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society called for greater international cooperation in the field of nuclear forensics.
"Such cooperation should include enlarging and properly gaining access to existing international and other databases and linking them so as to enable prompt data access," states the report.
"The U.S. and Russia are responsible for most of the world's supply of reactors and fissile material," said Benn Tannenbaum, associate program director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. "It's therefore our responsibility to make sure that we can keep track of the material and the technology. The best way to do that is to work together, and nuclear forensics is the best way to do that."
Without the United States and Russia stepping forward to allow access to their nuclear samples in an international capacity, other recognized nuclear-weapon states -- China, France and the United Kingdom -- or unrecognized nuclear states -- such as India and Pakistan -- are not likely to contribute their own samples, Chivers said.
"Russia isn't going to share anything with respect to their weapons material because it gives information on their weapons. Same for the United States," said Chivers, lead author of a 2008 Arms Control Association report on building a strong nuclear forensics capability. As Washington and Moscow are the most experienced with the technologies, "these two programs have the most to lose."
The two nations together possess 87 percent of the world's processed plutonium and highly enriched uranium, according to the Arms Control Association report.
The inherent contradiction of Washington urging other nations to provide access to their nuclear samples while still preferring to withhold its own clearly "hampers" any effort to build a comprehensive international nuclear materials database, Chivers said.
According to Chivers, there is a debate going on in both Washington and Moscow with Cold War-era officials arguing against sharing any nuclear information or material and security officials with an eye toward 21st century terrorist threats pressing to allow some capacity for sharing.
"If we maintain our footing and if Russia maintains its footing with not sharing information, we may not be able to get ahead of that curve and the solution will be much harder down the road," Chivers said.
With interest in nuclear power again growing, and nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt pursuing their own atomic energy programs for the first time, Chivers said now is the time to begin putting in place an international framework that encourages all nations to willingly provide access to their nuclear materials.
"You can't have cooperation if you have a gun to your head," he said. "It's almost impossible to come up with this international forensic framework without the willing cooperation."
The types of nuclear samples shared in a worldwide capacity could include both weapon-grade material from military programs and samples taken from civilian nuclear power plants.
"There's nothing better than a physical sample," Chivers said. "The next best thing is the correct type of data from that sample from a known standardized test that can be performed anywhere in the world."
Chivers predicted that any nuclear material sharing would start with samples taken from civilian sites that are unclassified. However, nuclear industry officials are likely to consider those samples privileged and covered by intellectual property rights, which gets into another host of issues that would have to be negotiated.
"There are roadblocks everywhere," he said.
The United States, European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to seek a broader consensus for their proposal to build a system of nuclear "libraries" at the 2010 plenary meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The initiative, which today has 76 member partners, was formed in 2006 with the intention of preparing for and combating nuclear terrorism.
Proponents of the libraries' proposal hope that it could be used as a basis for greater future cooperation in the forensic field.
"Nuclear forensics is a critical component of President [Barack] Obama's larger nuclear materials security efforts and will be addressed during the April nuclear security summit in Washington," Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator of threat reduction programs for the State Department, said in a released statement.
The nuclear summit is intended to provide governments with a platform for, among other things, planning cooperative efforts for the tracking and securing of weapon-grade material.
Going forward, gaining Russian support for an international forensics effort will be critical to achieving success, experts in the field have said.
Russia's refusal to allow the United States to collect any nuclear material for use in a forensic database stands in contrast to Moscow's greater willingness in the past to engage in other forms of military confidence-building.
For example, the United States carried out more than 600 nuclear site inspections to certify Russian compliance with the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, according to American Prospect Senior Editor Tara McKelvey, who this year traveled to Russia for an investigative reporting project.
"[Russia] does not give permission to analyze the material of these samples," said Michael May, a retired director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Moscow has been hesitant about allowing access to its nuclear-material samples because it is distrustful of U.S. intentions, said McKelvey. She said there is a strong suspicion among some Russian officials and nuclear scientists that the United States used verification measures included in the treaty to gain intelligence about Russian defense capabilities.
Washington was seen by some in Russia as less interested in verifying compliance with the 1991 START agreement as with sorting out "what you guys have," McKelvey said.
"There is a great deal of apprehension on both sides, particularly among the Russians," said McKelvey, who spent part of September and October in Russia researching nuclear forensic issues. "Russians feel manipulated and betrayed" by U.S. monitoring of the country's nuclear weapons program, as part of the treaty, she said.
U.S. officials with knowledge of the START negotiations did not return requests for comment on the Russian suspicions.
The START accord expired on Dec. 5, though negotiations continue on a replacement-arms reduction pact (see GSN, Dec. 22).
"These [nuclear] attribution programs ... require transparency and a high degree of trust and that's not there, and in some ways that's deteriorated over the years," McKelvey said.
May, who was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, said that much of the paranoia and distrust comes from the Kremlin and Russia's spy agencies and not from the nation's nuclear scientists.
"Usually on technical issues they are not [distrustful] because they know the facts," he said. "The Russian scientists that I've met ... they were not paranoid. They were realistic people."
In the event of the detonation of a nuclear weapon by terrorists, there is a reasonable likelihood that the material used would have come from Russia, which has had problems securing its nuclear stockpiles, May said.
Due to lax accounting, it is not known how much material has gone missing from Russia and former Soviet Republics since the Soviet Union collapsed. Western nations have supplied Russia with billions of dollars to help the former superpower track and safeguard its nuclear material.
"At one time, the material was not well guarded though there has been significant improvement [in that area] in the last few years," said May, adding that the potential still exists for some nuclear material to be stolen from Russia.
Former Soviet republics Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine also have stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and processed plutonium, which experts worry could be used as source material for a radiological bomb, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
With negotiations on a START replacement agreement nearing a conclusion, much of the focus of Russia and the United States has shifted away from securing existing nuclear material to arms reduction, May said.
"At present, these issues have been somewhat displaced by arms control negotiations," he said.
McKelvey said the issues of greater transparency and cooperation on nuclear forensics should be included in START negotiations.
Added Chivers: "I believe that the leadership has to come from Russia and the United States -- this could come in the form of one of the new START treaties or a separate agreement."
"Until basically the Cold War threats are mitigated or reduced in some form such that those forces that would hold [nuclear] information secret are reduced, then this type of international framework probably will not occur."
Possibility Arises that Someone Working with U.S. Forces was on the Side of the Terrorists
It all happened at a well-fortified combat outpost in Eastern Afghanistan. Somehow a suicide bomber was able to bring his explosives on the base, walk up to a group of American civilians and blow himself up. It will take an investigation to determine how he did it. But the outpost is located in the middle of a notorious stronghold for Afghan insurgents near the border with Pakistan, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. Afghan soldiers and civilians are present at almost every American outpost since one of the chief principals of the U.S. strategy is to partner with the Afghans. According to Christine Fair of Georgetown University, some of them may actually be working for the Taliban. "They have really become a vehicle of infiltration for the Taliban," Fair said. "This is most certainly a vulnerability in our strategy going forward in trying to hand over security to the Afghans if we don't really have a way of figuring out who we can trust." Combat outposts located deep in enemy controlled territory come under frequent attack - although usually from the outside, not the inside. The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that the military post was used by the CIA as an operations and surveillance center. Martin reports that an administration official confirms all eight killed were affiliated with the CIA. Last October, eight U.S. soldiers were killed when insurgents very nearly overran an outpost, and CBS News has been told four officers received warning letters for not having done a better job preparing their defenses. A year ago last July, nine soldiers were killed when their outpost was almost overrun. That battle is still under investigation. In both cases, the bases were saved by the arrival of the Apache helicopters with drove the attackers back. Eight American dead makes for a very grim end to what has been the worst year ever for the United States in Afghanistan.
O'Hare will receive full body scanning equipment next year, say officials
O'Hare International Airport will receive full-body passenger scanners next year, perhaps as soon as the first quarter, Chicago's aviation commissioner said today.
"They are coming, but they're not here yet," said Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino during a press event Tuesday.
The scanners were planned well in advance of the unsuccessful Christmas Day bombing attempt on board a Detroit-bound plane.
"Because we do process and we do have a large volume of people that do come to O'Hare, we need to ensure that equipment does work properly, and in some cases, be a testing ground for equipment before it's fully implemented or, you know, all the procedures are well into place can be more challenging," Andolino said. "In this case, I think those will be issued here shortly and will be here. I think that the process is moving forward."
Not everyone is happy with the news. The American Civil Liberties Union say the machines are a classic invasion of privacy.
"It's an invasion," said ACLU Spokesman Ed Yonka. "It's very expensive and is a diversion of resources because someone dropped the ball on a trip from a legitimate person overseas."
Six of the machines, which are made by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., are being used for what Transportation Security Administration calls "primary screenings" at six U.S. airports: Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas; Miami; San Francisco; Salt Lake City; and Tulsa, Okla.
This means passengers go through the scans instead of a metal detector, although they can elect to receive a pat-down search from a security officer instead.
The remainder of the machines are being used at 13 U.S. airports for secondary screening of passengers who set off a metal detector: Atlanta; Baltimore/Washington; Denver; Dallas/Fort Worth; Indianapolis; Jacksonville and Tampa, Fla.; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; Ronald Reagan Washington National; and Detroit. Travelers can opt for a pat-down instead in those instances as well.
The scanners headed to O'Hare will be set up initially in terminals served by United Airlines and American Airlines as well as in the international terminal, federal security officials have said in the past.
The TSA has paid for 150 of the new scanners and plan to deploy them nationwide after the first of the year.
Wednesday, 30 Dec 2009 03:18 PM
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A man tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion in a case bearing chilling similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Somali man — whose name has not yet been released — was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13 Daallo Airlines flight took off. It had been scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai. A Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi Hassan Barise, said the suspect is in Somali custody.
"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or other foreign organizations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Barise.Special: Get Sarah Palin’s New Book – Incredible FREE Offer -- Click Here Now.
A Nairobi-based diplomat said the incident in Somalia is similar to the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in that the Somali man had a syringe, a bag of powdered chemicals and liquid — tools similar to those used in the Detroit attack. The diplomat spoke on condition he not be identified because he isn't authorized to release the information.
Barigye Bahoku, the spokesman for the African Union military force in Mogadishu, said the chemicals from the Somali suspect could have caused an explosion that would have caused air decompression inside the plane. However, Bahoku said he doesn't believe an explosion would have brought the plane down.
A second international official familiar with the incident, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to discuss the case, confirmed that the substances carried by the Somali passenger could have been used as an explosive device.
In the Detroit case, alleged attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid explosive PETN in a condom or condom-like bag just below his torso when he traveled from Amsterdam to Detroit. Like the captured Somali, Abdulmutallab also had a syringe filled with liquid. The substances seized from the Somali passenger are being tested.
The November incident garnered little attention before the Dec. 25 attack aboard a flight on final approach to Detroit. U.S. officials have now learned of the Somali case and are hastening to investigate any possible links between it and the Detroit attack, though no officials would speak on the record about the probe.
U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen — which lies across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Similarly, large swaths of Somalia are controlled by an insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida.
Western officials say many of the hundreds of foreign jihadi fighters in Somalia come in small boats across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. The officials also say that examination of equipment used in some Somali suicide attacks leads them to believe it was originally assembled in Yemen.
Law enforcement officials believe the suspect in the Detroit incident tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the high explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive, setting off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, is charged with trying to destroy an aircraft.
A Somali security official involved in the capture of the suspect in Mogadishu said he had a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) package of chemical powder and a container of liquid chemicals. The security official said the suspect was the last passenger to try to board.
Once security officials detected the powder chemicals and syringe, the suspect tried to bribe the security team that detained him, the Somali security official said. The security official said the suspect had a white shampoo bottle with a black acid-like substance in it. He also had a clear plastic bag with a light green chalky substance and a syringe containing a green liquid. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The powdered material had the strong scent of ammonia, Bahoku said, and samples have been sent to London for testing.
The Somali security officials said the Daallo Airlines flight was scheduled to go from Mogadishu to Hargeisa, to Djibouti and then to Dubai.
A spokeswoman for Daallo Airlines said that company officials weren't aware of the incident and would have to seek more information before commenting. Daallo Airlines is based in Dubai and has offices in Djibouti and France.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Rival claims over whereabouts of Mir Hossein Mousavi
Iran's state media reported tonight that the leader of the opposition had fled Tehran.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, defeated in hotly disputed elections in June, was said to have left the Iranian capital on a day marked by pro-government rallies at which crowds chanted "Death to Mousavi". Another of the leaders, Mahdi Karroubi, was also said to have fled.
Hossein Karoubi, however, the son of Mr Karoubi, said his father and Mr Mousavi were still in Tehran. He said: “My father and Mr Mousavi are in Tehran and IRNA’s report is baseless. They are still pursuing the people’s demands,”
The conflicting reports come three days after Mr Mousavi's nephew, Ali, was killed during a protest against the regime in which at least eight lost their lives.
He was said to have been shot in the chest. Opposition figures have claimed he was deliberately targeted and had received a number of death threats.
The regime has initiated a tactic of arresting relatives of opposition figures as it struggles to contain the so-called "green revolution". Those detained include the sister of the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and Mr Mousavi's brother-in-law.
Today's development came as Iran’s Supreme Leader acknowledged that the country’s Islamic rulers had lost some supporters in the turmoil following the disputed presidential elections.
The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were his first public comments since the street clashes between opposition supporters and security forces on Sunday.
Mr Khamenei blamed the pro-reform opposition leaders for Iran’s problems. He said: “The reality in the society is that as some [supporters] dropped out, twice that number joined [us].”
Tens of thousands of hardline government supporters turned out for the state-sponsored rallies today, some of them calling for the execution of opposition leaders as Iran’s police chief threatened to show “no mercy" in crushing any new protests by the pro-reform movement.
Pro-government rallies were staged in Shiraz, Arak, Qom and Tehran, among other cities. Demonstrators at a rally in Tehran chanted “Rioter hypocrites must be executed" and held up a banner that read: “We sacrifice our blood for the Supreme Leader.”
The Government gave all civil servants and employees a day off to attend the rallies and organised buses to transport groups of schoolchildren and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests.
Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric, described opponents of Mr Khamenei as supporters of Satan.
“Enemies of the leader, according to the Quran, belong to the party of Satan,” Mr Alamolhoda told demonstrators in Tehran in comments broadcast on state television. “Our war in the world is war against the opponents of the rule of the Supreme Leader.”
Times Online: Obama considering military strikes after Christmas Day aircraft plot (Pentagon, Department of Defense)
Obama considering military strikes after Christmas Day aircraft plot
The Pentagon is drawing up urgent plans for increased military co-operation with Yemen, including possible retaliatory strikes against al-Qaeda targets, according to US officials engaged in a high-stakes bid to neutralise Islamist militants without enraging the Arab world.
The Obama Administration, caught out by the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines aircraft, is reviewing every possible response and has not ruled out military strikes if targets linked directly to the failed attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab can be identified.
In line with the terms of a secret military assistance pact agreed last year, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni Foreign Minister, insisted yesterday that any attacks on al-Qaeda targets in Yemen would be by Yemeni government forces.
He acknowledged, however, that Yemen would need technical and intelligence information to carry out such attacks and senior Pentagon sources told CNN that fresh target lists were being drawn up in case President Obama called for them.
The US has never publicly acknowledged the rapid build-up of its military presence in and near Yemen since last year but sources say that attacks already mounted by Yemeni government forces on al-Qaeda training camps would have been impossible without American hardware and knowhow. Future strikes could involve the use of US drones, fighter jets and ship-launched cruise missiles.
“We are going to work with allies and partners to seek out terrorist activity [and] al-Qaeda,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said. The US military has formidable firepower on permanent standby in the form of carrier battle groups stationed in Bahrain, and unimpeded access to Yemen from bases in Djibouti and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
Pinpointing those who groomed Mr Abdulmutallab for his suicide mission in the Arab world’s poorest country will not be easy but the movements of known militants and the would-be bomber’s responses to interrogators have provided leads.
Two former inmates of the Guantánamo Bay detainee camp who were returned to Yemen via Saudi Arabia in 2007 are thought to have assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group that claimed responsibility for the attempted airline bombing.
Muhammad al-Awfi and Said Ali al-Shihri are believed to have been the targets of a pair of airstrikes on suspected terrorist training camps in the east of the country before Christmas that the Yemeni Government says killed more than 60 militants.
Reports that the pair were killed on Christmas Eve have not been confirmed.
The AQAP leadership was the target again yesterday of Yemeni forces in raids on suspected hideouts in the western Hudaydah province, which led to at least one arrest.
Mr Abdulmutallab has reportedly told his FBI interrogators in Michigan that he attended a gathering of young men “all covered up in white martyrs’ garments” in Yemen shortly before he left the country this month. Whether the meeting took place in Sanaa, the capital, or elsewhere, remains unclear.
The American response to the near-catastrophe over Detroit has veered from casual reassurance to angry recrimination and thinly veiled threats of military action in less than a week.
Republicans have seized on the scare to condemn President Obama’s reading of the public mood as he tries to finish his holiday in Hawaii, and an old-fashioned turf war has broken out between the intelligence agencies that were supposed to be working seamlessly to prevent another 9/11. By Christmas Day they all had “bits of information” on Mr Abdulmutallab that, if shared, could have prevented him boarding Flight 253 in Amsterdam, senior officials with Mr Obama in Hawaii have said.
That information included details provided by the young Nigerian’s father in two face-to-face briefings with CIA and other US officials at the US Embassy in Abuja in November, further information from the father in subsequent phone calls and written submissions, and chatter picked up by the National Security Agency (NSA) as early as August this year concerning a potential plot involving “a Nigerian”.
The meetings in Nigeria on November 19 and 20 produced a routine “visa viper” cable to Washington that resulted in Mr Abdulmutallab’s name being put on a general watch list but not on a no-fly list. His name was forwarded to the CIA, which has admitted that it took no action.
The most serious intelligence failure may prove to have been by the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and the NSA, which boasts the world’s most advanced eavesdropping technology but is a longstanding rival of the CIA.
Under reforms passed in the aftermath of 9/11 it should have passed every potential terrorist tip-off to the NCTC, intended as an inter-agency clearing house. Had the NSA passed on its information about a plot involving a Nigerian, the CIA could have matched it to Mr Abdulmutallab’s name.
Dick Cheney, the former Vice-President, added his weight to the Republican critique of Mr Obama’s response to the aircraft plot. “It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war,” he said. “But we are at war and when [he] pretends we aren’t it makes us less safe.”
The travelling White House said that it was telling that Mr Cheney had condemned the President but not Mr Abdulmutallab. However, aides to Mr Obama are acutely aware that his attempt to mix crisis management with golf, tennis and body surfing has been a public relations disaster.
Whitehouse.gov: Statement by the President... about the Detroit Incident(need to be "even more innovative... in our efforts")
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Flight 253: The Role of CIA Bureaucracy [Ishmael Jones]
The Northwest Flight 253 bombing incident on Christmas Day is yet another indication of the need for intelligence reform, reform that can protect Americans and our allies.According to CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano, the bomber’s father walked into the American embassy in Nigeria in November and advised embassy officials that his son was a terrorist threat.“We did not have his name before then,” Gimigliano told journalists. With more than 90 percent of CIA officers living and working entirely within the United States, and most of the remainder stationed within American embassies overseas, traditional on-the-streets intelligence gathering is rare. We weren’t out there looking for this terrorist intelligence, it was just good luck that the information came walking into an embassy.Sometimes good intelligence does come from walk-ins, and the challenge then becomes to process it efficiently. Security at American embassies is tight, and lots of visa-seekers, scam artists, and crazies request meetings with American embassy officials, so it can be difficult for a genuine intelligence volunteer to actually get in the door. History is filled with examples of people with valuable secrets who just couldn’t get into the embassy to tell them. The bomber’s father is apparently a former Nigerian government official, and chairman of a Nigerian bank, whose credentials would have given him the ability to speak directly to an American official.Once he got inside, the bomber’s father likely met with a newly trained CIA officer who did not have the clout to get the information out fast. Meeting with walk-ins is considered low-level work. The officer would have typed up the information and relayed it to his superiors within the embassy. Depending on the number of management layers, he may have had to get the approval of just one or two, but possibly as many as four to six managers before the information was released and sent to CIA headquarters. The time it takes to do this is significant because the bomber’s father walked into the embassy in November and the attack occurred on December 25th — a nanosecond in the way government perceives the passage of time.The information’s destination within CIA headquarters is a matter of art and magic. Nigeria is in the CIA’s Africa division, but counterterrorism is in another division. The bomber’s last address was London, in a separate division, and he had recently been in Dubai, yet another division. Each division has countless branches, chiefs, and deputy chiefs. Despite many years of CIA service, I do not know where the information would have gone or who would have been in charge. CIA officers can spend years at headquarters studying the unceasing intrigue of its internal relationships.Ultimately, there are simply so many managers and administrators, in so many separate and loosely organized chains of command, that acquiring the intelligence is a stroke of luck, and getting it to where it needs to go, on time, is almost impossible.To solve this, we need to get CIA officers out of the United States and into foreign countries, get them out of the embassies and on the streets, account for the money, and eliminate byzantine bureaucratic structures. In doing so, we will protect Americans and our allies, so that we can go about our lives in peace.— “Ishmael Jones” is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books.
Afghan Bomber May Have Killed C.I.A. Operatives
KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest killed at least six American civilians, some of whom may have been C.I.A. operatives, at a base in southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to NATO officials.
One official said the attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, and suggested that the base was used by agency operatives. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the attack.
If C.I.A. operatives were killed, the attack would be the single deadliest episode for the spy agency in the eight years since the Sept. 11 attacks. The C.I.A. has previously acknowledged the death of four of its officers in Afghanistan over that time period.
The agency has steadily increased its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past year, sometimes dispatching operatives to remote bases in the hinterlands instead of to heavily fortified embassies in Kabul and Islamabad.
Khost Province, bordering Pakistan, has been a prime area for militants with links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda who use Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas as a base to stage their insurgency.
Wednesday’s attack was particularly audacious because the bomber managed to breach a secure base assigned to potentially sensitive operations.
The bomber managed to elude security and reach an area near the base’s gym, said another official, who also spoke anonymously. It was not clear whether the bomber entered the gym.
The suicide bomber died in the blast and at least six Americans were wounded, some of them seriously, the officials said, adding that the death toll could climb.
Even by the standards of a war with a rising number of American and NATO casualties, the attack was an especially deadly one for American civilians in Afghanistan, a group that includes a growing number of intelligence operatives and contractors employed in reconstruction and counterinsurgency.
American bases in Khost, particularly Camp Salerno, one of the largest in the country, have been the targets of frequent attacks, but rarely, if ever, do suicide attackers make it past the main gate.
Repeated suicide attacks at the entrance to Camp Salerno have killed dozens of Afghan laborers in the past several years.
In May, a suicide attacker exploded a car bomb near the main gate, killing 7 civilians and wounding 21. The bombing took place a day after a coordinated Taliban attack inside the city of Khost, the provincial capital, that left at least 7 civilians and 8 insurgents dead.
In June, a man riding a motorcycle detonated explosives near a densely crowded intersection in the city, killing 7 Afghan civilians and wounding 44, including 7 children.
Last week, heavily armed insurgents entered a police headquarters in Gardez, to the north of Khost, and battled Afghan and American security forces for more than three hours.
That attack was attributed to the Taliban network run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which bases itself just south in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan.
In recent weeks, American officials have stepped up pressure on Pakistan to root out the Haqqani network, whose fighters pose one of the greatest threats to American forces and hold sway over large parts of Afghanistan, including Paktika, Paktia and Khost Provinces.
Pakistani officials and diplomats have said the demand was rebuffed by the Pakistani military, which is already fighting Taliban militants who threaten Pakistan’s government and which has long considered the Haqqanis assets to influence the future shape of Afghanistan once the Americans leave the region.
New York Times:Jet Plot Demonstrates Growing Ability of Qaeda Affiliates(qaeda effectiveness "hinges greatly on...leaders...death of...zarqawi...)
And the groups’ effectiveness often hinges greatly on the personalities of
their leaders. The death in 2006 of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al
Qaeda in Mesopotamia, coincided with the decline of that group’s
influence in Iraq.
Jet Plot Demonstrates Growing Ability of Qaeda Affiliates
WASHINGTON — The plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over American soil on Christmas Day represents an ominously new and lethal ability by a branch of Al Qaeda to attack the United States directly, according to government and independent counterterrorism specialists.
Until now, American officials had expressed concern over the capability of Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, Yemen and Iraq, and a militant Islamist group in Somalia closely tied to Al Qaeda, to attack American and other Western targets in their regions. But they remained confident that these groups — unlike Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in Pakistan — could not threaten the United States itself.
That assessment has changed, as American intelligence officials say Qaeda operatives in Yemen trained and equipped a 23-year-old Nigerian man to evade airport security measures and ignite a powerful explosive on a commercial airliner. Four months ago, a suicide bomber from the same group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, using a similar explosive, nearly killed a top Saudi counterterrorism minister.
“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown in confidence and seems to be developing a capability beyond the other Al Qaeda nodes,” said Richard Barrett, a British former intelligence officer now monitoring Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the United Nations, who visited Yemen two weeks ago.
Even as the United States pours 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and increases pressure on Pakistan to eliminate Al Qaeda’s top leaders and sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the thwarted attack on an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight underscores how the Obama administration must now defend the United States from attacks conceived in multiple havens abroad.
“This is the canary in the coal mine,” said Juan Carlos Zarate, a top counterterrorism official under President George W. Bush. “Al Qaeda’s regional satellites are seen as platforms for Al Qaeda’s global agenda.”
Last month, federal officials unsealed terrorism-related charges against men they say were important actors in a recruitment effort that led roughly 20 young Americans to join the Shabab, a violent insurgent group in Somalia with ties to Al Qaeda. Law enforcement officials fear that the recruits, who hold American passports, could be tapped to return to the United States to carry out attacks here, though so far there is no evidence of such plots.
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa has carried out a string of killings, bombings and kidnappings against Westerners and African security forces in recent months that have raised fears that the Algerian-based group may be taking a deadlier turn.
“We think of core Al Qaeda in Pakistan as a very potent group, but not huge,” said Daniel L. Byman, a former intelligence analyst now at Georgetown University. “But if you add the affiliates that are actively targeting us, it becomes a much bigger number.”
Al Qaeda’s ties with its affiliates play out at different levels. This year, American officials began seeing the first evidence that dozens of fighters from Pakistan, along with a handful of the terrorist group’s midlevel leaders, were moving to Somalia and Yemen. The terrorist groups in all three locations are now communicating more frequently, and apparently are trying to coordinate their actions, the officials said.
“Al Qaeda in the tribal areas — Al Qaeda central — gives strategic guidance to its regional affiliates,” said an American counterterrorism official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the group publicly. “It’s not a hands-on, day-to-day, tactical relationship.”
To be sure, American and European counterterrorism experts say the ability and expertise of the Qaeda satellites are still limited. A report by Dutch counterterrorism specialists issued Wednesday, for example, concluded that the planning and preparation for the failed attack against the Northwest Airlines flight was “fairly professional, but its execution was amateurish.”
And the groups’ effectiveness often hinges greatly on the personalities of their leaders. The death in 2006 of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, coincided with the decline of that group’s influence in Iraq.
By design as well as necessity, the plots hatched by Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates are typically smaller and less spectacular than, say, Al Qaeda’s failed plans to blow up several airliners over the Atlantic in 2006.
But in setting their sights lower and relying on lone suicide bombers, rather than complicated plots with several confederates, these Qaeda affiliates may also pose a threat that is harder to thwart, as the Christmas Day incident demonstrated.
The threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the combination of Yemeni and Saudi operatives announced in January — has drawn increasing attention from American officials. The group has carried out several attacks against foreign embassies and Yemeni officials in the past two years, adding to security threats in Yemen that include an armed rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.
As the United States and Yemen have increased their counterterrorism cooperation in recent months, the Qaeda affiliate sharpened its rhetorical attacks against the United States. In the latest issue of Sada al-Malahim, the Internet magazine of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the group’s leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, urged his followers to use small bombs “in airports in the Western crusade countries that participated in the war against Muslims; or on their planes, or in their residential complexes or their subways.”
A Qaeda operative in Yemen eulogized fellow militants killed in a Dec. 17 airstrike against an insurgent training camp in Abyan Province in southern Yemen.
In a video recording of the speech several days after the strike, the speaker said his fight was not against Yemeni soldiers, only Americans: “We are carrying a bomb to hit the enemies of God. O soldiers, you should learn that we do not want to fight you, nor do we have an issue with you,” according to a translation by IntelCenter, a terrorism research company. “We only have an issue with America and its agents. So, be careful not to side with America.”
In airstrikes facilitated by the United States this month, Yemeni officials said they had made targets of the leader, Mr. Wuhayshi, and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, who were believed to be meeting with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric linked to the suspect in the November shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.
Relatives of the cleric say he is still alive, and senior American officials said Wednesday that they were still trying to determine which, if any, of the top Yemeni militant leaders were killed or wounded in that attack.
WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency four months ago intercepted conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack, but American spy agencies later failed to combine the intercepts with other information that might have disrupted last week’s attempted airline bombing.
The electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks, government officials said on Wednesday, but analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November when the father of the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, visited the United States Embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son’s radicalization.
The father, a wealthy businessman named Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had urgently sought help from American and Nigerian security officials when cellphone text messages from his son revealed that he was in Yemen and had become a fervent radical.
A family cousin quoted the father warning American officials in Nigeria: “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat.”
The cousin said: “They promised to look into it. They didn’t take him seriously.”
The new details help fill in the portrait of an intelligence breakdown in the months before Mr. Abdulmutallab boarded a plane in Amsterdam with the intent of blowing it up before landing in Detroit.
In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across America’s national security apparatus.
One day after President Obama delivered a blistering indictment of “human and systemic failures” leading up to the foiled attack, the battle to assign blame for these failures escalated on Wednesday.
Some government officials blamed the National Counterterrorism Center, created in 2004 to foster intelligence sharing and to serve as a clearinghouse for terrorism threats, for failing to piece together information about an impending attack.
Others defended the center, saying that analysts there did not have enough information at their disposal to trigger a broad investigation into Mr. Abdulmutallab. They pointed the finger at the Central Intelligence Agency, which in November compiled biographical data about Mr. Abdulmutallab — including his plans to study Islamic law in Yemen — but did not broadly share the information with other security agencies.
The environment in Washington was further charged by a barrage of partisan attacks revolving around whether Mr. Obama bears ultimate responsibility for the security lapse, including a statement by former Vice President Dick Cheney that Mr. Obama “pretends” that the United States is not at war against terrorists.
A White House official fired back, blaming the Bush administration as having allowed Al Qaeda to thrive while it focused on the Iraq war.
A White House review into the episode is finding that agencies were looking at information in silos without adequately checking other available databases — not because they were reluctant to share, as was the case before Sept. 11, but out of oversight or human error, said a senior administration official familiar with the review.
In interviews Wednesday, government officials and others provided an account of how various agencies had gleaned bits and pieces of information about the young Nigerian, but failed to pull them together to disrupt his plot. Most of the officials spoke only on the condition that they not be quoted by name.
The first sign of a threat came in August, when the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic eavesdropping around the world, intercepted the Quaeda conversations about the mysterious, unidentified Nigerian. That same month, Mr. Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen and he soon began preparing for the Christmas Day attack.
Three months later, in November, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father , a former senior Nigerian government official and prominent banker, became panicked about his son’s turn to radicalism, according to an interview with a family cousin. The father beseeched Nigerian and American officials to intervene before his son did harm, said the cousin, who declined to be identified by name, citing the family’s desire for privacy.
The cousin, who attended a gathering of the family on Sunday shortly after the attempted attack, said that what alarmed Mr. Mutallab were the text messages his son had sent from Yemen. He said the son told the father that “he had found a new religion, the real Islam.” The son also texted that his family “should just forget about him; he’s never coming back,” the cousin recounted.
Mr. Mutallab consulted with the onetime national security adviser to Nigeria’s former president. He also approached Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency. Then he went to the American embassy in Abuja, the cousin said. There, he said, American officials essentially ignored him.
American officials contend that they took the father’s account seriously, but that he never signaled that his son might carry out a terrorist attack. Still, on Nov. 20, based on the father’s meeting, which included the C.I.A. and the State Department, embassy officials wrote a cable called a Visas Viper — government jargon for a warning about terrorism — and sent it to the counterterrorism center.
The cable referred to the father’s statement that his son had fallen under “the influence of religious extremists based in Yemen,” an American official said.
The Americans could have revoked Mr. Abdulmutallab’s visa, but they chose not to. Some 1,700 visas have been revoked since the Sept. 11 attacks on grounds of suspected terrorist connections, State Department officials said, but that step is almost always taken only after a review by counterterrorism officials in Washington.
Based on the father’s account, C.I.A. officials in Nigeria also prepared a separate report compiling biographical information about Mr. Abdulmutallab, including his educational background and the fact that he was considering pursuing academic studies in Islamic law in Yemen.
That cable was sent to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies, government officials said on Wednesday.
Some officials criticized the C.I.A. for withholding some of the information about Mr. Abdulmutallab, saying it might have prompted a broader investigation into him and possibly would have led to putting him on a watch list.
One intelligence official said that the C.I.A. should probably have shared the cable with other agencies, but he said there was nothing that the C.I.A. knew at the time that suggested Mr. Abdulmutallab was planning to carry out a terrorist attack.
“You had a young man who was becoming increasingly pious and was turning his back on his family’s wealthy lifestyle,” said the intelligence official. “That alone makes him neither St. Francis nor a deadeyed killer.
“Every piece of data, of course, looks different when you know the answer, as everyone does now.”
At the counterterrorism center, analysts looked at the cable from the embassy in Nigeria and deliberated over just how severe a threat Mr. Abdulmutallab presented. Sometime during that period, other information began flowing in that terrorist groups might be planning an attack timed around the Christmas holiday. But the intelligence analysts did not connect this to the story of Mr. Abdulmutallab.
There were conflicting reports Wednesday about whether counterterrorism center analysts had at their disposal all of the details of the National Security Agency communications intercepts in August.
What is clear, however, is that center’s officials concluded that the information they had about Mr. Abdulmutallab was not worrisome enough to do anything more than add his name to the biggest — and least scrutinized — of four intelligence databases. This list includes 550,000 names, and essentially serves as holding area for cases that need more research.
The government chose not to add Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name to a much smaller, more refined watch list that would have required that he be pulled over and patted down before boarding a plane, or blocked entirely from flying to the United States.
On Christmas Eve, Mr. Abdulmutallab flew from Lagos, Nigeria, to Amsterdam.
Had all the clues been assembled, he would by then have been on the no-fly list, which have barred him from taking his next flight, to the United States.
Even if he had not been placed on that list, American authorities had one final chance to intercede. Before a plane can take off for the United States, details on every passenger are forwarded electronically to the Department of Homeland Security. There is also an electronic summary of each passenger’s airline reservation— which in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case would most likely have included the fact that his ticket had been bought with cash and that he had not checked any bags.
Homeland Security, with this information, can request that a passenger like Mr. Abdulmutallab get extra scrutiny by airport officials before the plane takes off. But no action was taken, as Homeland Security officials said they had no reason to believe that he presented a threat.
So Mr. Abdulmutallab, after passing through a metal detector that missed his hidden bomb materials, walked onto the Northwest flight, bound for Detroit.
Haqqani Network Challenges US-Pakistan Relations
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The bodies kept surfacing -- hanged, shot, beheaded -- and always with a note alleging the victims were anti-Taliban spies. ''Learn a lesson from the fate of this man,'' warned one message found on a corpse in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Associated Press that at least 30 of his agency's operatives have been killed over the past year in the region partly controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network. The autonomous Afghan Taliban faction -- whose leader was once a U.S. ally -- is a serious threat to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan's east and operates on both sides of the border with Pakistan.
The U.S. wants Pakistan to expel the network from its North Waziristan sanctuary, especially as 30,000 more U.S. troops head to Afghanistan. But Pakistani officials say taking on the network now is too risky; the killings have helped turn North Waziristan into an intelligence black hole at a time when Pakistan's army is stretched thin fighting insurgents elsewhere.
Some critics suspect Pakistan is simply making excuses because it wants to use the Haqqanis as a future asset to influence Afghanistan and stay ahead of its bigger regional rival, India, after the Americans withdraw. Others say Pakistan is wise to avoid antagonizing a group whose primary focus remains Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis' story is one of shifting alliances in Afghanistan's long history of war and foreign occupation, and one that underscores the difficulty of sorting friend from foe in the current conflict.
The Haqqanis are tied to al-Qaida, technically pledge allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and have a history of links to Pakistani intelligence. But ultimately, they feel beholden to no one but themselves, said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with Stratfor, a U.S-based global intelligence firm.
''Over the years, as Pakistan has been caught in a juggling act between dealing with its own insurgency and the U.S., people like the Haqqanis have become increasingly independent,'' Bokhari said. ''The Haqqanis' goal is to work with whoever is willing to work with them.''
The network's aging leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a respected commander and key U.S. and Pakistani ally in resisting the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Haqqani even visited the Reagan White House.
In 1992, three years after the Soviet withdrawal, Haqqani and others seized power in Afghanistan with U.S. approval. In the 1980s and 1990s, Haqqani also hosted Saudi fighters including Osama bin Laden. That hospitality is believed to extend to al-Qaida and other foreign fighters on both sides of the border today.
After the Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s, it made Haqqani a government minister. Following the Islamist regime's ouster he was again offered Cabinet posts -- this time by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But he decided to focus on ridding Afghanistan of Western troops.
Haqqani, believed to be in his 60s or older, is said to be too ill to do much now, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over the network.
Some suspect that the Haqqanis retain their links with Pakistan's main spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence, though the ISI denies this. India and Afghanistan claim there were Pakistani fingerprints on the July 2008 bombing of India's embassy in Kabul, which the U.S. alleges was one of several audacious Haqqani operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied any role.
The Haqqani network is thought to make much of its money through kidnappings, extortion and other crime in at least three eastern Afghan provinces.
''Haqqani's people ask for money from contractors working on road construction. They are asking money or goods from shopkeepers,'' said Khaki Jan Zadran, a tribal elder from Paktia province. ''District elders and contractors are paying money to Afghan workers, but sometimes half of the money will go to Haqqani's people.''
Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist who interviewed Sirajuddin Haqqani in 2008, said he feels the burden of following in his father's footsteps.
Sirajuddin ''has fought, but not as much as his father,'' Yousafzai said. ''Jalaluddin Haqqani could operate openly in Pakistan. Siraj has to stay underground all the time. It's a very dangerous existence for him. He was telling me they have lost 30 members of the family.''
Pakistani officials insist they consider the Haqqanis a threat, but that mounting a concerted effort against them now is too risky.
The accounts of the killings of intelligence operatives -- including informants -- matched reports from North Waziristan in December 2008 and January of this year when the bodies of some two dozen men alleged to be U.S. or Pakistani government spies surfaced in the area. Bodies continued to be found throughout 2009. Either the Haqqanis or allied militant groups are believed to be behind the killings.
An official from the Interior Ministry, which runs the country's police force, said dozens of bodies have been found. One of the victims, a young-looking man, was photographed lying on his back with a note on his body.
Pakistan's army is already waging offensives against groups that target the Pakistani state, and has skipped over those like the Haqqanis that are more focused on Afghanistan.
Still, the senior intelligence official bristled at the latest American pressure to act against the Haqqanis, saying Pakistan had tried at least five times to take out Sirajuddin. He declined to give details, but noted that the U.S. hadn't had any luck nabbing either the father or the son even though both are believed to spend most of their time in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the issue.
The U.S. has also launched missile strikes on Haqqani targets, including one in September 2008 that reportedly killed a sister of Jalaluddin Haqqani and possibly other relatives, and the U.S. military says some of the new American troops arriving in Afghanistan will land in Haqqani territory.
The Interior Ministry official said missile strikes are the best way to target the Haqqanis, but argued that Pakistan should be given the technology to do the job itself.
Mahmood Shah, a former security chief for Pakistan's tribal regions, said the Haqqanis' connections to al-Qaida and other militants had made Pakistan's security apparatus increasingly distrustful of its old ally.
''I think Pakistan is very clear about its strategy now. It would like to remove all armed terror groups from its soil,'' he said.
Other observers were more skeptical, noting that the Pakistanis are likely thinking about the future, beyond the U.S. troop surge, to the days when the Americans are gone and they still have to live with whatever is left of the Haqqanis.
The Pakistanis also probably see the Haqqanis as a key component of any potential peace deal with the Taliban, some said.
''I think that the Pakistanis would like to wait and see,'' Yousafzai said. ''Because they would see if the new American strategy is working and whether they're going to stay the course.''
In 2010, a world of turmoil
The headlines at year's end conveyed the eerie feeling that the world is running on replay: Terror plots aboard airliners, strikes against al-Qaeda training camps and an Iranian nuclear program that rolls on despite nearly a decade of efforts to stop it.
You never cross the same river twice, as the saying goes. History is always moving and changing. But the problems the United States faced in 2009 in the Muslim world were deep and intractable, and less amenable to solutions than the Obama administration might have hoped. We can remind ourselves that Islam's adaptation to the modern world (which is at the root of much of this violence) has been far less bloody than was Europe's in the 19th and 20th centuries. But that's little comfort in the airport security line.
It was telling to read the comment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, about how tougher policies might have stopped accused Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: "I'd rather, in the interest of protecting people, overreact rather than underreact." Honestly, isn't that something Dick Cheney might have said back in 2001?
Here are some of the puzzles I'll be trying to understand better in the year ahead:
-- Are we beginning a new counterterror war in Yemen? The answer seems to be yes, but the Obama administration is wisely following the model of Afghanistan 2001 by using proxy forces (in this case, the Yemeni government) to attack al-Qaeda. That's a lot better idea than sending in U.S. combat troops.
The partnership with Yemen is delicate, which is why U.S. officials have said so little about it. But there's a growing American program to aid Yemeni counterterrorism forces, and it appears that U.S. precision-guided weapons were used in a Dec. 17 attack on three al-Qaeda hideouts, killing 34 operatives. This is precisely what America should have done against Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, before Sept. 11, and it's the right policy now.
Yemen is the scene of a second proxy war, this one by Saudi and Yemeni forces against the al-Houthi rebels along the northern border, who have Iranian support. Again, the sensible U.S. course is to help others do the fighting.
-- Can we curb Iran's nuclear program? The clock on President Obama's timetable for engagement was supposed to run out New Year's Eve. But the administration is adding a little extra time by keeping the door open for talks before a vote on new U.N. sanctions, probably in March or April.
Diplomacy shows little promise of stopping Tehran, but neither does anything else. So the administration has encouraged Turkish mediation efforts to find a compromise on the Oct. 1 plan for enrichment of Iranian fuel outside the country, which Tehran appeared to accept and then rejected. The White House has also approved Sen. John Kerry's idea of visiting Tehran, but Kerry has wisely dropped that for now, when the Iranian regime is killing protesters.
Is regime change in the air in Tehran? Last weekend's demonstrations revived that hope, but it's premature. The regime is expanding its network of repression while the opposition -- lacking a strong leader -- remains unable to mount sustained, organized protests.
-- Will Iraqi democracy be 2010's big success story? Visiting Anbar province several weeks ago and listening to the governor of Ramadi talk about his big development plans, I found myself wondering if maybe the cruel Iraq story might have a happy ending after all. This was the province where al-Qaeda declared its first emirate, just a few years ago, and now the governor is handing out a special Financial Times report on business opportunities there.
When I meet Iraqis these days, they all want to talk politics: Which party is ahead in the March parliamentary elections? Can Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani or Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi unseat the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki? It's the kind of freewheeling political debate you can't find anywhere else in the Arab world. I want to believe it's real, even as the terrorist bombs continue to explode in Baghdad and other cities.
What I know about 2010 is that it will be another year of ebbs and flows in the Middle East. It will be another year of American expeditionary wars and anti-American bombings. If there's one perverse positive sign out there, consistent over most of the past decade, it's the failure of al-Qaeda's extremist ideology. We have an enemy that makes even more mistakes than we do.