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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Electronic Jihad – The New Terrorism?

In cyber security, cyber terrorism, cyber threats, Defense, Global Economy, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Libya, multinational corporations, North Korea, Syria, Terrorism on May 24, 2014 at 6:55 am

cyber hoodie pic

March 2014 marked the hacking of 12 Indonesian Government websites by unknown hackers made up of both adventure enthusiasts and radicals. Apart from giving the hackers visibility, the episode crippled critical components of Indonesian government’s daily functioning where e-Governance is depended upon so much. This does not appear to be an isolated episode but enumerates scores of other recent transnational cyber attacks performed by non-state actors for a larger ideological goal.  This new era of ‘Cyber Jihad’ has far reaching implication, and if fully realized, would further underscore the magnitude of threats that it presents to practically every industry and government sector around the world.

The Edge will be presenting a three part series on what some cyber officials are calling the ‘Electronic Jihad’, and how it is shaping the landscape for this new battleground of international terrorism.

PART I – The New Cyber Warriors and their Tactics

Although the traditional purveyors of cyber attacks – states like China, Iran and their supporters continue to dominate state sponsored activities across the global cyber sphere, the existences groups of irregulars and non state actors – script kiddies, anarchists, hacktivists, hostile insiders, criminal elements and independent enthusiasts have added additional challenges, more lethal and ominous for legitimate Governments and multinational corporations to combat than could have been imagined.  The current state of cyberspace warfare will move to control every spectrum of a conventional battlefield – space, energy & power, economic and finance. This lays out an eerie scenario when a state or multinational is presented with evidence that weapons of cyber warfare are available to any warrior in the cyber world and they are available in the public domain.

In the field of intelligence and counter terrorism, capability assessments form an essential part of gaging the threat. Such assessments provide astonishing outcomes, especially when presented with inputs about a power system being attacked such as the case in the US by a cyber jihadist group.  This input was as early as January 2014, at a time when government agencies and regulators around the world have worked tirelessly to institute stringent control measures, cyber security monitoring and information security audits to defend against these very attacks.  Infiltrating these perimeters and conducting attacks on a critical infrastructure demonstrates the extent and capability being harnessed by cyber jihadists.

Counter terror operations are now challenged with the concept of identifying ‘cyber trade craft’, cyber radicalization, and recruitment.  The entire cycle of Spotting, Recruiting and Developing an agent for these activities can be comfortably performed from the confines of one’s home.  Blogs like Jhuf.net (Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum) and Al Ansar.info have been critically tracking developments in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and using these issues to motivate members to fight against intruding western government and corporations.  Membership in the cyber realm is usually a virtual walk-in or referral, in which case both can be entertained using pseudonyms.  As a result, we have a potential candidates in the terror recruitment cycle being indoctrinated to fight in the cyber space, and have his/her identity concealed which keeps the original identity intact.  Ironically, these very recruits are corporate employees, information technology experts, businessmen, educated youths in the real-world.  We thus have the creation of an educated breed fighting a radical cause in an open world notoriously shrouded by fake IP addresses.  Through the creation of fake social media profiles, recruiters are able to conduct targeting, spotting and assessing operations for indoctrination.  Through the use of such tactics as  cyber ‘Dead drops’ – where confidential messages are passed in the cyber world and the use of image and text files, they are able to communicate without the possibility of it being detected.  A bomb attack in Tel Aviv back in January 2013 had traces of planning activities left in the cyber world when jhuf.net members posted a message in .jpg format highlighting the plans to attack Tel Aviv.  This was made more scrupulous by the use of codes in the image or text files.  Agencies tracking keywords to identify a possible attack would have missed the inconspicuous text hiding superficially in an image format.  In the real world, recruitments for these causes is prone to being intercepted by security agencies.  However, cyber ‘handling’ accomplishes not just recruitment but also indoctrination, financing and tasking for a potential acts without ever having a handler and agent come in contact. 

How big is the challenge to secure global cyber infrastructure?  It’s huge and growing by the second.  As new users and new technologies take hold, the scale of the battlefield expands exponentially.  Join us next month for Part II as we examine other players, threats and the tactics being employed by this new breed of terrorists.

Lebanon: The Syria Playbook

In Defense, FYI - For Your Intelligence, Intelligence, International, International Trade, Israel, Libya, Terrorism, Uncategorized on December 29, 2013 at 4:37 am

LebSyrFlagWith Assad continuing to make his stand against Western backed forces and various jihad extremist groups in Syria, he has pulled an old play out of the go-to playbook for his regime. He has elected to use his faithful ally Hezbollah to open a new front. As Syria continues to sink into its current battlefield quagmire at home, taking out another high level politician in Beirut expands the scope of his operations, and provides relief through distraction. And with the assassination of the Hezbollah leader earlier this month, it all comes across as a justification on the part of Hezbollah. But make no mistake, this is the same MO as with previous assassinations and it will have Syria’s prints all over it.

The real issue is how US foreign policy is allowing for the war to spread, the empowerment of extremist groups to grow and for old and new terrorism breeding grounds to flourish. Libya and Syria are key examples, and indicators are that Iraq is beginning to follow suit. Here’s what the international media is reporting to support this.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/mohamad-chatah-lebanese-ex-minister-killed-in-beirut-bombing-1.2476861

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303799404579283692798835878

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/175614#.Ur6ZlrRfu_g

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304451904579237323053994120

PERSPECTIVE VIEW: Thinking Ahead – Corporate Contingency Strategies for the Middle East

In FYI - For Your Intelligence, Global Economy, International Trade, Iran, Israel, Terrorism, U.S. Economy on September 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Strategic thinkers and planners in government and international business have long had a lot to consider regarding the Middle East.  Weighing the range of complicated and overlapping issues – such as oil resources, water rights, military power, religious conflict, territory disputes, economic and educational disparities, foreign alliances,  to name a few – it is daunting to devise contingency strategies in preparation for the potential of changed circumstances. By 2010, a host of new military and weapons-related issues have emerged, the most problematical being Iran’s steady and stealthy pursuit to secure the capability to construct and deliver nuclear weapons.

Various scenarios can be envisioned if Iran uses its enrichment sites to produce weapons-grade products from nuclear material shipped to Iran by Russia (and possibly other countries) after incorporating technology and materials likely obtained from China, North Korea and others to develop a deliverable weapons system.  Logically, corporations and governments with strong interests in the region should plan what they will do in the event the nuclear situation in the region is changed given the impact on political and economic issues.  Clearly, Israel would be under greater threat from a nuclear- armed Iran given Tehran’s past posturing about the destruction of Israel, the links between Iran and Hamas/Hezbollah, the stresses within the Iranian regime, and its leaders’ need for organized diversion at home to distract from domestic problems.   Two core questions emerge: what would Israel do about a nuclear-armed Iran, and how should businesses and governments prepare to adjust their strategies in response to likely scenarios?  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is central to protecting and defending Israel.  Therefore, strategic planners must consider that Israel will, in some way, halt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons perhaps with an overt air strike or covert sabotage — with or without the tacit acceptance of the United States and other international players.

 Taking these thoughts a step farther, if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iranian nuclear weapons development, then much of the Middle East calculus in oil, business, foreign policy and military dynamics will change rapidly.  Against this backdrop, the time to think through options and develop contingency plans for various scenarios is now while there is still time to weigh carefully alternatives and reasonable options.  While government and military planners constantly consider all options as a matter of course, corporations, both large and small, are often less equipped or inclined to consider alternatives before events actually demand change.  Best intelligence (and business) practices suggest that corporate leaders and strategists (calling upon internal and external resources) should consider likely Israeli-Iranian scenarios and their outcomes.  With such analyses in hand, corporate managers can quietly work, if necessary with other professionals, to solidify corporate contingency strategies in advance of a potentially altered Middle East landscape.  Now is the time for contingency planning.

CONTRIBUTOR:  OptionsInt is our newest contributor.  They are a security consulting firm made up retired U.S. intelligence officers with years of worldwide operational experience.  They currently use their expertise to consult with U.S. corporations and government on matters of operational security training and support.  We appreciate their insightful observations and look forward to hearing more from them periodically.

New data surfaces on bin Laden’s 9 year trail? Not really.

In Intelligence, Terrorism, U.S. on September 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm

New information emerges on hunt for bin Laden

A European official with ties to western intelligence has provided details about where the world’s most wanted fugitive has been over the past nine years.  The official discloses how intelligence services have had information on bin Laden’s whereabouts and have been able to track his route over a good portion of that 9 year period.   They even go as far as to claim that Khalid Sheihk Mohammed met with bin Laden before his capture in Pakistan back in 2003.  The real story here is nothing.  Most of this data came out as a result of KSM reporting or in the recent Wiki-leaks.  The situation has hardly changed.   UBL and Dr. Zawahiri are still believed to be in the tribal area of Pakistan and within communication.  This newest report is nothing new.

Iraq back in the news: Sunni cleric death shows Iraqi government’s challenges

In Defense, Terrorism on September 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Gunmen behead, set alight Sunni cleric in Iraq

Straight out of Diyala province comes an act of terror resembling those that pre-date the U.S. military surge in Iraq.  This particular murder is significant since it resembles the heinous acts used to threaten and intimidate locals in the early stages of the Al Qaeda insurgency.  In this case the cleric was a Sahwa supporter, a group who assisted U.S. forces in defeating Al Qaeda.  It was these types of atrocities that allowed the insurgency to get a foothold and grow.  Unfortunately, remnants of the Al Qaeda insurgency remain in areas like Diyala and if left unchecked can reassert themselves back into the mix.  A long delay by the Iraqis to seat their unified government and support their police and military will only result in a loss of the advances of the surge.  Iraq cannot afford to delay.  They cannot take on a reinvigorated Al Qaeda by themselves – and with Al Qaeda in Yemen in the mix – the challenge would be insurmountable.

Pakistan: As flood relief breaks bad

In International, Terrorism, U.S. on September 6, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Reports of Christian Aid Workers Killed by Taliban in Pakistan Still Unconfirmed

Banned JuD brazenly collecting funds for flood relief in Lahore

It was just a matter of time.  While Taliban and Al Qaeda members shake down local flood victims in Pakistan and reports of the killing of humanitarian aid workers surface, how long did you think it would take until these groups and their affiliates begin using the opportunity to access and raise funds through flood relief?  Interestingly enough, international organizations and governments are already crying foul to the fact that it is taking so long for relief funds to reach the victims.  What will happen now with these latest developments?  Will bureaucratic hold-ups continue to plague these relief efforts even more as relief organizations must now take greater steps to vet receiving organizations and recipients?  Or will they just turn a blind eye as flood money soon becomes blood money?

Poll: Nearly 6 in 10 oppose war in Afghanistan – U.S. leadership not engaged

In Defense, Intelligence, International, military, Terrorism on August 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Poll: Nearly 6 in 10 oppose war in Afghanistan

Polls like this should always raise red flags to those who understand and are concerned about national security.  This AP article will become a major story in the coming week to further deteriorate support by Americans for the Afghanistan war effort.  By painting a picture of futility and a perceived lack of direction by the military, the media is attempting to make this appear unwinnable.  Even more important, the overall tone is that it is not necessary.  This is the trap that we must avoid at all cost.

Today, Afghanistan is more critical to U.S. national security than any other part of the world – more than peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, more that Al-Shibaab in Somalia, and more than Iraq.  It is the catalyst and the epicentre of everything we do to fight against radical jihad in America.  In that region, radicalization, financing from an over abundant opium industry, and a void in law and order provide the perfect mix for groups like al-Qaeda to grow and spread.  Any U.S. leader who takes this poll and accepts that we should leave Afghanistan will do so at their own risk.  

I had the opportunity to speak with someone about the Iraq war and the “futility” of that war back in 2006.  My main comment to that person was that, if the U.S. committed the resources and the leadership was focused, there is no way any country in that region would be able to stop our military from meeting their objectives.  Sure enough, when the surge of 2008 was conducted, resources and commitment by the U.S. leadership provided the necessary thrust for successful.  In fact, polling during that time period became favorable to the U.S. military’s mission.  The key was resources and engagement by the U.S. administration. 

In Afghanistan, we are at that same point now.  There is no third world gang of fighters that can push our military off its goals if we have that commitment and our leadership is engaged at the highest level.  With that, you will find success and polls like this will lean the other way.  However leaving Afghanistan before this job is done will only push the hard work off onto the next generation – and we will end up right back there.

Russia and Poland: A Not-so Unintended Consequence

In Defense, International Relations, military, Nuclear Arms, Terrorism on August 12, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Russia Moves Missiles Into Breakaway Region

“We believe the threats that we all face are common ones and therefore we hope that Russia will orient itself more toward working with all of us and meet those common threats,” –  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

The recent implementation of the U.S. European-based Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for ballistic missile defense and the stationing of a U.S. land-based SM-3 missile defense interceptor system in the Republic of Poland puts the final touches on the protection our European allies need from the nuclear threat of Iran. 

Recent reports indicate that last month’s signing of the agreements will provide Poland and other countries in the region the umbrella of security guaranteed to them in 2008 by the Bush administration.  Even with the downgrading of the 2008 guaranteed defense system from long-range missile interceptors to medium and short-range missile interceptors to placate our Russian ally, it appears the U.S. administration is still comfortable that it is providing Poland the level of defense they need.

With all the movement to implement this accord and step up defense operations, an unintended consequence has emerged.  Secretary Clinton recently said that the shield “will help protect the Polish people and all in Europe our allies and others from the… threats posed by Iran.”  However, she also hopes the Russians will work with us on this.  As we see in Georgia, Medvedev and the Russian military are right on track feeling more comfortable than ever in moving against the U.S. and its European neighbors – even with our missile defense concession.  Perhaps an unintended consequence of downgrading the 2008 missile defense accord is more recalcitrant behavior and aggression by Russia.  Historcally in situations like this where states are at odds, consessions of this nature provide opportunity to be exploited.  Russia is doing what is expected of them.  One could see this coming a mile away.  Now as the U.S. pushes for further concessions in the nuclear disarmament arena, look for more of this type of behavior by Russia.   

Secretary Clinton commented during her run for the presidency back in 2008 that “hope” was not a plan.  That certainly appears to be true in this case.

The Real Aftermath: Pakistan, Iran and Heat Seeking Missiles

In Defense, FYI - For Your Intelligence, Intelligence, International, International Relations, Terrorism on July 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Wikileaks Afghanistan: Taliban used heat-seeker missiles against Nato helicoptervia

Wikileaks reinforces the claim that Pakistan supports the Taliban – CSMonitor.com.

As a famous President once proclaimed during a debate, “There you go again.”  What we are finding from the latest in the Wikileaks saga is the following:  If you have a leaker in your organization and you have a media hostile to your cause, there is a good chance you will see your sensitive internal information go public.  On that note, why are DOD’s internal security controls so weak as to allow 10s of thousands of documents to be stolen and used publically?  That is the real issue behind the Wikileaks leaks.

As for Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban, this revelation is about as new as the discovery that Mel Gibson has anger issues.  Having been in the region myself, this relationship has been there since we seized control of Kabul.  Fringe element within ISI with close ties to the Taliban in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) have been attempting to undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts since the war in Afghanistan started.  Some operatives of ISI based in the border region are self-proclaimed Taliban supporters.  There is absolutely nothing new here. 

Then there is Iran and the discovery that they are assisting the Taliban to fight the U.S. and NATO forces.  Again, they were doing this to U.S. forces in Iraq, why would they not continue it in Afghanistan?  In fact, many of the same types of weapons and materials (IEDs, shape charges, firearms, etc) that were being smuggled in and used in Iraq were popping-up in Afghanistan.  Iran has had U.S. soldiers’ blood on their hands for some time now and the Wikileak discloses nothing new there.

While the report of the use of a heat seeking missile knocking out a helicopter killing U.S. and NATO service member has some new pieces of information, this tactic is not new or unexpected.  U.S. intelligence and military services have always been aware of the possibility of shoulder launched, surface-to-air missiles being used.  Yes, this is the tactic that was used against the Soviets to help drive them out of Afghanistan.  In fact, it was the U.S. who supplied and trained the Taliban on use of these weapons when they were the Mujahideen.  So we probably know something about this.  Our military is perfectly capable of countering this weaponry.

Other than more reporting of collateral damage and a few new bin Laden sightings, these leaked documents represent a lot of unsubstantiated reporting, raw data and even rumors.  What these leaks and the accompanying media noise represent is an effort to make the war effort seem unwinable and to wear Americans down.  If the Soviets were chased out by SAMs, so will the U.S.  If the Paks are not helping, then we are losing.  If Iran is helping the Taliban, then we will lose.  However, while we faced many of these same elements in Iraq on a much larger scale and still managed our goals, we will become mired in debates about these points in these documents and miss the real issue.  Yes, the REAL aftermath:  In order to implement and sustain effective security polices and procedures in our government and military, there must be a will by those in charge to hold accountable those who leak sensitive information to the public that endangers national security policies and personnel.  They must be pursued vigorously, and if found guilty, punished. They took advantage of access to sensitive intelligence provided to them through their service and the public trust, and do not have a right to that information for there own cause.  That is the real story and continues to be.

Chinese Separatists Tied to Norway Bomb Plot

In Intelligence, International Trade, Terrorism on July 22, 2010 at 6:44 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/10/world/asia/10uighur.html

As the Uighur separatist movement of Xinjiang, China known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – ETIM (or Turkestan Islamic Party – TIP as they are known in the streets of South Waziristan) becomes more aligned with the global Al Qaeda movement, they move from being an internal Chinese problem to becoming a recognized terror threat and put their activities on the international stage.  With reports surfacing from China to Pakistan, from Norway to the U.S., Uighur separatists are becoming an integral part of the terrorist landscape as they are now found in planning attacks, participating in carrying out attacks, appearing in propaganda and now being killed in military attacks by U.S. forces in the Pakistan tribal region.  And with the recent disruption of attacks in Norway and the successful attack in Uganda, we are now finding threads linking these activities to terror elements in the U.S. 

In examining the factors that have led us to the point, it is easy to see that the Uighur population has alway been a perfect target for Al Qaeda and Taliban influence.  In observing the tactics employed when taking a Muslim to Jihad, Al Qaeda needs the opportunity to radicalize, recruit, train and finance to be successful.  In the case of the Uighur Muslims, their work was mostly done for them.  They are angry and disenfranchised being cut off from their fellow Central Eurasia Muslims, they are in opposition to the Chinese Han majority which keeps sentiments inflamed, and they are geographically positioned to access support from radical organization in Southwest Asia.  The Uighurs are half way to Jihad before any effort is made on the part of Al Qaeda.  With all the post 9-11 reporting that has been disseminated on this matter, the only real question is: What took so long?  It was only a matter of time.