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Hitting all the Right Notes

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

From SWJ Blog:

Irregular Adversaries and Hybrid Threats

The Future of Clandestinity in a Panopticon World

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Israeli intelligence officers caught on camera moments before carrying out an assassination of a HAMAS terrorist.

“Information wants to be free” – Stewart Brand

You do not need to be Alvin Toffler or Marshall McLuhan to have noticed that as a result of the information revolution that in the past decade, much like individual privacy, secrecy has taken one hell of a beating. While Wikileaks document dumping demonstrated that much of what governments overclassify as “top secret” are often simply diplomatically sensitive or politically embarrassing material, the covert ops raid that killed Osama Bin Laden was a reminder that some actions, operations and lives are critically dependent on secrecy.

Secrecy in the sense of intelligence agencies and other actors being able to carry out clandestine and covert activities is rapidly eroding in the face of ominpresent monitoring, tracking, hacking, scanning, recognition software and the ability to access such data in real time, online, anywhere in the world. A few examples: 

Col. TX Hammes at Best Defense -The Internet and social networks are making it harder to work undercover

It is virtually impossible for an agency to provide sufficient cover for a false name. If you provide information like where you went to school, what posts you have served before, etc., the information can be quickly checked. (Most yearbooks are online; graduates are listed in newspapers; property records, etc.) If you don’t provide that information, then your bio sticks out.

Giving an intern the list of names of personnel at an embassy and telling them to build the person’s bio from online sources — with cross-checking — will quickly cut through a light cover. It will also challenge even a well-constructed cover. I think this is going to be one of the challenges for human intelligence in the 21st century.

Viewdle is a Two-Edged App and Panappticon

Viewdle – Photo and Video Face Tagging from Viewdle on Vimeo.

Haaretz -Hamas man’s Dubai death was a Mossad-style execution

What makes the security camera shots released last night by the Dubai police interesting is the professionalism exhibited by the suspected assassins of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

They arrived on separate flights from different destinations; one of them flew in via Munich and Qatar. They stayed in different hotels and were careful to make phone calls using international routers. They wore clothing that makes them difficult to identify. One is seen with a mustache and a hat, others wearing hats and glasses. They try, throughout, to appear to be innocent tourists or business people, there to enjoy themselves and even play some tennis…

Pity the poor intelligence officer operating without diplomatic cover. A false beard and glassses will no longer suffice.

What kind of adaptions are possible or likely to take place by intelligence, law enforcement, military and corporate security agencies in the face of an emerging surveillance society? First, consider what clandestinity is often used for:

  • To avoid detection
  • To avoid identification even when detected ( providing “plausible deniability” )
  • To facilitate the commission of illicit acts or establish relationships under false pretenses
  • To conduct covert surveillance
  • To collect secret information of strategic significance (i.e. – espionage)
  • To facilitate long term influence operations over years or decades

Taking the long term view will be required. Some thoughts:

One effect will be that marginal subpopulations that live “off the grid” will be at a premium someday for recruitment as intelligence operatives. These “radical offliners” who have never had a retinal scan, been fingerprinted, had their DNA taken, attended public school, uploaded pictures or created an online trail, been arrested or worked in the legal economy will be fit to any false identity constructed and, if caught, are unidentifiable.

Another will be the creation of very long term, institutional, “false front” entities staffed by employees who will never know that the real purpose of the enterprise is to provide airtight legitimate covers and that the economic or other activities are merely ancillary. They won’t be standing jokes like Air America or the various business activities of Armand Hammer, but real organizations with only a few key insiders to facilitate periodic use for intelligence purposes. A similar tactic will be intel agencies “colonizing” legitimate entities like universities, law firms, consultancies, media, financial institutions, logistical and transhipping corporations and NGO’s with deep cover officers who are intended to make ostensible careers there. This of course, is part of basic intelligence history but the scale, subtlety and complexity will have to significantly increase if authentic “legends” are to stick.

Then there’s the creepier and less ethical path of intelligence agencies stealing and using the identities of real citizens, which hopefully a democratic state would eschew doing but which bad actors do now as a matter of course in the criminal world.

Speed will also be an option. As with the Bin Laden raid, fast will increasingly go hand in hand with secret, the latter being a transient quality. If you cannot avoid detection, like the Mossad agents out playing tennis on survellance video, beat the reaction time. Clandestine may also come to mean “Cyber” and “Robotic” moreso than “HUMINT”

Being invisible in plain sight is an art that will grow increasingly rare.

Pakistan’s ISI On Trial….In Chicago

Friday, May 6th, 2011

As Pakistan’s corrupt military-feudal elite scramble to put out smoke after Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in an ISI safe house in Abbottabad and hire K Street lawyer-lobbyists like Mark Siegel at $ 75,000 a month, there are senior officials in Washington, inside and outside of the DoD, who doggedly championed Pakistan and defended the ISI behind closed doors.  These officials, as one DC correspondent in the know related to me, are now looking extremely foolish to their peers, even as they double-down and attempt to salvage a thoroughly discredited policy by spinning hard.

While attention is focused in Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan’s dreaded ISI is quietly going on trial. In Chicago.

An important post from Pundita:

U.S. government goes to lengths to shield Pakistan’s ISI at Rana trial in Chicago. Once again, keep your eye on the USG’s little cat feet.

This follows on my Tuesday post. The quotes I’ve pulled from ProPublica’s latest report on the upcoming trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana will be upsetting to anyone who believes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will change in significant fashion in light of the revelation that Osama bin Laden was quartered in a Pakistan garrison town.The ProPublica report presents clear evidence that all costs, including running roughshod over the American criminal justice system, the United States government will continue to cover for Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, as it’s done for decades. This is a point I emphasized in the Tuesday post so for anyone who thought I was being unduly pessimistic, read on. And be sure to read the rest of the report at the ProPublica site.Note from the report that the U.S. “intelligence community” still refuses to look at the Mumbai massacre in the context of the history of Pakistani military-sponsored terrorism and massacres going back decades. The community, at least according to the source ProPublica quotes, still insists that rogue officers, not the ISI institution, were responsible for the massacre in Mumbai.Before proceeding with the quotes I’ll note that ProPublica is an award-winning nonprofit American investigative journalism organization. It’s been keeping a close eye on Rana’s upcoming trial and other issues related to the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India — to my knowledge the only U.S. media outlet that’s doing so despite the fact that six Americans were killed in the massacre. Here’s the link to earlier ProPublica reports on the issues.I’ve also included excerpts from a report posted at the Times of India news website that provide additional details about Rana and his trial.May 4, 2011, 5:11 p.m.

Pakistan’s Terror Ties at Center of Upcoming Chicago Trial
by Sebastian Rotella
It may be years, if ever, before the world learns whether Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) helped hide Osama bin Laden. But detailed allegations of ISI involvement in terrorism will soon be made public in a federal courtroom in Chicago, where prosecutors last week quietly charged a suspected ISI major with helping to plot the murders of six Americans in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.The indictment has explosive implications because Washington and Islamabad are struggling to preserve their fragile relationship. The ISI has long been suspected of secretly aiding terrorist groups while serving as a U.S. ally in the fight against terror. The discovery that bin Laden spent years in a fortress-like compound surrounded by military facilities in Abbottabad has heightened those suspicions and reinforced the accusations that the ISI was involved in the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.“It’s very, very troubling,” said Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Appropriations sub-committee that oversees funding of the Justice Department. Wolf has closely followed the Mumbai case and wants an independent study group to review South Asia policy top-to-bottom.“Keep in mind that we’ve given billions of dollars to the Pakistani government,” he said. “In light of what’s taken place with bin Laden, the whole issue raises serious problems and questions.”?

Read the rest here.

Read Propublica’s Mumbai Terror Attacks series.

If you have not heard about the Mumbai terrorism trial in Chicago, being carried out by Federal uber-prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald who is also prosecuting the high-profile, politically sensitive, retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic, it is no accident. In deference to State and the DoD, the Department of Justice is not exactly shouting about this terrorism case from the rooftops.

But somebody should.

There’s a lot of angst in this section of the blogosphere about the lack of strategy and the USG not looking at the larger picture. Well, the death of Bin Laden in the heartland of the military power structure that really rules Pakistan has been a wake up call that sent a normally somnambulent Congress into a state of anxiety. Good. Maybe if senators and congressmen hear from their constituents, they will less likely to be lulled to sleep again by Pakistan’s salaam alaikum‘ corner.

It is long past time for a deep, strategic, rethink of what ends America wants to accomplish in Central Asia and some hardheaded realism about who our friends really are.


Pundita responds -U.S. and Pakistani damage control on Rawalpindi’s involvement in terrorism ignores much history

Christine Fair, an associate professor and Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said Pakistan’s “record of helping us with al Qaeda is indisputable.”

Indisputable, huh? How about if you and I take a trip down memory lane, Professor Fair? Let’s link arms and skip back along a path piled high on either side with bodies of American dead.

The U.S. government paid their counterpart in Pakistan $25 million for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. They paid $10 for another top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah.

Then Rawalpindi showed photographs of dead men with beards to the CIA, told them the corpses were al Qaeda operatives they’d killed, and got paid tens of millions of dollars in bounty. Some of those photographs cost the CIA one million dollars a pop.

I don’t think being skinned counts as receiving indisputable help, particularly when all signs point to top al Qaeda operatives such as KSM being ISI assets that the ISI sacrificed because they wanted the bounty money to keep themselves in business.

If you’d like to review the bounty program in detail, Professor Fair, you can read my November 2009 post, How the U.S. government built a perpetual-motion war machine in Afghanistan and sacrificed American values in the process

The upshot of the bounty program is that together the U.S. and Pakistan built a kind of perpetual motion machine:

At the end of every complex set of transactions between the CIA and the ISI, yet more enemy combatants materialize, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to yet more enemy combatants to attack ISAF troops and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to — well, last night CNN reported that “Taliban” now control 80 percent of Afghanistan, even though only 7 percent of Afghanis support the Taliban.

The finding of Chicago-related terrorism plots on Osama bin Laden’s computer drives means that the trial takes on a new significance; Are Rana and Headley part of an operational cell designed to carry out attacks in the Windy City and not just a support team for Mumbai? 

Chicago Tribune -Trial will probe alleged Chicago ties to Mumbai attack

While federal prosecutors link the alleged Mumbai plotters only to Lashkar, Headley has told investigators of a co-conspirator known only as “Major Iqbal,” who was working for Pakistan’s largest intelligence service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

Further, Rana’s attorneys have also alleged in court documents that Rana believed Headley was working for ISI.

Government by Assassination

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Pakistani Islamist militants, with the political support of the ISI and some of Pakistan’s higher military leadership, are trodding down a path we have seen before. Assassinations of democratic or tolerant political figures at odds with Islamist extremists and the military elite has become de facto “normalized” in Pakistan.

And popular among many Pakistanis.

Bhatti Killing Should Alarm Pakistan’s Minorities

The murder last week of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minority affairs minister and the only Christian in the cabinet, is a reminder of how dangerous it can be to voice one’s opinion in violence-riddled Pakistan. Bhatti was a liberal who spoke often against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and their narrow-minded application.

His murder comes just weeks after the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, another prominent moderate. Both men were targeted by Islamic extremists because of their calls to reform the blasphemy laws. The purpose of their murders — besides depriving moderates of some of their most courageous leaders — is to frighten moderates and minorities into silence and submission.

What Salman Taseer’s assassination could mean for Pakistan

Experts believe the outpouring of praise for the killer of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab who was slain by his own security detail in Islamabad on Tuesday, reflects deep support for religious intolerance and will have a chilling effect on reform-minded public figures.

“It’s highly dangerous for these religious scholars to say things that do not fit into the legal context of [an] issue. Are they saying Taseer was guilty of blasphemy simply by criticizing a law? In that case, hundreds of thousands are guilty. This is a clear incitement to violence,” says Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine and an expert on Islamist groups.

Pakistan’s Bhutto assassinated – World news – South and Central …

NAUDERO, Pakistan – The body of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto arrived in her family village for burial on Friday, hours after her assassination plunged the nuclear-armed country into one of the worst crises in its 60-year history.

Enraged crowds rioted across Pakistan and hopes for democracy hung by a thread after the former prime minister was gunned down as she waved to supporters from the sunroof of her armored vehicle.

The death of President Pervez Musharraf’s most powerful opponent threw the nation into chaos just 12 days before elections and threatened its already unsteady role as a key fighter against Islamic terror.

A cadre of military leaders manipulate and orchestrate civilian fanatics to methodically murder and intimidate civilian officials and radicalize the larger society, where have we seen this before? Oh, yes:

Pakistan is a Muslim version of 1930’s Japan.

US policy has hitched itself to a dangerously evolving and increasingly Fascist leadership class in Pakistan that is steadily veering away from any pretense of civilized conduct or partnership with the US, reifying a witch’s brew of Islamist extremism, militarism and anti-Indian and anti-American nationalism.  We need to disengage from and de-fund this monstrosity that bends most of it’s efforts against our interests and values. 

Pakistan is a strategic black hole of an “ally” that is going to blow up in our face someday.


Thursday, February 24th, 2011

We have been hearing a great deal about the “leaderless” Libyan resistance to Gaddafi. To a lesser degree, we heard similar things about Egypt when protestors failed to coalesce behind Elbareidi as Egypt’s national savior, but it was muted, perhaps due to the prominence of Wael Ghonim, an influential figure to whom western reporters and audencies could relate. Ghonim, however, was not a “leader” in the same sense as say, Nehru, Walesa or Yeltsin.

Are these revolts really of a different political character or do their “leaders” in this panopticonic global environment just have the sense to stay the hell out of sight?

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