Tag Archives: terrorism

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root but problems remain

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root, problems remain | Reuters.

(Reuters) – U.S. intelligence agencies will forever be scarred by their failure to connect the dots and detect the September 11 plot, but a decade later efforts to break down barriers to information-sharing are taking root.

Changing a culture of “need-to-know” to “need-to-share” does not come easily in spy circles. Some officials say they worry, a decade later, about a future attack in which it turns out that U.S. spy agencies had clues in their vast vaults of data but did not put them together, or even know they existed.

Yet significant changes, both big and small, have broken down barriers between agencies, smoothed information-sharing and improved coordination, U.S. intelligence experts say.

From issuing a blue badge to everyone working in the sprawling intelligence community to symbolize a common identity, to larger moves of mixing employees from different agencies, the goal is singular — to prevent another attack.

“We’re much further ahead,” David Shedd, Defense Intelligence Agency deputy director, said of the ability to connect the dots compared with 10 years ago. Still, signs of a plot to attack the United States could be missed again.

“My worst fear, and I suspect probably one that would come true, is that in any future would-be or actual attack, God forbid, we will be able to find the dots again somewhere because of simply how much data is collected,” Shedd said.

The political response to the failure to stop the attack was the 2002 creation of the Department of Homeland Security, pulling together 22 agencies to form the third largest U.S. Cabinet department behind the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs.

That was followed by the creation in late 2004 of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee all the spy agencies, as recommended by the bipartisan 9/11 commission.

Previously, the CIA director held a dual role of also overseeing the multitude of intelligence agencies. But in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, policymakers decided that was too big of a job for one person to do effectively.

‘THERE ARE PROBLEMS’

Critics argued then and now that the reforms were the government’s usual response to crises — create more bureaucracy. But others see much-needed change.

“It has been a tremendous improvement,” said Lee Hamilton, who was the 9/11 commission vice chair. “It’s not seamless, there are problems, and we’ve still got a ways to go.”

The 2001 attacks involving airliners hijacked by al Qaeda operatives killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Various U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies had come across bits of information suggesting an impending attack but failed to put the pieces together.

The CIA had information about three of the 19 hijackers at least 20 months before the attacks; the National Security Agency had information linking one of the hijackers with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s network; the CIA knew one hijacker had entered the United States but did not tell the FBI; and an FBI agent warned of suspicious Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons.

Have the reforms made America safer? Officials say yes, and point to the U.S. operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May that demanded coordination among intelligence agencies and the military. But there is an inevitable caveat: no one can guarantee there will never be another attack on U.S. soil.

On Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian man linked to an al Qaeda off-shoot tried unsuccessfully to light explosives sewn into his underwear on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. It turned out U.S. authorities had pockets of information about him.

President Barack Obama used a familiar September 11 phrase to describe the 2009 incident as “a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community.”

Roger Cressey, a former White House National Security Council counterterrorism official, resurrected another September 11 phrase: “It was a failure of imagination.”

The intelligence community had not seen al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based al Qaeda off-shoot, as capable of striking the U.S. homeland. If the “underwear bomber” threat had originated in Pakistan “they would have gone to battle stations immediately,” Cressey said.

Some proposed changes in how authorities would respond to another successful attack still are pending. For example, creation of a common communication system for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel remains tangled up in political wrangling in Congress over how to implement it.

“This is a no-brainer,” Hamilton said. “The first responders at the scene of a disaster ought to be able to talk with one another. They cannot do it today in most jurisdictions.”

Former leaders of the 9/11 commission issued a report card saying nine of its 41 recommendations remain unfinished.

WHERE’S THE POWER?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has experienced growing pains as overseer of the 17 spy agencies, churning through four chiefs in six years.

Tensions over turf, confusion about the DNI’s role, and problems herding agencies with very powerful chiefs of their own all came to a crescendo when retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the third DNI, tried to assert authority over CIA station chiefs, who represent the agency in different countries.

“The position of chief of station is one of the crown jewels of the CIA, and they don’t want anyone playing with their crown jewels,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

After a dust-up with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who now is defense secretary, it was Blair who was sent packing.

“I think the mistake that some have made is to have viewed the DNI and the Director of CIA as an either/or proposition rather than the power of the two working together,” the DIA’s Shedd said in an interview in his office.

“There is a history of where that hasn’t worked so well, I believe it is working much better today,” said Shedd, who has worked at the DNI, CIA and National Security Council.

Intelligence experts say in the current administration, Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan arguably has more power than any of them because he has the president’s ear. It’s a reminder that, bureaucratic reform or no, personalities count in making national security policy.

The improved sharing of secret data has led to yet another set of problems. The deluge of bits and bytes has subjected intelligence analysts to information overload as they try to sift through it all for relevant pieces.

“Our analysts still are spending way too much time on finding the information rather than on the analysis of the information,” Shedd said. “There is just too much data to go find it all.”

The intelligence community wants a system developed that would automatically process information from multiple agencies and then make the connections for the analysts.

But greater inroads into sharing data across agencies does not guarantee that another attack will be averted.

The threat has evolved and officials now are increasingly concerned about a “lone wolf” plot by an individual, not tied to any militant group, that may be more difficult to uncover.

“Those threats will not come to our attention because of an intelligence community intercept,” said John Cohen, a senior Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official.

“They will come to our attention because of an alert police officer, an alert deputy sheriff, an alert store owner, an alert member of the public sees something that is suspicious and reports it,” Cohen said.

One measure of the success of post-9/11 reforms is that a decade later the United States has not had a similar attack.

“Now that could be luck, that could be skill, we don’t really know,” Hamilton said. “But in all likelihood what we have done, including the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the transformation in intelligence and FBI, has certainly been helpful.”

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Will Dunham)

the Democratization of Destruction

Get Ready for the Democratization of Destruction – By Andrew Krepinevich | Foreign Policy.

As Niels Bohr famously observed, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” But we need not be caught entirely unaware by future events. The rapid pace of technological progression, as well as its ongoing diffusion, offer clues as to some of the likely next big things in warfare. Indeed, important military shifts have already been set in motion that will be difficult if not impossible to reverse. Sadly, these developments, combined with others in the economic, geopolitical, and demographic realms, seem likely to make the world a less stable and more dangerous place.

Consider, to start, the U.S. military’s loss of its near monopoly in precision-guided munitions warfare, which it has enjoyed since the Gulf War two decades ago. Today China is fielding precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as other “smart” munitions, in ever greater numbers. They can be used to threaten the few major U.S. bases remaining in the Western Pacific and, increasingly, to target American warships. Like Beijing, Iran is buying into the precision-guided weapons revolution, but at the low end, producing a poor man’s version of China’s capabilities, to include anti-ship cruise missiles and smart anti-ship mines. As these trends play out we could find that by the beginning of the next decade, major parts of the Western Pacific, as well as the Persian Gulf, become no-go zones for the U.S. military: areas where the risks of operating are prohibitively high.

Even nonstate groups are getting into the game. During its war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 relatively inaccurate RAMM projectiles — rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles — into Israel, leading to the evacuation of at least 300,000 Israelis from their homes and causing significant disruption to that country’s economy. Out of these thousands of munitions, only a few drones and anti-ship cruise missiles were guided. But as the proliferation of guided munitions — G-RAMM weapons — continues, irregular warfare will be transformed to the point that the roadside bomb threats that the United States has spent tens of billions of dollars defending against in Iraq and Afghanistan may seem trivial by comparison.

The spread of nuclear weapons to the developing world is equally alarming. If Iran becomes a nuclear power, the pressure on the leading Arab states as well as Turkey to follow suit is likely to prove irresistible. With ballistic-missile flight times between states in the region measured in single-digit minutes, the stability of the global economy’s energy core would be exceedingly fragile.

But the greatest danger of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland will likely come not from nuclear-armed missiles, but from cyberattacks conducted at the speed of light. The United States, which has an advanced civilian cyberinfrastructure but prohibits its military from defending it, will prove a highly attractive target, particularly given that the processes for attributing attacks to their perpetrators are neither swift nor foolproof. Foreign powers may already have prepositioned “logic bombs” — computer code inserted surreptitiously to trigger a future malicious effect — in the U.S. power grid, potentially enabling them to trigger a prolonged and massive future blackout.

As in the cyber realm, the very advances in biotechnology that appear to offer such promise for improving the human condition have the potential to inflict incalculable suffering. For example, “designer” pathogens targeting specific human subgroups or designed to overcome conventional antibiotics and antiviral countermeasures now appear increasingly plausible, giving scientists a power once thought to be the province of science fiction. As in the cyber realm, such advances will rapidly increase the potential destructive power of small groups, a phenomenon that might be characterized as the “democratization of destruction.”

International stability is also increasingly at risk owing to structural weaknesses in the global economic system. Commercial man-made satellites, for instance, offer little, if any, protection against the growing threat of anti-satellite systems, whether ground-based lasers or direct-ascent kinetic-kill vehicles. The Internet was similarly constructed with a benign environment in mind, and the progression toward potential sources of single-point system failure, in the forms of both common software and data repositories like the “cloud,” cannot be discounted.

Then there is the undersea economic infrastructure, primarily located on the world’s continental shelves. It provides a substantial portion of the world’s oil and natural gas, while also hosting a web of cables connecting the global fiber-optic grid. The value of the capital assets on the U.S. continental shelves alone runs into the trillions of dollars. These assets — wellheads, pumping stations, cables, floating platforms — are effectively undefended.

As challenges to the global order increase in scale and shift in form, the means for addressing them are actually declining. The age of austerity is upon us, and it seems likely if not certain that the U.S. military will confront these growing challenges with relatively diminished resources. The Pentagon’s budget is scheduled for $400 billion or more in cuts over the next decade. Europe certainly cannot be counted on to pick up the slack. Nor is it clear whether rising great powers such as Brazil and India will try to fill the void.

With technology advancing so rapidly, might the United States attempt to preserve its military dominance, and international stability, by developing new sources of military advantage? Recently, there have been dramatic innovations in directed energy — lasers and particle beams — that could enable major advances in key mission areas. But there are indications that competitors, China in particular, are keeping pace and may even enjoy an advantage.

The United States has the lead in robotics — for now. While many are aware of the Predator drones used in the war against radical Islamist groups, robots are also appearing in the form of undersea craft and terrestrial mechanical “mules” used to move equipment. But the Pentagon will need to prove better than its rivals at exploiting advances in artificial intelligence to enhance the performance of its unmanned systems. The U.S. military will also need to make its robot crafts stealthier, reduce their vulnerability to more sophisticated rivals than the Taliban, and make their data links more robust in order to fend off efforts to disable them.

The bottom line is that the United States and its allies risk losing their military edge, and new threats to global security are arising faster than they can counter them. Think the current world order is fragile? In the words of the great Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Explosions shake India's financial hub

BBC News – Mumbai: Explosions shake India’s financial hub.

The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan says the explosions happened in the middle of rush hour

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Three near-simultaneous explosions have shaken India’s commercial capital Mumbai (Bombay), police say.

Twenty-one people were killed and 113 injured, said Maharashtra state’s Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan.

He called the explosions, during Mumbai’s busy evening rush-hour, “a co-ordinated attack by terrorists”.

One explosion was reported in the Zaveri Bazaar, another in the Opera House business district and a third in Dadar district in the city centre.

Police sources were reported as saying the explosions were caused by home-made bombs.

The attacks are the deadliest in Mumbai since November 2008 when 10 gunmen launched a three-day co-ordinated raid in which 166 people were killed.

At the scene

Dadar is one of the old areas of Mumbai, in the middle of the city. The blast here happened in a very crowded area with lots of shops and residential buildings.

The blast here was not powerful. Police have said the explosion in Zaveri Bazaar was stronger.

Police say the timing of the blast – 1900 – is significant. This was the height of the evening rush hour – it was designed to cause maximum panic and casualties.

One person asked why Mumbai is always the target of attacks.

However, many of the people gathered here now are merely onlookers curious to see what has happened. People have come from nearby areas to see what is going on.

There is no evidence of real panic here.

But in other parts of the city, the story is grimmer. There is panic and people are rushing back home.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denounced the bombings and appealed to Mumbai residents “to remain calm and show a united face”.

US President Barack Obama strongly condemned the “outrageous” attacks, and offered “support to India’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice”.

High alert

The latest explosions hit the city as workers were making their way home.

The first struck the Zaveri Bazaar at 1854 (1324 GMT), tearing through the famed jewellery market, according to police. A minute later, a second blast hit the busy business district of Opera House, in the south of the city. At 1905, the third bomb exploded in the Dadar area of central Mumbai.

Because the explosions occurred within minutes of each other, “we infer that this was a co-ordinated attack by terrorists”, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters.

Mumbai had been put on a state of high alert and a commando team was standing by, he said. Delhi, the capital, Calcutta and several other cities have also been put on alert.

Forensics teams have been sent from Delhi and Hyderabad to examine the explosion sites.

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The majority of Mumbai’s people live in slums, and millions live on the streets. This cannot make for a very happy place and the city’s ‘resilient spirit’ has now become the cruellest Indian cliche”

The authorities have not yet said who they believe might be behind the explosions and no group has said it carried them out.

In Zaveri Bazaar, witnesses described a motorcycle exploding next to a jewellery shop. Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik said a bomb had been left in an abandoned umbrella.

Photographer Rutavi Mehta told the BBC he was shopping nearby and heard the explosion. He grabbed his camera and ran to the scene.

“I took a couple of photographs. I think they might be too graphic for broadcast,” he said.

“Bodies and limbs were strewn everywhere. People were crying and screaming. The area was packed with shoppers at the time of the blast. A few offered assistance to the blood-soaked victims, while others looked on in a state of shock,” he said.

“It was totally chaos. There were pools of blood everywhere.”

The second and most powerful blast was in the nearby Opera House district. Local media said it was planted inside the two-storey Prasad Chamber building.

Damaged car in Dadar district of Mumbai, India - 13 July 2011 Mumbai has been targeted many times in recent years, most notably in 2008

In the central Dadar district, the bomb tore apart a taxi that was parked next to a bus stop, witnesses told the BBC. It was unclear whether the explosives were planted inside the vehicle or in a nearby electricity meter box.

“I heard a loud explosion. And then I saw people with serious injuries lying in pools of blood,” another person told the Times of India.

An unexploded bomb was also reportedly been found in Dadar.

The choice of locations makes it clear that the blasts were intended to cause maximum casualties, says the BBC’s Soutik Biswas in Delhi.

But footage of one of the blast sites – a ripped-off cover of a bus shelter and a car with its glass shattered – points to a medium-level and possibly crude explosion, adds our correspondent.

According to some reports, the blasts came on the birthday of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 attacks. But court records show his birthday to be in September.

Map of Mumbai

Those attacks, which targeted two high-end hotels, a busy train station, a Jewish centre and other sites frequented by foreigners, were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

Pakistan was quick to condemn the latest explosions, in a statement issued by the foreign ministry.

Peace talks between Pakistan and India have only recently resumed since they were broken off after the 2008 attacks.

Mumbai has been targeted many times in recent years.

As well as the 2008 attacks, co-ordinated blasts on seven of the city’s trains on 11 July 2006 caused massive loss of life. More than 180 people were killed and hundreds wounded in those bombings, which were blamed on Islamist militants.

The city suffered four bomb attacks during 2003, including twin blasts on 25 August 2003 which killed 52 people.

In 1993, 257 people were killed and 700 injured in a series of 12 bomb blasts across the city. The attacks were allegedly ordered by the Muslim-dominated underworld in retaliation for Hindu-Muslim riots.