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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part II

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See Part I for Background and my Ground rules for acquisition.

Results were very successful. Some highlights:

Ability to assemble an R/C craft that could launch conventionally, switch over to GPS autopilot, fly a course either to a target or a race track round trip and allow it to again be taken over by another user for terminal homing or landing. Some small autopilots and telemetry systems will squeeze into a .20 or .40 size sport plane, but anything goes once you reach a .40 or .60 sized trainer, medium sized sailplane, jet, and certainly any 1/4 to 1/3 scale models on up.

Many PC simulators for a variety of fixed wing and rotary wing R/C models.

Nose video cameras that could superimpose imagery over a heads-up cockpit display based on telemetry sent back from the bird. If the ground pilot was properly trained, it was possible to fly something onto the target just like the big boys.

Moderate to large piston engine-aircraft capable of moving substantive payload. In case a reader is thinking of tiny balsa wood items, I found piston engine craft at the larger end of the R/C spectrum at 13 foot wingspan and 70 pounds. On the lighter end, I could find electric helicopters, some of whom could out fly their gas powered competitors. All could, of course, mount video cameras.

Model jet engines producing 30 pounds of thrust from a 6 pound unit.  While there are jet kits, there are also excellent sites such as the United States Radio Controlled Jet Command (USRCJC) whose "sole interest is in flying Radio Controlled models of jet aircraft including those that are turbine-powered, piston engine, and electric ducted fans."

TX-RX (transmit-receive) units for R/C control that used synth (synthesizer) frequency generation so that users can select any frequency on-the-fly within the R/C band - beneficial in an RF confused area such as an urban or industrial area.

Availability of both analog and digital control channels that could respond to voltage, amplitude, pulse variations in order to control and monitor payload release and aircraft performance.

Smoke systems intended for demonstration flying are intriguing as a dispersal mechanism for other agents. Certain smoke pumps use one TX-RX channel to toggle on/off. More investigation is needed but the sprayer function is strong.

Conversations with one producer of high-end CNC machined landing gear systems (all machined from solid stock so as to dispense with weldments and seamed tubing in order to approximate the strength of the forgings of their big brothers), included a story that a military UAV producer had hard-landed a prototype using their gear set and had merely bent the strut back instead of breaking it off. That was one of many examples of superb R/C components that are already being harvested by mainline defense contractors. Dual use indeed.

Summary:

One of the things one learns from cruise missile defense is that merely disabling the warhead or the bird is not enough as the kinetic impact and secondary ignition of remaining fuel is often enough to substantially harm the target. Depending upon the intended use, it might not be necessary to create a conventional warhead for an R/C attack vehicle.

If the intent is to surveil or deliver/spray a payload, then an R/C aircraft can be launched, perform its mission, and subsequently be recovered -- if for no other reason than to forestall discovery of the means of an attack or that an attack had occurred. The cost of the systems is low enough and simple enough that it could be produced in a quantity that would satisfy the redundancy needs of groups like al Qaeda.

Initial results of my one-day field trip and a bit of follow-up research showed that it is feasible for a diligent and reasonably agile individual or small group to create a COTS hunter-killer and surveillance R/C model fleet, a poor man's Predator.

Did I mention R/C boats and submarines?

Follow-on Part III

Gordon Housworth



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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part I

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A field trip to the 50th Annual Toledo Radio Control Exposition on 2 April with the goal of assembling a COTS fleet of attack and surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was a glowing success.

I am not an R/C pilot so I could start clean as would any other reasonably technically inclined individual. My ground rules were:

  • Could pay cash for everything
  • Could buy everything in-country and so not have to bring items across a border
  • Could buy all items in a population-dense environment not immediately likely to be surveilled
  • Could obtain PC-based simulators in order to covertly learn how to pilot either fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft, i.e., before I tried to fly a physical device
  • All essential components were either genuinely plug and play or already available in kitted form
  • Could obtain functional schematics and instructions for all installs/add-ons
  • Ability to install GPS autopilots with ground pilot override
  • Ability to install real-time video cameras and their RF links
  • Ability to install digital camera triggering
  • Ability to carry payloads (and either release, spray, or otherwise distribute the payload)
  • Option for stealth/noise abatement
  • Ability to do it at modest cost in comparison to anything a military unit would field and, labor costs aside, be within al Qaeda's frugal pocket book

Background:

I follow both the UAV and the micro-UAV (MAV or MUAV) segments and have been watching the deployment of what are called "back-able" as in backpack-able small UAVs for the marines and army. I was aware of Yamaha's superb RMAX commercial UAV helicopter, the latest in a series of fine AVs (Autonomous Vehicles) and am familiar with the collaborative work between R&D and computational science groups at NASA Ames Research Center. I was also aware of the PRC's effort to build its own version of the RMAX, called the "air robot."

If any reader is a follower of Japanese technology development, about the best we have is David Kahaner, now at ATIP (Asian Technology Information Program). Kahaner was writing on the control logic for the Yamaha R-50 (predecessor to the RMAX) back in the mid-90s, concluding that it was "An excellent case for "dual usage" technology."

I felt that it was time to see what a COTS assembly would produce as my assumption was that US homeland security might not be thinking asymmetrically as to what aerial threat profiles a perp could produce inside CONUS. (Remember that al Qaeda has had a focus on 'controlling the flight deck' and delivering a payload. The first attempt was converting twin engine passenger craft into 'crop dusters.' Only when that failed did al Qaeda shift to taking control of airliners.)

Results in Part II

Gordon Housworth



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SoCom and Special Forces formally assume spy and intel collection duties

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The assumption of spying and intel collection duties by SoCom and Special Forces has, of course, already started and has interesting effects that have been discussed in sidebar conversations:

(1) As SoCom ops go deeper, both in terms of geography and clandestine relations, their dress will look (already looks) increasingly like irregular soldiers of, say, the Taliban or the Chechens. (The SF soldier in the photo that accompanied this article wore a pawkul, the flat, brown felt cap with a narrow circular brim common to most Afghans, atop more traditional military attire. Look at the Delta folks protecting Paul Bremer. Etc.) When do these US forces lose their military distinction and pass into enemy combatant status?

(2) Use of SoCom/military forces overcomes the reticence of DO civilians to 'get dirty' and live a life of privation. (Rightly or wrongly, Langley and Meade both regarded the various service intelligence arms as 'cheap hired help' during my tenure.) We will get farther "in country," stay longer, and build more realistic relationships. (Fewer glib and erroneous Chalabi-like creations are possible.)

(3) Humint collection goes up. While it is difficult to penetrate terrorist cells, one of the best alternatives is to be close to those that can or that know were they pass or congregate as that makes it easier to interdict or eavesdrop.

(4) We may regain a counterbalance to our overwhelming reliance on "national technical means of collection" that the Church Committee and the subsequent Levi guidelines dismantled. Useful early warning goes up.

(5) Your mileage may vary on the merit of this, but a US administration will not have to submit a "finding" or notification to Congress as is would if it uses DO staffers.

(6) And we will be able to have a lot more folks covertly in-country here and there. Your mileage may again vary, but I would prefer that to large, targetable (both from hostile fire and congress) US troop deployments.

Green Berets take on spy duties
By Rowan Scarborough
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published February 19, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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Increasing the pressure on Spain: new device under track is similar explosive

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Saying that the 12 kilo device was "made of the same type of [Goma 2 Eco] explosives used in last month's Madrid terror bombings" is not the same thing as a marker analysis, so 'same' could instead be 'similar.' Once marker analysis is completed, they will know if it is from the same lot that was stolen by the unemployed miner and sold to the Moroccan "miners."

Saying that "No train was near the site when the bomb was discovered" may be correct but is not meaningful as the device "failed to detonate because it wasn't properly connected." That could indicate that detonation was attempted during a previous train's passage over the device. The fact that it was put under a track often used by high-speed trains strikes at national pride, hits home at all those able to use it, and would presumably cause even greater casualties by virtue of a high speed derailment. (Think of an Atocha-scale blast at high speed. The secondary casualty figures would be substantial.)

The fact that this device was triggered by a 450-foot-long cable and not a cellular phone means that the bad guys were up close to this attempt. As it appears to be a recent placement, it also indicates that more perpetrators are still at large to operate. (Placement was recent due to differential wetness of device and ground.) 

Whoever is actually doing this is intelligently pressuring the Spaniards, already an 'underbelly target' with promises of more attacks against their diplomatic missions in North Africa and the Mediterranean, many of which would be soft targets as well.

Spain Confirms Matchup of Bomb Materials
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
April 3, 2004
Filed at 7:44 a.m. ET

Gordon Housworth



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Missile defense, not terrorism, was Rice's topic for aborted 11 September speech

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I like to say that the hole is as interesting as the donut, perhaps more so in intel terms. The 11 September speech that Condi Rice never gave was on missile defense as the cornerstone of a new US national security strategy.

"The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles."

The mention of terrorism was one of the rubrics of the day, a WMD threat from rogue nations. It made no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.

That focus was an administration constant.  Just four months earlier, in June 2001, the president's five top defense interests in his first speech to NATO heads of state in Brussels were, in order:

  1. Missile defense
  2. NATO's relationship with Russia
  3. Common US-European working relationship
  4. Increased NATO defense spending
  5. NATO's enlargement with former East European countries

Al Qaeda operatives were, at that time, in flight training and final preparations for 11 September.

Rice did give her postponed speech in April 2002, but missile defense was gone. In its place was international terrorism -- the stateless kind.

We should expect more materials to emerge and for them to figure in Rice's questioning under oath before the 9/11 Commission.  Rice is a gifted speaker.  She will need to put those skills to use.

Top Focus Before 9/11 Wasn't on Terrorism
Rice Speech Cited Missile Defense
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2004; Page A01

Gordon Housworth



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Profiling the Amerithrax perpetrator(s)

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The FBI linguistic and pre- and post-offense behavioral assessments of the person responsible for mailing anthrax letters on September 18 and October 9, 2001, paints a picture of a lone male domestic terrorist, a loner with a grudge, or possibly a bioevangelist ("someone with experience in the bioweapons arena who believed the U.S. government and public were oblivious to the magnitude of the potential threat from bioterrorists").

But profiling is an approximating science. I am reminded that the profile in use by the Unabomber Task Force in 1991 was substantially revised years later based on the Unabomber’s writings. While the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was said to have "startling similarities" to the FBI profile at capture (male Caucasian, highly educated, quiet, antisocial, meticulous) there were (had been) significant variances:

Much older (by more than a decade).
Quite unkempt in appearance (assumed to be very neat as well as meticulous).
Underestimated intelligence (revised sharply upwards by the Manifesto).
Modus operandi (Manifesto pointed to non-reliance on, or rejection of, technology).
Residence (Montana as opposed to assumed Northern California).

Perhaps the Amerithrax profile is spot-on this time.  It would appear that a foreign terrorist or multiple terrorists are not being considered at least in the official, unclass press. There is a blizzard of pro and con commentary on this profile, along with claims of investigative bias and discounting of Muslim-related terrorists. I admit to a great curiosity as to the justification of FBI's apparent focus on a single individual.

Renaldo A. Campana, then Unit Chief of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Countermeasures Unit, said at an emerging bio-threat seminar sponsored by GWU and the Potomac Institute on 16 June, 1998:

"The closest I've ever come to biological-chemical issues is when the toilet on the 37th floor gets backed up. So let's keep it in the right kind of perspective. The job of the FBI is really to deal with the crisis when it involves weapons of mass destruction… [What] do you consider to be… the largest and most important threat to the United States today? Please. Who do you think? Foreign-directed terrorist, individual, white extremist, black extremist?... Let me tell you. Let's get back to reality. It isn't the Middle Eastern people. It isn't white supremacists. It is the lone individual, lone unstable individual. That, statistically, from the cases that we have, is the biggest threat right now."

Leave aside how frighteningly wrong that was, even back in 1998, and how clearly unskilled that FBI agents were in dealing with bioagents during the 2001 anthrax investigations. Authorities may have valid reasons for adhering to this profile, but I am still struck by the continued attachment to the domestic loner to the exclusion of all other candidates, foreign and domestic.

And then there is the question as to where did the perp or perps go, why did they stop, and if they didn't stop, why were they deflected and when will he/they strike again?  Richard M. Smith spoke to some of the possible reasons why the anthrax attacks stopped after October 9, 2001:

Fear of capture.
Lapsed access to supply and weaponized production equipment.
Achieved goal in the 2001 attacks.
Failed to achieve goal and is seeking other means of delivery.
Dead after accidental infection.
US anti-terror operations affected ability to conduct future attacks.
Planning for a larger-scale attack.

I am struck by similarities to investigators’ theories over a six-year Unabomber silence: "He'd committed suicide, was serving time for an unrelated charge or was busy perfecting his technique."

I will be one among many following the FBI's progress between now and June/July. If a single individual -- domestic, foreign-resident, or foreigner -- did produce a genuinely world class weaponized anthrax, he will have pulled off a project worthy of a state sponsored anthrax program.

Gordon Housworth



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UK ammonium nitrate fertilizer device

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In reading British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids, once again, we have to be lucky every time and they only occasionally. All eight suspects are British nationals and while no religious affiliation had been released, a press statement did speak to the fact that "[We] in the police service know that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community are law abiding and completely reject all forms of violence."  That is a UK police code phrase for Muslim suspects.

Add fuel oil to a thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate and it is ta redux of the Oklahoma City federal building, the Bali nightclub, and the Istanbul bank blast all over again.  If this group has modeled al Oaeda properly, there will be redundnacy, i.e., additional devices.

It will be interesting to see what security measures enter UK agribusinesses. In the US there are already growing rules for delivery of fertilizer, agrochemicals and fuel to farms, not to mention rules to prevent grain and food supply tampering. (Recreational pharmaceutical production has also added strictures to try to stem items like methamphetamine.)

British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids
By Michael McDonough
Associated Press
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; 6:33 AM

Gordon Housworth



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Don't tug on superman's cape: Underrate Dick Clarke to your peril

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Watching the inside-the-beltway, alpha-interviewer, Tim Russert, question Richard Clarke on Meet the Press this morning, I believe that the administration continues to underrate Clarke to its peril. Russert quoted and then questioned Clarke about a litany of matters that attempted to discredit his skills and motives. Clarke’s pause-less, flawless, mastery of nuance performance matched his 9/11 Commission testimony.

Under direct question from Russert regarding Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s floor comments that Clarke "has told two entirely different stories under oath, " was likely guilty of perjury, and why wouldn’t he renounce any financial gain from the book, Clarke called for even greater release, including both the:

(1) July 2002 classified testimony before a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry, and the
(2) classified 9/11 Commission testimony.

Clarke further lifted the bar by asking that more items be declassified:

(3) 25 January 2001 memo to Condi Rice containing the plan that Clarke had proposed, and which Rice and others say didn’t exist.
(4) 4 September 2001 National Security Directive authored by Clarke.
(5) All of Clarke’s emails to Rice from 20 Jan to 11 September.
(6) All of Rice’s replies to Clarke in the same period.

I am moved to question the current the White House communications and PR plan in this White House, which is to say, perhaps, where is Karen Hughes? She is returning but she also advocated the assault on Clarke.  Given the gaffs and misteps, I wonder who is looking at secondary effects and implications of their actions or lack of action. Richard Clarke, as the article, "The Wonk That Roared," below notes, is the "alpha-bureaucrat."

Clarke went on to cite the opinions of a doyen of the right, Pat Buchanan, on writing a backgrounder to defend an administration, which matches Clarke’s approach precisely.

Clarke dealt with the timing issue with a lockstep chronology from leaving the administration in February 2003 to releasing the NSC-approved text to his publisher in February 2004.

In dealing with Frist’s call to renounce all royalties from the book, Clarke replied that he had not only had plans to donate monies to the victims but also the widows and orphans of the Special ops KIA.

I still find Clarke's arguments arresting to the point that the administration will have to release someone, the leading candidate of which is Condi Rice.  I would think that the administration would try to find a way to co-opt or transcend Clarke rather than continuing to attack him. As the song writer Jim Croce noted:

You don't tug on superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask of the ol' lone ranger
And you don't mess around with ….

I suggest three citations:

The Wonk That Roared
Richard Clarke and the Rise Of the Heroic Bureaucrat
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page D01

Ex-Bush Aide Calls for Testimony on Terrorism to Be Opened
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 28, 2004
Filed at 11:10 a.m. ET

Bush's Efforts to Offset Clarke Stymied
Republicans Say Administration Struggling for Momentum After Ex-Aide's Assertions
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page A23

Gordon Housworth



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Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs

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With the phrase, "they go to school on us," in frequent usage in the 9/11 Commission hearings, why does it come as a surprise to some that al Qaeda would attempt to deploy "near-nuclear effect" FAE (fuel air explosives) and thermobaric weapons. One of my drumbeats is that all technology "has a glide slope to the desktop," i.e., it is only a matter of time before any technology, be it laser printing or thermobarics, is small enough and cheap enough to be widely manufactured and distributed. Yet, it still comes as a surprise to so many, which is, to me, a sure sign of underestimation and our failure to "go to school" on them.

The US used thermobaric devices in March 2002 against al Qaeda caves near Gardez, Afghanistan. The weapons are "conventional" in their materials and so do not have telltale signatures but have near-nuclear effects -- a near perfect terror weapon -- and in the case of FAEs they can be assembled in country (I had manuals for them dating from the 80s from open sources) and they do not have the design challenges -- yet -- of thermobarics. The only surprise is why it would take so long.  See Defense officials defend using new bomb.

While jurists and purists dance on the head of a pin discussing whether a two-stage device (FAE) or single stage (thermobaric) classify as a WMD, i.e., two stages do but one stage does not, it makes no difference to the victim or the terrorist. (But you will be relieved to know that our thermobarics are consistent with the laws of armed conflict and our treaty obligations.) Terrorists will take the path of least resistance and start with homemade FAEs and purchased thermobarics.

If you design your first stage burst and mix properly, any fuel tanker truck becomes an FAE -- and it has the benefit of having a built-in transport means. (It is possible that the Tunisian synagogue blast was a developmental step in that direction.) Should the terrorist be unwilling to build, they can buy on the black market (Soviet devices have been found with rebels in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

FAEs and thermobarics greatly redraft the tactical landscape as truck-barriers would have to have far greater perimeters and defensive strategies become far more complex as these weapons "go around walls." The blast effects are extraordinary, sustained, effective at a greater distance, and consume any breathable oxygen in the confined space and replace it with combustion gases. Lethality is assured.

As I noted in Nov 2001, "If you want to know anything substantive about Soviet tactical military operations, and especially areas of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan, Lester Grau and Ali Jalali are your guys. As we consider digging anyone out of the underground sanctuaries of Afghanistan, be it natural limestone caves, irrigation tunnels, or purpose-made bunkers, it seemed wise to have a primer on the geography and the tools." Grau and Jalali’s "Underground Combat: Stereophonic Blasting, Tunnel Rats, and the Soviet-Afghan War" is still topical in employment. Just add significantly greater blast effects.

Put a thermobaric in a subway, especially an older, single tube system as the London Underground, and the effects would be profound. FYI, if you are doing research on thermobarics, there is a lot of incorrect reporting in 2001-2002 that they are two stage devices.

Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs
New Scientist
09:45 21 March 04
David Hambling

Some experts fear that terrorists are trying to develop thermobaric and fuel-air bombs which can be even more devastating than conventional devices...

The devices use a small charge to generate a cloud of explosive mixed with air. The main explosion is then detonated by a second charge (a fuel-air explosion), or by the explosive reacting spontaneously with air (a thermobaric explosion). The resulting shock wave is not as strong as a conventional blast, but it can do more damage as it is more sustained and, crucially, diminishes far more gradually with distance.

Gordon Housworth



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'Dirty Bomb' worries continue

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I found it most interesting that US fears of a radiological dirty bomb over the previous Christmas-New Years holiday were based not upon specific recent information but upon the belief of US officials that al Qaeda was making every effort to detonate such a device. (Remember that TOPOFF 2 employed a radiological attack on Seattle as one of its two attack scenarios.) Thus a radiological device may or may not have been the primary threat. Our focus on it may or may not have been warranted, but the hall of mirrors only deepens. We must separate 'devices' from means, timing, and symbology. A radiological device is certainly easier to make that a fissile package, but after news reports such as the one below one wonders if al Qaeda will drop the idea for fear of discovery. Perhaps the US is trying to force it to drop the idea instead and so move on to other avenues.

The operative device can still be, or in parallel be, an aircraft. The US is certainly focused on the threat from an aircraft outside the country. Some six Air France cancellations, nearly as many BA cancellations, and a few Mexican flights are evidence of that but is the threat from one or more passengers on board; is the intent to splash the aircraft, dive it into a high value target, deliver a device or device component to the US for combined effect in crashing the plane or for later use, a cover for something else, or some of the above. We and the French are seeking to interview those that did not show up for certain flights. The French report that one individual was thought to have 'a small bomb whose components might get past airport security.'

If we are to believe the unclass ruminations of US intel, al Qaeda is fixated on aircraft, planning to seize inbound aircraft and studying our air traffic system for weaknesses. I suggest that al Qaeda is fixated on large volume explosives, of which an aircraft is one. It is not clear that they are fixated on aircraft per se. Al Qaeda is known for doing the unexpected, for exploiting our weaknesses, attacking that which we overlook. Is al Qaeda attempting to focus our attention on aircraft while it envisions another means of attack. Moving from a domestic flight, where security is presumed good (and I wonder of the truth of that), to an arriving international flight, where security might be less attentive, is certainly a simple adjustment to a proven plan. Given the current US focus on inbound hijacked aircraft, will al Qaeda be put off and move on to something else.

Symbology, timing, and potential casualties have links. The ability to carry off any significant attack on US soil would be a needed symbol of al Qaeda renaissance. The ability to do so in the Christmas to New Years window would have increased the symbology many fold. Public celebrations associated with the holidays would assemble a target rich environment, nearly all soft and highly vulnerable physically and emotionally. An attractive target to be certain. Was that the original target or are they waiting for the stand-down from Orange when chances of success are higher. Was the stand-down timing the original plan or now the fallback plan.

The difficulty in parsing this out is made all the worse by attempting to sift through incomplete intel with some significant portion coming from third party foreign governments who, for their own secrecy needs, are shielding primary sources. It is very hard in such conditions to gage credibility of source and individual datum from source.

Is an attack on US interests still a priority event for al Qaeda, or is it a parallel event to efforts in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, or will it be deferred until al Qaeda can attempt to 'realign' the governing elites of Saudi Arabia (provides oil and a politically stable Arab center) and Pakistan (which already has divertible nukes, is resisting fundamentalist aims, and will ultimately support a US-led attack on al Qaeda strongholds in its northern territories). Some or all of the above.

I do not envy the burden on US intel at the moment.



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