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Maras: the Chechens on our doorstep


The crime scene itself was another story. The body was found on July 17, 2003, by a fisherman and his son. It was badly decomposed, lying contorted in the underbrush near a brier patch on the west bank... The age, sex and race of the victim were difficult to determine, but the body appeared to be that of a young woman. Her throat had been slashed so violently that her head was almost completely severed.

Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan you may assume, a victim of terrorism. No, it was Shenandoah County, Virginia, and the victim was a teenage Latina, age 17, a federal witness against a Salvadorian street gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

While US police departments have identified Latin gangs as a top crime problem, they have not identified them as a potential terrorist problem. Readers of my private list can attest that I called the threat of Muslim terrorism years before the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. I now make another forecast that the maras, Central American and Mexican gang members named after a species of aggressive swarming ants, are the Chechens on America's doorstep, only a step or so away from wreaking the same havoc within the US that the Chechens visit seemingly at will with equal ferocity within Russia and CIS.

Traditionally a function of immigration and labor-migration patterns, gangs "have been a fixture of urban life in the United States for more than 150 years, making their presence known in inner-city ghettos and poor immigrant neighborhoods ever since the Irish settled the Five Points district of New York."

If you live in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, you are already aware of the effects of some 70,000 to 100,000 gang members that saw neighborhoods "plundered by violent turf wars waged by volatile young men armed with machetes and homemade pipe guns" and has "spread like a scourge across Central America, Mexico and the United States, setting off a catastrophic crime wave that has turned dirt-poor neighborhoods into combat zones [eliciting] an equally virulent crackdown that has left thousands of gang members dead, in jail or [fleeing north to the US], moving with and preying on the waves of illegal migrants who travel to the United States."

These gangs are now well ensconced in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC, driving crime in those areas and now going rural as hillbangers where law enforcement is weak. Metropolitan Los Angeles "remains the world capital of street gangs, with an estimated 700 different cliques and more than 110,000 gang members," accounting for half of all homicides. The FBI believes MS-13 to be "active in 31 states in the United States, from Alaska to Oklahoma, the Carolinas to Colorado, [with] thousands of members in Honduras and El Salvador," engaged in drug trafficking, extortion, prostitution, and other criminal activities.

This is large scale, ruthlessly enforced, organized criminal enterprise that predates Hispanic immigrants in industries such as food-processing. Honduras and El Salvador call the maras "as big a threat to national security as terrorism is to the United States." I submit that only a subtle shift, either internally driven or externally paid, is required to move them directly into terrorism.

In While we're looking the other way -- tunnels? I've asked whether terrorists could, for a price, be permitted to smuggle weapons, components, and personnel into the US. If illicit drugs and aliens can be brought across, then terrorists or WMD components can also come across. I debate with colleagues as to whether drogistas would compromise a million dollar asset and its lifecycle revenue for a one-shot 'rental,' when terrorists could simply not identify themselves or their cargo and so pass through as one more illegal alien. The maras appear to sit as a extremely violent, less restrained middle band between those who are their clients and targets, and the upscale drug lords. I can see maras either being paid to make mischief or forming an alliance for criminal purposes. I see many parallels in their growth to the early growth of what became Chechen terrorism.

I do not expect the maras situation to improve as the law enforcement tools on offer mimic that of terrorism, covert and overt military force, without the programs that address the social and economic forces that create the draw to gangs. The problem is already so great in Central America that states are reviving conventional military strength and counterinsurgency strategies along with extralegal paramilitary and vigilante enforcement, while adopting zero-tolerance laws that bypass rules of due process. Mechanisms once directed at leftists and political dissidents are now directed at gang members.

The largest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18, began in Los Angeles in the 1970s as support networks and social clubs for refugees and immigrants, turning into gangs, competitors, and then war whereupon the US deported them in mass to their home countries. While the US "immigration hammer" is now seen as having an effect against maras such as Mara Salvatrucha that are primarily led by foreign-born members (a US deportation is often used to justify a prison sentence), what will happen as US born members began to rise? The ability of the US to deport will be curtailed as will the gratis grounds for local incarceration. I see future native-born maras as being much more acclimatized to the US, more effective yet harder to excise. I see Central American states stepping up the number of desaparecidos and returning to old habits. If the transborder threat is sufficient, I can see the kinds of enemy combatant strictures being used against gang members.

Shuttling Between Nations, Latino Gangs Confound the Law
By Ginger Thompson
New York Times
September 26, 2004

By Matthew Brzezinski
New York Times
August 15, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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Not the Neocon vision of Iraqi democracy and civil society


I am most curious as to the veracity of a July-August 2004 survey on Iraqi political attitudes, i.e., I am not contesting the honesty of the interviewers but their ability to craft a legitimate cross cultural survey that a foreign and Iraqi poller can ask of Iraqi citizens sensitized to the powers of the state, wary of the possibility of reprisal, and who might presumably know the desired answer (such as how good is Allawi doing -- and who wants to speak poorly of a former Ba’athist strongman).

While it is commendable that interviews were conducted across all 18 governorates of Iraq, I am astonished that the surveyors could, in a Muslim country that is essentially patriarchal, reach a near male-female balance of respondents -- and of which "housewives" accounted for more than a third of total respondents. In a country where merely looking at a woman in her home is a travesty, much less interviewing her without a male present, would be a remarkable accomplishment.

The survey was carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies (IACSS), an indigenous Iraqi polling firm. The IRI is an NPO founded in 1983 after Ronald Reagan's 1982 Westminster speech noting that "we must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings." I think that it is fair to say that IRI now draws a more narrow interpretation of its mission as a Republican, rather than a Democratic, prerogative.

I would be interested in the weighting that was said to be necessary to "more accurately breakdown poll results by governorate, religion and ethnic group" as well as the calculus of the margin of error.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page,, would have readers believe that "the people of Iraq are already looking forward to the opportunity of electing their own government [that more] than 77% of respondents feel that "regular, fair elections" would be the most important political right for the Iraqi people and 58% feel that democracy in Iraq is likely to succeed [and] above 75% felt that the elections would reflect the will of the Iraqi people."

Taking my own turn at divining the entrails of the Iraqi goat, factored by my own experience in the Middle East, I see a very different response, a polity at odds with a Neocon vision:

Form of government

  • An overwhelming majority, some 70 %, want Islam and the Shari’a code as "the sole basis for all laws and legislation" in a new constitution, and want to "ensure the Islamic identity of Iraq."
  • Religious and patriotic top the kinds of political parties that respondents wish to support. Desirable candidates should be pragmatic, traditional, and definitely religious.
  • They want one party -- which they had for thirty years before the second Gulf War -- and its near second is a few parties.
  • A strong Baghdadi central government leads a Baghdadi government comprising regional, tribal, and sectarian representatives. Both dwarf any delegation of powers. Kurds take note.
  • Religious persons, university professors, and party leaders are the predominate choices for candidates. Dissidents against the regime and former exiles get short shrift.
  • Current political parties (about a hundred now) are divisive, represent too narrow a spectrum, have too many points of disagreement, and should form coalitions.

Civil society

  • The respondents understandably want order and stability in which the four most personal, critical issues are crime, unemployment, infrastructure, and CF/CNF (coalition forces). All four precede terrorism. Corruption and federalism, interestingly, are at the bottom.
  • Infrastructure rebuilding is very personal: in order, electricity, potable water, sanitation, roads, and oil transport. "Large public works programs" are the desired mechanism, not private enterprise.
  • The leanings of the respondents are decidedly "socialist" in their feeling that the government is overwhelmingly responsible (three to one) for citizens’ welfare. While wealth is "the right of every person" and the state "must protect that right" there is an equal or larger sector that overwhelmingly feel that it s the role of the State to create that wealth and to "fairly and equally divided among the public by the State."

Frontline states

  • Frontline states have a negative influence on Iraqi politics, with Syria the most balanced followed by Jordan. Iran, Kuwait, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have the most negative effect.

Noted in passing

  • TV's lock as an information mechanism is reflected in TV ads dwarfing all other means of the preferred choice for a political party to contact citizen. The power of al Jazeera will rise whereas the US sponsored al Hurra will stall.
  • An overwhelming majority of respondents would not donate money to help a party or candidate that they supported.

I suspect that this is not the democracy that the Administration and Neocons had in mind. If the security situation continues to deteriorate, I would expect democracy as we know it to recede as Iraqis look to anyone who can wrest back stability.

Political Attitudes Survey of the Iraqi Electorate
July 24
August 2, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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Sidebar on Albert Mehrabian in Beheadings as ascendant psywar


While the focus on Albert Mehrabian in Beheadings as ascendant psywar against the periphery of the coalition supply chain was for his Pleasure-Arousal-Dominance (PAD) Emotion Model, Mehrabian is best misremembered for the actions of amateurs who took from context his very narrow study addressing the situation "in which a listener is analyzing a speaker's general attitude towards that listener (positive, negative, or neutral)… the parties had no prior acquaintance [and] no context for their discussion."

A comment in this 1967 research noted, "The combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects — with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively." (Albert Mehrabian and Susan R. Ferris, "Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels." Journal of Consulting Psychology 31 (1967): 248-252. )

That was twisted out of context into the generalized urban legend implication that in "face-to-face conversation, 38% of communication is inflection and tone of voice, 55% is facial expression, and only 7% is based on what you actually say." Yes, there is influence from non-verbal cues that combine into a visual, verbal, and vocal whole, but not at these lopsided percentages. (If those numbers were true, how could a phone call or a low bandwidth teleconference make any progress?)

On the contrary, I have opined, since the days of CompuServe forums long before the Web, that if you give me six months of online forum traffic to watch how an individual presents positions/opinions, develops their assumptions and conditions, engages dissent, defends his or her logic, refrains or engages in "flaming," and how he or she concludes a discussion, I can make a valid judgment of that person, sight unseen. I am actually stripped of the distractions that would lead me astray and left with the person's thinking.

And as people are generally far less restrained in 'remote print' discussions than in face-to-face encounters, good behavior in online conditions is a good indication of their personality and performance overall. This condition applies doubly to forum moderators for as Lord Acton observed "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Years ago as a moderator, I was pestered by a twit with whom I ended a tedious exchange with the comment that I'd engage him in a duel of wits but I do not fight unarmed men. A snappy riposte, yes, but one which I still regret as it was unfair given our unequal circumstances.

Every referral I have made in this online manner has worked whereas some done in the traditional manner have not. I am still working with colleagues that I "met" online a decade ago and have yet to meet in person, yet am even more certain in making a referral if the occasion arose.

Kill that 7% urban legend whenever you hear it as it is used as the false premise for far too many "training" efforts.

Gordon Housworth

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Beheadings as ascendant psywar against the periphery of the coalition supply chain


If the resolve of US forces are presumed unshakable, three reasons are on offer for the growing volume of beheadings accompanied by rising video production values:

  1. Frighten American and other foreign nongovernmental groups and civilian contractors -- truck drivers and barbers just as much as translators and security personnel -- that complete the extended supply chain that supports US operations in country
  2. Fuel recruitment by portraying jihadists as defenders of the faith
  3. Aid power struggles among jihadists, e.g., al-Zarqawi has never sworn allegiance to bin Laden and runs an independent operation

Comments such as those of Brigitte Nacos at Columbia University are at best insufficient to plumb the visceral, growing impact of these beheadings, i.e., "Terrorism, as I see it, is communications. Without the media communicating what they want to say, terrorism doesn't really make sense." [Note: the next three links take the reader to the individual videos.] While Nick Berg was decapitated on screen, much of the event was indistinct and the camera did not zoom in as it did with the killing of Eugene Armstrong, presenting the viewer with a sustained full-screen visual with high audio that captures every nuance of the response of the victim's body. It is not a sound like any other; it is unmistakable and unforgettable. Of the twelve executed Nepalese drivers, one was beheaded while the others were tossed alive into a pit, singly or in pairs, head-shot, then all laid out as so many sides of beef. Its protracted nature transcended any semblance of a military operation.

I submit that this is intended to go beyond mere communication and into the best of asymmetrical psywar ops by a small group designed to cow, even if indirectly, the actions of a larger force by aiming at its more vulnerable elements.  It is designed to demonstrate absolute dominance on the part of the jihadists while instilling submissiveness on the part of the Iraqi and coalition personnel, and for that I turn to Albert Mehrabian.

Mehrabian developed the Pleasure-Arousal-Dominance (PAD) Emotion Model to describe emotions through a general three-dimensional framework for describing emotions that included Pleasure-Displeasure, Arousal-Nonarousal, and Dominance-Submissiveness plus eight major categories of emotion (exuberant, bored, relaxed, anxious, dependent, disdainful, docile, hostile).

Mehrabian had long done research in nonverbal communication in an attempt to address the "complexity and diversity of nonverbal cues, referents or meanings (e.g., inferences of emotions and attitudes of another based on the other's nonverbal acts) rather than symbols or discrete behaviors (e.g., movements, postures, voice quality)" of communication. Mehrabian discovered that his "coding rules (i.e., relations among symbols, on one hand, and referents, on the other) in nonverbal communication" mapped to the Evaluation, Activity, and Potency factors of the semantic differential model of Osgood et al. Thus Pleasure-Displeasure was the positive emotional correlate of Evaluation, Arousal-Nonarousal the positive emotional correlate of stimulus Activity, and Dominance-Submissiveness the negative emotional correlate of stimulus Potency. Non-verbal aligned with verbal.

"Pleasure-displeasure" distinguishes the positive-negative affective quality of emotional states, "arousal-nonarousal" refers to a combination of physical activity and mental alertness, and "dominance-submissiveness" is defined in terms of control versus lack of control. In PAD space, angry is (-.51, .59, .25) or "a highly unpleasant, highly aroused, and moderately dominant emotional state." Violent extends each axis to (-.50, .62, .38).

To my limited knowledge, most, if not all, PAD research has been on English speakers and, thus, I presume an assumption of literacy. Before proceeding, I suggest readers look at my earlier The media-driven perception void grows between Americans and Arabs for the basics, in part:

When you are raised near Mexico, and travel the third world, you are mindful that the 'gruesome and sensational' to an American readership are the informative norms of many other countries.

To the illiterate and uneducated who often vote their party on a recognized symbol, or for many for whom the wages of work in Iraq are otherwise irresistible, I believe that the jihadist dominance-submission goals of the these images are less directed at the US -- whose news media usually filter out such images -- than at the groups on the margin -- whose media usually print such images in detail. I fell that all three reasons are complementary and all are at play. I can only expect their occurrence to rise.

For Police Recruits, Risk Is Constant Companion
By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post
September 27, 2004

Why Terrorists Decapitate
Friday, September 24, 2004
Associated Press

Beheading video seen as war tactic
Terrorists attacking with grisly images, media experts say
Matthew B. Stannard
San Francisco Chronicle
May 13, 2004

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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"Congregation for Propagating the Faith" to agitprop to oppo research; four centuries of manipulating public opinion, foreign and domestic


Such manipulation has, of course, a far greater span and has worn many masks, e.g., the work of Livy were considered masterpieces of Roman state propaganda. In our era, the codification of "that which ought to be spread" got underway in earnest with Roman Catholic "pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries." Propaganda fide for short, was not originally intended to refer to misleading information. It entered secular space about WW I, turning pejorative between the wars.

Scientific propaganda rose in the US with Walter Lippman, journalist, and Edward Bernays, psychologist, who proceeded to create intense anti-German sentiment in favor of joining the British in WW I. Everyone, from public relations to Goebbels, took notice. Whereas English used a single term propaganda, the Russian Bolsheviks distinguished propaganda ("dissemination of revolutionary ideas, teachings of Marxism, and basic economical knowledge, theoretical and factual") from agitation ("forming public opinion and stirring up political unrest").

Social psychology offers the means to create logical fallacies that are persuasive, yet false. "Information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these propaganda messages is a necessary prerequisite to studying the methods by which those messages are spread." Readers will recognize this stout list globally, nationally, and locally:

  • Appeal to fear
  • Appeal to authority
  • Bandwagon
  • Obtain disapproval
  • Glittering generalities
  • Rationalization
  • Intentional vagueness
  • Transfer
  • Oversimplification
  • Common man/"plain folks" approach
  • Testimonial/damaging quotation
  • Stereotyping or Labeling
  • Scapegoating
  • Virtue words
  • Slogans

My concern that a US electorate could withstand such tools was palpable in Imperial Rome became Italy; de Tocqueville's America becomes what?, a landscape that appears to struggle under:

  • Arbitrary electoral outcomes carried by "slogans, misinformation, "fire alarms," "October surprises," random personal associations, and "gotchas.""
  • Democracies as oligarchies with a populist face in which competing elites hold sway.
  • Popular use of shortcuts, or "low-information rationality," to reach judgments about political candidates.

Rising in this environment is a sophisticated blend of tools called opposition research or "oppo" for short. A BBC Panorama documentary filmed in 2000 but never aired in the US described the skill of Republican researchers who bested all comers (Democrats included) in discrediting Al Gore. The transcript is worth the read.

An interesting recognition of, and use of, oppo research in deflecting Tim Russert's Meet the Press, noted that "Russert frustrates the candidates by knowing their positions on issues better than they do" and then lays out five rules that I must say are more practiced by Fox news anchors:

  1. Prepare for a Hostile Interrogation
  2. Anticipate Russert's Research
  3. Put Russert on the Defensive
  4. If That Doesn't Work, Concede the Point. Then Make Yours
  5. Interrupt Him. Interrupt Again. And Again

Democrats are waking up to Republican success. Rob Stein, a Democratic adviser, "wanted Democrats to know what they were up against, [wanted] them to stop thinking about politics only as a succession of elections [,to] start making long-term investments in their political ideas [and see that] the era of the all-powerful party was coming to an end, and political innovation [would] come from private-sector pioneers who were willing to take risks." Stein began to make the rounds with a short "presentation that laid out [in a] series of diagrams a ninth-grader could understand, how conservatives, over a period of 30 years, had managed to build a ''message machine'' that today spends more than $300 million annually to promote its agenda." Stein presents a "capacity gap" between the conservative and liberal infrastructures, details how conservative contributions flow to a web of think tanks, advocacy groups, media, and how the Leadership Institute trains young conservatives. One listener remarked, ''Man, that's all it took to buy the country?''

Expect a sophisticated, partisan no-holds-barred contest more among equals in 2008.

Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
NY Times
July 25, 2004

Digging the Dirt October 22 2000
Peter Marshall
BBC, 20 October, 2000 UK

Gordon Housworth

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Invisible reallocation of supply chain vendors based on perceived threat to buyers


A satisfied customer is not the same thing as a loyal customer. Walker Information, a 65-year-old firm that tracks customer loyalty, has tried to draw the distinction and today is releasing the results of a survey that determines which IT companies engender the most loyalty. The results... show a correlation between customer loyalty and financial performance [where] brands that scored high in customer loyalty had higher operating-profit margins, aggregated over three years, compared with negative profit margins for what the company calls the "loyalty laggards." Walker evaluated more than 50 brands in five categories: software, services, networking, servers and workstations, and storage systems.

Walker arrives at its rankings through detailed interviews that charted buyers' feelings on everything from product quality to customer service and post-sales support. Of all the IT buyers interviewed for the report, only 44 percent said they feel loyal to a majority of their suppliers, 30 percent feel "trapped" by at least some of their vendors, and almost 25 percent are actively looking to swap their IT providers for somebody different.

I wonder how this low loyalty to IT vendors, to the point of buyers feeling "trapped" by their current relationship with certain suppliers, transfers beyond the IT sector into the wider corporate supply chain.

It has been my experience that while many industrial firms have made a strategic IT commitment to the likes of Microsoft or Cisco in volume purchases that significantly lower the per seat product cost, they exhibit a very different -- lower and more transient -- loyalty to the suppliers in their product supply chains.

Based upon our work in the automotive sector, we can say that OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) -- or vehicle manufacturers -- in this relentlessly cost sensitive sector have less than rigid loyalty to suppliers and certainly feel "hostage" to certain suppliers, especially those suppliers who dominate the market in a specific part/subsystem or even a high percentage of overall industry production to all OEMs. OEMs are reacting by reallocating their part production awards to other than the industry leader, irrespective of that supplier's ability to provide a technically and financially acceptable component.

This does not mean that OEMs will award business to firms with substandard performance, quality, and robustness, but rather that they will select among a group of suppliers capable of providing a peer level of performance in order to reduce the dominance of particular suppliers in critical market subsystems. I hasten to add that "critical" may be based upon internal OEM criteria not available to the supplier who would otherwise presume that they have the business based upon being the incumbent supplier offering a competitive cost and functional bid for a subsequent model year.

Companies were then grouped into three categories: loyalty leaders, loyalty limbo and loyalty laggards.

Were I an automotive supplier, I would launch an immediate, sustained competitive tracking of all my competitors' current and forecast business with all OEMs, my competitors' percentage of business with each OEM, and of the buyers' opinions at each OEM of my firm in order to see which supplier was most likely to be given new business -- either at my expense if I am leader, or to gain a larger share if I am a new entrant or minority provider.

Also, I would be sensitive to my quarterly/annual profit announcements which, on one hand, are necessary to attract equity funding, but, on the other hand, draw the quiet rage of OEM personnel who feel that certain suppliers are making more money pro rata than they are. There is always a latent, "I am larger, I am the buyer, and due more deference" attitude on the part of the OEMs, but it is never more virulent than at the times of high profit announcements by suppliers or a supplier's refusal to lower prices. This reaction is especially apparent when the OEMs are under severe market pressure.

a company is setting a low bar for itself if it is measured only by customer satisfaction. "If you ask people if they're satisfied [with their provider], most would say, 'Yeah, sure, I'm satisfied.' But if you ask them would they buy again, increase their purchases [from that provider] or recommend them, that's a different story."

Any automotive supplier that is unaware that his major OEM customers are watching his firm's ability to prejudice or restrain an OEM's flexibility and profitability, or is not showing due deference to the OEM, or in some way placating the OEM with accelerated R&D, service, et al, is naive and can suffer in future bidding.

If this tenuous level of loyalty extends beyond the automotive industry into other equally cost sensitive markets able to make vendor selections from among a group of similarly able suppliers, it could be a contributor to OEM-supplier strife, outsourcing (to low cost but not low risk locations), or other supply chain dysfunctions.

Who do you love?
September 20, 2004: 1:34 PM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica

IBM Tops IT Loyalty Survey
Lisa DiCarlo, 09.20.04, 12:01 AM ET

Loyalty study zeroes in on tech stalwarts
By Matt Hines
September 19, 2004, 12:01 AM PT

Gordon Housworth

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Overcoming a Muslim cultural view that can describe Saddam's capture as "The hero fell yesterday"



While not the only Arab observer to call upon Arabs to examine their own culture and cease blaming external forces for Arab misfortunes, Abdelrahman al-Rashid, formerly editor in chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, and now managing director of the satellite channel al-Arabiya, made what I agree was a scathing attack on Muslim clerics who justify the killing of the innocent in the name of jihad. In a Beslan hostage editorial, al-Rashid wrote:

It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims… We [Muslims] cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise… An innocent and benevolent religion... has been turned into a global message of hate and a universal war cry… A man of [Yousef al-Qaradawi's] advanced age incites young men to kill civilians, while his two daughters are studying under the protection of British security in the "infidel" United Kingdom."

Given that al-Rashid had singled out al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric whose opinions air regularly on al-Jazeera, as a hypocrite, and that separation of church and state are non-existent in Muslim countries, I had held my breath under the assumption that the response of the Arab street would be binary, either to demand a fatwa for his head on a pike or to ignore him, again. Over the next week I looked for reaction (from both English sources and from the likes of Arabic & Regional Media Review translations from UNAMI (UN Assistance Mission for Iraq), but there was nothing, only mirrors of the original text.

But then Al-Rashid is the one Arab observer that dissected Arab commentary over the dustup over mutual targeting between Israel and Iran and said that Iran will use its nuclear weapons against Arab states rather than Israel:

Iran's history does not support the view that the weapons it is amassing are for fighting Israel. [After listing Iranian confrontations with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE, and Qatar, Al-Rashid] concluded that Iran's presumed nuclear capability was aimed at targeting neighbouring countries, basing his assumption on the fact that there has never been a single clash between Israel and Iran. Iran does not share borders with Israel and has had no direct conflict with it. It supports forces that are against Israel although its weaponry cannot be sent to these parties. "Then who is at the receiving end of these [Iranian] sophisticated weapons? There is only one logical answer: [Arab] neighbouring countries."

The Economist notes that "ordinary Muslims find themselves confronted with increasingly fierce claims for possession of their faith [in which] rival narratives have emerged at either end of the extremely broad Muslim spectrum." Offsetting al-Rashid, "The spokesman for a jihadist group in Iraq dissents. Wherever you cast your eye,… you find only one truth, which is that infidels are slaying Muslims "in every way, in every land, and with overspilling hatred":

jihadists voice the conviction that sympathy for Muslim causes never existed in the first place. Islam, they say, is so imperilled that fighting for its survival is not merely right, but a sublime duty. And so vicious are its enemies that any means may be used to deter them, the more shockingly cruel, the more effective. Ultimately, they believe, Islam will triumph only if all foreign influence is chased from a vast, unified Islamic state.

The "puzzle" to non-Muslims is how Muslims can exclusively focus on Muslim injury yet remain oblivious to their extremist members, but that view appears in the most controlled, moderately western state-owned organs. Within 48-hours Egypt's daily Al Ahram, "relegated to inside pages the brutal massacre of 12 Nepalese kitchen workers by Iraqi guerrillas, who claimed to be "executing God's judgment" against "Buddhist invaders" [while setting to front page] that rioters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, had attacked a mosque—but did not explain what they were angry about."

What I do not see is the claim that "the sheer nastiness of jihadist violence has begun to generate a powerful groundswell of angry Muslim opposition… the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan provoked a chorus of condemnation [not only against terrorism] but also against the clerics whose extremist interpretations support that terrorism."

I am waiting for the answer to an al Awsat article asking why have we not heard a call of fatwa against bin Laden when Salman Rushdie can be condemned for a novel. Egypt's weekly Rose al-Yusef; said that "our fear of speaking out has become the terrorists' fifth column." If root cause is "a literalist interpretation of Islamic tradition and the Koran" that calls for a "radical reform of religious education and for curbing the power of the religious establishment," we have at least a generation, perhaps two, to effect the change. That will be cheap if it can erase four centuries of accumulated Muslim slights.

Arab journalist attacks radical Islam
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC World Service Arab affairs analyst
Published: 2004/09/07 15:00:25 GMT

The war for Islam's heart
The Economist
Sep 16, 2004

The Arab Press on Saddam Hussein’s Capture
George Ziyad
World Press Review
Dec. 15, 2003

Gordon Housworth

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Black hat meets white hat in the Idaho desert


DHS is creating a Control Systems Center in cooperation with CERT that "involves industry sectors, control system vendors and outside experts. It will focus on five areas: awareness, incident management, standards collaboration, strategic direction and testing. DOE's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) occupies a key role in the effort.

Laurin Dodd, responsible for INEEL's national security programs, observes:

I am confident that there is no system connected to the Internet, either by modem or fixed connection, that can't be hacked into.

Many "many once-isolated systems used to run railroads, pipelines and utilities are now also accessible via the Internet and thus susceptible to sabotage," as "More and more of these things are being connected to the Internet, so they can be monitored at corporate headquarters. It is generally accepted that the August blackout last year could have been caused by that kind of activity."

Steve Schaeffer, of INEEL's cyber security lab, required "about two months before we had enough information to affect the protocol to affect operations" of a General Electric designed system. Schaeffer:

My test was to subvert that guy's system in some manner… If they can dial into the system, guess what, so can I.

An outline for the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Test Bed [SCADA systems are the C2 for critical infrastructure including electric, gas and oil distribution systems, water and sewer systems, and various manufacturing processes] indicates that an integrated SCADA Test Bed will have "links to cyber, wireless/communications and physical INEEL assets, [will] test legacy and contemporary SCADA systems, [will] provide commercial, confidential and secure testing and evaluation areas, [and will] develop a SCADA Outreach Program [to] establish a dedicated training facility [for] intrusion detection, data analysis and advanced protection."

INEEL is an applied engineering laboratory managed by Bechtel National as the lead partner in Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC, the management and operations contractor. INEEL is DOE's lead laboratory for nuclear energy R&D occupying 890-square-miles of the southeast Idaho desert with four mission areas:

  • Energy - core research in nuclear reactor science and technology for next generation reactors
  • Security - threat solutions for population, infrastructure, and environment
  • Science - chemical, engineering, materials, environmental, medical, and biological
  • Environment - safe, legally compliant environmental cleanup

INEEL was established in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station, INEEL was once the site of the world’s largest concentration of nuclear reactors. Fifty-two test reactors, most of them first-of-a-kind, were built and operated, including the US Navy’s first prototype nuclear propulsion plant. Of these, 3 are still operating.

The Snake River Alliance says that of those 52 reactors, "most had meltdowns, either intentionally or unintentionally," and that "from the 50's through the 70's, plutonium-contaminated waste... was buried in shallow unlined pits and trenches [while] high-level liquid waste from reprocessing the Navy's spent nuclear fuel to recover weapons grade uranium was stored in underground tanks... contaminating the soil and groundwater," but then no one's perfect.

This combination of infrastructure growth and protection can come none too soon as over "the next 20 years, electricity demand is expected to increase 40 percent in the United States and 70 percent globally. To ease the impact on global climate, much of this new electricity production is likely to come from nuclear energy, the only existing technology that can generate large amounts of electricity without also emitting greenhouse gases."

INEEL and ANL (Argonne National Laboratory) are leading the US effort to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors:

The first generation was the early prototype reactors of the 1950s and ‘60s. The second was the large commercial power plants built in the 1970s and still operating today. Generation III, developed in the 1990s with evolutionary advances in safety and economics, is being built today, primarily in eastern Asia. Until about 2030, new plants will mainly be Generation III designs. The Generation IV nations [US, UK, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, France, Switzerland, ROK (Republic of Korea), RSA (Republic of South Africa)] plan to develop nuclear energy systems for construction and operation around 2030, when many of the world’s existing nuclear power plants will be at or near the end of their operating lives. To succeed in the international marketplace, "Generation IV technologies [using a closed fuel cycle] will need to provide safe, reliable and economical electricity, while reducing the amount and toxicity of nuclear waste and minimizing the risk of nuclear proliferation.

Add in the geopolitical threats to global energy supplies, and on all accounts we can only wish INEEL good luck.

Hackers Join Homeland Security Effort
By Adam Tanner/Washington Post
09/15/04 7:45 AM PT

New DHS Program Aims to Bolster Security of Computer Control Systems
By Tim Starks, CQ Staff
Aug. 18, 2004 - 7:45 p.m.

Gordon Housworth

Cybersecurity Public  InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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Realism and newsgames merge in the 'zone of dangerous'


"You have this view from the air, and you have this Middle Eastern town, and you have this target. You see civilians walking on the streets, and these little black and white characters that are supposed to be terrorists. [You] can shoot, or not. You may kill some terrorists but there is a catch - you will almost certainly kill innocent civilians too. What happens is when you kill a civilian, you destroy the houses and environment, but then you see people coming by the dead bodies and they start crying. After a while, they transform themselves into terrorists. So, the more you shoot, and the more you destroy, you may kill terrorists, but you will encourage more and more people to become terrorists."

A reporting from Iraq or Afghanistan? No, but rather one of the most realistic games that I have seen -- but not one that makes its weapons realistic, nor its impacts or detonations realistic, but one that mimics current events in a manner that has been described as "a half-breed between political cartoons and games." Newsgames' September 12th is a game you can play without end but cannot win within its constraints.

The step from Newsgames to the three estimates of the July 2004 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, approved by Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the first formal assessment since the October 2002 NIE, is tiny and all too realistic:

  1. Best case, some might say halcyon, scenario: tenuous stability
  2. Middle case scenario: "increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country."
  3. Worst-case scenario: tripartite civil war between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds

Pessimistic is the kindest one can say of the options prepared by the National Intelligence Council led by Robert Hutchings, reporting to DCI, prior to the recent decline of Iraq's security situation. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a study asserting "that Iraq's reconstruction efforts were largely stagnating or regressing, in part because of the deteriorating security situation." The state on the ground has now reached Republican bedrock and they are making their displeasure known, a sea state change in and of itself.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said:

Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration - what I call the 'dancing in the street crowd' - that we just simply will be greeted with open arms. The nonsense of all of that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) said of the overall lack of spending:

It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing. It is now in the zone of dangerous.

The zone of dangerous, indeed, as I cannot see a mechanism on offer either within the current limitations of force projection or offsets that alter Iraqi opinion of, and cooperation towards, either the US or UN. Go here to play September 12th, a newsgame about the day after 11 September. Go here to play Madrid, a newsgame about the 11 March terrorist attacks in Atocha, Madrid, Spain.

When you tire of either, you will know, irrespective of the individual or unit talent on the ground, just a bit of how it is to operate in Iraq within current resources and current limitations.

My current take of the outcome in Iraq is reminiscent of the partition of British India, only more violent, and more of a see-saw of territorial control by the tripartite groups.  The frontline states cannot stand idly by and will intervene. Not the model of democracy that I would have liked to see the US export to the Middle East.

Games blur news and entertainment
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent
Published: 2004/09/16 08:04:46 GMT

U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq's Future
New York Times
September 16, 2004

U.S. seeks to shift funds to bolster Iraq security
David Stout NYT
September 16, 2004
International Herald Tribune

Group Offers Bush Bleak Iraq Assessment
Associated Press
Sep. 16, 2004

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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Were guns, gates, and guards sufficient at Athens and Boston or were they fortunate?


The "unprecedented security" of the 2004 Athens Olympics was both visible and invisible:

[G]uards and soldiers, and gunboats and frogmen patrolling the harbors... a system of 1,250 infrared and high-resolution surveillance cameras mounted on concrete poles. Additional surveillance data was collected from sensors on 12 patrol boats, 4000 vehicles, 9 helicopters, 4 mobile command centers, and a blimp. It wasn't only images; microphones collected conversations, speech-recognition software converted them to text, and then sophisticated pattern-matching software looked for suspicious patterns. 70,000 people were involved in Olympic security, about seven per athlete or one for every 76 spectators.

Supporting this human and machine sensor array was an IT system that:

underpins the admission of athletes, visitors, and other people and handles the logistics of moving athletes around to the various venues in time for posted events in Athens. [To prevent] hijacking of the IT system or any of its components [each] system has at least two cloned backup systems. Even the data center, situated in a top-secret Athens location, has a twin that's remotely located and tasked with protecting the information and information flow even during an earthquake… Intrusion points like USB ports and removable storage drives were eliminated… [E]verything is equipped for anti-virus, firewall, and intrusion-detection functions.

Security command centers were built "that act as a command and control hub for Greek police, fire departments, armed forces, coast guard, and first aid."

Despite this defensive phalanx, a reporter from the UK Sunday Mirror proved otherwise:

First, he got a job as a driver with a British contractor. He provided no references, underwent no formal interview or background check, and was immediately given access to the main stadium. He found that his van was never thoroughly searched, and that he could have brought in anything. He was able to plant three packages that were designed to look like bombs, all of which went undetected during security sweeps. He was able to get within 60 feet of dozens of heads of state during the opening ceremonies.

And in another bit of "feel-good" security:

Where a six-lane road passes the Ikea-style Olympic complex about 15 miles away, there is a line of empty plastic barriers that should be filled with sand but are not, forming a protective layer of Lego blocks for the common folk inside.

And in an example of inconsistent security precautions:

Up a hill, a block from the guarded gate to the Queen Mary 2, a one-lane road traces a bluff overlooking the grand ship. Standing on the hill, with only a chain fence to obstruct the view, you can almost touch the buses full of dignitaries passing below, pick out passengers in the distance and, apparently, take notes on all the security machinations without being bothered.

The Democratic National Convention in Boston forgot to lock down MedFlight 2, which flew to the hospitals adjacent to the Fleet Center and a general "36-mile no-fly zone" around the Fleet Center was useless feel good security as a 7300-pound MedFlight Dauphin II flying over 200 mph with 2000+ pounds of cargo and 350 gallons of fuel would cover "the entire six-mile by six-mile "no-fly zone" in less then 90 seconds." "In fact an attacker in a helicopter located 20 miles away could start its engine, take off, hug the road (fly low on the Interstate) and slam into the Fleet Center before the FAA controllers even knew there was a bird in the air." If the shooter is in motion, i.e., has taken control of the helicopter, target survivability is low. And who in those few seconds would want to shoot down what might be a clearly marked medical flight entering a dense hospital area?

Access to the Fleet Center using dirt-filled dump trucks and Jersey barriers was more feel good security as these trucks are used to haul salt and weight under 25,000 lbs fully loaded and they can be bounced by a "20- or 24-foot-long U-Haul truck filled with drums of water driven at a speed of 30-50+ MPH." And what if the drums had nitrate-diesel fuel instead of water?

Authorities and suppliers in both venues will brag of the outcome, but just because they escaped disaster does not prove that those precautions were valid, cost-effective, or worthy of being replicated elsewhere.

Time will tell, but with all the porosity in these shields, I wonder if we were merely lucky.

Security at the Olympics
by Bruce Schneier
Crypto-Gram Newsletter
September 15, 2004

Athens Security: Seeing Isn't Believing
The New York Times
August 13, 2004

Securing The Games
Rob Brownstein
Electronic Design ED Online ID #8484
August 9, 2004

Gordon Housworth

Cybersecurity Public  InfoT Public  Terrorism Public  


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