Category Archives: Risk and Terror

Hacking government IT systems – the next level of war.

There are increasing media reports of the vulnerability of government IT systems to hackers. While much of the media attention has been to Chinese attacks on systems at the US Pentagon, UK government and German government, we should not be deluded into thinking that this is a one way street. US, UK and German forces also hack Chinese and other government sites, including each other. What is interesting is to learn of the successes of the Chinese hacks. And what we can learn from the ongoing saga is that IT is another “nuclear” type warfare whose end-game has no winner.

As with Dr Strangelove’s saga with a Doomsday device, penetrating each others IT systems to get information, or, more critically, to disable them has one finale – social meltdown. It is the same old story of boys waving sticks at each other in the playground until everyone goes home bruised.

There is only one solution. Everyone learns to play nice. Of course that only happens with trust, which only happens with honesty and fair play. Until we can demonstrate that ourselves, we shouldn’t expect others to set an example. Watch out for the economic and social meltdown caused by a “virtual third world war” … maybe.

Further reading: Beware the Trojan panda concludes “The psychological effect of a cyberattack on America … could be as severe as the weapons of mass destruction.

Terrorist plot in Germany foiled

In early September three men were arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning a “massive” attack on US facilities in the country. Federal prosecutor Monika Harms said the three had trained at camps in Pakistan and procured some 700 kg  of chemicals for explosives. She said the accused had sought to target facilities visited by Americans, such as nightclubs, pubs or airports. German government sources have said they believe at least seven members of the cell are still at large. The suspects, aged 22, 28 and 29, were alleged to be members of the German cell of a group she named as Islamic Jihad Union. Two of the men were German nationals who had converted to Islam, while the third was a Turkish man.
While it is plain that terrorist threats continue to manifest even in our protected neighbourhoods, the profile of the arrested suspects raises questions about our approach.  Firstly, those arrested are not the “al-qaeda” profile, but more closely fit the profile of disgruntled youth that might apply to terrorists of previous eras (eg Baader Meinhoff).  Secondly, the motivation is anti-American, not socialist or anti-capitalist, not pro-Islam; it is angry at a stereotype America portrayed by US administration in Iraq, big companies and Hollywood.  So while “vigilance” is always appropriate, this is another sign that we too must change our ways and make for a more natural world and a less feudal geopolitical landscape.  For example, it is appropriate to be more welcoming of Islam (though no fundamentalist ideal, even Christianity!, is appropriate).

Iraqis want end to occupation more than ever

iraq pollA survey for the BBC, ABC News and NHK of more than 2,000 people across Iraq shows that about 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military “surge” of the past six months. The relative optimism registered in November 2005 has deteriorated to the gloom of this year’s polls.

Between 67% and 70% of the Iraqis polled believe the surge has hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development. Only 29% think things will get better in the next year, compared to 64% two years ago. The number of people wanting coalition forces to leave immediately rose since February’s poll but more than half – 53% – still said they should stay until security improved. It also suggests that nearly 60% see attacks on US-led forces as justified, which rises to 93% among Sunni Muslims compared with 50% for Shia revealing a principal finding of the research – the great divide between the Sunni and Shia communities. While 88% of Sunnis say things are going badly in their lives, 54% of Shia think they are going well.

It is clear that a softer approach is needed and further underlies the rationale for investing in social infrastructure rather than spending on armaments. Iraq needs peace makers not war-mongers.

The report was commissioned with the specific purpose of assessing the effects of the surge as well as tracking longer term trends in Iraq. Iraq Poll September 2007    Full Iraq poll in graphics

Baghdad dividing wall counters peace

Construction of another dividing wall in Baghdad between Shula and Ghazaliya districts causes more division than unity. It is another sign of the primitive knee-jerk thinking of an administration resorting to primitive policy.

The wall is an attempt to separate Sunni and Shia districts. But of course it also separates families, neighbours and communities, it consumes vast resources (and will again when it comes down) and it does nothing to resolve the fundamental problems which are a lack of social infrastructure and jobs. Local residents have demonstrated against it at completion of teh first 2km section, even saying it plays to the objectives of al-qaeda. Like the fence along the US border with Mexico, it is a waste of resources and a distraction from real issues.

US changing policy; will reduce troops in Iraq

Over the past month there has been a definite change in the US administration policy of troop levels in Iraq. The surge is over and political pragmatism underpins troop reductions.

On September 13 Bush said that about 30,000 troops might return home by summer 2008 (pre-surge level), starting with 5,700 by Christmas. Then on 14 September Defence Secretary Robert Gates suggested the current level of more than 160,000 soldiers could be cut to about 100,000 by the end of 2008.

While both Gates and Bush stressed that any reduction in troop levels would be entirely dependent on the success of their mission, it appears that troop reduction is also driven by political pragmatism: high troop levels in Iraq are increasingly unpopular with Americans and Iraq solutions are more dependent on regional multilateral cooperation than soldiers. These statements also come as a White House report (Final Benchmarks Assessment Report)suggested Iraq’s government has made little progress in meeting key military and political benchmarks set by the US.

General Petraeus: Report to Congress 20070910

General Petraeus: Report charts 20070910

Ambassador Crocker: Report to Congress 20070910

Ahmadinejad can’t visit WTC site

It is a shame that several authorities have refused permission to the President of Iran to visit the site of the World Trade Center to pay respects. Ahmadinejad arrives today to address the UN general assembly. Permission to visit Ground Zero was requested of and refused by the police department, the US Secret Service and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

There were plainly people of Iranian extraction, if not nationality, who died in the WTC tragedy. It was a tragedy for humanity as well as New Yorkers. And it is only a spirit of peace and reconciliation which will heal the fear and terror in our world. It is better to open our arms than resort to arms …

US waking up to the reality of Palestine …?

It is surprising to hear US Secretary of State publicly announcing that Palestine must be recognised if peace talks are to make progress. Surprising partly because it is the same person that provided much of the authority for invading Iraq and partly because it is against the wishes of the Israeli propaganda machine which has such a strong US lobby.

Condoleezza Rice said there was no point inviting the Israelis and the Palestinians to the upcoming Middle East peace summit, expected in November, just for show. She noted it must address substantive issues and advance the cause of a Palestinian state. Wouldn’t it be great if this is the start of real progress …?

US-Iran tension increasing

Tension over Iran’s nuclear programme is building. While Iran is obviously behaving badly, they have not been given the kind of out required to encourage more conciliatory behaviour. The US continues to pressure a halt to the nuclear programme but has not responded to Iran’s request for an equal policy (which is not actually written in to any non-proliferation treaty).

The war of words continues to escalate with Iran retaliating to threats with threats. On September 18, General Mohammed Hassan Koussechi responded to American threats in an interview with IRNA news agency: “The Americans are around our country but this does not mean that they are encircling us. They are encircled themselves and are within our range. If the United States is saying that they have identified 2,000 targets in Iran, then what is certain is that it is the Americans who are all around Iran and are equally our targets”. America must set an example of putting down weapons before expecting others (weaker nations) to do the same.

Dr Strangelove showed us that the threat of Doomsday does not work.

Turn Iran from a threat into an opportunity

Jean-Pierre Lehmann eloquently describes the opportunity to include Iran in globalisation which would benefit the world, rather than consuming resources needlessly.  The benefits include participation of the nation with the fifth largest oil reserves, access to a great world civilisation and a balance to fundamentalist culture.  We support his suggestions following:

  • Stop treating Iran as a pariah nation;
  • Recognize and apologize for the abuses committed in the past, especially during and in the decades following the 1953 coup d’état;
  • Engage more non-Western actors in the conflict resolution process in the Middle East, with India potentially playing a key role;
  • Lift all economic sanctions against Iran unconditionally, giving strong encouragement for Western businesses to invest in and trade with Iran;
  • Provide Iranian executives with management education — and encourage Iranian entrepreneurs to engage with Western markets; and
  • Accelerate and intensify Iran’s accession process to the WTO.

If this inclusive approach is not adopted, but rather the aggressive stance of western powers is maintained, the costs of a belligerent middle east will remain and probably increase.  Divisiveness in our interdependent world of today has no benefits.