Archive for December, 2011


December 31, 2011

CNN on December 30, 2011, reported that the United States and the United Arab Emirates have signed a deal for a missile-defense system in the Persian Gulf country, the Pentagon said:

The $3.48 billion agreement was signed December 25, according to press secretary George Little.

The vital Strait of Hormuz separates the UAE and Iran. The Obama administration said Iran has been “saber-rattling” over its threat to block the strait.

The pact will deliver two anti-missile batteries, 96 missiles, radars, training and logistics to the UAE, the Pentagon said.

“Acquisition of this critical defense system will bolster the UAE’s air and missile-defense capability and enhance the already robust ballistic missile-defense cooperation between the United States and the UAE,” the Pentagon said.

The two countries “enjoy a strong bilateral defense relationship, driven by common interests in a secure and stable Gulf region,” Little said in a statement.

Raytheon Company said it will provide two radars and services through 2018 to the country. “This $582.5 million contract for the radars is part of the first sale of THAAD missile systems to an international customer,” it said in a statement


December 31, 2011

AP on December 29, 2011, reported on Chinese plans to launch space labs and manned ships and prepare to build space stations over the next five years, according to a plan released that day that shows that the country’s space program is gathering momentum. Excerpts below:

China has said its eventual goals are to have a space station and to put an astronaut on the moon. It has made methodical progress with its ambitious lunar and human spaceflight programs, but its latest five-year plan beginning next year signals an acceleration.

By the end of 2016, China will launch space laboratories, manned spaceships and ship freighters, and make technological preparations for the construction of space stations, according to the white paper setting out China’s space progress and planned missions.

China’s space program has made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in space technology and experience.

The country will continue exploring the moon using probes, start gathering samples of the moon’s surface and “push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun.”

It will use spacecraft to study the properties of black holes and begin monitoring space debris and small near-Earth celestial bodies and build a system to protect spacecraft from debris.

The paper also says China will improve its launch vehicles, improve its communications, broadcasting and meteorological satellites and develop a global satellite navigation system, intended to rival the United States’ dominant global positioning system (GPS) network.

China places great emphasis on the development of its space industry, which is seen as a symbol of national prestige.

In 2003, China became the third country behind the U.S. and Russia to launch a man into space and, five years later, completed a spacewalk. Toward the end of this year, it demonstrated automated docking between its Shenzhou 8 craft and the Tiangong 1 module, which will form part of a future space laboratory.

In 2007, it launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, which orbited the moon, collecting data and a complete map of the moon. Since 2006, China’s Long March rockets have launched 67 times, sending 79 spacecraft into orbit.


December 30, 2011

Wall Street Journal on December 29, 2011, published an editorial on Iran’s Hormuz threat:

So now we know the kind of sanctions that hit Iran’s regime where it really hurts. The U.S. and Europe are at last mustering the gumption to target Iran’s multibillion-dollar oil industry, and almost immediately Tehran is threatening to bring Persian Gulf tankers to a halt.

“If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,” said Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, on Tuesday. On a typical day about 13 tankers carry 15.5 million barrels of oil through the strait, which is about 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.

Admiral Habibollah Sayari, who runs Iran’s navy, added yesterday that “shutting the strait for Iran’s armed forces is really easy—or as we say [in Iran] easier than drinking a glass of water.” Oil prices had surged after an Iranian lawmaker issued a vaguer threat last week, and they kept rising before falling yesterday.

As a military matter, this is mostly bluster. If it struck first, Iran could sink a few ships and do some damage. But Iran is no military match for the U.S. and its allies in the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet both sent that message to Tehran yesterday. “Any disruption,” the Bahrain-based U.S. fleet said in an email, “will not be tolerated.”

Yet the Iranian tantrum is educational. Iran knows that Western leaders fear the economic and political impact of higher oil prices, not least with elections coming in 2012 for President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Iran’s leaders are trying to see if they can intimidate those leaders into backing down. The Western response should be to tighten sanctions further to show such tactics won’t work.

The episode is also a reminder, the latest in a series, of the Iranian regime’s character and intentions. In October, the U.S. said it uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington—also wholly in character for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. This is not a mature and rational actor that can be contained if it gets nuclear weapons. President Obama promised there would be consequences for the assassination plot, but there have been none.

The Hormuz threat is another opportunity to set boundaries on Iran’s rogue behavior. Washington, along with London, Paris and Riyadh, should say plainly that any attempt to close or disrupt traffic through the strait would be considered an act of war that would be met with a military response. That response would be robust and immediate, and it would target Iran’s military and nuclear assets, perhaps even its regime. Iran’s mullahs need to understand that an act of aggression would jeopardize their own survival.

The Hormuz flap should also underscore the strategic damage that would result if Iran does get the bomb. Fortified by a nuclear threat, the mullahs would be more willing to blackmail their neighbors and press for regional dominance. Would the U.S. dare resist Iranian aggression if it meant putting American forces at risk of a nuclear reprisal? Better to act now to stop Iran before we have to answer that terrible question.


December 30, 2011

Fox News on December 29, 2011, published a Reuters report that says the Stuxnet virus that last year damaged Iran’s nuclear program was likely one of at least five cyber weapons developed on a single platform whose roots trace back to 2007, according to new research from Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab. Excerpts below:

Security experts widely believe that the United States and Israel were behind Stuxnet, though the two nations have officially declined to comment on the matter.

A Pentagon spokesman declined comment on Kaspersky’s research, which did not address who was behind Stuxnet.

Stuxnet has already been linked to another virus, the Duqu data-stealing trojan, but Kaspersky’s research suggests the cyber weapons program that targeted Iran may be far more sophisticated than previously known.

Kaspersky’s director of global research & analysis, Costin Raiu, told Reuters that his team has gathered evidence that shows the same platform that was used to build Stuxnet and Duqu was also used to create at least three other pieces of malware.

Raiu said the platform is comprised of a group of compatible software modules designed to fit together, each with different functions. Its developers can build new cyber weapons by simply adding and removing modules.

Kaspersky named the platform “Tilded” because many of the files in Duqu and Stuxnet have names beginning with the tilde symbol “~” and the letter “d.”

Researchers with Kaspersky have not found any new types of malware built on the Tilded platform, Raiu said, but they are fairly certain that they exist because shared components of Stuxnet and Duqu appear to be searching for their kin.

When a machine becomes infected with Duqu or Stuxnet, the shared components on the platform search for two unique registry keys on the PC linked to Duqu and Stuxnet that are then used to load the main piece of malware onto the computer, he said.

Kaspersky recently discovered new shared components that search for at least three other unique registry keys, which suggests that the developers of Stuxnet and Duqu also built at least three other pieces of malware using the same platform, he added.

Those modules handle tasks including delivering the malware to a PC, installing it, communicating with its operators, stealing data and replicating itself.

Makers of anti-virus software including Kaspersky, U.S. firm Symantec Corp and Japan’s Trend Micro Inc have already incorporated technology into their products to protect computers from getting infected with Stuxnet and Duqu.

Yet it would be relatively easy for the developers of those highly sophisticated viruses to create other weapons that can evade detection by those anti-virus programs by the modules in the Tilded platform, he said.

Kaspersky believes that Tilded traces back to at least 2007 because specific code installed by Duqu was compiled from a device running a Windows operating system on August 31, 2007.


December 27, 2011

BBC News reported on December 27, 2011, on renewed violence in the city of Homs as more Arab League observers are due to arrive in Syria. Excerpts below:

At least 13 people died in gunfire and shelling on December 26, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Syria’s main opposition group has urged observers, arriving as part of a deal to try to end the violence gripping the country, to visit the volatile city.

The latest bloodshed is reported to have taken place in the Baba Amr district of Homs, which is reportedly besieged by government forces.
A number of people have been killed in the town by mortar shelling and machine gun fire over the last few days, activists say. It is expected to be one of the first destinations for the Arab observer mission.

BBC says that Homs may well prove to be a test case for the mission in terms of ascertaining whether they truly have unrestricted access and whether there is any peace for them to monitor.

The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, has said it will take about a week to judge whether Syria really is complying with the agreement it signed, under which the observers are to monitor a complete halt to the violence, the withdrawal of armed forces, and the release of all detainees, of whom there are many thousands.

In advance of the observers’ arrival, activists accused the authorities of moving detainees onto military bases – where the observers are not allowed to go – and also of removing hundreds of bodies of killed protesters from the morgue at Homs.

On Sunday, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), the main umbrella group of Assad opponents, urged monitors to go to Homs without delay.

“Since early this morning, the [Homs] neighbourhood of Baba Amr has been under a tight siege and the threat of military invasion by an estimated 4,000 soldiers,” it said, adding that an unknown number of people had been killed and at least 120 injured.

Syria deaths
• More than 5,000 civilians have been killed
• UN denied access to Syria
• Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrian nationals who have fled
• The death toll is compiled as a list of names which the UN cross-references
• Vast majority of casualties were unarmed, but the figure may include armed defectors
• Tally does not include serving members of the security forces
Source: UN’s OHCHR


December 27, 2011

Wall Street Journal on December 27, 2011, reported that Japan’s Cabinet has decided to effectively lift a four-decade self-imposed ban on weapons shipments that has nominally prohibited Japanese arms makers from joint development and export of military technology. Excerpts below:

The move to abandon the Cold War-era restrictions comes as Japan seeks to defer costs for developing and manufacturing advanced technology in areas such as ballistic missile defense and jet fighters. While there have been many exceptions in the past, the decision marks the first major revision since the ban was introduced in 1967 and tightened in 1976.

“Whereas previously exceptions have been granted on a case-by-case basis, we will now institutionalize exceptions in a comprehensive manner,” chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura told reporters, adding that Japan would continue to uphold the principle of not exporting weapons where it might prolong international conflicts or violate embargoes.

The policy shift came during a national security council meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has taken a more hawkish stance on defense issues than his two most recent predecessors, who also considered relaxing the ban.

Japan’s leading big business lobby, the Keidanren, which has been one of the strongest proponents of easing the arms export ban also warmly welcomed the Japanese government’s move. Keidanren chair Hiromasa Yonekura called it a “groundbreaking” development deserving “high praise” in a statement released after the Cabinet decision.

Japanese industrial interests and hawkish members of parliament have long pushed for overturning the ban, but the issue has been sensitive due to Japan’s post-World War II commitment to pacifism. The revision was hotly debated last year and widely expected to accompany a new midterm defense plan announced a year ago. But the proposal was shelved after strong opposition from a minority partner in Japan’s coalition government, headed by then prime minister Naoto Kan.

The decision follows Mr. Kan’s replacement by Mr. Noda in September and Japan’s selection last week of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s pricey F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to replace its Air Self Defense Force’s aging fleet of 1960s-era F-4 jets. While Japan says it plans to spend some ¥1.6 trillion ($20.8 billion) on the program over the next 20 years, it hopes to offset some of the costs of procuring and partially producing the aircraft domestically by exporting components to other F-35 buyers.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., IHI Corp. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. will participate in production of the planes.

Japan’s commitment to abstain from arms exports, enshrined in its so-called “three principles,” was designed to prevent weapons shipments to communist bloc countries amid the height of the Cold War, along with nations under U.N. arms embargoes and war zones. By showcasing the country’s avowedly pacifist orientation, they also helped allay eased concerns about remilitarization even as Japan’s Self Defense Forces seemed at odds with a constitutional renunciation of the use of force.

A strict interpretation of the ban would prevent the U.S. and other allies from exporting systems that included Japanese-developed components. But over the years, Japanese officials have gradually chipped away at the policy, creating exceptions when the rules seemed to get in the way of key projects, like joint development programs with the U.S.

Even as Japan has avidly developed and deployed advanced military technology, it faces mounting pressure from the deterioration of its fiscal balance sheet. The country’s defense budget—at ¥4.6 trillion this year—has declined for nearly a decade amid a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio that has soared to 200%. The rising costs associated with producing military hardware that can technically only be used in Japan has been a major factor prompting the export-ban rethink.


December 23, 2011

From a Fox News report on December 22, 2011. Excerpts below:

Gunshots ring out in the dead of night, and not a single person reports it. Yet police know exactly where the shots came from, even before they arrive on the scene.

It sounds like a scene from The Minority Report, but it’s real. A new technology called ShotSpotter enables law enforcement officials to precisely and instantaneously locate shooters, and it has been quietly rolling out across America. From Long Island, N.Y., to San Francisco, Calif., more than 60 cities in the U.S. have been leveraging ShotSpotter to make their streets safer.

Minneapolis has already adopted it. And this past week three more cities from the heartland — Flint, Mich.; Youngstown, Ohio; and Omaha, Neb. — have begun testing or furthered plans to roll it out.

ShotSpotter relies on wide-area acoustic surveillance and GPS technology to triangulate the source of gunshots. Sensors are fixed to buildings and poles to provide coverage over a fixed area. With audio-analysis software, it can identify whether a shooter is stationary or moving — meaning police officers can be equipped with information on the speed and direction of, say, a vehicle from which a shot was fired.

It can also “hear” the acoustic signature and distinguish between calibers and types of firearms. Similarly, it can hear different explosions and classify them, from vehicle backfires to fireworks to bombs.

The ShotSpotter Gunfire Alert system then relays the location and data to the police or a dispatch computer within moments, enabling a more rapid response time for both police and first responders.

The best part: ShotSpotter works. It’s accurate to 10 to 15 feet, and some police departments are reporting accuracy to within five feet. In Long Island’s Nassau County, gun violence was reduced by a whopping 90 percent at the close of this year’s first quarter.

But technology this effective doesn’t come cheap. The subscription-based implementation called ShotSpotter Flex costs as much as $60,000 per square mile. Rocky Mount, N.C., uses it monitor a large portion of the city. The Omaha, Neb., police department, which began live-fire testing last week, solved the cost challenge with a grant from the Justice Department.

In many U.S. cities, only a small fraction of gunshots are reported. With this system, created by the 15-year-old Mountain View, Calif., technology firm SST, Inc, police and first responders don’t have to rely on citizen reports. Indeed, the time this technology saves can save a life.

The system also lets police identify patterns of gun violence over time. For example, if the system regularly ties a specific house to gunfire, it may flag it as a source of problems. And ShotSpotter can improve criminal forensics, helping boost a prosecutor’s case.

Such gunshot-detection systems began to make headway in the ’90s, but false positives have been an ongoing problem. ShotSpotter can be taught sounds and can learn from its mistakes, setting it apart from the pack.

The company also offers a separate gunshot screener product for dispatch centers that improves the rate of accuracy and reduces false positives. The system can transmit a sound to a call center, where acoustics experts can examine the waveform and tell within moments whether it came from a firearm or a firecracker.

Unlike a lot of other wide-area surveillance systems on the market, ShotSpotter doesn’t require a clear line of sight and provides much farther range of coverage around a single sensor — up to approximately one mile unhindered.

ShotSpotting could advance to incorporate surveillance video, so that as a shot is heard and pinpointed, video could document the shooter — making it easier to identify a suspect and faster to make an arrest. Some police departments have been looking at using Avrio RMS cameras that react to gunfire by spinning toward its source.

Also in the pipeline, SST is developing a wearable gunshot detection system built into a vest, including acoustic sensors, integrated GPS and display.


December 22, 2011

AP reported on Fox News on December 21, 2011, on a massacre in Syria. As government troops advanced on a village in northwestern Syria, activists say the terrified residents fled into a valley for fear of being arrested or worse. What happened next, one of the activists said, was “an organized massacre.” Excerpts below:

The troops surrounded the valley and unleashed a barrage of rockets, tank shells, bombs and gunfire in an hours-long assault, according to two human rights groups and a witness, killing more than 100 people and leaving no survivors in one of the bloodiest days of a crackdown by President Bashar Assad against a nine-month popular uprising.

The White House said it was “deeply disturbed” by the attack, France called it a “murderous spiral,” and the Arab League reminded the Assad regime of its responsibilities to protect its civilians.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died since March as Syria has sought to put down the uprising — part of the Arab Spring of protests that has toppled long-serving unpopular leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Members of Syria’s opposition said the bloodshed outside the village of Kfar Owaid, about 30 miles from the northern border with Turkey in Idlib province, was evidence of the authoritarian leader’s intent to intensify its crackdown on the uprising before Arab League observers arrive in the country Thursday. The death toll from two days of violence this week topped 200, including up to 70 army defectors killed near the city of Idlib, the activists said.

“It was an organized massacre,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group. “The troops surrounded people, then killed them.”

Kfar Owaid is part of the rugged mountainous region of Jabal al-Zawiyah, the scene of clashes between troops and army defectors, as well as weeks of intense anti-government protests.

One Kfar Owaid villager who is an anti-government activist told The Associated Press by telephone that scores of residents and activists had fled to the nearby Budnaya Valley ahead of the advancing troops. He said the security forces had lists of names of those who organized massive anti-regime protests recently in the village.

Those who fled to the valley were completely surrounded by troops, said the activist, who identified himself only as Abu Rabih for fear of government reprisal. The troops then opened fire with tanks, rockets and heavy machine guns, he said, adding that they also used bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties.

He said 110 people were killed in the attack, with 56 of them buried in Kfar Owaid on Wednesday. Others were buried in nearby villages.

The Obama administration reacted to the latest reports by renewing its call for Assad to step down, saying he “does not deserve to rule Syria.”

“The United States is deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process,” the White House said in a statement read by spokesman Jay Carney, warning that the international community could take more steps against Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that the stepped-up violence signaled that Syria’s acceptance of the Arab League plan is merely a “stalling tactic.”

“This is not the behavior of a government that is getting ready to implement the Arab League proposals,” she told reporters, adding later that: “We’ve got lots of promises as the government continues to mow down its own people.”

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said “everything must be done to stop this murderous spiral into which Bashar Assad is leading his people more every day.” He added that the U.N. Security Council must “pass a firm resolution demanding the end to this repression.”

The German government’s human rights commissioner, Markus Loening, called for an immediate end to violence against deserters and demonstrators.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “it is unacceptable” that so many people were killed after Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to halt the bloodshed.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby expressed deep concern about reports of an escalation in violence and appealed to Damascus to shoulder its responsibilities to protect civilians in compliance with its pledges to abide by the league’s plan.

Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, described this weeks killings as “brutal massacres and genocide,” saying it has urged the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on Syria. The SNC also asked the international community to help protect Syrian citizens.

The conflict, which began with peaceful protests in March, has become increasingly militarized in recent weeks, with clashes nearly every day between troops and army defectors who have joined the movement against Assad. Idlib province has witnessed some of the most intense clashes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot and killed three people in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani and one in the northern town of Saraqeb. It added that a large force stormed the town of Dael in the southern province of Daraa, wounding dozens of people. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 15 people were killed Wednesday — part of a death toll of more than 100 people this week.

On December 19, security forces killed up to 70 army defectors as they were deserting their military posts in Idlib, activists said.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has banned most foreign journalists and places heavy restrictions on the work of local reporters.


December 21, 2011

On December 20, 2011, Wall Street Journal published an article on Ukraine. Excerpts below:

A summit aimed at anchoring Ukraine in Europe fell flat on December 19, as the European Union warned it wouldn’t sign a trade and political-association deal with Kiev unless the government took steps to release jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Both sides hailed the conclusion of negotiations on the deal as a stride toward a free-trade agreement and deeper political ties, but the summit in Kiev was overshadowed by the case of the opposition leader, who was convicted in October 2011 on abuse-of-office charges.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that the signing of the agreement “will depend on political circumstances.”

“Our strong concern is primarily related to the risks of politically motivated justice in Ukraine. The Tymoshenko trial is the most striking example,” Mr. Van Rompuy said.

Ms. Tymoshenko is appealing her seven-year sentence…

Moscow is trying to entice Ukraine into tighter economic and political ties with offers of discounts on natural-gas supplies. Negotiations on a new gas contract, which have been going on for more than 18 months, have stumbled in recent weeks.


December 20, 2011

In an editorial on December 20, 2011, the U.S. National Review magazine called for pressure on North Korea after the death of dictator Kim Jong Il:

The death of a vicious dictator is normally a cause for cheer. In the case of Kim Jong Il, however, there is little to be happy about. The state that he created, and that will now be ruled by his son and other family members, is built on three rotten pillars. First, the nation gets hard cash through illicit activity such as trade in narcotics, bribes from America and her allies to stop its provocations, and the sale of nuclear and ballistic know-how to anyone willing to buy. Second, it represses its people, forcing them to work and to rely on the Kim family for subsistence. And finally, it relies on its nuclear-weapons program as the ultimate guarantee of survival.

This is the house that Kim Jong Un has inherited. We will doubtless soon hear from Kim-family apologists that we ought to proceed with caution. Doves in the United States will tell us that the younger Kim is perhaps someone we can deal with, that we should wait until he consolidates his power and see if he is more reform-minded.

These arguments were used in different guises during the 17 years that Kim Jong Il was in power. The American people were told that a stable and confident Kim Jong Il could be persuaded to abandon his relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Whenever we had the regime on its heels — when the Bush administration began to apply real pressure on Kim during its first term, for example — we eased off in the hope that a deal was just around the corner.

Conciliation and wishful thinking have gotten us nothing. Confident of North Korea’s status as a nuclear power, the Kim family has taken its provocations further in recent years. Most significantly, it murdered South Koreans in cold blood on two occasions in 2010.

We have been afraid of provoking Kim, and afraid of China’s reaction. Now it’s time to make them fear us. Rather than wait and watch events unfold, we should exert maximum pressure on the Kim family now. We should conduct military exercises around the peninsula, we should fly over their nuclear sites with stealth aircraft, and we should demonstrate that we can reach out and touch the regime anytime and anywhere. We should freeze the assets of the Kim family wherever they may be. We should shut down Kim’s criminal enterprises by stepping up our patrols of ships that leave the peninsula. We should give our allies in South Korea all the military capability necessary to defend themselves and strike back at the North should they once again be hit.

We should do all this before Beijing and Pyongyang have time to hatch a plan that solidifies the status quo. The status quo is dangerous, far more so than patiently and relentlessly working to bring down the Kim regime. For once, instead of waiting to see if a new dictator is “someone we can work with,” we should show the dictator what it will take to work with us. It should be clear that unless the Kim family gets rid of its nuclear weapons and its organs of repression and crime, we will work to remove it from power.