Archive for May, 2012

SEN. GRAHAM CALLS FOR SYRIA NO-FLY ZONE AFTER EXPULSION OF SYRIAN TOP DIPLOMAT FROM U.S.

May 31, 2012

Fox News on May 29, 2012, reported that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a top U.S. senator said he would support a no-fly zone over Syria in the wake of the Syrian Houla massacre, though the Obama administration pushed back on the question of military force — so far limiting the latest U.S. response to the expulsion’s of Syria’s top diplomat to Washington. Excerpts below:

In a coordinated effort, the United States joined allies around the world on the 29th in kicking out Syria’s diplomats. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government gave Syria’s charge d’affaires 72 hours to leave the country.

Administration officials described the move as a statement by world powers about their collective “revulsion” toward the “vile” killings carried out by the regime and its “thugs.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that he would support a no-fly and no-drive zone in Syria, suggesting the U.S. faces a greater call to get involved militarily in Syria than it did in Libya last year.

“Compared to Libya, the strategic upside of taking out (Syrian President Bashar) Assad is far greater,” he said. “We’ve used force to stop slaughter less strategic and egregious than this.”

The Obama administration confirmed …that it was joining other nations in kicking out Syria’s top diplomat. The move followed Friday’s massacre in Houla, in which 49 children and 34 women were among the 108 people killed, according to the U.N.

“There are also reports that many families were summarily executed in their homes by regime forces,” a spokesman said. “We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives. This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government’s flagrant violations of its U.N. Security Council obligations … along with the regime’s ongoing threat to peace and security.”

The killings in Houla, a collection of farming villages in Syria’s Homs province, marked one of the deadliest single events in the 15-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.

French President Francois Hollande told reporters Tuesday that Ambassador Lamia Shakkour will be notified “today or tomorrow” that she must leave.

Hollande said that after high-level discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it had been decided to deploy “a certain number of … pressure tactics,” against Syria, including the expulsion of the ambassador.

British officials said that the U.K. is expelling three Syrian diplomats to protest the killings, among them Charge d’Affaires Ghassan Dalla — the country’s top-ranking diplomat in London. The officials demanded anonymity because they said they were not allowed to discuss the action ahead of a planned public statement from Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The ambassador to Germany, Radwan Loutfi, was given 72 hours to leave Germany on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany and its allies hope “that this unambiguous message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus.”

The Italian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Khaddour Hassan was called to the ministry and informed of his new status — which also was extended to an unspecified number of Syrian functionaries.

Spain said it was giving Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala and four other diplomats based in Madrid three days to leave the country.
Switzerland also said Syrian ambassadors were unwelcome.

In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Charge d’Affaires Jawdat Ali, the most senior Syrian diplomat in Australia, is to be expelled along with another diplomat from the Syrian Embassy. He said they were told to leave the country within 72 hours, in response to the massacre in Houla.

“This is the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion of what has happened in Syria,” Carr said.

In a statement, he called the killings a “hideous and brutal crime,” and said Australia would not engage with the Syrian government unless it abides by a U.N. cease-fire plan.

In Vienna, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nikolaus Lutterotti said the Syrian ambassador is being summoned to the ministry where officials will deliver a very hard protest about the massacre.

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POWERFUL ‘FLAME’ CYBERWEAPON TORCHING MIDEAST COMPUTERS

May 30, 2012

Fox News on May 29, 2012, reported on the most sophisticated and powerful cyberweapon to date — a Swiss Army Knife spy tool that can evolve and change to deal with any situation — has been discovered on the loose in several Middle Eastern countries, security researchers said. Excerpts below:

The Worm.Win32.Flame threat, or “Flame” for short, was likely built by the same nation-state responsible for the Stuxnet virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear power plant in 2010. But this new weapon is twenty times the size of that cyberbomb and far more powerful, making it practically an army on its own, said Roel Schouwenberg, a senior security researcher with Kaspersky Labs.

“Flame is a cyberespionage operation,” he told FoxNews.com.

Its prime goal: capturing data from a machine. To accomplish that task, this unusually large and complex espionage tool is made up of several modules designed to accomplish specific tasks, explained Liam O Murchu, operations manager with Symantec Security Response.

Flame can grow and change, too: What makes this cyberweapon so powerful is the ability to be reconfigured with new modules that turn an infected PC or industrial control system into whatever tool a spy dreams up.

One module makes it a secret tape recorder, using the computer’s microphone to record nearby conversations. One makes it a radio, using a wireless Bluetooth connection to receive fresh commands and suck the address books out of nearby cell phones. One may turn it into a shredder, chewing through hard drives — as the Wiper virus did to Iran’s computers.

Indeed, certain file names associated with the threat are identical to those described in an incident involving the Iranian Oil Ministry, Symantec’s experts noted.

“Our current working theory is that flame and Stuxnet were parallel projects,” Schouwenberg told FoxNews.com. “Whoever commissioned Stuxnet also commissioned Flame.”

That cyberattack was very specific, however, while the Flame attack is broad, having been detected in more than half a dozen countries already: Hungary, Iran, and Lebanon, Austria, Russia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates, as well the Palestinian West Bank.

Researchers said it will take months if not years to fully dissect the massive program, which uses a database to store information rather than a simple text file — one more clue to the scope of the cyberspying.

“It’s very clear that there’s a lot of development in this area, every government is allocating more resources to cyberoffense. But can we call it a war? I’m not sure.”

Detecting these and other incidents becomes harder as the coders become more clever. Schouwenberg said that one Flame module is an incredibly savvy uninstaller, which lets the cyberweapon carefully extract itself from a computer before buffing the insides to clean

DANISH POLICE ARREST 2 SOMALIS IN SUSPECTED TERROR PLOT

May 29, 2012

Fox News on May 29, 2012, published an AP report on two Danish brothers originally from Somalia arrested on suspicion of plotting a terror attack, Denmark’s security service said. Excerpts below:

The two brothers, ages 18 and 23, were arrested on late 28th — one in the western city of Aarhus and the other as he arrived by plane at Copenhagen’s international airport, said the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, or PET.

The men were suspected of “being in the process of preparing an act of terror” after they were overheard talking about methods, targets and different weapons types, PET said in a statement, suggesting the suspects had been under surveillance. One of them had been to a training camp in Somalia run by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, the agency said. The Somalia-based al-Shabab has links to Al Qaeda.

The suspects are “Danish citizens of Somali origin” who have lived in Denmark for 16 years, PET said.

The Scandinavian country has been in the crosshairs of Islamist terror groups after the publication of newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad seven years ago.

A trial is under way in Denmark against four men accused of plotting a shooting spree at the Danish Jyllandsposten newspaper

MC CAIN: DON’T COUNT ON RUSSIA TO HELP FORCE OUT ASSAD OF SYRIA

May 28, 2012

Newsmax on May 27, 2012, published an AP report on U.S. Senator John McCain saying the U.S. shouldn’t count on Russia to force out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and he blames President Barack Obama for a “feckless foreign policy” that hasn’t contained the bloodshed. Excerpts below.

McCain said Obama is showing he “wants to kick the can down the road” until after the election.

The White House condemned the attack as a “vile testament to an illegitimate regime.”

CYBERWAR: THE RISE OF CHINA

May 27, 2012

On March 15, 2012, Defining Ideas journal of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, published an article on cyber warfare (“Beware of Cyber China”) by Paul Rosenzweig, an American lawyer. Excerpts below:

American military strategists see China as the most likely peer opponent in cyberspace. As the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2010 report to Congress, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, concluded:

numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the [People’s Republic of China]. These intrusions focused on exfiltratring information, some of which could be of strategic or of military utility.

Likewise, China sees the United States as its principal cyber-competitor. A recent report in the Chinese-language, Liberation Army Daily (an unofficial but well-vetted source) put it this way:

The U.S. military is hastening to seize the commanding military heights on the Internet, and another Internet war is being pushed to a stormy peak. . . . Their actions remind us that to protect the nation’s Internet security, we must accelerate Internet defense development and accelerate steps to make a strong Internet army. . . .

China has demonstrated significant cyber capabilities in recent years. One of the most notable events was Operation Aurora. In early 2010, Google announced that it had been the subject of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” that had originated in China, resulting in the “theft of intellectual property” from Google. The attacks seemed to be targeted at Chinese human rights activists. And Google was not alone—at least twenty other major companies spanning sectors including internet, finance, and the chemical industry were also targeted. At its core, the attack apparently attempted to corrupt some of Google’s source code.

Another display of Chinese capabilities occurred in April 2010, when the internet was hijacked. Traffic on the internet is, typically, routed through the most efficient route. Servers calculate that route based upon a “call-and-response” interaction with other servers—in effect, downstream servers advertise their own carrying capacity and current load, soliciting traffic.

On April 8, 2010, China Telecom began broadcasting erroneous network traffic routes. As a result, American and other foreign servers were instructed to send internet traffic through Chinese servers. In the end, according to the United States China Economic and Security Review Commission, roughly 15 percent of the world’s traffic was routed to China. This included official US government traffic, as well as the traffic from any number of commercial websites.

Even more chillingly, some reports have suggested that our electronic grid and telecommunications systems have already been infiltrated by logic bombs (malicious code inserted in a system that will be set off only upon instruction or when certain conditions are met). In 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that software had been placed into our system, so that it could be “detonated” at a later date, presumably in a time of war. Doing so could cripple our economy and military capabilities at a time of crisis.

In the end, just as the United States has begun to prepare for a cyber war (through the organization of US Cyber Command) China, too, is preparing for one. Last May, China announced the formation of a cyber “Blue Army,” with two stated purposes: defending the nation against cyber attacks and leading cyber offensives in case of war.

SWEDISH UKRAINE AMBASSADOR: YANUKOVYCH HAS NOT LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS

May 26, 2012

Kyiv Post on May 24, 2012, published an interview with Sweden’s top diplomat in Ukraine, Stefan Gullgren. One of the nation’s strongest allies within the EU has been Sweden, a Scandinavian nation of around nine million people that has been represented in Ukraine for the last three years by Ambassador Stefan Gullgren.

Kyiv Post: How did Ukraine change since your arrival as the ambassador three years ago and during the first two years in power of President Viktor Yanukovych?

Stefan Gullgren: We did have expectations after President Yanukovych and his government came to power. They presented a very ambitious reform program. That raised expectations in particular among the business community that there would be radical reforms [and] improvements. It’s fair to say that we haven’t really seen that happen, at least not yet. That could be because of the extent of the problems, it takes time to change.

KP: How can Ukraine find a way to balance Russian interests in Ukraine and its aspirations to join the EU?

SG: I don’t think there is any necessary choice to be made for a country like Ukraine – either you become a member of European integration process or you have relations with countries which do not seek membership with the European Union. There will, of course, at some point have to be a choice made between either the European integration process or the integration process which is now in place in form of the [Russian-led] Customs Union, because a country cannot become a member of more than one customs union at a time.

KP: Some EU countries seem to be less supportive of Ukraine’s potential EU membership than others. Why is that?

SG: I don’t think that the difference is that big. We are bound by the European Union treaty which states that any European state has perspective, if it’s able and willing to become a member. I want to stress that this is not restricted to the economic area.

KP: Are you concerned about recent reports of physical abuse of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko?

SG: Of course we are. We are concerned about the reports about her health situation, but not only that. Our position is well known. We think that this and other trials have created the impression of selective justice in Ukraine.

KP: What feedback do you hear from Swedish businesses operating in Ukraine, since some businesses like furniture giant IKEA with Swedish roots failed to settle in Ukraine because of corruption here?

SG: Swedish companies have as a policy not to involve themselves with corruption. That’s a matter of principle. And they seem to be able to do that with some success, because we have a number of Swedish companies which are here, and I’ve seen most of them to be doing business well.

KP: What are your expectations from the upcoming Sweden-Ukraine football match during Euro 2012?

SG: We are expecting somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 Swedes to come to Ukraine, specifically to Kyiv…I am likely to go. I am curious to see in which colors they are going to play, because both Sweden and Ukraine are blue and yellow, and that will have to be sorted out some way, but I hope they will be able to distinguish each other on the field.

US HACKED YEMENI AL QAEDA WEB SITES IN PROPAGANDA BATTLE

May 25, 2012

Fox News on May 23, 2012, published an AP report on the State Department launching a different sort of raid against Al Qaeda — hacking into Al Qaeda websites in Yemen. Excerpts below:

In a rare public admission of the covert cyber war against extremists, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says cyber experts based at the State Department hacked Yemeni tribal websites, replacing Al Qaeda propaganda that bragged about killing Americans.

“Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll Al Qaeda attacks have taken on the Yemeni people,” Clinton said.

In response, “Extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet,” she said.

Clinton described the cyber effort as part of a larger, multipronged attack on terrorism that goes beyond attacks like the Navy SEAL raid that killed Usama bin Laden to include the propaganda battle, and the longer, slower campaign of diplomats working alongside special operations troops to shore up local governments and economies and train local forces.

Clinton was speaking alongside Adm. Bill McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, at a conference of hundreds of U.S. and international special operations commanders — the two senior leaders sending a tacit message to their sometimes warring tribes of troops and diplomats that they have to get along.

Yemen is considered both a model and a test case of that effort.

The White House responded by issuing an executive order last week threatening sanctions against individuals who challenge the Yemen government. It also dispatched a new batch of special operations forces to train Yemen’s army to help withstand Al Qaeda attacks that have killed hundreds of Yemeni troops.

Clinton says the cyber attack was launched by an interagency group of specialists, including diplomats, special operators and intelligence analysts, housed at the State Department. Called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, its experts patrol the Internet and social media to counter Al Qaeda’s attempts to recruit new followers.

“Together, they will work to pre-empt, discredit and outmaneuver extremist propaganda,” Clinton said.

PHILIPPINES ACCUSES CHINA ANEW OF FLARING TENSIONS

May 24, 2012

Fox News on May 23, 2012, published an AP report that the Philippines is accusing China of sending more government and fishing vessels to a contested shoal in the South China Sea despite ongoing talks to resolve the 2-month-old standoff. Excerpts below:

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez says that the number of Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal increased to 96. They include four government ships and fishing and utility boats. He said that the Philippines has only two vessels in the area, which both countries claim.

Hernandez says that despite China’s fishing ban, Chinese vessels were observed fishing and collecting protected corals.

U.S. DRONE KILLS 4 SUSPECTED MILITANTS IN PAKISTAN

May 23, 2012

Fox News on May 23, 2012, published an AP report on a U.S. drone firing two missiles at a compound in northwest Pakistan, killing four suspected militants in an attack that comes as Washington is running out of patience with Islamabad’s refusal to reopen supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan. Excerpts below:

U.S. drone strikes have complicated negotiations over the routes, which Pakistan closed six months ago in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Pakistan’s parliament demanded the strikes stop in the wake of the attack, but the U.S. has refused.

The latest strike took place in Datta Khel Kalai village in the North Waziristan tribal area, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Lawmakers are… frustrated by suspicions that Pakistan is aiding militants who use its territory to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan — allegations Islamabad has rejected. There is also lingering resentment over the fact that Usama bin Laden was found hiding deep inside Pakistan.

The Pakistani government is…keen to repair relations with the U.S., partly to receive over a billion dollars in American aid it needs to fill out its budget as it looks ahead to national elections scheduled for 2013. But patching up ties is politically sensitive in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.

NATO LEADERS SEAL AFGHAN EXIT PLAN

May 22, 2012

Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2012, published a report on NATO plans to give Afghanistan the lead in combat operations in mid-2013. Excerpts below:

North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders on May 21signed off on a plan to give Afghan forces the lead in combat operations next year, setting the stage for winding down the war in 2014, as President Barack Obama suggested progress in ending an impasse to reopen supply routes through Pakistan.

The drawdown over the next 2½ years from landlocked Afghanistan will be a massive logistical undertaking, underscoring the importance the U.S. and NATO have placed on quickly reaching a deal with Pakistan to reopen cargo routes.

President Obama delivered closing remarks at the NATO summit in Chicago. He said allies have made significant progress over the past two years on their war strategy and would discuss “the next milestone” in Afghanistan’s longer-term future.

Islamabad closed the supply routes after two dozen Pakistani troops were killed in a Nov. 26 U.S. strike on two border posts and has demanded an apology. The White House has expressed regret but has refused to apologize.

Officials said the deal could be announced soon after Mr. Zardari returns to Pakistan to consult with army leaders and his political allies.

In the run-up to the summit in Chicago, Pakistani officials indicated that they were prepared to reopen the border. U.S. officials hoped Mr. Zardari’s attendance would clear the way for the crossings to open…

But negotiations have bogged down over how much the allies will pay Islamabad in transit fees. Pakistan has proposed a markup of as much as 30-fold per cargo container, U.S. officials said.

NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen said NATO access to transit routes through Pakistan would be particularly important because of the “logistical challenge” of withdrawing troops and military equipment from Afghanistan over the next 2½ years.

Underscoring the importance to the U.S. of finding alternative routes for supplies to and from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met on the 21st with the leaders of countries that make up the backbone of the northern distribution network that runs through Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The U.S. has sharply expanded its use of the northern distribution network, which also includes Russia, because of the supply bottleneck along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The transition to an Afghan security lead, which NATO allies set in place two years ago at a meeting in Lisbon, “is on track for completion,” alliance leaders said on Monday.

Senior White House officials say they remained confident Afghan forces will be strong enough to take the lead by mid-2013. They also made clear the U.S. is drawing down in 2014 whether Afghans are ready to take the lead or not.

NATO plans call for giving Afghans the lead in combat operations around mid-2013, part of a shift to a train-and-assist mission before most U.S. and other foreign troops leave by the end of 2014.

NATO allies want to gradually reduce the size of Afghanistan’s security forces starting at the end of 2015 to about 228,000 members, down from a peak of about 350,000. Sustaining a 228,000-member Afghan force will cost about $4.1 billion a year.

Under a U.S.-backed plan, the Afghans will contribute $500 million, the U.S.’s NATO partners will pay $1.3 billion and the U.S. and other countries will make up the rest. More than $1.1 billion was pledged by the summit’s end, a NATO official said, including $110 million from Canada, and contributions from Australia, Denmark, Italy, Germany and others.