Archive for August, 2013

SYRIA, IRAN CAPABLE OF LAUNCHING A CYBERWAR

August 31, 2013

The Washington Times on August 28, 2013, reported that Syria and its ally Iran have been building cyberattack capabilities for years and soon might have a chance to use their skills in a hot war for the first time. Excerpts below:

Former U.S. officials and cybersecurity scholars say Syria has a demonstrated cyberattack capability and could retaliate against anticipated Western military strikes against Syria for its suspected chemical weapons attack against civilians in the country’s 2-year-old civil war.

“It’s foreseeable that [Syrian] state-sponsored or state-sympathetic hackers could seek to retaliate” against U.S., Israeli or Western interests, Michael Chertoff, a former secretary of Homeland Security, told The Washington Times.

“We have already seen regional cyberactors, such as the Syrian Electronic Army, conduct attacks on U.S. targets,” added Rep. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat and a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Syrian attackers penetrated the company that manages New York Times’ Internet domain, NYTimes.com, according to reports in the computer security trade press.

Hackers can relatively easily hide their tracks from all but the most extensive and time-consuming forensic efforts, but the Syrian Electronic Army has publicly claimed these attacks. In online postings, the group of hacker activists, or “hacktivists,” claim to be motivated by Syrian patriotism and to act independently of the regime in Damascus.

“It can be difficult to distinguish between hackers who are sympathetic to a regime and those directly [state] sponsored or controlled,” said Mr. Chertoff, co-founder and chairman of the Chertoff Group, a global security advisory firm.

Islamic hackers whom U.S. officials have linked to Iran have launched a series of increasingly powerful cyberattacks against the websites of major U.S. banks for almost a year.

Large U.S. financial institutions probably have the best cybersecurity of any nongovernmental entity, yet their websites have been driven offline by repeated attacks.

A self-described hacktivist group called Izad din al Qassam has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which they announce in advance.

The group says the attacks are designed to punish the United States for an Internet video, “Innocence of Muslims,” made by an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, which portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a killer and pedophile.

But the kind of cyberattack that most alarms national security specialists took place a year ago and was aimed at the Saudi Arabian state oil company, Aramco.

A virus called Shamoon infected the company’s computer network and wiped data from more than 30,000 computers, effectively destroying all the information on the system.

A similar attack on a bank could destroy digital records of customer accounts.

Hackers also have demonstrated that they could take over computer control systems that operate chemical, electrical and water and sewage treatment plants. They also can hack into transportation networks.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” Leon E. Panetta, then CIA director, warned in a speech in New York last year.

“They could contaminate the water supply in major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Cyberforensic specialists have documented the Syrian Electronic Army’s historic links to a computer society founded years ago by Syrian President Bashar Assad. The British Guardian newspaper has reported that the group is funded by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Mr. Assad’s and the owner of SyriaTel, a telecommunications and Internet service provider.

Front groups such as the Syrian Electronic Army still provide states with so-called plausible deniability, Mr. Chertoff said.

“Even if it is evident that Syria is behind an attack, they can deny it. We saw that in Estonia,” he said.

Any U.S. response to a Syrian attack might well not be visible, said Adam M. Segal, a cybersecurity scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations.

U.S. Cyber Command has said it has the ability reach back into attackers’ networks and “prevent these [kinds of] attacks from their source,” said Mr. Segal, “essentially doing defense through offense.”

Cyberattacks are now “an integral part of modern warfare,” said Mr. Langevin, who has led efforts in Congress to pass legislation designed to shore up the nation’s cyberdefenses.

“This is going to be a lingering problem,” Mr. Chertoff said.

BRET STEPHENS: TARGET ASSAD

August 30, 2013

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2013, published an article by Bret Stephens in which he wrote that a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that could hasten the end of the civil war. Excerpts below:

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar’s brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family’s power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one’s own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.

As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.

Let’s examine some of the alternatives.

One option is to target the Syrian army’s stores of chemical weapons, estimated at over 1,000 tons. Last week the Times of Israel reported that “the embattled [Assad] regime has concentrated its vast stocks of chemical weapons in just two or three locations . . . under the control of Syrian Air Force Intelligence.” If that’s right, there’s a chance some large portion of Assad’s stockpile could be wiped out of existence using “agent-defeat” bombs that first shred chemical storage containers in a rain of metal darts, and then incinerate the chemicals with white phosphorus, preventing them from going airborne.

Still, it’s unlikely that airstrikes could destroy all of the regime’s chemical stores, which are probably now being moved in anticipation of a strike, and which could always be replenished by Bashar’s friends in North Korea and Iran. More to the point, a strike on chemical weapons stocks, while salutary in its own right, does little to hurt the men who ordered their use. Nor does it seriously damage the regime’s ability to continue waging war against its own people, if only by conventional means.

Another option would be a strike on the headquarters, air bases and arms depots of the regime’s elite Republican Guard, and particularly Maher Assad’s Fourth Armored Division, which reportedly carried out last week’s attack. But here the problem of asset dispersion becomes that much greater, as fewer tanks, helicopters or jets can be destroyed by a single cruise missile (unit cost: $1.5 million).

Then there is the “Desert Fox” option—Bill Clinton’s scattershot, three-day bombing campaign of Iraq in December 1998, on the eve of his impeachment. The operation hit 97 targets in an effort to “degrade” Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and make a political statement. But it did nothing to damage Saddam’s regime…

And so to the Kill Assad option.

But now those words must be made to mean something, lest they become a piece of that other moral obscenity: the West’s hitherto bland indifference to Syria’s suffering. Condemnation can no longer suffice. It recalls the international reaction to Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia…

There will be other occasions to consider the narrow question of Syria’s future. What’s at stake now is the future of civilization, and whether the word still has any meaning.

FORT HOOD GUNMAN MAJ. NIDAL HASAN SENTENCED TO DEATH

August 29, 2013

Fox News on August 28, 2013, reported that Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people in 2009 in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, was sentenced to death by a military jury after just two hours of deliberation. Excerpts below:

Hasan, who offered little defense, sat motionless as the jury president read the verdict. Hasan has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression and never denied being the gunman. In opening statements, he acknowledged to the jury that he pulled the trigger in a crowded waiting room where troops were getting final medical checkups before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan had one final chance Wednesday to give a closing argument before his case went to the jury, but he declined — continuing an absent defense that he has used since his trial began three weeks ago. The panel unanimously ruled that Hasan must forfeit all pay and allowances and be dismissed from the service.

The lead prosecutor, Col. Mike Mulligan, told jurors that history was full of instances of death in the name of religion. But he said it would be “wrong and unsupportive” to tie Hasan’s actions to a wider cause

Mulligan focused on the victims, insisting that Hasan deserved to be executed for the attack at the Texas military base that also wounded more than 30 people.

Hasan has been representing himself during the trial, and his lack of defense has caused problems with the military defense attorneys ordered to help him.

Any lawyer trying to save Hasan would have a daunting task. In two days of sentencing, prosecutors called widows, parents and other loved ones of the people Hasan killed. They offered a picture of their overwhelming grief and struggle to move forward after his attack. At least one juror appeared visibly emotional during parts of testimony.

Hasan rested his case shortly after more than a dozen widows, mothers, fathers, children and other relatives of those killed testified about their lives since the attack. They talked of eerily quiet homes, lost futures, alcoholism and the unmatched fear of hearing a knock on the door.

The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week had just two options: either agree unanimously that Hasan should die or watch the 42-year-old get an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

For nearly four years, the federal government has sought to execute Hasan, believing that any sentence short of a lethal injection would deny justice to the families of the dead and the survivors who had believed they were safe behind the gates of the Texas base.

And for just as long, Hasan has seemed content to go to the death chamber for his beliefs. He fired his own attorneys to represent himself, barely put up a defense during a three-week trial and made almost no effort to have his life spared.

Mulligan reminded the jury that Hasan was a trained doctor yet opened fire on defenseless comrades. He “only dealt death,” the prosecutor said, so the only appropriate sentence is death.

When Hasan began shooting, the troops were standing in long lines to receive immunizations and doctors’ clearance.

Thirteen people were killed and more than were 30 wounded. All but one of the dead were soldiers, including a pregnant private who curled on the floor and pleaded for her baby’s life.

The attack ended only when Hasan was shot in the back by an officer responding to the shooting. Hasan is now paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.

The military called nearly 90 witnesses at the trial and more during the sentencing phase. But Hasan rested his case without calling a single person to testify in his defense and made no closing argument. Even with his life at stake during the sentencing hearing, he made no attempt to question witnesses and gave no final statement to jurors.

Hasan spent weeks planning the Nov. 5, 2009, attack, including buying the handgun and videotaping a sales clerk showing him how to change the magazine.

He later plunked down $10 at a gun range outside Austin and asked for pointers on how to reload with speed and precision.

When the time came, Hasan stuffed paper towels in the pockets of his cargo pants to muffle the rattling of extra ammo and avoid arousing suspicion. Soldiers testified that Hasan’s rapid reloading made it all but impossible to stop him. Investigators recovered 146 shell casings in the medical building and dozens more outside, where Hasan shot at the backs of soldiers fleeing toward the parking lot.

APPARENT CYBER ATTACK HITS NEW YORK TIMES

August 28, 2013

Fox Business on August 27, 2013, reported that just two weeks after denying a 90-minute outage was caused by a cyber attack, The New York Times said that new website problems were likely the result of an “external malicious attack.” Excerpts below:

The incident underscores how American media outlets have become prime targets for hackers, along with the websites of banks, stock exchanges and retailers.

A spokesperson from the Times said in an e-mail to FOX Business: “We are working to fix the problem. Our initial assessment is that this is most likely the result of a malicious external attack.”

In a Tweet at 4:23 p.m. ET, the newspaper said it is “experiencing technical difficulties” and “working on fully restoring the site.”

Several attempts in New York City to access the NYT’s website were unsuccessful shortly after 3 p.m. ET.

U.S. CYBERWAR ‘BEST IN THE WORLD’: NSA’S GENERAL KEITH ALEXANDER

August 27, 2013

The Washington Times on August 26, 2013, reported that the United States has the best offensive military capacity in cyberspace of any nation, the head of the agency at the center of a domestic spying scandal said in congressional testimony. Excerpts below:

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said, “We believe our [cyber] offense is the best in the world.”

His comments came in answers to questions from a March 2013 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee

Gen. Alexander said the United States maintains a “deep, persistent and pervasive presence on adversary [computer] networks.”

“We maintain that access, gain deep understanding of the adversary, and develop offensive capabilities through the advanced skills and tradecraft of our analysts, operators and developers. When authorized to deliver offensive cyber effects, our technological and operational superiority delivers unparalleled effects against our adversaries’ systems,” Gen. Alexander explained in response to a question from Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican.

In response to a question from Rep. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, Gen. Alexander added that U.S. cybermission forces would be trained “over the next three years” to “perform world-class offensive and defensive cyber operations.”

MONUMENT TO VICTIMS OF STALINISM UNVEILED IN MOLDOVA

August 26, 2013

Allmoldova.com on August 23, 2013, reported that the monument to victims of Stalinist deportations, set up in the square of the Railway Terminal in the capital of Chisinau, was unveiled on August 23. Hundreds of people brought candles and flowers to the monument, while a group of priests of “Teodora de la Sihla” Church blessed it. Relatives of deportees said they ultimately have a place where to remember and mourn for the grandparents, fathers, mothers and siblings who died in the Stalinist gulags, IPN reports. Excerpts below:

Mayor of Chisinau municipality Dorin Chirtoaca said that this monument is among the most important projects in his work. “It cost about 25 million lei. They say that this is a considerable sum, but it is in fact the suffering of the people that has been considerable during the last 70 years. There was much blood and many tears left in cells,” he stated.

Author of the sculpture Iurie Platon said that work on the monument lasted for four years, but the result is worth the effort. “It was team work,” he stated.

The monument to victims of the Stalinist repression, cast in bronze, is three meters in height, 12 meters in length and weighs about 15 tonnes.

It is a symbol of the suffering of thousands of Moldovans who were deported in the 1940 – 1950 by the Stalinist-Communist regime. The deportees were taken by force to Siberia and Kazakhstan by trains from the Chisinau Railway Terminal.

UKRAINE LEADER IGNORES PUTIN WARNING ON EU PATH

August 25, 2013

Reuters on August 24, 2013, published an article on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich re-affirming his commitment to signing key agreements with the European Union, including on trade, despite a threat by Russia’s Vladimir Putin of possible retaliatory measures. Excerpts below:

Russia, the ex-Soviet republic’s biggest trading partner, last week signaled growing alarm at Kiev’s policy of European integration by conducting laborious extra customs checks on imports from Ukraine, causing delays at the border.

…Putin last Thursday added to fears in Kyiv of a possible trade war by saying that a free trade deal between Ukraine and the EU might “squeeze out” Russian goods.

He warned that members of the Eurasian Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan might have to take “protective measures” to defend their markets.

In an Independence Day speech, Yanukovich, once regarded as being more Russia-friendly than his nationalist predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, pointedly ignored Putin’s comments.

While pledging to deepen relations with Russia and other customs union members, he indicated that Kiev was committed to signing agreements on political association and free trade with the EU at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November.

“For Ukraine, association with the European Union must become an important stimulus for forming a modern European state,” he declared.

Ukraine’s economy relies heavily on exports of steel, coal, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals and grain. More than 60 percent of its exports go to other former Soviet republics, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan the most important.

Yanukovich, backed by powerful and wealthy business figures who see greater prosperity in European markets, has resisted entreaties by Moscow to join the Customs Union – a move which would be incompatible with a free trade agreement with the EU.
But with Kyiv still hopeful of securing a lower price for deliveries of costly Russian gas for the Ukrainian economy, Yanukovich needs to maintain good relations with Moscow.

He is sending his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, there to try to calm Russia’s fears over Ukraine’s moves towards Europe.

It is far from a foregone conclusion that a political association agreement, including a free trade deal, will be signed in Vilnius in November even though Yanukovich wants it.

Many EU member states are disappointed at the pace of democratic reform in Ukraine since Yanukovich was elected in February 2010 and are pressing particularly for the release from jail of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his fiercest political adversary.

Reuters on August 24, 2013, published an article on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich re-affirming his commitment to signing key agreements with the European Union, including on trade, despite a threat by Russia’s Vladimir Putin of possible retaliatory measures. Excerpts below:

Russia, the ex-Soviet republic’s biggest trading partner, last week signaled growing alarm at Kiev’s policy of European integration by conducting laborious extra customs checks on imports from Ukraine, causing delays at the border.

…Putin last Thursday added to fears in Kyiv of a possible trade war by saying that a free trade deal between Ukraine and the EU might “squeeze out” Russian goods.

He warned that members of the Eurasian Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan might have to take “protective measures” to defend their markets.

In an Independence Day speech, Yanukovich, once regarded as being more Russia-friendly than his nationalist predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, pointedly ignored Putin’s comments.

While pledging to deepen relations with Russia and other customs union members, he indicated that Kiev was committed to signing agreements on political association and free trade with the EU at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November.

“For Ukraine, association with the European Union must become an important stimulus for forming a modern European state,” he declared.

Ukraine’s economy relies heavily on exports of steel, coal, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals and grain. More than 60 percent of its exports go to other former Soviet republics, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan the most important.

Yanukovich, backed by powerful and wealthy business figures who see greater prosperity in European markets, has resisted entreaties by Moscow to join the Customs Union – a move which would be incompatible with a free trade agreement with the EU.

But with Kyiv still hopeful of securing a lower price for deliveries of costly Russian gas for the Ukrainian economy, Yanukovich needs to maintain good relations with Moscow.

He is sending his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, there to try to calm Russia’s fears over Ukraine’s moves towards Europe.

It is far from a foregone conclusion that a political association agreement, including a free trade deal, will be signed in Vilnius in November even though Yanukovich wants it.

Many EU member states are disappointed at the pace of democratic reform in Ukraine since Yanukovich was elected in February 2010 and are pressing particularly for the release from jail of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his fiercest political adversary.

ISRAELI WARPLANES ATTACK ‘TERROR SITE’ IN SOUTHERN LEBANON

August 24, 2013

Washington Times on August 23, 2013, reported that the Israeli military attacked a “terror site” near the Lebanese capital of Beirut after four rockets were fired by militants into northern Israel a day earlier. Excerpts below:

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the nation was forced to defend itself against a “blatant breach in Israeli sovereignty that jeopardized Israeli civilian life,” NBC reported.

Israel sent warplanes to attack what its military characterized as a stronghold “terror site” in Beirut. It was Israel’s first air raid on the region since 2006.

Israel’s Iron Dome intercepted one of the four rockets fired into the country earlier, and the other three did not do any damage.

Mr. Lerner said the Lebanese government is accountable for the attack.

“Israel will not tolerate terrorist aggression originating from Lebanese territory,” Mr. Lerner said in an email statement reported by NBC.

NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR SAYS MOTHER FORCED TO KILL OWN CHILD AT PRISON CAMP

August 23, 2013

Fox News on August 21, 2013, reported that a North Korean mother inside one of the country’s notorious prison camps was forced to kill her own baby, a former inmate said, during a U.N. panel hearing in South Korea that’s ongoing this week. Excerpts below:

Jee Heon-a, a 34-year-old defector, told the Commission of Inquiry Tuesday in Seoul that a security guard at one camp made the mother turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water.

“The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her,” she said, according to Reuters. “So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died. A grandmother who had delivered the baby quietly took it out.”

Shin Dong-hyuk, another defector who was born in a prison camp and was punished for dropping a sewing machine, said he was grateful when guards cut off his finger, instead of his entire hand.

North Korea has blocked U.N. investigators from entering the country, Reuters reports.

There are believed to be up to 200,000 people being held in prison camps.

BRADLEY MANNING SENTENCED TO 35 YEARS IN PRISON

August 22, 2013

Daily Telegraph, London, on August 21, 2013, reported that Bradley Manning was jailed for 35 years for the largest intelligence leak in US history. Excerpts below:

After a 20-month court martial, a military judge took less than two minutes to sentence the 25-year-old soldier and order him to be dishonourably discharged from the Army for passing thousands of classified files to the anti-secrecy website.

Under military law he will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years, or a third of his sentence, whichever is sooner.

Having served three and a half years, and with 112 days taken off by the judge because the Army broke the law by keeping him in solitary confinement for nine months, Manning could in theory be released in around seven years.

Manning was convicted in July on 20 of the 22 charges against him, including six counts of espionage. However, the judge cleared him of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which could have carried a life sentence with no chance of parole. Col Lind also demoted him from private first class to private and ordered him to forfeit all pay and benefits.

The Obama administration has brought prosecutions against seven alleged leakers, more than all previous US administrations combined. Among them is Edward Snowden, the fugitive former NSA contractor who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Manning’s sentence will be reviewed by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and could go before the US Supreme Court.