1. North Korea Has a New Submarine

    October 20, 2014

    The North Korean Navy Acquires a New Submarine 

    Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr.

    38north.or

    October 19, 2014

    A review of commercial satellite imagery from 2010 until the present covering North Korea’s submarine bases and building shipyards has revealed the presence of a previously unidentified submarine moored in the secured boat basin at the Sinpo South Shipyard. This shipyard, also known by the cover designation “Pongdae Boiler Plant,” is the primary manufacturing facility for North Korea’s submarines and the headquarters of the Maritime Research Institute of the Academy of the National Defense Science. The institute is responsible for research and development of maritime technology, naval vessels and submarines, and naval related armaments and missiles.

    The newly identified submarine has a length of approximately 67 meters and a beam of 6.6 meters, possesses a rounded bow, a conning tower located amidships, and no visible diving planes. These dimensions suggest a dived displacement in the 900-1,500 ton range. Visible in the image are mooring lines, people moving about and equipment stored on the pier adjacent to the submarine. The long object on the pier forward of the conning tower is likely a line of closely packed shipping crates or equipment and not a missile tube, as the overall measurements are approximately 8.4 meters long and .65 meters wide. A blue tarp is covering the stern portion of the top of the sail. No torpedo or missile tubes are readily discernable on the bow or deck of the submarine in any of the available imagery.


     

    The origins of this submarine are unclear. While the boat bears a superficial resemblance to the Russian kilo or lada class patrol submarines-it lacks the teardrop hull-shape of the former and the conning tower mounted diving planes of the later. Additional research shows, however, a close resemblance in size and shape to the former Yugoslavian sava and heroj class submarines. A Yugoslavian origin for the design would not be unusual since the North Koreans acquired a number of submarine designs from that nation during the 1970s and used them as the basis for several experimental designs as well as the yugo class of midget submarines…Read on.

    24 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  2. Swedish Military Releases Photo of Mysterious Object in Waters Off Stockholm

    October 20, 2014

    Pictured: ‘suspicious object’ off Swedish coast

    thelocal.se

    October 19, 2014  Pictured: 'suspicious object' off Swedish coast

    Photo: Swedish Armed Forces

    In a press conference on Sunday evening, Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad, said it was likely that a foreign power was undertaking “underwater activities” around the islands off the coast of Sweden’s capital city.

    The Armed Forces also released a photo of a suspicious object taken on Sunday morning. Grenstad said the photographer had “seen something on the surface, and after he took the picture it sunk down again.”

    But Grenstad said they had not established that the suspicious object or objects were submarines. Numerous newspaper reports have said that a damaged Russian submarine was the cause of the alert.

    "The informationimage that the Armed Forces has does not allow us to draw the conclusion that it is a damaged Russian submarine,” he said. 

    Grenstad said the purpose of Sweden’s current operations was to verify if there is indeed foreign activity in the Baltic Sea off Stockholm. He refused to say whether Russia had been identified as the likely culprit.

    He said that three separate sightings had been reported in stretches of water near Stockholm - Kanholmfjärden, Nämdöfjärden and Jungfrufjärden - and that these occurred on Friday and on Sunday. 

    Christian Allerman, who twice served as Sweden’s marine attaché in Moscow, said Russia was the likeliest suspect.

    ”The only nation with a motive is the one that doesn’t want us to continue developing our cooperation with Nato,” he told TT.

    Asked what the Swedish military was hunting for in the waters off Stockholm, Allerman said:

    ”They’re searching either for divers or diving vessels … small submarines or possibly a conventional submarine in the 60 to 70-metre class. The latter is less likely.”  

    A large number of Swedish military vessels are continuing to search the archipelago. 

    In other developments today, Swedish media reported that a Russian research vessel equipped for underwater search operations was heading for Swedish waters. The ship, the Professor Logachev, has a stated destination of Las Palmas, but is currently in the Baltic to the south-west of Hangö in Finland. 

    The presence of Russian-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker NS Concord has also been remarked on in the Swedish media as possibly having a connection to the incident. The tanker was initially heading to Denmark, but has been criss-crossing the seas off Sweden.

    But Anders Nordin at the Swedish Coastguard told news agency TT that the NS Concord’s movements were consistent with normal tanker movements.

    27 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  3. Weekend Edition of Iraq Situation Summary

    October 20, 2014

    Iraq Situation Report

    Institute for the Study of War

    October 19, 2014


    Read this update online

    31 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  4. Profile of Canada’s Little-Known Financial Intelligence Agency

    October 20, 2014

    Follow the money: How FinTRAC is tracking the cash that flows to overseas militants

    Jim Bronskill

    Canadian Press

    October 19, 2014

    OTTAWA – Canada’s financial intelligence agency says it is actively helping police and spies follow the money flowing into the coffers of Islamic extremists fighting overseas.

    The Ottawa-based Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as FinTRAC, has passed along information to investigators as part of the government’s effort to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, says centre director Gerald Cossette.

    Many Canadians have never heard of the centre, which keeps a relatively low profile compared with other national security agencies.

    However, financial intelligence has become a “key component” of terrorism investigations by the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Cossette said during a recent talk hosted by Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

    “With ISIL, we have seen very clearly the devastation that terrorist groups can inflict when they have access to substantial resources,” he said.

    With ISIL, we have seen very clearly the devastation that terrorist groups can inflict when they have access to substantial resources.
    –Gerald Cossette

    The agency’s access to information about banking and other financial transactions allows it to see links between people and groups in Canada and abroad that support terrorist activities — including radicalized Canadians bent on waging guerrilla-style war in strife-ridden Iraq and Syria.

    “Our main role in such an operation would be to respond, basically, to the demand for information from our security partners — be it CSIS or the RCMP,” Cossette said in an interview after the session.

    “In fact, we did disclose to them information about a certain number of individuals already.”

    The centre zeroes in on cash linked to terrorism, money laundering and other crimes by sifting through data from banks, insurance companies, securities dealers, money service businesses, real estate brokers, casinos and others.

    Institutions must report large cash transactions or electronic fund transfers of $10,000 or more, as well as any dealings where there are reasonable grounds to suspect money laundering or terrorist financing.

    In turn, FinTRAC discloses intelligence to law enforcement and national security partners.

    Overall, the centre made 234 disclosures last year specifically related to terrorist financing and threats to the security of Canada — a 450 per cent increase from 2008.

    It is difficult to pin down how many of those disclosures were related to possible travelling extremists, Cossette said.

    “When we do receive requests, let’s say from CSIS or the RCMP, they do not necessarily specifically mention that it’s about somebody who wants to travel abroad,” he said.

    “It may be somebody operating here, it may be somebody abroad, it may be somebody coming back, somebody going. So it’s not as specific as saying, this guy is going — or may be going — so therefore we need information.”

    In some cases, banks have begun using open source information — such as news items — to build cases that end up proving useful to intelligence officials, Cossette said.

    In one recent case, a financial institution noticed a customer’s name appeared to match that of someone mentioned in a news story detailing alleged extremist ties. The institution then used Facebook to confirm its suspicions and passed details of the customer’s transaction to FinTRAC.

    “So they were successful at meshing their information with the open source information,” Cossette said.

    The centre then sent the details to CSIS, which found the information “of interest,” he added.

    In essence, banks are saying: “This this appears weird to us, we’re following the news, we see some of these names,” Cossette said.

    “They do read the paper. They may even flag some individuals.”

    In other cases, CSIS or the RCMP will approach FinTRAC seeking information about a particular group or individual, he said. “Lots of the requests do in fact come from national security agencies. So it works both ways.”

    The centre also takes a big-picture look at how money moves to discern trends.

    “Do you see a different pattern now than what we saw, let’s say, before the Syrian war? Do you see (an) organization of individuals who used to transfer money to Country X now sending it to Country Y, when we know that Country Y may in fact be transferring the money to the original country of concern?”

    Cossette is scheduled to appear before the Senate national security and defence committee Monday to discuss threats facing Canada.

    During the Carleton session, he was asked how the agency, which has a $53-million annual budget, determines whether it is providing value for money.

    Cossette cited the centre’s growing intelligence output. But he said it was difficult to put a price on sort of information the agency provides.

    “You cannot assess the value of intelligence.”

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  5. Canadian Special Ops Forces Want to Buy New SIGINT/Video Surveillance Aircraft

    October 20, 2014

    Canada Seeks ISR Planes for Spec Ops

    David Pugliese

    Defense News

    October 19, 2014

    Sources say Canadian special forces officials are interested in acquiring aircraft such as the US Air Force’s MC-12W Liberty surveillance planes for their ISR capability. (Senior Airman Elizabeth Rissmill / US Air Force)

    VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Canada’s special operations forces are planning to acquire a small fleet of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to improve their capability to track and target insurgents on the ground.

    It would be the first time that Canada has fielded such a capability.

    Four aircraft will be purchased, outfitted with signals intercept capability and sensors to target ground movement.

    The Royal Canadian Air Force would operate the planes, mainly for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), although they can be made available to other units.

    Dan Blouin, a Department of National Defence spokesman, said the requirement is for an operational level, multi-sensor manned airborne ISR capability that would be used to complement existing intelligence and reconnaissance platforms, such as the CP-140 Aurora. The Aurora is the Canadian version of the US Navy’s P-3.

    The new aircraft could be deployed on short notice and, unlike the Aurora, which is largely a maritime surveillance plane, the fleet is to support ground operations.

    “It is being examined as a dedicated ISR platform capable of direct support to ground troops, however it shall also be capable of supporting all operations,” Blouin said.

    He noted that the procurement, dubbed the Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance program, would allow the Canadian military to expand its ISR capabilities.

    Blouin said the program has no firm milestones that are publicly available.

    CANSOFCOM initially met with industry representatives in August 2013 to discuss what it wanted in an aircraft in general terms.

    But in August of this year, CANSOFCOM changed its procurement process, indicating it would proceed with the purchase of the airframes through a foreign military sale (FMS) with the US government.

    Canadian military sources say the special forces command is interested in acquiring aircraft such as the US Air Force’s MC-12W Liberty surveillance planes.

    The MC-12 program, consisting of Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s outfitted with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, provided aircraft for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. They provided both real-time full-motion video as well as signals intelligence collection.

    The US Air Force, in its fiscal 2015 budget proposal, wants to transfer its Liberty aircraft to US Special Operations Command.

    Military sources say Canadian special forces received support from such aircraft in Afghanistan, finding them invaluable for providing information on high-value targets such as Taliban factories building improvised explosive devices.

    Boeing had been promoting its Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System (RAMIS) to the Canadian forces for the project. RAMIS can provide an array of payloads, including a ground moving target indicator as well as communications intercept capabilities.

    It has plug-and-play software and sensors can be quickly added or removed. “You can fly one sortie in the morning and fly another module in the afternoon,” said Mike Ferguson, the Boeing official in charge of business development for RAMIS.

    Ferguson said the change in Canada’s procurement plan — moving from the purchase of aircraft from a company to the acquisition of aircraft through an FMS case — doesn’t affect Boeing’s interest in the program.

    “If it’s modifying existing aircraft we’re ready to do that and we have programs do that,” he explained. “Or if it is buying new aircraft from the United States through an FMS case, we’re ready to support them on that.”

    Ferguson noted that RAMIS can be installed on any air platform but the most common pairing would be with a Beechcraft King Air 350.

    Boeing brought the RAMIS production prototype aircraft to Ottawa in August for a demonstration for Royal Canadian Air Force officers, including Chief of the Air Staff Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin.

    Industry officials have not been provided with details on when the project would proceed.

    “One of the biggest issues is the Canadian budgeting process,” Ferguson said. “They really didn’t give an indication on when they’ll be moving forward on the program.”

    Military sources, however, said the aircraft are a priority for Canadian special forces.

    Mike Greenley, vice president for CAE Canada Military, said if CANSOFCOM does acquire the aircraft as a direct purchase from the US government, there could be additional work for Canadian firms.

    That could involve provision of specific sensors or long-term maintenance and support of the planes.

    “We would have the capability to support an ISR platform in Canada,” Greenley noted. ■

    43 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  6. U.S. Air Campaign Against ISIS in Iraq and Syria Getting Mixed Reviews

    October 20, 2014

    One Month In, Mixed Reviews on Iraq, Syria Airstrikes

    Aaron Mehta

    Defense News

    October 19, 2014

    Syria airstrike
    An F-22 Raptor taxis in the Middle East prior to strike operations in Syria on Sept. 23. Concern over possible civilian casualties has limited the airstrikes approved over Iraq and Syria. (Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf / US Air Force)

    WASHINGTON — On Sept. 23, the US began airstrikes against militants aligned with the Islamic States (IS) inside Syria, kicking off what President Barack Obama and top military leaders characterizes as a campaign that will last for some time.

    But despite those pleas for patience, there is a growing wave of criticism over the US airstrike campaign, even among airpower advocates. And as IS forces continue to publicly advance on cities like Kobani, pressure is mounting for a change in tactics.

    One month in, the situation in Syria and Iraq remains in flux — and the one thing everyone agrees on is that the US is locked in a complex battle for the long haul.

    According to Pentagon figures, there were 294 US strikes on Iraq between Aug. 8, the start of the anti-IS mission, and Oct 15. For comparison, between Sept. 23 and Oct. 15, 229 strikes were conducted in Syria.

    “As a point of comparison, in roughly the same period in Afghanistan there has been one sortie with a weapon release for every three coalition close-air support sorties flown,” a service official wrote in an email.

    In total, roughly 1,300 munitions have been expended by the coalition since Aug. 8. The US and its allies are averaging around 100 sorties per day, with 25 sorties per day averaging at least one weapon release.

    While that sounds impressive, airpower advocates say that’s not enough.

    In an analysis titled “The Unserious Air War Against ISIS,” two senior fellows at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments compared the air campaign to a similar one against Serbian forces in 1999, which averaged 138 strikes a day — “orders of magnitude” greater than what is being done against IS.

    The authors, Mark Gunzinger and John Stillion, acknowledge the complexities of the situation, but insist that more can be done from the air.

    “In the end, no matter the reason, the timorous use of air power against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to reduce the territory under their control,” the men wrote.

    David Deptula, a retired Air Force three-star who helped lead air operations in Afghanistan in 2001, agreed, writing in an email that “the issue is not the limits of airpower, the issue is the ineffective use of airpower.”

    He says airpower is being controlled at too high a command level, something he blames on military leaders he claims are trapped in the past.

    “The situation in Iraq/Syria with ISIL is not the same as Afghanistan with the Taliban,” Deptula wrote. “What we are witnessing now is a symptom of fighting the last war by a command that is dominated with ground warfare officers who have little experience with applying airpower in anything other than a ‘support’ role.”

    Complicating the Mix

    So should the air campaign be stepped up? Opinions are mixed among analysts and observers, who pointed to several complicating factors.

    The first is that operations in Syria are targeted less at causing change on the ground and more at disrupting support for IS in Iraq.

    “In the short term, it’s an Iraq-first strategy,” one Pentagon official with knowledge of operations told Defense News. “We’re working to help the Iraqi force take back Iraq, defeat ISIL while we disrupt and deny ISIL of their war-making capability in Syria.”

    But while Iraq may be the focus, retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, argues it may be the easier situation to deal with.

    “This a very, very complex mix,” he said. “The Syrian part of this is much more challenging than the Iraq part…. the Syrian part of this will be the most intractable, long term and problematic for the US.”

    Which is challenge No. 2: in Syria, the US is operating in an environment already torn by civil war, with no desire to see either of two of the most powerful factions — IS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — gain the upper hand.

    The Pentagon official acknowledged that planners are aware of Assad, but downplayed concerns he could be indirectly strengthened by the strikes.

    “Many of the areas that we’re engaging have been lost to Assad’s forces long ago and he will probably never recover,” he said. “Might there be an indirect benefit to Assad in the short term? Yes. In the long term, we are building up an opposition that will not only counter ISIL, but ultimately be able to move towards confronting Assad as well.”

    A third factor? The desire to avoid, at almost any cost, civilian casualties. All of of those interviewed for this report said the US is largely restricted to hunting and pecking for targets, as IS forces have mostly melted into the civilian population.

    “We are taking extraordinary precautions to be able to be accurate and precise in our targeting,” the Pentagon official said. “If we do not do that, then we can lose more than we gain because the support of the population is absolutely essential.”

    Barno said IS knows how to shield itself from airpower. “And we’re very constrained here because we don’t want to create civilian casualties,” he said. “That will keep this campaign from doing a lot of decisive things.”

    That has provided limited targets, which in turn some have blamed on needing more ISR capabilities in the region. One senior Air Force official said that was doubtful given the number of weapons being released.

    He cited one B-1 pilot who emptied his full weapons bay three times in the past two weeks after several years of not having done so in the region.

    “I don’t think it’s ISR assets that are limiting the air campaign,” he said. “If that was the case you’d have people bringing back loaded planes You’d go up without a target and so you’d come home and bring your weapons back. That’s not happening.”

    Deptula warned that the caution over collateral damage, while noble, may have to be loosened in order to truly be effective against IS forces.

    “Rules of engagement may have to change as well, with authority to engage targets devolving to lower levels of command — even to the pilot in the cockpit,” he said. “This will increase the chances of a ‘friendly fire’ incident, or collateral damage. Enhanced effectiveness will come only with some increased acceptance of risks.

    “On the other hand, a conscious and public willingness to bear those risks in the name of significantly increasing the impact of coalition operations on the fight on the ground would demonstrate a degree of commitment and resolve that might be ardently welcomed by the Kurdish and Iraqi forces who are so hard-pressed by ISIS.”

    And that is the other big issue — the question of how much airstrikes can accomplish before ground forces are needed.

    High-profile members of Congress such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, have been hitting the Pentagon on this issue almost from Day 1 of the campaign.

    “If we don’t put boots on the ground, we can’t form the coalition, we can’t retake ground that needs to be taken and held,” McKeon said on Oct. 9.

    “It will require boots on the ground, preferably not US boots, to win this thing,” Barno said, adding the last month “clearly illustrates the limitations of airpower.”

    Once again, Deptula counters that the issue isn’t airpower, but how it has been used.

    “Airmen have the capacity, equipment, training, tactics, and knowledge needed for this fight, but airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle,” Deptula wrote.

    The Pentagon official acknowledged that ground forces would be necessary to hold territory, in both Syria and Iraq, hence the push to quickly train local forces. But he also said local populations will need to rise against the beliefs behind IS for any lasting impact.

    “Airpower alone will not be sufficient. Military force alone will not be sufficient,” the official said. “It’s got to be part of the broader strategy, and ultimately if this population on the ground does not reject the ideology of ISIL, which ultimately I believe they will, then the military campaign will never be sufficient.” ?■

    46 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  7. More U.S. Airstrikes Hit ISIS Positions Around Kobani

    October 20, 2014

    After Arms Drop, US Coalition Strikes IS Group

    Associated Press

    October 20, 2014

    BEIRUT — Syrian activists say the U.S.-led coalition has launched new airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Kobani, following overnight airdrops of weapons to Kurdish fighters in the Syrian border town.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a “large amount of weapons and ammunition” have reached the main Kurdish militia in the town, near the Syrian-Turkish border.

    The activists say there were five airstrikes in Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab. The Observatory and Kobani-based activist Farhad Shami say the airstrikes began Sunday night and continued until early Monday.

    The Observatory, which has activists on the ground in Syria, says the latest round of fighting between Kurdish militiamen and extremists in Kobani killed at least eight members of the Islamic State group.

    55 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  8. In Denmark, Not One Jihadi Who Has Returned From Fighting in Iraq and Syria Has Been Arrested

    October 20, 2014

    Denmark tries a soft-handed approach to returned Islamist fighters

    Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet

    Washington Post

    October 20, 2014

    The rush of morning shoppers parted to make way for Talha, a lanky 21-year-old in desert camouflage and a long, religious beard. He strode through the local mall with a fighter’s gait picked up on the battlefields of Syria. Streams of young Muslim men greeted him like a returning king.

    As-salamu alaykum.

    Wa alaikum assalaam.

    In other countries, Talha — one of hundreds of young jihadists from the West who has fought in Syria and Iraq — might be barred from return or thrown in jail. But in Denmark, a country that has spawned more foreign fighters per capita than almost anywhere else, the port city of Aarhus is taking a novel approach by rolling out a welcome mat.

    In Denmark, not one returned fighter has been locked up. Instead, taking the view that discrimination at home is as criminal as Islamic State recruiting, officials here are providing free psychological counseling while finding returnees jobs and spots in schools and universities. Officials credit a new effort to reach out to a radical mosque with stanching the flow of recruits.

    Map: Flow of foreign fighters to Syria

    Some progressives say Aarhus should become a model for other communities in the United States and Europe that are trying to cope with the question of what to do when the jihad generation comes back to town.

    For better or worse, this city’s answer has left the likes of Talha wandering freely on the streets. The son of moderate Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, he became radicalized and fought with an Islamist brigade in Syria for nine months before returning home last October. Back on Danish soil, he still dreams of one day living in a Middle Eastern caliphate. He rejects the Islamic State’s beheading of foreign hostages but defends its summary executions of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers.

    “I know how some people think. They are afraid of us, the ones coming back,” says Talha, a name he adopted to protect his identity because he never told his father he went to fight. “Look, we are really not dangerous.”

    Yet critics call this city’s soft-handed approach just that — dangerous. And the effort here is fast becoming a pawn in the much larger debate raging across Europe over Islam and the nature of extremism. More and louder voices here are clamoring for new laws that could not only charge returnees with treason but also set curbs on immigration from Muslim countries and on Islamic traditions such as religious circumcision.

    In a country that vividly remembers the violent backlash in the Muslim world after a Danish newspaper published cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad in 2006, many here want Aarhus to crack down on — not cajole — extremists.

    “They are being much too soft [in Aarhus], and they fail to see the problem,” said Marie Krarup, an influential member of Parliament from the Danish People’s Party, the country’s third-largest political force. “The problem is Islam. Islam itself is radical. You cannot integrate a great number of Muslims into a Christian country.”

    Perfect breeding ground

    Aarhus is treating its returning religious fighters like wayward youths rather than terrorism suspects because that’s the way most of them started out.

    The majority were young men like Talha, between 16 and 28, including several former criminals and gang members who had recently found what they began to call “true Islam.” Most of them came from moderate Muslim homes and, quite often, were the children of divorced parents. And most lived in the Gellerupparken ghetto.

    A densely packed warren of mid-rise public housing blocks, Gellerupparken is home to immigrants and their families who arrived in the waves of Muslim migration that began in the 1960s. Unemployment — especially among youths — is far higher than the city average. At one point, crime was so bad that even ambulances needed police escorts. It made a perfect breeding ground for angry young men at risk of becoming militants.

    On a quest to change that, the city is in the midst of a major overhaul of the ghetto. Better housing could improve conditions and lure more ethnic Danes, contributing to integration. New thoroughfares and roads, meanwhile, would link it more closely to the rest of the city.

    “These are young people who have turned to religion at a very difficult time in their lives, and they are dealing with existential questions about going to fight for what they believe in,” said Aarhus Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard. “We cannot pass legislation that changes the way they think and feel. What we can do is show them we are sincere about integration, about dialogue.”

    ‘It’s home’

    “It doesn’t feel strange, being back,” said Talha, as he passed an organic juice stand at a local mall. Four blond Danish girls eye him warily. He is well known here, a heroic figure among his Muslim peers, many of whom know he fought in Syria and greet him with hand on heart and a respectful nod. “It’s home.”

    He was born in Denmark, to an immigrant family that hailed from a nation bordering Syria. To maintain his privacy, he declined to publicly state which one. The urge to go and fight, he said, built like a slow burn. For months, he had watched YouTube videos of civilian killings committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “I could not just sit in the comfort of Denmark while thousands and thousands of my brothers were dying,” he said. He began discussing his feelings with other religious friends, and within a few months, a plan was hatched.

    On the day he left for Syria, in October 2012, he told his divorced parents that he and a friend were going to Turkey on vacation. Instead, his friend’s cousin had arranged their passage across the border to Syria. He worked in a refugee camp for a few weeks before getting attached to an independent battalion associated with Ahrar al-Sham, a group with alleged ties to al-Qaeda. During the months when he manned heavy-artillery batteries near Aleppo, he said, his outfit also maintained harmonious ties with the Islamic State.

    “You cannot believe everything you hear about the Islamic State,” Talha said. “There may be bad things, but also good things.”

    He returned to Denmark for a few months in 2013, telling his mother — but not his father — what he had done. Since his own religious awakening, he had persuaded her to start wearing a head scarf, and she became more religious herself. But “she cried when I told her where I had been,” he said. When he returned to Syria a few months later, she did not try to stop him.

    Talha came back to Denmark last October, when bouts of infighting broke out among rival factions. Since then, he has had one meeting, he said, with a police official who questioned him about his plans and intentions. Under Aarhus’s program, he was offered — and accepted — taxpayers’ help for the math classes he needs to enter engineering school.

    Yet, because counseling is voluntary, he has opted to skip the therapy sessions he says he doesn’t need. He wants no harm to come to Denmark, he said, but bemoans what he describes as a mounting anti-Islamic sentiment in the media and national government.

    “I don’t see how that helps,” he said.

    Controversial mosque

    Danish authorities say the vast majority of the 30 or so Aarhus residents who went to Syria were somehow linked to one of the most polarizing houses of worship in Europe — the Grimhojvej mosque. Talha began to worship there four years ago, two years before he left for Syria. He found the mosque through a childhood friend who helped him leave behind what he described as a world of secular vice. Parties with Danish teens. Drinking. Girls. “That’s my past,” he said. “Not my present.”

    But Talha wants to make one thing clear. He, like the mosque leadership, denies that Grimhojvej recruited him and other fighters.

    “These are good men,” he said with a smile.

    Others disagree.

    The mosque opened in 2008 and, in recent years, absorbed the congregation of a nearby mosque that closed and where several men had been previously detained on terrorism charges. One of its current imams is under investigation in Germany for inciting hate during a visit to Berlin in July. From 2008 to 2013, another imam — Abdessamad Fateh, a 46-year-old Moroccan immigrant also known as Abu Hamza — preached at Grimhojvej. After spending five months in Syria, he is back in Aarhus. According to Arab intelligence officials, he recruited Westerners — including a young Danish convert to Islam — to fight in Syria and Iraq. This month, Fateh was added to the U.S. list of suspected terrorists thought to have ties to al-Qaeda.

    Inside the converted ice factory that houses Grimhojvej, Oussama el-Saadi, the mosque’s chairman, dismissed the allegations with a wave of his hand. If they are guilty of anything at Grimhojvej, he says, it is simply of being devout believers. “We have the right to our faith,” he said.

    Nevertheless, in January, Aarhus officials gave the mosque an ultimatum. It could either open itself up to a new dialogue with the community or face a public condemnation and, quite likely, stepped-up legal pressure.

    The mosque chose to cooperate.

    Since January, police and city officials have engaged in a number of unprecedented sessions hosted by the mosque. In the presence of mosque leaders, police and city officials met with returned fighters like Talha to assess their risk levels. They also met with members of the mosque’s youth group to dissuade other young Muslims from traveling to the Middle East. In monthly meetings, city officials, police and members of the mosque hierarchy are now debating religious ideology, Danish law and freedom of speech.

    The mosque still openly backs a caliphate in the Middle East, refuses to offer a blanket denunciation of the Islamic State and warns that Denmark’s recent decision to join the U.S.-led coalition in airstrikes against the militant group may only fan the fires of homegrown terrorism.

    Yet Grimhojvej has undeniably nuanced its public position, rejecting, for instance, the Islamic State’s beheadings of foreign hostages. Saadi denies allegations that the mosque became a recruiting center for militants, saying it did not discourage or encourage those who wanted to go and fight. But now, its official line — at least in public — is that the young Muslims of Aarhus should stay home.

    Police officials say the statistics prove their approach is working.

    “In 2013, we had 30 young people go to Syria,” said Jorgen Ilum, Aarhus’s police commissioner. “This year, to my knowledge, we have had only one. We believe that the main reason is our contact and dialogue with the Muslim community.”

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  9. People With Security Clearances No Longer in High Demand in Washington, Report

    October 20, 2014

    Security clearances don’t pay like they once did

    Aaron Gregg

    Washington Post

    October 20, 2014

    Security clearances are a highly sought-after commodity in the D.C. job market, given the region’s proximity to intelligence agencies, and cleared employees are paid substantially more on average than those without access to confidential information.

    But new data from the Human Resources Association of the National Capital Region suggest security-cleared employees are not as in demand as they used to be.

    The average pay differential associated with having a security clearance went down in 2014 for the first time in at least six years, according to employer data collected by HRA-NCA. Pay differentials are getting larger for those employees lucky enough to get one, but the percent of contractors that offer pay differentials is expected to drop from 72 percent in 2010 to 37 percent for 2014.

    What accounts for the decline? Business leaders chalk it up to simple shifts in supply and demand. Employers need fewer cleared employers as last year’s federal budget cuts, furloughs and the lingering effects of sequestration continue to dry up revenues across the contracted workforce. At the same time, there is a larger pool of cleared employees, after shortages in 2009 and 2010 prompted the government to speed up the clearance process.

    “The government is doing a better job of processing these clearances in a timely manner, and now there are more people with clearances. Maybe too many,” said Alan Chvotkin, vice president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association for businesses that contract with the government.

    Cleared employees still get substantially larger paychecks than their counterparts. An employee with a secret clearance makes 5.8 percent more on average than one without a clearance, and a top secret clearance pulls a 12.8 percent pay differential. For a top secret “special access programs” clearance, which allows access to highly classified “black projects” not even acknowledged to exist, employees are compensated 14.9 percent more.

    But human resources professionals say companies are less likely to give someone a pay-raise purely based on a security clearance. Having a broader pool of cleared employees to choose from has given employers more leeway to determine employees’ pay based on the skills they bring to the table.

    “A while ago, if you had a high-level clearance, that would almost trump the skill itself. If you had a clearance, your foot was almost already in the door,” said Dorion Baker, director of talent acquisition at STG, a mid-tier government contractor based in Reston. Now, businesses are more likely to make hiring decisions based on specific in-demand skills. “Times have changed, and it’s really driven by the talent now.”

    A separate analysis by Clearancejobs.com, a placement service for employees with security clearances, and Cypress Research Group, an independent analysis firm, found that overall pay for cleared contractors began to fall significantly in 2013.

    The year “2013 was without a doubt the most dismal year for cleared professionals that we’ve seen in the last decade,” said Evan Lesser, director of Clearancejobs.com.

    Some employees expressed mixed feelings about the benefits of having a clearance. Some find that having a clearance before being hired pushes them to the front of the line when a company wants to fill a position quickly.

    “Already having secret or higher [clearance] is a desired quality in a candidate because it takes so long to get one sometimes that it allows the company’s hiring process to proceed more quickly,” said one security-cleared employee now working at a nonprofit institution. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity to steer clear of any repercussions for discussing the status.

    But others regard the status as just another plus to add to the résumé.

    “I’d put it as a marginal advantage, not huge.” said another security-cleared employee in the private sector who recently conducted a job search. “My security clearance is a dime a dozen.”

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  10. Russian Military Says That Sub Being Hunted by Swedish Military May Be a Dutch Sub

    October 20, 2014

    Mysterious sub near Stockholm might be Dutch: Russian source

    Agence France-Presse

    October 20, 2014

    Moscow (AFP) - A mysterious “foreign vessel” the Swedish military have been searching for off the coast of Stockholm might belong to the Netherlands, a source in the Russian defence ministry was quoted as saying on Monday.

    "To remove tensions in the waters of the Baltic Sea and to save money of the Swedish taxpayers we would recommend (Sweden) to turn to the naval command of the Netherlands for an explanation," a source at the defence ministry in Moscow told Russian news agencies.

    The source said that the Dutch diesel-electric submarine Bruinvis was carrying out tasks near Stockholm last week.

    It was in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on Friday and was expected to return on Monday, the source said.

    Swedish media reported over the weekend that a Russian U-boat might be in trouble around islands off Stockholm, but the Swedish military said on Sunday that it was not possible to determine the nationality of the vessel.

    The Russian defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.

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